Tuesday, April 2, 2013


"Lone Star Historian" is a blog about the travels and activities of the State Historian of Texas. Bill O'Neal was appointed to a two-year term by Gov. Rick Perry on August 22, 2012, at an impressive ceremony in the State Capitol. Bill is headquartered at Panola College (www.panola.edu) in Carthage, where he has taught since 1970. For more than 20 years Bill conducted the state's first Traveling Texas History class, a three-hour credit course which featured a 2,100-mile itinerary. In 2000 he was awarded a Piper Professorship, and in 2012 he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Wild West Historical Association. Bill has published almost 40 books, half about Texas history subjects, and in 2007 he was named Best Living Non-Fiction Writer by True West Magazine.

Recently my wife Karon and I spent the night at the Stagecoach Inn in Salado. For more than a half a century I have had the pleasure of stopping in Salado - to eat at the superb restaurant at the Stagecoach Inn, to overnight at the Inn, to tour students of my Traveling Texas History Course through the historic town, and to shop (actually, to walk to historic sites while my wife shopped). One weekend ago I took another walk around Salado, this time armed with a camera in order to blog about one of the most charming and popular small towns in Texas.

I hiked up the hill to the site of old Salado College, now handsomely stabilized and landscaped. Before Texas A&M became the first publicly-funded college in Texas, more than 50 private - and often denominational - colleges were founded, beginning during the Republic of Texas. There was Rutersville College, San Augustine "University," Galveston University, and Marshall University. Baylor was established at Independence in 1845, and Austin College in Huntsville four years later. Since there were no high schools in Texas, most of these grandly-named colleges and universities taught teenaged students, and subject matter was mostly on the secondary level. But there was a growing demand for education, and private colleges proliferated.
Bell County needed an institution of higher learning, and in October 1859 a tent meeting convened at Salado Springs to pursue the project. Salado Springs, a campsite for Native Americans for centuries, was an attractive location. Since 1852 a stagecoach line between Waco and Austin had used Salado Springs as a stopover, and a post office was opened at Salado in 1852. At the tent meeting the Salado Joint Stock Company was organized, and Col. E.S.C. Robertson - son of area colonizer Sterling C. Robertson - donated 100 acres of land. A two-story stone building was erected in 1860, and by the outbreak of the Civil War 124 students were enrolled. After the war attendance averaged 250 for several years, and in 1871 there was a two-story addition to the building. During 24 years of operation, Salado College was funded solely by tuition.

After Salado was missed by the railroad, the town declined, dropping to a population of 200. In 1885 the building was turned over to the Salado public schools, and eventually the property was abandoned and overgrown - until the reclamation of recent years. Governors James and Miriam A. Ferguson attended Salado College, and so did historian Charles Ramsdell, and Lieutenant Governor Edgar Witt.

Elsewhere around town I photographed commercial buildings, historic homes, and the old Shady Villa Inn, which was transformed in the 1940s by the Dion Van Bibbers family into the Stagecoach Inn, home of a nationally famous restaurant. Salado has been revitalized, and much of the new construction has adhered to the style of pre-existing buildings.

Judge Orville Tyler built this hillside home in 1857.

Future governor James Ferguson roomed at this
boarding house while a student at Salado College.

Built ca. 1870, this home became the residence
of a succession of Salado doctors.

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