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Monday, May 15, 2023

The Seven Graves on the Campus of Kerrville's Schreiner University

An aerial photo of the campus of Schreiner Institute, around 1935.
Click on any image to enlarge.

It’s no secret there are seven graves on the Schreiner University campus, though you really need to know where to look if you want to spot them. The gravestones are flat, and flush to the ground, between the entrance to a parking lot and the bluff above Quinlan Creek.

Because a college dorm is so near the graves, stories of ghosts and visitations ‘from the beyond’ are now a lasting part of Schreiner University lore. More on that later.

The seven people buried there are all members of the Harris family. What is now Schreiner University was once a part of their farm. The seven rest near Delaney Hall Dormitory, on a flat, grassy area between the bluff and the entrance to the dorm’s northwest parking lot.

The graves date from 1886 to 1911, and are the resting place of Benjamin Franklin Harris; his sister Catherine Harris; his wife Sarah Nall Harris; their son Edwin Lee Harris and his wife Sarah Manor Harris; their son John M. Harris; and their daughter-in-law Nannie Fitch Harris.

A different view -- the fence around the original graveyard can be seen in this photo.

The 1880 census reports Benjamin Franklin Harris was a farmer. He and his wife Sarah Nall Harris had eight children, though only two are buried on the Schreiner campus.

Benjamin Franklin Harris was active in community affairs, serving as a county commissioner during the 1881-82 term. The family arrived in Kerr County in 1873, and settled on their farm homestead that year.

His sister, Catherine, was the first family member buried on their farm, in 1886; his son, John, was the last person buried there, in 1911. One of the married couples buried there, Edwin and Sarah Manor Harris, died young; he was 27, and she was only 25.

This newspaper, in its September 12, 1990 issue, reported about the graves being moved to their present location.

The article quotes former Schreiner president Sam Junkin: “In the late 1950s, they were in a small plot that was surrounded by an iron fence on what is now the main loop of the college.”

The article continues: “When the road was widened and curb and guttering was put in, Junkin said college trustees decided to relocate the graves near the original plot. ‘I would guess the graves are within 100 feet of where they used to be,’ he added.

“Junkin recalls his father telling about the work that went into clearing the original family plot previous to the move. ‘Certainly it wasn’t under perpetual care an no family members were taking care of it,’ he said.

“Descendants of the Harris family visited the college about five years ago [in the mid-1980s] to view the graves. “‘They seemed very happy about the new location and they were also excited about seeing what happened to their farm.’”

Now, what about those ghost stories?

The dorm nearest the graves is Delaney Hall. In 1948, during their February board meeting, the trustees of the school awarded a contract for a new dorm, which would be “fireproof, modern, and will house 84 cadets,” at a cost exceeding $200,000. A year later, as construction was nearly completed, the trustees chose to honor Schreiner Institute’s founding president, Dr. James J. Delaney, by naming the dormitory in his honor.

Nannie Fitch Harris
In the years since, students and staff of the college have reported strange sightings in the dorm, often told with a misplaced fact: the dorm was built on top of the Harris family graves.

It was not. In fact, if the graves were moved in the late 1950s, and the dorm was opened in 1949, the original graves and dorm existed at the same time, though not in the same location.

Aerial photos of the campus show the site of the old graveyard, which, according to Junkin ‘was surrounded by an iron fence.’ In some photos you can see the old fence, nestled underneath some oak trees. Using old photographs, and using the Weir Building and Hoon Hall as reference points, one can plot out where Delaney Hall would later be built and the location of the iron fence.

So, the myth is busted -- Delaney Hall was not built on top of graves.

However, most accounts of the ghost in Delaney Hall suggest she appears to be a young woman. It’s true that a young woman was buried nearby, Sarah Manor Harris, who died at age 25. The ghost is also reported to be lonely, which points to Nannie Fitch Harris; her husband, Chap Harris, is buried elsewhere. Perhaps Nannie Harris searches for him.

It’s not my place to take the fun of college lore away from undergraduates. Let them see what they believe they see. Please tell Sarah or Nannie hello for me.

I’ve visited many lonely Kerr County cemeteries while writing this history column. The Harris family cemetery is exceptionally lonely. It is hidden in plain sight in the middle of a busy and happy place.

Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who thanks his friend Weir Labatt for this story idea. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times May 13, 2023.

You can help by sharing this story with someone, by forwarding it by email, or sharing it on Facebook. Sharing is certainly caring. (I also have two Kerr County history books available online, with free shipping!)

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