History of Hotel C

by Messrs Jerry Carrier and Michael Stewart, under the direction of Prof. K. Edward Lay

Hotel C, on the West Range of The University of Virginia, is part of a plan for a unique institution which dates back to the late 18th century. Approximately ten years prior to the building of the first pavilion, Thomas Jefferson began writing letters criticizing other educational institutions and suggesting some of his own ideas. As early as June 7, 1805, Jefferson wrote that he did not want to build the whole university under one roof. He stated that they are “always ugly, inconvenient, exposed to the accident of fire, and bad in case of infection . . . an university should not be a house but a village” (1). From The University’s conception, Jefferson wanted a small house for each school and a professor with each house connected by covered walkways.

These houses came to be called pavilions, each of which had connected to it dormitories, not to exceed ten on each side, and each dormitory would house two students. These buildings were to be connected by an arcade and arranged around a quadrangle. Each pavilion, according to Jefferson’s scheme was to represent a different school and Jefferson looked upon each school as a distinct institution. Each of the pavilions was to be “a small and separate lodge for each professorship, with only a hall below for his class, and two chambers above for himself” (2).

[ . . . ]

The classical character of Jefferson’s design is carried through the entire group of buildings and although he followed both Palladio and Chambray’s ideas, he did not strictly adhere to their ideas but reduced and modified them whenever he felt there was a need for departure. The University, as a whole, has received words of high praise throughout its history. In the words of Harvard scholar George Ticknor, in a letter to a fellow historian in December of 1874, “[The University] is a mass of buildings more beautiful than anything architectural in New England and more appropriate to an university that can be found, perhaps, in the world.” (4)

[ . . . ]

In Jefferson’s earliest plans, there was no thought given to the East and West Ranges since at first Jefferson had thought of just a central college. Later, in 1817, the central college was reorganized as The University of Virginia, and 153 acres of land was purchased. Jefferson’s original scheme of two rows of buildings was then split into four rows in order to better adhere to the site. “The first and only real important modification that was made in the setting was in April, 1820. Which Jefferson, confronted with the necessity of choosing the site of the first hotel, decided that he would not place it on an extension of The Lawn in alignment with the pavilions, but instead would erect it on what was afterwards named West Back Street, now West Range.” (8)

At first, Jefferson was to have the front of the ranges correspond with the front of that side of the Lawn but instead, he had the ranges face outward so they would turn their backyards toward the backyards of The Lawn and would essentially have their own frontyards. (9)

According to this plan, the ranges were built on the East and West sides of the Lawn, just past the serpentine walled gardens. The ranges were built in rows just like the pavilions and their dormitories. Each range consisted of three large one story buildings called hotels. One hotel was located at each and one in the middle with dormitories and arcades connecting them.

The three hotels were originally intended to be used as boarding houses for the students and faculty. Each hotel had its own garden on the grounds where the hotelkeeper could grow vegetables. Later, this land was needed for other uses, and therefore land off grounds was to be used for growing food. This created problems with the quality of food because since the land was so poor, the hotelkeepers often did not use it and instead sometimes bought food that was not of the best quality.

When The University was first opened, the food was said to be satisfactory but, after the first six years, the students began to complain that the cooking was not good and that there was no variety to their meals. The hotelkeepers in turn complained that they could not afford to produce any better meals because of the law fixed income they received from The University for their services. As a result, in 1849 as decreed by the General Assembly, the meals were given to the students free of charge and paid for by the state. This arrangement, however, only lasted seven years, and by 1856 the decree had been repealed. (10)

The hotels themselves are no longer used as boarding houses but instead some are used to house different literary societies and social events. Specifically, Hotel C, also named Jefferson Hall, is now used as the meeting place of the Jefferson Literary Society.

Orders of Approval and Construction

[ . . . ]

The cost of the buildings, excluding The Rotunda, were estimated by Jefferson in 1820 to cost $162,360.00; ten pavilions at $6,000 each, six hotels at $3,500.00 each and 104 dormitories at $354 each (18).

The actual cost of these buildings when The University opened was $206,211.25: $110,803.89 for the ten pavilions, $16,897.78 for the six hotels and $76,509.58 for the dormitories (19). Hotel C alone cost $4,525.38.


All of the materials needed for the construction of the pavilions, hotels, and dormitories came from the vicinity of The University, with the exception of the marble capitals which were imported from Italy. This was done because local stone was too brittle and would not withstand the effects of the weather. The chief brick manufacturers were John Perry, A.B. Thorn, Curtis Carter, William Phillips and Nathaniel Chamberlain. (20)

The woodwork for the hotels was done by George W. Spooner, while Nelson Barksdale provided the lumber. A.H. Brook furnished the tin for the hotel roofs at $6.35 a square foot and John Gorman carved the keystone, windows and door sills. (21)

The shingles for the roofs of the hotels were purchased at a rate of $3.75 per thousand and the scantlings for $34.00. Most of the glass and hardware was purchased from either John Van Lew and Company or Brouleubrough and Hume. (22)

Although no complete drawings of Hotel C are known to exist, some alterations and repairs have been recorded (23). The first recorded repairs to the plan of Hotel C occurred as early as June, 1838, at which time E.W. Sims provided slate for the buildings roof (24). In 1840, Venetian blinds were added to the windows of the hotel (25). In 1841, authorization was granted to The Jefferson Society to make alterations in the shape of the part[it]ions in the building (26). In 1853, more repairs were ordered by the faculty in order to correct the leaks in the roof (27).

The next recorded alterations to the hotel did not occur until November, 1974, when a grand of $1500.00 “provided the necessary repairs to the Hall’s floor, ceiling, walls, windows, and doors” (28). In 1975, The Jefferson Society also had curtains made for The Hall in “the style which Mr. Jefferson employed at Monticello” (29).

Recently, in April of 1984, repairs were again made to both the tin and slate which compose the roof of the building. This repair was ordered as another attempt to correct the leaks. Another alteration made was to the arcade of the ranges. These arcades where were originally paved with brick later changed to stone near the end of the 19th century. (30)

[ . . . ]
The Jefferson Society

The Jefferson Society, now residing in Hotel C, Jefferson Hall, was formed with 16 students broke away from The Patrick Henry Society which had been in existence since a few months after The University had opened. The students wanted to form a new society because of the disorder surrounding the meetings of their former group. The new society was formed to “provide for our common improvement in debate, promote general culture amoung ourselves and in those around us, and drill ourselves in all the exercises which strengthen for the free duties of citizenship” (33). Their first meeting was held on July 14, 1826, in No 7., West Lawn, at which time they selected the first committee. This committee consisted of Edgar Mason, of Charles County, Maryland; John H. Lee, of Fau[q]uier County, Virginia; and William G. Minor, of Fred[e]ricksburg, Virginia. These men drafted the Society’s constitution which was adopted the following Monday at which time Edgar Mason was named The Jefferson Society’s first president. (34) When the Society was first begun, it held its meeting weekly in the basement of Pavilion I. Later, the meetings were held only biweekly and met in different pavilions on The Lawn, including some meetings in Pavilion IV. (35)

In 1835, the Washington Society was still holding its meetings in Hotel C but soon moved to Pavilion VII in 1837. At this time, The Jefferson Society was granted possession of the large room in the hotel. In 1841, authorization was granted to make alterations in the shape of the partitions. (36) However, “even as late as 1853, The Society did not feel positively certain of the permanence of their tenure in the hall” (37).

[ . . . ]

The years after the [Civil] war were very difficult on both The University of Virginia and The Jefferson Society. It took several years for enrollment to show significant improvement and for The Society to regain its support from the student-body. By 1870, The Society was returning to its original stance among The University and continued to prosper until the 1890’s. During this decade, The Society was faced with considerable political and factional activity which caused it serious damage. It took The Jefferson Society a great deal of time and effort to recover from the damage of this decade, but it eventually emerged as a sound and strong society.

[ . . . ]

In 1964, The Jefferson Society co-sponsored the first annual Restoration Ball in order to help raise funds to restore The Rotunda to its original state. In that same year, The Society was granted Room 7 on The Lawn as its permanent room. In 1965, The Jefferson Society became the first organization to admit black students as members but it was not until 1972 that women were permitted membership. The first female member of The Jefferson Society was Barbara Go[l]den of Florida. (44)

The Jefferson Society continued to thrive throughout the 1970’s and into the present decade. In 1975, The Society celebrated its sesquicentenary with a great deal of support. In 1980, it completed the collection of The Hall’s alumni lists and thus began publishing an alumni newsletter. Finally, in 1982, The Jefferson Society joined The American Association of Collegiate Literary Societies. It was soon discovered that The Jefferson Society was the largest literary society in The United States and that although it had experienced some very discouraging years, it had emerged a powerful and prosperous society. (45)


1. William B. O’Neal. Pictorial History of the University of Virginia. Charlottesville, The University Press of Virginia, 1976, p. 10 [return to text]

2. Frederick D. Nichols. The Architectural Drawing of Thomas Jefferson. Charlottesville, The University Press of Virginia, 198, p. 8 [return to text]

4. Paul Barringer and James Garnett. A History of The University of Virginia. New York, Lewis Publishing Company, 1908, p. 128 [return to text]

8. Philip Alexander Bruce. History of The University of Virginia 1819-1919: The Lengthened Shadow of One Man, Vol. I. New York, Macmillan Company, 1920, p. 241 [return to text]

9. Ibid, p. 241 [return to text]

10. Virginius Dabney. Mr. Jefferson’s University — A History. Charlottesville, The University Press of Virginia, 1981, p. 10 [return to text]

18. Bruce, Vol. I, p. 286 [return to text]

19. Ibid., p. 287 [return to text]

20. Ibid., p. 256 [return to text]

21. Ibid., p. 271 [return to text]

22. Ibid., p. 280 [return to text]

23. O’Neal, p. 28 [return to text]

24. Bruce, Vol. II, p. 343 [return to text]

25. Minutes of the Board of Visitors, Vol. I, p. 164 [return to text]

26. Bruce, Vol. II, p. 359 [return to text]

27. Bruce, Vol. III, p. 171 [return to text]

28. Stephen S. Gerth, Jr. The Jefferson Society of The University of Virginia Newsletter. Charlottesville, Virginia, 1975, p. 1 [return to text]

29. Ibid., p. 1 [return to text]

30. O’Neal, p. 80 [return to text]

33. O’Neal, p. 92 [return to text]

34. John Patton and Sallie J. Doswell. The University of Virginia: Glimpses of it’s Past and Present. J.P. Bell Company, 1900, p. 46 [return to text]

35. Ibid., p. 46 [return to text]

36. Bruce, Vol. II, p. 359 [return to text]

37. Bruce, Vol. III, p. 171 [return to text]

44. Karl W. Saur. A Historical Sketch of The Jefferson Society of the University of Virginia. Charlottesville, Virginia, 1982, p. 12 [return to text]

45. Ibid., p. 12 [return to text]

%d bloggers like this: