In the fall of 1897, if my memory does not fail me, I was possessed with a great desire to add a little beauty (which, after all, is the most practical influence in the world) to the grim, austere dignity of the old Campus at Chapel Hill. Looking out of my window on the first floor of the South Building, I beheld the old well squalid and ramshackled. I determined to tear it down and put something there having beauty.
His letter also describes criticism he received over the cost of the well:
I recall a fine shindy I had with a very distinguished professor who intimated broadly to me that I was foolish to spend money (about $200) for such luxurious gewgaws when so many vital things--sewers, water works, electric fixtures--cried out for improvement. I recall intimating to my distinguished colleague that he would do well to attend to his own 'damn' business.
You can read more of his letter in Sarah Madry's Well Worth a Shindy or in Daniel Barefoot's Hark the Sound.
Further improvements followed in the 20th century: in 1925, the drinking fountain was installed, and in the 1950s, more attention was given to the landscaping around the well. Today, students drink from the Old Well for good luck and good grades--the second video below features students explaining the Old Well's role in the university community.