Legal Destinations

July 13, 2009

By Paul Fletcher

It’s summertime and you’re looking to take some time off.

In a year that has been challenging economically, you don’t want to take a big, expensive cruise to the islands or to spend thousands golfing somewhere.

And you say you’re tired of just going to the beach for a week. This year, you want something a little different.

Conveniently, there is a lot close to home, particularly for a lawyer interested in soaking in a little legal history when he or she is not on the clock.

The commonwealth of Virginia offers a trove of destinations with a legal bent.

Here, you’ll find a few suggestions sure to satisfy the legal historian in you and to take care of any tourist hankering you harbor.

If you’re looking for a day trip within the commonwealth, and your tastes run to the historical and legal, we’ve got options for you.

Below are seven Legal Destinations across Virginia, running the gamut from stately presidential homes to an infamous courthouse to a school that’s been turned into a civil rights museum.

And we welcome your thoughts. Send your suggestions for Legal Destinations in Virginia to: [email protected].

1. Monticello

Virginia is for lovers. But Virginia is also the Mother of Presidents. Eight of ’em, five of whom were lawyers or studied law. And you have to start with the biggest lawyer-president, the author of the Declaration of Independence, the man on the hill…Mr. Jefferson.

Thomas Jefferson built a grand house on a little mountain (hence the name, Monticello) outside of Charlottesville. From there he oversaw progress of his last big project, the University of Virginia.

Visit his home and you’ll get the full flavor of TJ’s interests, his intellect and his personality.

The location offers tours of the house, the gardens and the surrounding plantation. Additional programs include a wine tour and there are date-specific programs for “Monticello After Hours” and “Evenings in the Courtyard.”

Strike up the lute.

Info: Open every day except Christmas, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. through October. Basic adult ticket is $20, other charges for additional programs or tours. Web site:

2. Montpelier

James Madison was a small man, even by the standards of the early 19th century. At 5’4”, he is the shortest of our presidents. As an author of the Federalist Papers and Father of the Constitution, though, he stands pretty tall in history.

After getting his degree from what is now Princeton, Madison studied law but never passed a bar. He just wrote the statutes.

His home, Montpelier, is in Orange County, about 30-some miles from Jefferson’s spread outside Charlottesville. Madison grew up here and lived here after serving as president with his wife Dolley Madison, who was a delightful hostess (and had nothing to do with the snack-makers who appropriated her name).

Montpelier has been undergoing restoration since 2004 as the little big guy of the Constitution may finally be getting his due.

Info: Open every day except Thanksgiving and Christmas, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. through October. Basic adult ticket is $14. Web site:

3. Ash Lawn-Highland

Not far from Monticello, America’s fifth president, James Monroe, maintained a farm and estate, which he called “Highland” but was renamed “Ash Lawn” after his death. The place now goes by the hyphenated name above.

Monroe lived in New York for a time then practiced law in Fredericksburg. Trivia question: He ran unsuccessfully for a seat in the first Congress of the U.S. Who beat him? His friend, James Madison.

Monroe and his wife Elizabeth bought Highland in 1793 and lived there from 1799, Monroe’s first year as governor of the commonwealth, until 1823. It was opened to the public in 1931 and in 1974, philanthropist Jay Winston Johns bequeathed the property to the College of William and Mary with the charge of operating it as a historic shrine for the education of the public.

Info: Open every day except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. though October. Basic adult ticket is $10, additional charge for various workshops, including candlemaking and paperquilling. Local residents (surrounding counties) pay $5. Web site:

4. Carroll County Courthouse

Tired of presidents’ homes? Need a legal destination that has a little less lute music and more rootin’ tootin’ excitement? You don’t need to go out west for rootin’ and tootin’ because here in Virginia, back in 1912, there was a shootout in the Carroll County courthouse. In the courtroom. When the smoke cleared, dead were the judge, the commonwealth’s attorney, the sheriff and two others; seven were wounded.

How it went down: Floyd Allen, a local businessman was charged with aiding prisoners. Two nephews had been involved in a brawl during a church service (you read that right). They were charged with felonies and fled to North Carolina; Allen stopped the authorities who brought them back, freed the men then had them surrender themselves. He had been appointed as a special policeman himself and objected to the conditions of their return (being bound to the back of a buggy with their feet dragging, apparently).

At Allen’s trial on March 14, 1912, someone – it’s not clear who – fired the first shot and pistols blazed.

Here’s one that won’t go down in the annals of criminal defense representation: Allen was shot and fell on top of his lawyer, who hit the deck at the first pistol crack. The attorney, David Winton Bolen, reportedly cried, “Floyd, they are going to kill me shooting at you!”

Floyd and his son Claude were charged with murder, found guilty and later electrocuted. Four other members of the “Allen Clan” were found guilty and given long sentences. Given all the confusion over just who did what, all four later were pardoned.

The Carroll County Historical Society maintains a museum in the courthouse with information about the shootout.

Info: Open on Tuesday-Friday from 10:30 a.m to 4 p.m., from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays. Admission is free. Web site:

5. John Marshall House

Once you satisfy your appetite for the sensational, step into the refined John Marshall House in the Holy City on the James.

The future Chief Justice built his home in Richmond four years before he was elevated to the U.S. high court; now it sits adjacent to the Richmond City Courthouse and it is maintained by Preservation Virginia (formerly known as the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities).

Marshall lived there until his death in 1835. It is one of the few remaining brick structures in what was once a neighborhood in Richmond.

After studying law under George Wythe at William & Mary, Marshall moved to the capital city where he became known as one of the state’s leading appellate lawyers. John Adams appointed Marshall, like Adams a Federalist, to the Supreme Court at the very end of his term (triggering creation of the term “11th-hour appointment). Marshall presided over the court that handed down a number of seminal decisions, including Marbury v. Madison and M’Culloch v. Maryland.

Info: Hours through Oct. 31: Wednesday-Friday, 12 p.m. to 4 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sunday, 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. Basic adult ticket, which includes a tour, is $8. Web site:

6. Weems-Botts Museum

Travel up Interstate 95 from Richmond to D.C. and you’ll notice a road sign that indicates the exit to the Weems-Botts Museum in Dumfries.

This museum is actually the house and former law office of Benjamin Botts, who was a rising legal star in Virginia at the turn of the 19th century.

By the way, the Weems in the story is Rev. Mason Locke Weems, a colorful local character who left the pulpit to be an author.

He wrote an influential biography of George Washington that included the cherry-tree-chopping story and the myth that George threw a silver dollar across the Delaware.

Weems sold the house to Botts in 1802; the latter opened his law practice there.

Botts was perhaps best known for successfully serving as a defense attorney for Aaron Burr, the disgraced former vice president, who beat charges of treason and conspiracy.

Botts’ life was cut short in 1811 – he was killed in the Richmond theater fire that took the lives of 72, including the sitting governor of Virginia, Gov. George Smith.

Info: Open Wednesday-Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 pm, on Sunday from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. Admission for adults is $3.

7. Moton Museum

Down in Prince Edward County, the Robert Russa Moton Museum has been established in the former Moton High School in Farmville. The school was the site of a student walkout in 1951, as African-American students protested unequal educational facilities.

That protest set in motion a lawsuit which was handled by Oliver White Hill Sr., Davis v. Prince Edward County. The Davis case became part of the appeal that went to the U.S. Supreme Court, culminating in the 1954 landmark civil rights decision of Brown v. Board of Education, striking “separate but equal” education.

The museum seeks to be a center for the study of civil rights in education. Its mission statement notes that the “Museum will be operated to promote positive discussion of integration and to advance the positions that ensure racial harmony.”

Info: Tours are available Tuesday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., except for a few federal holidays. Reservations are required. A form is available at the museum’s Web site:

Courtesy of Virginia Lawyers Weekly

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