A fire at the old Waco campus set the university on a course to reclaim its geographic heritage.
by Marcia Melton
The Texas & Pacific Railroad hung banners in special “Rah, Rah” cars that delivered TCU students.
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by Marcia Melton
In March 1910, a fire destroyed the main building and damaged the young women’s dormitory at TCU’s Waco campus. The student body consisted of 400 students, 150 of whom were women. Part of the ruined building served as a dining hall and music room and as a young men’s dormitory. The worst loss was the library, which was almost completely destroyed.
“The loyalty and college spirit of the student body of Texas Christian University is marked and was exemplified effectively after the disastrous fire,” reported the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “Every student seemed to think that to leave the institution at such a time would be an evidence of disloyalty.”
“Every student seemed to think that to leave the institution at such a time would be an evidence of disloyalty.”1910 Fort Worth Star-Telegram Editorial
The entire student body stayed through the spring term, and some ingenious measures were taken to accommodate them, including converting the gymnasium into classrooms. The indoor swimming pool was floored over to provide space for the business college. Parlors in the women’s residence hall were used as classrooms. The dining room also served as the chapel.
By the end of March, TCU’s Board of Trustees was entertaining offers from Fort Worth and Dallas, while Waco was urging the university to stay in town. Board members visited potential sites in both North Texas cities.
Fort Worth immediately began a campaign to raise $200,000 as a relocation bonus, should the board choose the city. A.W. Samuels, who was spearheading the Fort Worth offer, also was active in trying to persuade Georgetown’s Southwestern University to relocate to Fort Worth. (Georgetown is 33 miles north of Austin.)
In April, the tiny North Texas town of Gainesville put in its bid for TCU too, offering its scenic beauty, artesian water and a soon-to-be-built streetcar system as main attractions.
On May 10, TCU’s relocation decision was announced during the state convention of the Disciples of Christ. In the end, Fort Worth’s offer of a $200,000 relocation bonus, a building site on a trolley line and lobbying by the city’s Christian churches sealed the deal.
Within Fort Worth, there was some contention over the exact site for the relocating university. The Civic League of the Thirteenth Ward wanted a site in the Glenwood Springs neighborhood, southeast of downtown Fort Worth. The rationale: The site was within the city limits and already was connected to water and sewer mains and electricity. Another proposed site called “Forest Park” was without utility services and was beyond the city limits in the southwest sector.
On June 4, the selection of “the Forest Park site” was announced, with the promise of a groundbreaking within two weeks. Fairmount Land Co. owner Ben Waggoman donated 50 acres adjacent to the park. In addition, $100,000 of the proposed $200,000 relocation bonus had been raised, with plans to raise the other half in an active campaign.
That bonus-raising campaign, however, faltered. Fort Worth’s Board of Trade committee was unable to rally its members to donate the outstanding sum and warned that “other big enterprises” were waiting for the TCU decision. One of those “big enterprises” was the city’s attempt to lure Southwestern University from Central Texas.
If Dallas didn’t raise money to lure TCU, “Fort Worth would become the greatest educational center in Texas.”1910 Dallas Morning News Editorial
The Board of Trade appointed a new committee to try again to raise the remaining bonus money. On June 9, Judge R.D. Gage, the head of the new committee, appealed to the city’s sense of pride, saying “Fort Worth is in imminent danger of losing the institution it worked so seriously and successful[ly] to acquire.” July 1 was the new deadline to close the renewed campaign.
The Dallas Morning News editorial stated that if Dallas “did not at once raise a bonus of $400,000 for a great educational institution … Fort Worth would become the greatest educational center in Texas.” Dallas raised the money to persuade Southwestern University to move there, but the offer was rejected.
A Fort Worth Star-Telegram editorial warned that Dallas was again actively courting TCU. By mid-June, Dallas officials reported that its relocation bonus money could be used for an offer to the Waco-based campus.
On June 10, the Star-Telegram reported that the Fort Worth committee was $10,000 short of its $200,000 goal, despite money raised by the city’s Board of Trade and its Christian churches.
On June 28, a “final determined effort” was announced in Fort Worth. Part of that resolute push included a 10-piece band touring the city in a special car, urging people to a mass meeting at the Board of Trade Auditorium.
On June 30, the Star-Telegram announced that a “whirlwind finish” had raised the funds to meet the renewed campaign’s 6 p.m. deadline the next day.
On July 1, a Star-Telegram editorial noted the fund-raising victory: “Factory stacks and glowing furnaces and armies of labor cannot alone make a great city. A city to achieve basic greatness must have churches and schools for the toiling, aspiring children of men . . . Without intending perhaps to do so Fort Worth in her educational institutions is taking her surest and best course to greatness and fame.”
With the relocation bonus assured, TCU’s Board of Trustees secured temporary quarters in buildings on Weatherford and Commerce Streets in Fort Worth.
In late August, four railroad cars of furniture and equipment arrived from the Waco campus, and in the next few days students and faculty members started to arrive.
The first issue of the TCU Skiff appeared with “delayed edition” dateline of Aug. 26, 1910. A train-car load of freight that contained the printing equipment the student editors needed went astray somewhere between Waco and Fort Worth. The equipment eventually arrived, thus the Skiff published late. However, its next regular edition published on time the following Friday.
On Sept. 5, the first of Texas & Pacific’s special “Rah, Rah” cars decorated with banners running the full length of the cars arrived, carrying students from points west.
Enrollment was running so high that TCU’s business manager had to arrange for a second annex for the women’s dormitory. As the university’s opening day approached, six other buildings near the main building on Weatherford Street were acquired to serve as student dormitories and faculty residences.
On Sept. 16, more than 400 students and faculty gathered at the Weatherford Street building. Amid cheers and singing, they marched to Fort Worth City Hall for the formal opening of TCU.
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