Saturday, January 12, 2013

This Week in Texas Methodist History  January 13

Methodist College Starts in Alvin, January 17, 1900

On January 17, 1900 trustees appointed by the Austin and Gulf Coast Conferences of the MEC  met in Alvin and accepted an offer from town leaders of land, buildings, and other inducements to assume ownership of a new college in that small city in northeastern Brazoria County. 

How did it happen that there were enough northern Methodists in Alvin in 1900 to justify owning a college?  The answer to that question is based on the geography of settlement patterns.  The establishment of a MEC (northern) institution on the coastal plains of Texas was made possible by confluence of economic and demographic forces that are all but forgotten. 

The first Anglo settlers to Texas avoided the Gulf Coastal Plains as too mosquito infested, poorly drained, and malarial.  The abundant grasses growing on predominately clay soils produced a sod cover too thick to plow with mules. Settlers filed claims only on the river bottom lands.  The interfluves, although used for grazing, remained mainly in the public domain.  As the state of Texas offered inducements of land to railroad companies for laying track, much of the coastal plain became the property of those railroad companies. Alvin, for example, is on land granted to the Houston Tap and Brazoria RR. 

Railroads did not want land.  They wanted to subdivide their holdings into towns, farms, ranches and then ship the produce of those enterprises.  By the end of the 19th century heavy equipment was being manufactured that could drain the plains, plow the tough sod and make farming possible.  In the meantime similar developments in the mechanization of agriculture had reduced labor requirements for the grain farms in the Midwest.  In that region small holdings were being consolidated to take advantage of economies of scale made possible by mechanization.

The increasing difficulty of making a good living on a small farm in Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, or the Dakotas coincided with the development of agricultural lands in a great arc from Brownsville, Texas, to Lafayette, Louisiana.  Railroad companies and their developers sponsored special excursion trains in the winter months bringing prospective buyers to Texas.  They were shown demonstration farms—mainly of specialty horticultural crops—which thanks to the railroads could be sold in northern markets. 

Different communities developed specialty crops.  At first everyone tried to grow citrus, but recurrent freezes limited commercial production to the southernmost counties of the region.  Where irrigation water was available, cabbages, onions, and spinach became popular.  On the upper coast in Brazoria, Harris, and Galveston Counties, fruits and berries were often the crops of choice.  Pearland did not receive its name by accident, and Pasadena still has a strawberry festival.  Alvin produced both figs and pears.  Throughout the region canneries and packing houses provided seasonal employment. 

The northern migrants to the coastal plains brought their church affiliations with them, and a substantial number belonged to the MEC.  The Methodist annual conference system was unparalleled in its ability to shift preachers from areas of declining populations to areas of increasing populations.  By 1900 there were MEC Methodist churches scattered all over the Texas coastal plains staffed by pastors who had transferred from northern conferences.  The Alvin area had four MEC churches-- African American, Anglo, German, and Swedish. 

With such a presence on the coastal plains it is easy to see how MEC leaders thought a Methodist college in Alvin would be successful and why Alvin business leaders would seek the support of the MEC.  


Post a Comment

<< Home