Tar Heel traditions

The nation's first public university, UNC-Chapel Hill is home to centuries-old traditions and experiences that connect generations of Tar Heels. Over the past two centuries, a lot has changed, but much of what it means to be a Carolina student has remained the same.

Learn more about the places and experiences that make the Tar Heel experience so special.

The Old Well

When Carolina first opened, the University’s well served as the primary source of drinking and bathing water for the students, faculty and staff.

Since then, it has gone through a few redesigns, including the addition of a structure based on the Temple of Love at Versailles in 1897. The current well — what we now call the Old Well — was constructed in 1954 using wooden columns, a marble base and copper roof. This summer, the Old Well is undergoing renovations to incorporate accessibility improvements, including the installation of a sloped walkway.

Over the last six decades, the Old Well has become an icon for Carolina.

The Morehead-Patterson Bell Tower

No matter where you are on our campus, you can hear one of the most treasured Carolina sounds — the Morehead-Patterson Bell Tower.

Besides being a great spot for graduation photos and a helpful reminder of the time on your way to class, the bell tower is the home of a 90-year-old tradition of the master bell ringers: Carolina students who oversee the bell tower’s operations and ring the bells on football game days and other special occasions.

Bell Tower at Sunset

The Davie Poplar

The Davie Poplar tree has been keeping watch over Carolina students in Chapel Hill ever since the University opened its doors more than two centuries ago. The large tulip poplar tree located in McCorkle Place predates the University and is named after Carolina’s founder, William Richardson Davie.

Legend has it that if the Davie Poplar falls, the University falls with it. Though the origin of the myth remains unknown, Carolina isn’t taking any chances. Davie Poplar Jr. was planted in 1918 to serve as the original tree’s heir.

Explore Chapel Hill

  • Photo of the Old Well's Button, roof, column and fountain.

    Taking a closer look

    With historic buildings and picturesque landscaping, Carolina's campus is iconic, and some of the University's most beautiful spots are worth a closer look.

  • A bee flying by the Old Well.

    Carolina summer days

    Summer in Chapel Hill may be a bit quieter — and hotter — than the rest of the year, but with Summer School in session, various summer research programs and thousands of incoming students visiting campus for orientation, there is still excitement flowing through Carolina.

  • Painting that reads

    Home of the Tar Heels

    Where Carolina’s borders end, the town of Chapel Hill – a vibrant, welcoming community of 59,000 people – continues. From live music and eclectic dining to quiet trails and historic architecture, discover more about Chapel Hill and the surrounding area.

Carolina's campus is full of iconic structures and legends, but true Tar Heel traditions live on in the student life experience.

Everyday activities, such as joining historic student organizations, keeping time with the rings of the Bell Tower or volunteering in the community, are steeped in tradition.

Engaging in student life

Ever since Carolina’s first student organization was founded in 1795, Tar Heels have been exploring their interests outside the classroom. There are hundreds of opportunities to connect with fellow students, get involved in activities and develop your talents.

With more than 900 student organizations, you will find many ways to explore your personal and intellectual interests and embrace your passions for music, the performing arts, computer programming, the environment, creative writing, student government, politics, international cultures and more.

See more of the Tar Heel experience

Students throw colorful dust into the air.

More than a mascot

In the late 1980s, Carolina was the only team in the ACC that didn’t have a costumed mascot. The University, of course, had the live animal Rameses mascot that began attending football games in 1924, but not a mascot that could attend all games. The Carolina Athletic Association wanted to change that for the 1987-1988 basketball season.

When Eric Chilton first donned the Rameses costume, he launched a now-treasured tradition that Carolina students carry on today, more than three decades later.

Read about how the tradition of Rameses began

Tar Heels serve our state

Since its founding, the University has been dedicated to serving North Carolinians from the Blue Ridge Mountains to the Crystal Coast.

Students, faculty and staff dedicate thousands of hours each year to helping our communities by performing service projects and participating in outreach programs while also making community-changing discoveries and creating a better future for all of North Carolina through research.

Explore Carolina’s impact throughout the state

A North Carolina flag flies on South Building.

Timeless Traditions

  • A TV with

    Carolina throwback: The 1980s

    Fashion and technology may have changed over the years, but no matter the decade, it has always been a great day to be a Tar Heel.

  • A leather pennant with

    A snapshot of student life

    A belt worn by one of Carolina's most famous alumni, the hook that drew water from the Old Well and a concert button are all preserved in Wilson Library's Carolina Keepsakes online collection.

  • An aerial photo of UNC-Chapel Hill campus.

    Carolina then and now

    Have you ever heard of the Tin Can or the Scuttlebutt? Those words may bring back fond memories for some generations of Tar Heels, but for today's students, they're a mystery.

    Though much of the Carolina experience remains the same, take a look at how campus has changed through the years.