John Notman, the architect of Guernsey Hall, was born in Edinburgh, Scotland on July 7, 1810. He studied at the “School of Arts” also known as The Royal Academy of Scotland before emigrating to the United States in 1831. Notman arrived in Philadelphia with excellent drawing skills and a four-year apprenticeship which put him at great advantage to American practicing architects. He initially worked as a carpenter, quickly established his career as an architect around 1835, and became well known for his designs of churches, private homes, and public buildings. Notman was responsible for many of the great historic buildings that remain in Princeton, including Prospect House, expansions to Nassau Hall, and the Lowrie House, located at 83 Stockton Street. His biographer, Connie Greiff writes of Notman: “He introduced the Italianate villa to the United Stated at Burlington, NJ and was recognized by the chief apostle of the picturesque, A.J. Downing, as one of the country’s most skilled practitioners in that vein.“
The Princeton University Library has a drawing by Notman intended as a design for the garden of Guernsey Hall. It shows similarities to the current lay-out of Marquand park. In this drawing and an another for Laurel Hill, the first architecturally designed park-like rural cemetery in the country, the strongly influence of the landscaped garden principles of Andrew Downing on Notman can be observed in the meandering paths, clusters of trees, wide lawns, and open vistas. In his Treatise on the Theory and Practice of Landscape Gardening and essays published in his magazine, The Horticulturist, Downing popularized landscape gardening among America’s growing middle and upper middle classes. Following British models, he categorized landscape design styles as “The Beautiful” (calm and serene) and “The Picturesque” (dramatic), with the style to be determined by the existing landscape context. Proponents of the Picturesque strove to make “improvements” to the natural landscape. They aimed to perfect nature by considering the real site-specific characteristics of a place, the genius loci or what we might consider a “sense of place.” This might be realized by recognizing the topography of a site or framing a view of a borrowed landscape. These approaches often were employed on a single site. Olmsted, Downing, and Weidenmann all created Picturesque landscapes, including many public parks. The Picturesque style remained popular from the 1840s well into the early 20th century.