Council of Independent Colleges Historic Campus Architecture Project


Colonnade, The

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Institution Name: Washington and Lee University
Original/Historic Place Name: Center Hall, The Lyceum, Robinson Hall
Location on Campus: center campus
Date(s) of Construction and Designer(s):
1824-1842original construction Unknown
1930sinterior fireproofed Unknown
Type of Place: Individual building
Style(s): (Glossary)
Foundation: stone
Walls: brick
Roof: metal
ca. 1842classrooms
ca. 1842chapel
ca. 2004-present (2007)administration

Significance: architecture, culture
Landmark designation:
National RegisterWashington and Lee University Historic District (1971)
Narrative: see below
References: see below

"The Colonnade" refers to a range of brick buildings with Tuscan porticos that, seen together, give the impression of a continuous colonnade. Comprised of Washington Hall, Payne Hall, Robinson Hall, Newcomb Hall, and Tucker Hall, the Colonnade was begun after an 1803 fire seriously damaged the college's main building (Liberty Hall, 1793); the campus made a completely fresh start in a new architectural style. Building on the Colonnade was completed in phases between 1824 and 1842.

Although Lexington was far from the centers of culture in the early nineteenth century, the Colonnade illustrates the process by which sophisticated architectural ideas were adopted and adapted by builders in more rural areas. The influence of Thomas Jefferson is particularly felt in the Roman temple fronts applied to the otherwise simple brick structures. What now appears to be a single, harmonious concept for the building group actually came about as a series of building efforts and corrections as the college attempted to achieve the image of a modern institution with striking new architecture. The result is a very beautiful and pleasing structure, monumental in appearance from afar, but intimate, informal, and comfortably scaled to the pedestrian passing through its arcades.

As can be seen in numerous early photographs, the exterior of the Colonnade has changed very little since its completion. The interiors of the buildings were fireproofed in the 1930's. Little work has occurred since that time, and the buildings lack modern features such as fire alarm systems or sprinklers, central air conditioning, elevators, and fire stairs; plumbing in the central building is confined to the first floor.

From the National Register report:

The historic core of Washington and Lee University is composed of a collection of architecturally harmonious and spatially related neo-classical buildings that together form one of the most dignified and beautiful college campuses in the nation. The central and most significant element of this complex, the "Colonnade," gives the impression of being the product of a single architectural concept, but in reality this splendid succession of columned and pilastered buildings is an evolutionary product of a building program extending over nearly one hundred and fifty years. As the school grew, its administrators and builders successfully used this growth as a means to enhance the visual unity of the institution without falling into monotony. The first buildings erected in 1803 by what was then Washington College, have long since disappeared. It is, however, the oldest of the existing buildings, Washington Hall, erected in 1824, which sets the architectural tone of the campus. Its builder-architect, John Jordan, was a self-taught designer of much ability. Jordan was able to transform the prevailing architectural fashion of the time into a sturdy, local idiom. The principal departures at Washington and Lee from Jordan's simple classicism- the Lee Chapel and the President's House- do not detract from the unity of the area, but serves as interesting foils to it.

In the center of the Colonnade is the oldest and largest building of the group, Washington Hall- a three-story temple-form structure fronted by a provincial hexastyle Roman Doric portico. Washington Hall was erected in 1824; its present roofline and two-story flanking wings were added in 1843. The octagonal Greek Revival cupola, topped with a wooden statue of George Washington, was added in 1844. The statue, carved from a single piece of white pine by a local cabinet maker, Matthew Kahle, is a fine example of American folk art. Washington Hall's flanking wings, fronted with coupled Doric pilasters, link the building to two matching rectangular structures.

I. Bibliographic sources:

Crenshaw, Ollinger. General Lee's College. New York: Random House, 1969.

Hamlin, Talbot. Greek Revival Architecture in America. London and New York: Oxford University Press, 1944.

Loth, Calder. "The Antebellum Architecture of Washington and Lee University." M. A. thesis, University of Virginia, 1967.

Null, Druscilla J. Washington Hall (Center Building) [Washington and Lee University]. Historic American Buildings Survey report and photographs. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior/National Park Service, 1983.

O'Neal, William B. Architecture in Virginia: An Official Guide to Four Centuries of Building in the Old Dominion. New York: Walker, 1968.

Ruffner, William Henry. "The History of Washington College." Washington and Lee University Historical Papers, no. 4. Baltimore: John Murphy and Co., 1893.

Simpson, Pamela H., and Royster Lyle, Jr. The Architecture of Historic Lexington. Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Press, 1977.

Simpson, Pamela H. "Reflections on White Columns." In Come Cheer for Washington and Lee: The University at 250 Years, edited by Mame Warren. Lexington, VA: Washington and Lee University, 1998.

Turner, Paul Venable. Campus: An American Planning Tradition. Architectural History Foundation/MIT Press Series, vol. 7. New York: Architectural History Foundation; Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1984.

Virginia Historic Landmarks Commission. Washington and Lee University Historic District. National Register of Historic Places designation report. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior/National Park Service, 1971.

II. Location of other data:
University: Library, Special Collections, Facilities Management Office
Government Offices

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