Williamson County
Historical Commission

 

 

Original Site of Southwestern University -
Historical Marker
507 E. University, Georgetown Texas

click on images for an enlarged view
507 E. University 

 

this marker is the one mounted in front of the building

(the marker in the foreground is for the

original site of Southwestern University)



 

GPS Coordinates
Latitude: 30.63721 - Longitude: -97.672462
UTM 14 R - Easting: 0627213 - Northing: 3389758

 

Historical Marker text
The Methodist church established four colleges in Texas prior to the Civil War: Rutersville College (1840), Wesleyan College (1844), McKenzie Institute (1848), and Soule University (1856). The Rev. Dr. Francis Asbury Mood (1830-1884) was named president of Soule University in Washington County in 1868. Soon after he took office, plans were begun to relocate the school and develop a centralized Methodist university. About the same time, city leaders in Georgetown began plans to establish a college. This site was donated for that purpose by John J. Dimmitt and G. W. Glasscock, Jr., and a community school, instead of a college, opened in 1870. Georgetown was among the cities competing for the site of the planned Methodist university. In 1873 this property was chosen as the site of the new institution, which was granted a union charter (with the four earlier colleges) in 1875 as Southwestern University. Dr. Mood served as president until his death. Buildings added to the campus after 1873 included a young ladies school, a chapel, a boys dormitory (Giddings Hall), and a gymnasium. Southwestern University moved to its present site in 1900 but continued to operate a preparatory department here until 1916.




 

The Original Site of - SOUTHWESTERN UNIVERSITY

Narrative by Researched and written by:

Dan K. Utley Austin, Texas March 2, 1988

 

The establishment of Southwestern University in Georgetown has its roots in the formation of four earlier Texas schools: Rutersville College, Wesleyan College, McKenzie Institute, and Soule University. Of these pioneer Methodist institutions, Rutersville College was the earliest, having been established in Fayette County through the efforts of the Rev. Martin Ruter. It opened in 1840, two years after his death. Soul University, the last of the four schools to be organized, opened in 1856 at Chappell Hill in Washington County. [1] Each school was supported by a geographical conference of Methodist churches, a factor that eventually limited their potential for growth.

 

Shortly after the Civil War, the Methodist church in Texas began taking a more central approach to its program of higher education; Credit for the new direction is attributed to the Rev. Francis Asbury Mood (1830-1884), who was named president of Soule University in 1868. A native of South Carolina, Mood had served as a Confederate chaplain during the war. He had been president of a state normal school and was pastor of Trinity Church, Charleston, when he agreed to accept the new assignment in Texas. [2] In assuming the presidency of Soule University, Mood inherited an institution in decline. The school was housed in buildings that were in immediate need of repair. It had closed during the Civil War and reopened in 1867, only to close again as the result of a devastating yellow fever epidemic. Two years later the institution was in the path of another yellow fever outbreak. There were reports that an epidemic originally centered around the coastal cities of Houston and Galveston had spread as far as Hempstead, only twelve miles from Chappell hill [3]

 

The panic brought about by the pervasive fear of the fever, coupled with the deteriorating condition of the buildings and a previously undisclosed, but substantial, debt against the school, prompted Mood to consider relocation of the .institution. From the initial consideration came a plan to build a central Methodist university that would be supported by all Texas conferences. In his proposal to church leaders, Mood called for a commitment to "the duty of arranging for organization, location and endowment of a University for the

South-west. . .  [4] Through his persistent efforts he won widespread support for his plan and soon a committee was established to locate a permanent home for the new school.

 

Simultaneous to, yet independent of, the development of plans for a central Methodist university was the formation of a college in Georgetown. In 1869, residents of the city began planning for a local college-level academy. On January 29, 1870, several "stockholders" held an organizational meeting in the courthouse. In subsequent meetings, they developed a financial subscription campaign and even awarded a contract to Hiram Jones for construction of a college building "away out on the prairie. [5] The site they chose, to the southeast of the town, was donated by John J. Dimmitt and G. W. Glasscock, Jr., the son of the man for whom Georgetown was named. [6] The cornerstone was set in 1870, but declining collections threatened the institution even before the building was completed. As a result, its original purpose was not immediately realized and it was used for public school classes instead.

 

The Rev. William Monk, a circuit preacher who served Methodists in southern and central Williamson County, first informed Georgetown residents of the central university plans. College officials were formally notified in August, 1871, and responded with an offer of the building and land, provided the school would be "permanently located in Georgetown and it be made a first class institution of learning. [7]

 

A committee of the university planning board was charged with the responsibility of locating a permanent site for the school, to be called Texas University (Mood's original suggestion that the school be known as South-western University was rejected, as was a motion for continuation of the Soule University name). Although Mood did not immediately make his personal preference for a site known to church officials, he favored Georgetown. He later noted:

 

I visited a number of places that presented claims in the movement. Among them Fairfield, Calvert, Fort Worth, Waco, Salado, Belton, Austin and Georgetown. This last place I urged upon the commissioners as the most eligible of the competing places. I persuaded several of them to visit the town, which confirmed them in my opinion--so that early in the year it was understood unless material changes came in the 'offers of other places, that Georgetown would

receive the prize. [8]         

 

Competition for the university was intense; cities viewed the institution as a possible cure for the economic ills of Reconstruction. The need to appease the competing towns while unifying Methodists behind the pending decision presented a unique problem for church and college leaders. Mood recalled:

 

It was easy enough to rouse the people up to a Dr. Mood, who was given the title of Regent of Texas University, had resigned earlier from his position with Soule University. In September, 1873, he brought his family to Georgetown. Unable to find a suitable rent house, they moved into the college building, occupying two rooms on the south side of the ground floor. The old Georgetown College building, which measured 60 feet by 75 feet, was a two-story stone structure that remained un-plastered on the interior. It contained six lecture rooms and a large chapel that could accommodate 400 people. Classes began on October 6, 187313 with 33 students and three faculty members: Dr. Mood, professor of mental and moral philosophy, and instructor of history and English literature; B. E. Chrietzberg, professor of mathematics, and; H. M. Reynolds, in charge of language instruction.[14]

 

Although the student enrollment increased steadily, there was some early speculation about the future of the  university. The board addressed the matter at a meeting in Galveston on February 10, 1875:

 

Whereas a mischievous rumor has recently found circulation in and about Georgetown that the Board of Trustees did not regard their action as final by which the Texas University was located at Georgetown and that the location was not therefore permanent, therefore, Resolved that the Board pronounces such rumors totally unfounded and hereby reaffirm their action of August 21, 1873 whereby Georgetown Williamson Co. Texas was declared the permanent location for Texas struggle, the question now was how to allay it. This crisis demanded the greatest caution to prevent calamity. . . . It became now my duty to discourage the other places, without discouraging Georgetown on the one hand or showing preference for it on the other. This was a difficult task but in the end was successfully accomplished. One after another the different places competing began to withdraw but at last Georgetown heard of their action and notified me of their intention to withdraw. I hastened to Georgetown met the citizens, urged them to be patient that the location would be made August 21 [1873] in good faith as we had advertised. That the withdrawal of other competing places only increased their chances of success etc. My persuasions prevailed. Just before the meeting that was to decide the location every place competing with Georgetown had withdrawn. [9]

 

He added, "if the location awakened no great enthusiasm over the state, it aroused no active opposition. " [10]

 

As promised, the decision was made public on August 21, 1873. As the Rev. Mood recalled; "Upon the reception of the news at Georgetown of the decision of the Commissioners there was great rejoicing, the firing of a hundred anvils expressing their great satisfaction at the result. [11] Despite the intense competition and the thorough work of the Texas University board, Georgetown did not appear at the time to be an ideal location. for a Methodist school of the first class. The town had a population of only 500, of  which only 14 were Methodists. A circuit rider conducted services for the small group, but a church was not formally  organized until 1874. [12]

 

University. [15]

The name Texas University proved to be short-lived. When school officials applied for a state charter, they found it conflicted with legislative plans for a state university. So, on the recommendation of Dr. Mood, the school became known as Southwestern University. [16]

 

The school's continued growth resulted in numerous changes to the physical plant. In 1879, a new building for the Young Ladies Department was completed four blocks east of the main campus. The site of the Ladies Annex was chosen so that it would be "sufficiently near to be convenient for the faculty and sufficiently removed to prevent embarrassment in discipline. [17]

 

The original college building was enlarged with a third story in 1881. It was topped with a short mansard roof and a central bell tower. Following the renovation, the structure housed ten classrooms, a library, and meeting rooms for college societies. In cooperation with local Methodists, the school provided land for a church building on the southwest corner of the campus. Work began in 1882, but was halted before completion because of insufficient funds. Described as a "half-dugout", it was nevertheless used for worship services and gatherings for over a decade.[8]

 

In addition to the classroom building and the unfinished chapel, the campus included a two-story building  on the northwest corner that served as a preparatory, or fitting, school. Sanborn Insurance maps also reveal there was a house on the northeast corner of the property that at one time house a fraternity. There were also several small cottages on the perimeters which provided housing for faculty and staff. [19]

 

Dr. Mood, a frail man much of his life, died at Waco in 1884 while on a speaking engagement promoting Christian education. Although his death was not unexpected, given his recent years of ill health, it greatly affected the students and the residents of Georgetown. Contemporaneous accounts present a somber picture of a community in mourning. Businesses and schools closed as people gathered at the depot to view the black-bedraped train that bore his coffin back to Georgetown. From the depot, a procession escorted the body to his home on University Avenue. Out of respect for his many contributions to Southwestern University, Dr. Mood was buried on the campus (Later, when the school moved to the present location, his body was reinterred in the IOOF Cemetery in Georgetown). The drive and commitment that marked Dr. Mood's life were described eloquently in an obituary that appeared in the Christian Advocate on November 22, 1884:

 

He died almost literally in harness, going from the rostrum where he pleaded eloquently for Christian education, to lie down and die. Dr. Mood did not live to see the fulfillment of his long-cherished plans. Like Moses, he died before crossing over into the Canaan of his hopes. But he had come to its border, and the goodly land was spread out before the vision of his faith. In toil, weakness, and pain, he laid the foundation on which others will follow. [20]

 

Dr. Mood died at a time when his school was in a transitional phase. Within years, plans were formulated for a new campus adjoining the Ladies Annex, the present site of Southwestern University. Clara Stearns Scarbrough, in her book Land of Good Water provides a good picture of the original campus in its final day as the site of

Southwestern University.

 

To the northwest [of the main building] was the small "prep" Fitting School building which had been added to take care of pre-college classes, and on the southwest corner, the old chapel, never finished as originally planned. North of the college building was the men's dormitory and dining hall, called Helping Hall or Giddings Hall. Between the Main Building and the chapel was a fenced plot, shaded by trees, where Dr. F. A. Mood was buried. At the north entrance to the Main Building near the east side was a weeping willow tree and a hydrant where students slaked their thirst. The men's rest room was enclosed by a high wooden fence northeast of the "ad" building; the inside wall of this small shed was decorated with an alligator hide from an animal caught on Berry's Creek. The entire campus was fenced, with stiles as entryways at intervals on all sides except the north, where the dining hall stood. [21]

 

Southwestern University moved to the new campus in 1900, but continued to operate a preparatory school at the original site until 1916. That year, the university sold the property to the City of Georgetown. Public school classes were held in the administration building until a new high school was constructed on the site in the early 1920s. The original college campus continues to be used for educational purposes, over a century after the founding of the school that became Southwestern University. The site serves as an important reminder of the role education played in the development of Georgetown and in the growth of the Methodist church in Texas.

 

Researched and written by:

Dan K. Utley Austin, Texas March 2, 1988

 

                                      

                                        view End Notes

 



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