The Jeffersonian Project

The Jeffersonian Project

In Thomas Jefferson's quest to reinvent higher education in America, he sought to cultivate an environment in which students and faculty could live and learn from one another.

At the University of Virginia, scholars and professors could exercise their ingenuity, develop the tools of self-governance, and push the boundaries of knowledge in service to the common good.

The result was a revolution: the Academical Village. Designed to foster cross-disciplinary exchange, Jefferson's design housed faculty from a range of specialties around a central Lawn. Students lived in single rooms between professors' homes. At the head of their shared Lawn stood the library (also known as the Rotunda). And at the Lawn's foot lay a panoramic view of the mountains, suggestive of the intellectual frontiers that lay open to discovery.

Indeed, Jefferson's Academical Village gave physical shape to his ideals--ideals that would alter the course of higher education in America and the world.


1809-1825: Jefferson's Vision

The history of the East and West Ranges dates back to the early nineteenth century when Thomas Jefferson first began to draw up plans for the Academical Village.

Jefferson modified the design of the Ranges and Hotels several times before construction began.  He originally wanted the two Ranges to face the Lawn, but he was persuaded to have them face outwards so that roads could be run-up to the Hotels and Pavilions.  Even so, some members of the Board of Visitors had doubts about Jefferson's design and argued that it would be more efficient to replace the Hotels and Range rooms with larger buildings.  In response, Jefferson insisted that the East and West Ranges had to be built in the same pattern as the Lawn.  As he proclaimed in a letter, "Separation of the students in different and unconnected rooms . . . seems a fundamental of the plan."

However, the uneven terrain forced Jefferson to make design changes, and so the two Ranges were constructed differently in several ways.  For example, the slope of the hill meant that the East Range had to be built farther away from the Lawn than the West Range.  Many of the buildings and student rooms (which Jefferson called dormitories) also had idiosyncrasies in their dimensions and furnishings.

1826-1945: The Ranges Evolve

When the university opened in 1825, enrollment was low and many of the dormitories were initially used for other purposes, such as office space.  One of the earliest residents was Edgar Allen Poe, who occupied the room at 13 West Range in 1826.  During his time on the Range, Poe would meet with groups of students in his room to recite poems and stories, until he was forced to leave the university because of debts.  More than 50 years later, Woodrow Wilson lived in the room at 31 West Range for two years (1879-1881) while he was a student at the University.  Many other noteworthy individuals in Virginia politics and public life have also lived on one or both of the Ranges.

Over time, the buildings on both Ranges have been modified and renovated.  For example, the room at 56 East Range was demolished in the mid-nineteenth century to make room for Levering Hall.  Several of the Hotels have also undergone expansion over the years - for example, the "Crackerbox" building was originally built as a kitchen for Hotel F, and is still in use today as student housing.  More recently, the Range rooms have been remodeled to include heat and indoor plumbing, and bathrooms have been installed under several of the Hotels as well as on the West Range.

1946-2000: Grad Student Era

The University separated the Academical Village into two parts shortly after the end of World War II. Undergraduates were assigned to the Lawn, while graduate students were assigned to the Ranges. Initially, the rooms on the East Range were reserved for medical students, while law students and others lived on the West Range. Although graduate students are no longer housed by discipline, the distinction between the undergraduate Lawn and graduate student Range has persisted now for over half a century.

Just as the Lawn has grown to become one of the most prestigious places for undergraduates to live, the Range has evolved as well. In 2002, roughly fifty years after graduate students first began to live in the Academical Village, a group of Range residents came together to form the Range Community. Although graduate students have long lived on the Ranges, the creation of the Range Community opens a new chapter in the history of the East and West Ranges which is yet to be written.

We are interested in hearing from alumni who lived on the Range from 1946 to 2000 and can tell us more about what life on the Ranges was like during this period.