When Witherspoon Hall was completed in 1877, it was the most luxurious and
desirable dormitory on campus, designed to cater to Princeton's increasingly
affluent student body. Edwards Hall, built two years later, was designed with
precisely the opposite purpose in mind: providing spartan accommodations for
the College's poorest students.
The need for "the poor man's dormitory" -- as Edwards was called -- arose from Princeton's practice of charging different rents for different dormitory rooms (a system that lasted well into the 1960s). Richer students could afford the luxurious new suites in Witherspoon, but not the men who were on scholarships. Concerned lest the College become a haven for the wealthy, President McCosh resolved to build a new, low-rent dormitory.
Reflecting the need to economize, the College secured a design from Edward D. Lindsey, the Curator of Buildings and Grounds and professor of architecture. As requested, he produced a very simple plan for a four-story dormitory composed entirely of single rooms. Financed by a donation from the estate of John C. Green, the new dormitory cost $30,000 --less than a third of what Witherspoon cost. It was located on the swampy ground behind Clio and Witherspoon. The new structure was named after Jonathan Edwards, the third president of the College, and accepted its first residents in 1880.
Edwards was built of Trenton brownstone trimmed with lighter sandstone. Its
most unusual feature was the pair of arched entrances found in the base of the
square towers at the north and south ends of the building.
Students were initially skeptical of the new dormitory. The Daily Princetonian wrote, "The interior arrangements seem to us pretty well suited to secure the comfort and convenience of the occupants, provided the latter can make themselves at home in comparatively small rooms and are not too fond of currents of air."
A decade later, the Daily Princetonian was even more direct. "Edwards Hall is a trite and old-fashioned subject for discussion...Naturally dark and dirty, the Hall is made the object on many contemelious [sic] remarks, and the general opinion is that it takes courage backed up by more or less impecunious circumstances to spend a year or more in those dark and dusty entries."
Today, by contrast, Edwards is among the most desirable addresses on campus. Convenient to academic buildings and with its single rooms in great demand, Edwards has been the private domain of upperclassmen for more than 20 years. Rooms in Edwards became even more attractive following an extensive renovation in 1985, during which the firm of Fulmer and Wolfe raised the intermediate roof to create a fifth floor, capped the towers with pyramidal roofs, and removed the exterior fire escapes. These efforts won Wolfe and Fulmer an Excellence in Architecture Award from the New Jersey Society of Architects in 1986.