When pieces of historic puzzles come together, it is truly an exciting time. So it happens with the recently discovered Thomas Jefferson chemistry lab within the University of Virginia Rotunda.
Part of the chemistry laboratory was already discovered during the 1970s. At the time it was mistaken for the whole design where generations have for the first time been taught by John Emmet, University of Virginia first professor of natural history. Even then, it was a surprise, as it was believed the chemistry hearth had been fully lost in a devastating fire in 1895.
Now, the finding of the Thomas Jefferson chemistry lab within the University of Virginia Rotunda is all the more exciting. The renovation project of the Rotunda revealed the chemistry lab built in the first half of the 19th century.
As the renovation project unravelled, some sections of the wall and craters were the clues that indicating something more had been standing there once upon a time. It seems the premise had been walled up as teaching methods evolved before the devastating fire occurred. As such, it remained a hidden piece of history for over 200 years.
“Just because of luck and geometry of the building, because it was bricked up, it survived the major fire in the 1895, and it survived the major renovation in the 1970s, mostly because people didn’t know it was there”,
stated Matt Schiedt, the project manager with John G. Waite Associates and supervisor of the renovation project developing at the University of Virginia Rotunda. When the original Rotunda was standing, the lectures were taking place in the west oval room of the lower side. The chemistry classes were taking place in the specifically designated room at the bottom floor. The experiments and practical teachings were developed in the lower east.
John Emmet wasn’t just the first natural history professor with the University of Virginia. He also helped equip the chemistry laboratory and the allocated spaces, as it stands out from correspondence of the time between him, Thomas Jefferson and Joseph Cabell, member of the Board of Visitors in 1820s.
The Thomas Jefferson chemistry lab within the University of Virginia Rotunda was equipped with two heating sources. A coal-burning firebox, as well as a wood-burning one. A brick pit crossing underneath would provide the fresh air needed in the laboratory. Five stone countertops provided the students of the time with their much-needed workstations.
In 1824, a document of the Board of Visitors designated the basement of the University of Virginia Rotunda as the space for the chemical laboratories within the education institution.
Photo Credits: Wikimedia