On this day in 1937, a massive explosion caused the steel-framed school building in New London, in Rusk County, to collapse, killing a reported 298 people. It was the worst school disaster in United States history. Of the 500 students in the building, only about 130 escaped serious injury. The explosion, which was heard four miles away, occurred when a manual-arts teacher turned on a sanding machine and inadvertently ignited a mixture of gas and air. Three days after the explosion, inquiries were held to determine the cause of the disaster. Investigators learned that in January 1937, to save gas expenses of $300 a month, the school board and superintendent had authorized plumbers to tap a residue gas line of H. L. Hunt's Parade Gasoline Company. Apparently gas had escaped from a faulty connection and accumulated beneath the building. No school officials were found liable. More than seventy lawsuits were filed for damages, but district judge Robert T. Brown dismissed the few cases that came to trial for lack of evidence. The thirty surviving seniors at New London finished their year in temporary buildings while a new school was built on nearly the same site.
On this day in 1848, the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, purchased a piece of property at 2015 Broadway in Galveston. Soon a church and parsonage were erected and "given to the Slaves as the Negro Methodist Episcopal Church South." Increasing tensions between North and South, exacerbated by the moral debate over slavery, fueled the white congregation's decision to separate its black and white members. After the Civil War the church was reorganized as a member of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. In recognition of the service of Rev. Houston Reedy, who became the pastor in 1870, the congregation renamed the church Reedy Chapel. Also in 1870, the Reedy Chapel AME Church was involved in a lawsuit when the Methodist Episcopal Church, North, took possession of the chapel. Unable to worship at Reedy Chapel, the congregation rented an old soap factory for fifteen dollars a month. After a four-year battle the courts ruled in favor of the AME Church, and Reedy Chapel was restored to them. In 1885 the structure was destroyed by fire. The replacement church still stood in 2004.
On this day in 1836, the new government of Texas began a three-day stay at Groce's Retreat, Jared E. Groce's plantation home, in what is now southwestern Grimes County. President David G. Burnet and his cabinet sought sanctuary there as they retreated from Washington-on-the-Brazos to Harrisburg. Groce's house was used as the capital of the Republic of Texas until March 21.