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The Man Who Made the Southern Part of Heaven

by Charly Mann

There are many reasons I love Chapel Hill, but the primary reason is its beauty. Much of what we consider beautiful about Chapel Hill is because of one man, William Chambers Coker. He came to UNC in 1902 to teach biology, but his love for natural beauty, and his wise decision to marry the then President of the University's daughter, Louise Venable, gave him the eye and the power to transform a rather bland campus into the southern part of heaven. At the beginning of the 20th century there were few trees, shrubs, or paths on the campus, and more than five acres of it were nothing but swamp.


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Sybilla      7:13 AM Thu 2/25/2016

When I was a child we used to go and play at the Coker estate, off North St. It was an idyllic place, for anyone but especially for children with lots of imagination. We would just open an iron gate and go on in.It never occurred us to not to, because we were always running around other people's property. We never got in trouble at the Cokers' except for once. Beautiful scuppernong grapes were ripe on the vine, and we reached up to pluck some. Suddenly a man jumped out of the bushes and told us we couldn't eat the grapes. So we never did again. This must have while Coker's widow was living in the big house.

Donna Morgan      5:07 PM Tue 3/17/2009

I've got to find that novel, and get to the bottom of this name, that SouthernPartofHeavenBoy mentions.

SouthernPartofHeavenBoy      9:10 AM Tue 3/17/2009

I wonder if the name, "The Southern Part of Heaven", originated with the 1950 novel of the same name by William Meade Prince. Its setting is Chapel Hill in the early 1900's. It's worth reading - very entertaining, and mentions many landmarks. Does anyone know of an earlier use of the nickname?

Kara Lynne Timmons      8:34 PM Mon 3/16/2009

This guy deserves a statue at the center of Polk Place.

Amber Jennings      3:41 PM Fri 3/13/2009

On my, it is almost Spring, and these pictures make me want to go back home to Chapel Hill.

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Bite Sized Facts Link for Useful facts, financial success, universal truths, and great health info

Chapel Hill is located on a hill whose only distinguishing feature in the 18th century was a small chapel on top called New Hope Chapel. This church was built in 1752 and is currently the location of The Carolina Inn. The town was founded in 1819, and chartered in 1851.



What is it that binds us to this place as to no other? It is not the well or the bell or the stone walls. or the crisp October nights. No, our love for this place is based upon the fact that it is as it was meant to be, The University of the People.

-- Charles Kuralt



Dark Side of the Hill -- Pink Floyd, the creators of the most popular album in history, Dark Side of the Moon, took the second half of their name from Floyd Council, a Chapel Hill native, and great blues singer and guitarist. He once belonged to a group called "The Chapel Hillbillies".



Check out Charly Mann's other website:
Oklahoma Birds and Butterflies


We need your help. Send your submissions, ideas, photos, and questions to CHMemories@gmail.com.





There would probably be no Chapel Hill if the University of North Carolina Board of Trustees in 1793 had not chosen land across from New Hope Chapel for the location of the university. By 1800 there were about 100 people living in thirty houses surrounding the campus.



The University North Carolina's first student was Hinton James, who enrolled in February, 1795. There is now a dormitory on the campus named in his honor.





The University of North Carolina was closed from 1870 to 1875 because of lack of state funding.





William Ackland left his art collection and $1.25 million to Duke University in 1940 on the condition that he would be buried in the art museum that the University was to build with his bequest. Duke rejected this condition even though members of the Duke Family are buried in Duke Chapel. What followed was a long and acrimonious legal battle between Ackland relatives who now wanted the inheritance, Rollins College, and the University of North Carolina, each attempting to receive the funds. The case went all the way to the United States Supreme Court, and in 1949 UNC was awarded the money for the museum. Ackland is buried near the museum's entrance. When the museum first opened, in the early sixties, there were rumors that his remains were leaking out of the mausoleum.



The official name of the Arboretum on the University of North Carolina campus is the Coker Arboretum. It is named after Dr. William Cocker, the University's first botany professor. It occupies a little more than five acres. It was founded in 1903.



Chapel Hill's main street has always been called Franklin Street. It was named after Benjamin Franklin in the early 1790s.



We need your help. Send your submissions, ideas, photos, and questions to CHMemories@gmail.com.



Chapel Hill High School and Chapel Hill Junior High were on Franklin Street in the same location as University Square until the mid 1960s.



The Colonial Drug Store at 450 West Franklin Street was owned and operated by John Carswell. It was famous for a fresh-squeezed carbonated orange beverage called a "Big O". In the early 1970s, I managed the Record and Tape Center next door, and must have had over 100 of those drinks. The Colonial Drug Store closed in 1996.



Sutton's Drugstore, which opened in 1923, has one of the last soda fountains in the South. It is one of the few businesses remaining on Franklin Street that was in operation when I was growing up in the 1950s.



Future President Gerald Ford lived in Chapel Hill twice. First when he was 24, in 1938, he took a law couse in summer school at UNC. He lived in the Carr Building, which was a law school dormitory. At the same time, Richard Nixon, the man he served under as Vice President, was attending law school at Duke. In 1942, Ford returned to Chapel Hill to attend the U.S. Navy's Pre-Flight School training program. He lived in a rental house on Hidden Hills Drive.



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