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This past weekend, I visited the University of Texas campus and learned some more Texas history. One of the great things that I love about travelling and taking photos is that I learn so much along the way. This past weekend was another trip where the “Four Horseman of the Photopacalypse” (Tim, Andy, Jeremy and myself) set out to get pictures from across the Lone Star State.
Sometimes it is while I am on a trip that I learn a great story behind one of the subjects of my photoshoot. Other times, it is when I am researching what I am going to write for a description for the photo. I have passed by the Littlefield Gateway at the University of Texas many times, but I was not aware of the history behind it until I came home to research a bit before writing a description for the photo.
The Littlefield Gateway is on the south end of campus and faces the Texas Capitol building. While it is a major landmark on the campus of the University of Texas, many people don’t realize that it also has a somewhat entertaining story behind its construction and the underlying feud between two regents.
It seems that two regents of the University of Texas had somewhat of a rivalry with one another, one regent George Littlefield, served with the Confederacy; the other regent, George Brackenridge, was a Union sympathizer and war profiteer who smuggled cotton to the North. To add to their disdain for one another, they had the same middle name, both being named for George Washington – so you have George Washington Brackeridge and George Washington Littlefield.
The rivalry between these two is what legends are made of, two wealthy men on Board of Regents at the University of Texas who ultimately want the best for the school that they support, but yet hate one another.
As the University of Texas began to outgrow its original forty acre campus, Brackenridge donated a large tract of land along the Colorado river known today as the “Brackenridge Tract”. This donation was meant to not only allow the campus to grow, but also carry his legacy with the University. Ultimately, Brackenridge was going to purchase another one thousand acres and he wanted the University of Texas to move to that property.
When Littlefield saw this strategy by Brackenridge, he decided to outflank his opponent by having a grand entrance built at the south end of the campus in order to anchor the campus in its current location. After all, Littlefield had a house just across the street from the University of Texas campus and he was not about to have the University move away to be placed on the “Brackenridge Campus.”
Littlefield enlisted the services of an Italian born sculptor named Pompeo Coppini and instructed him to design something with the figures of Southern History and people important to Texas. When Coppini presented his design for a grand entrance, Littlefield told him that it was more than he was able to pay for, so they compromised and Coppini agreed to build a fountain instead.
After the deal was approved by the University of Texas Board of Regents, Littlefield became ill and with his failing health, feared that upon his death, Brackenridge would find a way to still move the campus. So prior to his death, Littlefield changed his will to include a $500,000 to build a new Main Building, $300,000 and land for a woman’s dormitory and another $250,000 for the Littlefield Gateway; contingent on the University staying in it’s current location for another 8 years. Just before his passing, Littlefield also included his Mansion across from the University subject to Mrs. Littlefield’s interest.
Brackenridge was unable to match the gifts that Littlefield had made and instead of being able to achieve his campus on the riverfront of the Colorado River, he conceded defeat. Brackenridge fretted about money and grew seriously ill, dying only a month after Littlefield in December of 1920.
After their deaths, a bill asking to move the campus was defeated and the University of Texas stayed where it began. Littlefield had won.
Many people probably have not noticed, but on the brass door leading to the pump room on the back of the fountain there is a memorial to the 84 students of the University of Texas that lost their lives in World War I. The inscription in the marble along the back of the railing reads “Brevis a natura nobis vita data est, at memoria bene redditae vitae Sempiturna,” translates as, “Short is the life given to us by nature, but the memory of a life nobly surrendered is everlasting.”
So there it is, a hatred fueled battle between two rich men resulted in the construction of one of the most iconic landmarks in Austin at the University of Texas – the Littlefield Gateway.
As Paul Harvey would say, “And now you know, the rest of the story!”