We all know it, we’ve walked past it a thousand times — University Hall, the icon of Brown. If you don’t know it, it’s the huge building on the Main Green with the bell and the bricks, and you should probably stop taking the shortcut through the Leeds Breezeway. Beyond its purpose as a home for administrative and presidential goings-on, the College Edifice (its original moniker), built in 1770, can be traced back to the establishment of Brown in Providence. Once the lone behemoth on College Hill, University Hall has nestled in among the high rises and beautiful parking lots of the city, serving as a beacon of knowledge and intellect for all who make the trek up College Street.
As Brown’s first and oldest building, University Hall has seen its fair share of ups and downs over the course of the school’s nearly 250-year history. Brown was a bit lazy in its design and modeled the building after Nassau Hall at Princeton, the alma mater of Brown’s first president, Reverend James Manning. Controversy surrounds the construction of the building, as Corporation records denote the possible use of slaves in the work force. Once completed, the building held the students’ quarters, mess hall, chapel and classrooms until the construction of Hope College in 1822. It was at this time that the College Edifice was renamed University Hall. (Note: Why isn’t the word ‘edifice’ used more often? #18thcenturynostalgia #swag).
In addition to its academic purposes, University Hall served as barracks and a hospital for American and French soldiers during the Revolutionary War. Imagine if the building still doubled as a hospital today — “Oh hey President Simmons, I had a pretty rough weekend, just making sure I don’t have mono. Nice seeing you!” Good call Brown, good call.
While the present appearance of University Hall goes relatively unnoticed, in 1834, after the creation of Manning Hall, a classical revival structure, the building was covered in a layer of cement in an effort to keep up with its hip, trendy neighbor — pretty much the relationship between Brown and RISD. Later, the building was covered in a layer of green stucco to remedy the ailing state of the building — not a good look — also the possible roots of the Brown is Green movement. Eventually, an effort by Marsden Perry, a prominent Providence businessman, restored the building to its original, colonial appearance as we know and love it today. Recognizing the historical importance of the structure, in 1962, the Department of Interior named University Hall a National Historic Landmark.
On campus, University Hall holds a place in our everyday lives. It is the first thing you see when you walk through the Van Wickle Gates and one of the last before you graduate. It is something that should appreciated, enjoyed and understood by all… even if it’s not still called the College Edifice. Ra Ra Brunonia.
P.S.: Why hasn’t the snake dance made a comeback?! (See picture)