FOREST — Jeff Nichols, president and CEO of Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest, said what he will miss the most about the historic landmark after seven years at the helm is “pretty much everything.”
“It’s been a great experience,” said Nichols, who has worked at Poplar Forest since 2012. “I’ve loved every minute of my time here, and I will miss working with my talented colleagues and the people who support the mission to preserve Thomas Jefferson’s personal retreat and plantation.”
Nichols is resigning from his position at Poplar Forest, effective Aug. 30, to become the executive director of Georgetown Heritage, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the revitalization of the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal in the Georgetown area of Washington, D.C.
“It’s definitely going to be a new challenge,” Nichols said Monday. “That challenge is what drew me to the job. However, I am proud to have led Poplar Forest through such an exciting time in its history as a historic property.”
Nichols has overseen a number of archaeological and restoration projects at the 617-acre site in Forest.
Designated a National Historic Landmark, Jefferson’s Poplar Forest plantation was purchased in 1984 by a group of local residents who sought to preserve it for the site’s cultural and educational benefit. Poplar Forest was opened to the public for the first time in 1986, and staff continues to work to restore the house and grounds to Jefferson’s original design.
“On behalf of the board of directors, I’d like to thank Jeff for all he has done to contribute to the growth of Jefferson’s retreat home as a historic property,” said Fred Armstrong, chairman of the board of directors. “During his tenure, we have made great strides in the physical restoration of Jefferson’s octagonal villa and ornamental landscape.”
Alyson Ramsey, Poplar Forest’s director of development, will serve as interim president and CEO after Nichols leaves for his new position.
“Alyson has played pivotal roles in the administration of, and fundraising for Poplar Forest since joining our professional staff in 2002 — from managing the capital campaign to cultivating donors, grant writing, event management and more,” Armstrong said. “We’re very fortunate to have her on board.”
“Alyson will do a fantastic job,” Nichols said. “She has been here in one position or another for the past 17 years. Alyson is the perfect choice to take over.”
Ramsey said she is excited to continue the preservation and restoration work at the site.
“I am honored to be chosen to lead Poplar Forest through this transitional time,” Ramsey said. “We will miss Jeff, but wish him all the best in his new position. I just want to keep the momentum going here after he is gone.”
A native of Connecticut, Nichols joined Poplar Forest after previously serving as the executive director at The Mark Twain House & Museum in Hartford, Connecticut. He also worked at the P.T. Barnum Museum in Bridgeport, Connecticut.
“I have worked in preserving the stories of so many iconic people in our nation’s history,” Nichols said. “I’ve learned so many amazing stories during my career.”
Nichols said the life and work of Jefferson is what drew him to the position in 2012.
“Studying the life of a person like Thomas Jefferson allows you to go in so many different directions,” he said. “He is the perfect example of what makes us a great and troubled nation.”
Nichols said he is “extremely proud” of the work to excavate — and eventually restore — part of the former plantation’s slave quarters.
“While you are looking at these amazing grounds and home, you always have to be aware that many of the people who built this place were here against their will. I have always tried to keep that part of this place’s history in my mind and it is very humbling and rewarding.”
Nichols said moving to the Washington, D.C., area will be “a huge adjustment” after living in central Virginia for the past seven years.
“Coming from just outside of New York City, I didn’t miss the noise when I moved to the Lynchburg area,” Nichols said. “I am going to miss how peaceful it is around here.”
Nichols plans to visit Poplar Forest as often as he can after he starts his new position, he said.
“I’ll only be a few hours away so I plan to keep coming back and seeing all the work that is being done,” Nichols said. “Although I am excited about my new position, I will miss the opportunity to sit in this house in the evening — when everyone is gone and it is quiet — and look out these windows and contemplate the world just as Jefferson would have.”