|Lubbock's early Nicolett Hotel.
Big boost is outcome when town meets gown
By Doug Hensley
for the Avalanche-Journal
Early explorers who got the first glimpses dismissed the land as uninhabitable, except possibly as a penal colony. It was an inauspicious start, to be sure, but once the Indians and buffalo were vanquished, all that remained was to populate one of the last unsettled portions of the country: the South Plains.
The land was rugged. The challenges were many. But the people were determined, and West Texas began to spring to life while constantly acknowledging this truth: Cities do not happen; they are built.
Lubbock County, one of 54 Panhandle and South Plains counties named for Texas heroes of one fashion or another, was organized March 10, 1891, with the election and certification of a county judge and four commissioners.
The county and city are named for Thomas Saltus Lubbock, a South Carolina native who distinguished himself as a Confederate soldier and member of the Texas Rangers. A brother, Francis R. Lubbock, served as Civil War governor of Texas.
The area’s population consisted of an estimated 25 hearty souls in 1880, but the number increased steadily as citizens took advantage of the Land Act of 1887 to settle school land purchased by the state.
According to Lawrence Graves’ book, "A History of Lubbock," competing communities, Monterey and Old Lubbock, appeared a mere three miles apart on each side of the Yellowhouse Canyon, and the fledgling towns competed to be the county seat. Soon, though, cooperation and innovation, hallmarks of South Plains residents for generations, prevailed. The towns merged, moving their buildings to a new site and became Lubbock.
A few months after the county was organized, Lubbock, including its two-story Nicolett Hotel, was the fastest-growing town on the South Plains. By the turn of the century, the first bales of cotton were harvested.
A newspaper, The Lubbock Avalanche, hit the streets "like an avalanche" in May 1900. A bank was established, and Overton, the first residential addition, was plotted in 1907 and named for an early doctor.
It was time to incorporate, and that was approved by a vote of 84-46 on March 16, 1909. Graves captured the moment in his book when he wrote, "A surging good spirit led to incorporation." Within just a few months, the city approved an ordinance prohibiting the running of large animals within the city limits. The ordinance applied to cattle, horses, mules and hogs and (human) violators were subject to a fine ranging from $1 to $5.
Indeed, a great future seemed to be ahead for the newly born town and its 1,761 residents. It was a great year for Lubbock, which reached an agreement with Southwestern Construction Co. to build and operate a railroad from Plainview to Lubbock.
Within an 18-month span, three railroads reached Lubbock, and more were on the way, giving rise to the nickname "Hub City." The Santa Fe Company was the first to carry mail to and from Lubbock on Feb. 21, 1910, with more than 1,100 pounds of mail hauled that day. By 1914, The Santa Fe Railway Co. had begun passenger service between Lubbock and Clovis, N.M. The town, surrounding area and its citizens wanted more, and it was that vision that would forever link Lubbock and higher education.
It was time for town to meet gown.
For decades, various groups had worked without success to place an institution of higher education on the South Plains, according to The Avalanche-Journal publication, "75 Years of Greatness."
One group pushed for a West Texas Agricultural and Mechanical College, and in 1916, another organized effort pushed legislators to sign a bill creating Texas A&M of West Texas. Texas Gov. James E. Ferguson awarded the proposed college to Abilene.
A few years later, Gov. Pat Neff vetoed a bill to create a new college, outraging South Plains residents to the point of considering secession from the state. In 1922, Neff instructed Lubbock Sen. W.H. Bledsoe to write a bill asking for an appropriation of $1 million. State Rep. R.M. Chitwood backed the measure as well.
The bill stipulated that Texas Technological College be located west of the 98th meridian and north of the 29th parallel. It provided $150,000 for purchase of the site. It would not be a branch of A&M but rather an independent institution to be overseen by its own governor-appointed board.
Neff used three gold pens to sign the bill Feb. 7, 1923, and said at the time: "Gentlemen, I look upon this act that I have just concluded as one of the greatest accomplishments of my administration as Governor of Texas."
The new college had everything but a home, and 37 West Texas communities eyed landing a plum that was guaranteed to be a long-term economic engine.
After the locating board of Texas Technological College toured each community, it revealed its decision from a Fort Worth hotel on Aug. 8. Lubbock had won the college by unanimous vote on the first ballot. The news was delivered at 1:42 p.m.
An early newspaper account indicated that pandemonium erupted among the city’s 6,000 residents. Horns honked. Firetrucks traveled up and down the streets. Cars dragged bells, tin cans and scrap metal behind them.
The Lubbock Chamber of Commerce staged a barbecue in honor of the announcement a few weeks later, and the event was attended by more than 6,000, including the governor himself.
In 1925, the school announced the hiring of Ewing Y. Freeland as Tech’s first football coach.
Freeland had played college football at Vanderbilt. He tabbed Grady Higginbotham, a former Texas A&M player, as his assistant coach.
The Fort Worth Star-Telegram suggested the new college adopt "Dogies" as its mascot, but the name was rejected in favor of "Matadors," which was suggested by Freeland’s wife.
The team played its first football game Oct. 3, 1925.
Plenty of other events made headlines during the city’s first 25 years.
Work began on a new public school building in 1910. More than 100,000 bricks were in place for the project, which came with a $25,000 price tag.
The two-story building was measured 77-by-86 feet and was subdivided into six rooms in the basement, five on the first floor and four on the second floor. An auditorium also was included. In January 1933, approximately 1,000 people turned out to attend a meeting at a downtown church with Prohibition leaders conducting their first rally in a dozen years.
Dr. Charles C. Selecman, president of Southern Methodist University, asked the growing community for its commitment to strengthen the 18th Amendment. George R. Bean, a pioneer Lubbock attorney, was elected president of the local Prohibition group.
A few years earlier, in 1923, the Lubbock post office put out a "last call" for residents to put up mailboxes or be left off the route, and in 1926, the first plane from Chicago with mail from Dallas landed, transferring part of its load to an eastbound plane headed for New York. The load of mail included 15 letters from Lubbock.