Alumni Profiles

Scarlet Traditions: College Avenue Uncovered

Episode: #2

Rutgers students, alumni, and friends, join us for an episode dedicated to uncovering the hidden history within the buildings that surround us and the ground we walk across in our quaint old Jersey town. Come along with us we unearth old cobblestones and search out clues to Rutgers past! This podcast is guided by alumnus Zack Morrison SC&I’14, MGSA’14, a filmmaker and writer from East Brunswick, New Jersey.

Available now on Spotify, Apple Podcast, Google Podcast and I Heart Radio!

About the Podcast Producer & Guest

Zack Morrison SC&I’14, MGSA’14
Morrison is a filmmaker and writer from East Brunswick, New Jersey and a proud Rutgers alumnus. His most recent film, the Emmy-winning short musical Everything’s Fine: A Panic Attack in D Major, has screened at more than two dozen film festivals around the United States since its premiere at Lincoln Center in New York City in 2018. He co-created and produced the YouTube variety show We Have a Show, hosted the educational travel series Space Tourists for The Space Channel, and was a writer’s assistant at The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. As a Rutgers student, Morrison was a member of the Cap and Skull Society and created several projects about Rutgers history, including the short documentary Knights, Tigers, and Cannons. Oh My! and the Student Affairs video series Scarlet Lore. He graduated from Rutgers in 2014 with bachelor’s degree in journalism and media studies and an individualized second major in digital filmmaking at Mason Gross School of the Arts. He also holds a Master of Fine Arts degree in television writing from Columbia University.

This episode includes a special interview with alumnus Elijah Reiss SAS’17.
Elijah is a 2017 graduate of Rutgers University-New Brunswick’s School of Arts and Sciences with a degree in Art History and a minor in American Studies. During his time as an undergrad, he became fascinated with the campus and its history. His senior thesis, which explored the history of Voorhees Mall, earned him high honors, as well as praise among fellow Rutgers history enthusiasts. He currently teaches middle and high school History in Princeton and is enrolled in the Master of Information program at SCI, with a concentration in Archives and Preservation.

About Scarlet Traditions

The Scarlet Traditions podcast series, brought to you by the RUAA Scarlet Council, takes you on a deep dive into the history, spirit, and tradition of our noisy college town on the Banks of the old Raritan. Show your support for this new endeavor by following the Scarlet Council on social (@ruaascarletcouncil) as they continue to add to this series!

Podcast Transcript


“In a quaint old Jersey town that I’ve learned to call my own, stands a college that has long been known to fame. Where the hardy ivy clings to the walls of ancient stone, ever changing yet eternally the same.”

If you ever get the chance to listen to the Rutgers University Glee Club perform their set of traditional college songs, I highly recommend it. Obviously, the Alma Mater, On The Banks Of The Old Raritan, is timeless, no matter which version you prefer. As is the fight song, The Bells Must Ring. However, there is so much more musical school pride out there than just those two songs. And no, I’m not referring to the quintessential Jerseyness of over-hydrated sing-alongs to ‘Livin On A Prayer at the football stadium. It’s the Glee Club’s deeper cuts that, in my opinion, radiate the timelessness of the student experience brighter than their more well-known counterparts.

The Rutgers History Lesson for example, is a riot, with sophomoric lyrics and actual slapstick comedy when you see it performed live. Nobody Ever Died For Dear Old Rutgers, from the 1947 Broadway musical High Button Shoes, parodying the alleged line that an injured Pop Grant muttered as he was carried off the football field during an 1892 game vs. Princeton, “I’d die for deal old Rutgers,” which became a popular 20th century euphemism for “the old college try.” However, much like the song suggests, the accuracy of that quote is disputed, and some sources say Grant simply asked for a cigarette. Either way, the song is so snarky that it would feel right at home in the comment section of the Big Ten Conference’s Facebook page. But the song that to this day resonates the most with me is In A Quaint Old Jersey Town. Seriously, the tune is as bop. But buried in its first verse that I just read it a moment ago is a line which perfectly captures the Rutgers spirit: “Ever changing, yet eternally the same.” What an idea, that over the university’s 254-year history, so much has changed. Buildings, campuses, the student body. And yet, no matter who it is, or what years they spent on campus, ask any Rutgers graduate around the world to talk about their experience, and I bet you that every single one of them will have fond memories of life on College Avenue.


My name is Zack Morrison, and this is SCARLET TRADITIONS, a podcast that takes a deep dive into the history, spirit, and tradition of that noisy college town on the banks of the old Raritan. Today, we’re going to take a look at the New Brunswick campus that is the nerve center of student life, and also the historic heart and soul of the university: College Avenue. As someone who grew up just down the road, some of my earliest memories are of Sunday morning drives into town, and the rattling of the car as it drove over the old cobblestones that used to pave George Street. Hub City today though is certainly different than it was for generations’ prior. Old buildings were knocked down. New buildings were constructed. Life goes on. But what I want to talk about today is its history; the stories of yesteryear’s campus, which much like the old cobblestones ever so slightly breaking through from underneath the asphalt, are still there for those who look hard enough.


Let’s start with where it all began. New Brunswick itself was first settled in 1680, and received its royal city charter from King George II in 1730. New Brunswick was a prominent waypoint along the native Lenape tribe’s Minisink Trail and eventually the King’s Highway postal route during Colonial occupation. And due to its prominent location along the Raritan River, it was an important hub for Colonial traders. A hub city. The Trustees of Queens College, founded in 1766, voted to make New Brunswick the home of their new school, and in 1771 held their first classes in a tavern on the northeast corner of Albany and Neilson streets; The Sign Of The Red Lion.

Total side note; pubs marked with pictorial signs dates back to the 12th century, with earlier origins occurring during the Roman Empire when grape vines would be affixed outside buildings that served wine. In the 1600’s, the Red Lion, a heraldic symbol of Scotland, was widely used to mark buildings of public importance, partly due to the public’s widespread illiteracy. Naturally, this led to barkeeps marking their taverns with memorable signs, often making homage to various notable sigils of the day, and most commonly, a red lion. But I digress.

Queens College, in its first year, had a single sophomore, and several freshmen; and actually bought out the Sign of the Red Lion tavern entirely. However, at the onset of its financial troubles, the trustees sold the property to the estate of Jacob Hardenbergh, and continued to operate classes in various locations around New Brunswick throughout the American Revolution until its initial closure in 1810. Fifteen years later, after the completion of the Old Queens building, and a generous donation from New York City philanthropist and renowned war hero, Colonel Henry Rutgers, Rutgers College emerged in its permanent home on financially sound footing.

But what of the Sign of the Red Lion? Well several remnants of the pub still exist today. The actual site of the bar is on the property of the present Johnson & Johnson world headquarters. However, across Albany Street is a plaque dedicated to the tavern. Additionally, a couple blocks away on Voorhees Mall sits another piece of The Sign of The Red Lion. Students might not be aware, but the old stone bench that sits in the center of the quad, directly out front of the walkway towards Murray Hall is built from the original stone foundation of the historic tavern itself. Any time you sit on it to check email or take a break between classes; or walk past it towards the Scott Hall bus stop, you’re interacting with Rutgers history. All around College Ave, you can find references to the Red Lion, including the Red Lion Café in the College Ave Student Center.

This episode of the Scarlet Traditions Podcast is brought to you by the Rutgers University Alumni Association’s Scarlet Council—a student group with a mission of inspiring today’s students to become the engaged Rutgers alumni of tomorrow.
Want to learn more about the RUAA and all the resources and opportunities available to Rutgers alumni? Follow @Rutgers_Alumni on Instagram or visit And if you’re a student interested in learning more about the Scarlet Council’s programs or you would like to get involved, follow @ruaascarletcouncil on Instagram.

Moving on northward from Albany Street is Queens Campus, where among many historical sites, you can find Winants Hall, the original dorm, and the newly renovated Shank Observatory, which is now a home to the Cap & Skull Senior Honor Society. But as you walk across that green like many students have done before, did you know you’re actually walking across the site of the original President’s House? Before the large parking lot that now exists outside Kirkpatrick Chapel was built, the land was the location of a house intended to the home of the sitting university president. Similarly, around the corner, the Yard and the Sojourner Truth apartments sit on the original site of the home of Robert Wood Johnson, namesake of Johnson & Johnson and the nearby hospital. Additionally, the site was also the location of the parking lot that housed the Grease Trucks during their time as semi-permanent food trucks, and semi-national culinary sensations. I know RU Hungry is still there. But nothing beat the days where Ayman himself served you your Fat Darrel out of the back of a truck.

Across College Avenue behind Scott Hall is another part of campus that has changed over the centuries yet remains an integral part of the University’s tradition: Voorhees Mall. Originally just another city block, the area began to take its current shape after a street was closed down and several generous donations to the University led to the creation of the grassy quad that it is today. This area is, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful places on campus. It’s a wonderful spot to sit outside on a nice day and take a break under the trees, and it’s always lively with events and programming throughout the year. But in addition to its serene and picturesque setting, whether you’re just passing through or running to get to class, it’s important to remember there are years upon years of history under your feet. Prior to the University’s academic restructuring in 2007 and the combination of the five undergraduate colleges and the faculty of arts and sciences into the now-current School of Arts and Sciences, Voorhees Mall served as the outdoor location for Rutgers College commencement exercises; broken clay pipes, newly-planted ivy, and all. Additionally, buildings on Voorhees were also home to George H. Cook, William Demarest, and a fraternity house. Ford Hall also sits atop an old 18th century mining tunnel that was also used as part of the Underground Railroad.

Most noticeably absent from the current architecture however is the Ballantine Gymnasium. First built in 1894, the gym was a prominent structure on campus at the turn of the century with its ivy-covered walls and towering Roman columns at its entranceway façade on the corner of Hamilton and George Street. Ballantine Gym was destroyed in a fire in 1930, but the surviving parts of its structure were incorporated into the construction of Voorhees Hall and Zimmerli Art Museum. If you look close enough, you can even see the changes in coloration between where the original brick structure ends, and the new building begins.


On November 6th, 1869, a budding cultural rivalry between Rutgers students and those from a nearby college in Princeton reached a pivotal moment. On that day, students from both schools, along with a hundred spectators, converged on College Field, at the corner of College Avenue and Senior Street, for what would be considered the first ever game of American football. It’s a story I’m sure you have heard a dozen times: The Rutgers players wanted to wear matching colors to distinguish themselves from their Princetonian counterparts, however fabric in their first choice of tone, a blazing orange, in honor of the school’s Dutch heritage, was not readily available. The Queensmen soon found a fitting alternative: scarlet. The Rutgers squad won the match 6 to 4 (this was a game the more closely resembled rugby or soccer than it would the modern football of today), and in the precursor to modern collegiate athletic rivalries, the Rutgers faithful quite literally ran the Princeton players out of town afterwards.

College Field remained the site of regular matches against teams from Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Lehigh, and more as the new sport gained popularity (and new rules) in its infancy. The site of the first game, however, would go on to become the site of the current College Avenue Gym. “The Barn,” as it would come to be known due to its unique architecture and balcony seating structure, is in and of itself rich in New Jersey history. It’s where a new state constitution was written and adopted in 1947. It’s where the 1975 Rutgers Basketball team had an undefeated season leading to its only NCAA Final Four appearance, where home games were so loud and rowdy that paint chips would fall from the ceiling. And it’s also where a year later, a young local rocker named Bruce Springsteen would play a sold out concert following the release of his magnum opus album, Born To Run. I’m sure a few more paint chips fell off the walls that day.

This episode of the Scarlet Traditions Podcast is brought to you by the Rutgers University Foundation, the fundraising arm of the university. Since 1973, the Foundation has inspired philanthropic support and enduring connections from alumni and friends, to help Rutgers transform lives.

Did you know the entire Rutgers community – alumni, students and friends – come together to raise funds across Rutgers every year? This philanthropic tradition is known as Rutgers Giving Day, a daylong event dedicated to all things scarlet! To learn more visit!

I can wax poetic about Rutgers and New Brunswick history for hours. If you think I’m joking, just ask anyone I went to school with. But as a history buff, I always love the opportunity to trade stories with someone equally as versed in University history. As the fates would have it, a friend of mine, and fellow Rutgers and East Brunswick High School alumnus, Elijah Reiss happens to be a true historian. As a student, he wrote several pieces on Rutgers history, including his senior thesis work on the history of Voorhees Mall. I had the great pleasure to sit down with him and chat about the enduring historical significance of New Brunswick, Rutgers University, and the College Avenue Campus’s hidden secrets.


It’s always fascinating to hear about just how much College Avenue has changed over time. That growth continues even into today, as evident by The Yard, the new bike lanes on College Ave, the Paul Robeson Plaza, and the beautiful Honors College facility creating a new centerpiece to the historic campus. Ever changing yet eternally the same. And while the landscape and skyline of College Ave continue to evolve, its history and tradition—all 254 years of it—remain; maybe harder to find immediately, but ever-present if you know where to look. Like old cobblestones.

For current students, what is it about College Ave that inspires you? How do you feel connected to the deeply rooted history of the area? For our alumni listeners, what was your favorite part about campus when you were at Rutgers? When you come back for alumni weekend, Rutgers Day, or even the football games; what is it like? Let us know. Follow @ruaascarletcouncil on Instagram and Facebook to learn more about Rutgers traditions and the resources of the Rutgers University Alumni Association (RUAA) to stay scarlet forever.

Thank you so much for joining us today on this episode of Scarlet Traditions. I’m Zack Morrison. I’ll catch you all later.