“The Pride of Limestone County,” the main building on Trinity’s first campus in Tehuacana, Texas, was completed in 1892.
Trinity University was founded in Tehuacana, Texas, on April 20, 1869, what would come to be known over the next century as Founders’ Day.
Trinity was established by Cumberland Presbyterians who valued both experiential religion and higher education. Identifying a gap in availability of this combination in Texas, clergymen mobilized to promote an educational venture that ultimately resulted in campaigning for support of a new denominational university.
According to Cumberland folklore, Tehuacana, with its pastoral setting and healthy, sheltered environment, was destined to become a university town. But Tehuacana wasn’t the only choice the Cumberland ministers had in establishing a university in Texas: Dallas, Waxahachie, and Round Rock also offered bids.
On April 20, 1869, a committee met in Waco to make the final decision. After several meetings over a four-day period, the committee unanimously voted for Tehuacana as the site for the new university. The committee then adopted the name Trinity University, elected nine members to its Board of Trustees, and named William E. Beeson its first president.
By September of 1869, Trinity had renovated the former residence of Tehuacana’s founder, Major John Boyd, to use for classrooms, while trustees worked to secure funds for buildings and permanent endowments. Though it took more than two decades to complete, “The Pride of Limestone County,” as the main campus building became known, housed classrooms, laboratories, society halls, a library, and the campus chapel. Trinity’s first campus master plan would also see the erection of dormitories for men and women, a gymnasium, a music hall, a museum, a science building, and a divinity hall.
Due to increasing financial problems, Trinity left Tehuacana for Waxahachie, Texas, in 1902, and passed the campus on to Westminster College, a Methodist institution, which closed in 1972. Today, with a remodeled interior, the main building functions as Trinity Institute, a nonprofit Christian retreat center.
The move to Waxahachie didn’t mean Trinity students would forget their roots. Instead, the University continued to celebrate Founders’ Day around April 20 each year. Students, faculty, and townspeople attended programs of music and skits led by campus organizations, and classes competed in intramural sports. The University community hosted a picnic supper honoring ex-students and alumni.
In 1938, Trinity faculty introduced a new format for Founders’ Day: A motorcade of students, faculty, and alumni drove to Tehuacana for a program of singing and reminiscing in Texas Hall, followed by a picnic on the grounds of the old campus.
Founders’ Day also became a day in Trinity’s history to mark other monumental occasions. During Founders’ Day celebrations in April 1949, Trinity supporters gathered to dedicate the ground on which the current Trinity campus in San Antonio would be built. Founders’ Day grounded the series of events that marked Trinity’s centennial year, beginning with a flag-raising ceremony and hosting a picnic reminiscent of the Waxahachie years.
In the 1950s and ’60s, Founders’ Day was a the apex of the school’s social calendar as an official all-campus activity. But by the early 1970s, mentions of Founders’ Day had largely disappeared from the Trinitonian and the Mirage, with the last official mention at the April 1971 academic honors ceremony. In 2013 the Trinitonian dubbed it a “discontinued tradition.”