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Carolina Story: Virtual Museum of University History

Smith Hall

Smith Hall, which later became Playmakers' Theatre, was the first building on campus to have running water. Smith, then the library, housed a laboratory in its basement, which was used by chemistry professor and later university president Francis Venable. This lab was outfitted with a water system in 1881. A janitor pumped water into a barrel in an upstairs room, and this barrel served as the water source for the laboratory below. A little over ten years later, the western part of the Smith basement was turned into a bath house with showers, bathtubs, and toilets, replacing the brick “relief stations” or outhouses built near Polk Place in 1887. Previously, students had relied primarily on water drawn from campus wells for bathing.

Kemp Plummer Battle wrote in his history of the university that there was also a natural “shower” near campus. He described a stream “north of the village, below which the waters were conducted through a gutter, having a fall of about ten feet, and making an excellent open air-down-pouring bath.” The new water system, installed in 1893, depended on water stored in tanks in South Building. Around this time, other buildings on campus began receiving indoor plumbing. In the picture on the right, taken by Old West in the 1890s, the fire hydrant that had been recently installed is visible.