July 29, 2014
Renovations on the University of Virginia's iconic Rotunda began two years ago, but recently some planned probes in the Lower West Oval Room uncovered something exciting for the university and historians alike.
Artifacts believed to be from President Thomas Jefferson's original Rotunda are now in the hands of university conservators and a lot is being learned from the pile of old rubble.
In May, two probes were planned at the Rotunda to gather information about the structure before phase two of the renovation project began, and what was found was a pleasant surprise.
"It's like stepping back in time to Jefferson's period and there's a wealth of information there," said Jody Lahendero, project manager to the Rotunda renovation.
During the probes it became clear that there were cavities not part of the functioning building, and they had become depositories for debris from the 1895 fire that claimed the original Rotunda and the Annex directly behind it.
"So when we saw what was in the bottom of these cavities, the first thing we do is, of course call Mark Kutney, our conservator and have him start to do thoroughly above-grade archeology,” said Lahendero.
At first it seemed to Kutney like everything coming out of the cavities was from reconstruction after the fire, but then items being removed suddenly seemed different.
"We were seeing a very compact layer that was displaying a lot of charcoal, a lot of ash, a lot of twisted and molted glass that was melted into other materials," Kutney said.
Materials that Kutney says were able to be linked to the Jefferson period.
"We found pieces of tin which have folded edges which were attached to adjacent pieces of tin which we know is how Jefferson roofed some of his pavilions with the tin shingles," continued Kutney.
According to Kutney, there are still a lot of items to go through, but nothing beats finding the artifacts because that means generations to come will be able to see history rather than just read about it.
Renovations to the Rotunda are said to wrap up in July of 2016.