Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary celebrates 100 years in Fort Worth

Benajah Harvey Carroll stood 6-foot-4.

With his commanding presence and flowing white beard, he looked like a prophet or perhaps the tintype image of a senior officer in the Civil War.

Carroll fought as a young man in the Confederate Army and was badly wounded in 1864. After a conversion experience he became a pastor, educator, theologian and author, but probably his greatest contribution to Christian life was as founder of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where his illuminated portrait hangs reverentially in the rotunda of the school's domed hallmark, the B.H. Carroll Memorial Building.

Southwestern, now one of the largest seminaries in the world, celebrates a milestone this month.

The school moved from Waco to Fort Worth 100 years ago.

"Carroll had a vision of what the seminary could become," said Alan Lefever, a Carroll biographer. "If he could see it now, and the unique partnership that developed between the seminary and Fort Worth, he would consider his vision fulfilled."

At Tuesday's morning seminary chapel service, Fort Worth will proclaim Oct. 19 Southwestern Seminary Day.

'Beautiful panorama'

It was an eventful year -- 1910.

Outlaw Bonnie Parker was born. The Boy Scouts of America was established.

On Oct. 3, Carroll welcomed 91 students to the seminary's new campus, then a three-story cream brick building that stood, unfinished, atop a donated plot south of downtown Fort Worth that came to be known as Seminary Hill.

"This land was just a bald knob," seminary President Paige Patterson said.

The school's 1910-11 catalog offered a kinder description: "From the front steps of Fort Worth Hall may be seen the entire city ... from Polytechnic Heights on the east to the receding undulations on the north and west, spread out in beautiful panorama ... far above the smoke of the city and away from the noise of the streets."

Carroll founded the seminary at Baylor University in 1908. Concerned that the institution would be overshadowed by Baylor, he published an article in the Baptist Standard asking any Texas city to invite the seminary to move there.

Dallas and Fort Worth were considered favored choices.

During a meeting at the Worth Hotel, the seminary's locating committee agreed to move to Fort Worth provided the city (population 75,000) donated a site and raised a $100,000 bonus within 30 days.

Local Baptist preachers and civic leaders launched a spirited funding campaign. First Baptist pledged $45,000. Broadway Church, which was rebuilding after a fire, pledged $15,000. College Avenue church added $7,000. The financial goal was exceeded.

J. Frank Norris, then pastor of First Baptist, joyfully proclaimed, "The ... seminary has found its permanent home until Jesus comes again."

'Here let it stand'

Joseph Winston and his wife donated 34 acres for the core campus and helped secure 190-plus adjoining acres. In March 1910 a contract was signed to erect Fort Worth Hall, named in honor of the new location. The plan -- an ambitious one -- was to add one building each year for the next five years.

That June the first building's cornerstone was laid. At a ceremony 300 attendees sang the hymn Jesus Lover of My Soul. With an oratorical flair Carroll likened the institution to Jacob's ladder, leading from earth to heaven.

"Here let it stand," he said, "till Trinity has ceased to flow and this hill itself shall quiver under Nature's last convulsive throe."

Fort Worth Hall was not completed in time for the opening of the fall session. By day students studied biblical theology, New Testament interpretation, Christian ethics and evangelism. At night the unmarried students slept in the building's basement.

The seminary charged no tuition. According to the school catalog, students paid $15 a month to board at Fort Worth Hall. "Each student will be expected to furnish a pair of blankets, two quilts, two pairs of sheets, two pillowcases, towels and counterpane," or bedspread.

Coal stoves heated Fort Worth Hall that winter.

The seminary had no sewage system for the first five years. Water came from a ranch well on Broadus Street.

The seminary was more than a mile from the end of the city streetcar line. During wet weather it was almost impossible to walk through the muddy fields. Professor L.R. Scarborough, who would succeed Carroll as seminary president, owned the only automobile on campus, and it could be used only for official business.

Scarborough and two other men formed a corporation, the Seminary Hill Street Railway Company. The undependable motorcar ran on rails from the end of the South Hemphill Street streetcar line to the seminary and carried 35 people. Not until 1914 did a city streetcar run from the downtown courthouse to the school.

A tree and a hole

According to Tell The Generations Following, a history of the seminary, that first year in Fort Worth tested the president's faith and resolve. Carroll had to appeal to local and area clergy for funds to keep the school operating.

"I'm up a tree. Can you and your fine men help me?" he wrote to one.

"I'm in a hole," came one reply. "How can a man in a hole help a man up in a tree?"

"When you come up the tree to help me down," Carroll wrote, "you will be out of your hole."

In spring 1911, at the first commencement held in Fort Worth, the seminary conferred 18 diplomas and degrees.

Carroll's health declined in the years that followed. After his evangelistic heart stopped beating on Nov. 11, 1914, his body was transported by train to Waco for the funeral.

In his eulogy George Truett said, "The crowning work of [Carroll's] life ... was his leadership in the establishing of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. No other task in all his life seemed so completely to enthrall his thought and energies as the task of ministerial education."

Patterson said Carroll was initially ridiculed for selecting the "bald knob" as the seminary's site. Turns out the campus sits atop the Barnett Shale, which contains millions of cubic feet of natural gas.

"Right now," Patterson said, Carroll "is in heaven having more fun than is probably legal."

David Casstevens, 817-390-7436