Thursday, August 15: In the morning, Sarah and I get up early. She goes for a run and I go for a walk through part of the University of Virginia campus. It’s a beautiful sprawling campus, with green lawns, stately trees and old brick buildings. It’s a lovely place to take a walk.
Thomas Jefferson founded the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Virginia in 1819. It was the first nonsectarian university in the United States and the first to use the elective course system. It is now a public research university and is one of the eight original Public Ivy universities. It is the only university campus in the U.S.A. designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. In the 2013 edition of U.S. News and World Report’s National University Rankings, the school was listed as America’s 2nd best public university; tied with UCLA and surpassed only by UC Berkeley (Wikipedia: University of Virginia).
Jefferson considered the founding of the University to be one of his greatest achievements. Undertaking the project toward the end of his life—after a long, illustrious career that included serving as a colonial revolutionary, political leader, writer, architect, inventor, and horticulturalist—he was closely involved in the University’s design. He planned the curriculum, recruited the first faculty, and designed the Academical Village, a terraced green space surrounded by residential and academic buildings, gardens, and the majestic center-point—the Rotunda.
The most recognizable symbol of the University, the Rotunda stands at the north end of the Lawn and is half the height and width of the Pantheon in Rome, which was the primary inspiration for the building. The Lawn and the Rotunda have served as models for similar designs of “centralized green areas” at universities across the United States.
Flanking both sides of the Rotunda and extending down the length of the Lawn are ten Pavilions interspersed with student rooms. Each has its own classical architectural style, as well as its own walled garden separated by Jeffersonian Serpentine walls. These walls are called “serpentine” because they run a sinusoidal course, one that lends strength to the wall and allows for the wall to be only one brick thick, one of many innovations by which Jefferson attempted to combine aesthetics with utility.
The University opened for classes in 1825 with a faculty of eight and a student body numbering sixty-eight. Jefferson took great pains to recruit the most highly qualified faculty, five of whom were found in England and three in the United States. Instruction was offered in ancient languages, modern languages, mathematics, moral philosophy, natural philosophy, chemistry, law, and medicine. The students came from the American South and West; interestingly, though, most were not Virginians (University of Virginia: Founding the University).
In the late 19th century, community members raised funds to establish a non-denominational church on the University Grounds. The UVA Chapel is a Gothic Revival building. The University Chapel no longer holds regular religious services, but weddings and memorial services still take place inside.
Finally, there are residential colleges which are part of the campus, including Brown College at Monroe Hill.
After my walk and Sarah’s run, we shower and prepare to visit another part of Thomas Jefferson’s neighborhood, his home of Monticello.