Retrospective: May/June 2009

June 1, 2009

Picture this: Scrapbook of architectural ideas for Duke includes sketches of buildings from Princeton University, left, and the University of Chicago, center, as well as Brown and Few's itinerary and other details of their 1924 trip. Duke University Archives

In March and April of 1924, William Preston Few, Trinity College president, and Frank C. Brown, the college's comptroller, made a historic trip to visit nineteen colleges and universities up and down the eastern seaboard. Their goal was to familiarize themselves with the designs of a variety of campuses, with an eye to determining what would work best for the proposed transformation of Trinity into a university. President Few was already deep into negotiations with James B. Duke about his gift, which Duke would make in December of 1924.

Few and Brown started their trip in Philadelphia, where they met with Horace Trumbauer, a noted architect who specialized in houses for the wealthy; he had designed several of J.B. Duke's residences. (Although Trumbauer's firm had only one academic building to its credit, the Widener Library at Harvard University, it would later be hired to design the new university.)

From Philadelphia, Few and Brown went on to visit colleges in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Boston, and Virginia. Brown documented the trip with a remarkable scrapbook that includes images and notes about the various campuses visited. Brown, a University of Chicago alumnus, also included information from his alma mater, although he and Few did not travel there.

Throughout the 152 pages of the scrapbook are examples of structures, details, and materials that eventually influenced the plans for Duke. For example, twenty-one pages are devoted to Princeton University, with multiple images of buildings now familiar to Blue Devils because of their resemblance to those built here. Eleven pages document the University of Chicago; their proposed chapel would be one of the models for Duke's.

On page thirty-eight, Brown includes the comment: "Note on Princeton Stone: The University owns the quarry and sells the stone." While Duke would first consider buying its stone from Princeton to construct West Campus, Brown eventually followed Princeton's model and purchased a local quarry in Hillsborough, North Carolina, which still supplies stone for Duke building projects.

The original scrapbook is preserved in University Archives; it can also be viewed online as part of the library's digital collections.

—Pyatt '81 is a University Archivist