Thomas Jefferson Papers

Benjamin Henry Latrobe to Thomas Jefferson, 24 July 1817

From Benjamin Henry Latrobe

Washington July 24h 1817

Dear Sir,

Yesterday I had the pleasure to receive Your letter d. July 16th (P.mark 19h). I had presumed that you were from home, and also that as your institution has been so lately organized, some time could be given to the preparation of a design for the buildings.—But by your letter I find not only that I have been designing under a great misconception of your locale1 but also have presumed upon more time for deliberation than you can give me.—I supposed from your letter, & the sketch it contains, that your ground would be tolerably level along the long & closed side of your open quadrangle, which side, I suppose would be the North side, so as to make the continued portico face to the South. But in your last letter occur these words: “The levelling the ground into Terraces will take time & labor.” We propose a distinct terras for every 2 pavilions, & their dormitories, that is a pavilion at each end of each terrace.—

Thus it appears to me, that instead of a continuous line of building, you want a series of detached masses, on different levels.—I write in great haste this morning, & surrounded by interruptions, or I would send you better sketches than are below. They will explain the ideas I had.—Not having a copy of my great Sheet I will retain it, till I have again the pleasure of hearing from you when I may perhaps add Something useful.—A week will thus be lost, which I regret, but it may not be in vain.—

The locks of the Potowmac lower Canal having fallen in, beyond the power of Art to restore them, we suffer difficulty in getting down our Columbian Marble; but a great effort will be made to bring them thence by Land. Your opinion on the suggestions which I ventured to make as to the origin of this Marble, in my paper in the Nat. Intelligencer of the 18th of Jany, would be particularly acceptable to me. If they apply to the range with which you are acquainted, my opinion that these pebbles are the beach of the ancient Gulph stream, & are probably the ruins of Southern Marbles once occupying the excavation of the Gulphs of Darien & Mexico may receive more plausibility. The Abbe Roxas told me, & pointed out in the Block which I had polished, that many of the pieces were Mexican Marbles well known to him.

I am with the sincerest respect Yrs

B Henry Latrobe.

AA, will be the least expensive pavilions because the lower story will be covered by the Dormitories (one story high)2 (which I suppose will also be study rooms) and might be built first.—BB pavilions having the same dimensions, & general Mass but exhibiting different styles or orders of Architections. CC do do DD do do Center building which ought to exhibit in Mass & details as perfect a specimen of good Architectural taste as can be divised. I should propose below, a couple or 4 rooms for Janitors or Tutors, above a room, for Chemical or other lectures, above a circular lecture room under the dome; The pavilions to be, as proposed, habitations of Professors & lecture rooms.—But, if Professors are married, will they not require more than 2 rooms each, & a kitchen. I have exhibited such an arrangement.—

The above is the arrangement, I believe, sketched in your first letter, & might be executed on ground, falling each way East & West from the Center, & descending as much as may be N & South, because the E & West sides of the Quadrangle might be detached from the upper range.

I have now only to request of You one favor; namely, that, you will believe, that the pleasure I derive from the study & occupation which this project gives me, is much greater than any possible trouble which you might suppose, it occasioned, nor does it at all interfere with any business;—for I can without any inconvenience, & with much more satisfaction, devote to it those moments, which I devote to reading or chat.—In truth,—I pride myself much more on the power which my profession gives to me to be useful to the public & to my friends, than I should on any wealth which I might acquire in practising it.

Your very kind invitation to visit you, so often given & so impossible, I fear, to accept, has my best thanks. But with a large family to support, dependent on a Salary of 2.500 per Annum, & having a heavy debt of Mr Fulton’s to discharge, which it will require Years to recover from his heirs, I am obliged to shut myself up from the society of my neighbors, even, & dare not3 indulge any hope of pleasure abroad.—Very truly Yrs

B Henry Latrobe

RC (DLC); at head of text: “Thos Jefferson Esqre Monticello”; endorsed by TJ as received 2 Aug. 1817 and so recorded in SJL.

The locks operated by the Potomac Company had fallen in on 11 July 1817, preventing navigation (Washington Daily National Intelligencer, 22 July 1817). The heavy debt grew out of Latrobe’s failed steamboat partnership with Robert Fulton (Latrobe, Papers description begins John C. Van Horne and others, eds., The Correspondence and Miscellaneous Papers of Benjamin Henry Latrobe, 1984–88, 3 vols. description ends , 3:337–43).

1Manuscript: “local.”

2Parenthetical phrase interlined.

3Word interlined.

Index Entries

  • boats; steamboats search
  • building materials; marble search
  • canals; on Potomac River search
  • Capitol, U.S.; marble for search
  • Central College; designs for search
  • Central College; TJ’s architectural designs for search
  • Fulton, Robert; and steamboats search
  • geology; of Va. search
  • Latrobe, Benjamin Henry; and Central College design search
  • Latrobe, Benjamin Henry; and steamboats search
  • Latrobe, Benjamin Henry; letters from search
  • Latrobe, Benjamin Henry; proposed visit to Monticello search
  • locks (canal) search
  • marble; for U.S. Capitol search
  • National Intelligencer (Washington newspaper); prints B. H. Latrobe’s article on marble for U.S. Capitol search
  • Potomac River; locks on search
  • Roxas, Joseph; and geology search
  • steamboats; for U.S. river navigation search