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Buildings

Primary Documents Arranged by Subtopic:
General
Old East
President's House (First)
Steward's Hall
Person Hall
South Building
Preparatory School (Grammar School)
Old West
Gerrard Hall
Smith Hall (Playmakers Theatre)
New East and New West

The University of North Carolina is widely praised for the beauty of its campus. The buildings clustered along Cameron Avenue form the historic center of the campus. Visitors and members of the university community admire these buildings, but few consider them as anything other than features on the landscape or locations of offices and classrooms. Yet each building has a past, and the story of the buildings provides insight into the university's history.

Eight structures erected as university buildings between 1793 and 1860 survive—South Building, Old East, Old West, Person Hall, Gerrard Hall, Playmakers Theatre (formerly Smith Hall), New East and New West. Two of these, Old East and Playmakers Theatre, are National Historic Landmarks. Documents presented in this section make clear that it is a mistake to take the existence of these buildings for granted. Attractive plans show the envisioning of a building, but contracts, bills, and reports reveal the difficult details of construction and funding. Building materials were not always easy to come by, especially at a price that the university was able to pay. Many buildings were begun without sufficient funding, and novel funding sources such as subscriptions and lotteries were used to supplement more traditional sources. Once buildings were completed, they immediately began to suffer the effects of use, misuse, and the North Carolina climate. Because of the existence of contracts, bills, and other documents, we know the names of the architects, builders, and suppliers responsible for each building. Although they are not all named, we also know the contributions that slaves and free persons of color made to the buildings we so admire.

The materials in this section of "The First Century of the First State University" bring to light several stories of special interest. Three antebellum buildings that no longer exist—the Steward's Hall, the first President's House, and the Grammar School—are documented in plans, contracts, reports, and letters. The long struggle to complete South Building can be followed through almost twenty years of documents. Letters, plans, and reports reveal how the university came to be graced with some of the work of noted nineteenth-century architect Alexander Jackson Davis.

The documents in this section are arranged chronologically within the subtopics.

General | Top of Page
Old East | Top of Page

Old East was the first university building. The cornerstone was laid on October 12, 1793, and the building was completed in January 1795 by James Patterson. Through its early years it functioned as both dormitory and classroom building. Read more about Old East .
President's House (First) | Top of Page

The first President's House was begun in 1794 and completed in 1795. Many university presidents and professors lived there, including Dr. David Ker, President Joseph Caldwell, and Dr. Elisha Mitchell. It was removed in 1913 to construct Swain Hall. Read more about President's House (First) .
Steward's Hall | Top of Page

Steward's Hall was begun in 1793 and completed in 1795. Steward's Hall served as the university commons, dining hall, and ballroom until 1816. It was then rented out to boarders until 1847 or 1848 when it was dismantled. Read more about Steward's Hall .
Person Hall | Top of Page

Person Hall was begun in 1796 and completed in 1797 or 1798 (exact date is unknown). Person Hall was the university and village chapel, as well as the commencement hall and community gathering place. In 1837, Gerrard Hall replaced Person Hall as the university chapel, and Person Hall became a classroom building. Read more about Person Hall .
South Building | Top of Page

In the antebellum university, South Building was the largest building on campus. It was begun April 1798, but lay unfinished until 1814. It was an all-purpose building housing dorm rooms, classrooms, the Dialectic and Philanthropic Societies' halls and libraries, and faculty offices. Read more about South Building .
Preparatory School (Grammar School) | Top of Page

The Preparatory School (or Grammar School) was created in 1795 in order to give unprepared university students remedial instruction. The first school was a rented building in Chapel Hill until a permanent structure was built by John M. Goodloe in 1801. Read more about Preparatory School (Grammar School) .
Old West | Top of Page

Old West is the twin of Old East, built as another dormitory. It was begun on July 24, 1822, and completed by July 1823. Read more about Old West .
Gerrard Hall | Top of Page

The cornerstone for Gerrard Hall was laid in 1822, but construction was sporadic until its completion in 1837. In its early days, the building was the university chapel and commencement hall. Read more about Gerrard Hall .
Smith Hall (Playmakers Theatre) | Top of Page

Smith Hall was begun in 1850 and completed in 1852. Its first incarnation was as the university library and sometimes-ballroom. It was renovated in 1925 and is now a theater. Read more about Smith Hall (Playmakers Theatre) .
New East and New West | Top of Page

New East and New West were completed in 1860 and were the last of the antebellum buildings. New East was built to house the students of the Philanthropic Society as well as provide space for their debating hall and library. Read more about New East .

New West served the same purpose for the Dialectic Society and its students. Read more about New West .