The thing about the Old Well is, it wasn’t always old: For years after it was built people referred to it as the New Well, because there wasn’t a newer well within 50 miles. A typical conversation would go something like:
— I’ll meet you over by the New Well.
— The New Well? I have no idea where that is.
— And why would you? It’s new. I’ll draw you a map.
Finally people figured out where the New Well was, but by then it was old, and it’s been old ever since.
There used to be a lot of water in the Old Well. For a long time there was nowhere else on campus you could get water — nowhere. Of course, Sutton’s had lemonade, hot dogs and fries but, curiously, no water. True story. You had to go to the Old Well to get it.
The nineteenth century didn’t make much sense.
The original well looked like this, just a pleasant little wooden structure appropriate for wells:
But in 1897 all that changed. The neoclassical rotunda we now know was modeled after the Temple of Love in the Garden of Versailles. Campus tradition dictates that a drink from the Old Well on the first day of classes will bring a student straight A’s, but since when does drinking from the Temple of Love improve studying habits? This is a tradition that demands further examination. They also say that if you leave a five dollar bill beside one of the columns someone will eventually come along and pick it up.
The image of the Old Well can be seen everywhere these days. It’s the official stamp for Carolina apparel, for all of our publications, and more. It’s a law: The Old Well has to be visible on everything. Plans to tattoo incoming freshmen with the Old Well were scrapped due to the budget crunch, but the proposal is still out there if the economy ever turns around. Pray for sluggish growth.
From a hole in the ground to a Temple of Love, the Old Well has come a long way. And if you’re wondering just how old the Old Well is now? It’s so old that it’s not even a well anymore: It’s a water fountain. That’s what wells become when they grow up.
[Essay and illustrations by Daniel Wallace, the J. Ross McDonald Distinguished Professor of English and director of the Creative Writing Program at Carolina. His fifth novel, The Kings and Queens of Roam, will be released in May 2013. This Final Point column appeared in the fall 2012 issue of Carolina Arts & Sciences magazine. Watch a time-lapse video of students stopping by the Old Well on the first day of fall classes.]