Thomas Jefferson’s Lost Laboratory

The University of Virginia’s iconic Rotunda was designed by Thomas Jefferson himself to represent “the authority of nature and the power of reason.” This included a ‘chemical hearth’ which was part of an early chemistry classroom in the 1820’s. By the 1840’s the lab was bricked up and forgotten while experiments were moved to another part of the building. Because of this, however, the lab managed to survive a devastating fire in 1895 and the gutting of the building in 1976. The laboratory had remained untouched up until last weekend, when it was discovered during renovations to the Rotunda. John Waite, lead architect at John G. Waite Associates, states that the lab is based off of British models from that era. Historians of science at the British Museum, the University of Cambridge, and the University of Oxford all admitted that they know of no comparable laboratory in England, since all of their labs are research-oriented and have been renovated every few years. This means that the finding of Jefferson’s laboratory is significant because no other type of laboratory from that period exists in England, or even throughout the entirety of Europe for that matter.

Photo by terren / CC BY 2.0
Photo by terren / CC BY 2.0

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