A chemical lab designed by Thomas Jefferson has been discovered in the rotunda of the University of Virginia, and experts say it was constructed in the mid-140s.
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The discovery was made on Monday during a current ongoing renovation of the rotunda; and the discovery uncovered an early science classroom that was located behind a wall.
The university authorities revealed that the room was sealed and situated in one of the lower floor walls of the rotunda, but then it was fortified from fire incidents in 1895 after a fire outbreak hit out on the building’s interior.
The heart inside the rotunda was initially made in a semi-circular form and composed of chemical elements; and it had two fireboxes that made heat possible. The workstations and fireboxes within the building were fed by air that flowed from brick tunnels constructed beneath the building; and ducts carried fumes and smoke away from the chemical lab.
“This may be the oldest intact example of early chemical education in this country,” said Brian Hogg, the senior historic preservation planner for the school. He added that the chemical hearth may have been used by John Emmet, the first professor of natural history in the school back in those days, and he sure worked with Jefferson to get the space ready.
The university authorities believe the chemical lab was preserved intact because it was moved and sealed up behind a wall at an annex of the rotunda before the 1895 fire outbreak.
“The hearth is significant as something of the University’s early academic years,” said Mark Kutney, an architectural conservator in the University Architect’s office. “The original arch above the opening will have to be reconstructed, but we hope to present the remainder of the hearth as essentially unrestored, preserving its evidence of use.”
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It is expected that everyone will soon be able to see the chemical hearth once renovation work is completed, because this will be placed on display from behind a barrier.