Little Known Hobbies of America's Presidents

Jefferson’s architectural hobby influenced builders in Virginia and elsewhere for decades, including at Belle Grove in Middletown, Virginia. Library of Congress

2. Thomas Jefferson relaxed with a violin, or a drafting table

In his youth Thomas Jefferson was an accomplished violinist, and his account books indicate one instrument which he purchased may have been manufactured by the shop of Nicolo Amati. Jefferson retained the instrument for the rest of his life, but his purchase of strings for his violins (he was known to have owned at least three) seemed to slow by the 1790s, following a fall from horseback in which he severely injured a wrist. There are few accounts of his continuing to play following the death of his wife, Martha, whom he had sung and played to while wooing her.

By the time he became president, Jefferson was an accomplished and self-taught architect, designing his estate at Monticello, an octagonal house for his retreat at Poplar Forest (the first octagonal house in America), a plantation house which is now the main clubhouse for the Farmington Country Club in Virginia, the Virginia State House, and numerous other structures where he acted as a consultant. After his presidency he designed the Rotunda at the University of Virginia, as well as the Lawn and other buildings on the campus. Over six hundred documents on architecture and his designs are held by the Massachusetts Historical Society.