I’ve briefly mentioned this collection a couple of times before, in connection with early maps of Rice and its vicinity, but not until today did I have an opportunity to really start digging in it. It’s glorious.
The bulk of the material comes from the files of A.B. Cohn, the Institute’s first business manager (and William Marsh Rice’s last personal business manager in Texas). The boxes I looked at this afternoon date mostly from the early 1900s through the 1930s and they are an almost unbelievably rich trove of the sort of minutia that gives me a purpose in life. There are fat folders packed with letters, maps, drawings and legal papers that clarify all kinds of questions that have long troubled me: why does Sunset Road take that big bend? What happened to the farmhouses that stood on Institute property along Main Street? What became of the Fraternity Subdivision plans? How many metal file cabinets did we need before we could open for business? And more–much, much (much!) more. Just imagine my delight upon reading the opening paragraph of one letter from April, 1912: To the Judge and Honorable Commissioners of Harris Co., Texas, We the undersigned desire to enter a protest against the drainage facilities of Harris Bayou between Main Street Road and Brays Bayou.
And it gets better from there. Truly, I hardly know where to begin but I guess I’ll start with trees. By the 1920s both the campus and its neighborhood were changing and there was quite a bit of debate about how best to manage this change, especially as it had an impact on the physical layout of Rice and the growing city. Here’s a 1923 memo, written by Cohn, which presents to the Rice board a plan (they approved it) for planting a large number of new trees on and just off campus.
There are several really interesting things here, all of which I’ll think about more, but for now I’m most intrigued by the fact that someone seems to have counted every existing tree on the Institute grounds: there were 1,231.