Special Convocation, October 24, 1960

Ike reserved ticket


Ike program

Ike was here, right before the 1960 election. I know from correspondence in the Oveta Culp Hobby Papers that he was in Houston at her invitation and that she made the arrangements for him to speak at Rice. The internal arrangements are actually the most interesting thing about this event to me. There’s a memo from Acting President Carey Croneis that runs to 24 pages. Just for fun, here are a couple of pages, not in sequence, just chosen because I thought they were fun. I always enjoy air conditioning issues.

Ike Operations plan 1

Ike operations plan 2


This was a very big event and there are consequently quite a few pictures of it. Unfortunately, almost all of them are mediocre images. But, we get what we get:

Ike at Autry Court

Ike at autry crowd2


It turned out to be hot, by the way, and since they went without air conditioning in that packed gym I’m sure the gentlemen were all relieved when President Eisenhower told them they could remove their jackets.



Bonus: Unknown

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I’m taking a break from all the power plant drama today, just to catch my breath. What I have instead is this picture taken at Norman Hackerman’s inauguration in September, 1971. It just struck me as 1971 in a nutshell:

Hackerman inauguration candid



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Wherein Someone Else’s Notes Shed Light on the Power Plant

Remember a couple weeks ago I got my hands on documentation of the oil shipments to the power plant? There were other things in that batch of papers that turned out to be quite intriguing, most notably this innocuous seeming set of notes. Quite clearly, someone before me was asking questions about the history of the power plant and writing brief, cryptic notes about it. (I might guess who that person was but it would be only a guess so I won’t.)

My first reaction was emotional: I loved Alan Chapman and miss him to this day. (One of the many things I’ve learned from my job is that melancholy is always just a breath away.)

Power plant notes

My second reaction was also emotional: it was elation. And to celebrate what I’ve learned I’m going to drag you guys all the way through this, starting today.

I’ll begin where I began, with J.T. McCants, Rice’s first and long-time bursar. In 1955 McCants put together a volume, part memoir and part collection of documents called simply “Some Information Concerning the Rice Institute.” It hadn’t occurred to me to check this for answers about the power plant but this is in fact exactly the kind of dry, technical material that comprises most of this little book. When I went for a look here’s what I found: Because this country was wide open, it was not difficult to secure a spur track of the San Antonio and Aransas Pass railroad to the campus. This spur came into the campus from the northwest and stopped at the site of the power plant. Practically all of the materials used in the buildings and for the roads were brought in by this spur. After the first buildings were completed, the spur was still needed to bring fuel for the power plant. The plant was equipped to burn either coal or oil. The principal fuel was oil. Coal was used several times but only to meet emergencies when oil was not available. Later when the plant was equipped to burn gas, the railroad spur was removed. The removal of the track was made necessary by the great development which soon took place in the Southampton addition. By this time also Main Street had been sufficiently improved to carry much of the materials needed for later construction, which were brought in from the railroad track at the Blodgett Street spur.

Thankfully this answers many but not all of the persistent questions I have. I’d hate to work myself out of a job.

And as of last week we have the first evidence I’ve seen that the plant was set up to burn coal, an image from the Watkin photos, taken on August 30, 1911 and labeled “Centering for coal bin floor” :

Watkin papers Box 10 2_7 Aug 30 1911 centering for coal bin floor


This is most interesting, of course, but the true pleasure for me was having Alan Chapman once again tell me where to find what I needed, just as he did so many times when he was alive.

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Some Answers About the Railroad Spur

The William Ward Watkin negatives (with indices) that I discovered last week turn out to surpass even my wildest dreams. Here’s just the first example. Some of you will remember this striking photograph, which shows a rail car off to the right behind all the stone:

Construction c1910 rr spur

I talked about it here, puzzling about where the rail spur could have come from at such an early date.

What I didn’t know was that some of the Watkin photos actually show later construction. This isn’t an image of materials used for the Administration Building at all—it’s for the Physics Building! I found the notation in the index to the third (and last) folio–it’s number 44: “P. Stone piles,” taken on January 31, 1914. Since the spur was completed in 1913, it all suddenly makes sense.

Watkin papers box 10 Folio 3 index

But wait. Look at that next entry, for number 45: “Hoisting steel trusses from cars.” I held my breath and pulled it out. Holy. Smokes. That’s a beautiful picture of a rail car behind the power plant. It just doesn’t get any better than this.

Watkin papers box 10 3_46 Jan 31 1914 hoisting steel trusses from cars

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Friday Afternoon Follies: Cocktail Hour

“What Would Margaret Think??”

You’ve got to squint a little to see it , but that’s the question up on the wall at this Brown College party, sometime during the 1986-87 school year:

What would Margaret think Brown 86 87

Judging from the only photo of Margaret Root Brown that we have in the files she wouldn’t have been too shocked:

Margaret Root Brown from negative sent by Frances Brotzen

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Thank You, William Ward Watkin!

I had a very big day today.

I’m working on a project about the earliest history of the campus, which means we’re back in the pictures that supervising architect William Ward Watkin took to document the construction of the first buildings. These are extremely valuable images–I’ve posted many here over the years–but they can also be quite mysterious. Even after hours spent squinting at them it’s often not at all clear what we’re looking at or from what angle. I always knew that we had all the negatives in another box but negatives are much harder to work with so I paid little attention. Today, though, I was desperate enough to go look in there and I discovered that Watkin had made beautiful, meticulous little indices of these negatives. They’re so small that they were invisible tucked down among the envelopes. Here’s what they look like:

Watkin Papers Box 10 Index to Folio 1

Suddenly, exhilaratingly, everything makes sense. Here, for example, is Folio 1, number 71. It’s the sallyport, taken from the west on April 15, 1911:

Watkin Papers Box 10 1_71 Apr 15 1911 Sallyport from west

Almost as thrilling, there are a substantial number of negatives that I’d never seen before because we don’t have them as prints.

If we didn’t lock the doors at 5:00 I’d still be at work.

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That’s how Arthur Benjamin Cohn signed everything.

I’ve mentioned him several times before, always in passing and always in connection with some odd thing that turned up in his papers, but he deserves more respectful treatment. As Rice’s first (and William Marsh Rice’s last) business manager and assistant secretary to the board, Mr. Cohn was one of the mainstays of the early Institute. Happily, the other day I ran across a draft of the memorial resolution passed by the board (almost certainly written by Dr. Lovett) after his death in 1938:

AB Cohn tribute 1

AB Cohn tribute 2


I’ve always regretted that we have no photograph of Mr. Cohn. But yesterday as I sorted through some early construction photos I suddenly realized that we do. Present at the very beginning, Cohn is on the far left in this image of the laying of the Administration Building’s cornerstone. I think he cuts quite a dashing figure:

Watkin laying Admin cornerstone March 1911






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