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Ramsay was born in Salisbury NC. His father, John Ernest Ramsay, was also an architect, but architecture in Salisbury early in the 20th century couldn’t support a family, so the elder Ramsay became the manager of Harris Granite Company while continuing to design buildings, including many of the homes in the town's West Square Historic District. 

Ramsay graduated from the McCallie School in Chattanooga TN. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of North Carolina in 1938 and a Master of Architecture from Yale University in 1941. After graduation, he worked briefly for Carr and J. E. Greiner Architects and Engineers. Following active duty in the Navy from 1941-1946, he established John Erwin Ramsay Architect in Salisbury. In 1956, the firm became John Erwin Ramsay AIA Architect and Associates, Inc. It was Ramsay Associates from the 1970s through Ramsay's death. In 1992 the firm became Ramsay Burgin Smith Architects, Inc., with the addition of Bill Burgin and Donna Smith, which continues today.

As strong proponents of modern architecture, Ramsay and Associates were responsible for the design of many award winning modernist residences and buildings, including the Rowan County Health and Agricultural Building, Alderman Studios in High Point, the American Square showroom for American of Martinsville Furniture in Thomasville, and the College (Robertson) Community Center in Salisbury. 

Ramsay's design talents extended to traditional structures as well, including the First Presbyterian Church and Rowan Public Library in Salisbury. He was president of AIANC in 1951, and became an FAIA in 1964. He served for many years as President of the NC Board of Architecture and was Vice president of the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards. Ramsay’s architectural practice spanned 50 years. He retired from practice in 1989 and died in 1991.  In Raleigh, most people don't know that Ramsay designed the Chapel at Dorothea Dix Hospital.  Two of his three sons, John and K. C., became architects.

1984 book, John Erwin Ramsay FAIA: Portrait of an Architect, by Juanita Bouser Teschner

1939 - The W. M. Elliott Residence, 106 West Colonial Drive, Salisbury NC. His first house while in design school at Yale. The 1984 owner was John G. Riley. Sold to Sarah and Jonathan West. Sold in 2004 to Julie and Arnold Chamberlain. Photo by Gabe Nicholson.

1940 - The Carson Brantley Residence, 643 Mahaley Avenue, Salisbury NC. This is another house Ramsay designed while at Yale. The 1984 owner was Harold B. Ervin Jr. Deeded in 1999 to June and Hal Ervin. Photo by Gabe Nicholson.

Around 1941 - The Hohn/Clements House, 12 Oak Street, Salisbury NC. Originally built for the Hohn family, they endured so much criticism for its design that they never moved in. The new house was empty for some time until Don Clement bought it. As of 2011 still owned by Don Clement. Features recirculating fireplaces. Photos by Gray Stout. The green second floor was an addition.

1948 - The Dan Ritchie Residence, Stevens Street, China Grove NC.

1948 - The Cecil Graham Residence, South Franklin Street, China Grove NC.

1948 - The Jay Smith House, Fourth Street, Spencer NC.

1948 - The F. C. Wedler Residence, 2317 Princess Anne Street, Greensboro. As of 2011 owned by Joseph Bryan, Jr. Photos by Gabe Nicholson.

1949 - The J. R. McCartney House, 17 Oak Street, Salisbury NC.  Sold around 1960 to Jewel Ziprik.  Sold in 2017 to Robert B. Propst Trust.

1950 - The John Ramsay House, 16 Pine Tree Road, Salisbury NC. Originally the address was 119 Pine Tree but it was changed by the Post Office. Ramsay won an AIANC Merit Award for this house in 1955. Sold by Ramsay in 1981 to James F. and Gerry Hurley.  James Hurley claims that after he moved in and made some minor changes. John Ramsey said Hurley had "messed up the house." Ron Morgan of Charlotte designed a master suite addition in the late 90's that is sensitive to the original structure. Ramsay's son John points out that if this house was evaluated by today’s LEED guidelines it would receive points for Site Selection, Reduced Site Disturbance, Storm Water Management, Landscape and Exterior Design to reduce Heat Islands, Water Efficient Landscaping, Resource Reuse, Local/Regional Materials, Increase Ventilation Effectiveness, Daylight & Views, and Innovation in Design. Ramsay was clearly ahead of his time. As of 2011 still owned by Gerry Hurley. Color photos by Gray Stout.

1950 - The Alexander/Johnston House, 117 Pine Tree Road, Salisbury NC. As of 2011 owned by Anna Gulyn. Photos by Gray Stout.

1952 -The James C. Coffey Residence, 8 Pine Tree Road, Salisbury NC. Sold in 2007 to James Michael Conway.  Sold in 2013 to Tracy T. and Jason A. Walser.  Photo by Gabe Nicholson.

1953 - The James M. Myers House, 13 Oak Street, Salisbury NC. As of 2011 owned William Victor Bost and Bunny Bost. Photos by Gray Stout.

1953 - The Clyde E. Smith Residence, 460 10th Street, Albemarle NC. The 1984 owner was T. F. Kelly. Sold in 2003 to Geoffrey and Elizabeth Olivieri. Color photos by Gabe Nicholson.


1953 - The McKenzie Residence, 435 10th Street, Albemarle NC. Split-level house includes maid's quarters and an underground bomb shelter. Sold in 2008 to Ryan and Tracy Owens. Top two photos by Gabe Nicholson. Next three by Ryan Owens. Sold in 2014 to Rocky D. Smith and Beverly Bowden-Smith.

1953 - The George L. Burke Residence, 120 Shady Lane, Salisbury NC. Photos by Gabe Nicholson. As of 2011 still owned by the Burkes.

1953 - The Don Walser Residence, 401 Country Club Drive, Lexington NC. Owned in 1984 by Fred McIntyre Jr. As of 2011 owned by Peggy Hinkle. Photo by Gabe Nicholson.

1954 - The Robert J. Levin House, 100 Braxton Street, Mount Gilead NC. Sold in 2007 to Gabe and Amanda Nicholson. Sold in 2017 to Natalie Love and Troy McDaniel Thompson Jr.  Photos by Gabe Nicholson.

1955 - The William Smith Kirk Residence, 10 Mulberry Circle, Salisbury NC. The 1984 owner was I. H. Pope Jr. The 2011 owner knew Ramsay but had to do a complete gutting to accomplish a renovation. The only things from Ramsay left inside is some of the trim. The new owner also covered the Roman brick in new stucco. Photos by Gabe Nicholson.

1955 - The D. B. Moore House, 43 Poplar Street, Badin NC. Sold to Badin Methodist Church for use as a parsonage. Photos by Gabe Nicholson.

1956 - The William C. Stanback House, 1722 East Park Road, Salisbury NC. When Bill Stanback's wife died, he lived here with his children and later married Nancy Hart. John Ramsay bought it for himself when he moved out of Pine Tree Road. Sold in 1993 to Bruce and Jackie Wilson. Bottom two photos by Mark Wineka. Sold in 2015 to Kathleen A. Bergeron.

1956 - The John Gregory Residence, 521 Confederate Avenue, Salisbury NC. Sold to Robert B. Tannehill. Sold in 1997 to Constance Stanton and Richard Prim. They added new windows, glass block on side of house at the master bathroom renovation. The house partially burned December 13, 2010. Video of fire. Top two photos by Gabe Nicholson.

1956 - The E. L. Brown Residence, 2320 Millbridge Road, China Grove NC. This was built as a farm house, perhaps the most modern farmhouse in NC at the time. Sold to Samuel Brown. Sold in 2011 to Benjamin L. Watts. Photos by Gabe Nicholson.

1956 - The J. W. Johnson House, 113 Kathland Drive, Thomasville NC. 4000 sf. Five bedrooms. Sold to Mary Jane and Molly L. Johnson. Sold in 2011 to Jeffrey S. Scherer. 

1956 - The Paul B. Reynolds House, 116 Rebel Road, Salisbury NC. Built by Paul R. Daniels. Sold in 1999 to Michael and Elvie Whisenant. Renovated in 2000 which changed it considerably. B/W photos by Torrence Studios. Color photos by Gabe Nicholson. Featured in the December 1962 Southern Architect.

1961 - The Charles Wallace House, North Myrtle Beach SC. Was not built anything like the original plans.

1968 - The Elizabeth Phillips House, 2170 Royall Drive, Winston-Salem NC. Photos by Gabe Nicholson. Sold in 2010 to Eva Rodtwitt.  Sold in 2013 to Angela A. and Phillip E. May.  Has floor to ceiling corner windows and back second story deck, slate floor throughout ground level and a slate walkway all around the outside perimeter, giving the appearance that the floor extends out past the exterior walls.

1972 - The Germaine Bree House,  2135 Royall Drive, Winston-Salem NC. As of 2011 owned by Michele Gillespie and Kevin Pittard. The far right section with the lower roof pitch is an addition. Photos by Gabe Nicholson.

1975 - The Shasta Bryant House, 2061 Royall Drive, Winston-Salem NC. As of 2011 owned by Joan Hester. Photos by Gabe Nicholson.

Sources include: Sons KC Ramsay and John Ramsay, Salisbury Post, Gray Stout, John Erwin Ramsay FAIA: Portrait of an Architect (1984), by Juanita Bouser, Gabe Nicholson.