History of Hardin-Simmons University
still in her infancy when a group of pioneer settlers dreamed of locating a
college in the fledgling town. The idea immediately took root, although a
recent drought and financial panic seemed to all but extinguish hope of
bringing higher education to West Texas. Through the tireless efforts of Rev.
George W. Smith and attorney Kirwin Kade Legett, and the support of the
Sweetwater Baptist Association, the school came into being. Abilene Baptist
College became a reality on February 18, 1891.
citizens of Abilene joined the original trustees in raising $5,000 to initially
fund the school. An Abilene businessman and his Ft. Worth partners donated 16
acres of land and an additional $5,000. Plans were drawn and a building, Old
Main, began to rise north of Abilene in the summer of 1891. The school
encountered financial struggles even before the completion of the first
building. Rescue came from a New York preacher, Dr. James B. Simmons, who
generously gave in order that the building be completed. The trustees honored
him in renaming the school Simmons College. The Simmons family continued to
harbor a deep interest in the school, providing financial support and even
requesting that they be buried in the midst of the campus.
students entered Simmons College in 1892. President William Friley led the
school as the first president. In less than 20 years, five presidents came and
went. In 1909, Dr. J. D. Sandefer accepted the presidency. Under his 40-year
leadership, the school grew and flourished. The name changed again in 1925 when
the college became a university. Simmons University struggled to the point of
collapse during the Great Depression. Financial help arrived once again when
John and Mary Hardin of Burkburnet, Texas, donated part of their fortune to the
school. The Hardins’ generosity and commitment brought the university long-term
stability and, in 1934, a new name: Hardin-Simmons University.
After the original land grant of 16 acres grew to 40, the
campus was nicknamed the Forty Acres. Forty acres was the traditional size of
homesteads in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Now encompassing more than 200 acres, the main campus sits on 66 acres.