James Monroe, the fifth President of the United States, moved to his home named Highland in 1799, at the urging of his good friend, Thomas Jefferson (who lived nearby at Monticello).
Likely at Jefferson's suggestion as well (Jefferson insured his home with Mutual Assurance), Monroe took out a homeowners policy with the company, which was then known as the "Mutual Assurance Society against Fire on Buildings of the State of Virginia." The policy contained hand-drawn sketches of his property, dating from 1800, 1809, and 1816 and included the main house and other out-buildings.
In late 1829, just a few years after Monroe sold it, the main house caught fire. Some newspapers reported that the home had been completely destroyed, while others said it had only partially burned.
The incorrect story about the home's partial burning took root, and historians became convinced that a small guest house that had become the main residential building was actually a surviving wing of the original house depicted in drawings from Mutual Assurance's policy.
Additions and renovations took place throughout the 1800s, culminating in the building of a Victorian home connected to the original guest house. In 2012, however, a new executive director at Highland felt that something was off with the belief that the guest house had been part of the main house, which prompted historians to take another look.
In 2016, the 180-year-old mystery of the original small building was solved. Mutual Assurance policies helped point archeologists and historians to the foundation of the original structure, which was uncovered in front of the Victorian house that is there today.
The Highland team believes that if the 1809 drawings are correct, the Victorian home was built over some of the original home's foundation, possibly the stone kitchen cellar. They will continue to look for other foundations of out-buildings based on the policy drawings, which, while not perfect renderings, have provided invaluable guidelines for uncovering the history of Monroe's home.