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Legends of the President's House

The location of the President's House allowed the president and his family a modicum of privacy, but insured that he would be within reach of the College if trouble arose. The presidents continued to have their study there, and so college business was never entirely removed from the house. In one interpretation, offered by Professor Paul Norton,

Its relation to Nassau Hall--forward of it and to the side--brings to mind the servants' wing of a great southern mansion. For was not the president the faithful servant of the College?

However, the College of New Jersey was no southern mansion, and the proximity is more reasonably seen as a continuation of the relationship, already established in the tradition of the College and in the tradition of Colonial education of young divinity students, that the students be able to learn from their teacher within a family and close relationship. That proximity proved dangerous once. The story goes that President Carnahan was standing by the southeastern door, through which visiting students entered, when a member of a group of students returning from a boisterous night took a shot at him. Despite inebriation, the student is said to have missed by no more than a few inches.

The bays on the eastern and western sides of the building were only added in 1868. Prior to that, the flat wall of the eastern side was a temptation for young students with energy. In June of 1761, the Trustees,

Having on their own View been made sensible of the Damages done to the Presidents House by the Students playing at Ball against it, do hereby strictly forbid all & every of the said Students the Officers & all other Persons belonging to the College playing at Ball against the said Presidents House, under the Penalty of Five Shillings for every Offence to be levied on each Person who shall offend in the Premises.

The kitchen was in a detached structure to the rear of the house, in a position in which it could feed the college, as it sometimes did. The kitchen was first the domain of Aaron Burr's slave, Caesar, and it is maintained that Burr "quite promptly erected a one-story passage permitting his slave, Caesar, to bear hot foot from the big fireplace in the kitchen to the dining room in the main house without severe cooling of man or meal."

Another interesting innovation was made by President John Maclean. In 1858 he obtained $2,000 from the Board of Trustees for interior renovations and alteration, including the installation of a coal stove and a bath tub over the kitchen passage.

It would seem that guests in the house did not always have an opportunity to enjoy its amenities. On the morning of the 3rd of January 1777, the British General Lord Leslie was forced to leave his hot breakfast in order to fight George Washington in the Battle of Princeton. Supposedly the American troops storming the town arrived in time to finish off the remains of the breakfast.

Another famous guest (this time an invited one) was Henry Clay. According to Princeton's historian, V. Lansing Collins, Clay brought his son up to the College and paid an official call upon the president. He was invited to sit down, but when he did, the chair collapsed beneath him. He is said to have picked himself up while grimly expressing his hope that other chairs in the institution were on a more permanent basis.