A few years ago at a Christmas party, I was asked, “Why bother to keep historical records? Why not reboot every hundred years or so with a clean slate? We don’t know that much about the 1600s, and that doesn’t really hurt us.”
After I picked my jaw up off the floor, I tried to explain to this new acquaintance about the importance of records in understanding where we’ve been, so we can make better choices moving forward. I told him about how records are invaluable resources for people, businesses, governments, and other organizations. I reminded that we do, in fact, know quite a bit about the events of the 1600s, thanks to records, and without them, we wouldn’t know about major events like civil wars, plagues, religious movements, and more—events that shape our contemporary life, even if in ways that aren’t readily apparent.
But I don’t think I really got through to him, and that left me feeling dissatisfied with my response. When considering archives and historical preservation, perhaps the natural impulse is to think that these efforts are for the past. That old things document past people, past places, past events. And while that view is partially true, the real function of archives is so much more.
We keep archives for the future. Archival records retain their value as they are used, today, tomorrow, and for our descendants. Every time a researcher finds that turning point journal entry, that critical line entry in a ledger book, that changing boundary on a map, that influential piece of correspondence—every time a researcher gains new knowledge, the past comes to life. New knowledge leads
to a better future, whether a record tells us where an old burial ground was so we don’t build on top of it, or if it gives us greater insight into the mind of a former U.S. President and how he formed decisions. No matter if the information gained is of local or international impact, of interest to a nation or to one person, the past becomes present when people use archives.
For these reasons, I appreciate the sentiment behind the naming of Baylor’s vision, Pro Futuris. A play on Baylor’s motto, Pro Ecclesia, Pro Texana, the words remind us that all that we do at a university is in the name of a better future. In my role as University Archivist, I can see through the records that Baylor has changed in many ways…and hasn’t changed at all in others. We’re still discussing many of the same issues that were being discussed decades ago, from diversity to gender politics to what kind of institution we mean to be.
If archives sit on the shelves untouched, then yes, they are of the past. That’s why The Texas Collection is perpetually working to make accessible its records so people can interact with the past and bring it to current relevance—and hopefully, future actions for a better future.
This month we are featuring some collections processed by the Archival Collections and Museums graduate course that was taught at The Texas Collection by Dr. Julie Holcomb, with assistance from TC archivists. Each student in this class processed an archival collection and wrote a publicity piece promoting that record group. Check out a few of these pieces and learn more about the wide array of TC holdings! (See last week’s posts here.)
Finding Mr. Right
By Matthew Doyen, Museum Studies graduate student
During the first few weeks that the Bachman family papers were in my hands, I found myself transported back 100 years. Ella Bachman Jones, daughter of J.A. and Addie Bachman, lived in Austin and attended the University of Texas. It was during this collegiate period of her life that Ella started to keep letters that interested suitors would send her way. I can’t be certain that she would have been too keen on me reading her mail—but I am only human and couldn’t help myself.
A young gentleman and fellow Longhorn named Charles Pope Caldwell was one of the first of several to actively write to Ella. I must say that early on I was rooting for Charlie, who would soon graduate from Yale Law School and later become a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. His letters displayed a strong and true affection for his sweetheart but—as one can convey from Ella’s last name—he was unfortunately not her Mr. Right.
Her next suitor was a very heart-on-his-sleeve type of man who was doomed for disaster. Lewis Preston of Beaumont, Texas, owned his own drug company and was certainly fervent in the pursuit of his darling. Despite pouring out his soul several times, I’m afraid Lewis had little chance at success at being her Mr. Right. Around this time, the turn of the twentieth century, she began a correspondence with Charles Edgar Jones.
Edgar, as he was known, was from Lockhart, Texas, and owned the Lockhart Water Works with none other than J.A. Bachman, Ella’s father. It was evident from the century-old letters that this relationship—unlike their business—was meant to last. My favorite part of their journey was when they started to scale back their affectionate lines in fear that J.A. would open a letter and read the scandalous words inside. For a period of time, letters were sent almost once—and sometimes even twice—a day! Most of the time they didn’t say much, just a reminder at how much Edgar missed Ella. The letters didn’t stop until—from what I have gathered—the two said “I Do.” Even though Edgar passed away 33 years before his beautiful wife, he was forever Ella’s Mr. Right.
It was interesting looking at this story from entirely one viewpoint. Since none of Ella’s letters are in this collection—all we can do is imagine her waiting for the letters to arrive, tearing open the envelopes, and reading the same pages. It was definitely a treat to work with this collection (which also includes dozens of letters and other materials received by family members) and relive Ella’s love story.
Fight for Identity: A Baptist Personality Crisis
By Amanda Sawyer, Museum Studies graduate student
Throughout the nation in the late twentieth century, religious universities seemed to have lost a sense of who they were. The records of the Baptist Heritage Study show that Baylor University had its own identity crisis in the early 1990s.
A conservative resurgence had been brewing in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) for years and, beginning in 1990, the university began to distance itself from ultra-conservative Baptists wanting to dictate curriculum. A change to the university’s charter—spearheaded by President Herbert H. Reynolds—removed some of the sway which fundamentalists held in school policy.
Despite Reynolds’ intentions to strengthen the university, the move caused some to question Baylor’s Baptist identity. In response, Reynolds formed a subcommittee of the Baptist Heritage Group to research the religious and academic commitments of the university. Led by Associate Professor of Philosophy Dr. Michael Beaty, the committee set out to answer fundamental questions about the influence of religion and denomination upon higher education.
Their early work showed that universities throughout the country were struggling with similar problems. Realizing the issue was bigger than they originally thought, the committee prepared a proposal for a planning grant which was submitted to Lilly Endowment Inc. in January of 1992. After the foundation approved their plan in June, committee members intensified their efforts—including trips to other universities throughout the country considering similar questions.
The committee completed a planning grant proposal in May 1994 which expressed plans for a four-year study of Baylor’s identity. They hoped findings from the study would answer questions about Baylor’s self-understanding as a Christian University in the Baptist tradition while also examining why the charter had changed.
The records—mostly correspondence between committee members—provide a comprehensive view of the university’s fight to balance a strong academic record with denominational ties. Some of the most interesting pieces are messages between committee members as they debate their obligation to tell the trustees about their research. Although the Baptist Heritage Study records conclude with the 1994 grant proposal, it is clear that the group’s research continues to have a lasting impact on the university today.
This month we will be featuring some collections processed by the Archival Collections and Museums graduate course that was taught at The Texas Collection by Dr. Julie Holcomb, with assistance from TC archivists. Each student in this class processed an archival collection and wrote a publicity piece promoting that record group. Check out a few of these pieces and learn more about the wide array of TC holdings!
Beyond Legal Pursuits
By Courtney Berge, Museum Studies graduate student
The word “lawyer” carries certain connotations. Some people think of paperwork, others shady practices, even more think of good money, nice suits, or the classic TV show, Law and Order. This, however, is not all that any lawyer is. Like anyone else, lawyers have dreams and aspirations beyond their profession. Even though everyone has ideas about the law profession, what do people really know about lawyers? What about the small town local lawyers who are never depicted on TV? What else is there to know about their lives?
Robert Adams Grundy was a small town, local lawyer. Born in Memphis, TX, he graduated from Baylor in 1919 and again in 1930. He worked as a lawyer throughout Central Texas, but ultimately landed in Waco, where he lived until his death in 1973. His papers were donated to Baylor’s Texas Collection, but what one might expect to find in a lawyer’s papers is not what you will find in this collection. The Robert A. Grundy papers include not the business dealings of a lawyer, but the remnants of his dreams as a struggling author. Not only can you delve into his dreams, but you can also catch a glimpse of his family history through the legal and financial documents of the Grundy family.
Grundy wanted to be an author. He completed a few manuscripts, including a biography of Stephen F. Austin and one of Charles Goodnight, both of which can be found in this collection. You can also see the work and effort he put into his writings through the research notes he compiled for his future manuscript on the history of the Jewish people. Sadly, none of his works were published, but you can see the story of the struggle through the rejection letters he filed away.
Within the collection one also finds some of the financial and legal documents pertaining to the Grundy family. These letters, land indentures, deeds, tax assessments, etc. date back into the 19th century and show how a family living in Texas dealt with their roots in Kentucky. They show the business side of managing land in another state.
The Robert A. Grundy papers aren’t the type of collection one would expect from a lawyer. Instead of legal briefs and correspondence you can get a glimpse at the personal aspirations of a Central Texas boy. He was a man who seemingly loved Texas history and history itself, one who wrote books about his passions and hoped to get them published, a man who was more than his profession, and one who has granted us a glimpse into his life.
Tending to the Business of Baylor
By Chris Paulos, Museum Studies graduate student
It was the 1920s. Prohibition was the law of the land. The air was filled with the sounds of Jazz. Borrowing money to put in the stock market still seemed like a good idea. Two dollars and fifty cents got you reserved seating at a Baylor game.
BU records: Business Affairs Division: Business Manager (George H. Belew) documents the work of George H. Belew at Baylor, while also giving a glimpse into the concerns of the time. Belew was the Business Manager of Baylor University from 1925 until 1931. He would also serve as Secretary and then President of the Baylor Athletics Association and as Secretary to the Baylor Board of Trustees. The collection is broadly divided into two parts. The first contains records of Baylor’s business office, and the second is made up of Belew’s business correspondence.
Among the records are game contracts with Rice University, Texas Christian University, the University of Arkansas, and other institutions. The letters open a window into the behind-the-scenes work which made the football season possible: arranging transportation, taking bids from hotels for rooms and meals (all bacon had to be well drained), finding a good laundry, and hiring officials to oversee the game. One of Belew’s other duties was distributing football tickets by mail. The letters he received alongside the checks form a “Who’s Who” of the wider Baylor community.
The Belew letters are witness to the history of Baylor stadiums, recording the move from Carroll Field to the Cotton Palace in 1926 and the return to Carroll three years later. A 1927 letter from a stadium builder provides a glimpse into what might have been had Baylor not waited until 1950 to inaugurate its own new facility.
Other documents show how daily life at Baylor has changed. Records show that among the employees of Georgia Burleson Hall were several “Matrons” tasked with enforcing the rules of dining etiquette. These rules feel much more at home at a Victorian dinner party than the food court atmosphere of the 21st dining commons. Yet, another concern found in the Belew correspondence is finding positions for prospective students in what we would probably now call work-study jobs. So maybe we’re not so different from our Twenties counterparts after all.
Texas has changed quite a bit over the years, as is readily seen in our vast photograph and postcard collections. 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.
Alabama native J. T. Davis established the Brazos Valley Cotton Oil Mill on January 29, 1910. The Brazos Valley Cotton Oil Mill purchased thousands of tons of cottonseed and then extracted oil for culinary and industrial purposes. After much success processing cottonseed, Davis acquired another location, the Valley Mills Cotton Oil Company, in 1924.
Before the Great Depression, Waco was a hub for growing and distributing cotton and its byproducts worldwide.
Even after a fire destroyed the hull house and the mixed feed plant in 1943, production remained steady, and construction of the two silos was completed by 1950.
After Central Texas flooding in 1957, the Brazos Valley Cotton Oil Company was unable to recover and had to sell the company to David C. Blintliff Interests of Houston.
Before Fixer Upper’s Chip and Joanna Gaines purchased the property in 2014, the plant was a storage facility for JPM Feeds and then remained vacant throughout the 1990s. It now is the site of Magnolia Market at the Silos, with some of the buildings featured in these photos re-purposed and revitalized.
Davison, Candace Braun. “Get A Sneak Peek at Chip and Joanna Gaines’ New Bakery.” Delish. Hearst Communications, Inc., 02 Mar. 2016. Web. 26 May 2016.
Amanda Sawyer, “Brazos Valley Cotton Oil Mill,” Waco History, accessed May 26, 2016, http://wacohistory.org/items/show/97.
GIF and factoids by Haley Rodriguez, archives student assistant. See the still images in our Flickr set.
Each month, we post an update to notify our readers about the latest archival collections to be processed and some highlights of our print material acquisitions. These resources are primed for research and are just a sampling of the many resources to be found at The Texas Collection!
June’s finding aids By Paul Fisher, Processing Archivist
Nate Chodorow papers, 1931-1986, undated (#726): Documents the daily operations of one of Waco’s longest running retail businesses. Operating for more than sixty years in downtown Waco, Nate Chodorow’s Dry Goods Store provided local consumers with apparel and piece goods as well as a variety of other household goods. The correspondence, the legal and financial records, and the print materials in this collection document the history of the store as well as Chodorow’s extensive real estate transactions.
June’s print materials By Amie Oliver, Librarian and Curator of Print Materials
Coahuila and Texas (Mexico). [Decree of the Standing Deputation of Congress … Saying that the Present Governor, Vidaurri y Villaseñor, is Removed from Office because of His Infirmities and the Office Entrusted to Juan José Elguezabal … ]. [Monclova, 1834].
One of four copies located in the world, this rare broadside, another Streeter item, provides information on the replacement of a Coahuila and Texas governor in 1834. Click here to view the Bearcat record for this resource!
Great Britain. Bill for Carrying into Effect the Treaty Between Her Majesty and the Republic of Texas for the Suppression of the African Slave Trade. [London], 1843.
This rare item, found in Streeter’s Bibliography of Texas, 1795-1845, is located in three other institutions and is the only copy located in Texas. The treaty, one of three between Texas and Great Britain signed in November 1840, deals with the suppression of the African slave trade. Click here to view the Bearcat record for this resource!
Luling Chamber of Commerce. Luling: Come to Luling Where Nature is Exceptionally Generous. [Luling, TX, 193-?].
“Texas wants you and Luling is the place to locate.” Highlighting the best 1930s Luling has to offer as a way to entice people to move there, this promotional pamphlet provides an interesting view of this small town. Contained within are photos and information on the oil industry, agriculture, recreational facilities, schools, churches, and more. Click here to view the Bearcat record for this resource!