The columns of Old Baylor Park in Independence, Texas, stand as a reminder of the rich history and Cru spirit. After years of ownership by the Baptist General Convention of Texas, Mary Hardin-Baylor and Baylor University now possess the rights to the park.
It is home to the original columns of Baylor Female College as well as remains of the dining hall and kitchens. The two universities hope to keep the rights to the park and restore its history.
Today at UMHB, Independence Village is named after this site and has a replica of the columns at the entrance to the apartment complex.
The BGCT owned the park from 1960 until August. During that time, many improvements were made to the historic location, allowing students from both Baylors to visit and explore the antiquity of their universities as they have since 1933.
Director of the Texas Baptist Historical Collection Alan Lefever said, “In recent years the BGCT has spent almost a million dollars on the historic Independence Baylor College and the museum building. Realizing the columns at the park need restoration and the park needed updating, the BGCT contacted UMHB and Baylor University to see if the universities would be interested in a partnership to work on the park.”
Both schools readily accepted the agreement. Because of the support Mary Hardin-Baylor and Baylor have provided, the Texas Baptists gave the universities the rights to refurbish.
“The BGCT is now looking forward to partnering with these institutions through their work at Old Baylor Park and the BGCT’s museum at Independence to communicate the early history of Texas Baptists to visitors to the Independence area,” Lefever said.
Director of Alumni Relations at UMHB Rebecca O’Banion explained the university’s plan for the land.
“We have formed a committee to make decisions about the property which consists of three representatives from Baylor University and three from the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor. Our first priority is to restore the columns. We are working with an architect who specializes in historic restoration, and we hope to begin work on the columns within a few months,” she said.
When the initial renovation is finished, the universities have more improvements in mind.
“After we have completed the restoration project, we will begin looking at other priorities such as signage, lighting, fence work and potential rest room construction. Costs for these projects have yet to be determined, but both universities are committed to make Old Baylor at Independence a place alumni and students will be proud to visit and learn about our heritage,” O’Banion said.
Betty Sue Beebe, curator of the museum at UMHB, appreciates how the school began and recognizes what Old Baylor Park means historically for the university.
“It all started when three Baptist men met together in Brenham to put together a plan for missions to Texas …. These same men saw the need for Christian education for the Republic of Texas,” she said.
On February 1, 1845, a charter written by Judge Robert Emmett Bledsoe Baylor and Rev. William M. Tyron for Christian education in the republic was signed.
Given the name “Baylor,” the school opened in 1846 in Independence with a total of 24 students, a variety of male and female students. In just one term, that number tripled to 70 students and has continued to grow.
“Most of the institutes of that time provided for only male departments, but Baylor and Tryon decided that their charter would include a preparatory and department for women as well. Independence was chosen because it was on the stagecoach route,” Beebe said.
In the early phases of administration, coed classes were held. Men and women shared the same classrooms and teachers. It was not until later that the genders were split: Baylor and Baylor Female College.
Sam Houston’s daughters attended the school. Houston’s support encouraged the growth and development of the women’s side of Baylor.
With his daughters going to college in Independence, the Houston family attended church just down the road from Old Baylor Park, where the university was established. Historic Independence Baptist Church has been open longer than any other Baptist church in Texas and was within walking distance for the men and women of Baylor as well as the Houston family.
Phillip Hassell, the current pastor of Independence Baptist Church and curator of the Texas Baptist Historical Museum there, gives tours of the old church.
“Sam carved his wife’s initials in the pew in front of where she sat. He later carved his own initials next to hers,” Hassel said.
Moments in history like this have inspired the townspeople of Independence to share their famous roots with visitors and tourists.
Kathleen Flick is a member of Independence Baptist Church and gives tours of the museum there and plays the organ.
She said, “I think it’s very important that we remember our history and the influence Baylor and Mary Hardin-Baylor have had on our town. This little community not only started two great schools, but has a church that has never closed its doors. That says a lot about us and our town.”
With the help of contributions like that of Houston, Baylor Female College survived its split from Independence in 1866.
After the move to Belton, John and Mary Hardin helped sustain the relocated university with a substantial donation.
Because of the impact of the Hardins, Baylor Female College took the name of Mary Hardin.
Now, more than a century later, Old Baylor park is a reminder of Crusader roots.
Beebe can see the progress and history in the move from Independence to Belton.
She said, “It all began in Independence. Now, thinking that we are at over 3,000 enrollment, I can see how the Lord has had us in his plans through all of our history as a school and as a state.”