SMITH'S NASSAU HALL
Smith's Nassau Hall had three stories and
a basement. It was about 176 feet long and 54 feet wide at the
ends, with a central element projecting about four feet in front
and about twelve feet in back. Over the center of the hip roof
was a modest cupola. There were three entrances at the front of
the building and two at the back.
On each of the three floors, a central
corridor ran the whole length of the building east to west and
all the rooms opened on these corridors. There was a two-story
prayer hall, 32 by 40 feet, at the rear of the central projection,
and a library on the second floor above the main entrance hall.
On the three main floors were 42 chambers, some used for classes
and for tutors, most of them for student lodging. In the basement
were the kitchen, dining room, steward's quarters, and, after
1762, additional rooms for students.
Nassau Hall suffered severely in the Revolution.
British and American troops quartered there at different times
plundered the library, ruined the organ in the prayer hall, and
used furniture and woodwork for fuel. In the Battle of Princeton,
Nassau Hall changed hands three times and once when the British
were in possession, felt the effects of Washington's artillery.
One American cannonball came through a window of the prayer hall,
destroying a portrait of George II, and another hit the south
wall of the west wing and left a scar that is visible today.
Funds being in short supply, recovery was
slow; yet by 1783 Nassau Hall was ready to serve as the national
capital. For four months that year, July through October, the
Continental Congress met in the library on the second floor, using
the prayer hall for state occasions. Here Congress congratulated
George Washington on his successful termination of the war, received
the news of the signing of the definitive treaty of peace with
Great Britain, and welcomed the first foreign minister -- from
the Netherlands -- accredited to the United States.
At this time, Washington complied with
a request of the trustees to sit for a portrait by Charles Wilson
Peale, which, at their direction, was placed in the prayer hall
in the frame that had been occupied by the portrait of King George
The fire of 1802 left only the outside
walls of Nassau Hall standing. To restore the building the trustees
called on Joseph Henry Latrobe, the first professional architect
in America, who later worked on the restoration of the national
capital after it was burned in 1814.
The changes Latrobe made in Smith's original
design were chiefly practical ones to lessen the hazards of fire.
Instead of wood, the floors were laid with brick and the stairs
rebuilt of stone with iron railings. The building was given a
sheet-iron roof -- a new idea in this country and an experiment
on the part of Latrobe.
The roof was raised about two feet from
its former position to allow space for transom lights over the
doors; this improved the whole exterior appearance of the building.
The horizontal lintels over the three entrances at the front of
the building were replaced by triangular pediments, and the circular
window in the central pediment rising from the eaves line was
replaced by a fan-light. The belfry was raised on a large square
base to accommodate a clock and to give the cupola added height.
Latrobe's changes gave Nassau Hall a Federal rather than a Colonial
style, adding grace without marring the original simplicity.
The fire of 1855 was just as disastrous
as the fire of 1802, and once more only the walls of Nassau Hall
were left standing. Again the trustees called on a Philadelphia
architect, this time John Notman, who had designed three residences
in the village (``Prospect'' and those later named Lowrie House
and Guernsey Hall). Notman's modifications were far more extensive
than Latrobe's and reflected his predeliction for the Italian
Renaissance style, then much in vogue.
Interior changes again were chiefly concerned
with fireproofing. Iron beams and brick arches were used to support
the floors. The roof was made of slate, laid upon and fastened
to ironlaths. Most important of all, since the 1855 fire was believed
to have been caused by a spark from a stove in a student's room,
nine furnaces were installed to provide central heating. The old
prayer hall, no longer needed for that purpose since the erection
of a separate chapel, was extended further southward to more than
twice its previous size for use as the College library.
Notman made even greater changes in the
exterior appearance. Two of the three entrances at the front of
the building were removed and towers built on either end to house
the stairways that were removed from interior halls. The doorway
at the center of the building was replaced by a larger, arched
doorway of Florentine style with more massive steps below and
a similarly arched window, with a balcony, above. The vertical
emphasis thus achieved culminated in a cupola even loftier than
The tops of the Italianate towers housing
the staircases on either end of the building, which rose high
above the roof line, were removed in 1905.
The use of Nassau Hall as a dormitory declined
steadily toward the end of the nineteenth century with the erection
of new dormitories, and as students moved out, museums, laboratories,
and classrooms moved in. In the east wing, part of the third floor
was removed to create a two-story well for a natural history museum
and a skylight cut in the roof to provide light. With construction
of Palmer Laboratory and Guyot Hall these facilities were no longer
needed, and in 1911, Nassau Hall began to be used for administrative
offices; President Hibben (1912-1932) was the first president
to have his office there. By 1924, when Eno Hall was completed
and the Department of Psychology had departed, Nassau Hall was
devoted entirely to offices of the central administration.
In 1967 additional space was obtained by
flooring over the two-story well in the east wing, and the exterior
appearance improved by the removal of the skylight above it.
A bell rang from the cupola of Nassau Hall
soon after its completion. Made in England, it had to be recast
after the fire of 1802 and was completely melted in the fire of
1855. A second bell cast in West Troy, New York, was hung in the
cupola in 1858.It struck the hour and called students to classes
and chapel for ninety-seven years. In time it developed a slight
crack and by 11:30 a.m. on February 18, 1955, its peal was reduced
to what the Alumni Weekly called ``a plaintive croak.''
Thanks to the generosity and foresight of Charles D. Hart 1892,
a new bell, which had been cast in France under the direction
of the University Bellmaster, Arthur Bigelow, was waiting in the
wings. It was hoisted into place on February 22 and the following
day at 9:00 p.m. rang out the hour in a D tone, a half note lower
than that sounded by the earlier bell.
For many years, the Nassau Hall bell was
rung with a rope pulled by a campus policeman or, in the hour-long
ringing after a football victory in New Haven or Cambridge, by
freshmen and, at least on one occasion, by a dean, whose signature,
Christian Gauss, appeared on the wall among the other bell ringers'.
With the electrification of bell ringing in 1962 visits to the
third floor bell rope by policemen, freshmen~~, and deans came
to an end.
Another custom, which persisted for almost
a century, began in the 1860s when an undergraduate disrupted
the College's schedule by removing the clapper from the bell one
dark winter's night. In later years the stealing of the clapper
lost some of its excitement as the College authorities became
resigned to the custom, and the Grounds and Buildings Department
kept a barrel of clappers on hand to assure rapid replacement.
Clinton Meneely '30, president of the family company that made
the 1857 bell, said his firm received more orders for clappers
for the Princeton bell than for any other bell in the firm's history.
A tower clock was first installed sometime
after Latrobe's restoration of 1802 when the cupola was raised;
it was probably destroyed in the fire of 1855. The clock with
the four faces one sees today was donated by the Class of 1866
at the tenth anniversary of their graduation. The works of this
clock were modernized in 1919 and again in 1955; its faces are
periodically regilded to offset weathering.
THE FACULTY ROOM
In Notman's rebuilding after the fire of
1855, the former prayer hall was more than doubled in size for
use as the College library and portrait gallery. After the completion
of Chancellor Green Library in 1873, this room was used for the
College museum until 1906 when it was remodeled by Messrs. Day
and Klauder as the present Faculty Room. The cost was defrayed
by a bequest from Augustus S. Van Wickle, a descendant of Nathaniel
FitzRandolph, who gave the land on which Nassau Hall was built;
Van Wickle's bequest also provided the FitzRandolph Gateway. When
the Faculty Room was formally opened on November 2, 1906, President
Wilson, in accepting the bequest on behalf of the trustees, said
``there could be no more appropriate gift from a descendant of
Nathaniel FitzRandolph than one which touched with added beauty
his original gift.''
Peale's portrait of Washington still hangs
in the place of honor in this room along with replacements of
the portrait of King George II, damaged in the Battle of Princeton,
and of Governor Belcher, lost probably in one of the fires. Now
they are accompanied by a portrait of William III, Prince of Nassau,
as well as portraits of all of Princeton's presidents and some
of its illustrious early graduates.
The bronze tigers on either side of the
front steps were presented in 1911 by Woodrow Wilson's classmates
to replace the lions that they had given on their graduation in
1879. The lions were beginning to show the effects of weather
and the tiger had become established as the symbol of Princeton.
The tigers were modeled by A. P. Proctor, noted for his animal
sculptures. Recumbent, with a ``placidity suiting their decorative
purpose'' (as one critic put it), they have invited generations
of small boys and girls to climb up on their backs.
The entrance hall, remodeled in 1919 by
Day and Klauder as a war memorial, bears on its marble walls the
names of Princetonians who have died in this country's wars: ten
in the American Revolution, one in the War of 1812, seventy in
the Civil War, five in the Spanish-American War, 152 in World
War I, 353 in World War II, twenty-nine in Korea, and twenty-four
in Southeast Asia.