IT ALL BEGAN IN THORP SPRING
Hood County News, January 27, 1985
Let’s set the record straight. Fort Worth may take all the credit, but Frog Fever really began right here in Hood County.
Texas Christian University got its start September 1, 1873 as Add-Ran Male and Female College in Thorp Spring, three miles outside of Granbury on FM Road 4. Several of the original buildings still stand, convincing proof to all doubting Cowtowners.
But better not blink or you might miss this important entry in the history of Texas education. Old Add-Ran doesn’t clamour for attention. There are no signs boasting, “TCU started here.” Not a single historical marker anywhere.
The casual driver could easily miss the place.
And better look fast.
The future of the 65-acre campus is less secure than its past. Used as a summer and weekend church camp for children since 1928, after closing a final time as a college, the property is now for sale.
There are no restrictions on its use once sold. What’s left of Add-Ran, granddaddy to TCU, conceivably could fall prey to the wrecking ball.
That would be an ignoble ending to this once noble institution, believes J.W. Red, caretaker of the grounds since 1979 after his retirement from the Navy.
Though a relative newcomer to the Thorp Spring Christian Camp–the name given the campus/campgrounds in 1966, Red, more than anyone, is torchbearer of its history-and shepherd of its future.
Besides maintaining the facilities, Red has made major improvements single-handedly painting both inside and outside of buildings more than a century old, supervising the construction of modern dormitories for campers, and organizing the clutter and keepsakes that accumulated in the school’s closets and classrooms since 1873.
Names and dates from the past glide off his tongue with effortless accuracy.
“For three years, while my wife was still in Dallas, I spent every evening reading all the old annuals, newspapers and gradebooks, so I learned nearly everything there is to know about the college’s history,” he explains.
“The history of this place goes all the way back to the Indians,” he says. “Over there was a campground for the Caddos. Arrowheads were found there and even today, I could dig up those grounds and find all kinds.”
Red believes Native Americans still utilized the grounds in 1855 when Pleasant Thorp bought the property and named the resulting town after himself and a spring of strong sulphur water he discovered on his land.
Hoping to raise the value of his property and put his namesake on the map, Thorp convinced 29 year old Randolph Clark to leave the Male and Female Seminary run by him, his brother, Addison Clark and his father, Joseph Addison Clark, in Fort Worth and come to Thorp Spring to start a new college.
In preparation, Thorp erected a sturdy 2 1/2 story stone home for the proposed school.
Randolph Clark and his young family purchased the home for $9,000 and it was there that the institution later to become known as TCU was born.
The original Clark House still stands. No historical plaque dignifies its doors but history abounds at every turn – history that began when better-known schools such as the University of Texas were only a dream.
Architecturally, the Clark House is an important example of the Early Texas vernacular style.
“Until I moved here and put in this front door and wood partition the original dogrun was open.”
Known simply as Add-Ran College by that time, the school offered a four-year curriculum.
The day began at 5 a.m., with the ringing of the school bell, which still hangs in the outdoor tabernacle now occupying the site originally held by the administration building.
Like nearly every other vestige of the original college, the bell has nothing to herald its existence or commemorate its history. Visitors who don’t know where to look could miss it altogether.
Yet that same bell was an integral part of campus life. It signaled the study period each evening at 7 p.m. Study ended with its ringing again at 9 p.m. and, at 10 p.m., it tolled a final time, announcing lights out.
Financial troubles led the Clarks to surrender ownership of the college to the Church of Christ church in June 1889. On April 26, 1890, the deed was transferred to a new board, which renamed the school Ann-Ran Christian University.
The dog-run, an open air corridor which captured natural breeze for the two connecting sides of a home in the days before air conditioning, remains open at the rear, just as it was when Randolph Clark arrived. Standing on its wooden floors, the feeling is like entering another era.
Upstairs, a row of theater seats litters the sprawling veranda. They have seen better days, and many a summer counselor and camper no doubt just as easily ignored as admired them.
But Red knows their history. “Those chairs came from the auditorium of the huge administration building of the original Add-Ran College,” he says. Photographs verify his claim.
“There’s so much history here,” he reflects, “but no one has ever gotten interested in writing about it. My hope is that one day there will be a museum to preserve all this, and our full intention is that whoever buys the property will keep the historic buildings, but there is no guarantee.”
In the meantime, Red is something of a one-man museum, college trivia pigeonholed in his mind and tangible memorabilia cached away by him in drawers and files for safekeeping until someone takes an interest.
Far from an abandoned relic, the Clark House, notes Red, remained in use as bunk space for campers until last September, when the camp changed hands, closed and was put up for sale.
“It’s a beautiful old building,” he says, stealing a long look at the new home, whose front façade is now covered with white clapboard and made fanciful with projecting bay windows, fishscale gables, and other Victorian features probably added towards the turn of the century.
Randolph Clark started the college and served as its vice president. His brother Addison was president and his father, as described on early letterhead, was the proprietor, really, a business manager.
The school’s name derived from Addison’s first child, a boy named Addran, who died in 1872 at the age of three. Randolph wanted his nephew, the child who was to be the hope of the family, remembered. He did not think it too sentimental to name a college in his honor.
Many colleges of the 1800’s consisted of a building or two and a handful of students. That was not the case with Add-Ran.
Enrollment reached 201 in the 1876-77 school year, when 85 of the students came from outside of Hood County. For its day, Add-Ran was big and important. Enrollment peaked in 1893 with 445 students.
But after conferring with his brother, Addison decided to honor his promise to the student body for musical accompaniment. He turned to the organist and said, “Play on, Miss Bertha.” And that little drama was only a prelude to the real climax.
Joseph Addison Clark, now a 78 year old man with a flowing, gray beard and cane, arose and left the meeting, walking out on his sons. His wife and some 140 others followed. Eyewitnesses reported that of those who remained, many wept.
That episode represented an important change occurring in the church. Randolph’s son, Joseph Lynn Clark, later wrote, “it has truthfully been said, the organ split the church.” The division became definite, the Conservatives forming throughout the South what became known as the Church of Christ, the Progressives assuming the name of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). And so it is today.
Organ music was first used by Church of Christ congregations in Dallas, San Marcos, Waco and Palestine, but it was its use at Add-Ran in Thorp Spring that brought greatest attention to the issue.
At the service, the younger Clarks’ father presented them with a petition requesting that the organ not be allowed because it was not endorsed by the New Testament.
The organ episode helped change the shape of one of America’s major religious denominations, and it also changed the college. That was the year enrollment was at its highest; the following, 1895, it dropped to 294, the lowest in 16 years.
Waco church leaders who supported the progressive stance of the younger Clarks were masters of good timing. With the college down and discouraged, they encouraged it to move to their thriving city of 20,000.
To entice the college to move before 1896, the Waco promoters pledged to provide transportation for all faculty, students and personnel from Thorp Spring. Except for the physical school building, Add-Ran left.
On Christmas Day, 1895, about 100 individuals from Thorp Spring college arrived at the MK&T depot in Waco. But the school’s founder, Randolph Clark, chose to remain in Thorp Spring, as did his father, who clung to his conservative beliefs until his death in 1901. Joseph Addison Clark is buried in the Thorp Spring Cemetery, down the road from and behind the Add-Ran campus.
In 1902, Add-Ran changed its name to Texas Christian University. A fire at the Waco school in 1910 prompted the college to move again, this time to Fort Worth. TCU had found a permanent, new home. Over the next 75 years, many would forget its first: Thorp Spring. And…Add-Ran.
But the original campus did not lay idle. Randolph Clark and R.F. Holloway leased the Thorp Spring property with backing from J.J. Jarvis and operated the Jarvis Institute there from 1896 to 1898. Clark left for a couple of years after that to open a school in Lancaster. In 1905, the Clark brothers tried again, reopening the campus as Add-Ran-Jarvis College. J.J. Jarvis was their backer.
Members of the Church of Christ (the anti-organ conservatives) organized the Thorp Spring Christian College on the property in 1910. Regents included Dr. T.H. Dabney of Granbury and Dr. T.A. Miller of Corsicana. The church bought the facilities for a song – a mere $6,000, the indebtedness against the school.
TSCC operated until 1928. One of its beloved teachers, and dean, Jewell Watson, acquired the property and immediately opened it as a Church of Christ camp called Camp Clebit. At the time of her death in 1966, the camp’s name changed to Thorp Spring Christian Camp — the name still used.
In 1971, the Christian Education Foundation took over operation of the camp. Two years later, a new swimming pool with two slides and two diving boards was built, along with a fully-equipped industrial kitchen and cafeteria. Red supervised the construction of four new dorms in 1980.
Last September, the camp was passed on to the Dallas Christian Schools. “They decided to close the camp because they had campers registered, but no counselors,” explains Red. That prompted the decision to sell.
If crumbling limestone foundations, Miss Jewell’s yellowed gradebooks and faded school sports photographs could talk, history buffs would find a treasure-trove of information just by visiting the campus. Instead, the wide arms of the live oaks, which knew the Clarks and all who followed them, embrace only silence.
But as long as Red is nearby, the story will be told.
Much of what he describes still exists, architecture and documents to be seen and touched. Despite its ghostly serenity, the old campus somehow pulsates with life.
Historic points of interest worth viewing include:
- A tiny rock cabin which served as a hospital, according to Red, during the Civil War;
- Two pairs of peeling white pillars that now bear the camp’s name, but which originally graced the Add-Ran administration building
- Two-story Rutherford Hall, a faculty building constructed in 1880 and the repository for Red’s impressive collection of college papers, photographs and original furnishings
- A clump of stones adjacent to Rutherford Hall which mark the site of the original girl’s dorm that was destroyed by fire
- The ramshackle cottage now covered in slate-colored metal siding which once was the residence of college president A.R. Holton
- A small limestone building next to the Clark House which serviced as a smokehouse for the Clark family
- The granite cornerstone from Perrin Hall that now lays plunked down on the porch of Rutherford Hall, a single reminder of the circa-1919 boys dorm which was razed only last year after serving as a Church of Christ church building and finally deemed unsafe for occupancy by the congregation
Red hopes the illustrious past of the campus will perpetuate into the future.
“We’re ready to open as a camp tomorrow if someone is willing to buy. We had one man who was interested who said he’d have to keep me as a part of the deal, though. He said I’m the only one who knows this place. And I really do–every water and septic line, every inch.”
Staying would be all right by Red. “Oh, I’ve grown attached to this place. I’m just miserable when I have to leave it even for a day.”
Should Red leave, one wonders who will remain to tell the story of Add-Ran. Frog Fever is the old school’s legacy, but will anyone remember?
Web Page by Mary Maxwell