Past Times

Past Times: Postwar students struggled to find housing in Chapel Hill

Victory Village was one of the few campus housing options available to married students.
Victory Village was one of the few campus housing options available to married students. UNC-Chapel Hill Photographic Laboratory Collection, North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives, UNC Wilson Library

It seems housing shortages on campus have always plagued students at UNC-Chapel Hill. In the years following the end of World War II, many students – especially married students – were without a place to stay. In 1947, writer Sibyl Goerch took a look at the problem and some of the creative solutions being employed.

More than 1,000 persons are looking for some place to live in the vicinity of the University of North Carolina. This number includes faculty members, married and single students who are too crowded in their present quarters and both faculty members and students who commute from Durham, Raleigh and other places.

“Gee, mister,” said a young man on a house-to-house room hunt this week, “I’ll mow your lawn, wash your dog, do the fall cleaning and fire your furnace if you’ll put me up ‘till I can get a house.”

Many students like Allan Hutton of Greensboro have had to leave their wives at home because they can’t find a place to live in Chapel Hill. Allan was married in June. He wanted to bring his bride to the Village, but the only room he found was in a University dormitory which doesn’t house wives. Allan lives on the Carolina campus; his wife lives in Greensboro. Letters are exchanged during the week with a visit scheduled for the weekends.

Andre Symmes and his wife of Wilmington have a pre-fabricated house in Victory Village, the University’s housing project for veterans. But they are sharing it with brother Harrison Symmes who wants to go to Carolina too.

Francis Jones commutes from Salisbury to Chapel Hill to finish one more quarter at the University. He looked all last year for a house, but never found one large enough for his wife and three children.

James Wadsworth, housing administrator for the University, says it is harder to find quarters for couples than for single persons. It is almost impossible to get quarters for families with children.

But in spite of the housing gloom, some students have found ways of solving the problem. Three University boys, with little knowledge of carpentry, painting and plumbing, are building their own houses. With hammers and saws in hand, they are working from the ground up.

P. H. Cheek, a graduate student from Saxapahaw, is one of these combination architechtor-constructor experimenters. Cheek got his supplies from his father’s farm near Saxapahaw where he helped his father fell trees and haul logs to a sawmill. His house will include three rooms and a bath at an estimated cost of $2,000.

Walter Curtis, a University student from Greensboro, has almost finished his one-room-plus-bath house. He is building with native stone. About $500 is all he expects to spend on it.

“It’s simple to build a house like this,” he says. “I guess I’ve really just thrown it together. All I do is put one rock on top of another and smear a bit of mortar in between.”

A temporary shack was what Curtis started with. He moved his furniture in and began to build his house around it.

Matthew Kelly has completed a cinder block house. “The cinder blocks are quick and easy to build with,” he says. “I haven’t done a perfect job with them, but I’ve got a place to live!”

The trailer court in Chapel Hill holds about 100 trailers, which in turn hold families with as many as three children. Most of the trailers have additions such as porches and bedrooms built off the sides.

Mr. and Mrs. William F. McNeely of Greensboro and Mr. and Mrs. W. F. Patterson of Winston-Salem are trailer inhabitants who have recently built siderooms on their shiny tin trailers. The boys do the building themselves, and the girls help with the painting.…

If you think a trailer is crowded, you ought to see inside a quonset hut. The University has put up 29 huts which house 20 boys each. There are no partitions and no real facilities for studying.…

Victory Village is filled. Three hundred and fifty-two families are living in barracks and pre-fabricated houses. To get in the Village now would require a long wait on a long list.

The little pre-fabs are the envy of many a house-hunter. The largest have three bedrooms. Heating is done with either oil or coal.

The barracks are like apartment houses with extra-thin walls. The occupants say you can hear every word from the apartments next door. If a wife in a middle apartment calls “honey” to her husband, she may get three answers.

Wadsworth at the University housing office interviews about 25 room-hunters a day. He has been sending some to Durham where the housing shortage is not as bad as in Chapel Hill. He puts some on the waiting list for pre-fabricated houses in Victory Village. Occasionally he finds a room in town or in the country to offer….

The first question Wadsworth asks a person who comes to his office for help is: “Do you have a bicycle or a horse?” A majority answer no. It is no use for him to offer these people rooms in the country or in nearby Carrboro. The N&O Oct. 5, 1947

Read more stories from local and state history and send us your own stories on the blog Past Times, newsobserver.com/past-times.

Leonard: 919-829-4866 or tleonard@newsobserver.com

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