Cornerstone adds to University of Texas-Arlington history
Nov. 07, 2017
ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — Nick Kithas wasn't sure what it was, this squarish marble stone with a tree growing through it near his greenhouse.
But with a little help from a friend and Google, he soon learned that his mysterious discovery was literally the cornerstone of the forerunner of the University of Texas at Arlington.
The Dallas Morning News reports the words, "Carlisle Military Academy 1906," became plainly visible once Kithas washed off the stone. The artifact was once some part of the academy, a private school for boys — and a small number of girls — that eventually became UTA.
"My jaw just dropped, because there are so few records from that time period," UTA archivist Betty Shankle said.
As near as UTA officials can figure, the stone was once part of a cadet barracks on the campus, which was founded by James M. Carlisle and was open from 1902 to 1913.
According to Brenda McClurkin, UTA's head of Special Collections, the cornerstone was laid around Sept. 1, 1906, when Carlisle officials "reported that everything is in readiness," in an unknown campus publication that survives today only in partial form as a photocopied page.
How it wound up on Kithas' property is a mystery to UTA. But Kithas — a Fort Worth restaurateur and jazz musician whose family purchased the Samuels Avenue home in 1964 — has a theory.
"These three widows — actually, two widows and a spinster — lived there back then, and one of them liked to say that her husband was one of the last surviving soldiers of the Spanish-American war," Kithas said. "I can't prove that or anything, but I'll bet he had some connection to Carlisle."
The university owns a few records from the Carlisle era, including archival photos and copies of old yearbooks. One volume includes sketches of a planned expansion that never took place at the "high-grade preparatory school for manly boys," as it was described in the yearbook pages.
Carlisle, who died in 1922, served as the state superintendent of public instruction from 1889 to 1899 and built a private military school in Hillsboro that he eventually moved to Arlington where it became Carlisle Military Academy.
"Kids went through high school there. It was more or less a private school, and funding was always an issue," Shankle said. "Maybe that's why they let a few women in."
The Carlisle campus boasted an administration building and a barracks, and eventually a gymnasium with a swimming pool. The academy sat on the northeast quadrant of the current UTA campus.
"Where the University Center is would have been the parade grounds," Shankle said.
None of Carlisle Military Academy's buildings exist today. The oldest UTA campus building currently in use, Ransom Hall, was built in 1919, six years after Carlisle's academy closed. The school does still claim a tangible link to its past: a tall, modern building that bears the Carlisle name houses UTA's academic offices.
Kithas discovered the stone last year while he was cleaning out his greenhouse to try and resurrect the carriage house that sits on his home, which dates to 1889. He had no idea what it was but he had an idea how to find out.
"It just sat there next to my shed. I don't do Google, but I had an Aggie friend who did, and he told me what it was," said Kithas, 72.
Alan Butcher, professor emeritus in the political science department at UTA, helped connect Kithas with Shankle, who met Kithas at his Fort Worth restaurant and took possession of the stone by protecting it with bubble-wrap and putting in the trunk of her car. The school spent the next few months getting it ready for public display.
"It just made sense for us to roll this out on Founders Day (on Oct. 11) and Parents Weekend when we could say, 'Hey, look at this really great gift we received,'" McClurkin said.
About 60 visitors saw the stone during Parents Weekend from Oct. 20-22, McClurkin said. It's on display in Special Collections on the sixth floor of the university's Central Library through sometime in November. After that, it will remain in Special Collections and can be viewed upon request.
Kithas has his own request of UTA.
"Tell them to keep that thing clean," he said. "It's a beautiful, white marble. A little white bleach or maybe some baking soda should take care of it."
Information from: The Dallas Morning News, http://www.dallasnews.com