Send Your Kids to Prep School “Under the Shadow of SMU” — 1915
by Paula Bosse
Powell University Training School, 1915 (click for much larger image)
by Paula Bosse
Nathan Powell (1869-1963) was a former Methodist minister who opened his prep school, Powell University Training School, on thirty acres of open land, just across an unpaved road from SMU (which was still in the very early days of its construction). SMU and the Powell school shared more than just adjacent addresses — which they both rather idealistically touted as being “situated on high ground overlooking the university campus and the city” — they also opened on the same day, September 15, 1915.
The location and the opening date were not a coincidence, as Dr. Powell was one of the Methodist movers and shakers who originally promoted the idea of Dallas as the site for a new Methodist university. The following (perhaps exaggerated) sentence can be found in the (perhaps overly laudatory) profile of Powell in one of those ubiquitous late-19th, early-20th century “mug books,” A History of Texas and Texans (1916):
Beyond his activities as a minister and teacher, the most notable achievement in the life and career of Doctor Powell lies in the fact that he was the sole originator and promoter of the great Southern Methodist University at Dallas, which began its first year September 15, 1915.
Powell University Training School lasted for only about twelve years, until Powell’s rather sudden retirement in 1927 (the good reverend’s “retirement” might have been precipitated by numerous lawsuits and mounting debt). When the school closed, Dr. Powell and his family moved to Harlingen to — as his obituary states — “help organize the grapefruit growers of the Rio Grande Valley.” He operated a citrus nursery himself for a while until it was destroyed by a 1933 hurricane. Nathan Powell died in Harlingen in 1963 at the age of 94.
It’s always exciting to see old buildings still standing in Dallas, and, happily, this one is still around — and it still looks good. Fittingly, it’s currently home to an early-child development center. Next time you’re near the intersection of Binkley and Hillcrest, go take a look.
*Both items from the Texas Trade Review & Industrial Record, July 15, 1915
SMU Times, Dec. 18, 1915 (click for larger image)
SMU Times, Dec. 18, 1915
Top image and bottom ad appeared in the very first edition of The Rotunda, SMU’s yearbook for their inaugural year, 1915-16.
More on Rev. Powell’s early life and involvement with the founding of Southern Methodist University can be read in A History of Texas and Texans by Frank W. Johnson (Chicago and New York: American Historical Society, 1916), here.
Information regarding Powell’s retirement in Harlingen is from “The Chronological History of Harlingen” by Norman Rozeff (circa 2009), in a PDF here.
Powell’s obituary can be found in The Dallas Morning News, Nov. 8, 1963: “Dr. Powell Dies; Helped Found SMU.”
Currently occupying 3412 Binkley is The Community School of the Park Cities. According to the history page of their website (here), the building has been operated as a school since at least the 1950s.
I’m not sure what the actual facts are concerning Nathan Powell’s role in the founding of SMU. There are very few results when searching the internet. Most newspaper articles connecting him with the university seem to have been generated by Powell himself. If Powell was as important in the history of SMU as he claimed to be, it’s surprising to see so little information on any connection. Was Powell’s assertion that he was the driving force behind the creation of SMU a blatant lie? Was it merely an exaggeration of the truth? Or was it accurate, but something happened to cause the university to distance itself from him? A collection of papers in the SMU archives (which I have not seen) seems to indicate that there were those in Methodist circles who disputed Powell’s claims, as Elijah L. Shettles took it upon himself to prove that Nathan Powell was the driving force behind the very existence of SMU. An overview of the collection — The Elijah L. Shettles Papers on the Founding of Southern Methodist University — can be found here.
(I’ve found an article from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in 1910 that had Powell all but saying Fort Worth — not Dallas — would be the best choice for the university’s location. Read that article and see other photos of the school — and also read about the lawsuit against Powell (which had nothing to do with SMU) that took thirteen years to reach trial and ended in quite a hefty judgement, in a PDF here.)
See more of SMU’s first year in previous posts here and here.
Copyright © 2014 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.
The building still remains: https://firstname.lastname@example.org,-96.787974,3a,75y,25.65h,87.77t/data=!3m4!1e1!3m2!1spAlW1uIfa9qRexvkqo-jfg!2e0
And it’s turning 100 next year. In DALLAS!
Thanks for all the hard work you have done researching Dr. Nathan Powell. I knew nothing about him until reading your postings. Dr. Powell was the brother of my gr. grandmother Mary Alice (Powell) Stevens and their mother Emily Isabel Wood (Powell) Penner was my gr. gr. grandmother. Both of these ladies are buried in the large Stevens plot at the Mexia, Tx. City Cemetery, along with my parents, grandparents, gr. grands, gr. gr. grands, numerous aunts, uncles and one brother. Thank you so much! Gary Meredith-Odessa, Tx.email@example.com
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I went to daycare there when I was a child in the 70’s.
[…] If you missed the original Flashback: Dallas post, see it here. […]
If you are not already connected to Marshall Terry, a great resource for information and the history of SMU, I highly recommend that you become familiar with him and his published books and papers about SMU.
I’m familiar with him — I think I’ve even met him a couple of times a loooooooooooong time ago. His entertaining short history of the early days of SMU, “From High on a Hilltop,” is available online in a PDF: http://digitalcollections.smu.edu/all/cul/vas/images/Hilltop_Chapter1.pdf
[…] The Community School of the Park Cities. But Paula Bosse, one of my favorite local historians, dug into the building’s past for her great site, Flashback […]
You are right. SMU Archives has a collection about Nathan Powell and the founding of SMU. http://www.lib.utexas.edu/taro/smu/00103/smu-00103.html
Come visit and read for yourself. They are quite fascinating!
Hi, Joan! I’m assuming that because I don’t really see mentions these days of Powell’s connection to SMU that Shettles didn’t come up with anything concrete. But, as I mentioned above, Powell also seems to have been constantly cash-strapped and engaged in non-stop real estate wheeling and dealing — SMU might just have wanted to separate itself from the man claiming to be more important than he was.
Are you the archivist at the DeGolyer? That sounds like a GREAT job!
Thanks for commenting!
Working in the DeGolyer with the SMU Archives is great fun. And yes, the Shettles collection did not prove Powell’s deep connection. But reading the stories from the earliest days is always fascinating!
[…] “Send Your Kids to Prep School ‘Under the Shadow of SMU’ — 1915.” The Powell University Training School opened the same year as SMU, right across the street. The […]
[…] Your Kids to Prep School ‘Under the Shadow of SMU’ — 1915,” here (Incidentally, the Powell University Training School opened on the same day as SMU as a sort of […]
[…] “Send Your Kids to Prep School ‘Under the Shadow of SMU’ — 1915,” here. (That is, in fact, a bit of the very, very young SMU campus seen in the distance at the bottom […]