Pyne & Gildersleeve

Lower Pyne, on the corner of Nassau and Witherspoon streets.

Partners in Princeton Architecture

By Laurie Pellichero | Photographs courtesy of Historical Society of Princeton

Admirers of Princeton University and town architecture might not realize that many of the area’s most prominent buildings, past and present, were commissioned by longtime University trustee and generous benefactor Moses Taylor Pyne, and designed by New York City-based architect Raleigh Colston Gildersleeve.

Moses Taylor Pyne (1855-1921), a New York City native and 1877 Princeton University alumnus, inherited a substantial fortune from his maternal grandfather and namesake, Moses Taylor, whose money was derived mainly from banking and railroads. Moses Taylor Pyne married Margaretta Stockton, daughter of Gen. Robert Field Stockton Jr., and gained a seat on the University board of trustees at age 28. He continued to serve on the board for 36 years. Pyne was devoted to establishing Collegiate Gothic architecture as the predominate style on campus. It has been noted that this was based on the theory that giving the University the ambiance and Oxford and Cambridge would lend a similar atmosphere to his alma mater.

Raleigh Colston Gildersleeve (1869-1944) was born in Charlottesville, Virginia, the son of Basil Lanneau Gildersleeve, PU Class of 1849 and a longtime classical philology professor at Johns Hopkins University, and his wife Eliza Fisher Colston.

Gildersleeve graduated from Johns Hopkins in 1888, and became an architect in New York City. Pyne subsequently hired him to design the Upper and Lower Pyne dormitories on Nassau Street, as well as McCosh Hall at Princeton University. He was also the architect of the Elm, Cap and Gown, and Campus eating clubs on Prospect Avenue. He worked with Pyne on the 20-year renovation and expansion of Drumthwacket, which Pyne purchased from Charles Smith Olden’s widow in 1893, and designed some local residences as well.

Upper Pyne, circa 1900.

Upper and Lower Pyne

Both Upper and Lower Pyne were funded by Pyne and built for the University as dormitories on Nassau Street in 1896. Gildersleeve designed both in a Gothic Revival or Tudor style. The two buildings initially housed shops at the street level and undergraduate dorms upstairs. The dorms were later converted to offices in
the 1950s.

Upper Pyne was razed in 1963, and Princeton Bank and Trust was built on the site at 76 Nassau Street. It is now home to PNC Bank. Lower Pyne still stands beautifully on the northeast corner of Nassau and Witherspoon streets, and is home to Hamilton Jewelers at the street level and apartments upstairs.

In a February 1910 issue of The Architectural Record, in a section on the Architecture of American Colleges, Montgomery Schuyler wrote, “None of Mr. Pyne’s benefactions to Princeton has been more exemplary or ought to be more fruitful than the two business buildings which bear his name. Upper and Lower Pyne, with their actual shops on the ground floor, and their undisguisedly commercial occupancy, most gracefully recall the best street architecture of Chester or Shrewsbury. The architect has lavished upon them a careful and affectionate study which is visible in every detail. The wood carving, for example, on the front door of Upper Pyne, with that very charming driveway into the ‘mews,’ with the quaint sundial over, is quite worthy of the best historic examples.”

McCosh Hall

McCosh Hall, designed by Gildersleeve in Tudor Gothic style, was built in 1907 as a memorial to Princeton University’s 11th president, James McCosh, who served for 20 years in the period after the Civil War. It was the largest building on campus when it was constructed, and has a smooth limestone exterior and flying buttresses. The building features a pair of tigers as well as other characters, including twin owls, the masks of comedy and tragedy, a raven, a donkey, a goose, and a football player.

McCosh is now home to the Department of English and the Program in American Studies, and houses lecture halls, seminar rooms, classrooms, and many offices.

Cap and Gown Club. (Architectural drawing by Raleigh Gildersleeve, courtesy of Seeley Mudd Library, Princeton, University; The Princeton Eating Clubs, Clifford W. Zink, Princeton Prospect Foundation, 2017.)

Princeton Eating Clubs

Princeton University’s eating clubs began in 1877 at the then College of New Jersey when a small group of students wanted to establish a place where they could dine together and socialize. That first club, Ivy, was followed by 18 more over the next 50 years. Moses Taylor Pyne was a great champion of the clubs, and saw permanent eating clubs in their own clubhouses as benefiting “a stable undergraduate life,” as noted by Clifford W. Zink in his book The Princeton Eating Clubs.

The Elm Club at 58 Prospect Avenue was built in 1901 from a design by Gildersleeve. According to Zink, Gildersleeve, whose practice was thriving after the completion of Upper and Lower Pyne, was hired to create a grand clubhouse, which he did in Italianate Revival style. The two-and-a-half-story design featured a long porch which wrapped around the east side, with a pavilion overlooking the University Field across Olden Street.

In 1908, Gildersleeve was hired to design a larger clubhouse for the Cap and Gown Club’s growing membership, which he did in the more popular Collegiate Gothic style. He told the Princeton Alumni Weekly in February 1908 that he designed the Cap and Gown clubhouse at 61 Prospect Avenue as a “minor Normandy Chateau.” According to Zink, he devised a T-shaped plan that anticipated possible expansion and reuse. The plan’s orientation offered “an uninterrupted view of the valley from the veranda which extends to the south front.”

Gildersleeve’s club work continued when the board of the Campus Club hired him while he was completing the Cap and Gown Club, as noted by Zink. In 1910 he designed a brick clubhouse at 5 Prospect Avenue that was similar to the Cap and Gown Club, but with “a flipped floorplan, a more Tudor Revival appearance, and a dominating entrance pavilion with buttresses and a crenellated parapet.”

The Campus Club exterior remains almost intact from its original construction, and a later 1953 addition. In a similar touch to McCosh, it also features a limestone carving of battling football players. The Campus Club ceased operation in 2005, and the clubhouse was donated to Princeton University for student activities.

Moses Taylor Pyne, left, and another man in the gardens at Drumthwacket. Pyne, working with architect Raleigh Gildersleeve, renovated and expanded the mansion and added extensive gardens.

Drumthwacket

Drumthwacket, now the official residence of the governor of New Jersey, was originally built in Greek Revival style in 1835 by Charles Smith Olden (1799-1876), who became governor in 1860. The original structure, at 354 Stockton Street, consisted of a center hall with two rooms on each side, including the two-and-a-half-story center section and large portico with six Ionic columns, which remain today.

Moses Taylor Pyne purchased Drumthwacket from Olden’s widow in 1893 for $15,024, and embarked on a 20-year expansion and landscaping program for the property with the designs of Gildersleeve, while at the same time establishing the mansion as a popular setting for social gatherings in Princeton.

It is said that he wanted a home with a gracious presence, not merely a country residence.

Pyne doubled the size of the mansion, and greatly expanded the gardens and farm buildings. He also added two-story east and west wings to the central portico. A Colonial Revival staircase was placed in the main hall.

The east wing was the first addition in 1895, and housed the kitchen. It was later extended to house the servants’ quarters. The west wing was added next and contained a drawing room and a Gothic wood-paneled library, with a master suite on the second floor. Another addition to the west wing was a study or den for Pyne.

As noted in the December 1905 issue of Indoors and Out, A Monthly Magazine Devoted to Art and Nature, “There are few things more hazardous than to add onto an old structure any considerable addition; it is much more serious when these additions cover twice as much ground site as the original structure, which can in no way be disturbed, and which must not lose its importance nor its individuality. Mr. Raleigh C. Gildersleeve, the architect of the new portions of the house, accomplished his task with extraordinary sagacity and success.

“At the very beginning of the work, it was determined that the original mansion must remain absolutely intact. This having been decided upon, the single remaining problem was to design wings on either side in strict harmony with the original structure … Mr. Gildersleeve’s position, as I understand it, was not so much what he would do in extending the house, but what the original architect would have done if called upon to design a larger house and one of the dimensions now decided upon.”

The renovation also featured park-like landscaping and a multi-level formal Italian-style garden.

Pyne Mansions in Town

Located at 211 Winant Road, the historic Pyne Mansion was designed and constructed in 1897 for Albertina Taylor Pyne, Moses Taylor Pyne’s mother. The original architect of the Jacobean-style mansion was Raleigh Gildersleeve.

The impressive residence has since undergone an award-winning renovation by architect David Abelow, and is now on the market. Modern features include a 4,000-bottle wine cellar and state-of-the-art theater.

“As with many period homes, there’s no doubt that its architectural style and Gildersleeve’s pedigree are central to the property’s intrigue,” says Judson R. Henderson of Callaway Henderson Sotheby’s International Realty. “The difference here is the extraordinary undertaking by the current owners, under Abelow’s talented guidance, to bring the house into the 21st century, with complete sensitivity to both its storied past and modern day living.”

Pyne’s sister, Albertina, and her husband, Archibald D. Russell, also built an area estate in 1903 they named Edgerstoune, which is now the center building for The Hun School of Princeton on Edgerstoune Road. At the time, Edgerstoune and Drumthwacket were considered the finest homes in the area.

Farmer’s cottage at Drumthwacket, designed by Raleigh Gildersleeve.

Pyne On View

A new exhibit, “Lower Pyne’s Forgotten Twin (and Other Nassau Street Changes)” is now on view in the Treasures from the Trove gallery at the Historical Society of Princeton. The display includes the cornice from Upper Pyne, designed by Gildersleeve and featuring the Princeton University seal and open books, as well as a sign from Skirm’s Smoke Shop (formerly at 68-70 Nassau Street) and a variety of photographs. The exhibit runs through 2019.