Was the Old Well Red?

The Old Well

The Old Well, the symbol of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, will be familiar to everyone who went to UNC and, indeed, to many who have even visited the campus. But how many have seen it looking like this?

We have many historic photographs of the Old Well in the North Carolina Collection, some of which have been digitized by the Photographic Archives. These photographs document the changes in the Old Well and the area around it, but, as they’re nearly all in black and white, they don’t tell us anything about the color.

This postcard shows the well looking significantly different from how we know it today. Many of the postcards from this era are elaborately colored, and the sometimes garish colors are clearly exaggerated, however, there are enough different postcards showing the well with a red top that I think we can establish that the Old Well was, if not quite as brightly red as this, certainly reddish.

The postcard is not postmarked or dated, but shows the well with a hand-pump, which we know was in place from around 1897 until 1925. It’s strange to envision now, but in the early years of the twentieth century, the Old Well, the very symbol of UNC, wore the colors of N.C. State.