Swain Hall was opened in 1914 for use as a cafeteria. Built on the former site of the university president's house, Swain provided a much-needed expansion of dining space for the campus, which had long outgrown the limited seating capacity in Commons Hall. The novelty of the new space appeared to wear off quickly, for only a few years after it opened students were routinely referring to it as "Swine Hall," in reference to the quality of food served there.
The building is named for David Lowry Swain, university president from 1835 to 1868. A native of Buncombe County, Swain was a lawyer and politician, serving as governor of North Carolina from 1832 to 1835. After leaving office he was selected to replace Joseph Caldwell as president of the university. Swain presided over the university during a period of expanding enrollment followed by a struggle to keep the campus open during the Civil War as the student population dwindled. Swain also had a strong interest in state history and helped found the North Carolina Historical Society at the university, a predecessor to the North Carolina Collection and Southern Historical Collection in Wilson Library.
Swain was one of the wealthiest men in Chapel Hill, profiting from the work of a large number of laborers he had enslaved. He supplemented his income by leasing enslaved servants to the university. One of these people was Wilson Caldwell, who would later serve in local government and help found and operate schools following the Civil War.
Swain is often credited with his role in negotiating the surrender of Chapel Hill and the university at the end of the Civil War in 1865, helping save the town and campus from destruction. His household was at the center of a local scandal when Swain's daughter became engaged to marry a Union officer from Illinois who was stationed in Chapel Hill at the end of the war. At odds with the newly elected state government in 1868, Swain left the university presidency and died shortly thereafter.
Date Established: 1913
Date Range: 1913 – Present