Historical Notes: Jefferson's plan for the buildings and grounds at the University of Virginia, published first in 1822 and again in 1825, reveals his innovative design for an "academical village." With the assistance of the architects Benjamin Latrobe and William Thornton, Jefferson designed a complex of buildings for functional and didactic purposes. He disliked the large institutional buildings of other American universities, such as his alma mater, the College of William and Mary:
[L]arge houses are always ugly, inconvenient, exposed to the accident of fire, and bad in cases of infection. a plain small house for the school & lodging of each professor is best. ... in fact an University should not be an house but a village.1
At the center of Jefferson's plan of the university is the Rotunda, modeled after the Roman pantheon and intended by Jefferson to be used as a library. Flanking it are two parallel rows of five pavilions, each with school rooms on the lower floors and housing for the professor and his family above. All ten pavilions have a different classical facade, "so as to serve as specimens for the Architectural lectures."2 Connecting the pavilions are single-celled dormitory rooms fronted by a colonnade, so that the students can be protected from the weather as they walk between classes. The pavilions and dormitories open onto a shared "lawn" and behind the pavilions are private yards and gardens enclosed by serpentine walls. The two outer "ranges" consist of six "hotels," or dining halls also connected by dormitories.
Construction at the university was ongoing in 1821 when the Board of Visitors of the university ordered the engraving of a plan for sale to the public; only six of the ten pavilions were complete, and the Rotunda had yet to be begun.3 The sculptor William Coffee, who was working at Monticello at the time, recommended to Jefferson the New York engraver Peter Maverick, and he acted as intermediary between them. In the summer of 1821 Coffee carried to Maverick a plan of the university that was probably drawn by John Neilson, a skilled house joiner who worked for Jefferson at Monticello, Poplar Forest, and the university.4
Jefferson received the first printing of 250 plans from Maverick on December 7, 1822, along with his bill totaling $150 for engraving, printing, paper, and shipping.5 Maverick retained the copperplate, at Jefferson's instruction, for future impressions. In the fall of 1824, when the university's opening was imminent and construction was nearing an end, the engraved plans were again in demand. Jefferson wrote to Maverick requesting a second set of 200 engravings with a few alterations to the original design. He asked that the pavilions and dormitories be numbered, that an additional room be added to the end of the West Range (room no. 55) and that the Rotunda portico be connected to the upper level of the lawn terraces. Maverick executed these changes and sent 250 engravings (50 more than requested) to Virginia. Jefferson recorded paying for one of the revised plans on March 29, 1825.6 Its whereabouts today are unknown.
5. Maverick sent his first proof of the work to Jefferson on November 12, 1822. Maverick to Jefferson, November 12, 1822, Coolidge Collection of Thomas Jefferson Manuscripts, Massachusetts Historical Society. Transcription available at Founders Online. When asked what type of paper to use Jefferson responded, "Perhaps you can decide what is best on my information that the prints are intended for frames." Jefferson to Maverick, November 20, 1822, ibid.Transcription available at Founders Online.