The most beautiful building on the Carolina campus, to many tastes, is this Greek Revival temple considered to be one of the masterworks of New York architect Alexander Jackson Davis. He designed the building as an unlikely combination library and ballroom; later it was used for agricultural chemistry and law. For many years, it was the theatre of the Carolina Playmakers, who were largely responsible for developing folk drama in the United States. Instead of the acanthus leaves that usually ornament Corinthian capitals, Davis substituted wheat and Indian corn, in response to the aggressive Americanism then present in the country.
Bricks for the building were provided by the Episcopal rector, who ran that business on the side. The building was named for Benjamin Smith, the University’s first major donor. The structure was completed in 1851 and remodeled in 1924.
A persistent but unsubstantiated campus legend has it that the horses of the Michigan Ninth Cavalry were stabled in the library after the Civil War. This stimulated the story that, since then, Michigan horses have been known for their intelligence and Carolina students for their horse sense.
The Carolina Playmakers, founded by Professor Frederick Koch, launched alumni and associates into many branches of the arts. They include Thomas Wolfe, whose first love was playwrighting and who performed the title role in his student-written play The Return of Buck Gavin; Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Paul Green; comedian Andy Griffith; band leader Kay Kyser; actor Sheppard Strudwick; and authors Richard Adler (Pajama Game and Damn Yankees), Betty Smith (A Tree Grows in Brooklyn), and Frances Gray Patton (Good Morning, Miss Dove).