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 piece by former Texas Collection director Kent Keeth originally was published in The Baylor Line in November 1990. Blogging about Texas periodically features “Looking Back at Baylor” selections, with hopes of sharing Keeth’s work with a new audience.
This past Sunday, Baylor University and the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor rededicated the historic columns on Academy Hill in Independence, Texas, on the grounds of Old Baylor. The event was a celebration of the two universities’ shared past and commitment to preserve their heritage. The columns from the Baylor Female College building are all that remain of Old Baylor now, but what happened immediately after the schools left Independence? Keeth’s essay explores one endeavor on the old campus:
In 1886, after Baylor University had moved to Waco and Baylor College had become Baylor Female College of Belton, the Baptists of Independence were naturally reluctant to be left without the kinds of educational institutions of which they had become so proud. Consequently, the Union Baptist Association attempted to reestablish the former environment by founding Carey Crane Male and Female Colleges on the two deserted campuses. Enrollment remained low, however, and the separate schools for men and women could not be maintained. By 1888 they had been consolidated on the site of the former women’s college, and a few years later the colleges were completely discontinued.
The remaining vacant campus—that of the university—soon developed a somewhat unexpected afterlife of its own. The university’s trustees sold the twice-abandoned land and buildings to T.C. Clay, a local resident who had been a creditor of the university. In turn, Clay conveyed title to the campus to Father Martin Huhn, a Catholic priest, who established an orphanage and school for Negro boys there in January, 1889. The history of that enterprise has been written by Rev. James F. Vanderholt of Port Arthur, editor of The East Texas Catholic, as a part of his study of “The Catholic Experience at Old Washington-on-the-Brazos, Washington County, Texas: The Oldest Black Catholic Community in Texas.”
In 1877 the Diocese of Leavenworth, Kansas had established Holy Epiphany Parish for the black Catholics of that area, and Father Huhn, a native of Prussia, became its pastor. He soon opened an orphanage for Negro boys which he named “Guardian Angels.” It was this institution which he subsequently relocated, together with its orphans, to the former campus of Baylor University in Independence.
The priest was a rough-hewn individual who apparently relied less upon managerial skills than upon the philosophy that most difficulties would eventually resolve themselves. Contemporaries describe his appearance as resembling that of a farmer more than a clergyman: his beard was so long that it hid his clerical collar, and his clothing was “rustic.” He was also prone to impulsive or eccentric acts, such as his purchase of an automobile at a time when he could ill afford it, and despite the fact that he had never driven.
Although Father Huhn was “regular in his spiritual duties,…his financial management of the orphanage was so questionable that the Bishop of Leavenworth appointed a committee of priests to investigate his operation.” Thus, it was probably a relief to all concerned when he announced his intention to remove himself and his orphanage to Texas.
Records of the orphanage are virtually nonexistent and even an extensive dig on the former campus by Baylor archaeologists failed to turn up any hard evidence about its operations or daily life. Rev. Vanderholt speculates that “when the original orphans grew up and moved out, few replaced them.” An 1891 Catholic Directory indicates the presence of thirty-five boys at the orphanage, but their number diminished progressively until, seven years later, none at all were listed. The institution, first known as the “Guardian Angels Industrial School,” gradually became less an orphanage than a parish called the “Church of the Guardian Angel.” Father Huhn himself was the sole staff member of record.
By the time of his death in 1915, the priest owned not only the seventy-five-acre campus itself, but also about a hundred acres of surrounding farm land. Still, “he never seemed to have the cash to take care of the normal affairs and management of the orphanage. The stone buildings of old Baylor began to decay.” His own living quarters were described by a visitor as “quite deplorable” and, perhaps as a result of their shortcomings, Father Huhn became fatally ill with rheumatism.
Shortly before his death, Father Huhn transferred all of his property to his sister. Thus, the land that had been identified with Baptists for forty years, and had subsequently seen a further quarter-century in the service of the Catholic Church, returned once more to private ownership. As its buildings collapsed or were razed for reuse of their materials, the former campus gradually became, as it remains today, virtually indistinguishable from the surrounding fields and farms of Washington County.
Although Keeth calls the former campus “indistinguishable” from the surrounding fields in 1990, Baylor has long been active in its efforts to remain in touch with its town of origin. From Independence homecoming celebrations to past restoration projects to Line Camp, Baylor has worked hard to honor its early history. The images in this post come from our Flickr set on Baylor’s presence at Old Baylor, which you also can see in the slideshow below. Due to lack of records, we do not know whether the Guardian Angels orphanage used the Baylor Female College building or if they used other Baylor structures.
This piece by former Texas Collection director Kent Keeth originally was published in The Baylor Line in November 1978, 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 will periodically feature selections from Looking Back at Baylor, with hopes of sharing Keeth’s work with a new audience.
This piece, “Simple Pleasures in Independence,” was selected for our first Looking Back entry because starting this week (and through most of July), Baylor Line Camps will be visiting the site of Baylor’s original campus in Independence. While the social life of the class of 2016 will be quite different from what Margaret Hall Hicks describes below, the community spirit of the Baylor family remains constant.
In 1871, sixteen-year-old Margaret Hall, who five years earlier had attended Baylor’s preparatory department, returned to the Independence campus as a student at Baylor Female College. She entered enthusiastically into the life of the college, and while she appreciated the school’s scholastic offerings, she also found time to participate in the various social occasions which its calendar afforded.
Many years later, when her own children were grown, Margaret Hall Hicks prepared a personal memoir of some of the events and impressions of her early life. Titled “Memories of Ancestors,” Mrs. Hicks’ memoir vividly recalls her days at Baylor. An excerpt concerning her attendance in 1866 appeared in the Baylor Line of May-June 1967. The following passage, drawn from the period of her later enrollment, relates some of the “simple pleasures” by which Baylor students of the 1870s diverted themselves from their studies.
“Along with our studies we had a most delightful social life. Baylor University, a school for boys, was about a half-mile or less from Baylor College, and you know that twenty or thirty boys and that many girls could not fail to find some means of communication. We were allowed to receive the boys in the large parlors of the dormitory once a month on Friday night. We were sometimes allowed to visit our girl friends in the town, and of course this meant there would be a boy invited for each girl, to come in for a good time together in the evening. We all attended the same church and many were the notes and shy glances passed between the boys and girls, although they were required to sit on opposite sides of the church with a high partition between them.
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.Another occasion that still lingers in my memory was the Christmas holidays. The last week before Christmas was a time of merry-making. Mr. Clark always prepared for a very elaborate Christmas concert. The large auditorium was gaily festooned with cedar and holly of which there was an abundance in the nearby woods.
The boys and girls, under the supervision of one of the teachers, were delegated to borrow wagons from some of their country friends and go out in the woods to get these, and such jolly rides as they were, and what a thrill we did get out of them! No auto joy rides of the present ever gave young folks more pleasure. Then the festoons were to be made and the boys were permitted to come over and help in trimming these, and what a good chance for the innocent love making which all boys and girls so much enjoy and which, conducted in the right way and under the right environment, is natural and beneficial for all young people. These concerts were given Thursday before the Christmas holidays. Succeeding them on the following night the boys of Baylor University gave an annual Christmas party at the University building, and this was the climax of all the Christmas frolic. At these parties ‘soft eyes looked love to eyes which spake again, and all went merry as marriage bells.’
We did not have, nor did we care for, elaborate refreshments. At these parties given at the schools we only had fruits, nuts and candies which the boys paid for themselves. There was no drinking at these parties of the olden times. The natural exuberance of healthy youth was the only stimulant we needed.”
Updated July 13, 2012: Baylor Photography was kind enough to provide a current photo of the Baylor Female Building and Line Camp.