This Week in Texas Methodist History August 28
The premier educational institution in pre-Civil War Texas was McKenzie Institute near Clarksville. At its height it enrolled 300 students and employed 9 instructors. It was created through the efforts of one of the great Texas Methodist preachers, John W. P. McKenzie. He imposed a strict discipline on the students such as requiring prayers at 4:00 a.m., and provided what was probably the best education available in Texas in 1850’s. Unfortunately the Civil War came. Students went into the military and McKenzie was formally closed in 1868.
J. W. P. McKenzie’s efforts are not forgotten. Southwestern University claims McKenzie College as one of its four root institutions.
Here is a report from a visitor to McKenzie which appeared in the Texas Christian Advocate, September 1, 1855.
"Having pulled and trudged through that miserable black mud, in the midst of a splendid prairie farm, yonder is the McKenzie Institute. Oh! how changed in nine years. Then the dwelling was a rude log house, shedded in barn fashion, with a few offices in the yard—the school-room, a rude log cabin, a few hundred paces distant in the woods. Now, as you approach from an opposite direction, you behold the splendid white mansion, two stories high. This is the dwelling—also, the upper stories, the female department of the institution. A wise arrangement this, as the young ladies are the constant inmates of the family of the Principal. About one hundred paces distant, stands the main college building, three stories high. And, about fifty or sixty paces distant from the college, stand two large buildings, each two stories high, with galleries—all well furnished and ventilated; so that students may, in comfort, pursue their studies summer and winter. These are the dormitories. They will accommodate, with convenience, about one hundred and fifty pupils. Young men had better apply soon, or they will be disappointed in getting a place the next session in this institution. As I reached the examination at a late period, and there being a regular visiting committee appointed to report the examination and prospects of the institution, I forbear saying more than that the large audience seemed highly delighted with the exercises. The speeches of the young men were highly creditable. One would suppose, as a hearer, that some of them breathed rather strongly in party political atmosphere.
But the most stupendous thought of all connected with this institution is, how did one man, with limited means, commence fifteen years ago, and build up such an institution? Let no one say that it was the Church that helped and sustained him. He helped and sustained the Church, in Northern Texas, sometimes almost alone! Yea, and his institution also. His donations in various forms, to my knowledge, have not averaged less than one thousand dollars annually, for the last nine years. He has educated and turned into the active itinerant ranks, from two to three young men every year, and now donates the whole college buildings, with twelve acres of land, to take effect at his death, to the East-Texas Conference. The gift is as liberal as the mind and economy was enlarged that made it. But how was all this mighty work, the cost of which was not less than thirty thousand dollars, accomplished? By the day and night toil, vigilance, perseverance, and economy of Brother and Sister McKenzie. Yes, the latter name deserves as much, if not more praise in this noble work, than the former. She who has watched around the sick-bed of the student, and in her soothing, gentle, amiable manner, made him feel that both mother and sister were there, will never be forgotten by us boys.