Wren Building

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The Sir Christopher Wren Building

Wren Building front
Wren Building rear

Generally referred to simply as the Wren Building or College Building at the College of William and Mary in Virginia, it is the oldest college building in the United States still in use. It was constructed between 1695 and 1699, before Williamsburg was founded, when the capital of the colony of Virginia was still located at Jamestown. Tradition has it that the building was designed by the famed English architect Sir Christopher Wren who designed St. Paul's Cathedral in London.

Wren Building 1858

The Wren Building has been gutted by fire three times: in 1705, 1859 and 1862. Each time the interior of the building was reconstructed inside the original walls, and for more than three centuries, it has been "the soul of the College." In the building, generations of William and Mary students have attended classes and lectures, enjoyed meals and attended chapel services. Classes are still held in the Wren Building, which also is home to the offices of the faculty of the department of religious studies. The northern wing holds the Great Hall and the southern wing holds the Wren Chapel. Both rooms are often open to the public and are still used for various functions.

Details of a 1967 renovation can be seen in the Flat Hat archives at [1], page 12.

To prepare the Wren Building for its fourth century of use, the College has recently completed a comprehensive renewal and replacement project. The major components of the project were restoration of the architectural features such as floors and paneling; replacement of mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems; safety upgrades; and conservation of the masonry walls.


The two mortars flanking the east door to the Wren Building were among several captured from the British after the Battle of Yorktown in 1781. The initials "GR" stand for George Rex-George III, King of England at the time the cannons were cast and at the time of the American Revolution.

The cannon in the yard was taken from Fort Christanna, a trading post which was established by colonial governor Alexander Spotswood south of the James River in 1713.

Burial Vaults

A crypt is located under the chapel in the Wren Building. The crypt is not accessible to the public. What is known about each vault:

A. Sir John Randolph (d. 1737) and Lady Susanna Beverley Randolph(?) (d. after 1754); tomb opened in 1858 and perhaps 1862.

B. John Randolph (d. 1784, buried ?); opened in 1858 and probably in 1862; repaired in 1929.

C. Peyton Randolph (d. 1775, buried 1776) and Elizabeth Harrison Randolph (d. 1783); opened in 1858, 1859 and probably 1862. Mrs. Randolph's remains placed in Mr. Randolph's lead coffin and both transferred to Vault G on May 30, 1929.

D. Lord Botetourt (d. 1770); opened and robbed in 1862 and 1969; opened by Lyon G. Tyler between 1888 and 1919.

E. Bishop James Madison (d. 1812) and possibly Mrs. Madison (d. 18?); probably opened in 1862. Remains placed in a lead box and transferred to vault G on May 30, 1929.

F. Grave of Chancellor Robert Nelson (?) (d. 1818); excavated 1858 and August 1928.

G. See Vaults C & E.

H. President Thomas R. Dew (d. 1846, buried 1939).

? Judge Thomas Nelson (d. 1813); burial place unknown.


External Links


  • University Archives Buildings File (2007), Wren Building, Special Collections Research Center, Earl Gregg Swem Library, The College of William and Mary.
A Note About The Contents Of This Wiki
Unfortunately, many of the early original records of the College of William and Mary were destroyed by fire, military occupation, and the normal effects of time. The information available here is the best available from known documents and sources at the time it was written. Information in this wiki is not complete as new information continues to be uncovered in the SCRC's collections and elsewhere. Researchers are strongly encouraged to use the SCRC's access tools for their research as the information contained in this wiki is by no means comprehensive.