College ruins were preservation crisis for Salado
“It was the biggest preservation crisis the town had or may ever have to face,” Dr. Douglas B. Willingham said.
For decades since the 1924 fire which finally did in the two-story limestone building, the old Salado College fell into ruin and neglect.
A Foundation was formed in the 1970s in hopes of saving the ruins from further deterioration and to make the 7.5 acres upon which the building sat a public park: the Robertson Colony-Salado College Foundation.
But money — or lack thereof — prevented the Foundation from being able to take any proactive (or reactive) steps to stop the natural and manmade damage befalling the old ruins every year.
Salado Historical Society stepped into the picture in the late 1980s and early 1990s to save Salado College ruins.
The Society also possesses the only sheepskin diploma from the Salado College donated to the Historical Society by the descendants of the Vickery family. The Society also has photographs of many of the graduating classes of Salado College and Thomas Arnold High School, which Willingham said, “was one of the finer educational establishments in Texas.”
The initial clean-up efforts at College Hill were led by volunteers from the Historical Society in 1987.
Later, with funds given by the Salado Historical Society, Tim Brown led an effort that further secured the Ruins.
Brown said that the primary effort was to excavate the footprint of the original building and its 1870 northern annex (which was actually larger than the original building).
Where the rocks of the foundation were crumbling beyond repair, they were replaced with similar rock from the “rubble” of the ruins.
Masonry joints were repointed to prevent further deterioriation due to water and weather.
The foundation footprint was cleaned of debris. Excavation piles were documented and organized according to which area they came from, so that future archeological work could be done in sifting those piles for artifacts.
“Everything was coded and mapped and the rubble was removed to an area away from the foundation,” Brown said.
The 1991 Phase II also included leveling the ground around the ruins to make it safe for walking.
Today, the Robertson Colony-Salado College Foundation is pursuing the idea of making the Salado College Ruins a public park with historical and archeological points of interest around the 7.5 acres.
Bill Kinnison, who chairs the Park Committee of the Salado College Foundation, says that there are now plans for a half-mile walking trail that would include planting beds of native plants and other points of interest.
With help from soldiers from Fort Hood, a great deal of work has already been done. Most recently, the Ruins will now be lighted on weekend nights, thanks to Alan Goodnight.
An effort to clear the area just west of the ruins and plant trees and flower beds was recently made possible by volunteers from the Salado Historical Society, the Robertson Colony-Salado College Foundation, Keep Salado Beautiful, the Central Texas Area Museum and village officials. A group of Fort Hood Soldiers provided brute strength, along with a gentle hand, to clear rocks, boulders and vegetation and to create flower beds on the western border of the property facing Main Street .
Fourth-generation Saladoan Allen Sirois is repairing the walkways and steps leading up to the College Ruins as his Eagle Scout project.
The Robertson Colony-Salado College Foundation, under the leadership of its president, Dr. Doris Kemp, and vice-president Ronnie Wells, was recently re-organized with new local leadership and enthusiasm to take College Hill to the next level. Working with Salado organizations and individuals such as the Salado Historical Society, Central Texas Area Museum, the Texas Historical Commission and Baylor University’s Department of Anthropology, Forensic Sciences and Archeology, the Foundation hopes to realize its long-awaited goal to make College Hill a public, informative and beautiful site for the citizens of Salado and its many visitors.
THC archeologists, during a March 3, 2012 excavation day, uncovered the foundation of the old well that supplied the water to Salado College. This and other finds have given new blood to an old Ruin.
© 2012 Salado Village Voice, Inc.