Stories from Independence: Baylor Historical Society

By Paul Fisher, Processing Archivist

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.

Independence-Columns008w
Celebrating the first restoration of the iconic columns at Independence. Pictured are (left to right): Dr. Gordon Singleton, President of the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor, Judge Royston Crane, son of former Baylor president William Carey Crane,, Dr. W. R. White, President of Baylor University, Judge E. E. Townes, Vice President of the Baylor Board of Trustees (Board of Regents).

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.

 

4 Comments

  • Patti Carlton

    July 7, 2017 at 2:00 pm Reply

    How do I become a member of the Baylor Historical Society? I have two great-grandparents that attended the original Baylor on Washington County.
    Patti Carlton

    • Brian M. Simmons

      July 7, 2017 at 5:04 pm Reply

      Unfortunately, the Baylor Historical Society does not exist anymore. A similar group that you might be interested in is the Independence Historical Society. You can find more information about the society through the following link: http://www.baylor.edu/independence/index.php?id=86758. Thanks for reading our post!

  • Michael Magers

    May 1, 2018 at 8:06 am Reply

    Brian, do we know the complete history of the ownership of the former campus. I read that it was conveyed to someone named Clay, then sold for $5,000 to Father Huhn. The Union Baptist Association apparently tried to recover it from Huhn in the 1890s, but were unsuccessful in the initial finding, although the decision may have been reversed on appeal.

    • paulfisher

      May 10, 2018 at 4:53 pm Reply

      Michael, glad to hear that the history of the former Independence campuses interested you! The story of the Baylor campuses at Independence is quite long and complicated, but here is a short synopsis. Baylor University, chartered in 1845, had created separate male and female departments with separate campuses by 1851, and the female department obtained a separate charter in 1866. In 1886, the Male Department moved from Independence and became Baylor University in Waco, while the Female Department moved from Independence to Belton and became the University of Mary Hardin Baylor.

      The Female Department campus was sold to John Thomas Hairston, who donated it to the state in 1947 to become a state park. In 1965, the state gave the site to the Baptist General Convention of Texas, who operated it as a historic site until 2012, when the land was given to Baylor University and the University of Mary Hardin Baylor. The campus is now operated as a historic site.

      The Male Department campus buildings were used by the newly established Carey Crane Male and Female Colleges 1886-1889, then as an orphanage for many years. The land was obtained by the Klatte family in 1927, who farmed it for over the next fifty years. In 2006, thanks to the generous donations of Karen Kaye Klatte and Herbert Klatte, Jr., and David and Mary Wolff, the historic core of the Male Department campus was opened as a historic site, owned by Baylor University.

      We hope you get a chance to visit the Baylor campuses at Independence if you have not already done so. There are lots of historic sites to see there! Please let us know if you have more questions, and thanks for reading our post!

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