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.

5 thoughts on “Was the Old Well Red?”

  1. I understand you have some period photos, circa 1860s. I am doing research for an afro american lady that has just joined our ninth virginia reenactors group. She is interested in making an accurate presentation. Do you have any photos that will help her? I will be making her clothing so I would like to make sure I am accurate as well. Thank you. Susan Wright

  2. The NC Collection does contain a handful of cased images (Daguerreotypes, Ambrotypes, and Tintypes) which portray women, but the vast majority are portraits of men. The Civil War images may be viewed on-line at https://dc.lib.unc.edu/cdm/search/searchterm/Civil%20War%20Images–Confederate%20Soldiers/mode/exact

    Another option would be to obtain a copy of Dressed for the Photographer ; Ordinary Americans and Fashion 1840-1900 by Joan L. Severa. The Kent State University Press, 1995. This book contains a remarkable number of images showing African American women in period dress.

  3. Re-reading ‘Well Worth a Shindy’ and indeed the Old Well is referred to as being painted in patriotic colors. And the illustration on the 15th page (not p. 15) of the 1921 Yackety Yack indicates a red dome.

    I’ve seen the Hugh Morton color photograph of the replacement Old Well with the new copper roof. Definitely interesting to think of that dome going from shiny copper to dull brown to it’s present bluish-green.

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