Virginia Military Institute
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Alexander Jackson Davis Architectural Drawings Edit


MS 0276


  • 1859 – 1870 (Creation)


  • 27 items (Whole)


  • Scope and Contents

    The Alexander Jackson Davis collection consists of 27 architectural drawings executed for the Virginia Military Institute (Lexington, Virginia) between 1859 and 1870. Included are designs for the VMI Barracks, the Superintendent's residence, and faculty residences. The bulk of the drawings are ink and wash plans.

  • Biographical / Historical

    Alexander Jackson Davis (1803-1892), a notable 19th century American architect, designed the Virginia Military Institute Barracks, professors' residences and other Institute buildings during the 1850's-1860's. Born in New York, Davis studied at the American Academy of Fine Arts and the National Academy of Design. He helped to popularize the Greek Revival, Gothic Revival, and Italianate styles, and his many important projects included private residences as well as public buildings. Davis has long been recognized by historians as the most significant American practitioner of the "secular gothic," and VMI was the first American college planned entirely in the Gothic Revival style. This style incorporates towers, turrets, and other design elements first used in medieval castles and cathedrals. The VMI Barracks was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1966, and the VMI Post was named a National Historic District in 1974.

    Davis's association with VMI came about as a result of his design work for Philip St. George Cocke, a wealthy Virginia planter and member of the VMI Board of Visitors. Cocke, an impassioned advocate of the Gothic style, employed Davis to design "Belmead" the Cocke residence in Powhatan County, Virginia. Cocke became Davis's patron in the state, and when VMI began its building program in the late 1840's, it turned to Davis to create a comprehensive plan for the Institute. During the period 1850-1861, a significant portion of the Barracks, a Porter's Lodge, Mess Hall, the Superintendent's residence, and several faculty residences were constructed using Davis's designs. Davis's dream of completing the Barracks quadrangle was interrupted by the Civil War and VMI's post-war financial problems, and his work for the Institute ended in the 1870's. It was not until the early 20th century that his vision for the Parade Ground facade of Barracks was realized, based on a Davis-inspired design by another noted architect, Bertram Goodhue.

  • Online Access

    The Davis collection is viewable online on the VMI Archives website

  • Conditions Governing Access

    There are no restrictions

  • Conditions Governing Use

    Manuscript collections in the VMI Archives are made available for educational and research use. The VMI Archives should be cited as the source. The user assumes all responsibility for identifying and satisfying any copyright holders. Materials from our collections may not be redistributed, published or reproduced without permission from the VMI Archives. Contact the VMI Archives for additional information.

  • Preferred Citation

    Alexander Jackson Davis Architectural Drawings, MS 0276, Virginia Military Institute Archives, Lexington, Virginia.

  • Related Correspondence

    Correspondence between A. J. Davis and VMI's Superintendent Francis H. Smith is available in the Superintendent's official correspondence files of the period.

  • Physical Description

    The collection consists of 27 drawings