1720 Avenue J
Huntsville, Texas 77340
At the turn of the Twentieth Century, THE place to be if you were studying to be a teacher anywhere west of the Mississippi River was Sam Houston Normal Institute. With its adopted Austin Hall, which had been built in 1852 for another institution, and the Gothic Main Building, it was just over 20 years old but already outgrowing its one-room library.
The Normal Institute had had an interesting beginning and had been given more than a few carpetbags of money from the Peabody Education Fund, established in 1867 by wealthy New England banker and merchant George Foster Peabody.
The one-room library in the Main Building was designated the Peabody Memorial Library, and when a new library was built in 1902 it was named the Peabody Memorial Library. The Normal Institute's catalogue said it was "a very handsome structure, and especially designed for the purpose for which it is to be used. It is said that no school of this kind in the South has a Building equal to it."
Standing in the literal and figurative shadow of Austin Hall and the Main Building, it had a reading room with arched metal ceiling and ornamental designs, busts of distinguished literary figures, and stained glass windows. It also housed the office of Principal Henry Carr Pritchett, the Normal Institute's top administrator.
Money from the Peabody Fund decreased until it was discontinued in 1904. The Normal Institute became Sam Houston State Teachers College. A new and larger library was built in 1928, and the Peabody Building as it came to be known fell into a myriad of necessary but inappropriate uses. It was used by the Bearkat Band for rehearsals and storage, as a dance studio, as a supply storage area for the military science program, faculty offices, and studios for the campus radio and television operation.
Restoration and maintenance funds were scarce on college campuses. The Main Building (known eventually as Old Main) burned in 1982. Austin Hall was damaged in that fire but restored. Peabody remained, its roof leaking, its soft sand brick walls in need of repairs, its interior a shambles of modifications. There was talk of tearing it down. The Peabody Memorial Library was not torn down, however. The magnificent little Building that cost $9,372 in 1902 required more than three years and a half million dollars to restore. But it is alive and well on the campus of Sam Houston State University, designated for use once again as an archival library after its re-dedication in 1991.
Sam Houston State University, with enrollment of about 12,500 and notable programs in other disciplines, especially criminal justice and business, is still one of THE places to be if you are studying to be a teacher anywhere west of the Mississippi River.
The Peabody Memorial Library's roof and walls are sound. Its fireplace has been rebuilt and a chimney reconstructed. Refinished furnishings of the kind used by the library many years ago are in place. The busts of the distinguished literary figures, the stained glass windows, the arched metal ceiling in the reading room--all there.
The "North helps South" angle was noted by Jack Wood Humphries, former vice president for academic affairs at Sam Houston State University, a historian, and a native Texan. Humphries turned out to be somewhat of a prophet as well as a historian in a commemorative booklet he wrote in 1982 entitled "The Peabody Memorial Library: A Commemorative to Northern Philanthropy."
"...Peabody," he wrote, "which was for decades little more than the junior partner in the historic triumvirate which dominated Capitol Hill, may now emerge as the crown jewel, an indomitable vestige of an age which enriched not only the community of Huntsville but the young State of Texas also."