07: The Carroll Library Fire

At a time when Baylor had no student union or coeducational recreational facility, the F.L. Carroll Chapel and Library was the main place where students met to study and socialize, and it also hosted most of the University’s religious and entertainment events. So when the building caught fire in 1922, it was a blow to campus life.

The lower part of building--dedicated in 1903--was home to Baylor's 40,000-volume library. It also displayed the earliest holdings of the famous Browning collection.

The upper part of the building housed an 1,800-seat auditorium used regularly for student chapel sessions. Topped by a large dome, the auditorium was the scene of musical performances, student presentations and lectures by famous personalities including William Jennings Bryan, Helen Keller, poets William Butler Yeats and Carl Sandburg and former U.S. President William Howard Taft.

On the afternoon of Feb. 11, 1922, a fire of unknown origin started in the building's roof. It broke through the dome, releasing flames and a huge torrent of smoke that could be seen across Waco. The sight prompted an estimated 20,000 people to hurry to campus for a closer look.

Members of the Baylor family soon arrived and began a valiant effort to save the contents of the library. The volunteers--mainly hundreds of students--disregarded their safety to enter the burning building to carry out books and periodicals.

A number of English students made a beeline for the Browning alcove and managed to remove almost all its contents. In the same spirit, students in Baylor's newly reorganized Law School made sure that every volume of the law collection was rescued.

Almost half of the library books were rescued and were soon moved into a makeshift library set up in the parlors and public hallways of Georgia Burleson Hall.

Though all that was left of Carroll Library after the fire were the building's exterior brick walls, Baylor and state Baptist officials decided to rebuild, aided by insurance money and generous donations from alumni. The new facility would forgo an auditorium (and its dome) to house an expanded library, with additional space for the Browning Collection, Baylor's brand-new Texas Collection and the Law School.

Prior to the rebuilt structure's official opening Dec. 12, 1923, Baylor trustees passed a resolution thanking the many students who had risked their lives.

"Your unselfish devotion to Baylor in the hour of her greatest calamity is such a demonstration of your loyalty as to palliate in a large degree the effect of the awful blow that has fallen upon us," it read in part. "We trust that your example may kindle such a spirit of loyalty and devotion to Baylor throughout our State as shall convert the calamity into a blessing."