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Is it true that one of our presidents did construction work on campus?

As unlikely as it seems, yes. The interior of Old North was completed with the assistance of President William Matthews in 1809. The land on which Old North sits was purchased in 1793, and work on the building's exterior was completed by 1795. But finding money to pay for that work had been a constant problem. Records in the University Archives show that, at one point, building expenses were paid in beef rather than cash. In light of this, it is perhaps not surprising that there was no money available to fund significant work on the building's interior. By 1809, when Fr. Matthews became president, only the third floor had been completed and was in regular use. When an anonymous gift of $400 to help finish the interior was received, Fr. Matthews, who was known for his concern over the appearance of the campus, went to work on the building, mixing mortar at the side of the hired plasterer.