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A tale of two wells

Over the span of Elon’s history, the campus has been home to several wells, including the Old Well.

By Xernay Aniwar ’17

Known as the “Old Well,” the site of Elon’s first well and water source is located at the intersection of Whitley, Carlton and Alamance buildings, nestled sweetly under a gazebo. Students and faculty often sit on the wooden benches to check their phones, submit assignments and chat with friends. The well looks nothing like it used to; in fact, it’s now just a bubbling water fountain with a pedal. But in the late 1800s, the scene looked much different. 

According to Elon historian George Troxler, over the span of the school’s history, the campus has been home to several wells, including the Old Well. When the college opened in 1890, water was drawn from that well, which was located west of the Administration Building, the precursor to the modern-day Alamance. It was a hand-dug well that was probably about 30-to-40-feet deep, and wide enough to throw a few chairs into it (we’ll get to that later). As these were the days before the modern luxuries of indoor plumbing and heating systems, the female students who lived on campus were charged an extra fee of $25 per year to cover the cost of housekeepers who, among other things, fetched water from the well for them. 

In 1904 several first-year male students took it upon themselves to dismantle classroom chairs and throw them into the well, effectively contaminating the only source of drinking water for the college. The escapade left about 133 students stuck drinking soda pop from the corner store until the damage was fixed. The year 1910 brought the creation of a drilled well, which according to archival accounts, was 100 feet deep and could yield 100 gallons of water per minute. It was located near today’s Scott Plaza, just northwest of Fonville Fountain, and sported an electric pump that moved water from the well into a 10,500-gallon wooden tank that sat atop West Dormitory. When indoor plumbing came to campus in 1907, the positioning of the tank had allowed for water to flow down into the surrounding buildings, helped along by gravity. 

A few years later, in 1912, the wooden tank unsurprisingly began to show signs of decay and water damage. In turn, a 50,000-gallon steel tank was erected next to the well. Unfortunately for the aesthetic of the campus, the tank served as an unauthorized billboard for fraternity slogans in the 1920s, when non-academic Greek organizations were formed on campus. By 1978 the Town of Elon completed a 200,000-gallon water tank, and a year later the well tower was torn down. 

Although the Old Well was no longer used, it has never been forgotten. Once described as a “trysting place of youthful lovers”—male and female students were not allowed to socialize except during certain hours—the Class of 1926 saw it fit to put up wooden beams around it, creating a sitting area “for the ladies” in the summertime. Fifty years later in 1976, the same class decided to add bricks and mortar, making it into the version we see today, and one of the oldest historic landmarks on campus.

Keren Rivas,
5/4/2016 8:30 AM