It’s not every day that you get to see a picture of the world just before it changed. But that’s what I found in my latest eBay finding, a copy of the Y.M.C.A. Student’s Hand Book to the University of Virginia, 1895–’96. Inside the book, after the title page and opposite the calendar of the year (more on that in a second), is a fold-out map of the University as it existed at the beginning of the 1895 school year.
It’s literally a peek backwards in time. The infirmary (now Varsity Hall) is on the map where it was built and stood until its move in 2005 to make way for the expansion of Rouss Hall for the McIntire School of Commerce (and Rouss, Cocke, and Cabell are not on the map at all). The original Dawson’s Row buildings dot the map in an arc leading away from Monroe Hill. The lost Jefferson Anatomical Building, here labeled “Biological Laboratory,” stands on the map alongside a pair of more modern buildings for Anatomy and Chemistry, both now lost to time. Memorial Gym is still the skating pond. Carr’s Hill is a set of wooden dwellings, with no sign of the president’s home that Stanford White built — of course, this was before the University had a president. Madison Bowl, and the original Madison House building, are just the “YMCA Campus.”
And of course, the Rotunda only has one set of east-west wings, and it has a big Annex.
It’s all poised on the brink of a monumental event: the destruction of the Rotunda Annex and the burning out of Jefferson’s Rotunda on October 27, 1895. In a day the University was turned upside down. Two years later the Rotunda would be rebuilt in a grand style, three academic buildings would close off Mr. Jefferson’s Lawn, and the unprecedented fundraising challenge would prove the last straw for the old faculty government model. Within ten years the University’s first president would take office. It’s a fascinating look back into a lost world.
The best part of any reunion is the people, and I’ve learned an important lesson this time: get here early. I was never rushed, had enough time to spend with everyone, and lowered my blood pressure probably 20 or so points.
The shenanigans of our group of friends shall mostly be lost to the mists of time (or behind private walls on Facebook), but a few things stand out:
- Lunch from Take It Away on Friday afternoon, sitting under the tree in front of Pavilion VIII and watching the world go by.
- Bringing beer to the gentlemen of the Virginia Glee Club at the Glee Club House
- Meeting alumni from several generations of Club and seeing a program from the Founders Day 1943 debut of The Testament of Freedom – autographed by Randall Thompson
- Closing down Millers on Thursday night listening to John D’Earth
After Saturday’s banquet, I had reached my quota of extroversion, and my claustrophobia kicked in. So I took my leave of my friends and walked up East Lawn, then cut across to West. As I passed Pavilion V, I was hailed by strangers sitting outside one of the Lawn Rooms, who pointed out my absence of beverage and rectified same; we exchanged pleasantries and University personal histories. Walking back down East Lawn again, I was stopped by alumni of the class of 1974, sitting outside another Lawn room drinking bourbon and smoking cigars. They pointed to my orange and blue bow tie and said, “Now that’s how it’s supposed to be done!”
I got a special behind-the-scenes tour of the Rotunda on Saturday. The Rotunda, Jefferson’s library and the centerpiece of his Academical Village, just got done with a roof replacement and now enters the second, more extensive phase of its renovations as they redo the mechanical systems and get ready to return it to a building more integrated with student life. The guide said that they were inspired by the way students took to the McGregor Room in Alderman when it was turned into study space after Special Collections moved into its new dedicated building, and hope to recreate that effect in the oval room across from the Board of Visitors meeting room on the second floor. I can’t think of anything better.
The tour itself was fascinating. We stood in the lower oval rooms on the ground floor and learned what they’ve reconstructed about the larger role of the chemistry labs in the earliest days of the university, when the Rotunda was not just library but also science classroom. We marveled at the graffiti left by builders in the portland cement lining the cistern buried in the east courtyard, long hidden under a fountain. And we got to ascend both tiers of balcony above the Dome Room floor, which have long been off limits to regular tours.
The last part was the most special. Behind an opened panel on the north wall was a small chamber housing the machinery for the north clock. There was a 1970s era unfinished wood structure around the clock mechanism. And the wood structure was covered by signatures of probationary classes of the University Guide Service. The Guides’ secret hideaway had long been a legend, and seeing it in broad daylight was surprising at first. But as I wrote to a friend, I felt that the Guides found a way to become part of the historic fabric of the building in an intimately familiar and ultimately respectful way, just like the builders who left their names in the cement of the cistern. Seeing the signatures meant that my friends had found a way to become a deep part of the history of the University.
Check the Flickr photoset for more.
My 20th reunion has been a great time to connect with friends, gawk at the architecture (again), and disappear into the library. —Wait, what?
I got into Charlottesville on Thursday for reunions weekend, and headed straight to the library. I was on the trail of the mysterious Glee Club concert program. I found the mention of William Wood Glass‘s correspondence with Ada Bantz Beardsworth in January of this year, and one sentence in the finding aid was electrifying: “He also included programs for the University of Virginia Glee Club.”
In the end, the discovery was simple. I went to Special Collections, requested the box of correspondence, opened it, and there it was: a program for the February 12, 1894 Glee Club concert. Featuring E.A. Craighill, author of the Good Old Song, and the same concert program that the Club took on that 1893–1894 tour, the program formed the second earliest record we have of an actual Glee Club performance. It also had a human dimension: Glass wrote a letter to Ada on the front and back, describing the concert and its aftermath. He notes, “We had a fine time, but not as large a house as we anticipated. I made a great mash on one of Miss Baldwin’s girls.”
I’m getting the program scanned properly. It should be part of our permanent record of Club’s history.
I returned to Alderman on Friday to dig through other holdings. I finally laid eyes on the January 1871 copy of the Virginia University Magazine, which fixes our earliest date for the Glee Club, and made my way through much of the collection of Corks and Curls. I’ll post about some of those findings another time.