Construction of University Hall (originally known as The College Edifice of Brown University) began in 1770. It was the first building of the College of Rhode Island (renamed Brown University in 1804) in Providence. The College Edifice became a barracks for the American Militia from December 1776, when the British attacked Newport, until 1780. From 1780-1782, the hall served as a military hospital for wounded French allies. President George Washington and Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson visited the building in 1790, and Washington was awarded with an honorary doctorate. Originally housing the entire college, the Edifice (nicknamed the Old Brick by students) contained the dormitory, library, chapel, dining hall, and classrooms until Hope College was constructed in 1804. Until renovations in 1940, University Hall continued to hold classes and dormitory rooms; now, it houses administrative offices.
Brown University was founded in 1764 as the College of Rhode
Island, located in Warren, Rhode Island. It was the seventh college in Colonial
America, and the first Ivy League institution to accept students regardless of
religious affiliation. The institution relocated to a tract of land which had
once belonged to Chad Brown, in Providence, holding classes at the Brick
Schoolhouse (see the Meeting Street School) as a temporary measure.
The same year, the Providence Gazette ran an advertisement for the college's
building committee, requesting donations of building materials.
Merchant and amateur architect Joseph Brown, the
great-great-grandson of Chad Brown, was a member of the building committee, and
drew up the plans for the College Edifice. The late Georgian-style building was
modeled on Nassau Hall of Princeton University, the alma mater of Brown
University's first president, James Manning. Construction was undertaken by
Nicholas Brown and Company, which included brothers Joseph, John, and Nicholas.
On May 14, 1770, John Brown, laid the first cornerstone of the College Edifice.
In just over a year and for less than $10,000, the first two floors were ready
to house the 1771-1772 class of twenty-one students; the college would wait to
finish the upper floors until the space was needed.
The American Revolution interrupted both the construction
and the coursework of the new college, however. In December of 1776, British
troops seized Newport and Aquidneck Island, within sight of College Hill. President
Manning suspended university activities in a notice published in the Providence Gazette, shortly after he was
informed that the College Edifice was to be commandeered as a barracks for the
American Militia. In September of 1777, the graduating seniors were awarded their
degrees, but Manning stated in another issue of the Gazette that the college
would not reopen until hostilities ceased. Manning hoped to re-open when the American
troops departed in 1780, but on June 5, Governor William Greene II notified the
college president that the Edifice was to be used as a hospital for allied French
Several students were tutored personally by Manning in his
own house and, possibly, at the Brick Schoolhouse, earning their degrees in
1782. The same year, the French troops departed the College Edifice, and the
damage to the building could be fully assessed. The college's Corporation
assessed the damage at $4,400 and submitted a bill to the new Federal
government for the cost. The American occupancy alone had caused over $2,000 in
damages, and the French nearly dismantled the building, planning to strip and
sell the boards and windows. An attached stable had been stripped of every
window, hinge, lock and valuable piece of lumber that could be
removed, . The college was reimbursed only $2,779.13, and not until eighteen years after the bill was sent.
Nevertheless, the college reopened, with sufficient
enrollment to warrant the finishing of the third floor in 1785 and the fourth
floor in 1788. Nicknamed the Old Brick by students, the College
Edifice contained the dormitory, library, chapel, dining hall, and classrooms
of the school. Even the tutors, the steward, and many of the professors lived
in the Old Brick. In 1888 and 1889, respectively, the college
awarded its first Master's degrees and Doctorates. On the evening of August 18,
1790, President George Washington and his Secretary of State, Thomas Jefferson,
visited the building. To welcome the First President, students lit candles in
the windows of the Edifice; it has since become a university tradition to light
the windows on ceremonial occasions. After his visit, Washington was awarded an
After the death of John Brown, his nephew Nicholas Brown donated $5,000 to
the college in accordance with his uncle's wishes. Nicholas Brown was an
alumnus of the school, having graduated in 1786, and donated liberally to the
college throughout his lifetime. In gratitude, the College of Rhode Island was
renamed Brown University in September of 1904. Until the addition of Hope
College in 1822-1823, the College Edifice remained the only university
building; when Hope was constructed, the Edifice was renamed University Hall.
The Hall continued to serve as a dormitory and lecture hall until 1940. Now,
after a number of alterations and reconstructions, the exterior of University
Hall has been restored to its 1771 appearance, and houses Brown's
administrative center and the governing body of the University.