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Thomas Jefferson's Academical Village University of Virginia

Map of Lawn

Jefferson's Vision of the Academical Village

The Rotunda

Thomas Jefferson designed the University of Virginia's first buildings to mirror his vision of higher education. As he conceived it, the college experience should take place within an "academical village" where shared learning infused daily life. He developed plans for ten pavilions—stately faculty homes with living quarters upstairs and classrooms downstairs—attached to two rows of student rooms and connected by an inward-facing colonnade. Each pavilion was identified with a subject to be studied and inhabited by the professor who taught that subject.

At the head of the shared lawn would stand the library (not, as in most other colleges and universities of the time, a chapel), its dome shape inspired by Rome's Pantheon and symbolic of the enlightened human mind. The plans grew to include two more colonnades of student rooms facing outwards and attached to a set of "hotels," where private businessmen served food for the students.


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Jefferson corresponded with scholars in America and Europe, seeking the best faculty to teach in the areas of philosophy, arts, foreign languages, science, law, and medicine. Construction and transatlantic travel delayed the date of opening, but in March 1825, the University of Virginia opened to serve its first 123 students.

For more than its first year of operation, Jefferson was a living legacy among University students and faculty. Each Sunday, he hosted students for dinner at Monticello. He died on July 4, 1826, the fiftieth anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson's great political rival and later friend, John Adams—also a leader of the American Revolution and former U.S. President—died the same day.

Last Modified: 14-Oct-2010 15:24:55 EDT