Princeton History

Number 8 August 89


Robert Smith (1722-1777)

When the College of New Jersey established its permanent location in Princeton, it turned to Philadelphia for designs for its new buildings. Robert Smith, who drew the plans for Nassau Hall and the President's House, was a carpenter-builder who emigrated from Scotland, probably in 1748 or 1749. Born in Dalkeith, near Edinburgh, Smith was apprenticed to a builder and may have worked for the great Scottish architect William Adam.

The designs supplied by Smith were examples of the restrained Georgian style favored by conservative Philadelphians. The President's House, before the addition of the front porch and side bays, was a simple rectangular form, except for the rear stair tower. This feature allowed a capacious center hall. The interior finish, raised paneling, a turned balustrade on the stair, and a fluted arch in the hall reflected Philadelphia prototypes, but were probably executed locally.

The President's House was influential in Princeton, evidently introducing brick as a building material and inspiring the designs of such dwellings as Bainbridge House. It was the design or Nassau Hall, however, that had a wider effect, making Smith more than a local architect. True, one of his buildings echoing Nassau Hall was the Walnut Street Jail in Philadelphia (1773), since demolished. But he also provided plans for the still-existing main building of the College of Rhode Island (now Brown University in Providence) and the country's first mental hospital at Williamsburg, Virginia (1770), recently reconstructed.

Smith's other Philadelphia works include Carpenter's Hall (1768), site of the meeting of the First Continental Congress, the steeple of Christ Church (1753), and a house for Benjamin Franklin (1764), the foundation of which is still visible in Franklin Court at Independence National Historic Park. A warm supporter of the American Revolution, Smith engaged in preparing river defenses for Philadelphia from 1775 to 1777, including construction of chevaux-de-rise. His work near the river in the freezing winter of 1776/1777 is thought to have contributed to his early death.

Benjamin Henry Latrobe (1764-1820)

Born and educated in England, Latrobe is generally considered the first professionally trained architect to work in the United States. He emigrated in 1796, arriving in Norfolk, Virginia in March. Eventually he settled in Richmond. There he designed several houses and, his most important early commission, the Richmond penitentiary. Richmond, however, was somewhat provincial for him. In 1798, he moved to Philadelphia, having been appointed architect for the Bank of Philadelphia.

For the rest of his life Latrobe struggled, as architects would for fifty years, against the American reluctance to pay architects' fees. In an attempt to establish his credentials, Latrobe volunteered his services in the rebuilding of Nassau Hall after a major fire in 1802. While at Princeton he also designed two buildings flanking Nassau Hall, of which Stanhope Hall is the survivor. The buildings were erected on the basis of Latrobe's design by Jonathan Doan, a Trenton builder-architect. Stanhope Hall's rather stilted proportions can be understood only if the building is viewed as what it was intended to be, one of a pair of pavilions subsidiary to and meant to be viewed in perspective with Latrobe's redesigned Nassau Hall.

Latrobe's work at Princeton led to the design, also without a fee, for a building for Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania in 1803. His greatest success, however, came from Washington, where, from 1803 to 1812, and again from 1815 to 1817, he supervised the building and design of the United States Capitol. Other of his surviving Washington buildings include Decatur House (1819) and St. John's Church on Lafayette Square (1890). Another of his major works is the Baltimore Cathedral (1806-1818). Latrobe died of yellow fever in New Orleans, where, among other activities, he had supervised construction of the city's waterworks.

Thomas U. Walter (1804-1887)

Thomas U. Walter provided a drawing for the facade of the First Presbyterian Church. The design was ordered by local builder-architect Charles Steadman, who was responsible for the general layout of the building as well as its construction after the second building on the site had burned.

Walter was the son and grandson of Philadelphia builders. Apprenticed to a mason, he later studied in the office of William Strickland and then artended classes at the Drawing School of the Franklin Institute. He opened his own practice in 1831. Although he designed the Nassau Presbyterian Church early in his career, Walter had rapidly established himself as one of Philadelphia's leading practitioners. His major works of the period included the Philadelphia County Prison (Moyamensing) (1831-1835) and Girard College (1833-1848).

Walter was skilled in the several revival styles characteristic of the mid-nineteenth century. The Nassau Presbyterian Church is a good example of the restrained, monumental version of the Greek Revival he favored. Its distyle in antis design now seems conventional, because it was so widely adopted, but was innovative when the church was built.

In 1850 Walter won a competition for the extension of the United States Capitol. He moved to Washington in 1 85 1, where he remained until 1865, designing and supervising construction of the Capitol's wings and its great cast-iron dome. Resigning in 1865, Walter returned to Philadelphia. His attempt to resume his practice was unsuccessful, and he eventually accepted employment in the office of the Wilson Brothers, where he is believed to have designed the railroad station at Lambertville. In his last years he served as second-in-command under John McArthur for supervision of the construction of Philadelphia's City Hall. A founder of the American Institute of Architects, Walter was its long-time president.

John Notman (1810-1870)

Born in Edinburgh, and descended from a long line of Scottish stoneworkers, Norman emigrated to Philadelphia in 183 1. He had been apprenticed to a carpenter in Scotland and later worked in the Edinburgh architectural office of William Henry Playfair.

How Notman supported himself in his early years in the United States is unknown. His first major commission was the plan of Laurel Hill Cemetery and its buildings (1836-1839) on a Schuylkill River site. Laurel Hill established his reputation as a landscape architect; Notman was later called on for designs for Spring Grove Cemetery (1845) in Cincinnati, Ohio, Hollywood Cemetery (1848), and Capitol Square (1850-c. 1860) in Richmond, Virginia, as well as plans for gentlemen's estates such as Fieldwood (Guernsey Hall).

As an architect, he specialized in institutional buildings, churches, and villas. He was adept in several styles: archaeologicallycorrect Gothic Revival, as in the Chapel of the Holy Innocents (1845-1 847) in Burlington, New Jersey, and St. Mark's Church (1847-1852) in Philadelphia; Classical Revival at the New Jersey State House extensions (1845) (demolished); and Romanesque Revival for Holy Trinity (1856--1859) and St. Clement's Church (1855-1859) in Philadelphia. The style for which he is best remembered, however, and which had the greatest impact on American architecture, is the Italianate. He introduced the Italian villa to the United States in Riverside (1838-1839) (demolished), built for Bishop George Washington Doane in Burlington, New Jersey, and the urban palazzo in The Athenaeum of Philadelphia (1845-1847). Norman designed several villas for clients in the environs of Philadelphia. The chief surviving group of these is in Princeton, including, in addition to Prospect, Lowrie House (1848-1849), Guernsey Hall (c. 1853-1855), and the Gothic Revival Springdale (1851-1851). Prospect is the most sophisticated of these, with a complex and impressive sequence of interior spaces. Norman also redesigned Nassau Hall after a second fire in 1855.

William A. Potter (1842-1909)

William Appleton Potter was the son of Bishop Alonzo Potter and a half-brother of Edward Tuckerman Potter, who was also an architect. Born in Schenectady, Potter grew up in Philadelphia and attended Union College. His collegiate background distinguished him from most of the architects of the first half of the nineteenth century, who received their training through apprenticeship in the building trades 'and then sometimes in the offices of practicing architects. The apprenticeship tradition was still strong, however, and Potter received his professional training in his half-brother's office. Chancellor Green Library was Potter's first major commission. In it, he took the High Victorian Gothic vocabulary and octagonal form used by his half-brother for the Nott Memorial at Union College, and elaborated it into a complex interplay of octagons of various sizes and shapes. For the college, retaining Potter represented a shift from dependence on Philadelphia architects to a New York pract itioner. Potter would go on to design several other buildings on the campus: the John C. Green Science building (1873-1875) (demolished), Alexander Hall (1891-11894), East Pyne Building (1896-1897), and, with his partner R.H. Robertson, the University Hotel (1875-1877) (demolished), Witherspoon Hall (1875-1877), and Stuart Hall (1875-1877) at Princeton Theological Seminary. During 1875 and 1876, Potter also served as Supervising Architect of the Treasury. Under his supervision, designs were produced for Customhouses, Courthouses, and Post Offices in Kentucky, Indiana, Massachusetts, Georgia, and Tennessee. During his partnership with Robertson, from 1875 to 1881, the firm produced summer "cottages" at Newport, Long Island, and the Jersey shore, and the Brown University Library (1875). Potter also designed several churches, including the South Congregational Church in Springfield, Massachusetts (1871-1875), Christ Church in Poughkeepsie, New York (1887-1889), and the First Reformed Dutch church in Somerville, New Jersey (1896-1897).

John Stewardson (1858-1896)

Walter Cope (1860-1902)

Like Richard Morris Hunt, John Stewardson studied at the Ecole des Beaux Arts. After his return to his native Philadelphia, he worked in the offices of Theophilus P. Chandler and Furness & Evans. His partner, Walter Cope, following an older tradition, received all his training in architects' offices, first that of Addison Hutton and later Chandler. Cope and Stewardson formed their partnership in 1885.

Their first major commission was Radnor Hall at Bryn Mawr College, where they would design four more buildings between 1890 and 1901. The Bryn Mawr buildings were in the Collegiate Gothic style, which was taken up with enthusiasm by other colleges and universities. Between 1893 and 1901 Cope and Stewardson virtually designed a new campus for the University of Pennsylvania, and in 1899 did design an entire campus for Washington University in St. Louis. When Princeton University decided to adopt Collegiate Gothic as an official style, on the occasion of the institution's Sesquicentennial in 1896, it was only natural that it should turn to Cope and Stewardson. Their first work for the university was Blair Hall (1896), followed by Stafford Little Hall in 1898.

Although best known for large institutional buildings, the firm also enjoyed a substantial domestic practice. The house shown above has been attributed to Cope and Stewardson, although it does not appear in published lists of their work. In a sophisticated version of the Tudor Revival adapted to suburbia, it was built for Professor and Mrs. Henry Burchard Fine at a time when Cope and Stewardson were not only working for the university, but also were designing in Princeton one of their most successful Tudor Revival houses, Constitution Hill, as well as the domestically scaled Ivy Club. In the next few years, the firm would be responsible for several other Princeton houses, the Magie House on Library Place, the A.L. Frothingham House on Hodge Road opposite Morven Place, and, on the Lawrenceville Road, the Gustave Schirmer House, on the property that is now Jasna Polana. The last two are Colonial Revival in style.

Charles Follen McKim (1847-1909)

McKim, Mead and White were probably the most important architectural firm in America in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. For Princeton University they designed the Fitzrandolph Gateway and fence in front of Nassau Hall and the elegant gate and brick wall of the former University Field on Prospect Street. Because of the New York City clubs, University, Metropolitan, Century, and Harvard, they were a logical choice for Cottage, the second oldest upper-class eating club. In contrast to the Tudor style of Ivy, next door, which followed the Collegiate trend of the university buildings of the time, the Georgian Revival style executed in brick was selected to give a more formal and urban character. The U-shape plan with a pillared loggia encloses a handsome court facing what was once a tennis court in the garden. Cottage strikes the right note of a commodious house and sophisticated club one of Princeton's best buildings.

F. Scott Fitzgerald, a member, wrote of the lazy spring evenings on the loggia.

Frank Miles Day (1861-11918)

Charles Z. Klauder (1871-1938)

Although the Collegiate Gothic style of architecture was adopted with the construction of Blair Hall (Cope and Stewardson) at the time of the college's Sesquicentennial in 1895, the scale, materials, and character of that style, for which Princeton is renowned, were refined by Day and Klauder of Philadelphia. Ralph Adams Cram commented:

"In this great group of collegiate buildings at Princeton--Holder Hall and the University Dining Halls--Messrs. Day and Klauder reach the highest point thus far in their authoritative interpretation of Gothic as a living style." It is a brilliant adaptation of the style to a new program of five dining halls, a kitchen complex, and dormitories. In 1981, Venturi, Rauch and Scott Brown of Philadelphia designed the conversion of the group to Mathey and Rockefeller Colleges.

Day and Klauder ultimately designed fifteen projects on the campus, most of which were done by Klauder after Day's death in 1918, the last being Joline Hall in 1939. Klauder's work became much simpler with less historic detailing.

The firm also worked on the campuses of Wellesley, Cornell, Delaware, Colorado (Boulder), and the Cathedral of Learning of the University of Pittsburgh.

Ralph Adams Cram (1863-1942)

Beatrix Farrand (1871-1959)

Ralph Adams Cram was considered the leading proponent of academic Gothic Revival architecture in the United States. He was the supervising architect of the University from 1907 to 1919 and designed Campbell Hall (1909), McCormick Hall (191), and the Chapel (1918). Donald Egbert, Professor of Architectural History, considered the Graduate College group "the finest example of Collegiate Gothic architecture in America." The main court, Cleveland Tower, Proctor Hall, and the Dean's House were built in 1913. Swain Court was added in 1917. The location was the subject of the great battle between University President Woodrow Wilson and Dean Andrew Fleming West. The siting on the hill is masterful, with Cleveland Tower, a town landmark, on the horizon. The courts convey the secluded scholarly atmosphere.

Cram was also famous for his church work, including the nave of St. John the Divine in New York City, the East Liberty Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh, and other educational groups at West Point and Rice Institute, Houston, Texas.

This was the first major landscape project at the university by Beatrix Farrand, who called herself "landscape gardener." In her final report in 1941 to the Committee on Grounds and Buildings, she wrote, "... when the Graduate College was under construction Ralph Adams Cram, the architect, submitted a plan for the entrance road over what appeared to the Committee a formidable fill between University Place and the Graduate College. They called in Mr. Pyne's protegee [Farrand] who suggested a less costly scheme in which the road grade was reduced by some ten or more feet. The Committee then asked for suggestions for the setting of the group, and a sketch was submitted showing a Court at the base of the Tower, the main south terrace and Wyman House terrace and garden walls, together with a general road plan and outlines for boundary and building plantations. The plan was approved and carried out."

Arthur Meigs (1889-1956)

Charter is another student eating club, where Edmund Wilson '16 and James Stewart '32 took their meals. It is a prime example of the Colonial Revival movement in the style of a stone eighteenth-century Philadelphia Georgian mansion such as those in Fairmount Park. Meigs, Princeton class of '03 and a Charter member, chose a style for which his firm was recognized. Melior, Meigs and Howe's practice up to the 1930's was principally in distinguished suburban and country houses, whose designs were issued in a monograph published in 1923. Other projects included Goodhart Hall at Bryn Mawr College and World War I battlefield memorials in France. Howe joined the firm after the Charter project.

The first building built for Charter Club, on Prospect Street but later moved to 33 Cleveland Lane, was a white clapboard "colonial" design by David Adler '03, who later in Chicago became one of the leading architects of large country houses, particularly in the suburbs north of the city.

Henry Hardenbergh (1847-1918)

Henry Hardenbergh is known for his luxurious hotels--The Plaza in New York, The Willard in Washington, The Copley Plaza in Boston, and The Dakota apartments in New York. At Princeton he also was the architect for the Palmer Physics Laboratory. The Palmers controlled the New Jersey Zinc Company, whose president was Hardenbergh's brother, and that connection probably led to his selection.

Palmer Stadium was an early reinforced concrete structure with buttresses, turrets, and a pointed arch facing Roper Lane, the main approach, thus echoing the prevailing Gothic style of the campus. It was rushed to completion in six months to be ready for the Yale game. Because, when it was built, knowledge of the nature of reinforced concrete was imperfect, the structure has expanded and contracted and required constant alterations and repair. Symbolically, it is a place where Princeton athletic legends were created.


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