The Story of Tidwell Bible Building
Generations of Baylor students have studied religion and history in the 65-year-old Tidwell Bible Building, which will soon receive a top-to-bottom renovation as part of Give Light, Baylor’s $1.1 billion comprehensive philanthropic campaign.
The building’s history is a long and somewhat complicated one. It’s named for Dr. Josiah Blake Tidwell, who served from 1910 to 1946 as the head of Baylor’s Bible department.
In 1936, 125 of Tidwell’s former students proposed that a $100,000 Bible building be built on campus, named in Tidwell’s honor. Fundraising began immediately, but Tidwell would die in 1946 before the building became a reality. His final words reportedly were, “Oh, if God would only let me live five more years so I could see the Tidwell Bible Building on Baylor’s campus.”
But five years would not have been enough. By the time a groundbreaking ceremony was held on May 28, 1949, the plans for the building had expanded and the fundraising goal had jumped to $600,000.
It would take another four years after the groundbreaking for construction to begin. Time was needed to raise the final $200,000 and realize the vision of architect Guy A. Carlander, who happened to be Dr. Tidwell’s son-in-law. Carlander drew up plans for what would have been the tallest, most striking building on Baylor’s campus.
The plans called for a 10-story building that would feature “the largest tracery window in the world” –– a glass wall of light 110 feet tall. Electrified images of a cross and a crown would appear inside this illuminated window with the push of a button.
It was a breathtaking vision, but an expensive one. When the lone construction bid came back at $1.5 million –– almost three times the $600,000 available –– Baylor trustees were shocked. When trustees asked Carlander to downsize his plans to save money, he refused, and the architect and Baylor parted ways. A new architect –– Birch D. Easterwood –– designed a more modest building, with six floors above ground and a basement (and no record-breaking window).
Construction on the Tidwell Bible Building finally got underway in April 1953, and it was formally dedicated at Homecoming on Oct. 22, 1954. Part of the building’s exterior design featured 68 limestone panels, carved by sculptor Ira Correll of Austin, showing scenes from the Old and New Testaments. All 28 of the Old Testament panels were completed and placed on the building, but only nine of the 40 planned New Testament panels have ever been carved and installed. There are currently no plans to add any panels to the building.
When Tidwell opened, it was home to the departments of religion, history, sociology, philosophy, sacred music and German, and also had some offices used by the School of Nursing. Today, it houses Baylor’s religion and history departments.
The upcoming renovation will give new life to one of the most familiar buildings on the Baylor campus.
“Renovating Tidwell is a worthy goal because this building is central to undergraduate education at Baylor, and to the University’s mission,” said Dr. William Bellinger, chair and professor of religion and The W. Marshall and Lulie Craig Chair in Bible.
PHOTOS: The final design of the Tidwell Bible Building (top photo) followed by two images of early concepts