08/16/2012 08:46 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Restoring Jefferson's University

Now that the political struggles have settled somewhat at The University of Virginia, it's time to get down to what's really important at Mr. Jefferson's academical village:

The renovation of his beloved Rotunda.


"It was last done in the 1970s," says Amy Yancey, Executive Director for Development for the Jeffersonian Grounds Initiative, who's charged with pulling together a capital plan and strategy for the Rotunda and other structures on the historic grounds. "We're in the early phase of a $50 million renovation."

The capitals atop the structure's Corinthian columns currently are wrapped in netting because they've started to deteriorate. Made of American marble, they long ago replaced the Carrara stone that Jefferson called for in 1822.


Jefferson's original bases and capitals were carved in Italy and shipped back to Charlottesville for installation. The architect contacted Thomas Appelton, U.S. consul, to oversee the carving of the original capitals - copied exactly from the Pantheon, as represented by Palladio ("B.4. chap. 20. Pl. 60. Leoni's edition").

After the great conflagration of 1895, McKim, Mead & White handled the renovation of the structure. The new capitals were carved by sculptors at J. Franklin Whitman and Company of Philadelphia, as part of Stanford White's reconstruction

Now, preservationists will restore the capitals, replace the dome roof and its oculus, as well as its windows and flashing. They'll also repoint the deep red brick comprising the round drum of the structure. Masons are also rushing to restore most of the fireplaces in dormitory rooms on the Lawn before classes start up in the fall. Students still live in those rooms -- and faculty in the connecting pavilions - just as Jefferson originally intended.


"The entire Lawn is a stunning architectural masterpiece," Yancey says. "We're taking stock of our World Heritage designation to explore ways that we might open ourselves to the public."

The Rotunda, along with much of the surrounding area and Monticello, Jefferson's home that overlooks the University, have all been named World Heritage sites by UNESCO. The only other U.S. structures so named are the Statue of Liberty and Independence Hall.

Part of he Rotunda's special place in architectural history lies with Jefferson's radical notion of placing a library -- and not a chapel -- at the center of the University.

"It sheds light on arguably the most important legacy of the Revolution," she says. "In order for a democracy to succeed, it would need an educated citizenry."


Yancey is at the front end of a long campaign. She plans to raise more than $50 million just for the restoration of the Rotunda; work on other structures will follow. "It's a long uphill journey ahead," she says. "But people are passionate about it. We're all stewards of Thomas Jefferson's architecture."

One of those most passionate about his architecture is Dr. Judith Shatin, professor of music composition at the University, who now offers a CD containing a time-lapsed video of a year in the life of the Lawn for sale at $25. She plans to donate 20 percent of each sale to the Rotunda's restoration.

Shatin is only one of many who care a great deal about the Rotunda and the Lawn.

"There are multiple stakeholders," Yancey says. "We have to raise the money for it holistically, and we have to make the right decisions for its reparation, its renovation and its restoration."

For more by J. Michael Welton, go to

For more on the Rotunda's rebirth, go to

For more on Judith Shatinand her video, "Rotunda," go to