Art and Archaeology

The Arts Throughout the Ages

Volume XX September, 1925 Number 3

Princeton--An Historic Glimpse

By Varnum Lansing Collins


It was a friendly Oxford, don who said that Princeton is a jewel in an emerald setting. Two hundred years ago the setting was a virgin wilderness through which one travelled all day long, according to the record, and "saw no tame creature." The first house in the village was not built until 1724, but already the Indian trail through the forest was becoming the King's Highway from New York to Philadelphia; and, being set on high ground at mid-distance between those two cities, the village soon acquired a place on early maps.

Thirty-two years after the erection of that first dwelling, the College of New Jersey was transported from Newark, where it had been restlessly existing for a decade, and was established in Nassau Hall, the new and abiding home which Robert Smith, the Philadelphia architect, had been two years building for it. And around this fine colonial masterwork have grown a campus with a character of its own and a little university town of charming architecture, old gardens, sunlit lawns, and centurial trees.

The prim colonial period of the College ended with the on-coming of the Revolution, in which town and gown played no minor part. Science and letters yielded right of way to patriotism. Nassau Hall was devastated by its occupation as a British stronghold and as an American barracks, a hospital, and a prison; ancestral homes like "Morven" and "Castle Howard," where works of art had been slowly gathered through the years, suffered irretrievable losses. The critical Battle of Princeton was ended on the very campus of the College. One of the two valuable paintings then hanging in Nassau Hall--a life-size portrait of George the Second--was mined by Alexander Hamilton's battery;and the other, a similar canvas of Governor Belcher, patron of the College, with a collection of smaller paintings of British sovereigns which decorated the chapel, was destroyed. In their place, however, Nassau Hall received at the close of the Revolution the great picture of Washington by Charles Willson Peale which it still enshrines, and which was paid for by a money gift from the General himself. Twice since then, in 1802 and 1855, this portrait has been rescued unharmed from fires which reduced the building to a shell of proud walls.

The University's portrait collection dates, therefore, only from the middle of the Nineteenth Century; its art collection is even younger.

The vigorous administration of President McCosh gave the College the fresh blood it needed after the downward drag of the Civil War period, and was followed by another building era under President Patton; and when in 1896, at the sesquicentennial celebration of its rounding, the College assumed the name and responsibility of Princeton University, it turned a fresh page of its history, physical as well as spiritual. The opening years of the Twentieth Century saw the slow ma- turing of definite plans for the development not only of the external setting of the University, but also of its deeper educational influence and significance. One source of that influence has been the growth, under the gracious and scholarly direction of Allan Marquand, of the interest in art and archaeology which has become associated with the name of this where he for so many years lived and taught.


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