Sunday 26 [sic] Oct. 1895

My dear Mamma,

I write to let you know of a most
fearful calamity which has befallen the dear old
University. This morning I heard cries of fire and
found that the Annex was in flames. Everyone
was running to the Rotunda and soon a large
crowd was assembled. No water could be gotten as
high as the flames, only a miserable little stream
of water about six feet in length came from the
hose when at the level of the ground. In response
to telegrams, Lynchburg and Richmond sent
their engines by special trains, but the Lynchburg
engine was delayed in the road and did not
arrive within an hour of the expected time.
I received a telegram from Richmond when the
fire had been almost put out & wired back not
to send the engine. Their [sic] was nothing to do but
to try to keep the fire from Buckmaster's and
Tuttle's houses and to save all that was within
the Rotunda and annex. They tried to blow
up the portico between the Annex and the
rotunda [sic] in the hope that, if the engine should
arrive in time, the Rotunda might be saved
But all to no purpose. Soon the flames had gained
possession of the Rotunda and nothing is now
left standing but the bare and ruined walls.
The boys worked like fiends to save all that was

possible. Kent estimates that only 1/10 of the books
was saved but he is wrong--In my opinion at
least 1/3 or over were saved. The Austin Collection was
lost entirely. The statue of Jefferson, Minor's bust,
the pictures were saved in fairly good condition.
The School of Athens was lost. Uncle Frank's valuable
physical apparatus was carried out but the greater
part so broken as to be practically useless.
Only 25000 insurance wh. no where near covers
the loss. Is estimated that 75000 will scarcely
rebuild the rotunda [sic] and annex [sic] to say nothing
of loss in books and instruments. No change in
lectures which will continue as usual, the classes
meeting in Wash Hall, Temperance Hall, Museum
and Professor's offices. Papa is back in his old
room--5 W.L. where the chairman's office will be.
Papa is so busy that he cannot write to you to
night and told me to let you know of the loss.
Am so exhausted myself that I cannot write much.
The Professors are taking it bravely--not lamenting
the past but making plans for the future.
You can imagine how distressed everyone is.
I myself, now that the excitement has worn
off, am getting more and more miserable
every minute and I canŐt expressed to you
my sorrow. I love this old University with all
my heart and if I who am comparatively young
am so grieved what must be the distress of those
old professor's [sic] who have worked for the University
so long and lectured so often within those

now ruined walls! What a number of blows have
struck this University within the year you have been
away! Misfortune after misfortune has crippled
its usefulness and now that this crowning glory of
the University, this building planned and built by
Jefferson, this splendid library, our so famous copy
of the School of Athens, the dear old clock that
never kept time, should be destroyed seems the [sic]
seems to be the crowning evil and the worst that
this Nemesis who pursues us could let fall on
our heads. Horrible! horrible! horrible! The things
gets [sic] worse the more I think about it. However
lamentations do no good. We can only depend
on state aid and the generosity of our alumni.
Have just opened a telegram from Geo. Anderson of
Richmond saying that he wanted to start a
subscription immediately. Telegrams of sympathy
come from all sides. O'Ferral seems especially
interested. That is a good sign that the state will help
us. Some taking a cheerful view of the situation
say that in the end it will benefit the U Va. by
bringing her more before the people. Cannot offer
any opinion on that subject. Thank you very much
for the beautiful pair of gloves and more especially for
thinking of me and of my 20th anniversary. Had
intended to write you a special letter of thanks to-day
but am too tired and miserable. Love to the children
and yourself. Excuse hasty scribble, & believe me

Your aff. son--John T. Thornton