President's House, William and Mary
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The President’s House at the College of William & Mary is the oldest residence for a university administrator in the United States. Constructed in 1733, this historic mansion has housed every President of the College of William & Mary except for one (Robert Saunders, who chose to stay in his own home during his tenure from 1846-1848). During the American Revolution, it was occupied by both rebels and Redcoats during the Battle of Yorktown. The house was damaged by fire and renovated several times before being restored to its colonial appearance in 1931. Recent work on the home has blended modern amenities while maintaining the historic appearance of the residence. The house has been visited by multiple U.S. Presidents, members of the British monarchy, and hundreds of leading public intellectuals and scholars. Today the house remains the official residence of the William & Mary president and is also used to receive visitors and hold events for students, faculty, alumni, and prospective donors.
Backstory and Context
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The College of William & Mary was formally established in 1693, but no effort was made to create an official home for the college president until the 1730s. The President’s House was built between 1732 and 1733 by Henry Cary Jr., who is believed to also be the builder of the Brafferton. The Georgian-style home was constructed at the cost of ₤650; it was a meager sum compared to construction projects in Europe, but the completed house was one of the most prominent in the Virginia colony at the time. The three-story, five-bay, hip-roofed brick structure is very similar in design to the Brafferton, although it is four feet larger dimensionally. The house’s original occupant was James Blair, founder and first president of William & Mary.
On June 25, 1781, British General Cornwallis occupied the President’s House and used it as his personal headquarters, evicting college President James Madison (second cousin to the future President Madison) in the process. Cornwallis and his troops remained on the premises for ten days, during which Madison and his wife reportedly received poor treatment. On September 15, French General Rochambeau commandeered the house and used it as a hospital for wounded French officers, who were supporting the Continental Army in the Battle of Yorktown. Later that year the officers accidently set the house on fire, badly damaging the interior. Repairs were not made until 1786, when the French government provided compensation to the college.
The interior of the President’s House would be damaged by fire multiple times in 1879, 1916, and 1922, although the exterior always remained intact and original. In 1931, the interior was restored to its colonial appearance along with the Brafferton and Wren Building. Renovations continued to be made, however, to add conveniences such as electricity, bathrooms, a modern kitchen, and heating and air conditioning. The presidents of William & Mary continue to use the house as both a personal residence and to receive visitors, which over the years has included the Marquis de Lafayette; Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, John Tyler; every president from Woodrow Wilson to Dwight Eisenhower; Winston Churchill; and Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Philip, and Prince Charles.
“President’s House.” Colonial Williamsburg. Accessed August 20, 2017. www.history.org/almanack/places/hb/hbpres.cfm.
“The President’s House.” College of William & Mary. Accessed August 20, 2017. www.wm.edu/about/history/historiccampus/presidentshouse/index.php.
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