Each August, this column reflects upon a school as it used to be.

You may recall Reinhardt Elementary. It opened in 1880 and was built by the grandfather of a Reinhardt teacher. And the first brick public school building in Dallas was Cary Hall (completed in 1887), later renamed the Stephen F. Austin School when the City of East Dallas merged with the City of Dallas (Jan. 1, 1890).

This year we take a look at one of Dallas’ oldest private schools, Ursuline Academy, which had its beginnings in a four-room cottage located where the Downtown Federal Post Office is today.

The completion of the Texas and Pacific Railroad in 1873 brought more people to Dallas. At that time, Monsignor Martiniere, the only Catholic priest serving the area, saw the need for a school in Dallas and requested assistance from the Bishop of Texas.

As a result, six Ursuline sisters from Galveston came to East Dallas on Jan. 28, 1874, to establish the first private school for girls in a four-room cottage on Masten (now Bryan) Street.

The school began with seven pupils. A year later, there were 50 students and boarding requests were coming from parents in outlying districts. A two-story house was built and completed in 1875 on the same site.

Many neighborhood residents remember the “old” Ursuline Academy, located on the city block bound by Bryan, Haskell, Live Oak, and St. Joseph streets. Designed by Nicolas J. Clayton of Galveston, the Gothic structure was modeled after a French castle. The cornerstone was laid in 1882, and construction was completed in 1884. Additional wings were added in 1890, 1902 and 1910.

The three-story building had a basement, kitchen, dining room with accommodations for 150 children, a formal drawing room, an auditorium, and a chapel with a window honoring the sisters who started the school. (The window was later donated to the Dallas Heritage Society.)

A “rogues gallery” displayed pictures of all graduates, and a corridor referred to as the “green hall” was the administrative section of the building. On the campus grounds, a pecan grove provided a favorite spot for picnics. At the back of the property was a cemetery for the deceased sisters.

Sister Margaret Ann Moser, president of today’s Ursuline Academy, attended the school as a child. She recalls additional details, such as the “beautiful courtyard with the same Sacred Heart statue that is now on our campus, very ornate antique furniture, polished halls, gorgeous grounds, a garden in the shape of a heart, and an elevator we would slip in and go up to the third floor.”

Upkeep, economics and deterioration of the “old” Ursuline and surrounding area prompted a relocation of the campus in 1942, when the high school moved to the present day campus. The grade school remained on the Bryan Street campus for eight more years, when demolition of the building began.

“I was in sixth grade,” Sister Moser says of the demolition. “I remember the sisters saying to us they were going to take the main building down. We were housed in another part of the building and were in no danger. I remember watching the machines with the large wrecking balls as demolition of the building began. It really tore at my heart – even at age 12.”


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