Academic Buildings, 1900-1917

Princeton's academic facilities were already cramped and aging in 1905 when Woodrow Wilson introduced the preceptorial system. The preceptorial system, predicated on the close interaction of students and professors in small group settings, placed heavy demands not only the faculty -- Wilson hired 45 new preceptors to handle the load -- but also on the infrastructure of the campus. Lecture halls were too large and too few, and professors' offices were too small and too few. Also, the library had very few seminar spaces.

Particularly strained was Dickinson Hall, [34-10]
a High Victorian Gothic structure built in 1870 where most of the classes in the humanities, literature, and social sciences were held. Consequently, as part of his overhaul of the curriculum, Wilson proposed a new classroom building to accommodate the new preceptorial approach. It would be designed in the Collegiate Gothic style then coming into favor.

The result was McCosh Hall [53-59]
which paralleled McCosh Walk on the northern side. Designed by Raleigh Gildersleeve, who was responsible for designing a number of eating clubs as well as Upper and Lower Pyne dormitories on Nassau Street, McCosh was an "L"-shaped building 400 feet long, with a 100-foot extension running north along Washington Road. This extension contained McCosh 50, a large lecture hall (now known as the Harold Helm '20 Auditorium).

Construction began in 1905 and was completed in 1907. At the time it was built, its neighbors were Dickinson to the north and Marquand Chapel to the northwest; Prospect House and newly built 1879 Hall lay to the south.
[3D View]

An early example of Collegiate Gothic at Princeton --only Pyne Library, the Blair-Little-Gym complex, and 1879 Hall predate it -- McCosh had a smooth limestone exterior. Its flying buttresses were then new to Princeton, although many later structures on the campus featured these elements.

Inside, McCosh Hall contained two large lecture rooms, numerous smaller lecture and recitation rooms, and faculty offices. [53-61]
These offices were especially necessary to Wilson's educational program, as most preceptorials were held in these smaller, more intimate spaces.

Wilson next turned his attention to the upgrading of the University's scientific facilities. The John C. Green School of Science, [34-34]
located on the southwestern corner of Washington Road and Nassau Street, was as old and as inadequate as Dickinson, and in 1907 Princeton engaged New York architect Henry G. Hardenbergh to design a new physics laboratory building.

Donated by Stephen S. Palmer, a member of the Board of Trustees, the new Palmer Physical Laboratory [53-63]
was located on the eastern side of the campus just south of 1879 Hall. This site was in keeping with Ralph Adams Cram's new master plan for the campus, which called for academic structures to be built east of Nassau Hall. Hardenbergh designed an H-shaped Collegiate Gothic building, built of brick with limestone trim, after the fashion of 1879 Hall, built just three years before.

This corner of the campus now contained a concentration of similar brick buildings adapting the Collegiate Gothic from stone to brick. In addition to Palmer and 1879, [53-53]
Guyot (1909), [53-68]
McCosh Infirmary (1893), [53-2]
Campus Club (1909) and Tower Club(1917), all followed this pattern.

Palmer Physical Laboratory was not intended to be an architectural showpiece. Instead, as Dean Howard McLenahan wrote, "the first aim...of the donor, architect, and department has been to get a workshop, a building every feature of which had to meet the test of utility." To that end, the new structure had its own internal telephone system; gas, water, air, vacuum, and electricity supplied to each lab; two refrigerated rooms; and large faculty offices.

For its time, Palmer was a very large building, with its three floors containing 85,000 square feet. The north face measured 250 feet long, the east and west wings 160 feet. Statues of Benjamin Franklin and Joseph Henry were mounted on either side of the entrance.

The last academic building constructed during Wilson's tenure was Guyot Hall, [53-67]
located south of Palmer. Begun in 1908 and completed the following year, this building provided space for the geology and the biology departments, then crowded into the old Class of 1877 Biological Laboratory. Guyot housed many of the objects formally located in the E. M. Museum in the new Museum of Natural History located on the ground floor. In fact, the building was named in honor of Professor Arnold Guyot, who had built the geological collections and curriculum in the 1870s and 1880s.

The architects, Parrish and Schroeder, conceived of an enormous quadrangle measuring 288 feet by 256 feet. But only the north wing of this proposed structure was erected: a four-story building 288 feet long and 60 feet deep, with four square towers paired near the center. At the base of the front towers were the entrances to the building; the rear towers contained elevator shafts.

Like Palmer and 1879 Hall, Guyot was a brick expression of the Collegiate Gothic style, although it differed in several respects from either of its neighbors. Unlike Palmer and 1879 Hall, which have steeply pitched slate roofs and gables, the roof of Guyot was of tin and almost flat. With its crenellations and symmetrical towers, it more closely resembled a medieval fortification than an academic building. Guyot also featured a darker shade of brick than either Palmer or 1879 Hall.

Since 1909, Guyot has been renovated several times and expanded frequently. With the construction of the George M. Moffett Biological Laboratory and, more recently, the George LaVie Schultz Laboratory to the south, Parrish and Schroeder's original vision of a massive quadrangle devoted to biology and geology has finally been realized.

In Wilson's time, however, Guyot Hall by itself represented a major step forward in Princeton's scientific facilities. Not only did it free space in the Green School of Science for the rapidly expanding engineering program, but it also signaled Princeton's continued commitment to a first-rate program in the natural sciences.


Go to Chapter VI: Spires and Gargoyles: The Princeton Campus 1900-1917