By the late 19th Century the Academical Village at the University of Virginia included a large Annex built on the north side of the Rotunda, which provided classroom space for the growing student population.
After the 1895 fire that gutted the Rotunda and completely destroyed the Annex, the Academical Village would undergo some major changes. The Rotunda would be rebuilt, but without the Annex, and the lost classroom space would be made up by the construction of three new buildings that would enclose the south end of the Lawn. Those buildings would be built around the turn of the Twentieth Century.
Cabell Hall, first known simply as the “Academical Building” and today known as “Old Cabell Hall”, would be situated facing the Rotunda across the long expanse of the Lawn. The building was dedicated in June of 1898.
On June 10, 1907, a statue of Homer and his student, would be unveiled in the open space in front of Cabell Hall. The statue, which sits in the same location 108 years later, was a gift of J.W. Simpson, a wealthy investor who had first attempted to give the sculpture to his alma mater, Amherst College in Massachusetts. For uncertain reasons they passed and it found a home at the University of Virginia.
However, this postcard photo from 1905, showing the inauguration of the University’s first president, Edwin Alderman, reveals another statue preceded Homer. This photo was taken on Founder’s Day, April 13th (Thomas Jefferson’s birthday). A brief written account of this particular Founder’s Day identifies the sculpture seen in this photo postcard as being a statue of James Monroe.
What happened to this statue, and why was it on the Lawn for such a short period of time? C’ville Images has been unable to find any additional record of the Monroe statue at UVA. However, we have been able to trace it to its origins.
Our first thought, of course looked for the local connection. Ashland-Highland, Monroe’s home near Charlottesville, added a statue of Monroe to their grounds sometime in the early 20th Century. Was it this statue?
A closer look reveals that while the two statues both show Monroe standing in similar poses, they are not the same. From our extensive research, it seems very few images exist showing the Monroe statue seen on the Lawn.
But what we did find took us to St. Louis, Missouri over 100 years ago. It turns out that the statue of Monroe was sculpted by Julia Bracken for the 1904 Exposition in St. Louis commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Lewis and Clark expedition.
History reminds us that James Monroe played an integral part in the Louisiana Purchase so it made sense that a sculpture of him would be included at the St. Louis event centered around Lewis & Clark’s exploration of the territory acquired in the Louisiana Purchase. St. Louis, where the expedition originated was the obvious location for the centennial celebration. The U.S Post Office issued commemorative stamps for the occasion, including one for James Monroe, Jefferson’s envoy to negotiate the 1803 deal with France.
The exposition, also known as the St. Louis World’s Fair was a massive event attracting nearly 20 million visitors. The buildings, grounds, and displays covered over 1200 acres with exhibits from more than 60 nations and almost all the U.S. states. It was so large that it had to be delayed (the 100th year anniversary of the Lewis & Clark Expedition was actually 1903) to allow inclusion of all the countries that wanted to participate.
Julia Bracken, (later Julia Bracken Wendt; 1871-1942) was an American sculptor who studied at the Chicago Art Institute and in 1893 was one of several women sculptors to work on statues for the Columbian Exposition (Chicago World’s Fair). She sculpted the James Monroe statue for the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904, and shortly thereafter married painter William Wendt and moved to California where she continued sculpting and teaching art.
The exposition in St. Louis lasted for 7 months and when it closed in December, 1904 the exhibits were dismantled and distributed, much of it scattered across the United States to various appropriate destinations. The statues (there were many of them) ended up in parks, museums, and government buildings.
The Monroe statue may have spent some small amount of time in Washington, D.C.- it’s not exactly clear- but it eventually made its way to the University of Virginia. There is some indication that it was not particularly well received at UVA with students irreverently decorating the statue and criticizing its prominent place on the Lawn. The Jefferson Statue on the West side of the Lawn and the Jefferson Statue on the north side of the Rotunda wouldn’t be in place for several more years and it may have seemed strange to have the Monroe figure so centrally displayed.
C’ville Images has not been able to discover the fate of the Monroe statue but it is clear it didn’t stay in place long. By 1907 it would be replaced by the Homer Statue which has stood on the location for more than a century.
Photo credits: Special Collections/UVA library, C’ville Images archives, Norris Collection at C’ville Images, Wikipedia, and Steve Trumbull. Special thanks to Catherine Clarke Coiner for her assistance in the research.