Corsicana State Home
History and Marker Dedication
Corsicana, Navarro County, Texas


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A History of Corsicana State Home
By
Melba R. Barger

The Corsicana State Home was originally known as the State Orphan Asylum.  It was created by an Act of the Twentieth Legislature in 1887. (1) In The Report of the Board of Trustees of the State Orphan Asylum ... from January 1, 1895 to January 1, 1897, the Board of Managers recommended that the name of the institution be changed from State Orphan Asylum to State Orphan Home "as we think that it would impress upon the children more strongly the idea that it is a Home."  (2) The Fifth Biennial Report, printed in 1899, carried the new name, State Orphan Home. (3) This name was used until 1957 when the Fifty-fifth (55th) Legislature created the Texas Youth Council and changed the name from State Orphan Home to Corsicana State Home.  (4)

On February 19, 1887, Senator Charles Bell of the Twenty-third District of Texas introduced Senate Bill 261.  The Bill, as referred to the Committee on Senate Asylums, carried the caption, "An act to provide for the purchase of a site for, and the establishment, location, construction and maintenance of a State Orphan Asylum...." (1)  On February 28, 1887, the Committee assed the Bill to the Senate.  On March 12, 1887, S. B. 261 was read a second time with a favorable report.  On March 17, 1887, during the third reading, Senator Frank moved to amend the caption by adding after the word "asylum" the following: "and to make an appropriation there of,"  This addition provided the funding for the Asylum.  Senate Bill 261 was adopted by a vote of 25 yeas, 0 nays, with five Senators absent.  On March 31, 1887, Will Lambert, Chief Clerk, House of Representatives, notified the Senate that the House had approved the Bill.

On April 4, 1887, Senate Bill 261 was signed into law. (1)

Senate Bill 261, as signed into law, provided for the establishment of an orphan asylum for the maintenance of indigent orphan children under fourteen years of age within this State.  It further stated that "the governor shall appoint three commissioners, who shall select the site for said asylum with references to accessibility by railroads, health and fertility of soil; competition shall be invented by the different towns in this State for the location of this asylum, ad the commissioners, hereinafter provided, shall invite such competition through such means as they may deem best, reserving the right to reject any or all bids for the location of the same." (5)

Senator Charles K. Bell (April 18, 1853 - April 23, 1913), who introduced Senate Bill 261, came to Texas from Tennessee in 1871.  He remained in Texas for two years before returning to Tennessee where he read law until admitted to the Teas Bar in 1874.  He returned to Texas and began the practice of law in Hamilton.  He was State Senator from the Twenty-third District from 1884-1888.  Later, he was appointed Attorney General by Gov. Joseph D. Sayers.  He ran for Governor in 1906, but was unsuccessful. (6)  It is not known what prompted the introduction of this Bill.

The activities of the commissioners appointed by Governor L. D. Ross toward selection of a site for the State Orphan Asylum are not known.  On October 7, 1887, page 1 of the Corsicana Observer carried the news that the new State Orphan Asylum would be located in Corsicana.  As many as nineteen other towns, including San Antonio and Austin, tried to get the home located in their town. (7)  To get the home located in Corsicana, the citizens of Corsicana bought and gave 226 17/100 acres of land, more or less, to the State of Texas for the use of the State Orphans Asylum.  The first two deeds for property were dated October 8, 1887.  On page 313 of Vol. 54 of Deeds Records, Navarro County, is recorded a warranty deed showing the sum of $3,000 was paid by the citizens of Corsicana to J. O. McSpadden and wife, N. D. McSpadden, for 79 acres (with six acres being withheld for the St. Louis, Arkansas and Texas Railroad).  This land was in two tracts, with 59 acres (including the six) being in the John Williams Survey and 20 acres being in the John Beauchamp Survey.  On the same date in Vol 55, page 189 of Deed Records, Navarro County, is recorded a warranty deed showing that $1,400 was paid by the citizens of Corsicana to John Higgins, and the heirs of Janie M. Higgins, deceased, for 56 1/2 acres, with one tract consisting of 46 1/2 acres in the J. W. Williams Survey and 10 acres out of the R. R. Goodloe Survey.  This ten acre plot was situated five miles S.W. of the city of Corsicana.  On October 17, 1887, two other deeds were established.  The first, recorded on page 312 of Vol. 54 of the Deed Records, Navarro County, shows that the sum of $1,000 was paid by the citizens of Corsicana to Margaret Parrish and Wm. Parrish for 47 71/100 acres of land which is a part of the John W. Williams survey.  The second deed, dated October 17, 1887, is recorded on page 191 of Vol 55, Deed Records, Navarro County, and shows that the sum of $1,000 was paid by the citizens of Corsicana to Mrs. A. B. Birdwell for 47 96/100 acres in the John W. Williams Survey.  All of the above deeds were filed on October 29, 1887.  On April 30, 1888, the citizens of Corsicana paid $50.00 for approximately one acre of land in the John Williams Survey (Vol. 56, p. 615, Deed Records, Navarro County). (8)  Evidently, the gracious offer made by the citizens of Corsicana resulted in the Commissioners selecting Corsicana as the site for the State Orphans Asylum.

Other parcels of land have been purchased over the years.  In 1900 that State of Texas purchased fifty acres of land in the J. Richardson Survey from Mrs. A. H. Daniel (Vol. 90, p. 626, Deed Records, Navarro County).  The State also purchased sixty-eight acres of land in the John Richardson Survey from R. E. Prince (Vol 90, p. 635, Deed Records, Navarro County).  In 1927 the State of Texas purchased 21.6 acres of land in the John W. Williams Survey from T. B. Sadler and wife (Vol. 326, p. 151, Deed Records, Navarro County).  In 1929, the State purchased ninety-four acres of land in the John Williams Survey from J. T. Garner and wife (Vol. 34, p. 131 Deed Records, Navarro County).  In 1941, 3,324 acres of the John Williams Survey (of which 0.132 was in public road) were purchased from Mrs. Mary E. Hodge and W. C. Hodge (Vol. 404, p 413, Deed Records, Navarro County). (8)

The 57th Legislature in its First Session, 1961, enacted Senate Bill 160.  This Bill authorized the Texas Youth Council to convey a tract of pasture land, owned by the State of Texas and used by the Corsicana State Home, to the Corsicana Independent School District in exchange for another tract of land adjoining the Corsicana State Home property.  This land was acquired by the Corsicana Independent School District as a site for a high school stadium and athletic field. (9)

The first students were received at the State Orphan Asylum on July 15, 1889.  In the First Annual Report of the Managers and Superintendent of State Orphan Asylum, covering June 15, 1889 - October 31, 1890, Supt. James C. Gaither reported to Governor Hogg that sixty children had been received; four were returned to friends and two ran away; leaving fifty-four students in the Asylum on November 1, 1890.  Of this number, twenty-three were boys and thirty-one were girls. (3)

During the first years of its existence the institution was not under the wing of an administrative agency, but was independent, subject to the Governor.  Annual reports were made to the Governor.

When the Board of Control was created in 1919 out of what had been the State Purchasing Agency, it was given the responsibility of administering some of the State institutions.  The State Orphan Home was placed under the wing of the Board of Control. (10)

The Home remained under the supervision of the Board of Control until September 1, 1949.  By 1949, the Board of Control had a long list of State institutions under its administration.  The Legislature then created the State Board of Hospitals and Special Schools ad the Youth Development Council.  At this time the State Orphan Home was transferred from the Board of Control to the State Board of Hospitals and Special Schools. (1)

This arrangement continued until 1957 when the Youth Development Council was organized as the Texas Youth Council.  The same piece of Legislation not only changed the name from State Orphan Home to Corsicana State Home, but also placed the Home under the Texas Youth Council.  Sec. 9a of this Legislation changed admission policies to read: "Subject to such policies as the Texas Youth Council may adopt, the Corsicana State Home may accept for admission any child between the ages of three years and sixteen years who is a full orphan, a half-orphan, or a dependent and neglected child ..." (4)

The growth and changes of the Corsicana State Home has numerous significant points and is full of historical interests.  Information about the earliest physical plant is sketchy.  The Home, of course, had some sort of physical plant when it opened in 1889, but early reports of the Board and Superintendent to the Governor di not describe the facilities.  The first report did give a detailed report on the farming operation, stating that the Home had twenty acres of corn, thirty five acres of cotton, five acres of millet, two acres of sorghum, two acres of garden vegetables, twenty acres in orchard, fifteen acres in forest and 3,000 ornamental trees and shrubs.  (3)  The report to the Governor covering the period from February 2, 1899 - August 31, 1900, states that funds were appropriated for a broom factory, a canning factory, and a sorghum mill, all being needed for the operation of a Home with four hundred students. (12)

In the Biennial Report to the Governor dated May 1, 1911 - August 31, 1912, the Superintendent reported that a boys' dormitory had been destroyed by fire and previous February, and that the Legislature had approved $50,000 for a new dormitory that would be ready in January.  The report did not state if this building was to be of brick or frame construction.  (13)  A picture taken of Home students on Juen 10, 1914, hangs in the Business Office at the Home.  Predominate in the picture is a long two story brick building.  It might be assumed that this is the boys' dormitory that was built to replace the one destroyed by fire.  This building was razed about 1950.

The 32nd Legislature was very generous and provided funds for many needed facilities - a steam laundry, cow barn, dairy (including separator, churn, and ice box), horse barn and two brick cottages.  It also provided money to stucco the man building and two dormitories.  Funds were provided for instruments for a brass band.  The Superintendent reported to the Governor, "The Home possesses a well organized and trained brass band of its own, so that now our boys and girls do not have to sit out in front of the building and listen with tears in their eyes to the band of the Odd Fellows Home." (13)

Pictures also help to tell the story of the early physical plant.  Besides the long brick building, the 1914 picture also shows a portion of a second brick building that cannot be identified.  Several large two and three story frame or stucco buildings are pictured.  One of these is the early day administration building.  It stood in the same place as the present three-story administration building.  It was a huge two-story structure with many chimneys, indicating that it was erected before the steam heating system.  The Superintendent was furnished one room plus bath in this building.  This administration building was razed in order for a new administration building to be constructed in 1917-18 (cornerstone date).  A second large building was the academic building which will be described alter.  A hospital building stood at the edge of the campus.  Next to the hospital building one can see two army type tents.  Ex-students state that these tents were used as isolation wards in the shape of a Greek cross.  A new hospital was constructed later immediately in front of the other.  The older building remained to be used for isolation cases, and was finally razed.  The second hospital building continued to be used until the seventies and was razed in 1975.

Other large buildings were constructed to house the increasing population of the Home.  By the time the Home began to publish its own school annual, The Cedar Tree (so named because of the cedar trees that lined the roads of the campus), in 1926, the State Orphans Home had an impressive skyline.  The 1927 Cedar Tree has pictures labeled girls' dormitory and high school classroom), Grammar School, Baby Girls' Building, Big Boys' Building, Baby Boys' and Baby Girls' Building (the same as shown in the 1914 picture), Hospital (new) and Middle-sized Girls' Dormitory.  All of these were large two or three story stucco Music Conservatory.  In 1929, the Cedar Tree pictured a new, modern Dining Hall with a seating capacity of 1,000.  It is interesting to note that this building was only a one-story construction.  At some later date a second story was added and today this building with two levels is one of the early buildings that remains on the Home campus.  The report of the Superintendent for the year ending August 31, 1934, states that alterations were made to the dining hall... (14)  This same annual pictures an almost completed High School Building.  In 1934 the residence for the Superintendent was rebuilt. (14)  The swimming pool which is still being used today was constructed in 1935-37 by the WPA.

The Report of the Texas State Board of Control for the Biennium ended August 31, 1936, stated that there were nineteen brick buildings and a number of small frame cottages, barns, and warehouses.  The report also stated one of the institution's greatest needs at the time was a gymnasium.  (15)  Evidently, the need was recognized as a gym was constructed in 1938.

Of major importance during the early years of the Home was the educational program.  The first report to the Governor stated, "A school was taught at the asylum chapel from 1 August 1889, to 1 September last, by Miss Beulah Gaither, under whose management the children have been well advanced in all their studies.." (3)  The first academic building, constructed in 1899 at a cost of something over $13,000, housed both the high school and grammar school. (12)  It was a stately two-story building with a domed bell tower.  There were seven classrooms ranging from the kindergarten through the eleventh grade.  The second floor contained the auditorium and stage.  The building also contained four rooms for teachers.

During the period of 1905-1910, the school building was thoroughly over-hauled.  A coat of stucco was placed on the exterior and two new rooms were added to make nine classrooms.  This building was razed for the construction of a dining hall in the 1920's.  The exact date of the new two-story grammar school building is unknown.  The new high school building was constructed in 1929-30 and was razed in 1974.

By 1897 the school at the Home became incorporated as an independent school district and by 1900 had become a fully accredited school with seven teachers and approximately three hundred students.  The Report of the Board of Managers and Superintendent to the Governor stated by-laws for the academic course of study: (1) Children ages 4-7 would be taught in a kindergarten school. (2) Primary school was divided into grades 1,2,3,4, (3) Grammar school was grades 5,6,7. (4)  The high school curriculum shall comprise a course in mathematics, science, English, Latin (4 years), and other general and classical courses of liberal arts.  The course shall comprise four years.  Graduates would be admitted, without examination, to the University of Texas. (16)

From 1910-1915 the curriculum was broadened and enriched by adding vocational courses, band, glee club, orchestra, piano, commercial studies, including commercial law and telegraphy.  Laboratories were equipped with adequate science apparatus so that domestic science, physiology and physics could be effective.  With the addition of the broom and mattress factories, manual training courses were added.  The Home built up some of the best agricultural schools in Texas.  Boys enrolled in this course won the State cup for expert judging of livestock at A&M College in 1919.

Due to the fact that some of the students were not profiting from the regular academic instruction, a special type of instruction was offered.  The First Annual Report of the State Board of Control carried a caption, "School for Every Day Boys."  Under this caption was stated that, "a special course of study was organized boy boys to whom a classical high school course is not adapted." (10)

The school provided many extra class activities which in reality became a part of the regular school program.  These activities encouraged the students in their vocatioal pursuits and added to general growth and development.

With the depression years the population of the Home increased rapidly, causing overcrowded conditions, yet the Home continued to provide a will-rounded educational program.  By the academic year 1942-43, the Home was operating a fully accredited twelve grade school.

School was continued on the campus of the Home through the school year 1955-56.  Two years prior to this date, students in grades 9-10-11-12 began attending Corsicana Public Schools.  Currently, all students attend Corsicana Public Schools.  However, the Home remains an Independent Public School District and provides remedial help for students.

Today, little remains of the once impressive skyline that graced the horizon at the western edge of Corsicana.  Only three of the principal early day buildings remain.  The administration building, constructed in 1917-18, is due to be razed later this year.  The gymnasium, constructed in 1938, is currently being re-modeled, complete with air-conditioning.  The dining hall, constructed in 1928-29, is used as a central kitchen for food preparation.  Food is catered to the cottages for serving.

Where the stately two and three story dormitories once stood are seventeen modern one-story structures, all constructed since 1970, with space for 315 students.  One of these cottages has been re-modeled for use as an infirmary in one wing and the education department in the other wings.

To the numerous ex-students who return each June for Homecoming, the Home o their youth is gone.  Yet, memories of childhood and school days at the Home remain vivid in minds and hearts.  Many recall structural changes that occurred as they lived on this campus and today's student will return to find that memories of their days at the Home remain.  The nostalgic is the past and progress is the future of the Home.

In the years since the first students arrived in July 1889, the State Home has served this community and the State of Texas by providing a home for hundreds of youth.  From the sixty children received in 1889-90, the population rose steadily until it reached 890 in 1932-33.  (Audit report, Sept. 43 - Aug. 47)  During depression years, many children were admitted to the Home largely because the family was in financial distress rather because their child was an orphan.  Perhaps some of these children did not need care away from home except for financial conditions, yet the State Home filled a special need during this difficult period.

Due to the large population and overcrowded conditions, the State Board of Control placed a social worker, Mr. Herbert C. Wilson,. on the staff in 1934.  When Mr. Wilson arrived at the State Home he found that children were sleeping two and sometimes three to the bed.  Areas not ordinarily used for sleeping were being utilized.  During the twenty-nine months that Mr. Wilson was at the Home 308 children were released.  This may seem like an incredible number, but one must remember that man children had been placed at the Home due to the financial condition of the child's family caused by the depression.  As this period padded the children could be united with families.

When the Texas Youth Council was established in 1957, the Legislature gave it the responsibility of administrating the State Home.  Mr. Don Jackson came to Corsicana to be the Superintendent.  During his administration the population dropped to 175.  (It might be noted that the present Executive Director of the Texas Youth Council, Mr. Ron Jackson, is the son of the late Don Jackson.)

During the sixties the population began to rise and reached over the 300 mark.  Recently, the Home has experienced a decline in population.  This is primarily due to increased foster care services available to Department of Public Welfare workers for younger children.

Whereas, State law permits the Corsicana State Home to accept children as young as three, it is the policy of the institution to accept no pre-school child.  Children of elementary school age are received, then placed in foster care as soon as is feasible.   Today, most residents of the Home are of middle school or high school age.

For many of the years of the Corsicana State Home by the State Department of Public Welfare in April, 1963, reveals that 53% of the children in the Home were from countries lying within a radius of 100 miles of Corsicana.  Only 46% of Texas 254 counties were represented in the Home's total population.  Navarro County had 50 children, McLennan County had 45, Dallas had 30 as compared with only three from Tarrant County.  Today, however, the picture has changed.  While the Home has students from only 45 counties, these counties are spread over the state.  As compared with fifty students from Navarro County in 1963, today there are only 8; while there are only two students from McLennan County and eighteen from Dallas County.  The counties that have the most students at the Home today are located on the coast, namely, Galveston County with 21 and Jefferson County with 22 students. (9)

There is no accurate record of the number of students that have been served by the Corsicana State Home.  The Audit Report for September 1, 1943 - August 31, 1947, stated that approximately 5,000 students had been served by the Home.  (17)  A numbering system was begun in 1955.  Since that time, 1,540 students have been received at the Home.

In his own way, each student has made some contribution to the Home and to Texas.  The Honorable Robert W. Calvert, who served as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Texas from 1961 to 1972 is among these students.  From the time he was eight years old in 1913 until he was eighteen years old, Robert Calvert lived at the Corsicana State Home.  After graduation from Corsicana State Home High School, the Home made it possible for him to attend the University of Texas where he received a law degree in 1931.  He was a member of the House of Representatives from Hill and Navarro Counties until 1939.  After serving as chairman of the State Democratic Executive Committee, he became an Associate Justice in 1961.  Robert W. Calvert is typical of all other students of the Corsicana State Home in that his physical, educational and emotional needs were provided for by the Home.

Since its beginning, many dedicated men have served faithfully as Superintendent of the Home with each man striving to provide a Home that would meet the basic nees for the students at that period of time.  A list of the Superintendents is included.  If a name has been omitted, it is due to incomplete records.

As shown throughout this narrative about the State home located in Corsicana, this institution has made unlimited contributions in the lives of its students.  Because of these contributions, Corsicana State Home should be commemorated as a Texas historical Landmark.

 

SUPERINTENDENTS

  • James C. Gaither

  • W. A. Wortham

  • T. H. Bowman

  • E. W. Tarrant

  • W. L. Bringhurst

  • W. F. Barnett

  • Odie Minatra

  • Donald McDonald

  • J. Stanford Halley

  • John H. Robertson

  • Moyne Kelly (Former student Sept. 1910 - June 1918)

  • Mack E. Dumas

  • A. R. Scott (Acting Superintendent)

  • Robert I. Boyd

  • Don Jackson

  • P. L. Shotwell

  • Jack Anderson

  • Dann Barger (Assistant Superintendent)

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

1.  Texas Senate Journal, Regular Session, Twentieth Legislature, Begun in Austin, January 11, 1887, Austin; Triplett and Hutchings, State Printers; pp. 259, 458, 510, 657, 732.

2.  Report of the Board of Trustees of the State Orphan Asylum Located at Corsicana, Texas, From January 1, 1895 to January 1, 1896.  Austin: Ben C. Jones & Co., State Printers, 1896, pp. 10-40.

3.  Report of the Superintendent and Board of Trustees of the Stte Orphan Home.  From June 15, 1889 to August 31, 1900.  Austin: Von Boeckman, Moore and Schultze, Printers and Binders, 1900, pp. 4-17.

4.  Vernon's Texas Civil Statutes, Article 5143d

5.  "Synopsis of Laws." Texas Senate Journal, Regular Session, Twentieth Legislature, Begun in Austin, January 11, 1887, Austin: Triplett and Hutchings, State Printers, p. 81.

6.  The World Book of Texas.  Walter Prescot Webb, Editor-in-Chief. Vol. I, Austin: The Texas State Historical Association, 1952, p. 140.

7.  Navarro County History, Under the Auspices of the Navarro County Historical Society, Corsicana, Texas.  Compiled by Wyvonne Putman.  Quanah: Nortex Press, 1975, p. 131.

8.  Navarro County Court Records, Navarro County Court house.

9.  Records, Corsicana State Home

10.  First Annual Report of the State Board of Control to the Governor and the Legislature for the fiscal year ending August 31, 1920.  Austin: Von Boeckman Company, Printers, 1921, pp. 53-61.

11. State Audit Report.  Feb. 1, 1949 to August 31, 1952.  C. H. Cavness, State Auditor, p. 1.

12.  Report of the Board of Trustees and Superintendent of the State Orphan Asylum From Feb. 2, 1899 to August 31, 1900.  Austin: Von Boeckman, Printer, pp. 4-17.

13.  Biennial Report of the Board of Trustees and Superintendent of the State Orphan Home for the period Beginning May 1, 1911, and Ending August 31, 1912.  Austin: Austin Printing Company, 1912, pp. 4-8.

14. Seventh Biennial Report of the Texas State Board of Control for the Biennium Ending August 31, 1934, Austin: Knape Printing Company, 1934, p. 68.

15.  Eighth Biennial Report of the Texas State Board of Control for the Biennium Ended August 31, 1934, Austin: Knape Printing Company, 1934, p. 68.

16.  Report of the Board of Trustees of the State Orphan Asylum, Located at Corsicana, Texas, From January 1, 1895 to January 1, 1897.  Austin: Ben C. Jones and Co., Printers, 1896, p. 21.

17.  State Audit Report.  September 1, 1943 - August 31, 1947.  C. H. Cavness, State Auditor, p. 5.

 

 


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