El Paso Military Institute Site

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El Paso Military Institute Site at Fort Bliss
1914-1918
UTEP Library Special Collections

Location: Fort Bliss
GpsLAT 31.808988, -GpsLON 106.427289

Completed: 1907, Main building destroyed 1916

Space: ukn.

Current Use: Part of Fort Bliss

Former Uses: Former home of UTEP

Former Site Use: open

The first location of The University of Texas at El Paso was situated some ten miles to the northeast of the current site on twenty-two acres of land just adjacent to Fort Bliss. Several years before the founding of UTEP, the El Paso Military Institute was formed to train young men for a career in the military. The school featured a main building and a dormitory complete with an indoor swimming pool, both designed by Henry Trost.

In 1912, Harry Van Surdam, the superintendent of the school, agreed to close down the school and sell the property if the property was used for the establishment of a school of mines. When State Senator Claude Hudspeth introduced a bill to the state legislature in 1913 calling for the establishment of a school of mines in El Paso, section one of his bill required that the citizens of El Paso purchase the site and donate it to the State of Texas. After the bill was passed, the El Paso Chamber of Commerce led the effort to secure $50,000 in funding--a process that took nearly a year. In June 1913, the El Paso Military Institute graduated its last class and closed its door, only to reopen as the new State School of Mines and Metallurgy in September of 1914.

The School of Mines occupied the site for a little over two years. In April 1916, Francisco "Pancho" Villa's raid on neighboring Columbus, New Mexico, set into motion a series of events that greatly expanded Fort Bliss. Over the course of the next year, over 100,000 National Guard troops from across the United States were mobilized and sent to El Paso as part of the Punitive Expedition under the command of General John Pershing. This deployment soon enveloped the school with troops and their horses encroaching the school property and greatly degrading the environment. By the summer of 1916, talks among local officials began regarding the possible relocation of the school. On October 29, 1916, a fire broke out in the main building, completely destroying it. Rather than rebuild on the site, the school relocated to its current site above Mundy Heights.

Even though the Army admitted that its encroachment of the school degraded the area, creating, as the commandant of Fort Bliss remarked, an area fit only for a saloon, attempts to sell the land to the military were not forthcoming. The Army continued to lease the property for the next twenty years until they filed suit to condemn the property and have it annexed by fort.


P.J. VIERRA

References

Fugate, Frontier College

UT President's Papers, Briscoe Center, UT Austin

Van Surdam scrapbook, UTEP Library Special Collections


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