Celeste Brewer

Greenwich Village History Blog


Digital Archive

My digital archive takes the University Building, constructed by the University of the City of New York in 1833-1835 and demolished in 1894, as its subject. It will include items documenting both the history of the building and the lives of its residents. As an eclectic, interdisciplinary mixture of materials, the contents of the archive will reflect the interests of the multitalented individuals who created them. These many viewpoints, in turn, will illuminate the history of the rich intellectual hub that occupied the northeast corner of Washington Square for nearly sixty years.

Web Exhibit

My exhibit will explore the role that NYU's University Building (1835-1894) played in the intellectual life of nineteenth-century Greenwich Village. In its early years, the university, then called the University of the City of New York, kept itself solvent by renting rooms in the building. It was a popular location for artists' studios and bachelors' apartments. The artist Winslow Homer lived there for a time. University professors John Draper and Samuel F. B. Morse did, too.

As a resident, Draper took the first daguerrotype made in the United States, a portrait of his sister Dorothy. He was also involved in the founding of the American Chemical Society in the University Building in 1876. For his part, Morse completed the invention of the telegraph there in 1838. Of course, life in the University Building wasn't entirely serious. College students filled the building too, attending classes and chapel services, forming secret societies, and contributing their own combination of scholarly intensity and youthful exuberance to the atmosphere.

My exhibit will profile a sample of notable and less well-known University Building residents alike, describing the roles they played at the university and in the Village, as well as their interactions (where they are recorded). These profiles will be anchored in a narrative overview of the history of the building, which itself proved a perennial source of controversy. Taken as a whole, the stories of these historical figures and the building that sheltered them will illustrate contemporary understandings of the role of the American intellectual and expectations about his relationship with the broader community.

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