Jefferson's Views on the Wren Building

A quarter of a century after his days as a College student, Jefferson wrote disparagingly that the College building was a "rude mis-shapen pile" in his 1787 Notes on the State of Virginia. He would have had a hand in the expansion of that building, however, had it not been for the disruption of the Revolutionary War.

From the outset, the College building had been envisioned as a quadrangular edifice surrounding a center courtyard. By 1732 three of the four sides of the quadrangle had been constructed. In 1772 John Murray, fourth earl of Dunmore and the last royal governor of Virginia, in his capacity as rector of the Board of Visitors, asked Jefferson to design an addition to the College. Jefferson's plan proposed doubling the length of the Chapel and Great Hall wings and completing the quadrangle with a new west wing. The existing arcaded loggia would be extended along all four sides of the inner court.

In 1774 construction of the addition was begun, and the foundations of the new west wing were laid. By 1777, however, work on the addition was halted, never to be resumed. The foundations were covered over, and the remaining building materials sold.

Jefferson's drawing for the first floor survived, and his detailing of the floor plan of the existing building was a valuable source for the architects who restored the Wren Building to its eighteenth-century appearance in 1929–31.