Special to the Journal
University of Mary Hardin-Baylor President Randy O’Rear and Baylor University President Ken Starr were among the students, alumni and friends of both universities who took part in a rededication service at 2:30 p.m. on Sunday at the foot of the historic columns of “Old Baylor” in Independence, Texas.
The four columns from the original campus of Baylor University – which was chartered by the Republic of Texas in 1845 – still stand today in Independence. Last repaired 60 years ago, the columns have been restored with limestone and strengthened with carbon and steel rods. Surrounded by carefully lit native oak trees, the columns at Independence glisten at night and are visible from FM 390 or FM 50.
The occasion marked the first time the presidents of Baylor and UMHB have met at Old Baylor in 60 years. The program included remarks from Lanella Gray of Brenham, a 1954 Baylor graduate who has played an active role in celebrating Baylor’s heritage at Independence; Presidents Starr and O’Rear, UMHB professors Carol Holcomb, Ph.D., and Leroy Kemp, Ph.D.; Dr. David Hardage, executive director of the Baptist General Convention of Texas; and special music by UMHB’s One Voice and Baylor’s Chamber Singers.
History of “Old Baylor” at Independence:
In the 19th century, the town of Independence – an unincorporated village in Washington County, 112 miles south of Waco – was known for its 1839 Baptist church at the crossroads. Independence was a thriving cotton plantation center and the home of many of the early leaders of Texas.
Baylor University spent the first 41 years in that beautiful place, following its 1845 chartering by the Republic of Texas. Almost 20 colleges and universities were founded in Texas during the euphoric Republic period, when educational opportunities were eagerly sought in the new nation. Little did Baylor’s founders know that their beloved institution would be the only one to survive in an unbroken line into the 21st century. At 168 years, Baylor is the oldest continuously operating university in Texas.
Opened as a progressive, coeducational university, Baylor soon became a more traditional institution with separate facilities for male and female students. Academy Hill housed academic and dormitory structures for the young women of Baylor, while nearby Windmill Hill across Independence Creek was the site of the men’s campus. In 1866, the Female Department obtained a separate charter and its own board of trustees.
In 1886, due to changing transportation and economics in the area, it was deemed necessary to move both schools. The Male Department consolidated with Waco University in Waco, Texas, retaining the name Baylor University. The Female Department (Baylor Female College since the 1866 separation) moved to Belton, Texas, and later became the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor.
On Sunday, the institutions commemorated the shared history of Baylor University and the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor and their mutual dedication to preserving the universities’ historic roots in Independence.