Monday, March 15, 2010

Academical Village

On the last day of our stay in Charlottesville, Va., I made certain I’d have time to do something I’ve wanted to do since the fall of 1997, the first time I set foot on the UVa campus.

I toured The Rotunda and Thomas Jefferson’s Academical Village.

The first time I ever visited the University of Virginia, I was there with the Akron men’s soccer team. We were playing in a tournament at Klöckner Stadium but our head coach made certain that we had a few minutes to see the most important bit of campus.

One of the star players on that team was an Academic All-America midfielder who held a 3.97 GPA with double majors in chemistry and Spanish with a biology minor or something ridiculous like that. It was a beautiful day in Charlottesville that September, and I remember Justin taking a slow 360 and taking it all in before declaring “If I went to school here, I’d stay forever and major in everything.”

If anyone could do it, Justin could have. Despite the dismal weather on this most recent trip, that will always be my enduring memory of UVa.

OK. Now that story time is over …

Since my dad taught at Pitt’s law school for more than 20 years, I felt the need to document that we stopped by the UVa School of Law. Tigger got his picture taken there

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Since this is me we’re talking about, it won’t surprise anyone that I got a bit of a late start that fine Wednesday morning and I was hustling to get over to The Rotunda for what I believed was an available 10:30 a.m. tour. Sadly, I had been misinformed, and the next tour was at 11. So Tigger and I walked a bit around the Village. And Tigger got his picture taken with The Rotunda.

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Sorry about the crappy picture. I was a little bit self-conscious and didn’t want to stand out as a tourist any more than I absolutely had to.

The tour eventually started and we had a very good tour guide who is a current UVa senior. We started on the ground floor of The Rotunda and worked our way up. It’s another intriguing Jefferson creation with oval rooms around the edges of the circular building and an hourglass-shaped interior area. The Rotunda was the centerpiece of the original University and is still in full use today (although the rooms have different functions than they did in the 1820s)

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This statue of Jefferson is on the second floor of The Rotunda. It’s a little hard to tell in this photo, but there are small bits of Jefferson’s cloak that are a bit chipped. The Rotunda burned in 1895 and students were able to save the bulk of Jefferson’s books and this 2.5 ton marble statue. It used to be in the Dome Room atop the building and students were able to slide the statue down the stairs to safety on a mattress!

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The Dome Room itself is quite impressive. The top of the dome is open, and there is a whispering gallery above, although you can no longer use that area. Behind each of the columns is a set of bookcases. If you stand in the center of the room, the books are invisible, but in the above photo you can see bits of the bookcases.

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There are tables in front of most of the windows and it’s completely open for students (or anyone) to study or read or do anything they want up there.

I didn’t take pictures (the tourist-ey thing again), but if you go to the Grounds Tour slide show and click on the Academical Village, you'll see the stacks of cordwood in the fourth photo? That’s for real. Those are the original dorm rooms that Jefferson planned and built. They are currently occupied by the best of the best of UVa students and are heated by radiators and functioning fireplaces. Yes, in 2010, college students are heating their dorm rooms with wood.

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This is Pavilion I, closest to the Rotunda on the west side of the Lawn.

There are 10 Pavilions as part of the Village. All are still occupied by professors and are in use. I have to admit I think that is SO cool!

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We finished our tour at Pavilion VII. It’s the first Pavilion that was built by Jefferson, who built the Village in bits and pieces. A little here, a little there, never finishing any of the buildings until the whole shebang was ready to go. He was a smart guy, and knew that if he started at the top of the Lawn and worked down, some official in charge of funding would decide that his University was “finished” and cut off the dough. So he moved around his plan so it always looked UNfinished and in need of continued money to complete his vision.

He was a smart guy, that Jefferson fellow. I look forward to visiting his home and University again. Hopefully in better weather!

3 comments:

Jen said...

Students + wood-burning fireplaces = disaster. I guess their best and brightest are not exactly *those* kind of students, though. :)

Bezzie said...

Ha ha! I LOVE that he built them like that--brilliant!

SJ said...

What a cool campus! I have a friend who's in grad school at UVA right now, so maybe we ought to arrange a visit.