When the University was founded, the village of Chapel Hill was a tiny hamlet cut straight out of the woods. There were few merchants and even fewer boarding houses. A commons building in which students could purchase meals and dine with their comrades was needed. The Trustees were also concerned with a place to hold Commencement balls. The answer to both needs was Steward's Hall, and construction began in 1794. Steward's Hall was a small house, two stories tall and painted white. It originally sat in the middle of what is now Cameron Avenue, south of where New East is located today. The builder was Martin Nall. The estimated cost for Steward's Hall was $700. It was completed in 1795, in time for the opening of the University.
From the beginning, the administration of Steward's Hall was cause for unrest. Student complaints regarding food and care were many. The fare was, according to January 1795 Trustee minutes, supposed to be quite nourishing: coffee and warm bread for breakfast, meat and greens for dinner as well as "a sufficient quantity of fresh meats, or fowls, or puddings and Tarts [. . .]" (Connor 1953, 1:347). The students, however, told a different story. In a letter home to their father dated October 1795, John and Ebenezer Pettigrew wrote, "The steward provides very sorrily [sic] [. . .] it is impossible to discribe [sic] the badness of the tea and coffee, and the meat generally stinks, and has maggots in it (Connor 1953, 1:436). The service of stewards John Taylor and Major Pleasant Henderson helped fuel the student uprising of 1799. In 1801, Henderson's house was stoned, and he did not reapply for the stewardship.
Though the original plans called for a kitchen within the house, a separate one was soon built. In July 1795 the Treasurer paid Samuel Hopkins £49 16s. 8p (approximately $100) for the "Steward's Kitchen." By 1804, Steward's Hall was in dire need of renovation. Extensive repairs were made, including a new door, ceilings, chimneys, locks, and benches. Building improvements were again made in 1814 by Bennett Partin, who completed an addition for $456. Around 1816 Steward William Barbee retired, and the stewardship was abolished. Steward's Hall was subsequently rented to a series of individuals, most of whom continued to provide board to students. By this time, however, there were numerous other options for boarding in the town. Original records are sketchy, but there are indications that the stewardship may have been revived briefly in the late 1820s.
By 1820 Professor Denison Olmsted was using part of the building for a laboratory. Between 1824 and 1826, the contractor William Nichols made repairs to the building. Bryant Kittrell made more repairs in 1829, for which he was paid $111. In 1848, Steward's Hall was dismantled. The main part of the house was sold to Isaac J. Collier and J.W. Carr for $165, and the proceeds went towards the construction of a new Alumni Hall. According to Kemp P. Battle, Collier and Carr moved their part of Steward's Hall into the village where it was part of the schoolhouse. The remaining wings were given to President Swain, and they became housing for his slaves.
Works Consulted: Battle, Kemp P., History of the University of North Carolina, Spartanburg, SC: The Reprint Company, 1974; Board of Trustees of the University of North Carolina Records, 1789-1932 #40001, University Archives, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Connor, R. D. W., comp., A Documentary History of the University of North Carolina: 1776-1799, Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press, 1953; Henderson, Archibald, The Campus of the First State University, Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press, 1949; Link, Arthur Stanley, "A History of the Buildings at the University of North Carolina," B. A. Thesis, University of North Carolina, 1941; University of North Carolina Papers #40005, University Archives, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.