Sherman Hall, located on Austin College campus in Sherman, Texas, was officially finished in 1915. The building was originally built to house classrooms, and a large auditorium on the second floor. Sherman hall has held many prominent figures over the years including former president William Howard Taft, William Jennings Bryan and Harry Houdini. The building is still in use today, as it is the oldest building still standing on Austin College campus.
College has a long and rich history, as it is the only institution of higher
education still operating in original name and charter dating pre-civil war.[i]
Austin College was founded in 1849 in Huntsville but was soon relocated to Sherman
in 1876.[ii] At
the heart of this lengthy history is one of the oldest buildings still standing
on campus, Sherman Hall. Sherman Hall was officially dedicated on April 8th,
and has held many important responsibilities and events since that time. The
building has even witnessed the graces of many prominent people including
former president William Howard Taft, William Jennings Bryan and Harry Houdini.
Hall began construction in 1914 in response to the main building being destroyed
due to fire.[iv] The citizens of Sherman
donated $50,000 dollars to make this possible.[v]
The grand opening was held on April 8th, 1915, and was a gala event
open to the public that symbolized the relationship that the college and town
of Sherman had built.[vi]
The event consisted of religious worship in song and readings, a recital played
on a pipe organ build specifically for the auditorium, and short speeches given
by notable citizens of Sherman.[vii]
The event was considered a huge success, as the auditorium with a seating
capacity of 1,000 was completely full.[viii]
Only a few weeks following the building hosted the college’s 66th
Commencement in which the brother-in-law of president Woodrow Wilson, Dr,
Stockton Axson, gave the commencement speech.[ix]
April 25th, 1919, former president William Howard Taft along with
then Governor of Texas William P. Hobby gave a speech to over 1,200 students
and citizens of Grayson County in the auditorium located in Sherman Hall.[x]
Governor Hobby opened up the event, and former president Taft followed. Taft
expressed his support for the U.S. to join in the League of Nations, saying
that this would “not make wars absolutely impossible, but to make wars as
remote as possible and make peace as permanent as can be”.[xi] Mr.
Taft, whom was actually a long-time friend of then president of Austin College
Dr. Thomas Clyce, stayed as a guest the night before in Dr. Clyce’s home
located a block away from Sherman Hall.[xii]
After the dialogue, Mr. Taft even took a formal photo with the entire student
body (which was approximately 300 students at the time) before he was taken to
Whitesboro by Dr. Clyce, where he then rode a train to Lawton, Oklahoma.[xiii]
the building has held countless classes over a multitude of differing topics,
the Lyceum course in the fall of 1924 holds historical significance. On October
16th, 1924, the famous magician and escape artist Harry Houdini gave
a “highly entertaining and enlightening lecture”. [xv]
The lecture included magic tricks and spoke on the practices and trickeries
used by magicians, mediums, and escape artists. The course also held humorist
Ralph Bingham, and Secretary of the Navy Hon. Joseph Daniels at later dates.[xvi]
As the decades
have passed, the needs of the college have changed, as have the purposes and
uses for the building. When the building was opened in 1915, the first floor
held the library and reading rooms, while the second story was a large
auditorium capable of seating 1,200 people and held a large pipe organ built
specifically for the auditorium.[xvii]
In 1961 the building had major renovations done in order to better conform to
the needs of the college. By the 1970’s the building’s first floor gave way to
many faculty and secretarial offices, as well as the Shelton Language
Laboratory, while the second floor auditorium was renamed the Hoxie Thompson
Auditorium and was used for smaller events and as a classroom.[xviii]
As of 2019, the building holds the main offices for the humanities, including
history, religion, philosophy and English.[xix]
The stain glass windows seen on the second floor are original to the building,
and are dedicated to some of the early trustees of the college.[xx]
L. Landolt “Search for the Summit; Twelve Decades of Austin College History,”
Austin, Texas: Von Boeckman-Jones Co., 1970: 2.
T. Cummins, and Justin Banks, “Austin College,” Charleston: Arcadia Publishing,
[iv] Landolt, “Search for the Summit; Twelve Decades of Austin
College History,” 340.
Daily Democrat. Great Crowd Attends Opening Sherman Hall, April 9,
H. Phillips, “A Short History of Austin College,”
Sherman, Texas, 1988: 30.
[vii] Austin College. “The Chromascope 17,” 1916: 119.
Sherman Daily Democrat, Great Crowd Attends Opening Sherman Hall,
Phillips, “A Short History of Austin College,” 30.
Daily Democrat. Former President Taft Speaks to Large Audience in Sherman,”
April 26, 1919, 1.
Cummins and Banks, “Austin College,”
Daily Democrat. Former President Taft Speaks to Large Audience in
College. “The Chromascope 25,” 1925: 204.
Austin College. “The Chromascope 16” 1915, 157.
Landolt, “Search for the Summit; Twelve Decades of Austin
College History,” 340-341.
Hall. Austin College. Last modified April 2, 2018. https://www.austincollege.edu/sherman-hall/.
“Search for the Summit; Twelve Decades of Austin College History,” 340-341.