Biography and History

Built in 1756, Nassau Hall originally housed the entire College. Designed by Robert Smith and William Shippen, the building was named for King William III, Prince of Orange-Nassau. Today, Nassau Hall houses the office of the president and other administrative offices.

A fire in 1802 left only the walls standing. Benjamin Henry Latrobe was engaged to rebuild it along its original lines. After a second fire in 1855, John Notman, who was also the architect for Prospect House and Walter Lowrie House, made a number of exterior changes, including the staircases at the ends of the building and the arched front doorway.

The sturdy stone structure has survived bombardment during the American Revolution (a cannonball scar is visible on the exterior south wall of the west wing), occupation by troops of both sides during this war, and two fires. George Washington drove the British from Nassau Hall in 1777, and during the latter half of 1783 it served as the Capitol of the United States. On August 26th of that year, Washington returned to Nassau Hall to receive the thanks of the Continental Congress for his conduct of the war, and on October 31st news arrived there that the Treaty of Paris had been signed, formally ending the War for American Independence.

In 1953, the Committee for the Bicentennial of Nassau Hall convened its first planning meeting. Comprised of representatives from the Trustees, faculty, and administration, the Committee developed a comprehensive celebratory program to commemorate not just a physical structure, but also the very heart and soul of the Princeton campus. Events included a dinner at Procter Hall with guest speaker Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court John Marshall Harlan '20, various alumni functions, and the awarding of honorary degrees. The federal government also recognized Nassau Hall's momentous early history. The building has been given both national landmark status and acknowledgement with a commemorative postage stamp–the first in United States history printed on colored paper–issued to celebrate its 1956 bicentennial.

Source: From the finding aid for AC191