Ask Alma's Owl: Legacy in Low

Gary Shapiro
August 28, 2014

Which place on campus best evokes the Colonial era in which King’s College was founded? 

18th Century Enthusiast

Dear 18th Century Enthusiast,

The King’s College Room in Low Library is undoubtedly one such location. Alexander Hamilton and John Jay would both have felt at home there. The room contains dignified paintings and other furnishings. A sign inside reads, “To keep in remembrance the earliest days of this institution.” Portraits of five Columbia presidents adorn the room: Samuel Johnson, the first president of King’s College; Myles Cooper, his successor; William Samuel Johnson, first president of the reconstituted Columbia College; and Benjamin Moore (CC’1768), who was interim president from 1775-1776 and again from 1801-1811. He was the father of Clement Clarke Moore (CC’1798), a Columbia trustee best known for his poem A Visit From St. Nicholas. Rounding out the group is a painting of William A. Duer, seventh president of Columbia, presented by his great-great grandson in 1919. Their eyes collectively peer down upon period furnishings and cabinets holding candelabras, teapots, platters and bowls.

The room also contains an 18th century ceremonial mace used at Commencement each year. It is topped with a crown reflecting Columbia’s founding as King’s College over a design of acanthus leaves, a perennial plant often used as a symbol of enduring life. The King’s College room was created in 1960 by Katharine Prentis Murphy and her brother, Edmund Astley Prentis (School of Mines’1906), who assembled and donated paintings and decorative pieces along with funds to design the space. The King’s College Room was originally the location of Avery Library, which moved into its own space when Avery Hall was completed in 1912. The Columbiana Library, which contained archives relating to the University’s history, occupied the space in Low Library until 2007, when the archives were moved to the Rare Book & Manuscript Library on Butler’s sixth floor.

Although created five and a half decades ago, the King’s College Room reaches back to the Colonial era while providing a rich legacy for the future.