Old Well

Early UNC students and faculty relied on wells and nearby springs and creeks for water. The Old Well is probably one of the original wells dug in the 1790s. Located near Old East, the well was at the center of the small campus following the construction of South Building and Old West. Photos from the 1890s show the well surrounded by a rough wooden structure that would have been built to cover the open well and provide shelter for students. Students and others retrieved water from the well using a wooden bucket and a chain. In 1897 university president Edwin Anderson Alderman, whose office in South Building looked out on the well, wanted to "add a little beauty to the grim, austere dignity of the old Campus at Chapel Hill." He was inspired by the small temples he had seen in English gardens and at Versailles. Using some of these as models, campus builders constructed a domed structure with white columns, which is the design of the Old Well we know today. A pump was installed in 1900, replaced by a water fountain in 1925, at which point it ceased to operate as a well: the fountain was connected to the university's water system.

By the 1950s the Old Well was showing signs of decay, and university officials decided that it needed to be completely rebuilt. The original structure was demolished in the summer of 1954, and a replica was built in its place, containing sturdier pillars, marble bases, and a copper dome. The Old Well has become one of the most recognizable symbols of the university. It is a registered trademark of UNC—Chapel Hill and is used on everything from clothing to institutional letterhead.


Date Established: 1800

Date Range: 1800 – Present

"The Well," ca. 1892. This photo shows the well a few years before it was renovated to its now iconic design in 1897. Kemp Battle Photograph Album, North Carolina Collection Photo Archives, Wilson Library.