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John Notman

To understand the uproar behind the erection of the new Chapel in 1847, [we must] review the career of the architect who came under such heavy fire, and the influence of the Ecclesiologist movement on American architecture.

Not much is known about the personal life of the Scottish-born Notman, or about his religious and architectural philosophy, that would indicate why he precipitated such a crisis, or even why he was hired by the Trustees. Based on the records that remain, and his other building projects, it can be determined that Notman was, in fact, aware of both the issues raised by the Ecclesiologist movement and of the character of the College of New Jersey.

Notman was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, on July 22, 1810, reputedly to a family of stone masons. It is unclear as to whether he was educated in Edinburgh or London, but he most likely worked for a time under the Scottish architect, William H. Playfair, in Edinburgh. Playfair introduced Notman to the Italianate Revival style that he used to build solid, country houses. Notman brought this knowledge to Philadelphia, where he immigrated in 1831. Notman was born a Presbyterian, but was not a communicant. His wife was an Anglican, and they were married in May of 1841, at St. Luke's Protestant Episcopal Church in Philadelphia. Apparently neither of them had a strong connection to a religious community.

Notman's first major commission, in 1836, was for the Laurel Hill cemetery, outside of Philadelphia. Two of his designs were included in A. J. Downing's 1841 Treatise on the Theory and Practice of Landscape Gardening, and one of his Italianate villas was included in the 1842 Cottage Residences, by the same author. After weathering the depressed building market in the late 1830s, Notman enjoyed a prosperous 1840s.

According to Constance Grieff, the author of John Notman Architect, 1810-1865 (1979):

Notman was, in sum, one of America's most innovative architects in the second quarter of the 19th >century. Although not stylistically an originator, he was an importer of sophisticated design ideas >from Britain, translating them skillfully for his American clientele. He also was quick to utilize the >technical developments that transformed the art of building in the 19th century, and he was alert to >the availability of new materials and new techniques.

For more information on the relationship between Notman's purported religious views or knowledge and the architectural controversy of the Old Chapel, see the sidebar "Old Chapel."