It’s no secret that Denison had the first free graded public school in Texas. The fact has never been proven to the satisfaction of the Texas Historical Commission so a historical marker could mark the location, but it’s never been disproven either.
In 1967, Alice Bryant and Mary Ann Alexander wrote an excellent piece at Grayson County College about the school that made educational history. After Superintendent B. McDaniel retired, he spent many days at the Denison Herald office pouring over old issues of the local newspapers and going through pages on microfilm.
He knew that the fact was true and we’ve continued to claim it all these years, but Denison had another claim to educational greatness that may not be as well known.
There was Harshaw’s Academy, also known as the Gate City Literary and Commercial Academy. Professor G.L. Harshaw owned the school that was located across Scullin Avenue from the present Waples United Methodist Church in the 800 block West Main Street.
Professor Harshaw was said to be a classic representative of “old school” educators. He trained his students to be solidly dedicated to both the practical and cultural value of education with emphasis on the practical.
Young Denison boys and men, and a few of the young ladies, polished their education by attending Harshaw’s Academy. After completing the academy, it was said that they possessed a fierce pride in having completed Harshaw’s program.
Professor Harshaw established his school in the late 1890s at 900-902 West Main, a two story building with a gabled roof. This was just a block west of the first free graded public school in town.
This location was west of the main part of the city and the 1902 college catalog said, “The location is the most desirable one in the city, being away from those influences which so materially interfere with the progress and general welfare of the student.”
The catalog from which this information was taken was in possession of Vernon Beckham, who has since passed away but represented this area in the Texas Legislature for several years. Beckham had been in the insurance business in Denison and was very interested in the history of the town. He frequently shared scrapbooks and historic items that he had collected with the staff at the Denison Herald before he retired and moved to Bastrop.
The catalog also listed C.S. Cobb, T.V. Munson, R.C. Foster, Dr. J.L. Jones and Dr. W.H. Mills as trustees of the school.
At that time, L.R. Powell was vice president, having come from Mississippi to lead the academic department. Powell specialized in history, mathematics, natural science, English, pedagogy, Latin and Greek. “The American Heritage Dictionary” says the word pedagogy means “the art or profession of teaching.” That’s a good word to remember.
The academy maintained a boarding facility for students up the street a few blocks at 1431 West Main. Powell was in charge of maintaining the dormitory-type home.
According to the catalog, the school was chartered under the laws of Texas with power to grant diplomas. It boasted that its commercial department was “one of the best in the south.” Harshaw signed all documents with a flourish that was a real work of art.
Tuition for a month was $1.25 to $4, literary branches $5, bookkeeping $5, and shorthand $6. A discount of 10 percent was allowed for two or more students from the same family.
The catalog carried this advice to the students from Professor Harshaw, “In commencing your studies, do not forget that they are worthy of your best energies, requiring close application to thoroughly master them that your purpose should be to acquire an education that will enable you to transact business correctly and systematically (cq); that you should unite with your efforts the heart and brains that God has given you; that you should never leave anything unconquered; that you should never be ashamed to confess your ignorance; that you should never ask assistance until you need it nor undertake anything without mature reflection.”
Whew! That’s probably just about the world’s longest continual sentence, but also is good advice.
Donna Hunt is former editor of The Denison Herald. She lives in Denison and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. She has been a longtime contributor to the Herald Democrat with her bi-weekly column, which appears in the Wednesday and Sunday editions. The views and opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Herald Democrat.