A historic Elon partnership
Take a minute to look at the aerial photo on this page and orient yourself to Elon’s new South Campus. It is located south of the railroad tracks on land formerly owned by Elon Homes for Children. I want to share with you details of what this exciting new campus expansion will mean for the university, but first, as they say, you need to understand the rest of the story…
One hundred years ago this spring, Elon gained a new neighbor, and a rich and enduring friendship began. Members of the Southern Christian Convention purchased 111 acres of land south of the college and established an orphanage. The project was part of a plan by the church to make the Town of Elon a center for its denominational activities.
The Christian Orphanage, later known as Elon Homes for Children, shared with the college a common church heritage and a mission to serve young people. The two institutions also shared deep community ties that have bound them together for generations.
A review of the histories of Elon University and Elon Homes for Children tells the story of this interwoven relationship. You’ll find many of the same family names on facilities on both sides of the tracks: Holt, McEwen, Truitt, Harden, Powell and Rudd. Through the years, generous donors who supported the college also made sure the orphanage was provided for. And the reverse was also true.
The Rev. Dr. Walstein Snyder ’45, president of Elon Homes for Children from 1960 to 1990, likes to tell the story of Charles D. Johnston, superintendent of the orphanage from 1916 to 1949, who was also treasurer of the Elon College Board of Trustees. Snyder says Johnston worked closely with President L.E. Smith, who is credited with rescuing the college from financial collapse in the late 1930s. According to Snyder, Johnston kept the college’s financial records at his home under his bed, away from creditors. He sometimes paid college employees in his office at the orphanage.
During those years, children at the orphanage were taught about the value of a college education. There was celebration in 1923 when Thomas Andrews became the first boy from the orphanage to graduate from Elon College, claiming a prize of $100 in gold. Six years later, Hattie McKinney claimed the same prize as the first orphanage girl to earn an Elon College degree.
Johnston’s successor as superintendent was Dr. John G. Truitt, a 1917 Elon graduate. Among his early initiatives was construction of Holt Chapel, funded as a memorial to William Kirkpatrick Holt and his wife, Maud May Holt. The circle of history was completed this spring when Iris Holt McEwen Coupland, granddaughter of William and Maud, made a gift to the university, now owner of the chapel, to fund a major renovation. Soon religious groups on campus will have access to a chapel for services, and the lower floor of the building will help meet our growing demand for student meeting space.
Holt Chapel will be returned to service as part of a master plan that was developed after the university purchased 75 acres and several buildings from Elon Homes in 2003. Proceeds from the sale were used by Elon Homes to construct facilities needed to fit its new mission of serving at-risk teenagers. The land and buildings no longer needed by Elon Homes are being transformed for use by Elon University.
Next fall, Phoenix Club Sports Fields will include facilities for soccer, rugby, lacrosse and baseball, along with a practice field for the Fire of the Carolinas marching band. There will also be a golf driving range and putting green.
The former Elon Homes administration building is now used by our University Relations office, and historic Johnston Hall, built in 1926, is about to undergo a major renovation to become a new alumni center and home for the Institutional Advancement offices. When work is completed this fall, Johnston Hall will be a spacious, welcoming place where alumni groups can gather for meetings, socials and dinners. We also think nearby Holt Chapel will be an ideal facility for alumni who wish to be married on campus.
Wally Snyder says the university’s plan for use of the Elon Homes property is a perfect way to honor the century-long partnership between the two institutions. “We’re still doing what Charles D. Johnston wanted to do — serve young people,” Snyder says.
We’re proud to have such a great next-door neighbor, loyal friend and partner in service. It is right and fitting that we both share the Elon name.
Leo M. Lambert