UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA                                                                                                          GROUNDS PLAN                                                                                                          OFFICE OF THE ARCHITECT
 
k

 

 

 

The First Challenges: 19th-Century Changes

As the University struggled to establish itself academically, it would be over twenty years before the University added to Jefferson’s plan, and another twenty-five years before the University constructed a new, stand-alone academic building.  These first changes introduced to Jefferson’s plan stemmed from forces within and outside the University.

The first substantive addition to the University Grounds was not new construction, but the acquisition in 1820 of the Monroe Hill property.  The extant buildings included a few domestic-scaled structures that were to be used for housing students.  One housed the Proctor; twelve additional student residences were built in 1848.  The Monroe Hill dormitories were ultimately set aside for “staties”--Virginia students on scholarship.  In segregating the students by economic class, the University undermined the social parity envisioned for Lawn rooms and introduced a distinction between the periphery and the center that has continued to challenge the University’s planners.

Monroe Hill Property (photograph by Ralph Thompson)
Rotunda Annex (c.1890)

By the 1850s, the student body had more than doubled in size, from 175 students to 403, necessitating both new student housing and new classroom space.  A second addition to the Grounds was completed to ease the pressure on academic space: the Annex, a large multi-purpose expansion of the Rotunda, designed by Jefferson’s protégé Robert Mills and completed in 1853.  Like the Monroe Hill property, the Annex was not technically a new building, and, like the Monroe Hill residences, it represented a departure from Jefferson’s original intentions. The Annex contained a large auditorium and classrooms, and in essence ignored the Jeffersonian model of small classrooms and close master-pupil relationships.  In addition, the Annex’s site on the north side of the Rotunda did not participate in the life of the Lawn, but created a formal northern entrance to the Academical Village along 3-Notched Road where none had existed before.

The primary responsibility for the physical fabric of the University resided with the Proctor until 1855, when civil engineer William Pratt was hired to assist with the management of Grounds.  In 1858, the Board of Visitors established the position of Superintendent of Buildings and Grounds, in which Pratt served from 1858-65.  The creation of the Superintendent position was a shift in the management of the University, acknowledging that the care and planning of the Grounds was now a full-time occupation, rather than one that could be shared with other duties.

A Map of the University of Virginia with Water Pipes, Charles Ellet, Jr. (1856)

The changes introduced by Pratt again responded to challenges from within the University and influences from outside it.  Part of Pratt’s mandate was to make the University more healthful by improving its infrastructure.  Typhoid epidemics had battered the University population in 1820s and 1850s; the first burials in the University Cemetery were due to the epidemics.  Clearing the landscape of additions, buildings and obstructions that had accrued behind the Pavilions and around the gardens was a necessary first step.  A healthful water supply and effective drainage became of paramount importance.  In addition, Varsity Hall, a state-of-the-art infirmary, was designed to treat students when they fell ill, while Levering Hall, a gymnasium, was intended to promote the general welfare of the student body.

Varsity Hall, The First University Infirmary
The Gatekeeper's Lodge

Another of Pratt’s mandates was to repair the dilapidated state of the landscape.  In doing so, his romantic building and landscape designs reflected the interest in the picturesque that captivated the country’s imagination at this time.  A drawing by Pratt survives to illustrate how the University may have been transformed in the then-current architectural fashion, which found parallels at the campuses of many colleges and universities, such as the University of Michigan, New York University, and Davidson College, designed by Alexander Jackson Davis, the most important campus designer of his generation.  In Pratt’s plan, a road circumnavigates the Academical Village, even passing through the portico between the Rotunda and the Annex.  From this road, a series of curvilinear paths radiate outward through open space that resembles a large park.

The Grounds of the University were envisioned as a contemplative, pedestrian landscape, in which the Jeffersonian buildings were nested like jewels or architectural follies.  Although it is not clear how much of Pratt’s plan was executed, there is evidence of Pratt’s paths and garden walks from this period.  Buildings constructed during Pratt’s tenure, such as the Gothic Revival Gatekeeper’s Lodge (1856) also reflected these design ideals.  Pratt’s design encircled Jefferson’s with a romantic park which provided positions for some new buildings--Varsity Hall and the Gatekeepers Cottage notable among them--but it did not anticipate significant future growth of the institution’s student body and related facilities.

Plan of University Cleared Land, William A. Pratt (1858)

At the University as elsewhere, the appeal of the pastoral vied with the reality of an increasingly industrial landscape. The 1850 arrival of the railroad in Charlottesville both constrained the physical boundaries of the University and increased the ability of goods and people to move through the region, providing significant opportunities for growth.  The east-west Virginia Central Railroad and the north-south Orange and Alexandria lines met at Charlottesville and bounded the University on the north and east, creating a formidable barrier to the University’s physical growth.  The economic effect was broader.  Investment in the railroad drove up land prices throughout Albemarle County, consolidating wealth in the hands of a few powerful families.  The ease of moving goods to and from the city facilitated the development of a manufacturing sector of the economy, most notable in the construction of fabric mills adjacent to town.  By 1860, the town of Charlottesville had tripled in size from the early days of the University.

This period of expansion abruptly ended, however, with the outbreak of the Civil War in 1860.  By the end of the decade, the University faced curtailed enrollment, unstable finances, and decayed buildings and grounds.  Growth and planning came to a virtual standstill during the Civil War, when many of the University’s buildings and open spaces were appropriated for the war effort, particularly as a Confederate hospital.  William Pratt’s position as the Superintendent of Buildings and Grounds was among those eliminated at the onset of the Civil War, and care and planning for the University’s Grounds reverted to the Proctor.

After the war, the Rector, Chairman of the Faculty, and the Proctor shared responsibility for the direction of planning and building.  An energetic advocate for the University, Major Green Peyton, Proctor from 1867-82 and again from 1886-97, saw the University through both the post-Civil War recovery and the post-Rotunda fire rebuilding process.  Peyton spearheaded needed improvements in infrastructure, including a new reservoir at Observatory Hill in 1867, which was followed in 1884 by the Ragged Mountain Reservoir, a larger water project built in partnership with the town of Charlottesville.  A general sewage system for the University was in place by 1886, and two years later the University made the transition from gas lighting to electric lighting and power.

New buildings during Peyton’s tenure embodied the influence of national trends in their function and pushed University development towards the periphery.  The museum of natural history, now known as Brooks Hall (1876), was the first new free-standing academic building since Jefferson’s time.  Along with the McCormick Observatory (1882), Brooks Hall demonstrated a new emphasis on the sciences, funded by northern patrons who sought to strengthen the educational foundations of the recovering South.  The building’s eclectic Victorian exterior, contrasting markedly with the rest of the University, was characteristic of the sort of design supported at colleges and universities elsewhere.  According to architectural historian Paul Turner, the university patron of this era was often a wealthy industrialist with a self-made fortune who favored single buildings with a distinct and original architectural profile to distinguish their contributions from the rest of the ensemble.

Brooks Hall
McCormick Observatory

Two other new buildings were affected by trends from outside the University.  Efforts to construct a chapel had begun in the 1830s, despite Jefferson’s clear preference for a secular institution.  Although a Parsonage was built southwest of the Lawn in 1855, it was not until 1890 that objections were overcome and sufficient private funds were raised to construct the stone Gothic Revival University Chapel that now stands just east of the Rotunda.  Fayerweather Gymnasium (1893), sited across University Avenue from the Chapel and the Rotunda, responded to the growing interest in athletics and intercollegiate competition.  Unlike the chapel, however, the gymnasium’s design was intended to align it with Jeffersonian architectural tradition.

Sited on axis with the Rotunda Annex and the East Range, but facing resolutely outward toward Charlottesville, Brooks Hall declared a new relationship between insiders and outsiders, the town and the University.  The construction of Fayerweather Gymnasium on the Carr’s Hill property, the site of student boarding houses since before the University purchased the property in 1867, initiated the development of the land north of University Avenue as a mixed-use residential and recreation precinct.  Both buildings pushed non-academic functions to the periphery of the Grounds.  As the University took these steps towards Charlottesville, the town was growing to meet the University.

University Chapel
Fayerweather Gymnasium

In the post-Civil War era, the town boundaries of Charlottesville expanded twice--in 1873, and again in 1888.  By the late nineteenth century, the Charlottesville Land Company had purchased a large tract of land east of what is now Rugby Road and laid out the current street pattern, preparing the former farmland for development.  With the advent of streetcars in 1895, travel between the town, train station and the University improved, and, with the shared Ragged Mountain reservoir project in 1884, the town and the University were further linked through their common infrastructure.