Texas Christian University called various Texas cities—including Waco—home for many years before settling permanently in Fort Worth. The university traces its origins to a small private school operated out of a brick church structure in Fort Worth, founded by Addison and Randolph Clark in 1869. Finding their students dazzled by the vice of a rapidly growing urban center, the brothers moved the college to the frontier town of Thorp Springs in 1873. It was there that the school received its first charter as AddRan Male and Female College in 1874. It was later chartered in 1889 as AddRan Christian College under the official control of the Christian (Disciples of Christ) Church.
Though the brothers left Fort Worth with the intention of leaving city life behind, trustees soon began to discuss the merits of moving the university back into an urban area. On September 4, 1895, James I. Moore presented a proposal from the Executive Committee of the Christian Church at Waco, offering the campus of former Waco Female College, fifteen acres of land north of downtown, and funds to construct a dormitory for male students in exchange for AddRan relocating to Waco by January 1, 1896.
On Christmas Day in 1895, a train carrying around one hundred members of AddRan Christian College rolled into Waco. Following a formal reception at First Baptist Church—attended by Waco politicians, university officials such as Baylor president Rufus C. Burleson, church representatives, and city clubs—AddRan students, faculty, and staff marched three miles to the former campus of Waco Female College near North Eighteenth Street.
A lone brick building standing atop a grassy hill greeted the university. Though unfinished, the structure offered an impressive start to what was intended to be a sprawling urban university. The spacious building included areas for dining, a library, the business college, science labs, a chapel, and parlors often used by literary societies and clubs. As promised, the Executive Committee of the Christian Church of Waco provided funding to finish the third floor which housed the male dormitory as well as faculty apartments. Although financial difficulties—largely brought on by debt the college acquired in Thorp Springs—challenged the university, several other buildings were added to the campus between 1900 and 1911, including a girls’ dormitory.
Classes began at Add-Ran in Waco on January 1, 1896, including mandatory coursework in ancient languages, English, mathematics, physical sciences, mental and moral sciences, and social history. A Bible department offered coursework for ministers in training. As the university expanded, the school added more classes and divisions, including music courses and a business department. In 1902, trustees voted to rename the college Texas Christian University (TCU), marking the school’s decided effort to transition from a small institution to one of the most influential universities in the South.
Student life consisted largely of participation in literary societies. In the late 1890s, a volunteer student band formed and many students became involved in the Young People’s Society of the Christian Endeavor, a national evangelical society. Students and faculty collaborated to publish a monthly newspaper, and in the 1897-1898 academic year the school mascot and colors were chosen and the first Horned Frog annual was published. As the college expanded in Waco, extracurricular activities such as athletics and military drill teams grew in popularity.
Tragedy struck in March of 1910 when a fire erupted in the main building. Though all students and faculty made it out of the building safely, the building was too far gone to be saved by the time Waco firefighters arrived. Neighboring homes opened their doors to displaced students, and churches throughout the city held voluntary collections to raise funds to aid the school. TCU completed the semester by holding classes on the lawn, in the girls’ home, and in the dining halls.
The fire proved to be an enormous financial obstacle for Texas Christian University. Only $29,000 of the $150,000 sustained in damages was insured. Seizing the opportunity, other Texas cities began to place bids to entice the school to move elsewhere. Although local businessmen offered funds to rebuild in Waco, TCU ultimately found Fort Worth’s promise of fifty acres of land, $200,000, and connection to municipal utilities and streetcar access too good to pass up. The school rebuilt in Fort Worth that same year.
Plans to open a new educational institution at the Waco site never materialized, and it was sold to a real estate developer in 1912. Today, a historical marker stands at the old location of the school, bearing witness to Texas Christian University’s years in Waco and its contribution to the city’s reputation as the “Athens on the Brazos.”