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Controversial Old Brooks Hall Still Has Surprises for Modern Renovators

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

This summer, workers have been renovating and repairing parts of one of the oldest non-Jeffersonian buildings on the University of Virginia’s Grounds – a storied and controversial building once considered for demolition.

Crews working in Brooks Hall have been shoring up its tilting staircase and restoring a top-floor office that still contains a pulley wheel used to operate the multi-story lift system that carried natural history specimens – and coal – to the building’s three or four levels. While performing the work, they found evidence of a long-forgotten fire that damaged the structure.

Brooks Hall, which currently houses the Department of Anthropology, opened in 1878 as a natural history museum, according to anthropology professor Jeffrey Hantman, who is writing a book on the building’s history from his office there.

“It was an outstanding museum in its day,” Hantman said. “It preceded the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., the American Museum of Natural History in New York and the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago.”

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