Nott Memorial Hall // 1858

The 16-sided Nott Memorial Hall is one of America’s most dramatic High Victorian buildings, is the centerpiece of the Union College campus (and a major reason for my stop in Schenectady when driving through New York). Union was the first non-denominational institution of higher education in the United States, and the second college established in the State of New York. Eliphalet Nott became college president in 1804, and envisioned an expanding campus to accommodate a growing school. In 1806 a large tract of land was acquired to the east of the Downtown Schenectady, on a gentle slope up from the Mohawk River. In 1812 French architect Joseph-Jacques Ramée, equally skilled in landscapes and structures, was then hired to draw up a comprehensive plan for the new campus. Ramée worked on drawings for about a year, and construction of two of the college buildings proceeded quickly enough to permit occupation in 1814. The Union College campus thus became the first comprehensively planned college campus in the United States! As part of Remee’s plan for the campus, a round, Neo-Classic “pantheon” building was proposed at the center of campus (a prescendent for Thomas Jefferson’s plans for the University of Virginia just four years later). The building never materialized in Unions early days. Construction finally began on the building in 1858, based on designs by Edward Tuckerman Potter, grandson of President Nott, but apparently took nearly 20 years to complete due to the Civil War and funding issues. The Nott Memorial as completed, is 89 feet in diameter and capped with a ribbed dome. The dome is sprinkled with 709 small colored glass windows, making it one of the finest buildings on a college campus in the United States!

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