Thomas Jefferson’s secret chemistry lab has been brought to light, according to a press release issued by the University of Virginia.
The chemical hearth, dating back from almost 200 years ago, was discovered by Matt Schiedt, a project manager who is currently supervising renovations on campus.
The structure had been enclosed ever since the 1850’s within the walls of the ground floors pertaining to the Rotunda, one of the university’s iconic buildings.
It is believed that the chemistry lab was part of a science classroom, and was probably created in the 1820’s in order to support the work of doctor John Patton Emmet, the University of Virginia’s first professor of natural history.
The hearth was structured as a semi-circular niche, with 2 fireboxes functioning as a source of heat. The fireboxes had initially been unearthed in the 1970’s, but the rest of the lab had remained hidden.
There were also brick tunnels built underground, offering ventilation, as well as flues, for the removal of smoke and fumes. In addition, the chemistry lab also had 5 stone-cut workstations.
The third president of the United States, Thomas Jefferson, who was also the founder of the University of Virginia, assisted in creating the Rotunda’s design . In April 1823, he wrote a letter which recommended building a chemistry lab at its lower levels, to avoid having to pump water at higher floors.
He also mentioned that there would be rooms for furnaces and stoves, and that each would measure 1,000 square feet.
Thomas Jefferson felt it was important to give students the opportunity to conduct their own chemistry experiments, so that they wouldn’t simply have to witness what their professor was doing.
According to Mark Kutney, architectural conservator in the University Architect’s office, the hearth is an important relic marking the early beginnings of the academic institution.
“This may be the oldest intact example of early chemical education in this country”, added Brian Hogg, the university’s senior historic preservation planner.
Thanks to the fact that the structure had been sealed in the 1850’s, it was saved from the ravages of a fire which took place in 1895, and ruined a large part of the building’s interior.
While the original arch will require restoration, it is hoped that the rest of the structure will be kept unaltered, so that it can offer its viewers an authentic glimpse into the past.
After reconstructions are finalized in 2016, the hearth will be kept on display, university officials have revealed.
Image Source: Gracious Column