Thomas Jefferson’s university lies in the heart of central Virginia. It's the lifeblood of Charlottesville. Therefore, it is fitting to inaugurate the Virginia Photo Blog with an image of Jefferson’s iconic Rotunda. The Rotunda sits at the north end of The Lawn, and anchors the design of Jefferson’s academical village. His academical village forms the living core of the University of Virginia. The Rotunda is open for meetings, faculty still live in Pavillions on The Lawn, and students still live in rooms on The Lawn. And while Jefferson’s academical village is a living home for faculty and students, it's also a world heritage site. People from around the globe visit The Lawn, and there are always photographers grabbing their version of the iconic image. There are millions of photos of the Rotunda, and millions of The Lawn. It says something about Jefferson’s neoclassical architecture that it never fails to satisfy.
The Lawn is forever new, even as it approaches 200 years old. To appreciate it, a little history is necessary. Jefferson organized the founding of The University in 1819, and drew the final designs of all the original buildings. The Rotunda and The Lawn were essentially finished by the time of Jefferson’s death on July 4, 1826. He died, 50 years to the day, after the signing of The Declaration of Independence, as did John Adams. Adams' last words were “Thomas Jefferson still survives.” Little did he know that Jefferson had died five hours earlier.
Jefferson dined with Lafayette in the dome room of the Rotunda in 1826, sometime before the building was completed. Only a few weeks before his death at 83, Jefferson made his last trip down the mountain from Monticello. On his last trip, he visited the Rotunda. Legend says that as Jefferson was standing in the dome room of the Rotunda, he looked out the south window. Workers were finishing the installation of the marble capitals on the columns. A student saw him there and asked if he would like a chair. Chair provided, Jefferson sat at the window and gazed out over The Lawn. It was the last time he would visit the Rotunda, or stand on the grounds of The University. In the photo above, you can see that window above the white door. You can stand at that window today, and see the view of The Lawn that Jefferson saw (well, almost……)
Jefferson would have seen an open view into the countryside. Today, Old Cabell Hall closes off the south end of The Lawn. It was not in Jefferson’s original design. It was constructed in 1895, in conjunction with Rotunda 3. The original Rotunda, which we'll call Rotunda 1, was designed and built by Jefferson, and largely was completed by the time of his death. In 1851, a four story annex was fused into the north side of the Rotunda to provide classroom space. We'll call the Rotunda-Annex structure Rotunda 2. In 1895, the annex burned down and burned out a large part of Rotunda 2, leaving just the brick shell of Rotunda 2. The annex was never rebuilt, but the architect Stanford White was hired to rebuild the shell into a complete Rotunda. His design, which we'll call Rotunda 3, opened in 1898, and incorporated some interior changes to the design of Rotunda 1. It was during the 1895-1898 period that White designed and built the three buildings that now close off the south end of The Lawn: Old Cabel Hall, Rouss Hall, and Cocke Hall.
In 1973, Rotunda 3 was closed for a full restoration. The inside was gutted and restored, as close as could be known, to the original Jeffersonian design. It reopened for the bicentennial celebration in 1976. We'll call this Rotunda 4. In 2012, scaffolding went up again and workers replaced the old exterior surface of the dome with copper cladding. In 2014, the Rotunda was completely closed for engineering upgrades and more restoration. Rotunda 5 opened in September of 2016, and is the Rotunda that everyone sees today. For the restoration in Rotunda 5, new Carrera marble capitals were carved. The 6,200 pound capitals were put in place after removing the old capitals that were installed in the 1895 restoration. The new capitals can be seen in the photos above and below.
In September 2016, The Lawn, a little worse for the summer heat, welcomed back students to the newly refurbished Rotunda and another school year. This post closes with a view from Old Cabell Hall on September 11, 2016. The flags mark the yearly 911 remembrance on The Lawn.