151–175

From the construction of the state’s first public university in College Station to the swearing in of Governor Rick Perry for a third full term in Austin

151 | Texas A&M Is Founded

Old Main, northeast of Legett Hall; College Station | October 4, 1876

Prompted by the Morrill Act of 1862, which dedicated proceeds from the sale of public lands to the establishment of agricultural and mechanical colleges, the Legislature authorized the construction of the state’s first public university. A site in Brazos County was chosen, just outside Bryan on the Houston and Texas Central Railroad. The first building constructed at this “college station” was called Old Main. It was erected northeast of present-day Legett Hall, and the opening day was filled with celebrations, including a speech by Governor Richard Coke. Soon forty or so students—all men—listened as six professors—also all men—lectured on engineering, agriculture, and military tactics. The first class of Texas Agricultural and Mechanical College (more commonly known today as Texas A&M) was born. —HWB

152 | Aggies light the first Bonfire

Simpson Drill Field, College Station | 1909


Cushing Library/Texas A&M University

Texas A&M’s first on-campus Bonfire was a modest affair: just a small pile of scrap wood and trash. No photographs of the blaze exist (the picture above is from 1925), but David Chapman, the university’s archivist, believes that it was held on or near Simpson Drill Field. “According to Ernest Langford, class of 1913, the Bonfire burned ‘the night before we went to Austin,’ ” Chapman says. “One could logically assume that it was specifically lit for the Texas game.” Not until World War II did the Bonfire grow in stature, both literally and figuratively. It remained at Simpson Drill Field until 1954, when it moved to Duncan Field. In 1992 the Bonfire was relocated once again, to the Polo Fields, where it remained until the campus tradition was ended by the Bonfire collapse of 1999. —PC

153 | Texas declares independence

Along FM 1155, Washington-on-the-Brazos | March 2, 1836

In a rickety house with no doors and only cotton cloths to block the freezing wind, 59 delegates met at Convention Hall in Washington-on-the-Brazos, on present-day FM 1155, seven miles southwest of Navasota, where a replica stands today. The men had gathered to decide the future of Texas. Five delegates—George C. Childress, Edward Conrad, James Gaines, Bailey Hardeman, and Collin McKinney—drafted a Declaration of Independence, and on March 2, it was motioned for adoption by Childress. It was unanimously approved within one hour of its first and only reading, according to the diary of a lawyer named William Fairfax Gray. One hundred and seventy-five miles away, the Alamo was in the eighth day of its siege, so Sam Houston—the newly appointed commander in chief of the military—sent news to William B. Travis that “independence is declared, it must be maintained.” The delegates began drafting a constitution, but on March 6 Santa Anna and his men stormed the Alamo and overwhelmed the remaining forces. Independence may have been declared, but its first battle was lost. —KH

154 | Brenham Creamery Company opens

First and Church, Brenham | August 26, 1907

In the summer of 1907 a group of enterprising boosters in the small town of Brenham struck upon a promising business plan: They would purchase the excess cream that the local dairy farmers were throwing out and use it to make butter, which they would then sell to the community. After setting up shop in a building at the intersection of First and Church streets, the butter business was soon booming, and by 1911 the Brenham Creamery Company had the providential sense to expand its product line to include ice cream. In 1930 the company was renamed the Blue Bell Creamery, after the violet wildflower that blooms at the height of the Texas summer. Though the original building no longer exists, you can tour the Little Creamery, in Brenham’s current facility at 1101 South Blue Bell Road, which comes with an ice cream cone at the end. —JB

155 | The Chicken Ranch opens for business

Rocky Creek Road and Texas Highway 71 Frontage Road, La Grange | 1915

Prostitution was illegal at the time, but that didn’t stop Miss Jessie Williams. In 1915 she bought eleven acres just outside the city limits and set up what would become one of the oldest continuously running brothels in the nation. The Chicken Ranch was notorious to locals well before The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas introduced it to the nation. According to local lore, Miss Jessie stayed friendly with Sheriff Will Lossein—a tradition her successor, Edna Milton, would continue with Sheriff T. J. Flournoy several decades later. But the good times couldn’t last forever, and the house (the rotting remains of which are now on private property) closed in mid-1973 after TV reporter Marvin Zindler, of Houston, ran two weeklong exposés. Today just about all anyone can do is drive northbound on Highway 71, past the turnoff at Rocky Creek Road, and try to imagine a young man’s anticipation. —KV

156 | Charles Whitman’s Day of Terror begins

906 Jewell, Austin | August 1, 1966

The morning begins early for Charles Whitman, a seriously disturbed 25-year-old UT student and former Marine. He murders his mother in her home, then returns to his own house on Jewell Street and stabs his sleeping wife in the heart, killing her too. Late that morning he masquerades as a delivery man to gain entrance to the University of Texas Tower and hauls a crate full of firearms into the elevator, which he rides to the top. He murders one university employee and two visitors in the process of barricading himself on the observation deck, from which he opens fire on the campus below. In the course of 96 minutes, he kills ten and fatally wounds another; dozens more are wounded less grievously. Police officers return his fire; eventually two officers and a civilian make their way to the observation deck, where Whitman is finally shot and killed. The incident is the worst mass shooting in American history at the time. Police follow Whitman’s trail back to the house

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