Nassau Hall, the original home of the College of New Jersey, was constructed in 1756. Built on land granted by Nathaniel FitzRandolph, for whom the University’s FitzRandolph Gate is named, this structure is the biggest stone edifice in the American Colonies. Governor Jonathan Belcher recommended the name “Nassau Hall” in recognition of King William III.
Nassau Hall was severely damaged by the occupying troops of both armies during the American Revolution, when Princeton’s campus was used as a battleground. When the British forces guarding Nassau Hall surrendered to General George Washington on 3rd January 1777, it represented a turning point in the conflict. The Continental Congress met there from June to November of 1783, during its tenure as the nation’s capital. The news of the peace accord with Great Britain was delivered to Nassau Hall.
Both the inside and exterior burned to the ground in 1802. There has been a noticeable shift in architectural fashion after each renovation. The first, by Benjamin Latrobe (who also designed Stanhope Hall at Princeton University and the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C.), converted the structure from Colonial to Federal style and added a clock tower. The second, by the same architect responsible for Princeton’s Lowrie House and Prospect House, was an ornate Italianate style with towers on either end that were demolished in 1905. Since then, the only noticeable change to the building’s front has been the insertion of commemorative class year carvings.
As the University’s needs shifted, the dorms in Nassau Hall were converted into classrooms and laboratories, and eventually into the president’s offices.
The Faculty Room, which was dedicated by Grover Cleveland in 1906, and the Memorial Atrium, which was dedicated in 1920 and features the names of Princeton alumni who died serving their country in war, are the two most well-known rooms of Nassau Hall. Built-in 1756 as a prayer hall, this beautiful two-story structure has served as a library, portrait gallery, museum of natural history, and is now used as a meeting venue for the professors and Board of Trustees.
The current Princeton University administration, including the president’s office, is located at Nassau Hall. The structure has become a metonym for the entire university and is fondly referred to as “Old Nassau.” In 1960, the United States Department of the Interior recognized Nassau Hall as a National Historic Landmark “in recognition of its significance in the American Revolution and the history of the United States.”