New East and its fraternal twin, New West, were the last of the antebellum buildings. In 1855 the Executive Committee of the Trustees met with the faculty to discuss the ongoing problem of the Dialectic and Philanthropic societies, which were outgrowing their halls and libraries. In 1856, the committee invited A. J. Davis, the genius behind Smith Hall (Playmakers Theatre), to spend a week in Chapel Hill to survey the campus and make plans for possible new dormitories. Using Davis's subsequent recommendations, in 1857, the University Trustees authorized the Building Committee to make concrete plans for two new dormitories, on the condition that the buildings cost less than $30,000. In 1858, the committee was permitted to hire an architect and contractor.
Though A. J. Davis submitted designs, the contract was awarded to one of his competitors, William Percival. Percival was a retired English army officer who worked as an architect for a firm in Virginia. Percival's plans probably won out over Davis's because they called for exciting new technology: furnaces. Thomas Coates was the contractor for New East and New West, and the estimated cost for both buildings before construction was approximately $40,000.
New East was completed in 1860. It was four stories tall and housed the students of the Philanthropic Society in twenty-two rooms. New East also housed their debating hall and library and had a glassed-in observatory on the top floor. It measured 19,793 square feet. Though it was designed to look identical to its twin, New East is actually one story taller than New West. The reason for this discrepancy is unclear, but may have to do with different land elevations or a higher amount of private donations from Philanthropic Society alumni and families towards its construction than from the Dialectic Society for New West. The University perhaps should have gone with Davis's bid, as the total amount paid to Percival, including charges for routine repairs for other buildings, was $54,708.62. President David L. Swain and Paul Cameron's sister Mildred loaned some of this money to the Trustees. The furnaces never worked properly and fell into disuse. In 1871, the University closed and did not reopen until 1875. During this time New East sustained some damage, and was "apparently, the most illy [sic] constructed of all the buildings. Too much very inferior mortar was used, which has resulted in some places . . . in the falling of the stucco [. . .]" (Board of Trustees of the University of North Carolina Records, Vol. S-7). Repairs were made the year the University reopened.
Works Consulted: Battle, Kemp P., History of the University of North Carolina, Spartanburg, SC: The Reprint Company, 1974; 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; Records of the Vice Chancellor for Business and Finance #40095, University Archives, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.