How Carroll Library attests to the sacrifice of Baylor students 100 years ago this week
One hundred years ago this week, countless Baylor students ran bravely into a burning building — to save the contents of the university’s library.
It’s not a move risk management would likely encourage today, but the selflessness of the act speaks to who Baylor students were (and are) — people who think of others (in this case, future students) above themselves.
Let’s set the scene: Carroll Library, situated on Burleson Quadrangle directly across from Carroll Science, is today one of the oldest buildings on campus. But in 1922, it was still practically brand new — just nine years old — and housed not only Baylor’s main library, but a 2,500-seat chapel, classrooms, the university museum (forerunner of today’s Mayborn Museum), and the beginnings of Dr. A.J. Armstrong’s Browning collection.
On Feb. 11, 1922, a fire ravaged the building, eventually leaving only the building’s exterior brick walls. The fire, of unknown origin, was discovered at 4 p.m. Flames and huge torrents of smoke broke through the dome and could be seen across Waco (see photos here). Hundreds of Baylor students (and even some nearby alumni) pitched in to help carry the ladders and hoses needed for fighting the fire. But more than that, braving the danger, they entered the building to rescue its contents. Their efforts salvaged roughly half the library’s holdings, including the entire law collection and the famous bronze “Clasped Hands of the Poets,” famously displayed today in Armstrong Browning Library.
Eventually, President Samuel Palmer Brooks had to tell students to stop their work, fearful that the building might collapse. An estimated crowd of 20,000 students and Waco residents watched as it took more than two hours to extinguish the flames; it would be another year before the heavily damaged building was rebuilt.
Chapel services never returned to Carroll Library, moving first to a temporary building and then to the new Waco Hall when it opened in 1930. Instead, the refurbished building became primarily a library, housing the university’s main collection of reading materials for nearly half a century until Moody Memorial Library opened in 1968.
Prior to the rebuilt building’s official opening, Baylor’s trustees passed a resolution thanking the many students who risked their lives: “Your unselfish devotion to Baylor in the hour of her greatest calamity is such a demonstration of your loyalty as to palliate in a large degree the effect of the awful blow that has fallen upon us,” it read in part. “We trust that your example may kindle such a spirit of loyalty and devotion to Baylor throughout our State as shall convert the calamity into a blessing.”
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, it 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 markers from the Texas Historical Commission in 2008.
The building still welcomes visitors daily and stands in Burleson Quadrangle as not only one of our campus’ prettiest buildings, but also as a monument to the bravery of Baylor students 100 years ago.
Sic ’em, Carroll Library!