University Hall (Brown University)

Last updated
University Hall, Brown University
Brown's University Hall in 2007.jpg
Front View
Location Providence, Rhode Island
Coordinates 41°49′34″N71°24′14″W / 41.82611°N 71.40389°W / 41.82611; -71.40389 Coordinates: 41°49′34″N71°24′14″W / 41.82611°N 71.40389°W / 41.82611; -71.40389
Architectural style Georgian
Part of College Hill Historic District (ID70000019)
NRHP reference No. 66000003
Significant dates
Added to NRHPOctober 15, 1966 [1]
Designated NHLJune 13, 1962 [2]
Designated NHLDCPNovember 10, 1970

University Hall is the first and oldest building on the campus of Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. Built in 1770, the building is one of only seven extant college buildings built prior to the American Revolution. [3] According to architectural historian Bryant F. Tolles Jr., the structure is "one of the genuine icons of early American collegiate architecture." [4]


The building occupies a central part of the university's front campus and is framed by the Van Wickle Gates.



Built in 1770, University Hall was originally known as the College Edifice. The building was constructed on a piece of land that had belonged to the original Brown family ancestor and co-founder of Providence, Chad Brown (c. 1600–1650). [5]

The first reference to the building was made on September 5, 1765 at the second meeting of the Corporation in Newport. Later meetings of the Corporation organized a building committee; among the committee's members were Stephen Hopkins and Joseph Brown. The plans were finalized on February 9, 1770, and on February 17 the building committee placed a notice in the Providence Gazette soliciting donations of timber and other materials. [5]

Prominent Newport merchant and slave trader Aaron Lopez donated timber to the effort, while Nicholas Brown, Sr. and Company led the construction. The workforce involved in the construction of the building was diverse, reflecting the ethnic and social admixture of colonial Providence's population. Slaves, free people of color, indigenous people, and white laborers—both skilled and unskilled—worked to erect the structure. [6] [7]

Construction on the building began on March 26, 1770 and the roof of the structure was raised on October 13, 1770. [5] Construction on the building resumed following the Revolutionary War, continuing into the 1790s. [8]

Morgan Edwards, described the location as "Commanding a prospect of ... an extensive country, variegated with hills and dales, woods, and plains," and was further inspired to write, "Surely, this spot was made for a seat for the Muses." [5]

This 1792 engraving is the first published image of Brown. University Hall stands on right while the President's House sits on the left. Brown University 1792 engraving.jpg
This 1792 engraving is the first published image of Brown. University Hall stands on right while the President's House sits on the left.

American Revolution

During the presidency of the Reverend Manning, the building was used to house French and other revolutionary troops led by General George Washington and the Comte de Rochambeau during the wait to commence the celebrated march of 1781 that led to the Siege of Yorktown and the Battle of the Chesapeake.

Following the departure of the French troops, President Manning petitioned the Rhode Island General Assembly as follows: [5]

That the College edifice was first taken in December, 1776, for the use of barracks and a hospital for the American troops, and retained for that use until the Fall before the arrival of his most Christian Majesty's fleets and armies in this State; – that, by our direction, the President resumed the course of education in said College, and took possession of the edifice on the 10th of May, 1780; and continued so to occupy it until the authority of this State, in a short time after, granted it to the French army as an hospital, who continued to hold and use it for said purpose until the last week, when the Commissary of War of the French army delivered it up, with the keys, to his Honor the Deputy Governor; they having previously permitted the officers of the French ships in this State to place their sick in it, who still continue there; – that the building was in good repair, and occupied by upwards of thirty students when first taken for the public service; – that great injury hath been done to every part of it since taken out of the hands of the Corporation; especially by two buildings adjoining it, one an house of offal at the north end, with a vault fifteen feet deep under it, having broken down the wall of the College to facilitate the passage of the invalids from the edifice into it; from which addition the intolerable stench renders all the northern part uninhabitable; and the other an horse stable, built from the east projection to the north end, by which the house is greatly weakened; many of the windows are also taken entirely out of the house, and others so broken, as well as the slate on the roof, that the storms naturally beat into it. ...

In 1843, the structure was again turned over to the military for use in suppressing the Dorr Rebellion. [5]

20th Century

An 1840 view of the front campus. University Hall is visible on the far right. Brown University, R.I (NYPL Hades-253912-478707).jpg
An 1840 view of the front campus. University Hall is visible on the far right.

On May 11, 1927, a tablet placed on University Hall was dedicated to the memory of General Nathanael Greene, who had received an honorary degree from Brown in 1776, by the First Light Infantry Regiment of Rhode Island.

At the rededication of University Hall on May 4, 1940, French ambassador Comte René Doynel de Saint-Quentin and Princeton president Harold W. Dodds took part in the ceremonies recalling the University's early associations with France and Princeton.

The building has been used for many different purposes at the University over the years. It currently houses the office for the president of Brown on the first floor, facing the middle campus in space first occupied by the Commons, along with other administrative offices.

The building was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1962, recognizing it as an excellent example of 18th-century academic architecture, and as key place in the life of educator Horace Mann (1796–1859), who graduated from Brown in 1819 and taught there until 1821, before embarking on a career of educational reform. [2] [8]


A 19th century floor plan of the building. University Hall plans, first floor.jpg
A 19th century floor plan of the building.

University Hall is a four-story, seventeen bay structure. The building's largely rectangular form measures approximately 150 long and 46 feet wide. The central three bays of the building project an additional ten feet forward, forming pedimented pavilions measuring 33 feet across. The structure's hipped roof is decorated with an ornamental balustrade and features a central cupola. [8]

Designed in the late Georgian style, the building is constructed of red brick and decorated with white-painted, wood trim. The facade of the structure is relatively unornamented with the exception of plain brick belt courses which mark the building's stories. Brick segmental arches frame the structure's evenly spaced, double sash windows. [8]

Compared to coeval academic buildings, University Hall is of modest and utilitarian character. Speaking of the building's design, architectural historian Henry-Russell Hitchcock wrote "academic design could hardly be further reduced to its essentials of solid mass, sound proportions and regular rhythm." [4]


There is some ambiguity surrounding the architect of University Hall. Historical sources have attributed the structure to a variety of architects, including Joseph Brown, Robert Smith, and Joseph Horatio Anderson.

Joseph Brown is most frequently posited as the chief architect of the structure. While Brown was clearly involved in the design process, historian Lawrence C. Wroth disputes sources attributing the structure solely to the amateur architect. According to Wroth, "an architectural commission and not Joseph Brown alone was responsible for the choice of a design." [5]

Architectural historian Bryant F. Tolles Jr. notes that Philadelphia architect Robert Smith may have visited Providence during the building's planning and contributed to its design. [4]

In a letter dated March 14, 1770, architect Joseph Horatio Anderson offered his services to the new college. [9] The correspondence, however, was received only after construction on the building had begun. [5]

University Hall bears a strong resemblance to Nassau Hall at Princeton, as it appeared prior to alterations Aula Nassovica.jpg
University Hall bears a strong resemblance to Nassau Hall at Princeton, as it appeared prior to alterations

Nassau Hall, built 14 years prior at the College of New Jersey, is often cited as the model for the building. James Manning, Brown's first president and active member of the building process, was educated at Princeton and may have suggested that Brown's first building resemble that of his alma mater. [5]


Over the past two centuries, the interior and exterior of University Hall have been altered numerous times. In 1834, following the construction of neighboring Manning Hall, the exterior of University Hall was coated with cement. At this time, the original wooden balustrade was removed from the roof. In 1883, a large renovation of the building's interior was undertaken by Gould & Angell. The building was further renovated in 1905. This effort involved the removal of the cement that had been applied to the building's exterior in the 1830s well as the restoration of the belfry and windows. Renovations took place once again in 1939. Led by Perry, Shaw & Hepburn, this renovation saw the replacement of the building's foundation and the restoration of the building's chimneys and cupola. [4]

See also

Related Research Articles

Jean-Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur, comte de Rochambeau

Marshal Jean-Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur, comte de Rochambeau was a French nobleman and general whose army played the decisive role in helping the United States defeat the British army at Yorktown in 1781 during the American Revolution. He was commander-in-chief of the French Expeditionary Force sent by France in order to help the American Continental Army fight against British forces.

First Baptist Church in America United States historic place

The First Baptist Church in America is the First Baptist Church of Providence, Rhode Island, also known as the First Baptist Meetinghouse. It is the oldest Baptist church congregation in the United States, founded in 1638 by Roger Williams in Providence, Rhode Island. The present church building was erected in 1774–75 and held its first meetings in May 1775. It is located at 75 North Main Street in Providence's College Hill neighborhood. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1960.

Union Station (Providence) United States historic place

Union Station describes two distinct, defunct train stations in Providence, Rhode Island.

York and Sawyer

York and Sawyer was an American architectural firm active between 1898 and 1949. The firms' work is exemplary of Beaux-Arts architecture as it was practiced in the United States. The partners Edward York and Philip Sawyer (1868–1949) both trained in the office of McKim, Mead & White in the 1890s. In 1898, they established their independent firm, based in New York City.

The year 1770 in architecture involved some significant events.

College Hill, Providence, Rhode Island Neighborhood of Providence in Rhode Island, United States

College Hill is a historic neighborhood of Providence, Rhode Island, and one of six neighborhoods comprising the city's East Side. It is roughly bounded by South and North Main Street to the west, Power Street to the south, Governor Street and Arlington Avenue to the east and Olney Street to the north. The neighborhood's primary commercial area extends along Thayer Street, a strip frequented by students in the Providence area.

Sciences Library (Brown University)

The Sciences Library, nicknamed the "SciLi", at Brown University is a high-rise building in Providence, Rhode Island built in 1971 in the Brutalist style. At 180 feet (55 m), it is tied with One Citizens Plaza as the 16th-tallest building in the city. The building houses Brown University's primary on-campus collections that support study and research in the fields of Medicine, Psychology, Neural Science, Environmental Science, Biology, Chemistry, Geology, Physics, Engineering, Computer Science, and Pure and Applied Mathematics. SciLi is also the home of the Science Center, the Writing Center, the Map Collection, the Interlibrary Loan office, and the Friedman Study Center. SciLi is one of five on-campus libraries which make up the University Library.

John Hay Library Library at Brown University

The John Hay Library is the second oldest library on the campus of Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, United States. It is located on Prospect Street opposite the Van Wickle Gates. After its construction in 1910, the Hay Library became the main library building on campus, replacing the building now known as Robinson Hall. Today, the John Hay Library is one of five individual libraries that make up the University Library. The Hay houses the University Library's rare books and manuscripts, the University Archives, and the Library's special collections.

John Brown House (Providence, Rhode Island) United States historic place

The John Brown House is the first mansion built in Providence, Rhode Island, located at 52 Power Street on College Hill where it borders the campus of Brown University. The house is named after the original owner, one of the early benefactors of the University, merchant, statesman, and slave trader John Brown. It was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1968. John Quincy Adams considered it "the most magnificent and elegant private mansion that I have ever seen on this continent."

Old Colony House United States historic place

The Old Colony House, also known as Old State House or Newport Colony House, is located at the east end of Washington Square in the city of Newport, Rhode Island, United States. It is a brick Georgian-style building completed in 1741, and was the meeting place for the colonial legislature. From independence in 1776 to the early 20th century the state legislature alternated its sessions between here and the Rhode Island State House in Providence.

St. Josephs Church Complex (Cumberland, Rhode Island) United States historic place

St. Joseph Church is parish of the Roman Catholic Church in Cumberland, Rhode Island within the Diocese of Providence. It is known for its historic campus at 1303 Mendon Road, which includes a Gothic Revival style church along with two late 19th-century, clapboard-sheathed, wood-frame structures on the east side of Mendon Road. The church and its accompanying buildings were added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982 as St. Joseph's Church Complex.

Market House (Providence, Rhode Island) United States historic place

The Market House is a historic three-story brick market house in Market Square, in the College Hill, a neighborhood of Providence, Rhode Island, USA. The building was constructed between 1773 and 1775 and designed by prominent local architects, Joseph Brown and Declaration of Independence signer Stephen Hopkins. The bottom floor of the house was used as a market, and the upper level was used for holding meetings. Similar buildings existed in other American cities, such as Faneuil Hall in Boston and the Old Brick Market in Newport. The building housed the Providence City Council in the decades before the completion of City Hall.

Joseph and William Russell House United States historic place

The Joseph and William Russell House is a historic house at 118 North Main Street in the College Hill area of Providence, Rhode Island. It is a brick Georgian house built in 1772. Its original interior woodwork has been removed and distributed among museums around the United States.

History of Brown University

The history of Brown University spans 257 years. Founded in 1764 as the College in the English Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, Brown is the seventh-oldest institution of higher education in the United States and the third-oldest institution of higher education in New England. At its foundation, the university was the first in the U.S. to accept students regardless of their religious affiliation. Brown's medical program is the third-oldest in New England while its engineering program is the oldest in the Ivy League.

Federal Building (Providence, Rhode Island) United States historic place

The Federal Building is a historic post office, courthouse and custom house on Kennedy Plaza in downtown Providence, Rhode Island. It is a courthouse for the United States District Court for the District of Rhode Island. It was built in 1908 by Clarke & Howe of limestone and steel and has a courtyard in the center.

Joseph Brown was an early American industrialist, architect, astronomer, and professor at Brown University.

Wallis Eastburn Howe American architect

Wallis Eastburn Howe (1868–1960) was a notable American architect from Rhode Island.

Joseph M. Mosher (1888–1967) was an American architect practicing in Rhode Island during the mid-20th century. He designed many churches and schools around southern New England, after being associated with the office of Walter F. Fontaine for many years.

Antoinette Forrester Downing was an architectural historian and preservationist who authored the standard reference work on historical houses in Rhode Island. She is credited with spearheading a movement that saved many of Providence's historic buildings from demolition in the mid 20th century and for her leadership was inducted into the Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame in 1978.

Second Empire architecture in the United States and Canada

Second Empire, in the United States and Canada, is an architectural style most popular between 1865 and 1900. Second Empire architecture developed from the redevelopment of Paris under Napoleon III's Second French Empire and looked to French Renaissance precedents. It was characterized by a mansard roof, elaborate ornament, and strong massing and was notably used for public buildings as well as commercial and residential design.


  1. "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places . National Park Service. April 15, 2008.
  2. 1 2 "University Hall, Brown University". National Historic Landmark summary listing. National Park Service. Archived from the original on 2011-06-06. Retrieved 2008-06-29.
  3. "Brown University Campus Map" (PDF). Brown University. 2012.
  4. 1 2 3 4 Tolles, Bryant Franklin (2011). Architecture & Academe: College Buildings in New England Before 1860. UPNE. p. 44. ISBN   978-1-58465-891-7.
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 "Encyclopedia Brunoniana | University Hall". Retrieved 2021-01-07.
  6. Emlen, Robert (Summer 2008). "Slave Labor at the College Edifice: Building Brown University's University Hall in 1770" (PDF). Rhode Island History. 66 (2).
  7. Wootton, Anne (2006-04-19). "University Hall construction records show U.'s nuanced ties to slavery". Brown Daily Herald. Retrieved 2021-03-30.
  8. 1 2 3 4 "NHL nomination for University Hall". National Park Service. Retrieved 2014-11-01.
  9. Whiffen, Marcus; Koeper, Frederick (1983). American Architecture: 1607-1860. MIT Press. ISBN   978-0-262-73069-3.