The Old Well, an enduring symbol

Note from Elizabeth: It seems as good a time as any to offer tribute to that storied Chapel Hill icon, the Old Well. Morton collection volunteer JACK HILLIARD does so below. Jack hypothesizes that Morton must have taken “dozens” of photos of the Old Well — in fact, there are more like 500 in the Morton Collection (see Series 5)!

On a beautiful November morning in 2004, several of us gathered at the Kenan Football Center to put in place the Charlie Justice statue for its dedication two days later. Once everything was in place and secure, we all went our separate ways.

Since I had parked in a parking deck downtown, I had to make the long walk across campus. As I crossed Cameron Avenue just behind Old Playmakers Theatre, I notice to my left in front of South Building, Hugh Morton was setting up his camera in order to catch one more shot of the Old Well. There must be dozens of Old Well images in the Morton collection, and each is unique; this one would show the late morning sun casting its rays across the famous landmark.

The Old Well is the most enduring symbol of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and it serves as part of the official UNC logo. It is at least as old as Old East dorm, and that dorm is the oldest public university building in the United States (dating from the 1790s).

Old Well, 1902, from the NCC Photo Archives' Collier Cobb Collection

For many of those early years the Well served as the sole water supply for Old East and Old West dorms. Then in the fall of 1897, UNC President Edwin A. Alderman, with the help of Professor J. W. Gore, ordered the Well be given its current decorative form, at a cost of 200 dollars. Some of his colleagues thought he was wasting money, but Alderman and Gore prevailed. The UNC Class of 1954 added the benches, brick walls, flower beds, and trees.

It is said that a drink from the Old Well on the first day of classes will bring good luck for the semester, and a final snapshot on graduation weekend will bring good luck forever. There must be something to that. On graduation/reunion weekend 2010, the line for pictures stretched all the way down Cameron Avenue.

Today UNC’s Old Well is recognized as a National Landmark for Outstanding Landscape Architecture by the American Society of Landscape Architects. (Thankfully, it is afforded special protection during weekends when State and Duke games are scheduled!).

–Jack Hilliard

3 thoughts on “The Old Well, an enduring symbol

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention The Old Well, an enduring symbol « A View to Hugh -- Topsy.com

  2. Pingback: Painting of the Old Well UNC Chapel Hill | UNC oil Painting for sale

  3. Hello,

    I am a local artist, and I lived in Chapel Hill for 3 years. I love to paint the old well, and I am painting a series of old well paintings. I thought it would be unique to paint the old well during different time periods. I am interested in the image above of the old well with the copper roof from the 1950s. Could I use it as a reference for one of my paintings? If so, could you please send me the picture?

    Thank you. Looking forward to hearing from you.

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