Battle Hall

Lot 11 and Battle Hall: A History of Transformation

By Madelaine Azar

While not one of UNC’s original buildings, Battle Hall – and the land it was built upon – has a deep and rich history rooted in student life, university housing, and campus controversy. Constructed in 1912 as a dormitory, Battle Hall was named for Kemp Plummer Battle, who served as a postbellum president of the University from 1876-1891.  Battle was integral in the stabilization and rehabilitation of the University following the Civil War. In many ways, the construction of Battle Hall represents the culmination of Battle’s dedication to the University. However, following its conversion to administrative offices in the late 1960s, Battle Hall ceased to exist as a center of student life and became embroiled in several campus controversies.

Kemp Plummer Battle

The history of Battle Hall begins with its illustrious namesake. Kemp Plummer Battle is a renowned figure in the history of The University of North Carolina. In addition to writing a comprehensive history of the University, Battle served as UNC’s president from 1876-1891 in the postbellum period following the Civil War.[1] Beyond these  achievements, Battle held many important and influential positions at the university and state level throughout his life.

Battle was born into a prominent family on December 19, 1831 in Louisburg, North Carolina. His great grandfather, Elisha Battle, moved to from Virginia to the Tar River area in 1748 and soon became a distinguished constituent of the Baptist community, eventually establishing himself as a civic and political leader.[2] In 1789, his grandfather, Joel Battle, erected one of the first cotton mills in North Carolina.[3] Kemp Plummer Battle’s father, William Horn Battle, married Lucy Martin Plummer, a member of a prominent, landowning Virginia family, and emerged as an eminent jurist in Edgecombe County, where he owned a large plantation and more than thirty slaves.[4]

Thus Kemp Plummer Battle, by virtue of his family’s upper class status, enjoyed opportunities not available to the yeoman farmers or African slaves that constituted the majority of North Carolina’s population during this time.[5] Battle was educated at private schools in Louisburg, Raleigh, and Chapel Hill before he enrolled in The University of North Carolina in 1845 when he was only thirteen[6]. Described as “ambitious, industrious, and conscientious”[7], Battle studied law and became the president of UNC’s Dialectic Society[8]. In 1849, he graduated with honors as valedictorian of his class[9]. Due to his academic achievements, Battle agreed to join the faculty at UNC, at their behest, as a Latin and mathematics tutor following graduation. He was only seventeen[10].

During this time, he continued studying law and passed the bar in 1854, after which he began practicing in Raleigh (documenting). In 1856, he married his distant cousin, Martha Ann Battle. In the following years leading up to the Civil War, Battle served many important political and business roles:[11]

  • In 1857, he became the director of the Bank of North Carolina.
  • Also in 1857, he was appointed director for the state asylum for the insane.
  • In 1861, he was selected to participate in the Secessionist Convention as a delegate from Wake County
  • In 1862, he joined the Board of Trustees at UNC

Throughout this period, Battle identified as a Unionist and member of Whig party. He initially favored the preservation of the Union, but altered his stance when President Lincoln attempted to forcibly prevent the South from seceding. He wrote in his memoirs, “Until Lincoln’s call for troops to prevent the seceding state from leaving the Union I had been a violent Union man.”[12] While Battle accepted a lieutenancy in the Confederate army, he never saw combat. Rather, he became president of the Chatham County Railroad Company, which supplied coal to Confederate armament factories. Andrew Johnson pardoned Battle for his supporting role in the Confederacy on June 20, 1865.[13]

After the Civil War, Battle was elected state treasurer in 1866 and, due to his self-identification as a postbellum Democrat, was removed from office in 1868 during congressional Reconstruction. The State Bank of North Carolina was bankrupt during this time, making the job of treasurer a challenging one for Battle.

He returned to the UNC Board of Trustees as treasurer in 1874 and was active in the 1875 reopening of the University following its four-year closure, which resulted from dismal enrollment numbers and financial woes brought on by the south’s Civil War defeat.[14] Battle personally sought funds for the rehabilitation of the campus and succeeded in convincing the state legislature to provide funds from the Morrill Land Grant Act of 1862 to the University. These funds allowed UNC to resume classes.[15]

Battle was appointed president of the University in 1876, serving until 1891. In the aftermath of the Civil War and the abolition of southern slave labor, North Carolina was forced to modernize. The state needed advancements in farming methods and agricultural technology.[16] Battle was integral in resurrecting the University and a shaping a new UNC that responded successfully to these new political and economic pressures.

Battle eschewed the role of party politics in the reconstruction of a postbellum UNC. While he privately espoused notions of racial elitism and inequality, he publicly maintained a political middle-ground[17]. In his history of the University, Battle states, “The plan of appealing to the bitter ideas of the Civil War would make the University one-sided and end in disaster.”[18] Due to his political neutrality in university affairs, Battle’s appointment was supported both by Democrats and Republicans on the Board of Trustees.[19]

During his tenure, Battle supported a reorganization and modernization of the curriculum, which established new departments in engineering business, manufacturing, and farming.[20] Battle also worked to eliminate the religious discrimination at the University that existed prior to the Civil War: “The University is a State institution, not an institution belonging to the religious denominations”.[21] Finally, Battle continued working diligently to secure adequate funding for the University.[22] Ultimately, Battle – both as a trustee and as president – was integral in the restoration of the University following the Civil War and Reconstruction

Battle resigned from this position in 1891, subsequently becoming an Alumni Professor of History at UNC. During this time, he worked to gather a historical collection in the University’s library and attempted to expand the North Carolina Historical society into a statewide institution. Battle had little success in these regards. However, in 1896 he founded the Southern History Association, an influential historical institution. He also initiated a graduate program in history at the University, which produced and disseminated valuable historical research to the North Carolinian public. Battle himself produced significant historical works, including his major publication, History of the University of North Carolina, which was released in two volumes and remained highly influential until the 1960s. While numerous, Battle’s other historical works are often considered to be narrow in scope and analysis due to a lack of source material.[23]

Kemp Plummer Battle died in 1919. In the many condolence letters written to his family, Battle was described as a “truly great and beautiful spirit”[24], “truly great”, and “always… my President.”[25] His son, William James Battle, proposed that Battle’s grave marker read:

“Kemp Plummer Battle
December 19, 1831 – February 4, 1919
Lawyer, teacher, historian
President of the University of North Carolina
Lover of men, he was by men beloved”[26]

Lot 11, The Poor House, The Central Hotel, and Battle-Vance-Pettigrew

As an eminent figure in the history of UNC and, more broadly, of North Carolina, Kemp Plummer Battle was frequently recognized and honored for his work. For example, in 1916 the Chapel of the Cross 1916 built the Battle Memorial Parish House in honor of Battle and his wife while they were still alive.[27] Additionally, Battle Park, now part of the North Carolina Botanical Garden, was dedicated to Kemp Plummer Battle during his lifetime. Battle designed the trail system himself.[28]

A University building, Battle Hall, was also constructed and dedicated in Battle’s honor prior to his death. Construction on the building began in May 1912 and was complete by the end of the same year. Battle Hall was originally built as a dormitory, along with Vance and Pettigrew, as part of the Battle-Vance-Pettigrew complex.[29] It now serves as the African, African American, and Diaspora Studies building. It is located on west side of McCorkle Place abutting Franklin Street, next to the University United Methodist Church.

While the construction and naming of Battle Hall itself is relatively unremarkable, the lot upon which the dormitory was built in 1912 has an interesting history. Lot 11 was an original two-acre lot parceled out by the town of Chapel Hill in August of 1793. It was originally purchased by a farmer, George Johnson, for $142 in October of the same year. He then sold it to John McCauely for 71 pounds in 1794, who in turn sold a section of the eastern edge of the lot to the trustees of the University in 1796 for 30 pounds. The University may have been attempting to expand McCorkle Place, or Grand Avenue, as it was known then.[30]

The remaining portion of Lot 11 not owned by the University was, for most of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the location of general store. The store was operated by a number of different owners. Tax records for the lot show that, in addition to the store owners and their families, many enslaved individuals lived on the lot as well.[31]

The lot was subdivided multiple times throughout the nineteenth century, as the land and store were bought and resold frequently. However, archaeological excavations confirm reports that, sometime around 1947, Jones Watson built a boarding house – colloquially termed the “Poor House” – on the property. During this time, the University faced a significant student housing shortage. For this reason, many local Chapel Hill residents built boarding houses in their yards and rented out rooms to desperate students. These boarding houses were described as shacks” and shanties.[32]

During the Civil War, these structures were deserted, along with the rest of Chapel Hill. Much of the town and University grounds fell into ruin during this time.[33] Cornelia Spencer wrote in 1868:

“Chapel Hill is the Deserted Village of the South. Nearly twenty of the best families in the place are leaving and their houses are standing untenanted and desolate. The business of the village is at a standstill, while I am told that no fewer than six places have been lately established where liquor is openly sold.”[34]

Records confirm that the “Poor House” was no longer standing by 1883, when Lot 11 was purchased by Dr. A. B. Roberson. Roberson subsequently built a large hotel on the lot, eponymously known as the Roberson Hotel. By 1911, the hotel had been renamed to the Central Hotel. Throughout its history, the hotel contained a barber shop, a tailor, a dining hall, and even a confectionary shop. Battle Hall stands on the former site of this hotel while Vance and Pettigrew and located farther south of Franklin Street.[35]

The University again faced considerable housing shortages due to growing enrollment at this time and desperately required the construction of new dormitories. The trustees began considering the purchase of the Central Hotel for this purpose as early as 1909 when the president stated in his annual report the “some provision must be made soon for the purchase of the Central Hotel property.”[36] In 1911, a committee was appointed to oversee the purchase of the hotel and later that year bought the property for $10,000, a cost the trustees considered to be high but necessary to fulfill housing demands.[37] The university records state that the three new dormitories (Battle, Vance, and Pettigrew) to be built on the Central Hotel property were to be “named for some distinguished alumnus or for the donor.”[38] For this reason, Battle – who certainly qualified as a prominent alumnus – was chosen as one namesake for the triad.

The Central Hotel was demolished and construction on Battle, Vance, and Pettigrew Halls began in May 1912. In all, the construction of entire Battle-Vance-Pettigrew dormitory complex cost an additional $50,000.[39] Battle Hall along with Vance and Pettigrew, was built in the Tudor style, which deviates significantly from other campus buildings constructed during this time period. It is unclear whether this style had any purpose or significant meaning. Campus buildings erected between 1898 and 1913 were usually built of “buff pressed brick” and “trimmed with limestone”.[40]

Student Life

From its inception in 1912 until its conversion into administrative offices in 1967, Battle-Vance-Pettigrew, or BVP for short, served as an all-male dormitory complex. According to reports in the Daily Tar Heel, BVP was highly regarded, extremely desirable, and “one of the most popular men’s dorms.”[41] Many male undergraduates considered it to be “the best on campus”[42] due to its location across the street from Harry’s, a beloved restaurant in downtown Chapel Hill. Its residents were described as “those who like to be near the center of things.”[43]
In May 1935, the student advisory report recommended to the administration that BVP be converted into co-ed or female graduate dorms for the fall semester. In addition, a 1935 petition signed by 87 female graduate students called for the “old dorm” to be converted into female graduate housing and remodeled to include a game room, lounge, tea room, and more bathrooms. It was rumored that the administration received this recommendation “favorably.”[44] However, later that month, the University announced that BVP would remain a male dormitory complex for the summer and fall semesters of 1935, a result likely welcomed by male students. The Daily Tar Heel, reporting that the BVP dormitories would continue to “sport the masculine attire”, it residents were described as having been “always confident of victory over their female assailers.”[45]

Between 1935 and 1967, BVP’s male residents participated in and organized many campus events. For example, in October 1935 BVP “succumbed to the mighty men of Alcock, 13-0” in an intramural football game.[46] Loss was not unfamiliar to BVP; the following year they were “drowned” by Mangum 15 to nothing[47] in a football game and “trounced” by Old West in 13 to 1 in a baseball game.[48] In 1937, the upper-campus dormitories, including BVP, organized a “ball” in which they bussed “blind” dates from Greensboro to campus for a night of “quadrangle frolics”. The ball was described by the Daily Tar Heel as “Carolina’s first attempt to bring girls here in such quantity.”[49]

Thus Battle Hall, as a constituent of the BVP dormitory complex, may be considered a physical manifestation of the goals of its namesake, Kemp Plummer Battle. Serving as a trustee and the subsequently as the University’s president in the disorganized and unsteady aftermath of the Civil War, Battle was integral in securing funding, increasing enrollment, and orienting the University toward a successful future.  In many ways, Battle Hall represents a culmination of these efforts. Thanks to increased enrollment, the University was able to  purchase Lot 11 and erect a new dormitory complex. Battle Hall’s construction reflects  the overall success of the university at the beginning of the twentieth century. This success may not have been possible without Kemp Plummer Battle’s dedication and devotion to the livelihood of UNC.


In May 1967, the University announced that it would begin converting BVP into faculty and administrative offices. The University planned to complete the conversion in time for the fall semester beginning in September of that same year. Residents had already made room reservations in BVP for that semester, forcing the University to relocate most of them to South Campus and some to North campus against their will. Led by a graduating senior with no stake in the changes, BVP residents propositioned the University to postpone the conversion by one semester to allow them to find appropriate replacement housing.[50] This proposition was apparently unsuccessful. The Daily Tar Heel released a statement from the Dean of Student Affairs, C. O. Cathey stating, “In view of the lateness of the decision concerning Battle-Vance-Pettigrew, it was impossible to give the occupants of that building the same priority in selecting rooms for September 1967.” BVP residents were apparently outraged, staging a demonstration following the official announcement of the conversion and subsequently forming the Society for the Preservation of BVP.[51]

Outrage concerning the conversion of BVP into administrative offices extended beyond its displaced residents. BVP was just one example among several wherein the University met behind closed doors to make decisions regarding the fate of student housing and student life. For example, the University converted Conner and Joyner – both men’s residence halls – into women’s dorms in 1967. These controversial, unilateral decisions were indicative of larger concerns on campus regarding the relationship between the University administration and students. In an article on these closed-door decisions, The Daily Tar Heel expressed fear that communication and collaboration between the administration and students was in decline and the gap between them widening.[52] BVP’s conversion was completed in 1968.[53]

Bitterness over the conversion of BVP into administrative offices apparently lasted into the 1970s and 1980s. An opinion column in the Daily Tar Heel from May 30, 1970 laments the many changes taking place in Chapel Hill during that time and specifically cites the fate of BVP:

“They’ve moved the boys out of Battle-Vance-Pettigrew and put offices in those dorms… Swine Hall hasn’t served a meal in years… Harry’s and the Porthole, the Coffee Shop, the N.C. Cafeteria are all still around, but getting powerful competition from Howard Johnson’s, Arby’s, Lum’s, Hardees… And whether it was sand in my shoes or stars in my eyes or love in my heart, when I think of Carolina and Chapel Hill, I remember it as it was… and although I like it still, I liked it better then!”[54]

In 1986, a fate similar to BVP’s befell Old East and Old West, as they were both converted into offices for University bureaucrats. Charlie Madison, a former resident of Old East, wrote an op-ed piece in the Daily Tar Heel following the decision. He claims that Old East and Old West have “gone the way of other traditions of maps like South Building and Steele Building and Battle-Vance-Pettigrew.”  He goes on to ask, “What the hell is going on here? What about the tradition and history of the University? What about proper planning for growth? And what about the students?”.[55] It appears that BVP’s conversion was part of a larger discontent on campus in regard to the administration’s lack of respect for student sentiment and tradition.

Kemp Plummer Battle did not live to see the conversion of Battle Hall into administrative and faculty offices and it is unclear how he would have viewed the transition. However, BVP’s conversion may best be characterized as the end of an era in student life. Battle himself, so dedicated to the rehabilitation of the university and its student population, may have been disappointed to see Battle Hall removed from the vibrancy of student life and relegated to the banality of bureaucratic and administrative duties. Regardless of what Battle may have felt, it is clear that the student body did not approve of the transition.


The University began massive renovations on Battle, Vance, and Pettigrew Halls in 2010. In all, the maintenance projects – finished in 2011 – cost $1.2 million. Improvements included extensive brickwork, replacement of trimwork, rehabilitation of windows, new roofs, and updated landscaping.[56] Currently, Battle Hall serves as the home for the African, African American, and Diaspora Studies Department (AAAD), originally termed the Department of African and Afro-American Studies. The Black Student Movement called for the department’s foundation in its famous set of demands made to the administration in 1969.[57] Recently, the AAAD has been implicated in UNC’s academic-athletic scandal for allegedly offering fraudulent classes to student athletes.[58] Battle Hall is now a stop on UNC’s Virtual Black and Blue walking tour,[59] which highlights the University’s controversial racial history.

In many ways, Battle Hall has transformed alongside UNC itself since its construction in 1912. Named after one of the University’s most admired presidents, the building has experienced housing shortages, bustling student life, office monotony, and its fair share of campus controversy. From its prominent seat on McCorkle Place, Battle Hall will certainly continue bearing witness to UNC’s unfolding history.


[1] W. Conard Gass, “Battle, Kemp Plummer 19 Dec. 1831 – 4 Feb. 1919,” in Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, ed. William S. Powell (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1979), n.p.

[2] Ibid., n.p.

[3] Elizabeth Kearney, “The University of North Carolina : collapse, resurrection and the leadership of Kemp Plummer Battle” (senior honors thesis, University of North Carolina, 2001), 4.

[4] Ibid., 5.

[5] Kearney, 5-10.

[6] Gass, n.p.

[7] H.B. Battle, The Battle Book – A Genealogy of the Battle Family in America (Montgomery: The Pagan Press, 1930) 145-167.

[8] Kearney, 7.

[9] Gass, n.p.

[10] Kearney, 8-9.

[11] Gass, n.p.

[12] Kemp Plummer Battle, Memories of an Old Time Tar Heel (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1945).

[13] Kearney, 10-17.

[14] Ibid., 10-17

[15] Gass, n.p.

[16] Kearney, 41-45.

[17] Ibid., 41-45.

[18] Kemp Plummer Battle, History of the University of North Carolina, Volume II (Raleigh: Edwards and Broughton Printing Co., 1912) 116.

[19] Kearney, 48.

[20] Ibid., 44.

[21] Battle, History Vol. II, 100.

[22] Kearney, 55-65.

[23] Gass, n.p.

[24] Letter from J. Baush (?) to Kemp Plummer Battle Jr., Feb. 7, 1919 box 8, folder 125, in the Battle Family Papers #3223, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

[25] Letter from N.H.D Wilson (?) to Battle family, Feb. 8, 1919 box 8, folder 125, in the Battle Family Papers #3223, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

[26] Letter from William James Battle to his brothers, March 11, 1919 box 8, folder 125, in the Battle Family Papers #3223, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

[27] Letter to Battle family from Secretary of the Vestry at The Chapel of the Cross following Kemp Plummer Battle’s death, March 31, 1919, box 8, folder 125, in the Battle Family Papers #3223, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

[28]  Letter to Thomas H. Battle from Kemp Plummer Lewis following Kemp Plummer Battle’s death, March 8, 1919, box 8, folder 125, in the Battle Family Papers #3223, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

[29] Trustee Minutes, Volume 11, December 1911, page 340-341, in the Board of Trustees of the University of North Carolina Records #40001, University Archives, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

[30] Elizabeth A. Jones, Patricia M. Samford, R.P. Stephen Davis, Jr., and Melissa A. Salvanish. Archaeological Investigations at the Pettigrew Site on the University of North Carolina Campus, Chapel Hill, North Carolina. (Chapel Hill: Research Laboratories of Archaeology, 1998), 3-10.

[31] Jones et al., 4.

[32] Jones et al., 7-9.

[33] Ibid.

[34] Kemp Plummer Battle, History of the University of North Carolina, Volume I (Raleigh: Edwards and Broughton Printing Co., 1907) 29-30.

[35] Jones et al., 10-12.

[36] Trustee Minutes, Volume 11, Annual Report of the President 1909-1910, 258.

[37] Ibid., 318.

[38] Trustee Minutes, Volume 11, December 1911, 340-341.

[39] Ibid., 340.

[40] W.F. Prouty, “Varied Construction Materials Utilized in Buildings on Campus,” The Daily Tar Heel (Chapel Hill, NC), Feb. 11, 1933.

[41] Robert Keber, “UNC Planners Desire a ‘King Kong Kampus’”, The Daily Tar Heel (Chapel Hill, NC), April 15, 1970.

[42] “New Dorms May Be Remodeled For Use of Women Graduates’”, The Daily Tar Heel (Chapel Hill, NC), May 3, 1935.

[43] “Old East, Old West, And Steele Are Most Popular Dormitories’”, The Daily Tar Heel (Chapel Hill, NC), May 25, 1933.

[44] “New Dorms May Be Remodeled For Use of Women Graduates’”, The Daily Tar Heel (Chapel Hill, NC), May 3, 1935.

[45] “New Dorms Hold Quick Elections”, The Daily Tar Heel (Chapel Hill, NC), May 29, 1935.

[46] “Lewis Defeats Mangum Eleven”, The Daily Tar Heel (Chapel Hill, NC), Oct. 23, 1935.

[47] “Lawyers, SAE, and KA Retain Winning Streak”, The Daily Tar Heel (Chapel Hill, NC), Oct. 28, 1936.

[48] “Seven Get Wins in Mural Games Held Yesterday’”, The Daily Tar Heel (Chapel Hill, NC), May 8, 1936.

[49] “Mid-Campus Dormitories To Have a Ball”, The Daily Tar Heel (Chapel Hill, NC), May, 9 1937.

[50] “Give BVP Some Time”, The Daily Tar Heel (Chapel Hill, NC), May 16, 1967.

[51] “BVP Residents May Get Choice Of Rooms”, The Daily Tar Heel (Chapel Hill, NC), May 17, 1967.

[52] “Closed-Door Decisions Bad For The University”, The Daily Tar Heel (Chapel Hill, NC), Sept. 20, 1967.

[53] “Will BVP R.I.P.”,The Daily Tar Heel (Chapel Hill, NC), May 11, 1967.

[54] “Offices in Dorms”, The Daily Tar Heel (Chapel Hill, NC), May 30, 1970.

[55] Charlie Madison, “Bureaucrats threaten Old East”, The Daily Tar Heel (Chapel Hill, NC), Feb. 13, 1986.

[56] Neal Smith, “Battle, Pettigrew, and Vance Halls renovation to wrap up”, The Daily Tar Heel (Chapel Hill, NC), Aug. 18, 2011.

[57] “ ‘Cannot Provide Unique Treatment For Any Race’ ”, The Daily Tar Heel (Chapel Hill, NC), Feb. 4, 1969.

[58] Cameron Jernigan, “Column: Black studies took the blame”, The Daily Tar Heel (Chapel Hill, NC), Oct. 26, 2017.

[59] “Welcome to the Black and Blue Tour,” Virtual Black and Blue Tour, UNC’s Historical Landmarks in Context of UNC’s Racial History, accessed November 11, 2017.