Prospect House History

Welcome to Prospect House, the private dining club serving the faculty and staff at Princeton University.

This magnificent Italianate Victorian mansion was built circa 1850 by the American architect, John Notman, and is one of the few University buildings not originally part of the campus.

Prospect House owes its name to the stone farmhouse first constructed on the site in the mid-18th century by Colonel George Morgan, western explorer, U.S. Agent for Indian Affairs and gentleman farmer. The superb eastern view from that farmhouse prompted Colonel Morgan to name his estate "Prospect." Morgan’s estate, a popular stopping of place in Revolutionary times, was visited by such diverse groups as a delegation of Delaware Indians, 2,000 mutinous soldiers of the Pennsylvania Line and the Continental Congress.

When Prospect was acquired in 1849 by John Potter, a wealthy merchant from Charleston, South Carolina, he replaced the colonial structure with the present mansion. In 1878 Robert L. and Alexander Stuart of New York bought the house and accompanying 35-acre estate and deeded it to Princeton University, known at that time as the College of New Jersey.

Beginning in 1879, the house served as home of Princeton University’s presidents. James McCosh, its first resident, thought the house was the finest in the world for a college president and that its grounds were like Eden.

As the campus enlarged, students began to take shortcuts across the lawns and garden of Prospect, depriving it of some of its "Garden of Eden" qualities. After a particularly flagrant instance of trespassing by a rampaging football crowd, Woodrow Wilson, then University President and Prospect resident, erected an iron fence enclosing five acres of the grounds in 1904.

In 1968, during the tenure of President Robert Francis Goheen, the official residence of the President was moved to Walter Lowrie House, another Notman structure. With this change, the mansion was converted for use as a Faculty Club and, with funds given by an anonymous donor, the beautiful glass addition which houses the Garden Room and Tap Room was created by architect, Warren Plattner.

In combining the elegance of a 19th century home with the versatility and services of a fine banquet, dining and meeting facility, Prospect offers an exceptional dining experience to its patrons. With the added beauty of the surrounding grounds and garden, which boast an impressive history of their own, Prospect provides a unique setting for group meals, coffee hours and meetings. Wedding receptions cocktail parties and other private affairs also may be hosted at Prospect.

Prospect Garden

There is a story about a Harvard alumnus asking a Princeton man whether, lacking a law school and a medical school, Princeton at least had an arboretum. "Our entire campus is an arboretum," was the Princetonian’s reply.

That point is nowhere more evident than in Prospect Garden. The grounds surrounding the house present an array of trees, bushes, plants and flowers from the commonplace to the exotic. Planting in the garden began shortly after the house was completed in 1849, with the help of an Englishman named Petrey who brought the Cedar of Lebanon, the Hawthorn and the Yew that stand near the tower on the west side. The cedar is a magnificent specimen and one of the highlights of the garden.

While the garden has been shaped and changed over the years by Prospect’s various owners and residents, many of its trees predate the house, notably the Tulip trees and the American Beech, which are native to the area. The Tulip trees, which are the largest in the garden, are members of the magnolia family and produce inconspicuous green, tulip-like flowers each June. The American beech is especially handsome in the fall when its foliage turns a deep bronze color.

The flower garden at the rear of Prospect was laid out in approximately its present form by Mrs. Woodrow Wilson after her husband had the iron fence erected around the garden’s perimeter. Mrs. Wilson was the one who laid out the garden in the shape of the University Seal, so that, when viewed from above, the pathways define the shield outline. Mrs. Wilson also supervised the planting of the evergreens, predominantly Canadian hemlock, that serve as a backdrop for the flower garden. The flowers are changed at regular intervals throughout the growing season.

 

 

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