A Brief History of The Pit

The Pit, the beloved gathering place at the heart of the UNC campus, was once home to the university’s primary athletic field. Emerson Field was completed in 1916 and was used for football, baseball, and track. The football team quickly outgrew the space, moving to Kenan Stadium when it was completed in 1927, and track events moved to Fetzer Field in 1935, but Emerson Field continued to host home baseball games until 1965.

Aerial photo of the UNC campus, ca. 1950s. North Carolina Collection.
Aerial photo of the UNC campus, ca. 1930. North Carolina Collection.

Emerson Field was cleared in 1967 in preparation for the construction of new buildings to house a student union, bookstore, and undergraduate library. The bookstore, known then as the Book Exchange or “Book-Ex” was completed in time for the opening of the fall semester 1968, much to relief of students who had long complained of lines and delays at the store’s former location in the Campus Y. Construction continued into the semester on the library and union, leaving students and others on campus faced with a problem that became more acute during the rainy spring: the construction crews left a large dirt pit in front of the new bookstore.

In February 1969, articles in the Daily Tar Heel made reference to the “muddy, basin-like area in front of the Book-Ex” and the “man-made mud crater.” In April, it was still a “big, ugly mud hole.” By later in the spring, the campus grounds crew had come up with a solution. The DTH reported on the plan in its June 26, 1969 paper:

“The vast, dusty pit in front of the UNC Book Exchange has been the subject of much campus inquiry recently.  The Campus and Grounds Department has designed, and begun construction on a sunken brick patio surrounded by brick steps. Two shade trees will be planted in the center.”

That article was possibly the first time in print that it was referred to as “The Pit.”

By the fall semester 1969, the work was completed and the Daily Tar Heel, following the lead of the student orientation handbook, christened the space “The Pit.”  In an editorial headed, “The Pit is the Pit and We Like It,” the DTH wrote, “We sort of expect officials in South Building to come up with something like the Frank Edward Jones Memorial Square . . . Personally, we like ‘The Pit.'”

Apparently the rest of the campus, including the administrators in South Building, liked it, too. It has been called The Pit ever since and has become an essential part of the UNC landscape.