The town of Belle Plain, established on former state school land in 1876, was most likely named after Katie Belle Magee, the first child born in the town. The residents of this small town expected it to be as large and prosperous as Abilene, selecting it as the first county seat of Callahan County in 1877. By 1884 it attained its largest population of 400 and boasted several stores and saloons, as well as two fraternal lodges, 11 lawyers, and four physicians. Yet, despite its small size, Belle Plain initially served as the regional supply center for nearby farms and ranches.
Belle Plain College was established in 1881 by the Northwest Conference of the Methodist Church on ten acres of donated land. The college built two buildings – a girls’ dormitory in 1881 and a three-story classroom structure in 1885. The classroom building was designed in the Second Empire style, featuring a mansard roof, dormers, and a central tower topped by a cupola.
A modest house for the college president was also constructed on the property. While the college taught the standard curriculum of the time, it was best known for its music program. At its peak enrollment of more than 300 students, Belle Plain College had 15 grand pianos, a brass band, and an orchestra. Because the college only received operating funds from the local school district, it was forced to mortgage its buildings to pay for classroom furnishings and musical instruments.
Despite its initial prosperity, Belle Plain began its decline in 1880, after Texas and Pacific Railway bypassed the town – instead choosing nearby Baird for its station. Three years later, Baird became the county seat, resulting in the gradual loss of population and businesses in Belle Plain. A hard winter in 1885 and a drought in 1886-87 proved to be more than the town could overcome. By 1892 the combined impacts of nature, the loss of the railroad and county seat, and reduced funding, Belle Plain College closed its doors, bringing an end to the once-promising town of Belle Plain.
REFERENCE: Larry Wolz, “BELLE PLAIN, TX (CALLAHAN COUNTY),” Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/hvb35), accessed July 02, 2014. T. Lindsay Baker, Ghost Towns of Texas (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1986).
LOCATION: Belle Plain is 28 miles east southeast of Abilene on FM-471. The college ruins are on private property. Please do not trespass.