SFA Story: The History of Stephen F. Austin State University

The Boynton Administration During World War II

Memorial Stadium - Another town-grown partnership

At the beginning of the fall semester in 1945, when the enrollment did not meet expectations, local citizens and college officials met to assess what actions were necessary to make the college more attractive to perspective students. In October, in the presence of member of the Board of Regents, one hundred interested parties from both the town and gown assembled at Gibbs Hall to explore ideas. The proposal which emerged, an update on a plan repeatedly refused by the State during the Depression and later dormant during the war, called for the construction of new recreational facilities on the campus. Hopefully to be ready for the fall of 1946, the proposed “City - SFA Athletic Park” was to cost approximately $150,000.00 and would require a bond election.

The park recommendations consisted of:

  1. a modern lighted football stadium initially for 5,000, a field house, quarter mile track, and adequate toilet facilities;
  2. a modern swimming pool with facilities and bath house large enough to hold swimming meets;
  3. a sufficient number of lighted, hard-surfaced tennis courts; and,
  4. a recreational park with lighted softball diamond, playground equipment for children, and grounds for picnicking.

While the new complex would be on the SFA campus, the city would retain control of the installation. The land was to be leased from the State of Texas for the longest possible period, preferably 99 years, and later deeded to the City. SFA would have an option to buy the complex later, if full compensation of the expended funds were met, but until such time, both the college and the local school district would pay an equitable annual rental fee for use of the new stadium and pool. The Committee who put forward the final proposal to the voters consisted of C. D. Thomas, chairman; W. A. Mize, vice-chairman; J. E. Reese, secretary; and, E. W. Monk, R. G. Muckleroy, John Rudistill, and A. T. Mast.

The location for the improvements was to be on the unused thirty acres of land immediately east of the main Forty Acres, as the campus was called by most people at the time. The location was the open fields to the east of the new street opened in 1938 (now Raguet Street, then North Mound), south of Birdwell Field and north of the Home Economics Practice House. The college at the time used the undeveloped area for a variety of open air functions, such as intramural baseball and homecoming bonfires.

The Attorney General approved the lease idea in December, and the City immediately called an election on the bonds for February 5, 1946. Intense lobbying took place in early February. The rationale ran that the facility would not only help SFA’s enrollment, but it would also help to solve the problem of juvenile delinquency in Nacogdoches. On election day, the citizens approved the bonds by a vote of 391 to 52. The stadium and the field house were the first units to be undertaken. In a complicated financial arrangement, some of the funds were to come from bonds ($60,000.00), and some were to be borrowed from the City’s overflowing Water Fund. The Stone Fort National Bank in Nacogdoches immediately bought the bonds, with an interest rate set at one and three-fourth per cent, and the project seemed immediately under way. The Commission supported a petition bearing 550 signatures requesting that the recreation complex be officially named “Memorial Park” and “Memorial Stadium” in honor of the people who had served and died in the World War. Veterans groups and civic groups were all consulted.

The construction of buildings at SFA had not usually gone as planned. The rosy projections of a quick solution by the fall of 1946 did not materialize. The first problem, a general problem in post-war America, was a shortage of steel, complicated by a strike in the industry. Site preparation proceeded without a problem, but as the delays mounted, concern over the comparatively short time left to sod and condition the football field made unlikely the first football game scheduled for September 13 . Then, a government order stopping all non-essential construction in order to boost housing for veterans threatened the project. Through political pressure and a favorable interpretation, however, the project received an exemption from the federal ruling. Work began in April with the grading and the dirt work. By May, however, construction costs for the Memorial Park were turning out to be nearly 20 per cent more than original estimates. Engineers explained that prices on all types of material, with the exception of concrete, had risen sharply in recent weeks.

Hopes revived in August when the steel arrived, and the heavy erection and welding equipment began moving onto the site of construction, but the project did not meet its projected schedule. Grass on the gridiron, planted by the City, was reportedly the only part of the project which met the schedule. Plans for the opening of the stadium were put off until October, to take place as one of the highlights of the first post-war homecomings at SFA. A. J. Thompson, chairman of the city commission, Dr. Paul L. Boynton, president of the college, and Frank Singletary of Carlisle, president of SFA Ex- Students Association, arranged the dedication service. The details were worked out by committees chaired by such SFA people as Miss Sugene Spears, Mrs. Lawrence Franks, Andrew H. Smith, Mrs. Savanna Cross Lockey, Mrs. Carl Biggers, John Lynn Bailey, Earl Biggers, J. W. Summers, Wallace Phillips, and Edwin Gaston, Jr. Dr. Boynton’s assurances to the football fans that the ceremony would not last over fifteen minutes and that the politicians and speakers would have only two minutes each did not materialize, however.

The rest of the Memorial Park–the cyclone fence around the stadium, the landscaping, the gravel ramp to cope with the mud, the restrooms, the cinder track, the swimming pool, the playing fields for baseball and recreational equipment–these all came later and came slowly. The pool was particularly difficult to complete. Shortages of a number of items necessary for the construction of the swimming pool, such as pipe fittings, nails and lumber, stymied the efforts of the city to push this phase of the project.

The Texas State Historical Commission approved a marker to commemorate the SFA faculty, staff, and students who served their country in World War II and other conflicts. (Story, here) The former site of Memdorial Stadium, which was dedicated to their honor in 1946, is the site of this marker and was part of the SFA 75th Anniversary Celebration.