Remembering the Fire of 1923

Elon’s defining moment

Elon's 1923 Commemoration logo consisting of an illustration that combines a phoenix and stylized flames that reads "Rising from the Ashes: 1923 - 2023, A century of innovation."When Elon College student William Terrell noticed a small flame flickering in a window of Elon’s Main Building early on January 18, 1923, he could not have known that the events of the next 24 hours would forever establish the character of a great institution.

Terrell awakened the campus that morning shouting, “Fire!” but the flicker rapidly grew into a roaring blaze that destroyed the building and most records, books and furnishings. The disaster could have meant the end of the small college, founded a little more than three decades earlier. Instead, the fire set the stage for Elon’s defining moment, which came just a few hours later while the ruins of the building were still smoldering.

The faculty convened for a 10 a.m. meeting. Professor W.P. Lawrence moved “to continue the work of the session” and an hour later the entire campus gathered. There was a prayer, a chorus of “Here’s to Dear Old Elon,” and plans to use remaining campus facilities to resume all classes the next day.

Trustees arrived on campus and approved what the Christian Sun newspaper described as “a building plan for the institution for the next hundred years.” Work began immediately on the historic structures that form the core of today’s campus. Citizens of Alamance County held a mass meeting in Burlington’s Municipal Theatre just 10 days after the fire to launch a fundraising drive. The cornerstone for Whitley Auditorium was laid just four months after the fire and the Alamance Building cornerstone was placed at May Commencement ceremonies. Named in honor of the local citizens who provided the construction funds, Alamance Building opened in the fall of 1923, with Whitley, Carlton and Duke buildings opening in 1924 and Mooney in 1925.

No college ever arose more triumphant from ashes than our Elon.

1924 Elon College President’s Report to the Southern Christian Convention

The faculty, staff and students of Elon in 1923 were people of faith, vision and determination. Undaunted by the fire, they raised funds and worked incredibly hard to create a bigger, better Elon.

As each successive generation faced a new set of challenges, they remembered the story of Elon’s response to the fire and added their own legacy of resilience.

A century later, the spirit that propelled Elon to rise from the ashes is still alive. Long Live Elon!