Neilson Dining Hall

Neilson Dining Hall on the Douglass Campus

Located at 177 Ryders Lane in New Brunswick, students at Rutgers University visit Neilson Dining Hall daily. Neilson Street is also situated between College Avenue and Douglass campuses in New Brunswick. Thus, “Neilson” has become an accepted and well-known namesake within the Rutgers community. But where does this namesake stem from?

Neilson Dining Hall was erected in 1961, and was named after James Neilson (1844-1937). James Neilson was a graduate of Rutgers, and is considered one of the greatest benefactors of the University. James Neilson donated significant portions of land to the University, including what is today Voorhees Mall, and the Eagleton Insitute of Politics.

While James Neilson (1844-1937) certainly contributed greatly to the University, his ability to do so was made possible through generations of wealth and privilege passed along within the Neilson family.

Colonel John Neilson Statue

Colonel John Neilson (1745-1833) Statue erected July 2017, located in Monument Square, New Brunswick, NJ. 

Colonel John Neilson was a prominent figure within the Revolutionary War and Continental Congress. He was also the third person to officially read aloud the Declaration of Independence. This reading has been commemorated by the New Brunswick Public Sculpture Committee

Portrait of John Neilson (1745-1833)

Portrait of John Neilson (1745-1833)

While Colonel John Neilson made significant contributions to the area and Rutgers as an early trustee, him and his family engaged in the slave trade through their profits within the shipping and mercantile industries, and from their own slaves' labor. 

Colonel James Neilson Portrait

Colonel James Neilson (1784-1862)

Colonel James Neilson (1784-1862), son of Colonel John Neilson, served as a commander in the War of 1812. He was also a trustee of Rutgers College, and was known as a prominent businessman in New Jersey.

Receipt to James Neilson for the purchase of Elizabeth

Bill of sale for Elizabeth

Bill of sale for Mark, aged 25, to James Neilson for $200

Bill of sale for Mark

Bill of Sale for Teunis, to James Neilson

Bill of Sale for Teunis

Permission slip for Mark Harris to join the African Association

Permission Slip for Mark Harris

Colonel James Neilson (1784-1862), father of James Neilson Jr., also was engaged in slavery.

Manumission of Ambo by slaveholder John Neilson, original certificate

Manumission Certificate for Ambo

Manumission of Phillis by slaveholder John Neilson, original certificate

Manumission Certificate for Phillis

Manumission of Miller by slaveholder Abraham S. Neilson of the firm of James H. Neilson, original certificate

Manumission Certificate for Miller

The Neilsons only started to manumit their slaves in the 1820's, when they were bound to do so by law.

James Neilson Jr. (1844-1937), Rutgers Class of 1866 and son of Colonel James Neilson, became a trustee in 1886. He was known as a "farming pioneer" and was very active in the New Brunswick community with his wife, Mary Putnam Woodbury. James Neilson Jr. was also a signficiant supporter of the New Jersey College for Women.

Learn more here about James Neilson Jr.'s legacy and contributions to Rutgers University and New Brunswick:

Colonel James Neilson built the Neilson family home, the Wood Lawn Mansion, in 1830. Upon James Neilson Jr.'s death in 1937, the Wood Lawn property was left to Rutgers University. Today, this is the home of Eagleton Institute of Politics. The Wood Lawn Mansion is registered as a historic site in New Jersey, and Nationally. 

Wood Lawn Mansion photograph

Wood Lawn Mansion