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.
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.
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.
Now we look to Hicks’ remembrances of Independence again as another Baylor Commencement approaches. December’s commencement isn’t nearly as large as the spring celebration, but every graduation is an exciting day for the Baylor family. But what did Commencement look like back in Independence? For starters, people came from all over Texas, the celebrations lasted a week, and included the examination period. (Students spoke recitations that essentially were their final exams. Hey, class of 2012—aren’t you glad you didn’t have oral examinations for all of your classes?)
Hicks’ memoir, Memories of Ancestors, tells us that in 1866, “Commencement Week was the gala time of the whole year. People from all over the state made their plans to attend the Commencement of the two Baylor schools, and the little town of Independence was taxed to its utmost, both the hotels and private homes, to care for the great number of visitors.”
Of course, in Baylor’s early years, the university’s students all hailed from Texas (although many students’ families probably hadn’t been in the state for very long). But people came from all over the state to attend the fine university. That was a feat by itself, considering the small size of the school and the large size of Texas!
“Relatives of the students felt it a duty as well as a pleasure to attend Commencement exercises in the schools in which their children were pupils. So we had all kinds of visitors for this season. Very fashionable people from Galveston and Houston, moderately dressed people from the small towns and the country around Independence, and pioneer people with their primitive styles from the northern part of the State. Of course, we found much delight in seeing and mingling with all of these people. Many of them stayed in the rooms with us, and we thought it no hardship to sleep three or four in a bed or on a pallet on the floor that the visitors might have our beds.”
In addition to the public examinations, students held debates and gave speeches. Every night of Commencement Week, there was some kind of program, with the younger Baylor primary school students participating as well as the university students. Baylor University and Baylor Female College took turns hosting the “entertainments,” which culminated with a “grand Senior Concert.” On the last night of Commencement Week, the faculty and students of Baylor University hosted a party for the faculty and students of Baylor Female College.
This “crowning event of the season” was held in the Burleson Domicile, which was President Rufus C. Burleson’s home and a dormitory for male students. The octagonal shape of the building created nooks that were perfect for courting on the third floor veranda, as Hicks tells us: “The veranda was furnished with chairs and benches, dimly lighted, just the place to fill young heads with thoughts of love and romance. Many of the young men and maidens, knowing this would be the last meeting of the happy school days, plighted their troth, which resulted in the future marriages of some of the best people of our state.” Well, that sounds familiar—plenty of marriage proposals still happen on or around Commencement day at Baylor! And we like to think that the best people in the state (and the world!) come here.
Students (and their families) come to Baylor Commencement from all over the world now, and the official Commencement ceremonies don’t span a week anymore. But the thrill of sending new Baylor graduates out to “fling the green and gold afar” hasn’t changed since Baylor graduated its first student in 1854. Congratulations, class of 2012!
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 July:
Andrew Joseph (A.J.) Armstrong papers: The Andrew Joseph Armstrong papers consist of correspondence, literary productions, and other materials collected during his tenure as Chairman of the English Department at Baylor University. His wife Mary’s genealogical records comprise the final series of the collection.
Francisco Banda papers: Papers regarding Francisco Banda in relation to a 1922 conflict with his landlord, Clark Herring. Texas governor Pat Neff was asked to intercede.
Bryan First United Methodist Church records: The Bryan First Methodist Church Records, 1903-06, consists of documents created by members of Bryan First Methodist Church (now First United Methodist Church of Bryan). The papers contain meeting minutes, financial ledgers, and attendance records.
Charles and Lucy Exall Chaplin papers: The Charles and Lucy Exall Chaplin papers contain literary scrapbooks, and photographs pertaining to the Chaplin and Exall families in Texas. The papers document the lives of important Baptist leaders in Texas during Reconstruction, and the family’s service at several important churches around the state.
Royston C. Crane collection: The Royston C. Crane collection contains personal and family correspondence, financial documents, legal documents, literary productions, and photographic materials belonging to Royston C. Crane, the son of former Baylor University President William Carey Crane.
William Maury Darst papers: The William Maury Darst papers consist of manuscripts collected from 1894-1973. These papers contain literary productions and photographic materials, with essays, notes, slides, and other printed materials, reflecting his historical research interests and medical work in Texas.
Tracy Early collection: The Tracy Early collection contains professional and personal materials pertaining to newspaper and magazine articles written by Early, including correspondence, diaries, photographs, school work, books, and sermons.
Kate Harrison Friend papers: The Kate Harrison Friend Papers consists of correspondence, literary manuscripts, scrapbooks, and photographs. The majority of the letters were to Kate Harrison Friend, philanthropist of Waco.
McLennan Family collection: The McLennan Family Collection consists of correspondence, legal, financial, literary, and photographic materials. This collection focuses on Neil McLennan, namesake of McLennan County.
Ben Milam papers: One letter from Ben Milam to Richard Pryor regarding the settling of Texas.
Rotan (Edward and Kate Sturm McCall) papers: The Rotan Papers contain literary productions, correspondence, photographs, clippings, and a ledger book. Edward served in the Civil War, then became a business leader in the Waco community as president of First National Bank, among other positions. Kate was very active in various civic organizations and helped establish Waco’s first public library.
John Kern Strecker papers: The John Kern Strecker Papers consist of correspondence, financial documents, literary productions, and a photograph. Strecker was curator of Baylor’s museum, which was named the Strecker Museum in his honor.
You can see how wide and varied The Texas Collection’s holdings are! These records—and the finding aids we have online—are just a small representation of the thousands of collections we preserve for future researchers. We’re working hard to make our collections more visible and hope that one of them will spark your interest!