Documenting the American South Logo

An Address on the History of the Buildings of the University of North Carolina, by Kemp P. Battle, LL. D, President of the University, Delivered on University Day, 1883, in Gerrard Hall:
Electronic Edition.

Battle, Kemp P. (Kemp Plummer), 1831-1919.

Funding from the University Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill supported the electronic publication of this title.

Text transcribed by Apex Data Services, Inc.
Images scanned by Risa Mulligan
Text encoded by Apex Data Services, Inc., Sarah Ficke, and Elizabeth S. Wright
First edition, 2005
ca. 45K
University Library, UNC-Chapel Hill
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill,

Source Description:
(cover title) An Address on the History of the Buildings of the University of North Carolina by Kemp P. Battle, LL. D, President of the University, Delivered on University Day,1883, in Gerrard Hall
(running title) History of the Buildings of the University of North Carolina
Kemp P. Battle, LL.D.
[1]-15 p.
Thomas, Reece & Co., Printers,

Call number C378 UW7 (North Carolina Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)

        The electronic edition is a part of the UNC-Chapel Hill digitization project, Documenting the American South.
        The text has been entered using double-keying and verified against the original.
        The text has been encoded using the recommendations for Level 4 of the TEI in Libraries Guidelines.
        Original grammar, punctuation, and spelling have been preserved. Encountered typographical errors have been preserved, and appear in red type.
        All footnotes are inserted at the point of reference within paragraphs.
        Any hyphens occurring in line breaks have been removed, and the trailing part of a word has been joined to the preceding line.
        All quotation marks, em dashes and ampersand have been transcribed as entity references.
        All double right and left quotation marks are encoded as " and " respectively.
        All single right and left quotation marks are encoded as ' and ' respectively.
        All em dashes are encoded as --
        Indentation in lines has not been preserved.
        Running titles have not been preserved.
        Spell-check and verification made against printed text using Author/Editor (SoftQuad) and Microsoft Word spell check programs.
Library of Congress Subject Headings

Languages Used:

LC Subject Headings:

Revision History:



[Cover Image]

President of the University,
Delivered on University Day, 1883,


Page 1

History of the Buildings of the University
Delivered on University Day, 1883, in Gerrard Hall.

        I propose to-day to give a brief account of each of the buildings of the University.

        This anniversary day commemorates the laying of the corner stone of the Old East Building, on the 12th of October, 1793. I have already recounted at length the celebration of that momentous event, when Wm. Richardson Davie, in stately dignity, arrayed in his Grand Master's Regalia, with his silver trowel in the hand which had wielded the warrior's sword, surrounded by Alfred Moore W. H. Hill, Treasurer John Haywood, Alexander Mebane, John Williams, Thomas Blount, Frederick Hargett, and other eminent men of that day, including the generous donors of our land, Benjamin Yergain, Colonel John Hogan, Matthew McCauley, Christopher Barbee, Alexander Piper, James Craig, Edward Jones, John Daniel, Mark Morgan and Hardy Morgan, gave tangible form to the institution, for which he had labored with such persistent energy and wisdom, while Dr. Samuel E. McCorkle invoked the blessings of Heaven on the enterprise. The building was of humble size, only two stories high, with 16 rooms, designed for the occupancy of four students each, but it sheltered many able young men struggling hard and struggling successfully for the inestimable benefits of disciplined minds,--such men as Judge Archibald Murphy, and Governor John Branch and Francis L. Dancy, John D. Hawkins, Wm. Hardy Murfree, Judge John Cameron, Judge James Martin, Judge John R. Donnell, Gavin Hogg and Chancellor Williams of Tennessee, of the earlier students, not to mention the names of great men who inhabited it in succeeding years.

        The Old East was intended only as the South wing of a

Page 2

grander structure looking to the East, to front a wide avenue, nearly a mile long, leading through the forests eastwardly to the conspicuous eminence of which Gen. Davie speaks: "This peak," he says, "is called Point Prospect. The flat country spreads out below like the ocean, giving an immense hemisphere, in which the eye seems to be lost in the extent of space." The name has by the mutation of time become singularly inappropriate. The growth of trees and brushwood has shut out the "prospect" and the irreverent successors of Davie, not being able to see the "Point," have with tar-heel obstinacy and tar-heel appropriateness changed it into "Piney."

        It will doubtless interest you to hear a few sentences in Davie's own language, describing the laying of this corner stone. He says: "A large number of the brethren of the Masonic Order from Hillsboro, Chatham, Granville and Warren attended at the ceremony of placing the corner stone; and the procession for this purpose moved from *Mr. Patterson's at 12 o'clock, in the following order: The Masonic brethren in their usual order of procession; the commissioners; the Trustees, not commissioners; the Hon. Judge Mackay and other public officers; then followed the gentlemen of the vicinity. On approaching the south end of the building the masons opened to the right and left and the commissioners, &c., passed through and took their places. The Masonic procession then moved on around the foundation of the building and then halted with their usual ceremonies, opposite the Southeast corner, where Wm. Richardson Davie, Grand Master of the Fraternity, &c., in this State, assisted by two Masters of Lodges and four other officers, laid the corner stone, enclosing a plate to commemorate the transaction."

        * NOTE.--Mr. Patterson was the architect. His temporary dwelling was on Cameron Avenue East.

        "The Rev. Dr. McCorckle then addressed the Trustees in an excellent discourse suited to the occasion." I give only a few sentences. He commenced by saying: "It is our duty to acknowledge that sacred scriptural truth, "Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain who build it; except the Lord watcheth the city, the watchman walketh but in vain."["] He then contended that "the advancement of learning and science is one great means of ensuring the happiness of mankind." * * * "Liberty and law call for general knowledge in the people and extensive knowledge in the matters of State; and these demand public places of education." * * *

Page 3

"How can glory or wealth be procured and preserved without liberty and laws?" * * * "Knowledge is wealth, it is glory, whether among philosophers, ministers of State or religion, or among the great mass of the people. Britons glory in the name of a Newton and honor him with a place among the sepulchres of their kings. Americans glory in the name of a Franklin, and every nation boasts of her great men, who has them. Savages cannot have, rather cannot educate them, though many a Newton has been born and buried among them." * * * "Knowledge is liberty and law. When the clouds of ignorance are dispelled by the radiance of knowledge, power trembles, but the authority of the laws remain inviolable." * * * "And how this knowledge, productive of so many advantages to mankind, can be acquired without public places of education, I know not."

        Dr. McCorckle concludes as follows: "The seat of the University was sought for, and the public eye selected Chapel Hill, a lovely situation, in the centre of the State, at a convenient distance from the capitol, in a healthy and fertile neighborhood. May this hill be for religion, as the ancient hill of Zion; and for literature and the muses may it surpass the ancient Parnassus. We this day enjoy the pleasure of seeing the corner-stone of the University, its foundation, its material and the architect for the building, and before long we will see its stately walls and spires ascending to their summit. Ere long we hope to see it adorned with an elegant village, adorned with all the necessaries and conveniences of civilized society."

        "The discourse," says Davie, "was followed by a short and animated prayer, closed with the united Amen of an immense concourse of people."

        The hopes thus expressed so earnestly by Dr. McCorckle, we on this day, ninety years from the delivery of his noble discourse, fully realize. We see around us eight stately buildings, from which have issued five thousand students, in long procession, dispersing over this broad Southern land to take their places among its strongest and wisest and best leaders, in peace and in war. The great institution thus inaugurated has supplied with mental nourishment our fathers and grand-fathers, sheds its lustrous influence on us to-day, and will be an educational luminary to all the ages which are to follow.

        The Old East was designed to be no ephemeral structure. The foundation is a stone wall three feet thick. The mortar is of two measures of lime to one of sand.

Page 4

The sleepers are 3 by 10 inches and are only 14 inches apart. The timbers are of the best heart, the bricks carefully made on the University grounds and burnt hard as the imperishable rocks. The lime was burnt likewise on our own land from shells brought by boat from Wilmington to Fayetteville and thence hauled by wagon. Among the donations of this period I find 50 bushels of shells by Richard Bennehan, grandfather, as the royal charters say, "of our well-beloved cousin and trusted counsellor," Paul C. Cameron.


        The Old East continued in its primitive condition until 1824, when its roof was adorned by another story nearer to the skies. At the same time the Old West was built of a corresponding size. In 1848 the length of both was extended towards the north so as to admit new Society Halls and Libraries. I remember well the ceremonies of the inauguration of the new Hall, of which I was a member. I violate no confidence in describing them, because by general consent the seal of secrecy was removed. The Professor of Rhetoric, a graduate of the class of 1818, still surviving, the venerable Bishop Green, of the Episcopal diocese of Mississippi, a classmate of President Polk, of Rev. Dr. Morrison, now living, the first President of Davidson College, and of our good old friend, Gen. Mallett, of New York, opened the exercises with prayer. A young lawyer of the class of 1841, now regarded as one of the most cultured members of that profession our State has produced, who, notwithstanding he has attained the honor of being the second law officer of a country of 50,000,000 people, has not lost a particle of his early love for the University, Gen. Phillips, delivered an address, which for appropriateness and literary ability, I have never heard surpassed and seldom equalled. The first President of the Society in 1795 was still living, the venerable James Mebane, who had occupied the high office of Speaker of the Senate. His father, Alexander Mebane, one of the early members of Congress under the constitution of 1789, had been one of our early Trustees, was one of the committee who selected the site of the University and assisted in laying the corner stone. As James Mebane had a distinguished father, so he has a distinguished son, likewise Speaker of the Senate, one of the best of men, Giles Mebane, of Caswell. I had the eminent honor of sitting by the side of this noble father of the Dialectic Society, and presiding jointly with him over its deliberations.

Page 5

I wish that I could reproduce the words of wisdom which fell from his lips on that night. The oil portrait over the President's chair in the Dialectic Hall is a perfectly faithful image of the President of 1795. He was of stately figure, tall and ponderous. His bearing was like Washington's grave and dignified, always courteous, but repelling familiarity. He was seated on an elevated platform. In front were officers of the Society. I recall Thomas Settle, the Vice-President, who showed then the powers which have made him so eminent since, once a Judge of the Supreme Court of North Carolina, now Judge of the District Court of the United States for Florida. The Secretary was Washington C. Kerr, the State Geologist, one of the most eminent scientific men this University or the State has produced. The President of the Society, a marked contrast to the President of 1795, sat on the same platform, on his right. While the old President's weight was near 230, the new balanced about 100 pounds. He was thin even to cadaverousness. He was conspicuous as one of the smallest boys in college. Whatever dignity he had was borrowed for the occasion. He was a hard student, but jokes and laughter were more natural to him in those days than severity or even gravity of demeanor.

        Having thus presided over the Dilectic Society, jointly with the first President, I feel that I have a kind of Apostolic succession in that body.

        Having finished the story of the Old East and West buildings, I return to my starting point.


        The lots of the village of Chapel Hill were sold on the same 12th of October, 1793, the price for all, about $3,000, being considered highly satisfactory. It was pressingly necessary to provide a residence for the President, or presiding Professor, and also a Steward's Hall, wherein the hungry students of the period might turn hog and homony, beef and potatoes and the juicy "collards" into muscle and bones and brains and nerves. The President's Mansion is the house on the Avenue west of the New West Building, which we are now getting ready for the occupancy of our Professor of Physics and any company which he may bring with him from Bonny Maryland. In that house were sheltered David Ker and Joseph Caldwell and Dr. Chapman, then it passed into the possession of Dr. Elisha Mitchell, who fell a martyr to his love of scientific accuracy on the loftiest summit of the Black Mountains. President Caldwell prefered to rest under his own

Page 6

vine and fig tree, the present residence of Prof. Hooper, which was purchased by the University after Caldwell's death. The old President's house contained in the small room at the head of the stairs, the library of the institution.

        The Steward's Hall was situate nearly opposite the New East Building in the centre of Cameron Avenue. It was there that most of the students for many years boarded at Commons, paying for the first year $30, or $3 per month, for the next four years $40 per year or $4 per month, in 1800 rising to $57 per year, in 1805 to $60, in 1814, ander the inflated war prices to $66.50, in 1818 to $95, or $9.50 per month, in 1839 to $76, when the system was abandoned and every man made his own contracts for the supplies of life. It was in this building that the "Balls" of the old days were given, at which tradition hath it, venerable Trustees and Faculty, even the great President himself, together with their pupils, with hair powdered and plaited into "pigtails", and legs encased in tight stockings and knees resplendent with buckles, mingled in the mazy dance with the beauteous damsels of the day, whose brilliant dresses and angelic beauty far be it from me to describe. I must for that purpose call into my service the scientific pens of my unmarried professors, glowing with electric energy and chemical forces, or of Dr. Manning's students, so well qualified by researches into the ancient laws, to give information on such antiquarian matters.

        At the Commencement of 1881 we had a most eloquent and instructive address to the students by an excellent specimen of the old school, an octogenarian, Gen. Mallett, of New York, lately called to his final home. I introduced him as having received his diploma 63 years before that day, and stated that for 70 years he had never taken a glass of ardent spirits, and therefore that he had still the inestimable blessings of meus sana in corpore sano, and that other still greater blessing, mens sibi conscia recti. In his autobiography, printed only for his relatives--a copy being given our Historical Society at the urgent request of Mrs. Spencer, we find an account of the Ball given in compliment to his class, when graduating. I must extract a description of his dress:

        "The style of costume," says Gen. Mallett, "and even the manners of the present generation are not in my opinion an improvement on a half century ago. The managers would not admit a gentleman into a ball-room with boots, or even a frock coat; and to dance without gloves was simply vulgar. At Commencement

Page 7

ball. (when I graduated, 1818,) my coat was broadcloth of sea-green color, high velvet collar to match, swallow-tail, pockets outside with lapels, and large silver-plated buttons; white satin damask vest, showing the edge of a blue undervest; a wide opening for bosom ruffles, and no shirt collar. The neck was dressed with a layer of four or five three-cornered cravats, artistically laid, and surmounted with a cambric stock, pleated and buckled behind. My pantaloons were white canton crape, lined with pink muslin, and showed a peach-blossom tint. They were rather short, in order to display flesh colored silk stockings, and this exposure was increased by very low cut pumps with shiny buckles. My hair was very black, very long and queued. I should be taken for a lunatic or a harlequin in such costume now."

        I challenge Mr. Chief Manager Roberts to produce a dress as gorgeous as this on any student of the Ball of 1883.


        Having provided dormitories for sheltering the students and food for their bodily sustenance, and halls for their mental instruction, the Trustees next addressed themselves for provision for the religious and moral training. The old ante-Revolutionary Chapel of the Church of England, from which the place took its name, originally New Hope Chapel, the place being likewise New Hope Chapel Hill, had gone to decay. A building under the control of the Trustees must be erected. When it was barely above the ground the treasury ran low; when the strong box was tapped it gave a hollow sound. An old bachelor, one of that class, which having no immediate claims on its bounty, sometimes redeems by beneficence to public objects their failures in social duty, came to their relief. His name was Thomas Person. He had been an ardent lover of liberty, had sympathized with the Regulators in their abortive effort to shake off colonial oppressors, and had suffered from the ravages of Tryon's army. He was prominent in resisting the exactions of the British Government, which led to the war of Independence. He appeared at Newbern as a Delegate from Granville to the first Assembly held in defiance of the royal authority in August, 1774, of which that noble patriot, John Harvey, was moderator. He was one of the thirteen Council of Safety which was the supreme Provisional Government, after the end of the Royal authority. He assisted in 1776, as a member of the Congress at Halifax, in forming our State constitution, in which

Page 8

alone of all others was a provision requiring the establishment of a University. He was the first Brigadier General of the District of Hillsboro. He was among the band of forty of the greatest men the State had in 1789--the first Board of Trustees of the University, among whom were six Governors, eight Judges, of whom two were Judges of the Supreme Court of the United States, fifteen members of Congress, of whom three were Senators, besides able men like Archibald Maclaine, -Frederick Hargett, Stephen Cabarrus, Wm. Lenoir, Joel Lane, John Haywood, Joseph McDowell, Joseph Graham, and others, who were great in war, or as trusted officers or legislators of our State, or in the pursuits of private life. With these Person was a fit associate. As Senator from Granville he gave his vote for the new institution. He did more. He put his hand into his pocket. He pulled out and dropped into its treasury shining gold. In grateful memory of his services to the State the General Assembly gave his name to a gallant little county carved out of old Orange. In gratitude for his generous gift the Trustees called the new Chapel after him--Person Hall--or as it still appears on the diplomas, Aula Personica.

        In this Hall our ancestors worshipped for nearly fifty years. On its platform verdant Freshmen and sapient Sophomores and dignified Juniors spouted about "They tell us, sir, that we are weak," and "Blind old Bard of Scio's Rocky Isle," and "Boys standing on Burning Decks," and "Lindens when the Sun was low," and on grand Commencement occasions "most potent, grave and reverend Seniors made Latin Salutatories, in which every allusion to "formosissimoe puelloe Septentrionalis Carolinnoe,"["] (all the Latin the boys understood), was greeted with tumultuous applause, delivered valedictories loaded with mournful farewells, and dissertations in Literature, Science and History, worthy to live forever--or at any rate to fill the pages of a University Monthly.

        Although this building is named Person Hall, yet, because of its use as a church on Sundays and for morning and evening prayers, it gained the name of "the Chapel," and when Gerrard Hall was built, the former was called and is so known to this day by old students as "the Old Chapel." I have heard recent students speak of Physics Hall, but that is a desecration. "Throw Physic(s) to the dogs". I would as soon steal the old General's monument and convert it into a door-step, as purloin his name from his building. So whenever a visitor asks you where is Dr. Venable's

Page 9

Industrial Museum, which he has collected and arranged with such intelligent skill, carry him straight to PERSON HALL.


        A larger Hall was needed for the growing institution. The building where we now are assembled was begun in 1822. It was called after another Revolutionary hero--not a bachelor, but childless. He was a native of Carteret, but long a resident of Edgecombe, Major Chas. Gerrard. He served in the war of the Revolution from the beginning to the end. As a soldier he was "brave, active and persevering." His character as a citizen, husband, father, friend and neighbor was justly admired by all who knew him. His rank in the army (Lieutenant) entitled him to a grant of 2560 acres, which he located at the junction of Yellow Creek with Cumberland river, not far below the city of Nashville. I hold in my hand the original grant, sealed with the great seal of the State. This tract, the fruit of his toil and suffering and blood, he regarded with peculiar affection, and when he bequeathed this, with some 10,000 acres additional, which he had purchased, he requested in his will that it should perpetually remain the property of the University. For 35 years the Trustees regarded this wish as sacred. But after this long experiment, after losses from the neglect and perfidy of agents and the onerous charges of high taxes, while the black cloud of debt hung over the institution, they concluded with sorrow to authorize its sale. Two of their ablest lawyers, Gaston & Badger, after examination reported the following resolution,

        "WHEREAS, The Trustees of the University of North Carolina have been compelled to direct a sale of a valuable tract of land, bequeathed by Major Charles Gerrard, with the request that the same might be perpetually retained by the University, and

        WHEREAS, They are solicitous not only to manifest their own sense of the liberality of the donor, but as far as may be practicable to perpetuate its remembrance,

        Resolved, Therefore that $2,000, part of the purchase money of said land shall be applied to the finishing of the new Hall at the University, and that the same shall be called by the name of "Gerrard Hall."["]

        Five years afterwards this resolution was carried into effect. I wish you to note particularly the spelling of the name of the old hero. The original will and the obituary notice in the North Carolina Journal, published at Halifax, by Hodge & Wills, Oct. 16th, 1797, give the name Gerrard.

Page 10

Judges Gaston and Badger in their resolution have the same spelling, which I am particular about, because unfortunate carelessness has often confounded our benefactor's name with that of Stephen Girard, the benefactor of Philadelphia. I am quite sure that in every respect, except in wealth and money making cunning our gallant lieutenant of the Revolution was vastly the superior of the Philadelphia trader.

        I witnessed once in this Hall one of those exhibitions of uncontrolable, unreasoning fright, which sometimes happen to crowds and which the ancients attributed to temporary madness, inspired by the God, Pan. A cry was raised "the Gallery is falling!" There was a rush of the crowd amid screams of terror. There was for a moment imminent danger of trampling to death in the narrow stair-cases. I recall vividly how firm and severe was the attitude of President Swain, of Morehead, Graham, Battle, and other Trustees, who sat on the rostrum. There was no serious damage done. Some gallant young men, who were on the outside, displayed their heroism by catching in their arms the frightened damsels leaping from the windows, but I heard no complaints on either side. A $100 reward offered on the spot failed to detect the giver of the false alarm.

        An architect's examination proved that not Sampson, in all his long-haired glory, could have pulled down the galleries, even if they were loaded with bad Philistines, instead of good North Carolinians, but still additional pillars were inserted and other alterations made to give public confidence and afford larger room.

        When this Hall was built it was intended to have a broad avenue running along the Southern wall, East and West. Hence the porch on the South side of the building. The merchants of the village claimed that this would injure their trade by diverting travel from Franklin Street, and the plan was abandoned to the mystification of all who do not know this veracious history.


        We will now return to what we call the South, but what was known for many years as the "Main" Building, the old plan of grand structure to face the East, just as the capitols at Washington and Raleigh, were faced under the influence of orientalization was soon abandoned, and the European plan of a quadrangle--in old times a veritable prison in which the students were locked at night, giving rise to the expression "being in quad," was adopted, probably at the suggestion of Dr. Caldwell and Prof.

Page 11

Harris, who were educated at Princeton. Its corner stone was laid in 1798. Its walls reached the height of a story and a half, and then remained roofless for years. Dr. Wm. Hooper in his "50 Years Since," a most interesting and amusing production, tells how the students of that day packed in the East Building four in a room, built cabins in the corner of the South in order to secure greater privacy for devotion to their books, and how, "as soon as spring brought back the swallows and the leaves, they emerged from their den and chose some shady retirement, where they made a path and a promenade," like the Peripatetics of ancient Greece. He states moreover, what sounds strange to us, that holidays were sometimes given for the curious reason that the inclemency of the weather prevented study.

        To finish this building was the great problem of the young University. The Trustees in despair did not hesitate to practice what was common in old time, even for building churches and denominational schools, but which the sounder morals of our day make a criminal offence, the raising of money by lotteries. I have their circular of 1802, announcing with sanctimonious gravity that "the interests of the University of North Carolina and of learning and science generally, are concerned in the immediate sale of these tickets." The highest price was $1,500, and was drawn by Gen. Lawrence Baker, of Gates. The lucky number, 1138, was announced as an important item by the Metropolitan Journal, the Raleigh Register.

        Still the building was unfinished, and still the intellectual squatters of the University sat sub divo, as the Professor of Latin would say. President Caldwell mounted with heroic energy his stick-back gig and painfully traveled over the State in 1809, and again in 1811, soliciting subscriptions.

        It would be interesting to contrast his journeys with those of the present day, when one can dine in Goldsboro and breakfast next morning in Asheville. The battle of New Orleans occurred on the 8th January, 1815. The news did not reach Raleigh until the 17th of February. Prof. Charles W. Harris writes in 1795 to Dr. Caldwell, at Princeton, that his best way of reaching Chapel Hill is to buy a horse and sulky and thus travel in his own conveyance, selling the same at Chapel Hill. He is confident that the trip can be made in thirty days. Last week the President of 1883 left New York at a quarter before four o'clock in the afternoon, in a luxurious coach, which ran so smoothly that reading

Page 12

and even writing was easy, so well lighted at night that he read with comfort and pleasure Anthony Trollope's most interesting Autobiography until bedtime at Washington, then went regularly to bed, had a refreshing night's rest, and dined next day at a quarter before two in the afternoon at home--less than twenty-two hours. It was doubtless the achings and weariness of the flesh of these journeys which caused Dr. Caldwell 20 years after to astonish the State by his eloquent and practical Carlton letters, advocating the N. C. Rail Road from the Tennessee line to Beaufort. His labors were successful. He secured about $12,000, and while our people were going crazy over the naval victories of 1814 the rejoicing students moved into the completed "South Building." The cornerstone was laid the year when the great Napoleon gained the first victory of the Pyramids, the year before he usurped the power of 1st Consul; it was finished the year when he laid down the imperial title for a petty throne in Elba, the year before his final ruin at Waterloo. When that corner stone was laid the land was ringing with preparations for a war with France. The building was ready for occupancy while we were fighting England. It has lately sheltered cavalry of the conquering Union army in the great civil war.

        It was one of the grandest buildings in North Carolina in those days. It afforded ample recitation rooms. It furnished for a third of a century halls and libraries for the two societies, which before its erection were forced to meet by turns in Person Hall. I have thought that it should have been called in honor of the Father of the University, Gen. Davie. The omission thus to recognize his great services has been rectified by the happy thought of a gifted lady, on whom the Muses of History and Poesy have benignly breathed, Mrs. C. P. Spencer, by calling the historical tree which sheltered the venerable men, who under its shade located the site of the University, which in spite of a century's storms and the fierce assault of the thunderbolt, still rears its majestic head above the neighboring oaks, the Davie Poplar.


        In 1852 the Trustees did tardy honor to the first benefactors of the University. The charter was granted in 1789. The first meeting of the Board was held in 1790 at the flourishing town of Fayetteville. The President of the Board was a King's Mountain hero, Gen. Wm. Lenoir, who has given his name to a county and a

Page 13

town of our State--the last survivor of this illustrious forty--dying in 1839 at the age of 88. Gen. Benjamin Smith, of Brunswick, then a member, made the first donation for the cause of higher education in North Carolina. He gladened the hearts of all present by the gift of 20,000 acres of land in Tennessee. It is true they were not immediately available. They were afterwards surrendered to the Chickasaws add subsequently repurchased by the Government. It was forty years before they were made available. They were ultimately sold for $14,000, after being shaken up by the greatest earthquake, which has afflicted America since its discovery, into lakes and hills. The proceeds went into the endowment and was swallowed up by the great civil war, which with more terrible voracity than a hundred earthquakes engulphed so much of the wealth and population of the Southern country.

        Benjamin Smith was a man of mark. He was in youth an aide-de-camp of Washington in the disastrous defeat of Long Island. He was conspicuous for his gallantry under Moultrie. By his fiery eloquence the militia of Brunswick volunteered to serve under him in the threatened war against France. He was fifteen times Senator from Brunswick. He was chosen Governor in 1810. His county called its capital, Smithville, in his honor. His name survives too in the bleak and stormy island at the mouth of the Cape Fear. The land he gave us, as was also the land of Gerrard, was won by valor and blood in the war for freedom. Their sacrifices were not useless. Their monuments are far more enduring than brass or marble. Centuries will come and go. Families will grow great and be extinguished. Fortunes will be made and lost. Offices will be struggled for and ambitious hopes realized, but the names of the victors will vanish as if written on the sands of the sea shore. Reputations blazing in pulpit, or forum, and senate chamber will fade as rapidly as the meteor's path. But the blessings of the gifts of Person, Gerrard and Smith will never cease. For nearly a century they have planted learning and sound principles in the minds of men over all our Southern land. In all the ages to come their work will go on. The thousand young men, who will have their mental panoply supplied from the University armory to engage in life's varied conflicts, will hold their names in honor. As long as the University lasts they will never be forgotten, and the University will last forever!

Page 14


        I will say only a few words of the New East and New West buildings. Prior to 1850 the highest number of students was 170. After the discovery of the California gold mines, and consequent increase in the supply of the circulating medium, there ensued wonderfully prosperous times for all the world, and especially for our Southern States. The old North Carolina families who had carried their lures and penates into the fertile regions of the South-west sent back their sons to their native State for education. Students swarmed into the University. They overflowed the old buildings and were camped in little cottages all over the town from Couchtown to Craig's. In 1858 there were as many as 456, of whom 178 were from other States than North Carolina. The New East and New West were built for their accommodation, finished in 1859. The two societies aided in a considerable degree in the construction and adornment of their beautiful Halls and library rooms. Probably no Societies in America have superior accommodations in these respects, and I am bound to say that in my opinion no Societies by intelligent and honest devotion to the purposes of their creation better deserve them. Long may they flourish.


        We come at last to the Memorial Hall, which though about to take a winter nap, will in the spring, we hope, rise rapidly in all its harmony and grandeur. I have already explained to the students that a miscalculation as to the cost was made by the architect, and hence a delay is necessary in order to replenish our Treasury. I desire it to be understood that very experienced builders think that the work ought to be stopped for a while in order to allow the timbers to dry. They are green as yet, and greenness is a fault in architectural as well as intellectual timbers. After being securely covered so that the rain and snow shall not reach them, the great rafters will by the end of winter shrink to their final dimensions and support their majestic roof with no warpings or distortions.

        Such a Hall is necessary, in order to enable us to accommodate our visitors--the people of North Carolina. We have gained much odium by turning from our door the good citizens, who made long journeys in order to hear the eloquence of our Representatives and Graduates. Every person, rich and poor, who desires, should have, and shall have a comfortable

Page 15

seat during our Commencement exercises.

        This Hall will supply all our needs. It will hold 2450 seated without crowding, and if needed 4000 can be pleasantly cared for by utilizing the aisles. You can gain a vivid idea of its proportions by noting that the New West Building can be placed in it, centre to centre, and whirled around without touching its walls.

        It will be a Memorial Hall, not alone of my predecessor, who so long and so ably presided over this institution, Gov. Swain, but of all the departed good and great--Trustees, Professors, Alumini--who have aided and honored the University. It will be a Memorial of those gallant Alumni who, at the call of our State, gave up their lives in the great civil war. Though God gave them not the victory, and though we will not question the wisdom of the decision of the All-Wise, yet we must always honor the courage, the devotion to duty, the high resolve and the willing sacrifice of our Confederate Dead.

        I close by declaring, with no idle boast, that it is the purpose of the authorities of the University to continue to work for new buildings and new apparatus and new books until, by the blessing of God, in every essential respect the children of North Carolina shall have equal advantages with the children of any other State in this Union.

Return to Menu Page for An Address on the History fo the Buildings... by Kemp P. Battle

Return to The North Carolina Experience Home Page

Return to Documenting the American South Home Page