Thomas Jefferson Papers

Thomas Jefferson’s Notes on the Siting of Central College, 18 July 1817

Notes on the Siting of Central College

1817   Operations at & for the College


July 18.

a. the place at which the theodolite was fixed being the center of the Northern square, and the point destined for some principal building in the level of the square l.m n.o.

the fall from a. to d. 18.f.

from1 a. to d  the bearing magnetically S. 21. W
add for variation  2½
S. 23½ W
? the true meridian was that day 2½° to left of magnetic.
b. is the center of the middle square, and at
g. we propose to erect our first pavilion.
c. is the center of the Southern square.
locust stakes were driven at l.a.f.2/g.b.h./i.c.k. and
at d. is a pile of stones.

each square is to be level within itself, with a pavilion at each end

to wit at ef. gh. ik. and 10. dormitories on each side of each pavilion filling up the sides of the squares
from a. to b. was measured 255.f. or 85. yds, b.c. the same, & c.d. the half.
from the points a.b.c. was measured 100.f. each way to ef. gh. ik. making thus each square 255 f. by 200.f. = .8541 of an acre or nearly 1720

MS (ViU: TJP); with TJ’s Notes on Pavilions, 7 Dec. 1819, subjoined; entirely in TJ’s hand; filed with TJ’s Specifications for the University of Virginia.

TJ’s overseer Edmund Bacon later recalled the process of laying out the grounds of Central College: “My next instruction was to get ten able-bodied hands to commence the work. I soon got them, and Mr. Jefferson started from Monticello to lay off the foundation, and see the work commenced. An Irishman named Dinsmore, and I, went along with him. As we passed through Charlottesville, I went to old Davy Isaacs’ store, and got a ball of twine, and Dinsmore found some shingles and made some pegs, and we all went on to the old field together. Mr. Jefferson looked over the ground some time, and then stuck down a peg. He stuck the very first peg in that building, and then directed me where to carry the line, and I stuck the second. He carried one end of the line, and I the other, in laying off the foundation of the University. He had a little rule in his pocket that he always carried with him, and with this he measured off the ground, and laid off the entire foundation, and then set the men at work” (Pierson, Jefferson at Monticello, 20).

1To the left of this word TJ placed an asterisk keying this text to his subjoined 7 Dec. 1819 Notes on Pavilions.

2Thus in manuscript, but TJ probably meant “e.a.f.,” with “e” being the somewhat unclear second reference point in left column in drawing reproduced here.

Index Entries

  • Bacon, Edmund; describes TJ’s siting of Central College search
  • Central College; siting of search
  • Dinsmore, James; as builder for Central College search
  • Isaacs, David; merchant search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Writings; Notes on the Siting of Central College search
  • scientific instruments; theodolites search
  • surveying; at Central College search
  • theodolite search