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.
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.
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.
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 June:
Gladys Allen papers, 1882-1893, 1913-1952, undated: Gladys Allen was a teacher, served on the Baylor University Board of Trustees, and was a member of Seventh and James Baptist Church. Includes correspondence, personal notes, genealogical research, newspaper clippings, and photographs.
Lyrics to “America” manuscript, 1895: This manuscript contains a handwritten copy of the song “America” or, alternatively, “My Country Tis of Thee,” by the composer Samuel Francis Smith.
Newel Berryman Crain papers, 1858-1948, undated: The Crain papers chronicle the experiences of a young man from Texas during the beginning of the twentieth century, from his time at Baylor through his various jobs and military service. It also includes correspondence from Crain’s grandfather, Newton M. Berryman, about his studies at Baylor University at Independence in 1858.
[Edcouch] First Baptist Church records, 1941-1974, undated: [Edcouch] First Baptist Church, originally named Los Indios Baptist Church, was organized during the summer of 1924 in Los Indios, Texas. It has undergone a few name and location changes since then. Records consist of manuscripts pertaining to administrative operations of the church.
Hannah-Wiley Family papers, 1909-1930, undated: The Hannah-Wiley Family papers contain correspondence, legal documents, financial documents, and literary production relating to the family of Baylor student Robert “Bob” Lee Hannah Jr., who was one of the “Immortal Ten” who died in a tragic bus/train collision.
Independence Baptist Church records, 1873-1918: Independence Baptist Church was one of the first Baptist churches in Texas. Contains one bound minute book that describes church activities, finances, and disciplinary issues from 1873-1918 and also includes a condensed history of the church from 1839-1873.
Thurmond-Tramwell Slave papers, 1857: These papers include a document originating from Gonzales, Texas, which gives an account of a legal dispute between Thurmond and Tramwell over an enslaved woman.
Frank L. Wilcox Papers, 1923-1966, undated: Contains the personal and professional materials of Frank Wilcox, a former mayor of Waco and the son-in-law of former Texas governor and Baylor University President Pat Neff.