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  1. Whig and Clio

Whig Hall viewed from the north (1870's photo)

Whig Hall viewed from the north (1870's photo)

Princeton University. Property of the Trustees of Princeton University.

Source: Princeton University Archives, Mudd Library, Grounds & Buildings, Box 59

The buildings on the modern Princeton campus known as Whig and Clio are not the first to bear these names. The structures that stand today are 1890s recreations (and embellishments) of the ones built for the debating societies in the late 1830s. In turn, the story of the original Whig...


Cliosophic Hall viewed from the north (photo from Class of 1861 album)

Cliosophic Hall viewed from the north (photo from Class of 1861 album)

Princeton University. Property of the Trustees of Princeton University.

Source: Princeton University Archives, Mudd Library, Grounds & Buildings, Box 26

and Clio reflects the importance of these societies in undergraduate life as well as the dominance of the Greek Revival style in that period.

Bitter rivals, the American Whig Society and the Cliosophic Society dominated undergraduate life at the College of New Jersey during the late 18th and most of the 19th centuries. The Halls, as they were known, were independent entities that combined the best and worst elements of secret society, debating club, social center, library, and political organization.

As with the eating clubs of a later generation, Whig and Clio were often a thorn in the side of the College administration. In the 1820s, for example, many of the leading members of the politically liberal Whig Society were expelled for leading demonstrations against the College. It was only one of many incidents of student unrest in this period.

At the same time, however, the Halls enjoyed powerful alumni support and provided services that the College did not. During parts of the Carnahan era, for example, the College's Library was only open one hour a week. By contrast, the Halls maintained fine private libraries and collections of periodicals. The comparative sizes of the Hall's libraries versus the College's can be traced in the description of each in the College's Catalogues.


Plan of Whig Hall within Geological Hall

Plan of Whig Hall within Geological Hall

Princeton University. Property of the Trustees of Princeton University.

Source: Unknown

Both Societies were originally housed in Nassau Hall. After the fire of 1802 and the completion of Geological Hall, they moved into contiguous rooms in the new building. By the 1830s, both societies had outgrown their cramped quarters; what's more, their rooms were altogether too close for these secretive and competitive bodies.


Joseph Henry's Master Plan of 1836

Joseph Henry's Master Plan of 1836

Princeton University. Property of the Trustees of Princeton University.

Source: Unknown

In 1835, the Whig Society organized a building committee to consider building their own separate new structure. The Clios followed soon after. Representatives of the Societies approached the Trustees in September of that year, and in September 1836 both Societies were granted permission to build Halls -- at their own expense -- in the locations indicated on Joseph Henry's plan.


Distant view of Cliosophic Hall facade, with West College at right (photo from album, 1873)

Distant view of Cliosophic Hall facade, with West College at right (photo from album, 1873)

Princeton University. Property of the Trustees of Princeton University.

Source: Princeton University Archives, Mudd Library, Grounds & Buildings, Box 27

Today, the two Greek Revival temples...


Distant view of Whig Hall facade from north, with East College at left (photo c.1886)

Distant view of Whig Hall facade from north, with East College at left (photo c.1886)

Princeton University. Property of the Trustees of Princeton University.

Source: Princeton University Archives, Mudd Library, Grounds & Buildings, Box 59

...seem somewhat out of place amidst the Collegiate Gothic of the Princeton campus. But in the late 1830s, when these structures were first erected, they represented the height of architectural fashion. The reference to classical Greek structures was an appropriate gesture by societies that existed to promote "democratic" debate.

Who precisely designed the Halls remains murky. Some believe that the Societies, with Clio following Whig's lead, commissioned the prominent Philadelphia architect John Haviland to design their new Halls. Haviland is best known for designing the monumental "Tombs" prison in New York. Others believe that the local builder/architect Charles Steadman produced the design. Steadman's work continues to be visible in the Princeton area, particularly on Alexander Road.


Composite View

Composite View

Princeton University. Property of the Trustees of Princeton University.

Source: Unknown

Together, the two temples anchored the southern end of the rear campus, creating the quadrangle that would later become known as Cannon Green. As seen in contemporary photographs, [II9] Whig and Clio were much farther apart than they are today; as originally built, both were visible from Nassau Street, on either side of Nassau Hall. There were good reasons to separate the two as far as possible. Jealous of their privacy, the Societies at one point even reached a "treaty" whereby members of the opposite hall were forbidden to sit on the steps of the other Society, nor to approach within 20 yards when the other was in session.

Whig and Clio were built at the same time. The cornerstones were laid in Summer 1837 and both buildings were first occupied by the Societies in 1838. For all their classic appearance, the original Halls were elaborate fakes. Rather than being constructed of marble, they were fabricated of brick, wood, and stucco -- and lots of white paint. This kept the cost to roughly $7,500.


Whig Hall viewed from the northwest (photo 1870's?)

Whig Hall viewed from the northwest (photo 1870's?)

Princeton University. Property of the Trustees of Princeton University.

Source: Princeton University Archives, Mudd Library, Grounds & Buildings, oversize

The only discernible architectural difference between the two seems to have been a water table that was added below Whig's downstairs windows in an attempt divert rain from running down the walls of the building and eroding the foundation.


Cliosophic Hall viewed from the north

Cliosophic Hall viewed from the north

Princeton University. Property of the Trustees of Princeton University.

Source: Princeton University Archives, Mudd Library

Contrast this with Clio.


First Whig floor plans

First Whig floor plans

Princeton University. Property of the Trustees of Princeton University.

Source: Beam, American Whig Society of Princeton, p.92

The Halls continued to play a prominent role in the social and intellectual life of the campus through the turn of the century. A diagram of the floor plan of the first Whig, for instance, suggests a fine facility with a spacious library and reading room downstairs and a large assembly room on the second floor. Whig, which tended to attract more affluent students, was especially luxuriously appointed inside. As another indication of the power of the Halls at this point in the College's history, the main meeting rooms in both buildings were the largest indoor spaces on the campus, except for the Prayer Hall in Nassau Hall.


The First Presbyterian Church

The First Presbyterian Church

Princeton University. Property of the Trustees of Princeton University.

Source: Unknown

The College itself never commissioned a full-blown Greek Revival building. The town of Princeton has its share -- the First Presbyterian Church on Nassau Street is an outstanding example of the style. Compared to many other colleges and universities, the Princeton campus was only lightly touched by this architectural movement.