On February 18, 1891, with the school’s charter already submitted to the state, the Board of Trustees of Abilene Baptist College (now Hardin-Simmons University) voted on and agreed to the school’s charter. This day, February 18th 1891, is the day we recognize as the official start of our school with:
“We, the Subscribers, citizens of Taylor County, Texas, under the provisions of the Revised Statutes of the State of Texas, do hereby form and incorporate ourselves into a voluntary association for educational purposed, and to that end, we hereby adopt and subscribe the following Charter.”
(Read the full Board minutes/charter later in the post)
School didn’t begin until September 1892, but that doesn’t mean people weren’t hard at work up until that point. In the time between when the school was incorporated and classes began, money was raised, land was acquired, a building was built, faculty were hired, and students recruited. It was a busy time.
February 18th may be our birthday, but let’s look at the years that surround the day to better appreciate the work that went into our school.
In 1888, Judge Henry Sayles suggested to George W. Smith, Pastor of Abilene First Baptist Church, the opportunity to form a Christian high school/college.
A Christian Education Committee was formed to survey the idea and form a plan. Two years later the committee was ready to propose their plan to the Sweetwater Baptist Association.
On August 1, 1890, The Sweetwater Baptist Association met for the weekend, and The Christian Education Committee (composed of George W. Smith, K.K. Legett, and J.S. Williams) made their proposal.
You may wonder, why did the committee from Abilene take their proposal to the Sweetwater Baptist Association? Just like today, any new endeavor needs a network of people to help build awareness and financial support. At the time, the Sweetwater Baptist Association was the ideal source of support because:
- The association was a growing community of Baptist churches from Taylor County to El Paso.
- This conglomerate of churches would provide financial assistance, students, and marketing across the state. What better way to spread the word of a new school than from the pulpit or from church memos?
- Abilene First Baptist Church, where the committee members came from, was a member of the Sweetwater Baptist Association.
Most of the men present at the meeting were in favor of the project, however it is noted Rufus C. Burleson was persuasively against it. Burleson, former president of Baylor College, was against the idea of a competing school (competing for students and resources). Baylor College was in debt, and Burleson took offense that the people and church-communities who were suggesting a new school had not done their duty of providing financial support to an already existing Baptist school.
Burleson did not sway the decision, and the Sweetwater Baptist Association appointed a committee to establish the school, consisting of: K.K. Legett, G.W. Smith, J.M. Hanna, J.T. Fergeson, H.C. Hord, C.R. Breedlove, and G.W. Smith.
The committee met in October 1890 and had a productive meeting where they:
- Chose Abilene as the location for the new school
- Drafted a charter
- Appointed a Board of Trustees and term limits
- Launched a fundraising campaign to begin construction on a new school building
During this meeting, Otto W. Steffens and Associates provided a bid of 5 acres and $10,000 to the new school. The committee had until November 24, 1890 to accept or reject the bid and raise an additional $5,000.
Steffens and Associates’ bid was pulled before November 24, for unknown reasons, putting the committee in a lurch. As a result, new land and a new money source had to be located for the school.
The Board needed help. They thought they had $15,000 and a plot of land, and suddenly all they had was the $5,000 they had raised and no land.
O.C. Pope was asked to get involved and aid with fundraising. He wrote to his friend, James Simmons, and introduced Simmons to Abilene.
Correspondence began between James Simmons and the school’s Board. Simmons expressed his interest in the school and teased a financial contribution. Simmons had had a lot of experience in this phase of school-building. He shared his expertise with the Board and helped them navigate the pitfalls of other schools Simmons had worked with.
February 18, 1891
The Abilene Baptist College Board voted on and adopted the school’s charter. Abilene Baptist College was officially incorporated.
March 12- Simmons wrote to the Board and agreed to give $5,000 to the school, under the condition the Board agree to and sign a “bond.”
That bond, which Simmons drafted later, was the Foundation Agreement. Today, the Foundation Agreement is the backbone to Hardin-Simmons’ mission statement.
March 13- George Smith confirmed the Simmons donation and agreed to discussing a “bond.”
The town and Sweetwater Baptist Association successfully raised almost $10,000. Now with Simmons’ donation of $5,000, the Board could move forward.
Somewhere between March 13 and April 11, 1891, Simmons sent his Foundation Agreement to the Board. The Board quickly agreed to it, and signed.
James Simmons’ draft of The Foundation Agreement:
The deed to the property was officially secured on April 11, 1891. Theo Vogel, E.T. Ambler, and Geo. Phillips provided lots in North Park in exchange for $1.
With land and money secured, construction on the school’s first building could finally begin.
Construction began on Old Main. Old main was the school’s first building and cost $12,000. It provided housing for the president and his family, board for female students, classrooms, chapel, library, and anything else a school would need.
July 4, 1891 The school hosted a BBQ picnic (4000 attendees, included Sweetwater Baptist members, Abilene community, and more) to celebrate the cornerstone laid of Old Main.
July 29, 1891 The Foundation Agreement, written by Simmons, was officially added to the school’s charter.
September 13, 1891 First day of class
Even though the campus was already called Simmons College by the time classes began, the offical paperwork was not processed until November to change the name from Abilene Baptist College.