The sixteen-sided Nott Memorial, one of America's most dramatic Victorian buildings, is the centerpiece of the Union campus. The building is dedicated to Eliphalet Nott, president of Union College for 62 years. A Presbyterian minister and inventor, Nott was a major leader of American education whose many innovations included a scientific curriculum and the first introduction of engineering at a liberal arts college.
The Nott Memorial was conceived by President Nott in consultation with the French architect Joseph Ramée, who created the master plan for Union’s campus. His plan included a circular building originally envisioned as an alumni hall. Construction finally began on the building in 1858, based on designs by Edward Tuckerman Potter, grandson of President Nott. Tucker’s design for the 16-sided structure incorporated many diverse elements from both the religious and secular realms, making the Nott Memorial a fitting symbol for a college named 'Union.'
The Nott Memorial is eighty-nine feet in diameter and capped with a ribbed dome. The dome is sprinkled with 709 small colored glass windows, or “illuminators.” Girding the lower portion of the dome is a band of red slates bearing a modified inscription from the Talmud. In its simplest translation, the phrase says, “the day is short, the work is great, the reward is much, the Master is urgent.”
The Nott underwent extensive renovation from 1993-1995 in time for the College’s 1995 bicentennial celebration. Improved climate control, audio systems, an elevator and better accessibility helped turn the original building into a magnificent space for conferences, lectures, exhibitions, and study. Today, the Nott Memorial is a national historic landmark and a beloved symbol for Union College.