Nassau Hall

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Nassau Hall, Princeton University
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Location Princeton, New Jersey
Coordinates 40°20′55.46″N74°39′33.66″W / 40.3487389°N 74.6593500°W / 40.3487389; -74.6593500 Coordinates: 40°20′55.46″N74°39′33.66″W / 40.3487389°N 74.6593500°W / 40.3487389; -74.6593500
Architect Robert Smith (1756), Benjamin Latrobe (1804), John Notman (1855)
Architectural styleRenaissance
Part of Princeton Historic District (#75001143)
NRHP reference # 66000465 [1]
NJRHP #1739 [2]
Significant dates
Added to NRHPOctober 15, 1966
Designated NHLOctober 9, 1960 [3]
Designated NJRHPMay 27, 1971

Nassau Hall (or Old Nassau) is the oldest building at Princeton University in Princeton, Mercer County, New Jersey, United States. [4] At the time it was built in 1756, Nassau Hall was the largest building in colonial New Jersey and the largest academic building in all the American colonies. [5] The University, then known as the College of New Jersey, held classes for one year in Elizabeth and nine years in Newark before the Hall was completed in 1756. Designed originally by Robert Smith, the building was subsequently remodeled by notable American architects Benjamin Latrobe and John Notman. In the early years of Princeton University, Nassau Hall accommodated classrooms, a library, a chapel, and residential space for students and faculty. It housed the university's first Department of Psychology, for example.

Princeton University University in Princeton, New Jersey

Princeton University is a private Ivy League research university in Princeton, New Jersey. Founded in 1746 in Elizabeth as the College of New Jersey, Princeton is the fourth-oldest institution of higher education in the United States and one of the nine colonial colleges chartered before the American Revolution. The institution moved to Newark in 1747, then to the current site nine years later, and renamed itself Princeton University in 1896.

Princeton, New Jersey Borough in New Jersey, United States

Princeton is a municipality with a borough form of government in Mercer County, New Jersey, United States, that was established in its current form on January 1, 2013, through the consolidation of the Borough of Princeton and Princeton Township. As of the 2010 United States Census, the municipality's population was 28,572, reflecting the former township's population of 16,265, along with the 12,307 in the former borough.

Mercer County, New Jersey County in the United States

Mercer County is a county located in the U.S. state of New Jersey. Its county seat is Trenton, the state capital. The county constitutes the Trenton-Ewing, NJ Metropolitan Statistical Area and is considered part of the New York Metropolitan Area by the United States Census Bureau, but also directly borders the Philadelphia metropolitan area and is included within the Federal Communications Commission's Philadelphia Designated Market Area and the greater Philadelphia-Reading-Camden Combined Statistical Area. As of the 2017 Census estimate, the county's population was 374,733, making it the state's 12th-most populous county, an increase of 2.2% from the 2010 United States Census, when its population was enumerated at 366,513, in turn an increase of 15,752 (4.5%) from the 350,761 enumerated in the 2000 Census, retaining its position as the 12th-most populous county in the state.


During the events of the American Revolutionary War, Nassau Hall was possessed by both British and American forces and suffered considerable damage, especially during the Battle of Princeton on January 3, 1777. From July to October 1783, Princeton was the provisional capital of the United States and Nassau Hall served as its seat of government. The Congress of the Confederation met in the building's library on the second floor. According to Princeton University, "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 ministerfrom the Netherlandsaccredited to the United States." [6]

American Revolutionary War War between Great Britain and the Thirteen Colonies, which won independence as the United States of America

The American Revolutionary War (1775–1783), also known as the American War of Independence, was an 18th-century war between Great Britain and its Thirteen Colonies which declared independence as the United States of America.

Battle of Princeton battle in which General George Washingtons revolutionary forces defeated British forces near Princeton, New Jersey in the American Revolutionary War

The Battle of Princeton was a battle of the American Revolutionary War, fought near Princeton, New Jersey on January 3, 1777 and ending in a small victory for the Colonials. General Lord Cornwallis had left 1,400 British troops under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Charles Mawhood in Princeton. Following a surprise attack at Trenton early in the morning of December 26, 1776, General George Washington of the Continental Army decided to attack the British in New Jersey before entering the winter quarters. On December 30, he crossed the Delaware River back into New Jersey. His troops followed on January 3, 1777. Washington advanced to Princeton by a back road, where he pushed back a smaller British force but had to retreat before Cornwallis arrived with reinforcements. The battles of Trenton and Princeton were a boost to the morale of the patriot cause, leading many recruits to join the Continental Army in the spring.

The seat of government is "the building, complex of buildings or the city from which a government exercises its authority".

At present, Nassau Hall houses Princeton University's administrative offices, including that of the university's president. Old Nassau refers affectionately to the building and serves as a metonym for the university as a whole. The U.S. Department of the Interior designated Nassau Hall a National Historic Landmark in 1960, "signifying its importance in the Revolutionary War and in the history of the United States."

Princeton University is led by a President selected by the Board of Trustees. Until the accession of Woodrow Wilson, a political scientist, in 1902, they were all Presbyterian clergymen, as well as professors. Former President Shirley M. Tilghman is a biologist; her two predecessors were economists. The official residence of the president of the university is the Walter Lowrie House. Prior to 1968, Prospect House served in that capacity.

National Historic Landmark formal designation assigned by the United States federal government to historic buildings and sites in the United States

A National Historic Landmark (NHL) is a building, district, object, site, or structure that is officially recognized by the United States government for its outstanding historical significance. Of over 90,000 places listed on the country's National Register of Historic Places, only some 2,500 are recognized as National Historic Landmarks.


When the building was constructed in 1754, the college's board wanted to name it after Jonathan Belcher, the in 1747 chosen royal governor of New Jersey, but he graciously declined, preferring it to be dedicated "to the immortal memory of the glorious King William III," who hailed from the Dutch House of Orange-Nassau. As a result, the building is known as Nassau Hall. [7]

Jonathan Belcher Colonial governor of Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and New Jersey

Jonathan Belcher was a merchant, businessman, and politician from the Province of Massachusetts Bay during the American colonial period. Belcher served simultaneously for over a decade as colonial governor of the British colonies of New Hampshire (1729–41) and Massachusetts (1730–41) and later for ten years as governor of New Jersey (1747–57).

William III of England 17th-century Stadtholder, Prince of Orange and King of England, Scotland and Ireland

William III, also widely known as William of Orange, was sovereign Prince of Orange from birth, Stadtholder of Holland, Zeeland, Utrecht, Gelderland and Overijssel in the Dutch Republic from 1672 and King of England, Ireland and Scotland from 1689 until his death in 1702. As King of Scotland, he is known as William II. He is sometimes informally known in Northern Ireland and Scotland as "King Billy".

House of Orange-Nassau branch of the European House of Nassau

The House of Orange-Nassau, a branch of the European House of Nassau, has played a central role in the politics and government of the Netherlands and Europe especially since William the Silent organized the Dutch revolt against Spanish rule, which after the Eighty Years' War (1568–1648) led to an independent Dutch state.


The Faculty Room in 1886, when it served as home to the art and natural history collections Nassau Hall Museum (1886).png
The Faculty Room in 1886, when it served as home to the art and natural history collections
Nassau Hall entrance NassauEntranceCloseup.JPG
Nassau Hall entrance

The New Jersey Legislature met for the first time in Nassau Hall on August 27, 1776.

New Jersey Legislature the legislature of the U.S. state of New Jersey

The New Jersey Legislature is the legislative branch of the government of the U.S. state of New Jersey. In its current form, as defined by the New Jersey Constitution of 1947, the Legislature consists of two houses: the General Assembly and the Senate. The Legislature meets in the New Jersey State House, in the state capital of Trenton. Democrats currently hold super majorities in both chambers of the legislature.

The British Redcoats seized control of Nassau Hall in 1776, and American soldiers were forced to fire upon their own building in the Battle of Princeton on January 3, 1777. Three cannonballs were fired, but only two made contact. One glanced off the south side of the building; the damage can still be seen today. Another cannonball flew through a window in the Faculty Room and "decapitated" King George's portrait. The cannonball was said to have come from a gun in the artillery company commanded by Alexander Hamilton, who had been rejected by Princeton when he first came to the colonies. The result of the battle was a decisive Patriot victory, and Nassau Hall was retaken by the Americans.

George III of the United Kingdom King of Great Britain and Ireland

George III was King of Great Britain and King of Ireland from 25 October 1760 until the union of the two countries on 1 January 1801, after which he was King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland until his death in 1820. He was concurrently Duke and prince-elector of Brunswick-Lüneburg ("Hanover") in the Holy Roman Empire before becoming King of Hanover on 12 October 1814. He was the third British monarch of the House of Hanover, but unlike his two predecessors, he was born in Great Britain, spoke English as his first language, and never visited Hanover.

Alexander Hamilton first Secretary of the Treasury and Founding Father of the United States

Alexander Hamilton was an American statesman and one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. He was an influential interpreter and promoter of the U.S. Constitution, as well as the founder of the nation's financial system, the Federalist Party, the United States Coast Guard, and the New York Post newspaper. As the first Secretary of the Treasury, Hamilton was the main author of the economic policies of George Washington's administration. He took the lead in the Federal government's funding of the states' debts, as well as establishing a national bank, a system of tariffs, and friendly trade relations with Britain. His vision included a strong central government led by a vigorous executive branch, a strong commercial economy, a national bank and support for manufacturing, and a strong military. Thomas Jefferson was his leading opponent, arguing for agrarianism and smaller government.

Patriot (American Revolution) American colonist who rejected British rule in the American Revolution

Patriots were those colonists of the Thirteen Colonies who rejected British rule during the American Revolution and declared the United States of America as an independent nation in July 1776. Their decision was based on the political philosophy of republicanism as expressed by spokesmen such as Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Thomas Paine. They were opposed by the Loyalists who supported continued British rule.

The Congress of the Confederation convened in Nassau Hall for a little more than four months (from June 30, 1783, to November 4, 1783). The normal location in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania had to be vacated due to a mutiny by Continental Army soldiers.

Starting in 1869 each graduation class adds a new sprig of ivy to grow up the walls of the building. [8]

The first U.S. commemorative postage stamp ever printed on colored paper honored Nassau Hall on its bicentennial. It depicted a front view of Nassau Hall. It was denominated at the then first class rate of 3 cents and was on orange paper. It was first issued at Princeton, N.J. on September 22, 1956.

Princeton's alma mater

Side view Nassau-hall-princeton.JPG
Side view

The song Old Nassau was adopted as Princeton University's alma mater in 1859. The lyrics were written by Harlan Page Peck, a member of Princeton's class of 1862, and first published in the March 1859 issue of Nassau Literary Magazine. The music, originally to be set to the tune of Auld Lang Syne , proved unworkable, and Karl A. Langlotz, a professor of music at Princeton who had studied composition under Franz Liszt, [9] wrote a new melody for the song's lyrics. According to Leitch's A Princeton Companion, Langlotz "wrote the music for Old Nassau on the porch of his house at 160 Mercer Street one fine spring afternoon." [10]

Peck's lyrics have been altered significantly over the years, and several verses of Peck's original text have been omitted. Years after female students began attending Princeton after the adoption of a coeducational program in 1969, the song's lyrics were altered to become gender neutral.

The original lyrics of the song's first verse and refrain are as follows: [11]

Tune every heart and every voice,
Bid every care withdraw;
Let all with one accord rejoice,
In praise of Old Nassau.
In praise of Old Nassau my boys,
Hurrah! Hurrah! Hurrah!
Her sons will give, while they shall live,
Three cheers for Old Nassau.
US Post Office stamp issued in 1956. Nassau hall 1956 US stamp.jpg
US Post Office stamp issued in 1956.

In the current, gender-neutral version of the lyrics, "my boys" has been replaced by "we sing", and the third line of the chorus has been changed to "Our hearts will give, while we shall live."


As described in 1760 in the New American Magazine, "The simple interior design is shown in the plan, where a central corridor provided communication with the students' chambers and recitation rooms, the entrances, and the common prayer hall; and on the second floor, with the library over the central north entrance. The prayer hall was two stories high, measured 32 by 40 feet, and had a balcony at the north end which could be reached from the second-story entry. Partially below ground level, though dimly lighted by windows, was the cellar, which served as kitchen, dining area (beneath the prayer hall), and storeroom. In all there were probably forty rooms for the students, not including those added later in the cellar when a moat was dug to allow additional light and air into that dungeon." [5]

On March 6, 1802, a fire devastated the interior of the Hall, leaving only the exterior walls standing and destroying nearly all contents including 2,900 out of the library's 3,000 books. Benjamin H. Latrobe, the first architect professionally trained in the United States and known for his work in the Federal style, oversaw the reconstruction and refused his share of the $42,000 that had been raised for the effort. [12] "The horizontal lintels over the three entrances at the front of the building were replaced with triangular pediments, and the circular window in the central pediment rising from the eves (sic) was replaced with a fanlight." [5] [13]

The Hall was gutted by fire once again in March 1855. Reconstruction was carried out by John Notman of Philadelphia in his characteristic Italian Renaissance style, adding an often-criticized cupola and towers along with engineering improvements. Many of his architectural flourishes were removed in later renovations. [13]

See also

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  1. National Park Service (2006-03-15). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places . National Park Service.
  2. "New Jersey and National Registers of Historic Places — Mercer County" (PDF). New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection — Historic Preservation Office. April 5, 2013. p. 8. Archived from the original (PDF) on May 16, 2013. Retrieved June 4, 2013.
  3. "Nassau Hall". National Historic Landmark summary listing. National Park Service. 2008-06-23.
  4. Orange Key Virtual Tour. Stop 8 "Front Campus" (including Nassau Hall) on the Princeton University website. Retrieved 29 June 2013.
  5. 1 2 3 United States. Embassy. Department of State. BUILDINGS OF THE DEPARTMENT OF STATE, n.d. Web. 2012.
  6. Princetoniana: Nassau Hall published on Princeton University's website and adapted from Leitch, Alexander. A Princeton Companion (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1978). Website accessed 15 January 2007.
  7. Sean Wilentz, Dayton-Stockton professor of history at Nassau Hall (16 May 2001). "Nassau Hall, Princeton, New Jersey". Princeton University. Retrieved 24 October 2017.
  8. "Princeton Class Of '34 Adds Its Ivy Sprig For Nassau Hall". Baltimore Sun . June 19, 1934. Retrieved 2011-01-03. Just as Princeton seniors have done for sixty-five years, the class of 1934 planted a new shoot of ivy to twine its way up the historic walls of Nassau Hall today.
  9. The Princeton Cemetery of the Nassau Presbyterian Church. Website accessed 13 October 2009.
  10. Princetoniana: Old Nassau, published on Princeton University's website and adapted from Leitch, Alexander. A Princeton Companion (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1978). Website accessed 15 January 2007.
  11. "Princeton's Nassau Hall." Historyplaces., 1 June 2012. Web. 14 Oct. 2012.
  12. Bennicoff, Tad. "A Brief History of Nassau Hall." Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library: FAQ A Brief History of Nassau Hall. Princeton University Library, 2003. Web. 14 Oct. 2012. <>.
  13. 1 2 Quiñones, Eric. "Princeton University - Nassau Hall Is a Campus and National Landmark." Princeton University - Nassau Hall Is a Campus and National Landmark., 22 Dec. 2005. Web. 14 Oct. 2012.

Further reading