Today, we’re going to accessorize the Old Well Walk. Many of you may gather Saturday morning to watch UNC players and coaches lumber from the Old Well to Kenan Stadium. Well, as they go to perhaps make history, they’re wading through waves of it.
First off, the Old Well itself. It’s perhaps our most recognizable landmark. Word is that if you take a sip of water there at the start of each semester, you’re guaranteed a 4.0 that term. Early on, it had even more importance.
Back in the 18th-century, it was the tiny campus’ sole source for water. The structure we see today was created in 1897 thanks to UNC President Edwin Anderson Alderman and Professor J. W. Gore. Alderman ordered the former structure dismantled and, with the help of Professor Gore, the landmark we enjoy was erected. Modeled after the Temple of Love at Versailles, a local lumber company completed the project at a modest cost of $200.
Right across the street is South Building—the home to Carolina’s administration. When first proposed by UNC’s “Father,” William Richardson Davie, it was referred to as Davie’s “Temple of Folly.” Despite vigorous opposition, construction began in 1798. It took until 1814 to finish. For 16 years, South Building had no roof and when the University was closed from 1871-75, horses and cows were stabled there.
A “dark horse” lived on the southwest corner of the 3rd floor. That is, the first “dark horse” candidate for president. It was Pineville, North Carolina’s own—James Knox Polk, Class of 1818—who became the 11th President of the United States and for which Polk Place is named.
Nestled to the east of South Building, the players will stroll by tiny Playmakers. Rumor has it that, after Federal soldiers occupied Chapel Hill in April of 1865, Union horses were stabled inside what was, at the time, the University’s library. Their stay prompted Major General William T. Sherman to quip that he had the most educated horses in the Union army.
If you follow the modern gladiators on down into Polk Place, you’ll find Steele Building on your left. Undergraduate Andy Griffith lived there when it was a dormitory. A deep sleeper, he got a daily wake-up call from friends that passed by his upper story dorm room. They’d tug on a rope Andy had dangling out his window. The other end of it was tied to his ankle.
On down at the other end of Polk Place, there are two things you can’t miss. Down on the right is squatty Wilson Library and, right across the street, the Bell Tower. Well, with these two structures, we have the foundation for a story. The library was first completed in 1929 and named for Louis Round Wilson who was a Kenan professor, first Director of the UNC Press and University Librarian for 31 years. Inside, research nirvana, there’s the North Carolina Collection, the Rare Book Collection and 8 million transcripts that comprise the Southern Historical Collection. The latter is home to documentarian Ken Burns’ notes for his award-winning PBS Series on the Civil War and, thanks to Andy, the scripts for “The Andy Griffith Show.”
Now, when the library was built, the story goes there was a little disagreement about naming it for Wilson. Seems another powerful family thought it should be named for them—the Moreheads. When it wasn’t, they got even with the powers that be in South Building. When the Morehead-Patterson Bell Tower was completed in 1930, it was designed to be in perfect alignment from South Building to Wilson Library to the Bell Tower.
Walk up the steps of South Building that face Polk Place or, if you can gain entrance, take the stairs up to the 2nd or 3rd floors and, to the south, let your eyes feast on the symbolic wonder. The tip of our Bell Tower pokes out the top of Wilson’s dome and it looks just like a dunce cap. An architectural dunce cap, if you will, which—again, as the story goes—was deliberately planned by the Moreheads. A little visual reminder to the South Building folks that, maybe, they dropped the ball. You see, football players aren’t the only ones to do that.
Enjoy the Old Well Walk and the game.