BECAUSE YOU SERVED
Veterans Day Feature: Davidson’s Erwin Brothers
Jane Campbell wears many hats in Davidson, but none more proudly than that of a veteran who retired with the rank of Captain after more than 25 years of service in the U.S. Navy. A 1987 graduate of Davidson College, she returned in retirement and has consistently and proudly recognized service to country. In recent months, she shared a number of stories on social media about fellow veterans associated with Town and Gown or veterans she met during her career. Here is one of them, in recognition of Veterans Day.
As a Davidson College student, I knew about Erwin Lodge primarily because it was back in “the woods” off the cross-country trails. However, I can’t say that I knew the story behind the Lodge until I returned to Davidson a few years ago.
My first Memorial Day back in Davidson, I joined in with the group that was placing flags on the graves of Davidson Veterans buried in our town’s three cemeteries. As I walked through the college cemetery on N. Main Street, I noticed side-by-side graves. Initially I assumed it might be a couple. However, the graves are those of CPT George Phifer Erwin and Lt. Edward J. Erwin Jr.
Their grave markers are simple enough:
George Phifer Erwin
Captain—U.S. Army Air Corps
June 11, 1915–January 26, 1945
Edward Jones Erwin Jr.
Lieutenant—158th U.S. Infantry
(engraved Infantry insignia)
July 28, 1923–February 13, 1945
Brothers. Eight years apart in birth. Eighteen days apart in death.
Their names are also the original bronze plaque at the Davidson College War Memorial—the plaque dedicated to the Davidson Alumni who died during WWII. The Erwin brothers also grew up in Davidson. Their mother, Mary Erwin, was a librarian at the college from 1942–1956. Their father, Edward J. “E.J.” Erwin, was an English professor from 1920–1956.
I found the following note in an online collection of the college archives:
“Erwin Lodge has been built because it is the one memorial, and the most ideal one, which could be decided upon to fit both the late Erwin brothers’ interests and personalities. Phifer found his sphere of interest in the scientific field, while Edward was interested strongly in the literary. There was a communion of interest, however, in the outdoor life. Around the glen and woods where the Lodge has been built, the Erwin boys found youthful adventure, exploring the reaches of the little branch, and camping later, when Scouts, in the shaded acres of pines and dogwood.”
—“Sketch” Scripts and Pranks, Winter 1947
The following information is in a frame along with a picture of the Lodge—hanging inside.
“Erwin Lodge was built as a living memorial to provide a place for hospitality for the college community and the town of Davidson at the request of Professor Edward and his wife, college librarian Mary Erwin. The Erwins were inspired by a New Hampshire cottage that had served as a place of recreation for all ages. The Lodge was built to honor their two sons: Capt. George Phifer Erwin (Davidson ’36) who died in a plane crash in Kansas following a training mission in January 1945 and Lt. Edward J. Erwin Jr. (Davidson ’43) who was killed less than a month later in Luzon, the Philippines, in February 1945.
Building Erwin Lodge was a personal and community effort. The site offered pines and cedars, which had been planted by a group of Boy Scouts (which included Phifer) seventeen years earlier as a part of their soil conservation program. The college architect insisted that a stone building would be most appropriate and permanent. Some stone came from the golf course, and some from the stream nearby, but most of the supply came from the long-discarded rock foundations of “old Chambers,” the building that was built on the Davidson College campus in 1858 and was destroyed by fire in 1921. Much work went into break the rock foundation and preparing it for the walls of the lodge.
An Italian stone mason was found in Charlotte who agreed to undertake the building. In the spring of 1946 heavy timbers were found, along with roofing, doors, and windows. The material was assembled at the site, and the mason, Mr. Martin, and his three Spanish helpers began work in 1946. The walls were completed in early autumn, and the carpenters and electricians finished the structure. Much of the material was gleaned from older campus and town buildings; there is a lot of history in its walls. The porch columns were salvaged from the ruins of Morrison Hall, the first YMCA building in the South. The limestone used in the mantle, the arch of the fireplace, and over the windows, was left over from the building of Grey Memorial Library and the Martin Science Building. The wrought iron fences on the stoop came from the college cemetery.”
Since its inception, Erwin Lodge has served and continues to serve as a place for college and community gatherings. The descendants of this Erwin family honor their legacy and the founding sentiment to support its continued use by Davidson College and the Davidson community and value its place in the Davidson College story.
I biked over to Erwin Lodge the other day to get a couple of these exterior photos. In the midst of COVID, I think the lodge might currently be serving as a more permanent residence for students or staff/faculty. Regardless of its use, may it always serve to honor these two sons of Davidson who died in service to our nation.
Jane Campbell, U.S. Navy, Capt. ret., grew up in a military family and lived around the globe before graduating from Davidson College with a degree in Political Science. During a 25-year career in the Navy, she served aboard three different ships and held a variety of shore-based assignments. She was stationed on the East and West coasts, as well as overseas. She had tours at the Pentagon and the White House, and volunteered for a deployment to Afghanistan. She moved to Davidson in late 2014 and has become involved in a variety of volunteer activities with college, church, and community. She serves as a photographer and Sports Editor for News of Davidson.