Picturing Brown: The First Views of the College
Robert P. Emlen, University Curator and Senior Lecturer in American Studies, Brown University
The world outside Providence grew to know Brown University during its first hundred years through a succession of printed views of the campus. Published in popular magazines and journals, these engravings and lithographs of Brown were the first pictorial representations of the campus. They served the school in two ways. First, they helped raise public awareness of the nascent college, presenting it to friends and interested students as an attractive and modern institution. Second, these images were visual evidence that this new school had achieved a standing among the old established colleges as an established and substantial place.
In the years before photography became widespread, views of Providence were made by illustrators with sketchpads and pencils. Although the illustrations were meant to be accurate renderings of the campus, the results reflected the artist's vision of Brown, absent the fidelity of the cameras lens. A retrospective look at these first campus views, therefore, reveals as much about how the campus was imagined by artists as it does about the actual architecture and landscape in the early years of Brown's history.
Not all early views of the campus were produced as prints. For instance, the drawing of Providence John Fitch made for his parents in 1790 includes a pen-and-ink sketch of the campus atop College Hill. The daughters of well-to-do Rhode Islanders stitched needlework samplers at Miss Mary Balch's academy on George Street, and many of these picture the College Edifice. But the visual images we know best today were produced in multiple copies as decorative prints that were meant to be framed and displayed to a much larger audience than the unique images of sketchers and embroiderers.
Figure 1: "A S.W. View of the COLLEGE in Providence together with the PRESIDENT'S HOUSE & GARDENS"
Courtesy: John Carter Brown Library
The first published view of the campus, a copper-plate engraving, entitled "A S.W. View of the COLLEGE in Providence, together with the PRESIDENT'S HOUSE & GARDENS," appeared around 1795 [figure 1]. The print depicts the College Edifice, which was the four-story brick building constructed in 1770 to house the entire college. The edifice, which was the largest building constructed in colonial Rhode Island until the First Baptist Church was built in 1774, included a recitation hall, apartments for the students, facilities for dining, a chapel, and an apartment for the college steward.
For many years, the College Edifice was synonymous with the new college. In 1790, the first Federal census counted sixty students residing on campus, all living in the College Edifice, which housed almost every facility at the college — excluding the well, shown protected by a small shelter at the right; and the student's privy, alluded to by a shadowy outhouse at the right edge.
When this print was engraved, the only other structures on the campus were those included in the engraving: the wood-frame house built in the summer of 1770 for President James Manning; a privy behind the house for the president's family; and a well enclosure located in the garden, west of the Manning residence, where the John Hay Library now stands.
This early engraving accurately represents the landscape of College Hill almost bare of trees. Much of the land surrounding the settled parts of Providence had been deforested by 1790, with the first-growth timber harvested for building material, fuel, and to make charcoal. Later landscape views of College Hill, including John Worrall's ca. 1808 painting "The Old Drop Scene" and Alvan Fisher's 1818 painting "Providence from Across the Cove" (both in the collection of the Rhode Island Historical Society), confirm that in the early nineteenth century the elm trees, which became emblematic of Brown University, had yet to be planted. In the ca. 1795 engraving of the campus, the few trees pictured on the college property seem to have been planted to provide shade in the north yard of the College Edifice or around the dooryard of the president's house. The shade trees in the sheep pastures to the north, on what is now north of Waterman Street, stood on land the college would not begin to acquire until the last quarter of the nineteenth century.
Field stone used to erect walls around the college property was collected during excavation for the foundations of the college buildings and digging a vegetable garden for the president. It was reported that after a long day of administrative duties, President Manning found solace in the hard, elegant manual labor of selecting, shaping and fitting stones together in tightly knitted structures that served year after year as barriers to the sheep and cattle grazing on adjacent pasture lands. In this view, his stone walls can be seen running behind the College Edifice and the president's house, stretching to unoccupied lands up the hill.
In the foreground of this early print are two groups of figures. At left is a young man earnestly engaged in conversation with a person dressed in academic regalia, possibly the Baptist minister and builder of stone walls, President James Manning. At the right are two young gentlemen wearing peruke wigs and tricorne hats, lounging against one of President Manning's walls. One of them gestures with uplifted palm toward the College Edifice, an artistic device used with great success by the artist to direct our gaze into this pleasant prospect of the new college on the hill, resplendent beneath the billowing clouds of a summer day.
In the margin at lower left is engraved the legend, "D. Leonard, Del." This inscription identifies David Leonard (1771–1818), a student in the class of 1792, as the delineator, or artist, who drew the original scene. Nothing in his subsequent career as a Baptist minister or newspaper editor suggests that Leonard pursued his artistic bent beyond this early effort. His original drawing for "A S.W. View of the College in Providence" has not survived, and no other drawings from his hand have been identified.
At the lower right of the print is the engraved inscription "S. Hill, Sculp.," referring to Samuel Hill (1766?–1804) who worked in Boston from 1789 until 1803, engraving manuscript images and original drawings onto copper printing plates.
Figure 2: "A S.W. View of the Baptist Meeting House, Providence, R.I.," 1789
Courtesy: John Carter Brown Library
Samuel Hill's work was known in Providence at least as early as 1789, when his engraving A S.W. View of the Baptist Meeting House, Providence, R.I., appeared in the August issue of Massachusetts Magazine [figure 2]. This novel view of Rhode Island's greatest colonial building was the first image ever published of a scene in Providence, and it was probably widely known in Rhode Island. It was certainly known to James Manning, who served simultaneously as the president of the college and the minister of the church, and who must have had a hand in its publication. Having engraved the print of James Manning's meeting house, Hill would have been the obvious candidate to engrave the print of James Manning's college.
David Leonard's original drawing of a southwest view of the college may have contained a number of nuanced effects. These were interpreted and transformed by Samuel Hill into a series of engraved lines on the copper plate the view of the Baptist Meeting House, scratches in the metal designed to catch the ink that would transfer to printed sheets. The shadows in the foreground, for instance, were reproduced by a dense crosshatch of cuts. The waves of billowing clouds are suggested by groups of wavy lines in the sky.
In the eighteenth century, engravings were printed in black ink on white paper, and if tinting was desired, it was added to individual prints with brush and watercolors after the printing ink was dry. It is not known if David Leonard colored his original drawing, but Hill's copper-plate engraving of it was not colored in the printing. (The one original impression of this engraving at Brown, in the collection of the John Carter Brown Library, was never colored.)
The Samuel Hill engraving made after David Leonard's drawing of the college is undated, but throughout the twentieth century it was often described as having been rendered around 1795. Perhaps that date was assigned through oral tradition at Brown, the basis for which is now forgotten. In any case, the date of ca. 1795 is consistent with what we know of the artist and the engraver, and in the absence of better documentation, that traditional date continues to be used.
Who decided that the tiny college in Providence needed a decorative print to illustrate its campus remains unknown. The immediate audience for such an image was small. Although the sixty or so students at the college might have been counted on to purchase a copy, sales of that number might not have been sufficient to underwrite the cost of production. It is more likely that the college commissioned this engraving as public relations effort.
In a time when illustrated landscape views were uncommon, printed visual representations of one’s institution conferred considerable prestige. College views drew attention to the great accomplishment of establishing seats of higher learning in the New World. By 1795, when the Brown campus was first pictured in print, illustrations of most of the colleges in America had already been produced. A print in 1746 by William Burgis of Harvard College was first, followed in 1767 by a print of Harvard by Paul Revere. The first published representation of Yale College appeared in 1749. A print of Princeton, then the College in New Jersey, followed in 1763.
Producing a visual image that celebrated an academic institution also proclaimed that one's own school was as sophisticated and substantial as its sister institutions. For the struggling young college in Rhode Island, that may have been a stretch. That minor note, however, was easy to overlook in the sunny hilltop view of the splendid College Edifice.
Figure 3: "An account of the College of New Jersey. . .With a prospect of the college neatly engraved."
Courtesy: John Carter Brown Library
The importance of public relations through print making would not have been lost on President Manning. He was certainly aware of William Tennent's view of the College of New Jersey [figure 3], which was published two years after his graduation from that institution as an illustration in Samuel Blair's 1764 "An account of the College of New-Jersey . . . With a prospect of the college neatly engraved." The resemblance between University Hall at Brown and the old Nassau Hall at Princeton has been noted over the years by architectural historians, and James Manning might well have been inspired by the example of his alma mater when he sought out designs for a brick college edifice in Providence. In this 1764 print Nassau Hall so closely resembles the design of the 1770 College Edifice in Providence it seems likely that the New Jersey building served as a model for the Providence building.
Manning's formative experiences in New Jersey, moreover, left him with more than a model for the architecture of the new college in Rhode Island. The similarities between the 1764 print "A North-West Prospect of Nassau Hall, with a Front View of the President's House, in New Jersey" and the Providence print, "The College in Providence" — specifically in the title, the emphasis placed on the president's house, and the human figures shown standing in the yard conversing in front of the college building — suggest that Manning may have viewed the 1764 engraving as a model for an intended print of his own College Edifice when the time came to promote the college in Rhode Island.
Figure 4: "View of Nassau Hall. Princeton."
Courtesy: Princeton University
A generation later, the Connecticut engraver Amos Doolittle also produced a print of the college at Princeton [figure 4]. Doolittle's 1790 "View of Nassau Hall. Princeton." — a view from the southwest with figures shown standing in conversation in front of the building — bears an unmistakable likeness to the engraving of the College in Providence that Samuel Hill would make a few years later. Before his sudden and unexpected death from a stroke in the summer of 1791, James Manning probably became acquainted with the Doolittle print of Nassau Hall. It seems likely that Manning's association with the College of New Jersey, and his presumed awareness of the two engravings picturing it, that put the idea in motion to commission a comparable print of the college in Rhode Island.
Figure 5: A Front View of Dartmouth College, with the Chapel and Hall
Courtesy: John Carter Brown Library
Although Samuel Hill engraved illustrations for numerous journals, books, and maps, his engraving of Dartmouth College [figure 5] is of particular interest as a comparison with the other college engravings. In February 1793, Massachusetts Magazine published Hill's print, A Front View of Dartmouth College with the Chapel and Hall, engraved after Dartmouth student Josiah Dunham's original drawing of students playing cricket on the green in front of the college buildings. The text accompanying the Dartmouth College scene suggest that Samuel Hill's engraved view of the Dartmouth College campus presents in visual and literal language the same messages of institutional pride and self-promotion that appeared approximately two years later in his engraved view of the College in Providence: “The new College, which is represented in the plate, is an elegant wooden building, 150 feet by 50, and three stories high. It was erected in 1786, and since finished; and contains 36 rooms for students, besides two rooms for the library and apparatus. Its situation is elevated, healthful and pleasant, commanding an extensive prospect to the west.”
At the College in Providence, Jonathan Maxcy was named president after the death of James Manning in 1791 and before the publication of the college print around 1795. While Manning may have been inspired to produce this print, it was published during his successor's presidency. The actual decision to have it printed may have come from Asa Messer, then the college librarian and subsequently the president who followed Jonathan Maxcy. The first known reproductions of the College in Providence print were made in 1880 from an original impression owned by the descendants of President Messer.
The ca. 1795 image of the college became increasingly outmoded as the appearance of the Brown University campus changed throughout the nineteenth century. Construction of new buildings altered the campus landscape, and new and updated landscape views documented the evolution of the physical plant, eclipsing the older view of what had become a dynamic community. In 1897, however, the old print was revived for publication as an illustration in Early History of Brown University, by Reuben Guild, a Brown Librarian emeritus. Guild, who was the first chronicler of the history of Brown University, included a photograph of the engraving among a number of plates which illustrated a bygone time at the university.
In 1880, Rhode Island architect and Brown University graduate Norman Morrison Isham paid a photographer to make a copy of President Messer's impression of the old print, back when it was still a novel concept to use historical images as documentary evidence of old buildings. Fifty-eight years later, the university invited Isham, then near the end of his pioneering career as a distinguished architectural historian and preservationist, to advise Brown as it undertook a major renovation of University Hall. In particular, the university had questions about specific details of the original appearance of the College Edifice. In the absence of any construction documents from 1770, Isham developed his conclusions and made his recommendations based in part on details he identified in the old print he had copied from the Messer family in 1880. In 1940, when the university published a commemorative booklet on the renovation of University Hall, the final report cited and illustrated “A S.W. View of the College in Providence” as the historical evidence used to guide the architects in recreating the building.
In 1949 the University employed the Meriden Gravure Company to create the first full-sized reproduction of the old engraving "A S.W. View of the College in Providence." Meridan Gravure's rendition was a collotype print marked "Copyright 1949 by Brown University" below the margin at lower left. On those examples in which the copyright text has been trimmed from the margin of the print, the 1949 reproduction can still be identified by the copyright symbol inserted just below the name of the artist, David Leonard. To insure fidelity to the original, Meriden Gravure copied the image photographically from the ca. 1795 black and white engraving in the John Carter Brown Library, and then stenciled colors on to the reproduction print. This new print could be purchased for the benefit of the Friends of the Library for $3, although a smaller version, reproduced only in black and white, was sent as a keepsake to benefactors to the building fund for the new Wriston Quadrangle. In 1968, after the first supply of reproduction prints was exhausted, the Friends of the Library returned to Meriden Gravure, which issued a second edition of stencil-colored prints [figure 6]. The 1968 reproductions can be identified by the text "Copyright 1968 by Brown University" printed in margin outside the image at lower left. In this edition the copyright symbol introduced in 1949 was removed from the field of the print. The Friends of the Library at Brown used this reproduction print as a membership premium into the 1980s.
Figure 7: “Rhode Island College, Erected 1770. (The only College building of American Baptists in 1776.)"
In 1876, at the centennial anniversary of the founding of the United States, the American Baptist Central Centennial Committee issued commemorative certificates illustrated with a small vignette of the college edifice, "the only College building of American Baptists in 1776" [figure 7]. This new engraving, measuring only 2½” in width, pictured the college from the northwest, its front façade dappled in the shade of the elm trees that had grown to maturity in the course of the nineteenth century. Though by 1876 the front row of the campus contained three other buildings, this selective view showed only University Hall. The Centennial Commemoration certificate was intended to celebrate the colonial history of the Baptist church and its association with Brown’s only colonial-era building.
Figure 8: "Hope College and University Hall" (engraving on Daniel Anthony map vignette), 1823
A new landscape view of the college was published in 1823 [figure 8]. The second print to picture the Brown University campus, "Hope College and University Hall" was modeled on the original 1790s Samuel Hill engraving, "A S.W. View of the College," but was expanded to picture the university's new residential building.
By the early 1820s it had become obvious that the school, renamed "Brown University" in 1804 for its treasurer and principal benefactor, Nicholas Brown, had outgrown its original home in the college edifice. As the student body grew, so did the library, faculty and administration, and in 1821, when enrollment totaled 138, the Corporation of Brown University resolved to authorize the construction of a new building to help house the students and thereby relieve overcrowding in the edifice. University Treasurer Nicholas Brown used his own funds to purchase Nathan Waterman's lot of land directly north of the edifice and, at his own expense, built on it a smart new brick building designed to complement the 52 year old edifice. In January of 1823 he presented the new building to the university, with the suggestion it be named "Hope College" in honor of his sister Mrs. Hope Brown Ives. When the new building was so named, the old building then was designated "University Hall."
The new engraving of Brown University clearly draws on the antecedent Samuel Hill engraving of the 1790s, in its point of view from the south west, in its perspective, and in details such as the way the sun shines improbably out of the north and casts a shadow across the western facade of University Hall. It also reflects the new artist's own interpretation of the landscape. Gone are the trees, the billowing skies, the stone walls, the privy, and the president's house. In the 1823 engraving the artist has raised the cupola on University Hall, lowered the chimneys, and all but hidden the well house behind the building. He has also updated the students' dress, representing them with smart new swallowtail coats, stovepipe hats, and walking sticks; and a dog. The figures of the students have also been redistributed to emphasize the new building, with two removed from the old foreground and placed before the new brick dormitory. By portraying it as equal in size and prominence, the artist sought to demonstrate how Hope College had become the complement to University Hall.
Unlike the Samuel Hill engraving of ca. 1795, the 1823 engraving of Hope College and University Hall was not produced as a separate decorative print intended for framing. Instead, the new scene appeared as a much smaller (4" x 7 5/8") vignette in the corner of Daniel Anthony's "Map of the Town of Providence." It had been twenty years since Daniel Anthony issued his 1803 map of the town streets, and in the intervening years Providence had grown. By 1823 the time had come for a new, expanded map to record the new streets and settlements. By fortuitous coincidence, Daniel Anthony finished revising his map of Providence just as Brown University finished constructing Hope College. The prominent new building was a great symbol of community pride, and the mapmaker was able to capitalize on its prominence merely by illustrating it as a vignette in a blank corner of his map.
The identities of the artist and engraver of this new college scene are not known. In 1803 the first edition of the Providence map was signed by the engraver William Hamlin, though on the 1823 version Daniel Anthony credited only himself for his revised work "from actual surveys."
In 1927 the Brown University library acquired an example of the Hope College vignette, which a previous owner had clipped from an original impression of Daniel Anthony's map of 1823. Worn by handling over the years and degraded by a darkening coat of varnish, this print is pictured in Jay Barry's and Martha Mitchell's 1985 A Tale of Two Centuries. In 1952 the Rhode Island Historical acquired the original engraving plates for the 1823 map, and the next year issued full-sized reproduction prints. The image illustrated here is taken from the Historical Society's 1953 reproduction.
Several years after the construction of Hope College and its coincident illustration in Daniel Anthony's map of Providence, a third view of the Brown University campus was published in Boston. Based on an original drawing by James Kidder, this image was reproduced as a lithograph, a newly-developed graphic printing process that allowed artists to transfer their own drawings directly onto stone printing blocks with wax crayons, instead of having a metal engraver interpret their work by cutting lines into a copper plate. This new process also permitted the reproduction of full tonal range. As a result, this first lithographic print of the campus shows a much more nuanced scene than Samuel Hill was able to portray in his copperplate engraving.
The print "Brown University, Providence, R.I." [figure 9] pictures the campus buildings from the northwest, on what is now the corner of Prospect and Waterman Streets. By taking this viewpoint the artist chose to highlight Hope College, where the rough evidence of recent construction had by now subsided. Though ostensibly a complement to University Hall, Hope College is celebrated in print for the first time as a modern and elegant addition to the campus while the sixty year old college edifice is shown receding into the background.
Kidder took pains to illustrate how, in accord with the new Federal style of architecture, the central pavilion of Hope College projects more modestly than the more robust but now old-fashioned extrusion at University Hall. He detailed the classical modillion blocks of its cornice and the new style of semi-circular fanlights over its doorways. The refined curtains that grace its windows are nowhere to be seen in the windows of University Hall. It is this new college building, and not the old edifice, that draws the admiring gazes of the well-dressed people promenading before it.
This view is the first to make reference to the community around the college on the hill. Beyond the row of newly-planted poplar trees and the president's house at right, one can see signs of new construction on College Hill. The first neighbor's house can be seen at the rear, across George Street. Beyond that, at the bottom of College Hill, is the old residential district of Providence, now being overtaken by the progress of industrial development that supports the school on the hill.
This happy scene of the campus is signed at lower left "Drawn by James Kidder." Though today he is better remembered for the landscape views he made of Boston in the late 1820s, as a young man of twenty-three Kidder was known to Rhode Islanders for his painting of the Providence waterfront being devastated by the great gale of 1815. His reputation was further established in Rhode Island when, in the following year, Kidder reproduced that dramatic painting in a popular print he entitled "A Representation of the Great Storm at Providence." His picture of Brown University is his second known landscape view of Providence. While his original drawing of the campus view could have been made as early as 1823, when Hope College was finished and occupied, Kidder did not transfer the drawing to the lithograph printing stone until the late 1820s or early 1830s. On this print the legend "Published at Senefr Lith. Co.'s Rooms, Boston," printed in the margin at lower right, identifies the printer as the Senefelder Lithographic Company. This early lithographic house survived under that name for only three years or four years, from 1828 until 1831. Kidder's print of Brown University must have been made during that time. His views of the Boston Common, of a view in Cambridge, and of the Crown & Eagle Mills in Uxbridge, Massachusetts earned him the reputation as being one of the best of the Senefelder Company's artists.
In 1927 William Williams Keen, M.D., a graduate of the class of 1859, presented the Brown University library with "View of Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island," an old pencil drawing of the campus showing the same view published by James Kidder [figure 10]. In his letter to Harry Lyman Koopman, the university librarian, Dr. Keen reported that he had received the drawing from a medical colleague in Boston who had in turn acquired it there among a batch of old papers. The pencil drawing is unsigned and its artist is unidentified, and so it cannot be known if it was a model for the Kidder lithograph or was a copy made after the finished print. It is at least possible, however, that it is a preparatory drawing for the campus view, before the artist animated the foreground with the figures of people strolling along admiring the new college building.
Figure 11: "View of Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island." (engraving by Benjamin Franklin Waitt)
Soon after James Kidder's drawing of the Brown campus was published as a lithograph, a crude copy of it was rendered as a wood block engraving entitled "View of Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island." [figure 11]. The wood engraving appeared in the December, 1836 number of The American Magazine of Useful and Entertaining Knowledge, a short-lived Boston publication that featured the novelty of illustrations printed alongside short articles of general interest. In this version of the campus view, the nuances of shading and detail in Kidder's lithograph have disappeared. Though the outlines of the landscape, buildings, and promenading figures are obviously copied from the antecedent print, these features are defined by the knife strokes of the wood engraver Benjamin Franklin Waitt — who signed his work here with the initials "B.F.W." at bottom center — in heavy lines of dark and light. After the demise of The American Magazine in 1837 the engraving blocks for this scene were passed on to several successor publications including to the Universal Library, from which the engraving illustrated here was taken. For years the continued use of these engraved printing blocks further disseminating this scene of Hope College and the Brown University campus.
Over the years other artists have based new prints on Kidder's lithographic view of the campus. For example, in the twentieth century a limited edition of 300 engravings of this scene by James H. Fincken was issued by the Colonial Society of America.
The Kidder view assumed new life in 1944, when it was reproduced as a calendar illustration by the Bank of New York for its "American College" series [figure 12]. Entitled "Brown University, about 1825," the calendar print was photo-mechanically reproduced from the early lithograph with added keys identifying the three college buildings at that time — Hope College, University Hall, and the President's House. On the back of the calendar page, additional text about the Bank of New York was set well below the scene to prevent any printed text from bleeding through into the illustration. This graphic courtesy allowed the calendar illustration to be clipped and used as a decorative print, while the bank's judicious cropping along the right edge gave it more standard proportions. Since 1944 generations of Brown graduates have framed this calendar print or inserted it on the tablets of Empire-style pier mirrors or shelf clock doors.
The construction in 1834 of a separate building to house the University's library and chapel occasioned the appearance of yet another new campus view. [Figure 13] The preparatory drawing was made at a vantage point chosen to best highlight the new Manning Hall, constructed between Hope College and University Hall to complete the row of buildings facing Prospect Street. The Providence architects Warren, Tallman, & Bucklin designed the building in the new Greek Revival style, modeled on the Temple of Diana-Propylea in Eleusis. This literal reference to a Greek temple was meant to suggest an association between ancient classical cultures and the enlightenment ideal of learning and culture. In case anyone missed the point, the rough fieldstone building was covered with a coat of white cement to emphasize the classical allusion. Facing west from the hilltop and clearly visible from the main street along the river port at the foot of College Hill, Manning Hall was such a visual knockout that the appearance of University Hall was thought to suffer by comparison. Soon it too received a coat of white parging over its old colonial red bricks, to bring it up to fashion.
Entitled "Brown University, Providence, R.I.”, this new lithograph celebrates the construction of Manning Hall, in much the same way that James Kidder's print was issued to celebrate the construction of Hope College. In fact, the titles of the two prints are so similar in both text and in style of lettering that it appears one title was traced from the other. This new lithograph was taken from an original drawing by John Underwood, who is credited at lower left with the line "J. T. Underwood, invt. et del." At lower right, the line "Moore's Lithography Boston (successor to Pendleton)" reveals that it was printed in Boston at the lithography studio of Thomas Moore. Though the print is undated, the language in which Thomas Moore is identified as publisher reveals that it was made between August of 1836, when Moore purchased the business from William Pendleton; and 1840, when he sold it to Benjamin Thayer.
The crispness and formality of this scene is emphasized by the presence of a new wood picket fence surrounding the campus, with gates hinged on granite posts. The old split rail fences were removed by the time this lithograph was published, along with the fieldstone walls James Manning labored so long to construct around his cow pasture when the school was new to College Hill. In fact, the president's house itself was removed as well, skidded away down the hill to the corner of College and Benefit streets, where it would stand for another century until 1936, when it was demolished and replaced by RISD's College Building. In 1840 a new house for the president was built across Prospect Street from the campus, on the site where the John Hay Library now stands.
At the far right of this three-building college can be seen one more structure, a new three-story brick house built across George Street from the campus. It was the home of Professor of Moral Philosophy and Belles Letters, William Giles Goddard, class of 1812, and his wife Charlotte Rhoda Ives, whose parents lived at the other end of Brown Street. In the 1830s the principal entrance of the Goddard house faced north to George Street, where the family looked out on the college. Over the years that view of the growing college may have become a bit too busy for the family. When Chancellor William Goddard inherited the house after his mother Charlotte Goddard's death in 1883, he reoriented the entrance to face Brown Street and created a new front door in the addition he had built at the back of the house. The building now serves as Brown's Maddock Alumni Center.
Thomas Moore's nuanced, formal lithographic view of Manning Hall and the Brown campus was quickly pirated by the publisher of a popular illustrated encyclopedia. It reappeared in smaller format and with much less detail as a wood engraving entitled "Brown University" in Robert Sears's History of the United States [figure 14]. Evidently the complexities of rendering architectural detail or even the new grove of elms to the west of the college buildings eluded this copyist, whose inexpensive means of reproducing the lithograph was to reduce it to a series of engraved lines on a printing block. Clearly the artist of this view had never seen the college. In this speculative version a truncated University Hall and the new George Street residences behind it are rendered as unaccountably tall, skinny buildings. His quick and efficient means of enlivening this sparse illustration was to introduce a rider on a cantering house on the street in the foreground.
In 1840 the addition of Rhode Island Hall to the row of campus buildings rendered all Brown University prints out of date. The new building, which housed lecture halls and laboratories for the sciences, was constructed on land along George Street newly donated by the Treasurer of the Corporation, the loyal and dedicated Nicholas Brown. This time, however, instead of being named to reflect the generosity of one benefactor, the name "Rhode Island Hall" recognizes the subscription of construction funds solicited from people all over the state.
In 1857 a new view of the campus, "Brown University." [figure 15], was published showing Rhode Island Hall at far right. Providence artist John Thompson evidently modeled his preparatory drawing of this scene on the Underwood & Moore lithograph of 1837-41, depicting the row of campus buildings from the same vantage point at the corner of Prospect and Waterman Streets but expanding it to include the new Greek-Revival-style science building on the southern edge of the small campus.
Thompson's drawing was sent to Boston to be engraved on a steel printing plate by the Boston engraver F. O. Freeman, and printed there by Wilson & Daniels. The story behind this engraving was told by Martha Mitchell, who, in her Encyclopedia Brunoniana, quotes a letter from William Augustus Mowry of the class of 1857. "In 1857 to 1860 and after I was the editor and publisher of The R. I. Schoolmaster I had the steel engraving made at a cost of $50.00 and published it with an historical sketch of the College in The Schoolmaster for Jan.1858." This new engraving was based also on one of the earliest photographs ever made of the Brown campus. While the photograph faithfully recorded the accurate proportions of the buildings and their actual relationship to one another, it was difficult to see them through the elm trees that now graced the campus. "I had a photograph taken, but the trees and foliage so hid the buildings that I employed an artist to sketch the four, omitting most of the trees. The engraver in Boston used both photograph and drawing." The artistic license employed by the illustrator John Thompson allowed him not only to edit out the trees, but to insert sketches of human figures standing around the campus. In 1857 the time exposure required to make the original photo would have gone on for minutes, recording the blur of moving leaves, and only faint ghosts of passing pedestrians.
This 1857 engraved view of the campus was printed on large sheets for separate framing prints; and on smaller sheets when published as book illustrations, as when it served as the frontispiece for Reuben Guild's 1867 History of Brown University, with Illustrative Documents. Although the paper sheet size varied with use, the scene was always printed from the same 7" x 10" engraving plate.
Figure 16: "Brown University, Providence, 1857"
John Thompson's 1857 view of the campus [figure 16], showing the newly-built Rhode Island Hall at far right, was revived in 1879. The scene was redrawn with horse-drawn carriages in the roads outside the college gates, re-engraved as a wood cut, and then reproduced in S. A. Mitchell's A System of Modern Geography. By the time this book was published the appearance of the campus had changed again, but the University seems to have been happy with the publicity regardless.
In January 1949 the Freeman engraving was revived by the Bank of New York as a colored lithograph entitled "Brown University, Providence, R.I., 1840"as part of its American Colleges series [figure 17].
Figure 18: Brown University represented on a shaving mug
At about the same time this illustration was used to decorate a ceramic shaving mug [figure 18] also being promoted to college alumni. But the most spectacular reincarnation of this view came in 1985, when it was transformed into a brightly colored painting on the back of a Hitchcock chair for the Brown Alumni Association.
Though it has retained virtually none of the furniture it owned in the eighteenth century, in latter years Brown University consciously sought to allude to its colonial heritage by furnishing buildings with reproductions of early American furniture. In the mid twentieth century it commissioned a group of plank-seated "Windsor" chairs based on an actual 18th century example made for use by Rhode Island's colonial legislature. By the 1980s, however, no such attempt was being made to find an actual authentic example on which to base reproductions. A new "Brown University" chair was commissioned from the Hitchcock Chair Company in Connecticut, and offered for sale through the Brown Alumni Monthly. The chair with the scene entitled "Brown University in 1858" [figure 19] was already part of a line of reproduction chairs widely offered for sale by Hitchcock. Though ostensibly based on historical styles of plank-seated "Windsor" chairs and rush-seated "Hitchcock" chairs, what actually distinguished these Brown University chairs from the same designs being produced for other schools was a new rendition of the 1857 campus view drawn by John Thompson.
In 1830s America, inexpensive chairs could be made from different kinds of woods, and then given a unified appearance with a coat of paint. In some American cities this decorating technique was taken to great heights with pin striping, stenciling with bronze powder, and in special cases, hand painting illustrative scenes on the broad back rail. In the late 20th century this unusual form of painted decoration was revived by the Hitchcock Chair Company for its line of college chairs, whose back splats were mechanically spray painted with college views. In the Brown University example of these chairs, the Hitchcock artist reinterpreted the 1857 campus view to bring a sense of gaiety to the scene. While the four oldest buildings have receded into the background, the street outside the college fence has become animated with men, women, and a child, on foot, on horseback, and riding in a carriage, perambulating on a fine summer day.
With four institutional buildings now stretched along Prospect Street from Waterman to George, it was becoming harder to picture the entire Brown University campus in one view. The last artist to depict the campus from the customary viewpoint to the west constructed his scene "Western view of Brown University, Providence" [figure 20] from an imaginary vantage point in the middle of College Street, elevated as if there were no hill dropping steeply below him to the west. Though the illustrator's name has been lost to time, his drawing was transferred to a wood engraving block and published by John Warner Barber and Henry Howe in their 1861 gazetteer, Our Whole Country: Or the Past and Present of the United States, Historical and Descriptive. Barber had been illustrating, writing, and publishing descriptive accounts of places in the American northeast since the early 1830s, and by now the sixty-three year old publisher may have been content to let hired artists create the illustrations for his books.
In this "Western view of Brown University," the artist condensed the four college buildings to fit within his prospect, which he framed by elm trees arching over a pleasant summer scene. The customary perambulating pedestrians, a stock device in Barber's illustrations, animate the scene while bringing a sense of scale to the view. A horse-drawn coach suggests that the Brown campus is a destination. Broad sidewalks and a street light reveal just how truly refined a place College Hill is. John Warner Barber counted on the inhabitants of the places he pictured to patronize his gazetteers, and the sublime scene of the Brown campus found in this book is as congenial to the eye as all the rest of Barber's representations of place.
The president's new house, built in 1840, is just out of sight at the left hand edge of this print. Although it was not a practical part of the institutional buildings of the campus, its location outside the college green heralded a new development. Soon the campus would be spreading well beyond the bounds originally imagined by its founders. In time it would become impossible to picture the entire campus in one view.
The "Brown University – Campus" [figure 21], a small print in a pocket-sized souvenir album of Providence city views, illustrates how, at the outset of its second century, the Brown campus expanded to the east beyond University Hall. Though issued as hand-drawn illustrations, all the images in the 1883 album were derived from photographs. In this view of Brown University, the campus is peopled with young scholars in derby hats and sporting walking sticks. To the east of University Hall, the campus green is illustrated for the first time in this print. The college had grown to include both a "front campus" and a "rear campus," containing nine buildings in all, in so many places that, for the first time, no single scene could encompass them all. Even in this expansive view of the campus, only five of the campus buildings could be pictured at once.
Conspicuous in the foreground of this ca. 1884 view is the new Slater Hall of 1879, nestled between the 1840 Greek Revival-style white Rhode Island Hall on the left, and 1770 college edifice on the right. In order to capture the broad expanse of the college green and to record the facades of the row of five college buildings, the photographer positioned himself on the front steps of Chancellor William Goddard's house (now the Maddock Alumni Center) on the corner of George and Brown Streets. In the 1880s the University was surrounded by a neighborhood of fine private residences — in this print the 1799 Edward Dexter House can be seen at the north end of the green, not yet obscured by the construction in 1903 of Rockefeller Hall — , and the pleasant northern view of the college green and its stately elm trees was one of the great amenities of the neighboring houses. The Chancellor William Goddard house and the house of his brother Francis W. Goddard (now the University's Nicholson House) enjoyed such splendid prospects of the college green, it is hard to imagine that the University was once prepared to wall them off with the construction of Slater Hall.
In the December 8, 1877 number of the American Architect and Building News, the Providence architects Stone & Carpenter published a handsome rendering of their design for Slater Hall, which, while as yet unbuilt, was intended to have its imposing front facade facing onto George Street. The text accompanying this architectural illustration reads:
This building is to stand at the south end of the rear campus, facing George Street and about seventy feet from the line of the street. The foundations are laid up and the cellar walls are built up to grade, ready to receive the superstructure, which will be built next summer.
When construction resumed with the return of warm weather, the new dormitory was to enclose the southern side of the new college green, now being called the "rear campus." The building would have nicely defined the new quadrangle to the east of University Hall, though its location there would have been disastrous for the neighboring Goddard family's peace, quiet, and view. Coincidentally, planning was underway that fall for a grand Victorian Gothic house for Francis W. Goddard, right across George Street from the site of the dormitory the same architects were designing for the university. The prospect that they would now be facing directly into a student dorm alarmed the Goddard brothers, and they intervened with the Corporation quickly and decisively to protect their pleasant prospect of the college green. When spring arrived, Francis Goddard's house was being built to face George Street as planned, but Slater Hall had vanished. The new foundation recently created for the dormitory had been dismantled, and the newly-dug cellar hole was being filled back in. A replacement foundation was soon excavated in the lawn between Rhode Island Hall and University Hall, where, in the following year Slater Hall was finally erected, though somewhat modified by the architects to fit the new location. In its original place on the college green Chancellor Goddard's son in law Oliver Iselin donated the mast of his racing yacht to serve as the college flagpole.
A few years after the "rear campus" view was published in the 1883 Souvenir of Providence, a multi-scene view of the Brown University campus, "Brown University Buildings, Providence, R.I." [figure 22] was created for the publication of the 1886 commemorative volume Providence Plantations for 250 Years. At the top of this composite view is a western prospect of the row of five buildings completed by the construction there of Slater Hall in 1879. But in this print that traditional prospect of the campus from the west was accompanied by vignettes of four other buildings on the Brown campus, which was now expanded beyond that old row.
The first structure to be built outside the front campus was the president's house, in 1840. It replaced the aging house built for President Manning in 1770, which had been moved across Prospect Street to the present site of the John Hay Library on the corner of College Street. Not really an institutional building, the new 1840 president's house right stood apart from the row flanking University Hall and fit in well with neighboring residences on the western slope of College Hill.
It was the construction of the new Chemical Laboratory in 1862 that advanced the development of an expanded campus for the University. Sited to face west on the Brown Street right-of-way that passed across college land, the Chemical Lab — in 1900 renamed Rogers Hall, and in 1989 rebuilt to house the Salomon Center for Teaching — was the first building to form the next row of college buildings. In 1882 that row was extended by the construction of the monumental Sayles Memorial Hall, in 1891 by Wilson Hall, and in 1904 by the John Carter Brown Library, to complete the edge of the college green.
At his death in 1874, John Carter Brown, son of Nicholas Brown, jr., the benefactor of Hope College and Manning Hall, left the University a lot of his family's land on the corner of Waterman and Prospect Streets, along with funds to build a new college library there. For many years this was the only property the University owned on the north side of Waterman Street, and the distinctive panoptic library built there in 1878 remained on the outskirts of a campus that was growing to the east and to the south. A sense of this disconnection from the central campus is implied by the multi-part view of the university. It had become virtually impossible to picture the entire campus from one vantage point. The days were almost gone when a unified Brown University campus could be illustrated in one compact view.
Figure 23: “Brown University” drawing by John C. Woodbury, 1906 [?]
By the first decade of the twentieth century the University's main campus encompassed some eighteen buildings between Prospect and Hope Streets, with outlying properties at Pembroke College and Ladd Observatory. Over the course of 136 years the college had grown to the point at which it was truly no longer possible to stand in one place and take in the entire physical plant. The days in which an artist could render a comprehensive picture of the school in the style of the ca. 1795 engraving "S.W. View of the College in Providence" were all but over.
In a succession of Brown campus views over more than a century, the last prints to picture the entire campus in a unified panoramic scene were issued in 1906 and 1908. First was a lithographic reproduction of John Woodbury’s wash drawing showing College Hill from the southwest [figure 23]. Entitled simply "Brown University," Woodbury’s view was made from a familiar vantage point to the west of Prospect Street, although in order to capture all the buildings on this expanded campus the artist imagined a prospect a hundred feet in the air.
In this broad vista the attention lavished on the Brown University campus is achieved through the fantasy of topographic amnesia. In the years since the College Edifice was the sole building on the hill the University had been surrounded by residential development. There was little if any open land left in the neighborhood. In 1902, in order to locate its new building at the corner of George and Brown Streets, the John Carter Brown Library, seen here at far right, had to purchase and then demolish the rectory of St. Stephen's Church to clear a building site. For John Woodbury to paint an accurate representation of College Hill would mean his picturing thousands of neighboring houses, whose very numbers would then obscure the view of the University. He settled for painting only the buildings of the Brown campus and those adjacent houses that, because of their location, were a familiar part of the campus landscape.
From his conjectural viewpoint in the sky Woodbury drew the original row of buildings facing Prospect Street, and then the college green behind them. Surrounded by a wrought iron fence, the green was now bounded on the east by a second row of buildings — Rogers Hall, Sayles Hall, Wilson Hall, and the John Carter Brown Library. On the north was the new Rockefeller Hall, built in 1904. The privately owned dwelling the University would acquire in 1915 to make room for Faunce House Woodbury rendered as just an opaque suggestion to the north of Rogers Hall. Behind St. Stephen’s Church on George Street, Maxcy, Caswell, and the Engineering Building flank Lincoln Field to the south. Behind Sayles Hall a baseball diamond has been laid out next to Lyman Gymnasium. To the north, beyond Carrie Tower and Robinson Hall, the buildings of Pembroke College can be seen in the far haze of the world beyond Brown.
Woodbury’s drawing portrayed the campus as it had never been seen. Following the late-nineteenth-century practice of making conjectural town views from an isometric perspective, he would have started with a map of the campus, which he then filled out with detailed illustrations of individual buildings he noted while walking around the grounds. The Woodbury-Carlton Company, his family’s printing business in Woodbury Massachusetts, reproduced his drawing as a sepia toned print [figure 24] more than two feet in width. John Woodbury’s son donated the original wash drawing to Brown in 1947.
A second bird’s eye view of the Brown campus was published two years later, this time as a colored engraving after a watercolor painting by Richard Rummell [figure 25]. Also entitled "Brown University," Rummell’s 1908 engraving was clearly modeled on Woodbury’s 1906 print, although it also used that earlier view as a point of departure for illustrating numerous alterations and improvements.
Rummell, a turn-of-the-century watercolorist of some note, made a minor specialty of painting oblique aerial views of institutional campuses. The subjects of Rummell's bird's-eye views were a select group of colleges and preparatory schools whose campuses the illustrator rendered as halcyon halls of academe. The alumni and benefactors of these distinguished schools could easily imagine their idyllic student years in these elegant hand-colored engravings. And, in fact, this new engraving issued by W. T. Lettig and Company in New York, was visually much more attractive than Woodbury’s monochrome lithograph. It seems that Brown University was happy to trade in its recent and relatively drab view, and upgrade to that club of beautiful campuses celebrated in expensive prints.
Richard Rummell’s vision of the university is the more attractive of the two prints, in part because in his watercolor he deleted most of the structures surrounding the campus. The artist’s stock solution to the visual challenge of picturing an urban school was to illustrate only the institutional buildings, and not to represent any structures in the surrounding neighborhood. By employing this illustrative conceit at Brown, Rummell was able to picture the campus as a cohesive place set amidst some vaguely undefined territory. The implication in this narrowly focused view was, if it was not part of the Brown experience, it didn't really exist.
This selective awareness left Rummell free to concentrate on picturing the campus to its greatest advantage. He had no way of knowing that most of the neighboring buildings originally illustrated by Woodbury, such as the Rhode Island Historical Society’s Cabinet Building on Waterman Street, or some of the grand houses flanking College Street and George Street, would be acquired by the university later in the twentieth century. In 1908 some of the shadowy structures he pictured adjacent to the campus were fraternity houses or private residences which were not then part of the university. In Rummell's imagination these buildings just competed for the viewers’ attention. He designed his new watercolor painting to highlight only the buildings actually owned by Brown.
The great advantage Rummell enjoyed in using Woodbury’s print as a model for his own painting was that he could elaborate on the earlier artist’s vision, correct his mistakes, and update the scene to record recent developments. Though he filled in the front campus with elm trees in full leaf, he left a break in the foliage to display the new statue of Caesar Augustus, presented to the university in 1906. Sayles Gymnasium, which was actually constructed during the years between the appearance of these two prints, can be seen at Pembroke College. More skylights have been added on Rhode Island Hall. The trolley car has been moved up the hill from College Street and around the corner to Prospect. A baseball team can now be seen playing on the diamond next to Lyman Gymnasium.
Other than the addition of color, the most conspicuous difference between the two prints is the introduction of the John Hay Library, the white marble building shown at lower left just above the signature "Richard Rummell / 08." In fact, the Hay Library would not be built until 1909–1910. When Rummel visited the campus to update Woodbury’s bird’s-eye view, the site of this building was still occupied by the old president's house of 1840, by then being used as the student refectory. But in the tradition of creating a new Brown campus view to herald the arrival of a new building, Rummell included the John Hay Library according to the plans already developed by the architect. Despite such dated touches as the horse drawn carriage on Prospect Street next to Van Wickle Hall, this last Brown campus view was intended, like all its predecessors, to present the Brown University campus as a modern and sophisticated place. Presenting the proposed library building as a fact of life on campus was an apt metaphor for the maturity and stability of the University.
Accurate visual references for drawing these buildings would have been easy to come by; in the early twentieth century the era of picture postcards was in full swing, and by 1908 scores of photographic images of Brown University were widely available. One such card, for example, pictured the statue of Caesar Augutus on the lawn in front of Rhode Island Hall, just as it appears in Rummell’s print. All he would have needed to do was to carry a batch of these postcards back to his studio in order to produce a more detailed and highly accurate version of Woodbury’s campus view.
Starting in the late 1860s photographs began to supplement the drawings and prints that composed the standard visual imagery of the university. As the campus grew too large to be pictured in a single comprehensive campus view it began to be represented in individual vignettes. In the years following the Civil War one could buy stereopticon photographs of campus scenes. Then, in the 1870s, professional photographers started producing portfolios of large format prints for the custom-ordered class albums that were the predecessors of today’s yearbooks. The flood of picture post cards that succeeded these earlier photographs after the turn of the century made visual representation of the Brown campus commonplace and ubiquitous.
Of the hundreds of different post card views of the Brown campus known today, none has been more popular over time than the eastward view of University Hall through the Van Wickle gates. When it was no longer possible to picture the University in its entirety, that one vignette of the campus came to represent all of Brown. In essence, it is the same view drawn by David Leonard for the ca. 1795 "View of the College in Providence." That south west prospect of the College Edifice determined the way in which later generations would envision the college. It made a great public impression in the eighteenth century, and in succeeding years that vista has stood the test of time.LAST MODIFIED: July 30, 2012
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