#26: Take a Historical Tour of U.Va.


As Wahoos, we walk by the Lawn and all over Grounds many times throughout the week.  On our way to class, heading to the AFC, grabbing food…it’s just a part of our routine – especially for us Fourth Years.  It can be easy to forget that our gorgeous school is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site (translated: one of the most important places in the world) and is actually steeped in a lot of really interesting history.

Personally, I knew very little about UVA’s history when I first got here, aside from the fact that Thomas Jefferson founded it almost 200 years ago.  Last week, I decided to take a historical tour of UVA to learn a little bit more about the place that has been my “home away from home” for the past 4 years.  I was lucky enough to score a private tour with an awesome U-Guide, Emma, who gave me the low-down on UVA’s coolest historical facts, all in a mere 45 minutes.

Charlotte’s Top 5 Most Interesting Tidbits from the Historical Tour:

View from the Colonnade Club's balcony

View from the Colonnade Club’s balcony

  1. The Colonnade Club (a.k.a. Pavilion VII).  Pavilion VII was the first Pavilion built at UVA and is the only Pavilion on the Lawn without a faculty resident.  Instead, it serves as a gathering space for members of the Club (important alumni and faculty).  It even has 8 Jeffersonian-style guest rooms that can be rented out to members, just like a hotel.  There have been many times that I have walked by the Colonnade Club to see fancy affairs taking place inside, which led me to believe that the Club was exclusive and not for me.  My tour guide, Emma, told me that while Club membership is exclusive, the space is open for students to use as well.  In fact, Room 203 on the second floor is the perfect quiet study space if you are looking to branch outside of first-floor Clemmons or the McGregor Room in Alderman.  Even better, you can use the Club to hang out on its balcony overlooking the Lawn.  The door to the Colonnade Club is always open, so venture in!

    Room 203 on the second floor is a great hidden study spot. On the right: the downstairs area of the Colonnade Club.

    Room 203 on the second floor is a great hidden study spot. On the right: the downstairs area of the Colonnade Club.

  2. The Elizabeths Visit the Rotunda.  Many people come from all over the world to visit UVA’s Rotunda – including some pretty important celebrities and global figureheads, like the 1960’s bombshell Elizabeth Taylor and Her Royal Highness, Queen Elizabeth II.  On different occasions, both of these iconic women were received in the Second Floor West Room – a bright room full of other interesting stories and artifacts.

    Elizabeth Taylor and Queen Elizabeth II of England were both received in the Second Floor West Oval Room.

    Elizabeth Taylor and Queen Elizabeth II of England were both received in the Second Floor West Oval Room.

  3. TJ’s Last View of Grounds.  Standing in the Dome Room on the Rotunda’s third floor and looking out the central window toward Old Cabell Hall, you can experience Thomas Jefferson’s last view of UVA.  After he visited the Rotunda and overlooked the Lawn from this same window, our Jefferson rode back to his home at Monticello, where he died several hours later.  However, when Jefferson looked out this window, Old Cabell Hall did not yet exist.  Instead, you saw the Blue Ridge Mountains behind it.

    Thomas Jefferson's last view of UVA

    Thomas Jefferson’s last view of UVA

  4. The Bullet-Proof Rotunda Clock.  Back in UVA’s early days, the school was full of young-adult, and rather rambunctious, male students (UVA did not allow women to attend until the 1970s).  Boys tend to find interesting ways to entertain themselves, and in their free time back in the day, they would ride up and down the Lawn on their horses and shoot the hands off of the Rotunda’s clock.  After it happened several times, UVA finally invested in the bullet-proof clock that is on the Rotunda today.
  5. The “Hot-Seat.”  In the Executive Board Room on the Rotunda’s second floor, there is a long table with a fireplace at one end.  Many years ago, students had to present their dissertations to professors and faculty in this same room.  Students who did not meet expectations would have  their hand-written dissertations thrown into the fireplace by unimpressed professors.  Thus the seat at the end of the table and closest to the fireplace was called quite literally “the hot-seat.”

    The fireplace where some unlucky students' dissertations went up in flames.

    The fireplace where some unlucky students’ dissertations went up in flames.

The Historical Tours are offered through the University Guide Service every day of the week at 10AM, 11AM, 2PM, 3PM, and 4PM.  Each tour lasts about 45 minutes to 1 hour and start in the Lower East Oval Room of the Rotunda.