An Academical Neighborhood


For generations, the Academical Village has been a thriving neighborhood, a close community of faculty members, families, and students.

Early critics of Thomas Jefferson's University plan cautioned that faculty apartments were too small for all but "bachelors." Jefferson did not alter his plan, and when the bachelor professors married, they expanded the Pavilions to accommodate growing families. By the end of the 19th century, the Lawn was very much alive with family activities.

In the 1890s, young faculty children learned the three R's in Kate Minor's Pavilion basement schoolroom; another neighbor, Mrs. Francis H. Smith, offered Sunday school after the morning's interdenominational chapel service. Those professors with medical training provided care to the Lawn community.

Miscellaneous outbuildings, some of which are still standing, provided servants' housing, and each professor was assigned a pasture for livestock.

By all accounts, childhood on the Lawn in this era was idyllic. "We children skated and bicycled up and down the Lawn, under the arcades in snow and rain, [and] played a modified game of baseball with trees as bases," wrote Law School Dean William Minor Lile's daughter Eleanor Lile Tucker, who lived in Pavilion X, East Lawn, until her marriage in 1915.

Jane Bell Dabney, whose father, Dr. William C. Dabney, was a distinguished professor of medicine until his death in 1894, recalled another favorite childhood pastime. "The fall leaves were raked off the grass, forked onto high two-wheel carts drawn each by a mule, and the leaves hauled off," she wrote in a 1948 memoir. "The [African-American] men who had this duty helped us up on top of the leaves and enjoyed our squeals of delight when the carts tipped forward going down the terraces."

In more recent times, too, some nonresidents have been part of the community, becoming like neighbors as they provided firewood or other supplies or tended the landscape.

By design, there was much interaction among the Lawn residents themselves. Then as now, faculty opened their homes to students in the spirit of Southern hospitality.

"I do not remember a session during my father's life where only our own family [of nine] lived in our home," Jane Bell Dabney wrote. "My father invited some boy or student to live with us in order to attend a good school or the University."

Times have changed, and modern conveniences just an automobile ride away make us less reliant on our immediate neighbors. Still, the longstanding social tradition continues, with current Pavilion residents such as economics Professor Kenneth Elzinga and his wife, Terry, welcoming students into their homes as neighbors and friends.