Pavilion I is characterized by its four plastered white-painted columnns, topped by Doric capitals manufactured in Charlottesville, Virginia. The Chinese-inspired trellis on the second floor was designed by Jefferson himself. Pavilion I's first occupant was John Patton Emmet, professor of natural history, who taught chemistry, botany, and comparative anatomy. His botanical experiments included growing grapes, rare flours, fruit trees, and Chinese mulberries on which to raise silkworms. The garden soon overgrew the available space. In response, Emmet purchased property near the pavilion; it is still called Morea after the botanical name for mulberry.
In 1997, the morning of the graduation ceremony commencement, the balcony on the second level of Pavilion I collapsed. Investigations into the matter revealed that the cause was a single corroded wrought iron tension rod and a lack of redundancies in the design. As the rod was concealed within a supporting wooden beam, there were no visible signs of the corrosion prior to the collapse. In response, the rods were replaced by ones made of stainless steel that look identical to the originals.