Mr. Jefferson’s Gadgets

My neighbor Charles is one of those fascinatingly entertaining people that abound here in Charlottesville. He is an extremely talented craftsman, with a wickedly cool workshop in his back yard that deserves its own post. ( I really thought I had some shots of the workshop, but I can’t seem to find them, so I’ll need to fix that!) Among the projects he works on back there are a number of fascinating reproduction gadgets for Monticello where he works as a guide. Many a cozy (happy) hour has been spent in Charles’ workshop as he shares his latest labor of love. Over the years, Charles has built a number of Jefferson-era reproduction gadgets, so when I heard he was going to give a talk on the topic up at Monticello, I immediately knew this was going to be a talk worth going to.reserved

Edie and I were officially guests of Charles – with reserved seats no less! A friend of mine from high school was in town, so I dragged him along as well. As I sat between the two of them, Chris directed me to take pictures of things, while Edie gave me the side eye every time she heard my camera click, so I tried to strike a balance that kept both my companions happy.

Charles had samples of some his gadgets, as well as a slide show illustrating some of his work and points. Over the years, he’s built the wine dumbwaiter currently in use in a display in the basement, a replica of the folding ladder used to wind the clock in the entry hall of Monticello, a camera obscura, an orrery and a replica of the portable desk Jefferson commissioned for himself, used in the writing of  the Declaration of Independence. Charles discussed the research that went into creating these reprodutions as well as things he’s learned about Jefferson along the way (he liked things that folded and things that rotated).  He shared with us in great detail the current rabbit hole he has fallen into – studying Jefferson’s Hawkins/ Peale polygraph No. 57.


The talk was very well attended and absolutely fascinating. At the end of his talk, Charles invited everyone up to come check out his gadgets, where there was loads of hands on exploring. Thank you again for having us as your guests Charles – it was an absolutely stellar talk and wonderful to see so many of your works on display. I do hope Monticello hosts more talks like these, as they are fascinating.

6 thoughts on “Mr. Jefferson’s Gadgets

    • Becky says:

      Next time we hang out here with you & Dirt Man, we’ll have to introduce you to Charles. I have no doubt they’ll get along gang busters. (And we really do sort of parade a good number of our out of town friends through Charles’ shop because it’s so stinking cool!)

  1. melissawest says:

    I enjoyed my tour there a few years ago–I’d have loved this experience. Experts are such fun to listen to and learn from.

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