David Miner has a good history of Grayson College for the Handbook of Texas online. A real treasure trove of online materials is provided by the Whitewright Public Library and Whitewright Historical Museum. The school seal is from the historical marker. West, Carolyn Effie. [Texas Historical Commission Marker: Grayson College], photograph, 2011-12/2012-03; (https://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth256777/: accessed October 12, 2020), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, https://texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Private Collection of Carolyn West.
H. L. Piner and James F. Anderson purchased the Whitewright Public School property for use as a college. Grayson College was chartered in 1886 with classes opening for 110 students on September 1887. In addition to the college, Grayson had primary and high school departments, thus qualifying for state funds. A year later enrollment reached 203.
The heart of Grayson College was its three literary societies—Sam Houston and Henry W. Grady for men and Rose Cleveland for women. Each society had a room and a library. Society members competed for the school’s prizes during commencement week. In addition, they provided musical, dramatic, and forensic entertainments for the community, and they provided the teams for intercollegiate debate. When Grayson College debated against Savoy College in 1890, a special train with three cars brought 700 supporters to witness the event.
Grayson College boasted of an excellent music program which figured in commencement exercises, recitals, and entertainments. Ads in 1904 note “the director of music [had been a] teacher and composer of note in Europe.” The Whitewright Public Library has images of a Grayson College brass band, a marching band, a military band, and a women’s band.
Newspaper coverage of commencement exercises gave more space to medal winners than to graduates. The 12 gold medals (“one worth $60”) were awarded for essay writing, recitation, oratory, elocution, debate, extemporaneous speaking, art, band, voice, calisthenics, general excellence and even neatness.
With the new campus in 1895, enrollment increased. Figures published in 1904 show more than 400 students. But after the fire of February 16, 1904, enrollment fell. Despite rebuilding, fall 1904 enrollment dropped to 225, and never again reached the pre-fire numbers. The 1910 catalog shows around 150 students.
After 25 years Grayson College closed in 1912.
A 1900 composite image of the Grayson College building and two teachers. Miss Gordon taught elocution, and Mrs. Ingalls was music director. Image from Werner's Magazine
Bricks and Mortar
Whitewright is located in northeast Texas, about 60 miles north of Dallas. In 1900 it had a population of around 1800. Grayson advertised it as a town with “no saloons or ‘dives’.” Classes opened in the old public school, a frame building located on Grady Street. By 1895 Grayson College had moved to a new three-story pressed brick structure on Spruce Street. The main building featured 31 rooms including a library with 3,200 volumes, a reading room, and three society rooms. The grounds held 300 trees and 100 plants. A fire, starting in the chemistry lab, destroyed this building on February 16, 1904; it was rebuilt in time for the start of school in 1904. Other campus buildings included a women’s dormitory, a gymnasium measuring 60 by 30 feet, and a separate chemistry building.
After the college closed, the campus was used by Carlisle Military Academy (until 1919) and Whitewright High School (until 1966). The main building was razed in 1976.
One building associated with the school remains. The chemistry lab, given to the Grayson College Alumni Association, is now owned by the First Baptist Church of Whitewright.
Team name and School colors:
Black and Gold
Grayson College played baseball as early as 1896, losing a game that year to a team from Enterprise. The 1911 team, with 30 candidates out, sought games with “any fast college bunch.” But a major school event was the annual game between the Houston and Grady Literary Societies. The results were always published in Dallas newspapers.
Grayson College played a football game in 1903, a 32-0 loss to Sherman High School. We have the complete schedule for the 1905 team which won seven of nine games. That team had two wins over Oklahoma Presbyterian College and two wins over Emerson College—in addition to wins over Texas Baptist College, Wall School, and the KATY railroad team of Denison.
The 1904 Grayson College football team. Image from Grayson Program used by permission of Whitewright Public Library.