To Our Readers

By John Flanagan

Saturday, July 24, 1999

A presidential
legacy to savor

HISTORIC or historical? This question came up, appropriately enough, on the trip my wife and I just made to two of the original 13 colonies.

In Hagerstown, Md., a friend spelled it out: A historic place is one where a significant or memorable event took place -- the nearby Antietam battlefield, with its ranks of old cannon, rolling fields and zig-zagging split-rail fences is historic. A historical place, on the other hand, simply dates from a particular era. Our friend's comfortable 19th-century residence is historical, but not historic.

It's not a hair I've ever split before, but similar terminology came up a few days later at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. Thomas Jefferson, who founded it in 1819, dubbed the original university the "Academical Village."

From Monticello, his house atop a nearby hill, the former president watched over the construction of the majestic Rotunda, pavilions, hotels, student rooms, colonnade and gardens enclosed by serpentine brick walls arranged symmetrically around a large quadrangle, the "Lawn."

It was Jefferson's crowning achievement and has been lovingly preserved. Outstanding students can still win the privilege to live in one of the one-story, fireplace-warmed rooms on the Lawn and senior faculty and their families still reside in the upper stories of the pavilions, while classes are held on the ground floors.

Jefferson's design was to have students and professors live, eat, work and study together in a somewhat cloistered but intensely creative space, thereby increasing the chance of intellectual inspiration and achievement.

The Rotunda, modeled after the Pantheon in Rome, suffered ill-advised renovations and a disastrous fire in its 180 years, but is now restored to its former luster and purpose as library and meeting rooms.

On one pavilion a plaque memorializing William Holdings Echols (1859-1934) captures the spirit of the place: "He taught many generations of students with ruthless insistence that the supreme values are self respect, integrity of mind, contempt of fear and hatred of sham."

Such a legacy is not merely academic.

John Flanagan is editor and publisher of the Star-Bulletin.
To reach him call 525-8612, fax to 523-8509, send
e-mail to or write to
P.O. Box 3080, Honolulu, Hawaii 96802.

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