Documenting the American South Logo
Gerrard Hall

Gerrard Hall, like South Building, took over a decade to construct, and there were some difficulties with its design. Gerrard was the University's new chapel, built by Captain William Nichols, the first professional architect hired by the University, and the one who remodeled the old capitol in Raleigh. Much like Old East and Old West, it was a stout building, approximately 2,880 square feet, but much grander in appearance when finished. Gerrard Hall was funded by the sale of the Grammar School and by a bequest of land given by Major Charles Gerrard. A veteran of the Revolutionary War, Gerrard was a member of the North Carolina Society of the Cincinnati. In 1797, he bequeathed 13,942 acres of land in Tennessee to the University. Part of this gift was a 2,560-acre tract of land near Nashville, given to him as a reward for his military service.

The cornerstone for Gerrard Hall was laid in 1822, and construction began the following year. In 1827, the Building Committee discontinued the work due to lack of funds. For five years the new chapel remained unfinished. In 1832, University Trustees looked to the Nashville land as a source of revenue. However, that tract of land was willed to the University under the condition that it remain University property in perpetuity. With the help of lawyers William Gaston and George E. Badger, President Joseph Caldwell successfully broke the will. According to Kemp Plummer Battle, the land was sold for $6,400—$2,000 of which went to finishing Gerrard Hall (Battle 1974, 1:350). By 1835, funds were in hand to complete the building, and in 1837, Gerrard was opened in time for Commencement.

President Joseph Caldwell decided that the new building should be placed directly west of South Building and that it should face south. In fact, he reasoned that all new buildings should be placed to the south, because the University would rapidly run out of room if it continued to expand north towards the village of Chapel Hill. When Captain Nichols unveiled the plans for Gerrard Hall, he had added a large portico to Gerrard's south face, and thus the entrance to the University was on the south side of campus. It was completed to much acclaim. However, main roads to the south were never built, perhaps because of opposition of merchants on Franklin Street who were concerned that a road to the south would take away their business. Thus, until the portico was torn down in 1901, Gerrard Hall faced the "wrong way."

In 1847, Gerrard was remodeled to prepare for the visit of United States President James K. Polk, a University alumnus, who would be attending Commencement. The gallery pillars were strengthened and new pews and seats added. In 1871, the University closed and did not reopen until 1875. During this time Gerrard Hall sustained some damage, and repairs were made the year the University reopened. Interestingly, Gerrard never received a tin roof in the 1840s, as the other buildings had. The committee assessing the damage reported on 9 April 1874 that Gerrard still had its original roof and that it was in need of "immediate attention" (Board of Trustees of the University of North Carolina Records).

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; Board of Trustees of the University of North Carolina Records, 1789-1932 #40001, University Archives, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Henderson, Archibald, The Campus of the First State University, Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press, 1949; Powell, William S., ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, c1979-1996.