Architecture in Virginia: The Old Dominion

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Virginia emerged from the American Revolution battle-scarred and debt-ridden. Tidewater planters could no longer afford to construct many fine buildings, as they had done in the decades before. Population and power began to shift toward the central and western areas of the state, a movement symbolized by the transfer of Virginia’s capital inland, from Williamsburg to Richmond, in 1780.

Even before the Revolution, Thomas Jefferson had begun an elegant plantation house on his estate at Monticello in Albemarle County, inspired by architectural designs from Italian and English books in his vast reference library. In 1785, Jefferson was asked to design a capital building for Virginia’s new center of government in Richmond. His design, based on the famous Maison Carrée, a Roman temple in France, inaugurated the Roman Neoclassical style in America.

Alongside this monumental, Roman-inspired architecture, many Virginia structures of the late 18th century were built in the simpler Federal style. By the 1820s, however, the stately Neoclassical style was favored for most important houses and public buildings. European archaeologists and writers had created a taste for the styles of ancient Greece, and so a Greek Revival grew alongside the Roman style favored by Jefferson. This exhibition presents photographs and descriptions of 24 significant examples of Virginia architecture, built primarily between 1780 and 1861. The text is based on Architecture in Virginia, a popular guidebook by Virginia architectural historian William B. O’Neal.

The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts has a variety of exhibitions available for statewide travel. For additional information on VMFA and its statewide resources, please phone 804.204.2681.

LIMITED Security
Loan Period: 4 to 6 Weeks
Fee: Free

Code Number: AF-12
Framed Size: 18″ x 22″
Running Feet: 43′
Boxed Weight: #1, 118 pounds; #2, 113 pounds

To supplement the exhibition, we recommend the following related resources available through the Statewide Program. For more information or to schedule a speaker, workshop or media resource, call 804.204.2681or email


VHS Cassettes:
New World Visions II
Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello