In 1966 George Blazier wrote about Cornelius B. Erwin, for whom Erwin Hall was named, explaining the history of Erwin Hall at Marietta College. Like Fayerweather Hall, Erwin Hall was named for a man whose career in life was similar to that of Daniel Fayerweather, a man who climbed the ladder to success from a life of modest circumstances.
Cornelius B. Erwin, like Fayerweather, rarely had his name mentioned in newspapers during his lifetime. A son of Peter Erwin, who was a shoemaker in Booneville, N.Y., Cornelius learned the shoemakers' trade, and, at the age of 21, set out to make a name for himself in New Britain, Conn., where he eventually became one of the leading manufacturers in both the city and in the state. He was born in1811 and died March 23, 1885, a few months after the death of his wife, leaving no heirs, and an estate valued at a$1.5 Million.
According to Blazier, the Marietta College newspaper, The Olio, two months after his death published the following: "In early life, Erwin coveted for himself a liberal education. He aspired to be a lawyer. It was his lifelong regret that he did not have the advantages in his youth and it was his pleasure to provide to many young men the privileges of which he had been deprived. Long a liberal giver to educational institutions, he finally consecrated to them the larger portions of his estate. The son of a humble shoemaker became a benefactor of his race."
Erwin, in the spirit of Christian benevolence, dedicated a great deal of what he had earned to institutions of learning "where character is made the foundation of culture, and where his benefactions will be made a perpetual blessing to all coming generations."
The Olio continued with the following statement:" Probably no one of the friends in Marietta, except for the president knew or expected that his will contained a bequest for this institution. It had not been generally known that Erwin had been a benefactor of the college for several years, his first gifts having been made through Ebenezer Baldwin Andrews, a graduate of the class of 1842, and also a graduate of the Princeton Theological Seminary in 1845, and a geologist of the state of Ohio, and also the professor of geology in Marietta College, 1851-1870."
According to Blazier, Andrews met Erwin while serving as a clergyman after settling in New Britain, and the two remained friends the rest of their lives. Erwin donated small amounts to the college to start, but later donated $30,000, half of which was for general purposes and the other $15,000 was for funding 10 free scholarships, thus providing perpetually for ten students.
Also in his will Erwin made the college one of the five legatees, among which was to be equally divided after paying bequests mentioned in his will. What amount was expected was not then known to the trustees, but it was thought the proceeds would be two or three times the amount of the direct bequest.
The will was read in the Probate Court of New Britain on March 2, 1888. Judge Joseph Walsh presided in the presence of the executors, Henry E. Russell and Mahlon J. Woodruff, who wrote the following letter, dated Feb. 3, 1890, to President John Eaton: "By the 58th item in the will, Cornelius B. Erwin, late of New Britain, deceased, gave $15,000 to the college, to be applied to general uses of said college.
"The executors are ready to pay $5,000 on account of said legacy and the sum will be forwarded upon receipt of your treasurer.
" Other payments under the will are to be made to the college, but the executors will begin with the 58th item unless you prefer payments to be made under the 57th item."
The amount of the first gift was $123,770.99. The treasurer's ledger indicated that there was an urgent need for Erwin's gifts to pay the indebtedness of the college, an amount which totaled $108,770.77.
The proceeds of the Erwin will not only helped erase the indebtedness, but encouraged the Trustees to undertake the education of young women by eventually merging the Marietta College for Women, located at Fourth and Wooster streets, with the 60 year-old college for men.
The cornerstone of Erwin Hall was laid in 1845, the week of Commencement, July 30 to Aug. 2, which began with an exhibition of the two literary societies, held at the First Congregational Church where a large number of spectators gathered.
The plan to build Erwin Hall originated in an effort to provide a temporary structure for philosophical lectures, with the idea that $1,000 be raised in subscriptions, giving each donor certain privileges of attending lectures. The plan was enlarged and the college received generous donations from citizens in Harmar and Marietta along with some from other parts of the country.
The first college clock was installed in 1852 and its contents were wooden. Its face was on all four sides of the Erwin Hall tower, and it constantly stopped working. Eventually it was given electric works and since then has provided fairly accurate time for Marietta students and citizens.
The most difficult time for the tower was when a group of male students encouraged a cow to climb the tower steps to the clock. Believe me, you might get a cow to go up steps, but try to get one to climb down.
Joan Pritchard is a longtime columnist for The Parkersburg News & Sentinel. Contact her at email@example.com.