In 1892, Seventh-day Adventists living near Dallas chose a committee to locate property for a school in Johnson County. The committee members personally financed the purchase of 800 acres, five miles east of Cleburne, for $8,000.
At a time in our nation when railroads were broke, banks closed, and businesses failed, hearty Adventist families converged on the land in November and December, 1893. They brought all their earthly possessions in covered wagons and began to clear the land and build houses. Most lived in tents during those first winter months.
By January 6, 1894, a school building was completed. It doubled as the church, which was organized with 67 members. On January 7, the school opened with 56 students in all grades. The enrollment increased to 90 as other families moved to the new town that became Keene.
December 20, 1902 was an important day in Keene as the first train pulled into town. Local citizens had raised $3,000 to get a passenger train on the 10-mile stretch from Cleburne to Egan. The new railroad had one stop: Keene’s little depot. The train, operated by a steam engine called Old Betsy, had a coal car, wooden baggage car and passenger coach. It served as the primary means of transportation for 20 years. Old Betsy is now the name of Keene’s main street, which follows the route of the original railroad track.
From Industrial Academy to University: Changing Names
Acting on their conviction that classroom learning and work experience complimented each other, Southwestern’s pioneers named the school Keene Industrial Academy in 1893. Junior college level work was first offered in 1916 and the name was changed to Southwestern Junior College. In 1962, the college was renamed Southwestern Union College and started the processing of approval for senior status. In 1977, the college was again renamed Southwestern Adventist College as the first Seventh-day Adventist college in North America to reflect the Adventist name. Graduate level work was first offered in 1987; nine years later the institution changed its name to Southwestern Adventist University.
The University has been accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools since 1958, first as a Level I institution (associate degrees), then in 1970 as a Level II institution (baccalaureate degrees), and since 1989 as a Level III institution (graduate degrees).