Former U.S. President Thomas Jefferson was the one who founded the university in 1819 and helped workers design its structure. Nearly two centuries later, construction workers found a chemical hearth in a hidden niche at UVA. Archeologists said that the hearth is one of the few on the planet. It had two sources of heat and a mechanism to remove poisonous fumes.
The UVA said that the laboratory was so well preserved because the semi-circular niche that hosted it was eventually sealed off a few decades later. The UVA’s Rotunda is currently undergoing a historic renovation that entered its second year. Conservators believe that there may be more surprises.
Researchers explained that the hearth was a component of a science classroom, but for some odd reason it was walled in in the mid-1850s. This is why, the laboratory was preserved nearly intact despite a huge fire in 1895 that churned much of Rotunda’s interior.
Four decades ago, workers found two fireboxes that belonged to the hearth but no one knew that a chemical hearth was hidden there. During this year’s round of renovations, workers found the hearth after analyzing some strange gaps in walls.
Matt Schiedt, the project manager that oversees renovations, was the one who discovered the laboratory. Schiedt said that he was testing the walls’ thickness when he found a piece of cut stone in a wall that wasn’t supposed to be there. The cut was framed with plaster and painted walls. Conservators deemed the discovery ‘unique’ as too few chemical hearts from the Jefferson era survived to our days.
UVA said that Jefferson directly supervised how the chemistry laboratory would look and where it would be located. He told the university to move the classroom on the Rotunda’s ground floor so that students wouldn’t be forced to carry water to a superior floor. He also worked with professor of natural history John Emmet on supplying the room with the necessary equipment.
“For the Professor of Chemistry, such experiments as require the use of furnaces, cannot be exhibited in his ordinary lecturing room,”
the U.S. President wrote in a letter in 1823.
But the news that Thomas Jefferson’s chemistry lab was found in a hidden niche at UVA is great news for the public, as well, because the university plans to put the chemical hearth on display as soon as workers complete renovations to the place.
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