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
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
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
The increasing difficulty of making a good living on a small farm in
Wisconsin, or the Dakotas coincided with the
development of agricultural lands in a great arc from Brownsville,
Texas, to . Railroad companies and their developers
sponsored special excursion trains in the winter months bringing prospective
buyers to Lafayette, Louisiana Texas. They were shown demonstration farms—mainly of
specialty horticultural crops—which thanks to the railroads could be sold in
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
, fruits and berries were often
the crops of choice. Pearland did not
receive its name by accident, and Galveston Counties 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
would be successful and why Alvin
business leaders would seek the support of the MEC.