Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from John Hartwell Cocke, 3 May 1819

Bremo May 3d 1819

Dear Sir,

Conversations with Mr Brockenbrough and other practical mechanicks, together with estimates made by Mr B. & myself have induced me to suggest some changes in the Hotels & Dormitories designed to be connected with them, which are about to be erected at the University. In the Dormitories upon the upper level, connecting the Pavilions I wou’d propose no change. The beauty & convenience of this part of the plan more than counterbalance some objections which present themselves to my mind. Indeed here, it does not appear to me, that any change cou’d be made for the better unless the low pitched roofs concealed by a railing (upon the plan I once suggested) shou’d be found to be better & more economical coverings & to render the rooms more comfortable by keeping the Sun at a greater distance from the ceilings.

Perhaps upon examination of the inclosed scheme (if I succeed in making you comprehend my imprefect sketch) you may deem it worthy of consideration how far its cheapness. the more retired situation of the students apartments, and being less exposed to the influence of the Sun, may recommend it for adoption—notwithstanding the sacrifice it demands in Architectural beauty.—

You will perceive by the graduated paper upon which the plan is laid down, that the are of the building proposed is 56 by 36 feet—and that the divisions of the first floor are the same proposed in your plan for Hotel No 1—with the exception of the passage between the two small rooms. This is a necessary change to embrace all the objects designed to be comprehended. I shou’d propose that this building present its gable toward the pavilions and that the Door represented therein be its principal entrace. & into a large street running parallel with the back inclosures of the professors gardens. By this arrangement & making the kitchen under the opposite end of the House, the natural fall in the land, (intended to be represented by the diagonal line on the basement story of the side views) will relieve this apartment from the evil of being under ground, and place the kitchen floor upon a level with the back yard. And, wou’d not the gardens as now designed to be divided between the Hotels & Pavilions be too small—at any rate for the purposes of the former?—To obviate this, upon the plan here proposed, we might give extensive gardens to the Hotels adjoining their kitchen yard & running back from the street on which they front. Shou’d this leave the Professors gardens too large we may curtail them & move up the Hotels nearer to the line of Pavilions—as smaller gardens will certainly do for the professors than will be required for the Hotels.

This plan gives sixteen rooms for Students besides those design’d for the keeper of the Hotel & the large public room. The Students rooms will be about 12ft by 14ft6in a fire place in each, 8 in the 2d story 9ft pitch & 8 in the attic 8ft pitch. It is presumed that these rooms will be much more private from being in upper stories, than the Dormitories opening as they do into the public walk, & that they will be more cool and comfortable in Summer. The comparative cost of the two plans will be seen by calculating the expence of the Single building at 239 700 bricks and the Dormitory plan to afford the same number of rooms at 389 100—

Your greater facility & accuracy in such calculations will readily detect any error in which I may have fallen in making the estimates of the number of bricks required in the respective plans—I therefore add the following date upon which I have gone. The ground plan of the Single building as stated above 56ft by 36—Cellar story*, if of brick 2½ thick & 10ft high including foundation & depth of joists—First Story 2. bricks thick 12ft high including depth of joists leaving 11ft between floor & ceiling Second story including attic 18ft high 1½ thick

2 gable parapets rising to the ridge of the roof which at 2/9’s of the span will be 8ft1½—1 Basemt partition wall 2½ thick—First story Do 2. brick second story & Attic Do 1½. 4 Chimney breasts & shafts containing 36640—

The dimensions of the Hotel No 1. I have put down from memory & also the dimensions of the Dormitories, it is therefore highly probable I have misstated some of their Ground plan of Hotel No 1—50 by 34. Cellar story 10ft high 2½ bricks thick. First Floor 18ft high 2 bricks thick—Basement partition walls 2 bricks—First Floor Do 1½ 3 Chimney breasts 16050. Arcade 15.000.—

Dormitories 14ft sqr in the clear—

Foundations 44 } 2 brick } The Dormitory dimensions, adding 108 bricks for Chimney
Shaft, give 13500 for each. In all these calculations, I
have made no allowance for openings except in the arcade
of Hotel No 1—but the openings being nearly the same in
each plan wou’d not materially vary the comparative result.
Upper walls 44 }
Chimney breasts } 4.6 } 2
including foundtns 14

By adopting the single building we get over the difficulty of flat roofs. I find it to be the universal opinion of all the mechanicks to whom I have mentioned the subject (and in this opinion Mr Brockenbrough fully accords) that the most durable timber we have will last but a few years in any situation where it is liable to be wet & dry alternately.—but especially when the timber is in large pieces & is placed in a horizontal position. The best heart pine shingling will last about 30 years—But this may be accounted for, from the small size of each piece—the nature of shingling admitting the access of air & Sun to a surface which bears so large a proportion to the whole mass of each piece—and the angle which it makes with the horizontal plane throwing off the water quickly from its surface—these causes all combining to dry it rapidly after rain.—As to shingle roofs, it is a maxim confirmed by all experience that the higher the pitch the more lasting the covering—This is manifestly the effect of less water being absorbed, from its going off more rapidly—and seems to show, that as timber approaches a horizontal position, where is it exposed to be wet & dry its liability to decay increases. I think you informed me, your experiment had as yet stood the test of but 7 years—Will it not be hazarding too much to adopt it upon so large a scale as is proposed in the Dormitories now to be built? and if any other mode of flat covering be adopted, the result of a comparative estimate with the plan here offer’d, must be still more against it upon the score of aconomy. I am aware, that the elevation of the plan now suggested, the appearance of the Chimneys and the roof will be offensive to your cultivated taste but perhaps you can think of a method of finishing with parapet walls at the ends & balustrades between the Chimneys (as are awkwardly represented in the sketch) that will so far cover its deformity as to render it admissible upon the score of aconomy & comfort.

I am induced to write upon this subject, knowing that Mr Brockenbrough will be with you this week, and being now very unwell, which makes it quite uncertain whether it will be in my power to be up at the Circuit Court, as I intended.

I have also to inform you, that the difficulties which seem to stand in the way of carrying the design of Genl Koscicscos will into execution—in the first plan from the scarcity of Schools about me & 2dly from the prejudices to be encountered in obtaining admission for negroes—to say nothing of the effect which might be produced on the needs of my own people, must induce me to decline the undertaking. I presume the terms of the Will give you no discretion that wou’d admit of your directing the fund to the accomplishment of the object in the way set forth in the inclosed paper—I however send you the paper, as I would be glad to know your opinion as to the practicability of the scheme of the Colonization Society—I suppose you are in possession of the late information collected by Messrs Miles & Burgess on the Coast of Africa with a view to this object.—

I am Sir yours respectfully

J. W. Cocke

* If this part of the design is executed in Masonry—walls 2ft6 & less would hardly do—at $3.50 pr porch which is as low as we shall get it. it will cost only $4 less than brick.


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