On March 7, 1842, two professors and 13 students met for Queen's University's first class in a small wood-frame house at 67 Colborne Street. In the fall of 1842, they moved to rented quarters at 320 Princess Street, a stone building opposite St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church, the meeting place of Queen's first trustees. But this building soon proved too small as well, and, in 1844, Queen's shifted to two stone houses at 203-205 William Street.
Two more adjoining houses were added in 1847, one as a boarding house for students and the other for classrooms. But University officials always regarded these modest buildings on William Street as temporary and kept up a search for a spacious and "sightly edifice" that would match their grand ambitions for Queen's.
At this time, Queen's already had land that was intended to be the site of a grand, new campus. In 1840, even before Queen's had secured its Royal Charter, its trustees had purchased 50 acres of undeveloped land stretching from King Street to just north of Union Street between what are now Sir John A. Macdonald Boulevard and College Street (hence the name "College"). The site was opposite Alwington House, the mansion of Canada's Governor General, who lived in Kingston when the city was Canada's capital in the 1840s. For a short while, then, it appeared that Queen's would have an enviable location on an ample site near the very centre of Canadian political life. But the trustees could never raise the money to construct buildings and Kingston soon lost its status as capital.
A solution for the University came when Anglican Archdeacon George Okill Stuart decided to sell Summerhill, his elegant villa opposite Kingston General Hospital. Queen's trustees bought the building and its seven acres of property in 1853, and thus settled Queen's on its present campus. The university subdivided the portion of its original 50-acre holding north of Union Street in the 1840s and sold the rest between 1868 and 1878.
Queen's 'west campus' was purchased by Queen's in 1969. Located about 2 km west of the 'main' campus, it hosts the University's Faculty of Education, Richardson Memorial Stadium, and two residence complexes, Jean Royce Hall and John Orr Tower.
Before Queen's purchased this 61-acre area, it held a prison farm and a quarry worked by inmates from nearby Kingston Penitentiary. There is a local myth that the tall limestone tower next to the John Orr Tower apartment building was once used for hangings. In fact, the now-abandoned structure was the water tower for Kingston Penitentiary when the area was a Corrections Canada farm - it was never used for hangings (though they did take place elsewhere in the city, including behind the Frontenac County Court House).
In 2007, the Kingston City Council approved the sale to Queen's of the nearby waterfront land known as the Tett Centre property (but with the exception of the J.K. Tett Building). That purchase, which was made possible by a large pledge from Queen's benefactors Drs. Isabel and Alfred Bader, gave the University a place on which to develop the Isabel Bader Centre for the performing Arts, which will open in 2014.
In 2008, Queen's purchased the 8.1-acre (3.3-hectare) property of former Prison for Women, the federal prison for female offenders from 1934 until its closure in 2000, across the street from McArthur Hall.
Sources: Queen's 1998 Heritage Study.