Nassau Hall was built in 1756 to house what was then the College of New Jersey. The largest stone building in the American Colonies, it was built on land donated by Nathaniel FitzRandolph, after whom the University's FitzRandolph Gate is named.
The name "Nassau Hall" was proposed by Governor Jonathan Belcher in honor of King William III, "who was a branch of the illustrious house of Nassau."
During the American Revolution, when Princeton's campus became a battleground, Nassau Hall was ravaged by the occupying troops of both armies. The Battle of Princeton on January 3, 1777, marked a turning point in the war, when the British troops holding Nassau Hall surrendered to General George Washington. In 1783, the building served as the nation's capitol, housing the Continental Congress from June to November. It was in Nassau Hall that Washington resigned his commission as head of the Continental Army, and here that the news of the peace treaty with Great Britain was received.
The interior was destroyed by fire twice, in 1802 and 1855. Each restoration resulted in a different architectural style. The first, by Benjamin Latrobe, who also designed Princeton's Stanhope Hall and the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C., changed the building from Colonial to Federal, and raised the belfry to accommodate a clock. The second, by John Notman, who designed Princeton's Lowrie House and Prospect House, was an elaborate Italianate design that added a tower at either end of the building; these were removed in 1905. Since then, the exterior has changed little, save for the addition of commemorative class years carved in the exterior stones.
Nassau Hall's interior has continued to change with the evolving needs of the University, as dormitories gave way to classrooms and laboratories, and then to the administrative offices of the University president.
The two most famous rooms in Nassau Hall are the Memorial Atrium, dedicated in 1920 and etched with the names of Princetonians who gave their lives in the nation's wars, and the Faculty Room, dedicated by Grover Cleveland in 1906. This elegant two-story space began as a simple prayer hall in 1756 and became in turn a library, portrait gallery, museum of natural history, and now, the meeting place of the faculty and the Board of Trustees.