Each hour of the day the fourteen mechanized bells of the Morehead-Patterson Bell Tower ring to remind students and faculty of the generosity of two families associated with the University since its earliest days. John Motley Morehead, Class of 1891, first presented a proposal for a bell tower to University President Harry Woodburn Chase in the early 1920s. During the post-war building boom the University remodeled South Building, one of the school's oldest structures. Morehead offered to pay for a bell tower to be placed on top of the old building. The administration declined his offer, seeking to keep the historical integrity of the building.
In 1926 campus officials drew up preliminary plans for what would become Wilson Library. Morehead thought that the roof of the building would be ideal for his bell tower. Louis Round Wilson, the University Librarian, had already decided that his building should be domed. Business giant and librarian faced off, and the former went elsewhere in search of bell tower space. When the University trustees decided to move the flagpole from McCorkle Place to Polk Place, Morehead suggested a bell tower. The administration again declined his offer. By this time Morehead had decided to enlarge his project and enlisted the aid of Rufus Lenoir Patterson II. Finally the University and the two families agreed on a site behind Wilson Library for the bell tower.
Rising 172 feet, the Morehead-Patterson Bell Tower is surrounded by a hedge and lawn designed by William C. Coker, botany professor and creator of the campus Arboretum. The tower's belfry once contained a carillon of twelve manually operated bells; now there are ones. The largest bell is inscribed "Governor John Motley Morehead," the tower creator's grandfather, and the second largest bears the name of William Lenoir. Both men played prominent roles in University and state history. Inside the porch-like structure at the tower's base, called the arcade, are plaques honoring other members of the two families