A Visit to Independence

July 7, 2011

In recent years, Baylor University Libraries have worked with the Independence Historical Society, Independence Preservation Trust and Baptist General Convention of Texas to restore the site of the university's original campus, where Baylor students were educated from 1845-1886. Visitors to the town will today find beautiful parks and educational signs detailing the history of significant buildings and sites.

At IndependenceTx.com, you'll find detailed tours for walking, driving or biking the area. Located just 20 minutes from the Star of the Republic Museum in Washington-on-the-Brazos and the Blue Bell Creameries in Brenham, Independence is especially beautiful during the spring bluebonnet season, but makes for an excellent visit anytime. When you go, here's some of what you'll find:

Academy Hill: The university began right here on the site now known as Old Baylor Park, first with a co-educational campus (1846-1851) and then continuing as home to the Baylor Female Department (1851-1866) and Baylor College (1866-1886). The noted four columns of Independence are ruins of the Baylor Female Building, a three-story classroom and chapel structure built in the 1850s; today, incoming freshmen at Baylor Line Camp walk beneath the columns to receive their Line jerseys.

Baylor on Windmill Hill: When Rufus Burleson became president of Baylor in 1851, he separated the male and female students, with the men moving to a separate campus here. The major building was Tryon Hall, a three-story stone classroom and chapel building named for one of the university's co-founders. Windmill Hill was also the original burial site for university founder and namesake Judge R.E.B. Baylor.

Independence Baptist Church: Texas' oldest continuously active Baptist church, the congregation was organized in 1839. Many of Baylor's presidents also served as pastor here. You can still see Sam Houston's initials carved in one of the pews, put there by the former governor himself to mark his seat. Since 1966, the church has also been home to the Texas Baptist Historical Museum.

Independence Visitor Center: Dedicated last spring, the center occupies the oldest standing structure in Independence, the Adobe House, erected in 1835. It serves as a welcome center for the Village of Independence and provides travel advice and literature to all who stop by. Hours vary by season; call 979-251-9227 or visit IndependenceTx.com before you go.

Since 2001, many incoming freshmen have visited Independence as part of Baylor Line Camp. Shortly before graduation this spring, about 100 seniors chose to revisit the past to set their immediate future in context. Coordinated by the Baylor Alumni Network, the soon-to-be graduates ventured back to Independence on May 1 for a day of fun and reflection. After an afternoon touring the area and hearing from speakers such as President Ken Starr, alumna Lanella Spinks Gray, VP for Student Life Kevin Jackson and VP for Constituent Engagement Tommye Lou Davis, seniors once again walked beneath the still-standing columns. Four years ago, they received their Baylor Line jerseys after that walk; this time, President Starr handed each student a remnant of the original Waco Hall stage -- a piece of Baylor history to carry with them wherever their paths may lead.