One of the oldest building on campus, the Backus house was built in 1802 as a boardinghouse for Hamilton-Oneida Academy students.
The trustees had intended to continue its use as a lodging for undergraduates, but decided instead to promise the house to Hamilton’s first president, Azel Backus, in order to entice the New England pastor to abandon his pulpit and come to the wilds of central New York in 1812. The tiny building was converted into a presidential “mansion.” There, Backus resided until carried off four years later by typhus contracted while nursing a sick tutor (who, by the way, recovered). He was 52.
At the first Class & Charter Day in 1950,Willard Thorp ’20 described Backus as a man known for his “witty words and actions, his humanity, his sensibility and his eloquence.” Through the years, the building that once served as his home was used as a faculty dwelling and, later, the Alumni House. In 1984 it was refurbished with a faculty dining room and fittingly named in honor of the College’s first president.