History of Local Streams as Drinking Water Sources
In November of 1792 a few members of the Board of Trustees of the future University of North Carolina set out in search of a site for a public university. The search committee rode on horseback through central North Carolina and settled on the present location.
The State Legislature required that the public university be located five or more miles from the county seat in Hillsborough to protect students from the drinking and distractions that were associated with the county court.
A wooded ridge located about eleven miles south of the county courthouse and containing freshwater springs was chosen for the site of the University of North Carolina.
The importance of the springs in the choosing of this location can not be over stated. On old maps of the town and campus the springs and streams are indicated and given names such as “Chapel Spring,” “Eminence Rock Spring,” “Meeting of the Waters” and “Poplar Spring.”
While building Old East and the tutor’s house, workmen building the campus buildings brought water from a spring located east of the construction site. Prior to the construction of a campus well, the university relied on springs and streams for drinking water. President Battle had this to say about Battle Branch:
In addition to furnishing food, the Board required the Steward to give the floors, passages and staircases a fortnightly washing, to have the students’ rooms swept and made twice a day, and to have brought from ‘the spring’ at least four times a day a sufficient quantity of water in the judgment of the Faculty. The spring mentioned was near the Episcopal Church rear wall, the head of the streamlet going through Battle Park. It was then bold and pure. General Clingman informed me that it was used as late as 1861.
The spring is still there behind the Chapel of the Cross in the Coker Arboretum, although it no longer seems “bold and pure.”
In January of 1897, Professor Joshua W. Gore gave the Trustees several options for increasing the campus water supply. The Trustees chose to take water from Bolin Creek by employing a steam pump and storing the water in tanks on top of the South Building. The General Assembly appropriated $7,300 to install the Bolin Creek pump which was located near Yeargin’s Mill. The pre-Revolution Yeargin’s Mill was located on Bolin Creek north of Tanbark Creek in the area of the present-day Umstead Park. The location of the steam pump was just east of this location.
Some of the equipment for the water tanks was still in place in the attic of the South Building as of 2004. The line for delivering the water ran from Bolin Creek up the hill along Church Street, parallel and west of Columbia Street.
As of 1902, Bolin Creek was still used as water supply for campus but the system did not supply enough water for the campus and water on campus was considered a scarce commodity. By this time the steam powered water pump had been replaced by a small gasoline engine.
In 1922, after a severe drought in 1921, water was piped from Morgan Creek and treated by a filtration system near Phillips Hall. Remnants of this filtration system were still present in the Phillips Annex Building in 2004. The old concrete pumping station that was used at Morgan Creek was still visible in 2001 and was located seventy-five feet southwest of the present dam.
In the early 1930s, the Conservation Corp of America built the University Lake Dam on Morgan Creek, creating a water source that still serves UNC, Chapel Hill, and Carrboro.
- Madry, Sarah Brandes. Well Worth A Shindy: The Architectural and Philosophical History of the Old Well at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. (New York, Lincoln, and Shanghai: iUniverse, Inc., 2004), 399.