For more than eight decades, the identities of Texas Tech and Lubbock have been intertwined, and each has prospered and made the other better through a mutually beneficial partnership.
“Leaders at that time understood how important it would be to have Texas Tech,” longtime Tech history professor Paul Carlson said. “They worked hard to get Texas Tech to Lubbock. They worked hard to get a university in West Texas, and then they worked hard to get the school located here.”
It took a lot of effort, and the decision to link a new college with a relatively young town did not come about without its share of trials and travails.
The dream of an institution of higher learning on the South Plains dates back to 1896, when a state senator from Pecos asked for land to be set aside for an agricultural college, but his proposal received no consideration, according to The Avalanche-Journal publication “75 Years of Greatness,” which provided a historic overview of Tech’s first 75 years.
Two later undertakings, in 1917 and 1921, ended in disappointment, as well. The second organized effort was vetoed by Gov. Pat Neff, whose decision so outraged West Texans that they threatened secession from the state, according to the book.
State Sen. W.H. Bledsoe, with Neff’s urging, wrote a bill seeking a $1 million appropriation for a new West Texas college, and State Rep. R.M. Chitwood of Lubbock agreed, saying the school should operate independently of any previously established school.
“Just look at the leadership provided by Senator Bledsoe in the founding of the university,” said James Brink, executive director of the Southwest Collection/Special Collections Library, referring to the earliest days of the Tech-Lubbock connection. “Lubbock and Tech have always been closely aligned.
Members of the Texas Technological Locating Committee examine Lubbock land as they conducted a three-week search for a location for a new college from among 35 applicant towns.
“Certainly, there have been some bumps along the way, as you would generally expect between town and gown, but by and large, I think Lubbock has always recognized how important the university is, and the university recognizes the importance of having a city of 200,000 for its home. It provides lifestyle opportunities for staff and faculty and students and employment opportunities for students. Take a university this size and plunk it down in a city of 50,000, and those opportunities would be severely restricted.”
If the college was not to be affiliated with A&M, then another option was for it to be a technological school such as Boston Tech and Georgia Tech, according to the book.
The bill easily passed and was forwarded to Neff, who signed Senate Bill 103 on Feb. 10, 1923, creating Texas Technological College.
That was only half the battle. Establishing the college was one thing. Finding a home would be an entirely different matter, and 37 West Texas communities lined up to make their case to the school’s board of directors.
The locating board toured the towns for more than three weeks. Lubbock’s presentation was made by H.T. Kimbro, according to the book, and the bustling town of some 6,000 residents made an impression.
“I think there has always been a unique relationship between city leaders and Texas Tech leaders,” Carlson said. “The so-called town-and-gown relationships has always been a good one for both Lubbock and Texas Tech. That is not always true in towns Lubbock’s size, but it has been true for us.”
The directors hunkered down in a Fort Worth hotel to make their decision regarding the placement of Texas Technological College. It took five hours, but at 1:42 p.m. Aug. 8, the group announced a unanimous first-ballot vote for Lubbock, according to the book.
Governor Pat M. Neff signed the bill which created Texas Technological College in Lubbock in 1923.
“I think one key reason was Lubbock was in the middle of an agricultural area and was becoming more attuned to cotton,” Carlson said. “The idea was Texas Tech would do research in cotton textiles. The chief competitors already had schools, so that was another key reason for Tech landing here.
“Lubbock was pretty small, five or six thousand people, when we got the university. I think it was good leadership, agriculture, and the right time and place.”
Brink said the impact of that decision reverberates more than 80 years later.
“So many cities were in contention as the site for the college in West Texas that the fact Lubbock was selected meant its future was secure,” Brink said. “The city had 6,000 people in 1922 and 1923. With the opening of the university two years later, the population started to spurt.”
Plenty of work remained before Tech could open for business, and once again, the new school and the young town cooperated to make it happen. The Lubbock Chamber of Commerce sponsored a massive barbecue Aug. 28, 1923, that drew some 30,000 visitors, including Gov. Neff, according to the book. Just more than a year later, a cornerstone ceremony was held for the Administration Building, drawing another overflow crowd.
“The date the Administration Building began to take shape, there were thousands of people here,” Brink said. “That size crowd to celebrate the building of this great university meant everyone realized how important this would be.”
According to Tech’s Web site, Tech officially opened Oct. 1, 1925, with six buildings and an enrollment of 914. Graduate instruction began two years later.
Brink said the university and the city have been able to improve the quality of life for residents in their own unique ways.
“A university as diverse as this one brings a great deal of cultural opportunities in terms of music, theater and art, and, of course, athletics is always a popular element,” he said. “When you add things like our museum and the (National) Ranching Heritage Center, it enriches our city all the more, and Lubbockites have supported each and every one of those entities.”
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