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The Old Well is one of the oldest and most famous symbols of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The Board of Trustees approved its construction in 1795. At the time, the primary purpose of the wooden structure was functional: to provide water to students living on campus. The Old Well's current appearance, designed in 1897, is inspired by the Temple of Love in the Garden of Versailles.

  • Old Well c. 1892: the only known image of the well as a simple wooden structure (source: Kemp Plummer Battle Photograph Album of the University of North Carolina, #P0100, North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives, Wilson Library)
  • The Old Well is located in central campus and is the best-known symbol of the university (source:
  • Today, the Old Well is surrounded by trees, flowers, and brick paths (source: Burt Westermeier)
In 1897, UNC President Edwin Alderman commissioned a drastic makeover of the Old Well in an effort to beautify campus. He explains the process in a letter to a friend in 1923:

In the fall of 1897, if my memory does not fail me, I was possessed with a great desire to add a little beauty (which, after all, is the most practical influence in the world) to the grim, austere dignity of the old Campus at Chapel Hill. Looking out of my window on the first floor of the South Building, I beheld the old well squalid and ramshackled. I determined to tear it down and put something there having beauty.

His letter also describes criticism he received over the cost of the well:

I recall a fine shindy I had with a very distinguished professor who intimated broadly to me that I was foolish to spend money (about $200) for such luxurious gewgaws when so many vital things--sewers, water works, electric fixtures--cried out for improvement. I recall intimating to my distinguished colleague that he would do well to attend to his own 'damn' business. 

You can read more of his letter in Sarah Madry's Well Worth a Shindy or in Daniel Barefoot's Hark the Sound

Further improvements followed in the 20th century: in 1925, the drinking fountain was installed, and in the 1950s, more attention was given to the landscaping around the well. Today, students drink from the Old Well for good luck and good grades--the second video below features students explaining the Old Well's role in the university community.

Barefoot, Daniel. Hark the Sound of Tar Heel Voices: 220 Years of UNC History. Winston-Salem, NC: John F. Blair, 2008. Quoted text from p. 115-116.

"Old Well." University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill: Interactive Tour. Accessed February 12, 2017. 

Madry, Sarah. Well Worth a Shindy: The Architectural and Philosophical History of the Old Well at the university of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. New York: iUniverse, 2003. Quoted text from p. 8-9.

Reeder, Katie. "The practical beauty of the Old Well." Daily Tar Heel, January 26, 2015.