In 1993, N&O reporter Susan Kauffman wrote about archeological work being done at UNC-Chapel Hill and the story told by the artifacts they found.
Students have unearthed shards of fine pre-Civil War dinnerware from the site of a tavern and hotel built in the 1790s near what is now Franklin Street.
The tavern became the Eagle Hotel in the 1830s, when it was operated by Nancy Segur Hilliard.
Research has revealed that the hotel had many owners and was called by many names, including Alsobrook’s, the Eagle Hotel, the Union Hotel, the Watson Hotel and the University Inn.
Hilliard also hosted numerous balls and graduation celebrations at her establishment, which was referred to on engraved invitations as her “residence.” When President James Polk came to town in 1847, she added a new wing to house the honored guest. The N&O Nov. 11, 1993
The old hotel fell into disrepair, and by the time it burned in 1921, few were sad to see it go.
The University Inn, a celebrated eyesore that had spoiled the campus view here for many years, was destroyed in a spectacular fire early this afternoon. It was purchased by the University a few years ago, with its ultimate destruction in view, and was used as a dormitory.
A blaze was discovered issuing from under the eaves just after the students had sat down to dinner. In a moment Swain hall and the boarding houses were empty and the entire student body, shouting at the top of its lungs, was on its way to the Inn. Then for an hour and a half the whole community, students, faculty and townpeople, stood and looked at a fire that the cleverest movie director, if he had been allowed months of preparation could not have surpassed. About 60 students were housed in the building. Everything was thrown out of the windows as fast as the occupants and their friends could do it – iron and wooden beds, mattresses, sheets, blankets, clothing, trunks, bureaus, books. They were scattered over the grass of the campus, where the owners might hunt out their belongings as best they could.
Tonight the students who lived in the place are finding emergency quarters in already crowded homes and in the basement of the University’s newest dormitory. The damage is estimated at $30,000 and is fully covered by insurance. This was the first test the Chapel Hill fire company has had since it bought its splendid red Lafrance engine, and Captain Boister and his men did excellent work.
To save the main part of the Inn was out of the question for the blaze had a big start before the hose lines could be put into operation, but the annex stretching south toward the alumni building was saved. The one-story section of brick, which once served as quarters for James K. Polk, president of the United States, was gutted but the metal plate reciting the fact of the President’s visit to his alma mater was taken down before the fire came near.
After the fire had been in progress for half an hour, the spectators were distracted by a fresher novelty. A rabbit happened to issue from a burrow in the campus, and the crowd of students, forgetting all about the blaze, took after him. The chase lasted five minutes, during which nobody but men who were actually helping in the firefight and those who were ruefully looking for their scattered belongings, paid any attention to the burning inn. The rabbit was captured and afterwards released.
Nobody knows the origin of the fire. It began in a second or third floor room. May be a cigarette stump was the cause. Another theory is that one of the gigantic rats that infested the inn may be responsible. The N&O Dec. 1, 1921
Read more stories from local and state history and send us your own stories on the blog Past Times, newsobserver.com/pasttimes.