Jeffersonian Grounds Initiative

The Case of the Lost Parapet

Sometimes preservationists are like detectives—very patient detectives, picking up clues, notch by notch, nail by nail.  A case in point was the recent roofing project on the West Range, where new discoveries support existing evidence of what had once been a parapet, or low railing, along the eaves of the Ranges.  Although the parapet did show up in some early renderings, most notably in the famous Bohn print on display in the Rotunda, the University’s preservation team wanted more proof – specifically, physical evidence—of its existence.

They initially found proof in the summer of 2012, when chimney work on both the East and West Ranges uncovered notches in the roof sheathing. The notches indicate that brackets had once been installed as support posts for a railing. The preservation team also unearthed a segment of a metal bracket with a nail attached.  According to University architectural conservator Mark Kutney, these findings would play a role in this year’s West Range roofing project, which entailed replacing all of the slate for the first time since the 1830s.

“This was an opportunity to really look for evidence,” Kutney said.  “We took steps to be ready to record it and to preserve what we could.”

Their hopes were well-founded. Almost as soon as the scaffolding went up, the team discovered several original slates that had been cut with square holes to accommodate the metal brackets. As the roofers exposed the sheathing above the student rooms adjacent to Hotel E, they could see the actual layout of the parapet’s support system.

“Some of the cut-outs still had screws remaining,” Kutney said.  “We were able to figure out the precise locations of the posts and take measurements.”

So, now, the evidence is in.  Will it affect plans for the Ranges?  Not immediately, Kutney said.  The first reason is, the West Range’s brand new roof was just completed in August and does not need additional work at this point. Moreover, he noted, the question of whether or not to restore the parapet needs further investigation and scholarly discussion. 

For preservationists, this case is not yet closed.

West Range Slate

The small rectangular notch seen here in the West Range roof is strong evidence of a missing parapet. The notch indicates that brackets once held a support post for the railing.

Casimir Bohn’s 1856 engraving of the University shows the Lawn with the West Range (foreground). University preservationists recently discovered evidence of the so-called “lost parapet” that runs along the eaves of the West Range.





Amy Yancey
Telephone: 434.924.7750
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