The original Montpelier was built in 1795 as a retirement estate for Major General Henry Knox and his family. Knox had served as Chief of Artillery during the Revolutionary War and then as the nation’s first Secretary of War, when he retired to Maine to develop his land claim known as the Waldo Patent. Designed by Ebenezer Dunton, the Federal style building is dominated by the axis-on-oval symmetry and dramatic semi-flying staircase in the hall. Knox’s daughter, Lucy Thatcher, was the last family member to occupy the house and after her death in 1854 the building fell into disrepair and was eventually razed in 1871.
In 1929 that the Knox Memorial Association reconstructed Montpelier, creating the museum that stands today. Without plans from the original building, they brought together evidence from Knox’s correspondence to Dunton, diary entries from visitors, and even some living memory of the original building. Henry Thatcher Fowler, Knox’s great-great-grandson, willed his family relics to Montpelier and local people that had purchased furnishings in 1854 returned them to the mansion. This image of the new museum probably dates from 1930 or 1931, when the Knox Memorial Association attempted to develop a Colonial revival landscape to accompany the museum, working with the Olmsted Brothers. Because of limited funding, the Association eventually discarded the Olmsted plans and worked with landscape architect Hans Heistad. Today, Montpelier stands as a living memorial to Henry Knox, filled with many of the beautiful objects he purchased for the original mansion; a space that invites visitors to learn about the life and times of this great Patriot.
Sophia G. Mendoza
Center for the Study of Early American History