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Denton's Private College by Nita Thurman
Spring 2007      


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In case you were wondering …

"The Denton Polka"

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Denton sesquicentennial site

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An Exciting Brand of Football

Denton's Private College

The Portal to Texas History

His Life's Motivation




The city of Denton was 33 years old when it built an institution for teacher training – a normal college – in 1890. As Denton celebrates its 150th anniversary this year, we look back on the days of the private normal that would become UNT.

The Denton Polka

See and hear Grammy-winning polka band, Brave Combo perform the "Denton Polka", a song they wrote to celebrate Denton's 150 birthday.

In May 1927, more than 1,000 people congregated in Denton for North Texas' Silver Jubilee, celebrating the anniversary of the institution's first year as a state college (1901-02).

Few of the alumni and officials at the celebration would have been able to predict the university of today. But they had a unique perspective on the past. They were there at the beginning — when North Texas was a private normal college built by the city — and they helped guide the little school through its infancy.

During the three-day Jubilee, they barbecued one ton of beef and celebrated with a banquet, a solemn convocation and commencement. Mostly, though, they reminisced.

Way out west of town

Bishop John A. Moore, a Methodist leader from Dallas who had been on the faculty the first year the normal opened, remembered the brick building on the prairie way out west of town when Denton was still clustered around the downtown square. The wall at the end of the hallway on the first floor was painted black, making a blackboard where future president W.H. Bruce, then the ranking professor, wrote the schedule of classes.

They remembered the barbed-wire fence built around the 10-acre campus to keep out straying livestock — and the stile that President Minter B. Terrill built across the fence for easier access to the campus.

The institution opened in 1890-91 as a private school. Denton city fathers had seen the need for more trained teachers and decided to build the normal and lease it to an educator who would be solely responsible for it. The institution would be financed by tuition or subscription fees.

Ten men — who became known as "The Syndicate" — bought more than 200 acres west of town and donated 10 acres to the city for the proposed normal. The Syndicate obviously had an eye for profit as well and developed the remaining acreage as the College Addition. The 10-acre school site was bounded by Hickory Street on the north, Chestnut on the south, Avenue A on the east and Avenue B on the west.

  Normal Building, c. 1891

Normal Building, c. 1891

Citizens approved a $15,000 bond issue for a brick building for the school. The cornerstone was laid Feb. 21, 1891. There apparently was some legal question about using public bond money for a private institution, so the new teacher training school would be known locally as Public School No. 2. Its formal name was the Texas Normal College and Teacher Training Institute.

Chilton's vision

Joshua C. Chilton, a Missouri educator, signed a five-year contract with the city to operate the normal. He and five other people made up the faculty, which included Moore and J.Q. Dealy, a future editor of the Dallas Morning News.

For the school's first year, while the new brick building was under construction, classes met on the second floor of a hardware store on the downtown square.

On opening day, Chilton outlined his vision for higher education in Denton.

"Our aim will be to foster the broadest culture and the highest scholarship," he said, "… to become leaders in the education of the young men and women of Texas, fitting them to fill the most important positions in business and professional circles."

He spoke against the practice then of teaching young women "reading, writing and fancy work only," and pledged that women would be admitted to all classes on equal terms with men.

The brick building was ready for the 1891 term. Professor Chilton equipped it with 10 tables, two teacher desks, 36 window shades, one regulator to ensure that all clocks were accurate, nine stoves, stovepipes and one bell, which he bought on a time payment plan.

Chilton, who was suffering from increasing ill health, resigned from the struggling school in 1893. He died in 1896.

State support

Faculty member John Jackson Crumley was appointed by the city to take on the duties of administrator when Chilton's health broke down. Crumley served as president in 1893-94.

State support was an obvious answer for the institution's financial difficulties. In 1894, the Legislature approved a bill authorizing the school to issue teaching certificates (in the process its name changed to North Texas Normal College). Still, there was no state money.

Student body, 1895  

Student body, 1895


Following Crumley as president was Professor Terrill of Tennessee, who was young and energetic and immediately began a publicity campaign to try to increase enrollment. In 1895, the school had four departments and only 77 students — 29 in the teacher department, 24 in the commercial department, 17 in the music department and 7 in the art department.

The financial situation became grimmer. Denton officials considered closing the school and selling the property, but they held on, and eventually the state came to the rescue.

In 1899 a bill to create a state normal passed. The city agreed to donate the college property — land, building and bell — to the new state normal and to provide "abundant artesian water" to the campus. Texas Gov. Joseph D. Sayers signed the bill into law on March 31, 1899.

  Chemistry lab, 1900

Chemistry lab, 1900

However, it was another two years before the state appropriated the money to finance operations and UNT's days as a state-supported institution began. North Texas State Normal College opened in September 1901.

Today, only one tangible reminder of those first years as a private institution remains — the old bell that Chilton bought. When it no longer rang the curfew, it turned to ringing out victories on the sports field until a crack forced its retirement to the University Union. It is now enshrined just outside the One O'Clock Lounge.


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