The Sir Christopher Wren Building at the William & Mary is the oldest college building still standing in the United States and the oldest of the restored public buildings in all of Williamsburg! The Wren Building was erected between 1695 and 1700, before Williamsburg was even founded, when the capital of the colony of Virginia was still Jamestown.
The Wren Building has seen a few ups and downs throughout its history, some of which have resulted in the hauntings that are experienced at the building to this day. So, come with us as we explore the halls of the Wren Building as discover why it’s one of the campus’ most haunted!
Looking to visit Williamsburg and learn about its haunted history? Join us for a Williamsburg ghost tour!
History of the Wren Building
As early as 1619 there was interest fluttering about in the streets of Virginia about constructing a college. The Virginia Company of London undertook establishing a university at Henrico on the James River about 12 miles below the present city of Richmond. The Native American uprising of 1622 and the revocation of the Virginia Company charter in 1624 caused this attempt to be abandoned.
In 1691, however, Reverend James Blair of the Church of England in Virginia was sent to London by the General Assembly to secure a charter for a college.
He succeeded, and on February 8th of 1693, King William III and Queen Mary II granted the charter that established a ‘place of universal study, a perpetual college of divinity, philosophy, languages, and other good arts and sciences, consisting of one president, six masters and professors, and a hundred scholars more or less.’ This new college bore the King & Queen’s names, and the college was to consist of three schools.
About 330 acres of land were purchased in December of 1693, and the very first bricks for the main building were laid in 1695. By 1700, the east and north wings of the structure had been completed.
The first college building housed students and contained a library, classrooms, dining room, as well as living quarters for the president and professors. Known simply as ‘The College,’ the main building was renamed in 1931 for the famous architect Sir Christopher Wren, who was attributed to the design.
In 1699, the capital of Virginia was moved from Jamestown to Williamsburg, and the Wren Building became the temporal headquarters of the government in the area from 1700 until 1704 when the state Capitol was completed.
Blazes at the Wren Building
The Wren Building was gutted by fire in 1705 and was thankfully rebuilt in 1716 with funds provided by Queen Anne of England. The second form of the building differed in many ways from the original structure but it was erected on the original foundations and much of the original walls were used during the restoration process, giving a place to history in the present, much like most of Williamsburg.
The Wren Building burned again in 1859 and the old walls, now singed with smoke, were incorporated into the reconstruction. A third fire ravaged the building in 1862 when Union soldiers quartered Williamsburg and set fire to the city.
Today, the Wren Building enters its fourth century and it continues to be used as an academic building.
Hauntings at the Sir Christopher Wren Building
The Wren Building served as a hospital for wounded French soldiers during the Revolutionary War and the Battle of Williamsburg. Over 6,000 soldiers were killed during this time and ended up being buried underneath the Governor’s Palace — some were less lucky and were buried in random places around the city, with some more than likely being buried right on campus.
The school was closed in 1862 because most of the professors and students left to join the Confederate Army during the Civil War. The Wren Building was converted into a barracks and a hospital for the Confederate Army. Lack of medicine and painkillers meant that men with severe wounds were left to die, and many of them did.
Apparitions at the Wren Building
Because of this bloody history, students have been claiming to see ghostly apparitions of wounded soldiers wandering around the Wren Building. Footsteps are also commonplace in the building and are believed to be those of the perished soldiers or of Christopher Wren himself.
Underneath the Chapel at the college lies the crypt of famous Virginians like Lord Botetourt and Sir James Randolph. None of these crypts are accessible to the public, but it’s said that loud moans are heard coming from the hidden tunnels that lead to them.
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