This piece by former Texas Collection director Kent Keeth originally was published in The Baylor Line in November 1981, then was reprinted in Looking Back at Baylor (1985), a collection of Keeth and Harry Marsh’s historical columns for the Line. Blogging about Texas periodically features selections from Looking Back at Baylor, with hopes of sharing Keeth’s work with a new audience.
The beginning of this month marked the 173rd year since Baylor was chartered in Independence, Texas. This spring, it will be 132 years since Baylor moved to Waco, Texas. Which leads us to ask, what prompted the move? Read on to find out.
In 1885 Baylor at Independence reached a turning point in its history. For the past quarter-century the forty-year-old school, whose heyday had occurred in the decade of the 1850’s, had suffered from a variety of social, political and economic problems in Southwest Texas which were beyond its control. The death in February, 1885, of President William Carey Crane, whose efforts alone had kept the struggle school alive, signaled the need of desperate measures if Baylor went to survive.
This post is part of a series that highlights Independence, Texas, the home of Baylor University from 1845 to 1886.
One of the many historic preservation groups that has assisted with preserving history in and around Independence through the years was the Baylor Historical Society. Formed to “stimulate interest in the history of Baylor University,” the society was founded in February 1941. Membership was open to anyone interested, and it cost only $1 to join the society. Members attended regular meetings on the Baylor campus, and usually heard a historical paper presentation at each meeting. Featured speakers included such state luminaries as Price Daniel (governor of Texas 1956-1962) and Pat Neff (governor of Texas 1921-1925, president of Baylor University 1932-1947). Longtime Baylor staff and faculty members P.D. Browne, Robert L. Reid, and Lily Russell served as society officers, and many descendants of early Baylor-associated families were members of the organization.
The society was very interested in preserving Texas, Baylor, and community history at Independence. Members raised money to stabilize the iconic Baylor columns, discussed a plan to reconstruct a dorm and operate it as an inn, and lobbied the Texas Legislature to turn part of Independence into a state park. Members also helped the Texas State Garden Club landscape around Independence.
It is not known exactly when the society disbanded. By 1964, the society only had 21 members at their annual meeting, and many of the people who had taken the lead in forming and running the organization had passed away. Longtime member P.D. Browne donated the society’s records to the Texas Collection in 1975.
Works Cited: BU Records: Baylor Historical Society, Accession #BU/28, The Texas Collection, Baylor University, and BU Records: Historical Research Office, Accession #BU/103, The Texas Collection, Baylor University.
This is the first in a number of upcoming posts about the town of Independence, where Baylor University’s original campus was, and the connections between Independence and Baylor people and events.
Independence has always been connected with the history of the Republic of Texas. From the renaming of Coles Settlement to Independence, to Sam Houston living in Independence, there is no shortage of connections to historic early Texas people and events. One of these special events celebrated each year is San Jacinto Day.
This holiday, commemorating Sam Houston’s victory at the Battle of San Jacinto on April 21 against Santa Anna’s government, was a major holiday at Baylor at Independence. Multiple historical accounts preserved at The Texas Collection at Baylor University in Waco mention the annual festivities of San Jacinto Day at Independence.
One letter, written by Florence L. Davis Bledsoe, vividly describes an event that took place at Baylor University in Independence on San Jacinto Day in 1859:
One of the jubilees here is on the 21st of April, in commemoration of the battle of San Jacinto. We had “big doings” here on the 21st. General Houston was here and spoke to us. I like very much to hear him speak. He said there were but two things he now aspired to, one was to be an overseer of the roads, to see that they were in good order for he knew the ladies did not love to travel over rough roads. The other was to be Squire and see that the young ladies did not marry worthless vagabond fellows and that the young gentlemen did not marry slovenly careless girls.
Margaret Hall Hicks, also a Baylor student at Independence in the mid-1800s, describes the holiday in her unpublished book “Memories of Ancestors.”
An annual picnic on San Jacinto Day was a social event anticipated and prepared for months before the time. Each girl had made a date weeks before with some boy, generally her sweetheart, for the whole day together. If the boy was financially able, he hired a horse and buggy to take his lady love, and these were the envy of the other girls, who had to join in with others in hiring a hack or wagon and go in crowds.
Things have changed since the days students used buggys for transportation, but the excitement and fun of holidays and events on campus lives on in such events as Dia del Oso and Homecoming.
Works Cited: Keeth, Kent. “Looking Back at Baylor: a Collection of Historical Vignettes.” Waco: Baylor University, 1985; BU records: Baylor at Independence, Accession #BU/220, The Texas Collection, Baylor University; and Hicks-Hall-Harman family papers, Accession #1726, The Texas Collection, Baylor University.
M. P. Daniel papers, 1907-1986 (#3919): The M. P. Daniel papers contain the correspondence, legal, and literary documents of Marion Price Daniel, Sr., a prominent businessman in southeast Texas in the early 20th century.
Twenty-two paintings by Henry A. McArdle, painter and Baylor professor, are on display at the Martin Museum of Art. McArdle served Baylor at Independence as the director of the school of art. These paintings have never been shown together and include three paintings from the Texas Capitol as well as from private collections.
Opening events include a roundtable discussion with exhibition lenders (including our own John Wilson, representing The Texas Collection) on Saturday, August 30, at 3:00 pm, followed by a reception with light refreshments at 4:30 p.m. These events will be held in Hooper-Schaefer Fine Arts Building and are open to the public.
Read more in the Waco Tribune-Herald’s great piece on the exhibit.
Texas has changed quite a bit over the years, as is readily seen in our vast photograph collection. To help bring some of those changes to life, we’ve created a “Texas over Time” series of GIFs that will illustrate the construction and renovations of buildings, changing aerial views, and more. Our collections are especially strong on Waco and Baylor images, but look for some views beyond the Heart of Texas, too.
The Baylor Female Building was built for Baylor University in 1857 by contractor John P. Collins and was three stories tall, with features including classrooms, an auditorium, a library, and recreation rooms.
The building underwent structural repair in 1877 and continued to host Baylor students until 1886, when Baylor Female College (as the female department had been known since receiving its own charter in 1866), moved to Belton, Texas, and ultimately became the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor. (1886 also was when Baylor University joined with Waco University.)
After Baylor Female College left, the building continued to be used as an academic building by the now defunct William Carey Crane Male and Female Colleges until the schools were renamed Binford University, and eventually closed altogether in 1897.
In the early half of the twentieth century, the neglected building became victim to a fire which gutted the building and hastened its demise. Soon, all that remained were the columns we see today (which have been restored a few times).
Starting in 2001, the columns were made a part of Baylor’s Line Camp experience, where incoming students are taken to the site and walk under the arch of the columns, thus symbolically joining the Baylor Line.
Baylor at Independence is now jointly overseen by Baylor University and the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor.
One of the most important early supporters of Baylor University is also one of the lesser-known figures in university history. He has no building named in his memory, and his story is given only brief attention in resources about early Texas and Baylor history. Despite the lack of attention, Baptist minister and wealthy landowner Hosea Garrett was one of the longest-serving trustees in Baylor history and was a major donor of both his time and resources for more than 40 years.
Not much is known of Garrett’s early years. Born in South Carolina in 1800, he married his first cousin Mary Garrett in 1819 and was ordained as a Baptist minister around 1835. The Garrett family came to Texas in 1841, and settled in Chappell Hill, Washington County. Over time, Hosea Garrett became one of the richest plantation owners in Washington County.
Almost immediately upon arriving in Texas, Garrett began doing what he could to encourage Baptist churches throughout Texas. Although he spent the bulk of his time preaching in Washington County, Garrett was also involved on the state level with Baptist churches. Just prior to the American Civil War, he became president of the Baptist General Convention of Texas.
Garrett must have become involved with Baylor University shortly upon arriving in Texas. His home of Chappell Hill (about 20 miles southeast of Independence) was one of a few towns that submitted bids for Baylor to make its home there—perhaps he was involved with that town’s offer. Garrett was first elected to the Board of Trustees (today the Board of Regents) in 1848, became president of the board that same year, and gave generously of his administrative talents while serving until 1868. But his service was not yet done—in 1870 he became president of the board again, serving until 1888. A notable change in the university during his tenure was the move from Independence to Waco in 1886, which he helped to oversee. His combined 38 years as president of the board still ranks as the record for the longest-serving leader of the board.
Hosea Garrett passed away in 1888, at his home in Chappell Hill. However, that is not the end of his story. In the 1950s, when Baylor supporters were active in securing the original site of the university in Independence, Texas, descendants of Garrett named an oak grove on the property in his memory. The exact location of the grove is now lost to history—there are many oaks in Independence! However, the oak tree is known for its strength and endurance, and surely some of the descendants of that grove survive as a fitting memorial to a man who helped establish a firm foundation for Baylor University.
Did you find Sam Houston’s donation of $20 to Baylor in the subscription book? That $20 in 1853 would be about $550 today, according to inflation calculators.
Each month, we post a processing update to notify our readers about the latest collections that have finding aids online and are primed for research. Here’s the scoop for March:
BU Records: Alumni Rebuilding Campaign, 1922-1923: The records of the Alumni Rebuilding Campaign consist of correspondence, financial documents, and administrative records regarding fundraising efforts to rebuild Baylor’s F. L. Carroll Chapel and Library after the building was destroyed by fire in 1922.
Hosea Garrett papers, 1856-1878: The Garrett papers contain correspondence and financial documents primarily produced by Hosea Garrett during 1856-1863. Garrett was a trustee of Baylor University at Independence and a major donor throughout the early years of Baylor.
By Brian Simmons, Archival Assistant and Digital Input Specialist
Baylor University’s Waco roots are tied to the somewhat short lived Waco University. Originally founded as an all-male high school in 1857, the institution eventually came under the control of the Waco Baptist Association, which gave it the name Waco Classical School. In the 1860s, amid internal administrative issues, school management decided to seek new leadership to take the school in a new direction. The trustees offered then current Baylor University President, Rufus C. Burleson, control of the institution. Burleson, who at the time was clashing with faculty in Independence, accepted the offer from the Waco Classical School. He resigned from Baylor in the spring of 1861 and moved to Waco, taking with him many Baylor professors and students.
With Burleson as President, the Waco Classical School was transformed into Waco University over the summer of 1861. The University officially opened as an all-male institution on September 2 of the same year. The venture was moderately successful, but the momentum of the Civil War took a toll on the development of the fledgling university. Although it remained open throughout the war, Waco University faced budget shortfalls and periods of low enrollment.
After the war, the University began to flourish with increased matriculation and an expanded curriculum. The creation of the female department in 1866 made Waco University among the first coeducational universities in the United States. Although men and women attended the same university and were taught by the same professors, gender segregation was not uncommon.
As Waco University matured, it began to compete with Baylor for potential students. This complication was further compounded by the fact that two different Baptist organizations supported the universities. Both universities existed alongside each other for a number of years. The arrival of train service to Waco would be the beginning of the end for Baylor in Independence. Without a major source of transportation, Baylor began to decline. Later in 1885, the two Baptist organizations that supported the universities joined together and decided to support only one university. It was decided that the organization would consolidate both universities to form Baylor University at Waco. Waco University’s Board of Trustees held their final meetings in 1887 to transfer all assets to Baylor.
Waco University ceased operations at the end of the spring 1886 term. Baylor University at Waco was not much of a change for students of the defunct university. The same curriculum, faculty, facilities, and polices were retained for the first few years. That would soon end as Baylor gradually shifted away from what was established at Waco University. Baylor began to build new buildings to the south and altered the curriculum. After the completion of buildings on the new campus, the remaining Waco University structure became the Maggie Houston Hall dormitory before eventually being phased out. Waco University was Baylor’s entry to Waco, but it is more than just a footnote in Baylor’s history. Visit the Texas Collection to view the Waco University collection and see its digitized catalogs to explore this institution’s own rich history.