Some of you youngsters or new Denton residents may not be aware that The University of North Texas was “On The Square”, to paraphrase the name of their current storefront on Elm, long before the past few years. And, if you happen to walk along the northwest corner at the intersection of Elm and Oak you might notice an historical plaque on the Thomas Ethan Allen store stating that the very first classes for the “Normal College” were held in the second story of a hardware store at that location. Have you ever wondered what that building looked like? One great resource for doing historic research in Texas are the Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps, which can be accessed from our genealogy page. Searching Denton in that database, there is a two page map for February 1891. Classes commenced September 16, 1890 and it is a bit of an historical gem that the map actually states that the school existed there. Observe the following segment(click on image for larger view):
Right above the word “Oak” you will see “Normal College 2nd (temporary)”. We were contacted by UNT recently to see if we had a picture of that building on or about 1890. To our knowledge none exist, but the earliest we have found is a still from a silent film entitled “Denton 1913: City of Education”. Yes, there was a film about Denton that early and it can be viewed at the Emily Fowler Library. Here is a still from that movie showing the building on that corner with “Taylor Hardware Company” along the top:
In the history of UNT entitled “Down the Corridor of Years” (La Forte, Himmel) there is printed a picture from 1930 of the same building stating that it was the location of the first classes:
While working on this request with UNT, it was discovered that there had been a fire on that location some years before 1890 and prior a Sanborn Map states this. Thus, if in fact this is the same building as claimed in the UNT book, it must have been virtually new. Here is a picture of the west side of the square looking north along Elm St. ca. 1888:
As you can see, right beyond the still existing Scripture Building at the far end of the block there appears to be an empty lot across Oak St. So, unless the building housing the first Normal School classes subsequently burned or was torn down and another replaced it, the Taylor Hardware building is the one. If you look back at the Sanborn map, the footprint of that building and of Taylor are likely exactly the same.
Why was this only a temporary location for the Normal School? The group of local buisnessmen and supporters of the new school known as “The Syndicate” had purchased property west of town but had yet to complete the first official college building. Thus, they needed a temporary home for the first school year, 1890-1891.
Thanks for reading and thanks to Jill King and the UNT Archives for information regarding the lot prior to 1890.
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