Stephen F. Austin State University

Education in Houston County (October 2011)

Education in Houston County

By Lynda Jones

The State Legislature made history this year with critical cuts in funding that more than worried area superintendents and school boards across the state. However, faces of all ages in Houston County are smiling this fall with the opening of the new Angelina College Career and Technology Center in Crockett. Area residents are thrilled that students can take basic freshman college classes such as American history, composition and algebra without leaving Houston County. A variety of community education classes also are offered. The new college campus is a reminder of how important education has been in Houston County since it's beginning.

Houston County currently has five school districts, Crockett ISD, Grapeland ISD, Kennard ISD, Latexo ISD and Lovelady ISD. In 1893, the Houston County Commissioners Court divided the county into more than 40 school districts. They included Weldon, Holly, Pleasant Grove, New Energy, Union, Shiloh, Porter Springs, Beulah, Augusta, San Pedro and others.

The Courier noted in its June 6, 1890 issue, that "No county in Texas is better supplied with first class schools. The reputation of some of these institutions have become state-wide. Besides a most efficient and excellent system of public schools, lasting six months every year, there are several Academies and high schools of high grade and first class standing that are open all the year and are largely attended.
"It has been very justly remarked of the Crockett Academies that few, if any schools in the state, have sent out from their halls as many highly cultivated and accomplished young men as they have."

The Feb. 24, 1890 Courier reported"Lovelady has the largest, the best appointed, and the best furnished school building in Houston County, and with two or three exceptions, in East Texas."

The Angelina College Career and Technology Center in Crockett is not the first college campus for Houston County. According to the Feb. 24, 1890 Courier, more than 200 students were enrolled at Mary Allen Seminary in Crockett.

In April 1890 a brick, five-story addition to Mary Allen Seminary was nearing completion. The was described as "a very imposing structure". The upper three stories of the Mary Allen Seminary were for dormitories, music and recitation rooms. The second story was for chapel and a general school room, including a stage and other conveniences for exhibitions and concerts. The basement of the Mary Allen Seminary annex was designed for a dining room that would seat 250. The cost for all the improvements to the college was estimated to be between $35,00 and $40,000.

Mary Allen Seminary opened in October 1890 with 295 boarding students, and more than 100 were turned away due to a lack of space for them. By the time commencement rolled around in June 1891, more than 200 had been refused matriculation for want of room. The number of students completing that term totaled 277, and included students from Texas, Louisiana and Arkansas.

Parents experiencing the expense of sending their offspring off to colleges and universities this fall may be a bit envious of what an education cost in 1890. The June 12, 1891 Courier reported the total expenses of food, lodging, fuel, light and tuition for the entire session at Mary Allen Seminary that year was only $45 per scholar, and 100 of the 277 students did not have to pay anything at all.

The Courier further reported, "The result of the (commencement) exercises was highly complimentary not only to the faithful work and intelligence of the students, but to the competency and efficiency of the teachers and the exceedingly good management of the institution's able president, Rev. J. B. Smith. It is needless to say that the school was established by and is under the control of the supervision of the Board of Missions of the Northern Presbyterian Church which provides almost munificently for its support."

Currently, a group of citizens has created a Board of Directors for the Mary Allen College Museum. The board, with assistance from Sam Houston State University, is seeking a grant to fund an engineering study that will determine if the remains of Mary Allen College can be restored. The board plans to build an art museum on the site of Mary Allen College, located on North Fourth St. in Crockett, preferably in the original building.

The Crockett Colored/Ralph Bunche High School Alumni also is pursuing a historic preservation project. The alumni own the W. M. Henry Gymnasium, once part of the former Ralph Bunche High School in the Fifth Ward area of Crockett. That group is hoping to convert the gymnasium into a community center.

Without a doubt, when school bells toll in May to mark the end of the 2011-2012 school year, more educational history will have been made by Houston County.