History Found

I was walking to the Dan Rather building one day a few weeks ago when I stumbled across a pamphlet laying on the ground. When I park on campus I walk up the hill where Old Main used to live. It was a building, but from what I’ve heard and read it was just as much a living breathing member of Sam Houston Normal Institute. As it stands today Old Main is no more. Austin Hall and the Peabody Library are all that remain of the historic triumvirate. This pamphlet was on the sidewalk just outside the Peabody Library. It was upside down and remarkably not damaged at all. It was damp on the sidewalk from what I assume was the morning lawn sprinkler assault. It was as though it was just dropped.

I picked it up and flipped through it thinking to myself, “This is cool. I’ll read it later.” Well I read it. The pamphlet is a short history on the Peabody Library and Sam Houston State University. Only 9 pages long, it showcases a small window into the early, developmental years of my University.

Brief summary:
George Foster Peabody was a wealthy New England banker and merchant. He established a fund dedicated “to the development and improvement of public educational systems and to the training of teachers in the southern and southwest states with had made up the Southern Confederacy.”

After a few years of helping small local school systems, Peabody put pressure on then Governor Oran Milo Roberts to create a “normal institute” for the exclusive training of teachers. Gov. Roberts presented his case to the sixteenth legislature of the state of Texas (we are now in the 108th) on Feb. 10, 1879. Two weeks later bills were introduced into the House and Senate calling for the creation of a normal institute to be based in Huntsville.

Peabody contributed greatly in the early years to the budget of the fledgling institute. When Old Main was constructed in 1890, a room was designated the Peabody Library room. Quickly they outgrew a room designed for 2,500 volumes by stuffing 6,000 in to it. The State Board realized they needed a separate building to be solely used as a library. They met, decided and approved the idea. The Peabody Library, as it stands now, was completed in 1902.

It had only one office, that of the President of the University. At that time it was Henry Carr Pritchett. Over the years it has been used for storage and faculty offices. It also served the radio/tv/film department as studio space and the home for 90.5 FM KSHU.

When Old Main burned, it severely damaged Austin Hall, but Peabody escaped unharmed. The building lived in the shadow of two of the oldest structures to be used for higher education. Today, it is only one of two on a campus where history is around every corner.

I find the last paragraph in the Author’s Note to be the most revealing of the honor and pride that Sam Houston State University is known for:

“Old Main is no more. Whether or not a replacement will be constructed on that site is a decision not yet made. It does appear that the Austin College Building can be salvaged and restored. And Peabody, which was for decades little more than the junior partner in the historic triumvirate which dominated Capitol Hill, may now emerge as the crown jewel, an indomitable vestige of an age which enriched not only the community of Huntsville but the young State of Texas also.

So I realize that wasn’t so brief, haha. I love my University and reading the history of a small building that I have walked past for four years has given me fresh eyes. Nothing is insignificant. Everything is important.

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One thought on “History Found

  1. Mike, I stumbled across your blog by finding a post on the SHSU buildings. I too, love my university and the older buildings on campus. I remember snagging a tray from one of the campus cafeteria’s and sledding down the hill during a snow. I remember a sunny fall October afternoon sitting on the lawn of Old Main in it’s magnificent shadow with my boyfriend. I remember the fire. The burned out remains of Old Main looked like pictures from WWII bombings. Of course my first visit to Peabody with a friend to the studio of KSHU while another friend was on the air. And of course the celebration of our 100 years as an educational institution. I also remember the devastation to the Agriculture Students on learning of the impending destruction of our building, the fourth oldest building on campus. I was so unhappy one of the other students Jimmy Jeanis and I wrote a letter to The Houstonian. I was amazed to see they printed it. We were called to the Dean’s office. Such are my memories.May you continue to enjoy your life and education on a great university.Kim WatkinsAlumni – ’82 and ’83

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