Hereford was founded in 1992 with the goal to enrich the educational experience of students through faculty-student interactions beyond the classroom, offer intellectual and social programming, and promote a sense of community. Originally called 'New' College, it was the second residential college at UVa (the first being Brown). The design of the College, intended to serve 500 first-year and upper class residents and three faculty fellows, sought a modern reinterpretation of Jefferson's Academical Village plan. Five residential halls, a dining hall, and a residence for the college Principal are arranged around a terraced central lawn featuring dramatic mountain views and complemented by richly planted gardens of flowering trees and shrubs for communal studying and gathering. Within the first year, the university named the college in honor of Physics professor and former University President Frank L. Hereford (1923-2006).
Over the years, the following Principals have overseen the college:
- Melvin Cherno/Physics (1992-1996/2000)
- Daniel Bluestone/Architecture (1996-1999)
- Louis Bloomfield/Physics (2001-2007)
- Nancy Takahashi/Landscape Architecture (2007-2013)
- Wendy Cohn/Public Health Sciences (2013-2018)
- Karen Inkelas/Education (2018-present)