Robert Mills was one of the first native-born Americans to become a professional architect. He was much influenced by Jefferson, who he met at Monticello while he was still a teenager; he later apprenticed in Philadelphia with Benjamin Latrobe. In 1815 he designed the Washington Monument at Baltimore, a massive Doric column surmounted by a statue of Washington, which was the first architectural monument to honor the first president. Although discussions about building a monument to Washington in the nation's capital had been circulating since just after his death, the formal competition for the Washington Monument was not held until 1836. However, as this letter reveals, the subject had been on the mind of Robert Mills—the eventual winner of the competition—for at least a decade before that.
"I have duly received your favor of Feb. 15 and with it your beautiful map of S. Carolina, which I place among the many other testimonies of your friendship and wish the acceptableness they ever ensure. your general plan will constitute a valuable work even independently of the statistical adjunct you propose: your idea of the Obelisk monument is a very fine one. I think small temples would also furnish good monumental designs, and would admit of great variety. on a particular occasion I recommended for Gen. Washington that commonly called the Lanthern of Demosthenes, of which you once sent me a drawing handsomely done by yourself."
Jefferson issues an invitation for Mills to revisit Monticello and make an architectural tour of the University of Virginia: "I wish your travels should one day lead you this way, there, from Monticello as your headquarters, you could visit and revisit our University, 4. miles distant only. the plan has the two advantages of exhibiting a specimen of every fine model of every order of architecture, purely correct, and yet presenting a whole entirely new and unique."
While he is delighted to have heard that the Mills family is enjoying good health, Jefferson (who would live only another four months after writing this letter) admits that his own "is quite broken down." "I hear with particular pleasure that your family enjoys health in a climate not generally believed to be friendly to it, and that Mrs. Mills and your brother do me the favor of thinking kindly of me. my own health is quite broken down. for the last 10. months I have been mostly confined to the house. and now, nearly ending my 83d year, my faculties, sight excepted, are very much impaired. the dislocation of both my wrists has so far injured the use of my hands, that I can write but slowly and laboriously. the less so however when I have occasion to assure you of my great esteem and respect."
Mills, who died in 1855, did not live to see the Washington Monument completed: construction of the colossal granite obelisk began in 1848, but was not finished until 1884.
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