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The Grand Design: Jefferson's Rotunda
Early Descriptions of the Rotunda and Lawn
Extracts from the diary of Henry Marshall written during the year 1824, while on a hiking trip from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to his home in Society Hill, South Carolina. This is the earliest description of the University by an outsider.
Started at 1/2 past 6 & breakfasted after walking 10 miles. I saw
ice in the road this morning. The weather has been so cold for two or
three mornings past that I have deferred my hour of departure from 6 to
1/2 past 6. I reached Charlottesville 20 miles from Brown's at 2 o'clock.
The country very broken. The soil appears to be naturally good, but it soon
washes off to the red clay. Charlottesville is a neat little town of brick
1/2 a mile south of the Rivanna & 2 miles west of the South west
mountain. Population I should judge to be about 2000. 3/4 of a mile west
of the town are the buildings of central college. These consist of a
rotunda 10 professors houses 220 rooms for students & 5 hotels to be
rented out. The buildings cover a space 6 or 700 feet square.
[Here follows a sketch of the groundplan of the University by the author]
The rotunda at the head of the square
looks south or perhaps a little west of south. The dots in the two inner
lines represent the professors houses two stories high besides the kitchen
cellar between them are the dormitories for the students one story high &
each room opening into the college yard. The space between the two
interior lines 200 ft. wide is the college yard. The dots in the outward
lines are the hotels and between them are the dormitories. The space
between the professors houses and the hotels is intended for gardens,
with passages leading down between them. The walls about the place are
serpentine & only one brick thick. Each professors house has a recitation
room the chambers of the students are 14 feet square (too small). A kind
of piazza or covered way supported by brick pillars covered with mortar
runs along in front of all the professors houses & dormitories. On the top
of the covered way & dormitories is a terrace. The piazza of the outward
rows of dormitories is supported by brick arches. The professors houses
are elegantly built but no two of them exactly alike. Several have
porticos supported by large brick pillars covered with mortar. The top
pieces of the pillars of two houses are of marble elegantly sculptured in
Italy. The rotunda is said to be modelled after the Pantheon at Rome. It is
75 ft. in diameter and about 80 ft. or more from the ground to the top of
the dome. It has a portico fronting toward the college yard. On the ground
floor are two elliptical rooms 50 to 60 by 30 ft. (guess) and one much
smaller. There is the same arrangement in the second floor. The 3 story
with the dome is all in one. From the college yard you go up steps the
whole breadth of the portico directly into the second story from the lower
story is a covered way and terrace to the dormitories. The rotunda is
decidedly the most elegantly proportioned building I ever saw. It is the
only public building I have seen in this country that is high enough. The
professors houses are elegant specimens of architecture. On the whole I
think they are the most tasteful & elegant buildings in the U.S. I had no
idea of their extent & splendour. The buildings are on a gentle elevation
sloping down from the rotunda in front & the professors houses to the
outer rows on each side. Between the professors houses are passages into
a back yard with a pump in each. From this yard there is a road between
the gardens down through the outer rows of dormitories. Waggons need
not come in the front yard at all. Where these roads go through the outer
rows of dormitories there are also small back yards with pumps in each.
Everything is so elegantly finished that the building make a handsome
appearance from the village although you look at them in the rear.
Monticello the residence of Mr. Jefferson is a low peak in the range
of mountains called the South west Mts. They seem to be a continuation of
the Cotoctin range & run south nearly to the James River. The knolls get
lower and lower the nearer they approach the Rivanna. Monticello is the
lowest and nearest the river on the south side. It is 2 miles east of
Charlottesville. Strangers are in the habit of going to Monticello & telling
Mr. Jefferson that they wish to see him & his house. A servant is
according directed to shew him the house the house is of brick.
Charlottesville is 80 miles from Richmond.
Sunday Oct 31st.
I left Charlottesville a little after 6 this morning & reached Nelson
Courthouse a distance of 36 miles a little after 6 in the evening. I
breakfasted 7 miles from Charlottesville which detained me an hour &
then walked the remaining 29 miles without eating or drinking.