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The Dean's House at Tarleton

By Frank Chamberlain

The dean/president of Tarleton resided on campus for most of the school’ s history. From 1917 until 1982, the chief executive and his family lived in a specially constructed house that was located within the campus proper.

In 1917, a two-story wooden house was built for the family of Dean James F. Cox. This structure was located on the approximate site of the present day Gough Hall. When Cox resigned two years later, the family of J. Thomas Davis assumed residence here. Davis claimed that the yard was so grown up with grassburrs that he had to use a hoe in order to scythe a trail from the road to the front door. The Davis family lived in this house until 1923. At that time, a larger residence was built for the executive family. With the construction of a new Dean’s house, the former structure was turned into a residence hall for upper level female students. Hence, it was renamed as the Senior girls Home and housed twenty tenants. A fire destroyed it in 1937 (Grissom 34, Guthrie 49, Stephenville Empire 9/14/23, Stephenville Empire 1/13/39).

The second Dean’s House was built in 1923. It was two stories tall and built of stone, stucco, and plaster. It was located immediately southwest of the old Administration building (now the EJ Howell Building.) Today it occupies a central location on campus, being located directly east of the Dick Smith library with heavily utilized sidewalks running on all four sides (Guthrie 60, King 150-151, Stephenville Empire 9/14/23).

Davis himself helped design the house and employed students and local laborers to build the dwelling. (He held a policy that the college should patronize local businesses and employ student workers as much as possible.) The construction of this house created a bit of inconvenience for the Davis family. With their old residence being converted into a dormitory and the new one unfinished, Davis was forced to move his family into the garage portion of the new home until construction was finished. Davis made this decision so that no girl student would be denied a room at the college. The Dean’s House was a center of campus activity during the Davis years. He often invited students to play croquet on his lawn or actually eat dinner with his family (Guthrie 60, 65, King 150-151, Stephenville Empire 9/14/23).

The structure became known as the President’s House in 1948 when an administrative restructuring changed the title of “dean” to “president.” This change was merely a semantic one, as nothing was physically changed as a result.

Presidents E.J. Howell and W.O. Trogden occupied this house from 1945 until 1982. However, this tradition was broken in 1982 when incoming president Barry B. Thompson opted to make his residence off-campus. The building was renamed as the Hall of Presidents and housed the offices of Student Services and Sports Information. In 1985, there were discussions about possibly moving the building in order to provide a clearer view of the library, but these plans never came to fruition. Today, it remains one of Tarleton’s oldest and most recognized landmarks (Guthrie 231, JTAC 2/28/85).

The old Dean’s House was recognized as a Texas State Historical marker in 1989. Today, it has been renamed the “Trogden House” in honor of the final president to reside there (Traditions 40).

Grissom, Preston B. “The Development of John Tarleton College”. Unpublished M.A. thesis. West Texas State Teacher’s College, 1933.

Guthrie, Christopher. John Tarleton and his Legacy: The History of Tarleton State University, 1899-1999.

Acton, MA: Tapestry Press, 1999. “Improvements at Tarleton College During Summer Will Total Approximately $31,000 – Two New Buildings”, Stephenville Empire, September 14, 1923.

“John Tarleton College Campus has Many Changes in Last Ten Years”, Stephenville Empire, January 13, 1939.

King, C. Richard. The John Tarleton College Story: Golden Days of Purple and White. Austin, TX: Eakin Press, 1998.

Tarleton Traditions: Centennial Edition 1 (1 October, 1999): 1-48.

“TSU Landmark Faces Movement”, The J-TAC, February 28, 1985.