Founders Week 2017: Honoring Z.T. Kivett

In the heart of campus stand two iconic landmarks, the statue of university founder James Archibald Campbell and Kivett Hall. Campbell’s statue was unveiled recently at our inaugural Founders Week in 2015. Kivett Hall made its debut appearance over a hundred years before.

Kivett Hall, known for its bell tower and clay brick facade, stands as a testament to the hard work, determination, and dedication that is synonymous with Campbell University.

Named after its architect and chief builder, Kivett Hall is more than a beautiful building that contains a handful of classrooms and offices. It has been a symbol of hope since it opened in 1903.

The Legacy

Born in 1848, Zachary Taylor Kivett was what locals at the time called a “steam engine in britches.”  

He was too young to fight in the American Civil War, but the repercussions of it reverberated through most of his early adulthood.

His older brother died during the Battle of Gettysburg, and his father moved west after the war, never to return.

Abandoned by his father, Kivett apprenticed for his uncle Andrew Jackson Kivett, a bridge maker in nearby Fayetteville.

In his apprenticeship, he learned the basics of bridge-building and general contracting. He also gained the confidence to forge a path of his own in the construction industry.

By 1900, he completed the county courthouse in Lillington with his partner William May and earned a reputation for having a will for survival that few could match.

His tenacity on the construction site did not match his gentle, docile nature towards his family and friends, however. This quiet, tender-hearted side drew the attention of Miss Lillian McNeill, and they wed in 1878.

Kivett believed the work of the mind and the work of the hands together equaled success. He ensured his children knew the value of a man’s own work and appreciated the opportunity afforded by formal education.

His children studied at Buies Creek Academy under the direction of J.A. Campbell. The Kivetts lived across the Cape Fear River and would ferry across to make it to class on time. During especially cold days, Mrs. Kivett would escort the children across the frozen river so they wouldn’t miss a day of school.

The Fire

In December 1900, a fire broke out across the campus of Buies Creek Academy in the middle of the night beginning with a professor’s house and slowly working its way to the main schoolhouse and tabernacle. With the fire in the professor’s house quickly extinguished, the rest of the campus lay smoldering in heaps of ash and charred wood by morning.

Kivett crossed the Cape Fear River that morning and walked four miles to the house of J.A. Campbell. He found him sobbing with grief at the loss of his school – the dream he spent more than a decade building.

Kivett grabbed his hand and infamously said: “Time’s wasting, Jim Archie! Get out of that bed! Whoever saw a camel without a hump on it? Now, you get out and get a hump on you! We’ve got work to do!”

He followed that statement with something bolder. The claim that he was glad the campus had burned because now the opportunity to build something even better lay before them.

Inspired and encouraged, the two worked together to raise funds necessary to rebuild. Students canvassed the community and local churches, while Kivett sold 100 acres of his own land to buy materials and pay for labor.

Kivett traveled south to Dunn to observe a local brickwork in action and learned the process of making bricks out of clay to minimize cost on the project back in Buies Creek.

He and his three eldest sons lead the build on the new school building, at times asking students to cut wood or carry bricks while on breaks between lessons in their temporary classroom.

In a stroke of luck, a fully equipped sawmill broke loose from its anchor during a flood in May 1901 and floated downstream. Kivett, viewing it as a gift from God, recovered it from the water and used it to complete the building.

Community members helped build scaffolding, and hired labor was kept at a minimum as Kivett directed his crew in constructing the massive building that rose from the ashes and towered over the sandy flat fields of Harnett County.

The Building

Kivett Hall stands as majestic as it did the day it opened in 1903, although the landscape around it has changed quite a bit.

The original clay bricks have witnessed a century of campus life bustling around it despite comments like, “The first good rain’s gonna turn the bricks back to mud” from naysayers at the time of construction.

When it opened, it was larger than the county courthouse and showed Kivett’s architectural prowess despite not having any formal training in creating and executing blueprints.

The building featured steam heating, modern plumbing, and a sewer system. Students raised money for a school bell, which rings to this day at Campbell football games. Kivett designed a rope and pulley system that raised the first floor walls to transform the classrooms into a larger auditorium.

The structural integrity of the building proved itself time and time again, including one incident involving a fire 50 years after the building opened. Kivett reinforced the walls that were not part of the pulley system with an extra layer of brick to act as firewalls.

In the 1970s, the building changed with the times as it became the home for Campbell’s Norman A. Wiggins School of Law. It housed future lawyers for decades until the law school relocated to downtown Raleigh.

The building sat empty for a while, save for a few bats in the belfry, until rumors began to circulate that it would be torn down. With a rocky foundation and a century of wear and tear, the student body feared the iconic building would succumb to long-term campus beautification projects.  

In 2008, the university announced upgrades and renovations to the building. It now houses lecture halls, the English department, and office space.

Now, the building serves as a steadfast reminder that the Campbell community, like Z.T. Kivett himself, is loyal, passionate, resilient, generous, solid, rooted in community, and driven by a commitment to serve others.