The roof and cupola rising above Princeton University’s iconic Nassau Hall will be the center of a restoration project set to begin mid-June.
The project includes replacing the slate roof, restoring the cupola on top of Nassau Hall, resurfacing the cupola’s clocks and enhancing safety systems. Work is expected to occur from June 2018 through March 2019.
Scaffolding and fencing will surround the entire building to support the craftspeople and materials needed for the project. Building entrances will remain open and staff may continue to work inside Nassau Hall.
During the restoration, the Class of 1879 bronze tigers flanking the front steps will be boxed for protection. Visitors may still find other decorative tigers around campus, as shown on the Princetoniana website.
Nassau Hall, the first site most people encounter when they arrive on campus and walk through FitzRandolph Gate, is a University and national landmark. The building opened on Nov. 28, 1756, when Princeton was known as The College of New Jersey. Designed by carpenter-architect Robert Smith, it was the largest stone structure in North America at the time.
Originally intended to house all college functions — classrooms, dorms, offices, library, chapel and kitchen — Nassau Hall today is an administrative building.
During the upcoming restoration, the entire slate roof and copper gutters will be replaced and snow guards will be added. The structure of the cupola will be restored and repainted, including the cupola’s four clocks and weathervane. Systems to support safer access to the roof and cupola also will be added.
After scaffolding is erected, the clocks will be taken down and refaced. Then, the roof will be replaced around the cupola, followed by improvements to the cupola and replacement of the roof underneath. The clocks will then be restored on the cupola.
University Facilities will oversee the project. Work will be completed by construction managers Massimino Building Corp. of Newtown, Pennsylvania; roofers Bregenzer Brothers of Hopewell, New Jersey; and other contractors and local craftspeople. The project’s preservation architect is Mills + Schnoerning Architects of Princeton and the structural engineer is Joseph B. Callaghan Inc. of Philadelphia.
According to Alexis Mutschler, assistant director of special projects in Facilities, the building’s roof was last replaced around the early 1960s. The decorative cupola was part of Nassau Hall’s original design, though its look has changed following building fires and other renovation work. The clocks on the cupola were modernized in the 1950s and the clock mechanism was changed from analog to digital in the 1980s.
The lawn in front of Nassau Hall is where Princeton holds Commencement, and the rear of Nassau Hall is typically the backdrop for seniors’ Class Day and graduate students’ Hooding celebrations.
The building also is important to American history. During the Revolutionary War, the British occupied Nassau Hall but soon surrendered to Gen. George Washington’s troops, who had belted the structure with artillery. A scar left from an American cannonball on the south side of the west wing remains evident today.
The building was the temporary home of the Continental Congress and was the site where the Congress learned the British had signed a peace treaty granting independence to the former colonies in 1783. Nassau Hall was named a national historic landmark in 1960.
More information and project updates during renovation work may be found on the Facilities project page. The University Archives blog has additional information about the history and architecture of Nassau Hall.