• History of Hardin-Simmons University

    Abilene was 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.

    The 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.

    Sixty 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.

    Forty Acres

    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.

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