live oak trees are a defining feature of the Independence landscape. Throughout history, these ancient trees have drawn people to the area, including the founders of Baylor University.
“Independence was selected as the location of the University because of its centrality, accessibility, health and beautiful scenery. The adjoining country is beautifully diversified with hills, valleys and groves of live oaks…Indeed, nature seems to have dedicated the groves of Independence to the Muses.”
1856 Baylor University Catalogue
The Texas Collection, Baylor University.
Now and Then: Live oak trees grace the meadow between the Baylor sites on Academy and Windmill Hills. Photographed in 1933, the Graves House was built among the trees near Academy Hill.
One of the most magnificent live oak trees in Independence marks the site where first Baylor University president Henry Lee Graves and his family lived during his tenure from 1846 to 1851. From his Independence house, Graves had a sweeping view not only of the countryside but also of the properties owned by Baylor. Just a short distance to the west was Academy Hill, the “temporary” location of the university. Across the meadow to the southeast was Windmill Hill, where the university planned to locate its permanent facilities.
Born in North Carolina in 1813, Graves held degrees from the University of North Carolina, and the Hamilton Literary and Theological Institute in New York. He arrived in Texas in 1846 as a recognized educator and Baptist minister—another Baptist leader describing him as “a princely gentleman, a ripe scholar, a strong and dignified convention presiding officer, and a splendid school man.” During Graves’s presidency, Baylor’s enrollment grew to 70 students and the first building actually built by the university, Graves Hall, was completed on Windmill Hill.
Graves Hall was the first university structure built by Baylor in Independence. Named for Baylor’s first president, Henry Lee Graves, it was built in 1849-50 on Windmill Hall, the site of the Male Campus. The photograph was taken in 1901.
Henry Lee Graves,
first Baylor president (1846-1851)