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James Monroe's friendship with Thomas Jefferson brought him from Fredericksburg to Charlottesville, where he purchased 1,000 acres adjacent to Monticello in 1793. With Jefferson's help he built a home he called Highland (later owners added Ash Lawn in 1838 and a two-story addition in 1882). Before Monroe could settle in, Washington named him minister to France and sent him to Paris for 3 years. By the time he returned, he was suffering financial difficulties, and his "cabin castle" remained the modest house we see today. He was so in debt when he left the presidency in 1825 that he was forced to sell Highland. He spent his final years near Leesburg and in New York City. Today the estate is owned and maintained as a working farm by his alma mater, the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg. A 30-minute house tour will show you many of the family's original furnishings and artifacts.

This is one venue for the annual Ash Lawn Summer Opera Festival (tel. 434/293-4500; www.ashlawnopera.org).