Most everyone knows that the Hood County area is woven tightly into the tapestry of Texas history. However, some – even those who have lived here for many years – might not know the direct connection that Hood County, specifically the Thorp Spring area, has to the current-day Texas Christian University (TCU) in Fort Worth.
In the quaint Hood County town of Thorp Spring, a pioneering journey began in 1873 that would lay the foundation for one of the leading institutions of higher learning in the entire country, indeed, the whole world. The story begins with two visionary brothers, Addison and Randolph Clark. Together, they embarked on a mission to create the region’s first institution of higher learning. Their brainchild, Add-Ran College, emerged as a bastion of education and a symbol of resilience and adaptability in the face of changing times.
Nestled amidst the open prairie southwest of Fort Worth, the Clark brothers’ journey to Thorp Spring began as an escape from the bustling culture of Fort Worth’s “Hell’s Half Acre.” The Clarks had initially established their school in Fort Worth. However, the burgeoning cattle industry, driven mainly by the now famous Chisolm Trail, brought with it an element of hard living, drinking, gambling, nightlife, and crime that the Clark brothers wanted to escape.
With a determination to create an environment conducive to learning, the brothers seized the opportunity offered by Mr. Pleasant Thorp. His elegant stone building, erected in 1871 or 1872, became the canvas on which Add-Ran College would be painted.
In the autumn of 1873, with just 13 eager minds, Add-Ran Male and Female College opened its doors, becoming a beacon of co-education, a pioneering concept in its time. By the end of that school year, the student count had grown to 75, a testament to the allure of education offered by the Clarks.
Amidst financial challenges and a changing landscape, the college’s journey endured. Student enrollment surpassed 200 in 1876-77, reflecting its growing impact beyond Hood County. By 1890, the college reached its zenith with an enrollment of 425, becoming a symbol of educational excellence in Thorp Spring.
As the college evolved, so did its infrastructure and facilities. From students being taken into citizens’ homes as boarders to the establishment of dedicated housing, including the memorable “Sheep Shed,” the institution adapted to accommodate its flourishing student body. Beyond academics, Add-Ran College fostered a vibrant social and recreational culture, embracing sports like baseball, townball, tennis, and croquet. Roaming expeditions, swimming in picturesque creek pools, and foraging for nature’s bounty provided students with a holistic experience.
Despite its initial success, Add-Ran College faced its share of challenges. Limited resources and funding constraints often posed obstacles to the college’s growth. However, the founders' determination and dedication to providing quality education kept the institution afloat. The college’s close-knit community and strong camaraderie among students and faculty also played a significant role in its continued existence. Yet, with all these challenges, the Clark brothers contemplated relocation. Offers to provide facilities from various towns, including Granbury and Fort Worth, were declined, signifying the strong ties between the institution and the Thorp Spring community.
Throughout its tenure in Thorp Springs, the college’s commitment to providing a well-rounded education remained unwavering, ensuring that students received intellectual and spiritual guidance.
In 1889, a pivotal moment arrived when Add-Ran College aligned itself with the Brotherhood of the Christian Churches of Texas. Its name transformed to Add-Ran Christian University, and a new chapter began. This evolution paved the way for the college’s move to Waco in 1895, eventually leading to its iconic identity as Texas Christian University (TCU) in 1902.
However, the journey was far from over. A destructive fire in 1910 destroyed the main building, setting the stage for a fortunate turn of events. Fort Worth extended a generous offer—a 50-acre campus and $200,000—to TCU, a proposal that was eagerly embraced. In 1911, TCU found its permanent home in southwest Fort Worth, where it still stands tall.
Today, the legacy of Add-Ran College lives on through Texas Christian University, an institution that weathered adversity and embraced change while staying true to its educational mission. From its humble beginnings with 13 students to becoming a world-renowned hub of learning with an average attendance of more than 12,000 students, TCU’s journey is one of perseverance, adaptability, and the relentless pursuit of excellence.
Addison and Randolph Clark sowed the seeds of education in a small Texas town and set in motion a legacy that continues to shape lives, inspire generations, and impact lives. The story of Add-Ran College reminds us that amidst life's challenges and uncertainties, the pursuit of knowledge remains a beacon of hope and a testament to human determination.