Training Ground: Tyler Commecial College to be honored for role in educating 75,000 students

Published on Friday, 28 February 2014 23:38 - Written by Emily Guevara

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For more than 80 years, Tyler Commercial College served the community providing training for business professionals and teachers.

Tiffany Wright, marker chairwoman for the Smith County Historical Commission and a Smith County Historical Society volunteer, said the school opened at a time, the turn of the century, when the business industry started to boom.

Tyler had been such a rural community supported by farms. With the opening of businesses employers needed capable people to work.

So the college prepared people for these jobs. Classes included shorthand, dictation, typing — skills that would help a person to manage an office, she said.

It was touted as the largest business training school in America and had an international reputation, enrolling students from 39 states and seven foreign countries, according to one of the college catalogues.

The Smith County Historical Society will unveil a State Historical Marker today at 115 S. College Ave in downtown Tyler.

This is the site where Tyler Commercial College was located for many years. The dedication ceremony and unveiling will begin at 2 p.m.

In the event of inclement weather, the ceremony will take place in the Smith County Historical Society’s Carnegie Library auditorium.

Ms. Wright said organizers wanted to make today’s event a celebration of alumni.

The story of Tyler Commercial College begins in 1899 when it officially incorporated under the name Tyler College.

Founders included C.L. Adair, A. Harris and R.B. Hubbard, and they operated the school in the vacant Texas Fruit Palace building located on the northwest corner of Front and Vine streets, according to a narrative about the college written by Aaron Ramirez and provided by the Smith County Historical Society.

Some of the early subjects taught were accounting, typewriting, shorthand and special penmanship, according to a story in the fall 1971 edition of the Chronicles of Smith County.

An advertisement touted it as “The Fountain-Head of Shorthand” and said, “A young man may be left with wealth, and it may take the wings of the morning; but a good business education will be a very present help in time of need till the day of his death.”

One of the well-known instructors at the school and a principal there was Henry E. Byrne, a Mississippi man who created a new form of shorthand.

Byrne guaranteed that a graduate of his seven- to 12-week course could transcribe 150 words per minute or there would be no charge, according to the narrative.

He claimed his shorthand took less time to learn and write than other systems and the program brought many students to the college.

By 1901, a Tyler College diploma entitled graduates to teacher certification, according to the narrative.

When fire destroyed the Fruit Palace in 1903, the college temporarily held classes in the Armory Building before opening at the South College Avenue location, north of the Smith County Historical Society where the present-day Bank of America drive-through is located.

It was about this time, in 1904, that the school officially became Tyler Commercial College and C.L. and Noah Adair, H.E. Byrne and F.A. Glenn were named directors, according to the narrative. 

By 1918, the college’s classes expanded to include retail work, insurance, freight, real estate, commercial law, rapid calculation, telegraphy, cotton classing and handling and more, according to the narrative.

Its cotton-classing courses, in particular, created an international reputation with students coming from Brazil and Italy, according to the Chronicles article.

Enrollment in the early 1920s reached more than 4,000 annually.

By the mid-1920s, the college added a six-month private secretarial course, which cost a student $385 for tuition, books, supplies, room and board.

Other courses throughout the years targeted employment with specific companies, such as Western Union procedure and equipment, General Motors Accounting and Civil Service, Federal and State accounting, among other subjects.

The college introduced Radio Telegraphy and Radio Telephony in the mid-1920s, according to the Chronicles article. This was a time when commercial radio broadcasting in Texas was in its infancy.

Longtime radio disc jockey Tom Perryman, 86, went through the college’s radio program in the mid-1940s and earned a Federal Communications Commission radio license, he said.

He praised the work of John B. Sheppard, whom he described as very knowledgeable about the radio work. Perryman said the unveiling of the state historical marker is long overdue.

The college’s enrollment started to dwindle in the 1930s, but received a boost in 1942 and 1943 when 2,000 Army recruits received radio and International Morse Code training at the school, according to the Chronicles article.

By the early 1950s, the college had trained more than 75,000 students.

In 1957, the Rutherford Metropolitan School of Business in Dallas bought the college and it moved to South Broadway Avenue. It remained in operation until 1980.