Expense Account

By Charlotte Bruce Harvey '78 / September / October 2002
June 29th, 2007
If you're going to build a college, says University archivist Martha Mitchell, "you really ought to see what one looked like first." And so the first item in the Nicholas Brown Company's 1770 ledger is for the passage of Joseph Brown, Jonathan Hamman, and Zeph Andrews, to Cambridge "to view the colleges" - that is, the buildings at Harvard.

The ledger details the cost of constructing what is now University Hall - every pound of nails and wheelbarrow load of bricks purchased. It lists the tradesmen hired, the rates they were paid, and the number of unnamed "Negro men," or slaves, who contributed their labor.

One mystery is the payment on January 7 for a letter received from a Philadelphia architect. Could this provide a clue as to the identity of the building's designer, who remains unknown today?

"People claim [U.H.] was modeled after Nassau Hall at Princeton, which makes sense," Mitchell says. "After all, the president had gone there. He'd graduated only two years earlier."

Construction progressed apace in 1770. On January 21 the Nicholas Brown Company bought "powder for blowing up stones." Four floors went up quickly, and by fall framing was largely complete. The October 13 entry is simple and sweet: "3 gallons of WI, Rum when raising the Roof."

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September / October 2002