Alpha Delta: 1879 – 

The University of North Carolina never closed its doors during the Civil War, even when General Sherman’s troops occupied Chapel Hill and stabled their horses in the UNC library (now the Playmakers Theater). But the harshness of Reconstruction did what the war could not do: it forced the University to shut down from 1870 to 1875.

When the campus reopened, the handful of fraternities that had existed before the war hoped to resume their activities. However, the faculty, in an attempt to insulate the dialectic and philanthropic societies from competition for membership, banned fraternities.

One of the pre-war chapters, Phi Kappa Sigma, defied the ban and reestablished itself as a secret organization in 1877. Two years later, ATO became the second fraternity to arrive on the postwar campus, also operating in secret. (Some years later, Phi Kappa Sigma’s charter was revoked, meaning that ATO holds the record for longest continuous existence at UNC-Chapel Hill.)

The birth of ATO – conceived from the beginning as a national fraternity to link former Civil Wart adversaries – had occurred only 14 years before, at war’s end in 1865. Three Virginians, Otis Allan Glazebrook, Alfred Marshall and Erskine Mayo Ross, established the first chapter at Virginia Military Institute in Lexington.

The Beta Chapter was soon established at Washington & Lee, and the Alpha Alpha Chapter at Richmond College. The younger brother of members of the Richmond chapter graduated from Hanover Academy, and planned to go to college at Chapel Hill. The chapter initiated the young man, Thomas Dudley Stokes, and his fellow Hanover graduate, John Camm Winston, so they could establish an ATO chapter at UNC.

When they arrived in Chapel Hill, of course, they discovered that fraternities were banned. But they learned of the strong presence of Phi Kappa Sigma, which was secretly taking in top members of the junior and senior classes. To compete, the fledgling ATO chapter – designated Alpha Delta – recruited two outstanding sophomores, Donnell Gilliam and Tom Ratcliff. By the beginning of the following year, the chapter had eight brothers.

Phi Kappa Sigma also had a secret chapter at the nearby Bingham School, a junior college near Mebane, and used it as a feeder for students transferring to UNC. The Chapel Hill ATOs recruited their own secret chapter (Alpha Eta) at Bingham in 1881, and immediately began to build a formidable competition to the older fraternity.

By 1885, Kappa Alpha (Southern) was the third secret fraternity at Chapel Hill. The three groups petitioned the University to lift the ban against fraternities. The faculty agreed on the conditions that members’ names would be made public, and no liquor would be permitted at their residence halls.

The original home of Alpha Delta, starting at its birth in 1879, was a two-room, brick structure built as a law office (probably the stucco-finished building still standing at the corner of East Franklin and Hillsboro streets, a half block from the present house). Stokes and Gilliam lived in one room, and the other was the chapter room (click on the picture for a larger version).

In 1893, Brother R.S. McRae bought three lots on Franklin Street for $300 as a gift to the chapter, and sufficient funds were raised to build a fine frame house, the best chapter house in town. No full picture of it survives, but its balustraded front porch can be seen in a group photo of the chapter printed in the very first Yackety Yack in 1901.

Apparently the “new” house was demolished to make way for the Tudor-style building that remains the home of Alpha Delta today. It was built in 1929-30, designed by alumnus N.C. Curtis, a professor of architecture at Tulane University. The cost was $29,353.50, not counting lighting fixtures. Today, the house is appraised at more than a million dollars.
For a brief period during World War II, when military programs put a strain on campus housing, the ATO house was turned over to the Delta Delta Delta sorority, which occupied it from 1943 to 1945 or perhaps early 1946. The 1945 Yackety Yack shows the temporary ATO quarters, a two-story frame house with a second-story porch, but the location is unknown. The June 1946 Yackety Yack shows the ATOs back home for good.