Across the country, many students today started or returned to college. About 28,000 students walk the campus at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill which is North Carolina’s oldest state university. UNC was chartered in 1789 and opened its doors for students in 1795. It is the only public university in the United States that admitted and graduated students in the 18th century. Knowing that both my son and I love history, it should come to no surprise that we visited the campus a couple of days ago, but there was also another reason to return to Chapel Hill. I was fortunate to be able to live in this college town that is nicknamed a”Southern Part of Heaven” from 2000 to 2002 and wanted to show my son a part of his history that he was too young to remember.
This past Friday, the campus was buzzing with new freshman and their parents touring the campus with student guides. Franklin Street named in memory of Benjamin Franklin is a vibrant main street has many places to shop and eat. We started our day at the Carolina Coffee Shop. I watched other parents with their grown children giving them advice and trying to keep their emotions in check realizing that it might be one of the last meals they share before they have to part.
It was over my bowl of cheese grits (something this southern girl can’t get in New York) that I realized I would be in the same position with my son five years from now. It is these moments that you realize how quickly time passes. Ten years ago, I was pushing my son in a stroller around campus, and half that time he will be starting his independent life.
Driving away a moment of sadness, I reminded myself that the reason I was there was to show my son the beautiful historic campus and all that it had to offer. We walked around the campus checking out the old buildings like Old East which was the first building constructed on campus and today serves as a residence hall. After checking out the South Building and “The Pit” (the sunken courtyard by the student union), we spent time at many of the landmarks that associated with UNC.
The Old Well is the visual symbol of UNC and sits at the heart of the campus. Initially, it served as the sole water supply for the Old East and Old West dormitories. Today it is surrounded by brick walls, plants, and benches. It is a tradition that students drink from the Old Well on the first day of classes for good luck. We saw many students with name tags lined up to get a drink. My son decided to take a drink too; he said he needed good luck for his approaching year in the eight grade. I told him a little luck couldn’t hurt.
MOREHEAD-PATTERSON BELL TOWER
Like many universities, UNC has a bell tower that rings each hour. Seniors have the opportunity to climb the tower’s steps to take given the campus a few days before the commencement ceremony in May.
MOREHEAD PLANETARIUM AND SCIENCE CENTER
The planetarium is located on the UNC campus and is one of the largest planetariums in the United States. Reflecting telescopes, star projectors, and the domed Star Theater make it a great place to visit. Many of the shows in the planetarium are written and produced at Morehead. Shows range from lunar landings to black holes. One fun fact about the planetarium is that Morehead provided training for U.S. astronauts from the Mercury program to the Apollo-Souz program.
The university’s first professor of botany, Dr. William Chambers Coker developed what is now known as the Arboretum into an outdoor college classroom for the study of trees, shrubs, and vines that were native to North Carolina. Between 1920 and 1940 East Asian trees and shrubs were added. Today the Arboretum is managed by the university’s North Carolina Botanical Garden and is a beautiful and peaceful place to visit.
The Inn built in 1924 by a UNC graduate is on the National Register of Historic Places and it is the place to be on Friday’s between 5 pm and 9 pm from late April to mid-October. Here you can relax and enjoy good food and bluegrass music while overlooking the tree-shaded lawn during their Fridays on the Front Porch series.
BOSHAMER STADIUM & KENAN MEMORIAL STADIUM
My son loves baseball and football, so checking out the stadiums where all the action takes place was a must. We first checked out Boshamer Stadium which is the home field for the baseball team. This stadium is new but built within the same footprint of the old stadium. We found the new entrance impressive since it was named Steinbrenner Family Courtyard. Being NY Yankee fans we had to do a little research and found out the Mr. Steinbrenner and his family pledged one million dollars for the courtyard in 2006. Apparently, Mr. Steinbrenner brought the Yankees to Boshamer Stadium to play exhibition games against the Tar Heels in 1977, 1979 and 1981. Jenny Steinbrenner, Mr. Steinbrenner’s daughter, graduated from UNC in 1981.
The Kenan Memorial Stadium has been the home of the Carolina football team since 1927. Nestled among many pine trees, and when the stadium is full, it can hold 63,000 people. Of course when we were there it was empty, but I am sure it is almost as exciting as an LSU game …(sorry, I am an LSU Tiger fan despite living in Chapel Hill for two years.)
The Carolina Basketball Museum chronicles the history of UNC Basketball. A six-minute theater presentation highlights Michael Jordan and others and the history of UNC Basketball including their six national championships. There are interactive exhibits and cool memorabilia like a letter from Duke’s coach to Michael Jordan saying that he was sorry that Jordan was not interested in playing for Duke.
As mentioned earlier, Franklin Street consist of many boutiques, antique and vintage shops, bookstores, art galleries, hotels, the Varsity movie theater, restaurants, bars with live music and plenty of places to pick up UNC fan gear. This downtown street was a fun place to hang out and spend the day. I was disappointed we were only in town for the day because I had a list of restaurants that I wanted to revisit like Crook’s Corner Restaurant, Mamas Dips (actually on W. Rosemary Street – yummy southern cooking like my Granny use to make), Spanky’s and Top of the Hill. I read that Chapel Hill has more restaurants per capita than any other US city, so whatever your palate is they have you covered. I have to visit again just for an eating fest.
As you can see our little tour of UNC kept us busy and unfortunately we didn’t have time for another great place to visit, the Ackland Art Museum. Right on campus, this museum has exhibits ranging from European masterworks to North Carolina pottery.
Our visit to UNC filled me with such unexpected joy. I loved revisiting the campus and sharing with my son a part of our life that he was too young to remember. I told him stories of how we would often see owls in the trees as I strolled him through campus and how our neighbors said that there was no wavering between Duke and UNC and how we became Tar Heel Fans and wore Carolina Blue. Before leaving town, I made sure to show him his history too and brought him by our old townhouse, favorite park at the Chapel Hill Community Center and his first school, Chapel Hill Day Care in Southern Village. As we left town on our long drive home, we spoke about how cool it would be if he ended up going full circle with his education from Chapel Hill Daycare to UNC. I guess only time will tell.