• Happy 65th birthday, Tidwell Bible Building!

    Ah, Tidwell. It’s where virtually every Baylor undergraduate student takes religion and history courses. So many students and alumni have fond memories of the building — but how much do you know about its history?

    Tidwell Bible Building was named for Dr. Josiah Blake Tidwell, who served as head of Baylor’s Bible department (and later the Baylor religion department) between 1910-46. Tidwell led the transformation of his department from one that primarily trained ministers to one that taught the Bible from an academic viewpoint.

    Tidwell’s students were strongly influenced by his work — so strongly, in fact, that in 1936, 125 of them met at the Baptist General Convention of Texas to discuss plans to erect a building on the Baylor campus bearing his name. Enrollment had been increasing, and the university realized the practical need for more classroom space and for the religion department to have a home of its own. Fundraising began immediately, but would go on for nearly 18 years due to World War II and design difficulties. (In fact, Tidwell passed before the building became a reality. His final words reportedly were, “Oh, if God would only let me live five more years so I could see the Tidwell Bible Building on Baylor’s campus.”)

    The first vision for the building was created by architect Guy A. Carlander, Tidwell’s son-in-law. Carlander drew up plans for what would have been the tallest, most striking building on Baylor’s campus — a 10-story building featuring “the largest tracery window in the world” — a glass wall of light 110 feet tall. Electrified images of a cross and a crown would have appeared inside this illuminated window with the push of a button. At the top, the design called for a cathedral-like “crown” that housed a meditation room, a library, a nursery, and a chapel capable of seating 800 worshippers. It was a breathtaking vision — but a far too expensive one. A new architect, Birch D. Easterwood, was hired to design a more modest building.

    Carlander’s Tidwell Tower, 1947 (Courtesy of the Baylor University Digital Collection: The Baylor Lariat, Vol. 48 No. 47)

    An early Tidwell Bible Building design by Birch D. Easterwood.

    The final design (below) for the building resembled a combination of the two visions above. It had six floors and a basement (but no record-breaking window), and bore enough symbolism to indicate its use for academic religious purposes without looking like a church. Part of the building’s exterior design featured 68 limestone panels showing scenes from the Old and New Testaments. Construction on the building finally got underway in April 1953, and it was formally dedicated at Homecoming on Oct. 22, 1954.

    When Tidwell opened, it was home to the departments of religion, history, sociology, philosophy, sacred music and German, and also had some offices used by the School of Nursing. Today, it houses Baylor’s religion and history departments, and towers over the campus as a physical reminder of the university’s commitment to Christian ideals and education. And after 65 years of use, Baylor is fundraising to renovate the building to update it for 21st-century students’ needs.

    Sic ’em, Tidwell Bible Building!

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