St. Basil’s College was actually a private Catholic high school for boys. It was founded in Waco in 1899 by Basilian Fathers from Canada and France. (1) At first, it was in a two-story building at Eighth Street and Clay, but moved into a new building on their property in North Waco in 1902. Out-of- town students lived in the building, but many local boys attended as well. From the beginning, both Catholic and non-Catholic boys were accepted.(2) “The first principal was Father Thomas Hayes, who was assisted by two other priests, V. J. Donnelly and Charles Collins. The opening enrollment was sixty. The main purpose of the school was college preparation, to which were added business courses, Romance languages, and a small amount of music. The library contained 3,000 volumes.” (1)
The property consisted of twenty-two acres between Windsor Avenue and Pine Street and Twenty-Fourth and Twenty-Sixth Streets. (3) Twenty-Fifth Street ended at Trice, and so it didn’t go through their property. (4) On the property was a huge four-story brick building, gymnasium, and boiler room. It had all modern conveniences, city sewerage, water and lights. (3) It was heated with steam and had a swimming pool. (1) The exact location of the building is a bit of a mystery. In his 1964 book “A Pictorial History of Waco”, Roger Conger said that it was located at Twenty-fourth and Cumberland, but their property was one block further north. In the December, 1990 edition of “Waco Heritage and History”, it is stated that St. Basil’s was in the exact spot that St. Louis Catholic Church was built in 1968. This location has been confirmed by at least two living people who saw it firsthand.
On May 25, 1915 it was announced that the school would be closing for good at the end of that term, June 9, 1915. The Fathers cited “lack of patronage” as the reason for the closing. In that article, it is stated that they owned twenty-three acres, not twenty-two as was stated earlier. (5) The building was put up for sale, but never sold.
The building was vacant until it was demolished in 1943. When it was being demolished, W.R. Phillips, the contractor tearing down the building, found a cornerstone box in a cavity in the brick wall under the cornerstone, not in the cornerstone. The contents included “a metal token, ‘good for one drink at Wes Damron’s House of Lords’, a well known saloon of other days. Other items included a two-page Latin manuscript in a copperplate hand, explaining what the occasion was and telling the names of various officials of church and state; several letters about the new college, copies of the Waco-Times Herald, The Waco Tribune, and The Waco Telephone, and a church paper. A pasteboard box full of silver and copper coins of the United States, Canada, Mexico and other western hemisphere nations, including a half-dime minted in 1857. The drink token was found with the coins. The laying of the cornerstone took place April 5, 1902.” (6)
In 1947, deed to a 60-foot wide strip right-of-way between Windsor and Proctor, was given to the city by Bishop C.E. Byrne, Bishop of the Diocese of Galveston. This property was donated to the city, by the Catholic Church for the purpose of connecting the two separate parts of Twenty-fifth Street. It was announced construction of the new street was to be done in 1948. (7)
At an April 3, 1951 meeting, it was announced that Major General Warren R. Carter had selected the old St. Basil’s property as the spot for locating the permanent headquarters of the Flying Training Air Force, FTAF, which he commanded. The property had to be rezoned to commercial from residential, and the residents in the area had to approve. Twenty-two of the twenty-six adjacent property owners approved. John Sheehy, representing Most Rev. Louis J. Reicher, Bishop of Austin, owner of the 900 by 200 feet of land had requested the zoning change the previous night. The new construction will be “a one-story masonry building containing 75,000 square feet of floor space on the site of the former St. Basil’s grounds to house between 750 and 1000 military and civilian employees.” No on-street parking would be needed, because a parking lot on the property was a part of their plan. Waco was chosen because of the friendliness and relationship of the last 10 years between Waco and the Air Force. (8)
In 1953, Boy Scout Troop 26 found an award band in their Scouthouse that was on the old grounds of St. Basil’s, now the FTAF grounds. On the band was inscribed “Troop 12, 1917, War Bond Sale Award”. Troop 26 leader Capt. R.J. Linke said they were going to present the award to the current Troop 12, and were looking for men who had been original members to tell them about the award.(9)
When St. Basils was built in 1902, it sat in the middle of a desolate prairie. Today, the area is filled with homes and trees, businesses, St. Louis Catholic Church and the Reicher High School Campus.
(C) 2020 George Randall Scott
(1) “St. Basil’s College” by R.E. Lamb, C.S.E. The Texas State Historical Association Online.
(2) “St. Basil’s College”. Photo with cutline in The Waco Tribune Herald, October 15, 1961.
(3) “For Sale”. An ad in The Waco Morning News, August 15, 1915.
(4) “Melbourne Heights” An ad in The Waco News Tribune, September 23, 1928.
(5) “St. Basil’s College to Close Its Doors”. The Waco Morning News, May 25, 1915.
(6) “Cornerstone Box From St. Basil’s College Opened”. The Waco News Tribune, July 23, 1943.
(7) “Right of Way For Opening Of Street Received By The City”. The Waco News Tribune, October 29, 1947.
(8) “St. Basil’s College Property Here Sought as FTAF Site” The Waco News Tribune, April 4, 1951.
(9) “Scouts Find Award Band On Old Pole”. The Waco Tribune Herald, January 11, 1953.