Union Notables

Edward Tuckerman Potter    class of 1853

Edward Tuckerman Potter

Architect Edward Tuckerman Potter's work literally stands front and center at Union College: he designed the Nott Memorial, the President's House and the Feigenbaum Administration Building, as well as the Mark Twain House in Hartford, CT and several churches now on the National Register of Historic Places.

Potter, born in Schenectady on September 25, 1831, was the fourth son of Union professor Alonzo Potter and Sarah Maria Nott, the only daughter of Union's fourth president, Eliphalet Nott. Edward began his collegiate studies at the University of Pennsylvania before transferring to Union in 1851 as a junior. Following his graduation in 1853 he apprenticed with New York City architect Richard Upjohn before opening his own New York offices in 1856. That same year Potter accepted his first independent commission, to design the President's House at Union.

In 1858, Potter was assigned the daunting task of designing the building known today as the Nott Memorial, originally called Alumni or Graduates' Hall. While the foundations for the building were laid just a year later, a shortage of funds prevented additional work until the early 1870s. Following his grandfather's death in 1866, Potter thoroughly revised Ramée's original plans for the central domed rotunda, ultimately resulting in the unique edifice that is the Nott Memorial. 

Potter's major buildings are known for their use of multi-colored stone, polished granite columns, elaborately carved decorations, and for distinctive motifs, including five- and six-pointed stars as well as a pentagonal ivy design, all of which can be seen in the Nott Memorial. There is, some scholars argue, much symbolic import in Potter's choice of these particular design elements. 

While perhaps best known for the Nott and the Mark Twain House (1873), the vast majority of Potter's architectural plans were for churches: of the seventy-nine buildings he is known to have designed, at least sixty-six were churches, and of those forty-two still stand. They include St. John's Episcopal Church in East Hartford, CT, All Saints' Memorial Church in Providence, RI, and Trinity Church in Wethersfield, CT. He also designed the President's House and Packer Hall university center at Lehigh University. A 1902 University of Pennsylvania publication describes Potter's style as “distinguished by its freshness and originality of conception, felicity of ornamentation and delicacy of feeling.” 

Edward Tuckerman Potter's family connections to Union ran deep: not only was his father an alumnus and a professor and his grandfather the College's longtime president, but his younger brother Eliphalet Nott Potter (Class of 1861) also served as president from 1871 through 1884. His brothers Clarkson Nott Potter (Class of 1842), Howard Potter (Class of 1846) and Robert Brown Potter (Class of 1849) were all deeply involved with Union in various capacities: it was, in fact, large donations from Clarkson and Howard Potter which made the completion of the Nott Memorial possible. 

Potter retired from architectural work in 1877, and died on December 21, 1904. An obituary in The American Architect reports that Potter, “possessing independent means,” was able to retire early and devote himself to “travel, the study of music and philanthropy.” Potter worked in his later years to devise “ways and means of securing to tenement houses and their inmates not only economical and convenient planning, but the best of natural ventilation and lighting.… In all tenement and prison reform movements he took an active part, so that, quite apart from his architectural work, he led a satisfying and useful life, to which further grace was added by his musical successes as a composer of sacred and even operatic scores.”