The elegant University of North Carolina campus would be incomplete without a stately home for its presidents. The first President's House was begun in 1794, after construction began on Old East, and was finished in time for the opening of the University in 1795. The house sat on the north side of Cameron Avenue, about a hundred yards to the west of Old East (the present-day location of Swain Hall). It measured 30' x 36', was two stories tall, and was complete with outhouses. This is very modest by today's standards, but in 1795 it was "an elegant and large house for the President" (Link 1941, 14). The contractor was Samuel Hopkins, and the grand wooden home cost £800 (approximately $1600).
In the beginning, the University did not have a President, but a Presiding Professor. The first Presiding Professor was Dr. David Ker, a recent immigrant from Dublin and a Presbyterian pastor in Fayetteville, North Carolina. Dr. Ker was the first occupant of the first President's House and lived there with his wife, Mary. When Dr. Ker resigned in 1796, Professor James S. Gillaspie moved into the home. President Joseph Caldwell followed him and lived there until the death of his first wife. In 1809, Caldwell married Helen Hogg Hooper and they moved into her house, on the corner of Franklin and Hillsborough Streets in Chapel Hill (the lot on which Helen Hooper's house stood became the site of the current President's House). He lived there until his death in 1835. After President Caldwell moved out, the President's House became an abode for both professors and University presidents alike.
The next professor to occupy the house was Professor William Bingham, followed by President Robert H. Chapman, and then by Dr. Elisha Mitchell. Dr. Mitchell lived there from 1818 to 1857, when he died in a tragic fall from the mountain that is now called Mount Mitchell in his honor. After Dr. Mitchell's stay, Dr. Andrew Hepburn and Professors Joshua W. Gore and Andrew H. Patterson resided there.
In 1913 the house was removed in order to construct Swain Hall.
Works Consulted: Alcott, John V., The Campus at Chapel Hill: Two Hundred Years of Architecture, Chapel Hill, NC: The Chapel Hill Historical Society, 1986; Battle, Kemp P., History of the University of North Carolina, Spartanburg, SC: The Reprint Company, 1974; Connor, R. D. W., comp., A Documentary History of the University of North Carolina: 1776-1799, Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press, 1953; Henderson, Archibald, The Campus of the First State University, Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press, 1949; Link, Arthur Stanley, "A History of the Buildings at the University of North Carolina," B. A. Thesis, University of North Carolina, 1941; Powell, William S., ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, c1979-1996.