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Sunday, August 28, 2022

In 1917, Kerrville lost a (rigged) statewide contest -- but won a prize anyway

The San Antonio Light, June 10, 1917, page 5.
Click on any image to enlarge.

In June, 1917, Kerrville competed with nineteen other communities to have a state college established here – the West Texas Agricultural & Mechanical College. Though Kerrville did not win that competition, that contest changed our community’s history.
The people of ‘West Texas’ – the area’s borders have not ever been very well defined, though in this case, it meant west of the 98th meridian – became concerned that no state colleges were in their part of the state. Their taxes were paying for several state colleges – but none in their region. Further, Texas A&M, in Bryan, dealt with agricultural issues that were foreign to the weather and soil of ‘West Texas,’ and the curriculum there, in the opinion of the ‘West Texans,’ did not prepare students for the agriculture needs of the western part of the state.
“West Texas has been clamoring for more state institutions of learning,” the June 15, 1917, issue of the Kerrville Mountain Sun reported, “especially for a college where agronomy and animal husbandry could be taught to the young men of West Texas, not in a general way, but in a manner specific of conditions peculiar to West Texas….”
James "Pa" Ferguson
Various state politicians for several decades entered bills for such a college, and a bill establishing the college finally made it through the legislature – leaving the decision about where the new school would go until after the bill was enacted. Communities faced a June 1, 1917, deadline for filing applications and proposals, and nineteen communities, including Kerrville, met the deadline.
The committee established to decide which community won the college was made up of Governor James ‘Pa’ Ferguson, who served as chairman; Lt. Governor William Hobby; W. F. Doughty, state superintendent of public instruction; Fred W. Davis, commissioner of agriculture, and Franklin Fuller, speaker of the Texas House of Representatives. The group made plans to visit each of the sites, traveling by train, and meeting with dignitaries from each of the communities hoping to obtain the college.
On June 10, 1917, the committee left San Antonio to travel to Kerrville. Joining them on the journey were Capt. Charles Schreiner, and state senator Julius Real (though in 1917, he was in between several terms as our state senator).
Kerrville made an exceptionally sweet offer to the committee: 2,121 acres of prime land, along the Guadalupe River, “about two miles from the town.” Of the land, ‘715 acres are under cultivation, and 400 more are to be broken if so desired.’ Arable land would have been an important feature for an agricultural college. 
Charles Schreiner
The San Antonio & Aransas Pass Railroad line ran through the property, and a rail stop was already located on the site, according to news reports. An old Kerr County map shows two rail stops between Kerrville and Center Point: Parsons and Split Rock. Of the two, Parsons was about two miles from downtown.
Kerrville pulled out all of the stops for the committee. They arranged for a special rail car for them. They built an observation platform at the site. They wined and dined them at Kerrville’s St. Charles Hotel. Speeches were made, including remarks from Gov. Ferguson.
James E. Ferguson was a colorful character. On July 28, 1917, the ‘locating board went into session in the private office’ of the governor. Ferguson instructed each member of the committee to write their selection for the site of the school on a slip of paper, which he then collected and counted. Curiously, the slips of paper were not seen by any other member of the committee. Ferguson announced to the group that ‘Abilene gets the school.’
Later, Hobby, Fuller, and Davis indicated they had not voted for Abilene – and there were only five members of the committee. There was no way Abilene could have been selected by the group as the site of the new school. There was a public outcry – but Ferguson refused to reconvene the committee.
In August, when articles of impeachment were drawn up against Ferguson, one of the charges brought against him was the misuse of ballots in locating the West Texas A&M college. Ferguson was impeached in August, 1917, and Hobby became governor on August 25, 1917.
Early Schreiner Institute postcard
With state government in an uproar, the legislature repealed the proposal for the new college, and the issue was dead. It wasn’t until 1923 that the legislature passed a bill for a college in west Texas, a new Texas Technological College, now Texas Tech University. It wasn’t until 1993 that a university was named ‘West Texas A&M University,’ in Canyon, Texas, and that was a rebranding of a school that started in 1910 as West Texas Normal College.
Plus, the United States entered World War I on April 6, 1917. The world was at war.
Back to Kerrville in 1917: after the fiasco over the competition to be the home of a new state college, one local man decided to take action. The proposed West Texas A&M was dead as of August, 1917. It didn’t look like the issue could be revived.
Schreiner Institute
Charles Schreiner announced his plan: on December 31, 1917, he would donate $250,000, along with 140.25 acres of land in Kerrville, to establish a preparatory school for boys -- with the provision work on it could not begin until the war was over and at least a year had passed from the signing of the peace treaties.
And so, in losing the competition for a state school, Kerrville gained a local one. The school Charles Schreiner created is known today as Schreiner University. It sits on land about 2 miles from downtown Kerrville, along the Guadalupe River.
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who thinks it’s funny how things work out. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times August 27, 2022.

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  1. Love Joe Herrings articles about Kerrville. Thanks

  2. Too awesome. God has always been good to the Hill Country.

  3. Occassionaly during the Ho Hum day to day existence something REALLY SPECIAL catches our attention. The opportunity to read about this community and it's history is just such an event for me.....


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