It’s a scene hard to imagine today, but 90 years ago this weekend, hundreds of Baylor students (and even a few local alumni) threw caution to the wind and risked their lives on behalf of the university.
Their actions kept the contents of the university’s entire library — including many of the school’s 75,000-plus books and even the famous bronze “Clasped Hands of the Poets” that are at the heart of Baylor’s Browning collection — from going up in smoke. Such acts of boldness from students and alumni “filled with a love for Old Baylor,” as one contemporary account explained, remain some of the more heroic moments in Baylor history.
[2/13/12 update: The Texas Collection posted several more pictures of the fire and its aftermath on Facebook this weekend.]
On Feb. 11, 1922, a fire gutted the F.L. Carroll Chapel and Library, now one of the oldest buildings on campus (sitting in Burleson Quadrangle across from Carroll Science Hall) but then one of the newest. Built just nine years earlier, the building was home to a 2,500-seat chapel, Baylor’s main library, classrooms, the university museum headed by John Strecker, and the beginnings of Dr. A.J. Armstrong’s Browning collection.
When the fire was discovered around 4 p.m., hundreds of Baylor students and alumni pitched in to help carry the ladders and hoses needed for fighting the fire, even braving danger to enter the burning building to rescue its contents. Eventually, President Samuel Palmer Brooks had to tell the students to stop, fearful that the building might collapse. An estimated crowd of 20,000 students and Waco residents watched as it took two-and-a-half hours to put out the flame; it would be another year before the heavily damaged building was rebuilt.
Chapel services never returned to Carroll Library, moving first to a temporary construction and then to the newly built Waco Hall when it opened in 1930. Instead, the refurbished building became primarily a library, housing the university’s main collection of reading materials until Moody Memorial Library opened in 1968.
Upon its reopening, Carroll Library also became home to what would become the Texas Collection, which now fills the building as the largest Texana collection at any private university. Today, the Texas Collection includes hundreds of thousands of books, periodicals, photographs and other documents and files, all dealing with Texas and Texans. Carroll Library and the Texas Collection were each honored with historical markers from the Texas Historical Commission in 2008.
The building still welcomes visitors daily and stands in Burleson Quadrangle as not only one of the campus’ prettiest buildings, but also as a monument to the bravery of Baylor students long ago.
Sic ’em, Carroll Library!
[This entry could not have been written without two sources in particular: To Light the Ways of Time, an excellent history of Baylor that every BU grad should read, and the Baylor Libraries' Baylor Lariat Digitization Project, which already has some 50+ years of old student newspapers scanned into a searchable online database.]