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Martin Ruter (1785-1838) was a native of Massachusetts and served the church as a pastor, Book Agent, and college president in the Northeast, Canada, and Kentucky.

At the 1836 General Conference, news came that Texas had won its battle for independence from Mexico, and that the Republic of Texas had been established. Martin Ruter immediately offered himself as a missionary, and the next year was appointed Superintendent of the Texas Mission. Littleton Fowler and Robert Alexander were his assistants.

Ruter spent just one year in Texas before his untimely death on May 16, 1838, but he firmly established Methodism in Texas. One of his plans had been to establish a Methodist college. Two years after his death, the Congress of the Republic of Texas chartered Rutersville College, a coeducational institution, the first Protestant college in Texas. Chauncey Richardson (1802-1852), a Methodist preacher and educator in Alabama, was elected president. He visited Rutersville for the first time in 1839 and pronounced it “literally the heart of Texas.”

The townsite of Rutersville was laid out some six miles northwest of La Grange just five weeks after Ruter’s death. The school was built there in 1840, opening with about sixty students and three faculty members, including Richardson. Later that year, on December 25-28, 1840, the Texas Conference was organized in Rutersville, the first annual conference ever held in Texas.

The college faced several difficulties during its early years, including competition from a school in nearby Bastrop, financial problems, conflicts with the Texas government, and a scandalous love affair between a local preacher and the college president’s daughter.

By the mid 1850s, Rutersville College had faded into memory, but in 1872, when Southwestern University was founded, the Rutersville charter was included in Southwestern’s charter as a legitimate ancestor of the new college.

The Rutersville property was briefly used for a private military institute. After the Civil War, large numbers of German immigrants came into the area, and in 1883 the college property was purchased by the Southern German Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church. The lumber from the frame college building was used to build a church that served German-speaking Methodists until the 1930s.

Points of interest at this Heritage Landmark: No original structures remain, but there are four places visitors will want to see: the site of Rutersville College is owned by The United Methodist Church and historical markers note its importance.

The nearby cemetery contains the grave of Chauncey Richardson, first president of the college.

Also on the college property is the site where the Texas Annual Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church was organized, and the site of the Rutersville Methodist Episcopal Church (1881-1930), a German-speaking congregation.

The college bell, later used by the church, is now on display at Southwestern University in Georgetown (north of Austin on Interstate 35).

Special events: None as of this writing.

Area attractions: Austin is a short drive to the northwest and Houston is east of LaGrange. The Monument Hill State Historical Site is just outside LaGrange, and the town is also near several state parks.

To visit:  This Heritage Landmark is accessible to visitors during daylight hours.

Location: Within the boundaries of the Southwest Texas Annual Conference in Fayette County, Texas. Rutersville is near LaGrange.

Food and lodging: There are restaurants and motels in LaGrange, Austin, and Houston.

Directions: In central Texas at the intersection of U.S. 290 and U.S. 77 is the town of Giddings; go 25 miles south to LaGrange (which is 50 miles southeast of Austin); take State Route 237 northeast 12 miles to Rutersville; on the left hand side of the road a sign points to the Landmark located 1/2 miles east on an all-weather road; there are no fences or gates.

For further information, contact: Pastor, First United Methodist Church of LaGrange, Box 89, 1215 N. Von Minden Road, LaGrange, TX 78945.

To learn more about United Methodist church history in this area:

Rio Texas Depository, 16400 Huebner Road, San Antonio, TX 78248, 210-408-4539; Bonnie Saenz, Archivist.

Macum Phelan, A History of Early Methodism in Texas, 1817-1866 (Nashville: Cokesbury Press, 1924).

Walter N. Vernon, et al., The Methodist Excitement in Texas: A History (Dallas: Texas United Methodist Historical Society, 1984).