On October 12, 1793, Grand Master Mason and future North Carolina governor William R. Davie helped lay the cornerstone of Old East, the nation’s oldest state university building and a dormitory at UNC-Chapel Hill for nearly 220 years.
The brick building housed the university’s first student, Hinton James, in 1795, and the future eleventh U.S. president, James K. Polk. Over the years Old East has also held classrooms and offices. It was home to the university library from 1853 through 1869.
Set at the crest of McCorkle Place, the structure originally stood two stories tall but had a third floor added in 1824 to mirror Old West, another dormitory constructed opposite it. The “north towers” added to both buildings in 1848 became the library and debating chambers for the university’s two literary societies. Old East was home to the Philanthropic Society (the “Phi”), which took in students from eastern North Carolina, while Old West housed the Dialectic Society (the “Di”), which claimed students from the western half of the state.
Condemned as unsafe in 1922, Old East was extensively remodeled in that year and again between 1991 and 1993, when air conditioning and elevators were added. It became a National Historic Landmark in 1966.
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