West Portico Columns

In 1822, Thomas Jefferson began his final stretch of building at Monticello. Although the West Portico at Monticello was creating during the first building phase, Jefferson had yet to put up the Doric style columns he had envisioned for the area. Upon his visit to Monticello in 1807, British diplomat Augustus John Foster remarked that "the house has two porticoes of the Doric order, though one of them was not quite completed, and the pediment has in the meanwhile to be supported on the stems of four tulip trees, which are really, when well grown as beautiful as the fluted shafts of Corinthian pillars".[1]  Jefferson used these tulip trees instead of columns while he waited to find a competent stonecutter to make the capitals and bases. In 1822, Jefferson hired John Gorman to do the job and construction started.[2] 

Although the capitals and bases of the West Portico columns were to be made of stone, Jefferson's difficulties with the stone columns of the East Portico led him to make those of the West Portico out of specially curved bricks.[3]  He calculated that 4,320 circular bricks, plus about one thousand standard bricks to fill the center, were necessary for the building of the columns.[4]

Construction was completed in 1823, three years before Jefferson passed away. Upon their completion, the columns were stuccoed to look like stone.[5] Jefferson also planned to make the portico more livable by adding benches and Venetian blinds between the column.[6]  

Primary Source References[7]

1804 February 26. (Jefferson to B. Henry Latrobe) "[...] Would it not be best to make the internal columns of well burnt bricks moulded in portions of circles adapted to the diminution of the columns. Ld. Burlington in his notes on Palladio tells us that he found most of the buildings erected under Palladio's direction and described in his architecture to have their columns made of brick in this way and covered over with stucco. I know an instance of a range of 6. or 8. columns in Virginia, 20. 9. high well proportioned and properly diminished, executed by a common bricklayer. The bases and Capitals would of course be of hewn stone."[8]


  1. Peterson, Merrill, ed., Visitors to Monticello (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1989), 37.
  2. James A. Bear, Jr., and Lucia C. Stanton, eds. Jefferson's Memorandum Books: Accounts, with Legal Records and Miscellany, 1767-1826 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1997), 2:1392.
  3. Thomas Jefferson, Abstracts of Letters and Memoranda Relating to the Design and Construction of Monticello, 1770-1826, ed. Amy Facca and William L. Beiswanger (Charlottesville: Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation,1990), 112.
  4. Thomas Jefferson, Texts by or to Thomas Jefferson from the Modern English Collection, "Thomas Jefferson Estimate of Bricks 13 May-31 August 1822," University of Virginia Library.
  5. Facca and Beiswanger, 112.
  6. Thomas Jefferson, "A Facsimile of Thomas Jefferson's Building Notebook", 113.
  7. Please note that this list should not be considered comprehensive.
  8. Facca and Beiswanger, 112.

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