The Texas Collection celebrates 100 years as keeper of Texas heritage

The Texas Collection celebrates its 100th anniversary. Mesha Mittanasala | Photographer

By Emma Weidmann | Arts and Life Editor

In choosing a theme for the Texas Collection’s 100th anniversary, collection director Jeff Pirtle said he wanted to highlight that there’s “something for everyone.” In the end, he landed on “Texas, Your Texas.”

The Texas Collection began in 1923 with a generous donation from a local physician, Dr. Kenneth Aynesworth, whose collection of Texas memorabilia was growing so large it threatened to evict his family from their home. Pirtle recalled a story told by Guy B. Harrison, former collection director, in which Aynesworth’s wife gave the physician an ultimatum: Either the collection leaves the house, or she and the children do.

Thus, the establishment of the Texas Collection was announced at a faculty meeting on June 12, 1923, and the rest is history. Now, 100 years later, the collection has a variety of items, such as photos of Baylor and Waco and artifacts from the era of the Texas Republic. According to Pirtle, the oldest items in the Texas Collection include rare books dating back to the 15th century and Spanish maps documenting New World exploration during the 16th century.

With such a vast history housed in the walls of Carroll Library, Eric Ames — associate director for advancement, exhibits and community engagement for Baylor Libraries — said he wants the next century of the Texas Collection to see growth in diversity.

“My hope would be that our collections have become more diverse, that the stories and the materials that we collect are representative of more voices who may not have as much of a presence in that collection,” Ames said. “I’d love to see more Latino, African American, religious minority, women’s collections — all of these groups that weren’t always a focus in collections back pre-1980s.”

This goal is not lost on Pirtle, who chose the theme “Texas, Your Texas” alongside Ames to represent not only the array of materials the collection owns but also the range of people who call the Lone Star State home.

“Even if you’re not a Texan, even if you’re an international student, even if you’re a first-gen college student, I really want people to come to the Texas Collection and find material that they identify with, that they can relate to,” Pirtle said.

The theme takes its name from the official Texas state song, “Texas, Our Texas.” The original sheet music submitted to the state can be found among the relics and volumes of the Texas Collection.

“There was a big contest held in 1923, and people submitted music to be considered to become the next state song,” Pirtle said. “It took a while until ‘Texas, Our Texas’ was officially chosen as the state song — I think it was officially chosen in 1929 — but the composers of ‘Texas, Our Texas’ gave their original music to Pat Neff as part of Baylor’s 100th anniversary in 1945. That original sheet music is part of our collection, and it’s currently on display.”

Ames said some of his favorite items in the collection are photos from local photographer Fred Gildersleeve, whose photos preserve images of a bygone era of Waco.

“He was a photographer in Waco for about 50 years, from the early 1900s to the 1950s, and took pictures of almost everything — things that are long gone now, major events, minor things, you know, displays of stores downtown,” Ames said. “Those stores are gone, so the only examples we have of those are the photos Gildersleeve took.”

In that way, the Texas Collection acts as a steward of history. In the coming century, Pirtle said the collection is working to digitize archives so that Texas heritage can live on in the digital age.

“We work really closely with the Riley Digitization Center that’s in Moody Library to digitize and make this content available to more and more people,” Pirtle said. “So I’m hoping that in 100 years, that a lot more of our collection will be digitally accessible. But even if it is digitally accessible, there’s something about holding the same piece of paper that the creator held whenever they made the document in the 19th century, or seeing the piece of paper that Sam Houston signed in the 1850s. You know, there’s this value to actually seeing, holding and becoming part of the document’s history when you come research and look at that original format.”

Students can become part of Texas history at the collection’s homecoming open house from 5 to 7 p.m. on Oct. 26 at Carroll Library. More events will come throughout the semester, and the collection will continue to celebrate its centennial during the spring.