31st October, 1895.

To the Rector and Visitors Of the University of Virginia.


The Faculty have to report to you in official form the grievous disaster which has befallen our University. The fire of the 27th October, 1895, breaking out in the rear of the top story of the Annex, tho' soon discovered, speedily passed beyond control and in spite of the devoted efforts of our officers, faculty, students, friends and neighbors continued its work of ruin until the Annex, the Rotunda, a large part of their contents, and the wings connecting the Rotunda with the Lawns were either burned or wrecked.

An investigation of the causes of the disaster will be made at as early a date as possible. It is doubtful whether its origin will ever be securely established. Yet such enquiries as have been made serve to convince us that the disaster can be ascribed to no lack of care on the part of our officials or servitors, but is one of those dark lessons in the discipline of life, beneath which we must bow in humility and faith. It is a painful but perhaps a salutary lesson to us in showing  that we must no longer depend solely upon external aid for subduing such conflagrations, and we shall recommend below that one of your first acts be to develop some systematic and thorough internal system of fire protection for our buildings. The Faculty will proceed at once to study the proper details of such a system and, desires to report upon the same to your Board at an early day.

It is fitting that we put on record in this paper our lively sense of gratitude for the gallantry and devotion of our students, the prompt and unstinted aid of our neighbours; including many noble women, the generous readiness of the Southern and the C. & O.R.R. companies to bring a trained fire service to our rescue, and the alacrity with which the Fire Departments of Charlottesville, Staunton, Lynchburg and Richmond flew to help us. The services of the railway and fire companies were rendered generously and gratuitously, and we recommend that your Board consider the propriety of making some pecuniary acknowledgement of the same.

Amid all our dismay in presence of this vast disaster we have the consolation of remembering that its risks and dangers were endured with the loss of no life, and we trust with no serious damage to the health of any of our brave assistants. The imagination of fatalities that might have befallen some of them makes us almost forget our material loss.

We are happy also to report to your Board that the work of the University of Virginia has suffered no interruption and will continue without a break. It is prosecuted amid some difficulties and some discouragements, but all are cheerfully borne. We feel assured that your Board, facing the emergency with a like spirit, will unite with us in the most active and earnest efforts not simply to restore the beauty and conveniences of our establishment, but to increase its usefulness by providing facilities more ample and splendid than we have heretofore enjoyed for our scholastic work.

Animated by this conviction we have given careful and minute attention to the details of plans for rebuilding. We have with the authorization of the Rector, called in as consulting architect Mr. MacDonald of Louisville, Ky, and have availed ourselves of his professional experience and knowledge in clearing our views upon the state of the ruined buildings and estimating the approximate cost of improvement, without however involving your Board in any expressed or implied agreement to employ him further. We have also been taught by the disaster, which has befallen us, the danger and impolicy of the system of construction followed in our old public building, and recommend to you a strict adherence to the general plan of fire-proof construction and of isolated buildings. With these preliminary points established we proceed to recommend to your Board the following specific action.

I. That the ruins of the Annex be at once demolished, the useful building material removed to such new site as your Board may select for the proposed Academical building (see IV below), and the depression occupied by the old building filled with earth. The Faculty is convinced that the original construction of the Annex was an architectural blunder and the restoration upon the old site would invite a repetition of our present disaster. It was a building devoid of true architectural merit and very costly for the accommodation secured. The direct loss consequent upon its removal will not exceed $2500.00. The indirect loss occasioned by its old location has exceeded $100,000.  We trust that no thought of its restoration will be entertained


II. That the two wings to the Rotunda be at once reconstructed in their former proportions, but of fire-proof materials, and  assigned to the use of the Library and the School of Natural Philosophy respectively. The remnants of our Library, stored temporarily in cellars and garrets, are now collecting on the floor of the Natural History Museum; but for any real use by professors or students the books must be shelved in some accesible apartment. The condition of our philosophical apparatus in the same way renders the work of instruction exceedingly difficult and extravagantly laborious. Finally the enforced use of the Museum as a place of deposit for these objects has made it necessary to close this building entirely to visitors.

III. That the Visitors engage a competent Architect and instruct him to prepare plans for the restoration of the Rotunda, but in fire-proof materials. The walls of this building need little repair, but should be at once protected against damage from weather. The Faculty feels that the original proportions of this central building should be religiously observed, but recommends that a new portico should be erected on the North side corresponding to that on the South, with proper flights of steps descending to the esplanade to be formed over the site of the old Annex, and thence at the Ramparts to the level of the ground. The Faculty also respectfully calls the attention of the Visitors to the fact that the old Library room had become so crowded with books that an orderly arrangement of them was impossible, and the consequent utility of the collection was seriously impaired. They therefore recommend that the Architect be instructed so to design the interior of the building that the whole of the capacity from the dome down to the portico floor may hereafter be readily and simply utilizable for Library purposes, and they request that he be also instructed to consult with their Library Committee as to the details of this design. They also advise that the Architect be instructed to give especial attention to the problems of heating, lighting and ventilation, which in the old building were inadequately solved. Believing that the funds requisite for this reconstruction are already on hand or immediately in sight, they recommend that the work of design be pushed rapidly to its completion and the work of construction begun at the earliest practicable moment.

IV. That the Architect of the Board be instructed to propose plans for a new Academical building to contain as its central member a public hall, designed in the horse-shoe or theatrical form, and two wings each with six lecture rooms of sizes suit- able for large and small classes. The Faculty recommends that the Visitors select at this session the site for said building in order that complete designs may be prepared and accurate estimates be made of the cost of construction; and inasmuch as it is in the last degree important that such building should be completed before September 1896, that the work of the next session may be effectually prosecuted, they advise that as soon as funds for the completion are obtained (estimated at about $90,000) the contracts for construction be immediately let.

V. That the architect be directed to prepare, under the advice of the Professor of Natural Philosophy, plans for a Physical Laboratory to be erected on such a site as the Board may at this session select. The Faculty have expressed in former reports their conviction that more ample provision should be made for the important school of Natural Philosophy. The desirability of a specially constructed and isolated building for delicate physical experimentation is obvious. Rooms for elementary and advanced instruction in Physics and especially for Electrical and Magnetic measurements should be free from sensible tremors and the last should be remote from attracting metallic masses. Preliminary estimates shew [sic] that all these advantages are obtainable at a cost not exceeding $30,000, which sum our assiduous efforts will probably be able to raise.

VI. That the architect be directed to prepare, under the advice of the Professors of Applied Mathematics and Engineering; plans for an Engineering building to be erected on such a site as the Board may select. An establishment involving necessarily the existence of coal sheds, boiler house, engine room, and so on, ought on grounds of safety to be isolated from all others. Preliminary estimates shew that a building adequate for the present needs of the University and providing for considerable growth, will cost less than $30,000. The sum of $2500 has already been promised toward its equipment with laboratory appliances.

VII. That the architect be directed to prepare, under the advice of the Professors of Law, plans for a Law building to be erected on such a site as the Board may select. The growth of the Law school justifies this recommendation and the Faculty believes that its future prosperity will be thus powerfully advanced. The quarters of the Law professors have long been a reproach to us. The estimated cost of this building is not over $20,000. It would be possible, though by no means easy or safe, for the work of the University to go on without the three last buildings. But the Rotunda and the general Academical Building are really necessary for our success, and we feel that they must be secured. The buildings for Physics, Engineering and Law are arranged in the order of relative importance and the Board is advised to observe this order in their erection, if but one can be erected at a time.

VIII. The Faculty is deeply impressed with the propriety of following in these new buildings classical types of design and of locating them so as to create an harmonious combination with the original Jeffersonian group. As we examine the additions made to this system by Jefferson's successors, we are forced to confess with a certain shame that not one of them has added in the least degree to the harmony and beauty and magnificence of the original composition. We recommend, therefore, that the Visitors select as their professional adviser a man not of local repute only but of broad and national consideration, that he be instructed to consider in his designs not merely the convenience and elegance of the single structure, but its effect as a member of our general architectural system, and that he submit to your Board a comprehensive scheme which shall embody his advice on the location not only of the buildings recommended in this report but also of such additional dormitories, hospital buildings, official quarters and so on as the Visitors may contemplate. The study of our grounds as a problem of landscape gardening should at the same time receive some attention.

IX. In view of the fact that the next buildings season may require us to complete a large amount of work within a brief time, we recommend that the Superintendent be instructed to proceed at once with preparation for the manufacture of such a number of bricks of thoroughly good quality as the architect may advice in addition to the supply saved from the Annex. By selecting the brickfield promptly, digging out the earth, raking it over and screening it if necessary, and letting it weather through the cold season, we shall obtain a better brick than can be purchased in the local market and at a far lower price.

X. Finally we desire to recommend as above indicated the provision of a special and effective fire-service for the University, and to advice that the Superintendent be authorized to study the details of such systems, in conjunction with a Committee of the Faculty, to advice with your architect thereon, and to report his conclusion to your Board.

While we have proceeded in making the above recommendations upon a broad and generous hypothesis as to the present and future needs of our University, we believe that we have done no more than wisdom dictates. Yet we are not oblivious of the difficulties of the financial problem arising out of the poverty of our beloved State and the limited fortunes of our Alumni. We believe, nevertheless, that our present devastated condition will be in itself a powerful appeal to the sympathies of every friend of learning; that the example of a judicious liberality and undaunted spirit, if set here, will be contagious; and that a bold and frank appeal to the Legislature will meet with a response alike generous and kind. The new buildings and restorations necessary for the needs of our present and our immediate future will cost about $250,000, or about $200,000 more than our present resources. We would respectfully recommend that the sum of $200,000 be at least asked for from the State for buildings, leaving the generosity of provate [sic] gifts to perfect our equipment. But whatever be the success of this appeal, we pledge to the Visitors our unwearying and earnest efforts to rehabilitate the University and ask from them their unwavering support in our plans and labors for its welfare.

Very respectfully,

Wm.M.Thornton, Chairman.

Forwarded by order of the Faculty - 4th Nov., 1895.

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