Princeton renames roadway connecting campus with Nassau Street for Robert Rivers ’53

October 4th, 2019 / Advancement

Rivers Way dedication

Members of the Princeton community gathered on Oct. 3 to celebrate the dedication of Rivers Way, the roadway that enters campus from Nassau Street between Firestone Library and the Andlinger Center for the Humanities.

Robert J. Rivers Jr. ’53 grew up in Princeton and became one of the University’s first black undergraduates. In addition to his careers as a distinguished vascular surgeon, professor and associate dean at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry, Rivers became the first African American elected by the Board of Trustees to serve as a Princeton trustee.

The name Rivers Way was recommended by the CPUC Committee on Naming in their 2018-19 recommendations and approved by the Board of Trustees.

“We are pleased to submit this recommendation and in doing so we further suggest that the roadway be referred to as Rivers Way, with the intentional double meaning that this is a way into the campus named for Bob Rivers, but also that we encourage all who enter our campus to emulate Bob Rivers, and to live their lives ‘River’s way,’” the Naming Committee wrote in its recommendation. 

At the dedication ceremony, Brent L. Henry ’69, who is vice chair of the Princeton Board of Trustees and served as chair of the Wilson Legacy Committee, recounted that he was elected as alumni trustee to Princeton in 1969, the same year Rivers joined the board. But a connection was already established. “I lived in the now demolished 1942 Hall, and the janitor of that building was Bob Rivers’ dad,” said Henry. “Mr. Rivers was a special man. He took pride in his work; he took even more pride in his son. And he took a special amount of pride in the fact that there were increasing numbers of black men—it was only men at that time—coming on to the campus. In fact, the Rivers family participated with other families in town to make sure that all of us who were newly arrived on campus felt at home, both at the University and in Princeton."

Rivers Way connects the University with the town of Princeton via Nassau Street, and Robert Rivers and his family have deep ties to both the town and University across generations. His grandfather planted the first elms along Washington Road. His father worked for 43 years at the Tiger Inn eating club and as a dormitory janitor. His mother cared for a professor’s family. His brother coached several Princeton University baseball and football teams, and his three sons are Princeton graduates.  

“As a true Princeton trailblazer,” Henry said at the dedication, “you helped prepare a path for thousands of African American men and women to follow in your footsteps at this University.”

Rivers is also among four individuals who were honored on September 20 in new University portraits to better reflect the diversity of alumni, former faculty and former administrators.

From left: Robert Rivers ’86; Angela Creager, the Thomas M. Siebel Professor in the History of Science and director of the Shelby Cullom Davis Center for Historical Studies; Brent Henry ’69; President Christopher L. Eisgruber ’83; Robert Rivers ’53; his wife, Ruth Rivers; and his son, Scott Rivers ’83