Aranama College, at Goliad, was established in 1852 under the auspices of the Presbyterian Church as an "educational clinic" for Mexicans. This men's college, named for the eighteenth-century Indian converts of Nuestra Señora del Espíritu Santo de Zúñiga Mission, resulted from the efforts of the Western Presbytery of Texas, which was organized in 1851, and particularly Rev. William C. Blair, to start a Presbyterian college within the boundaries of the presbytery. A committee, organized by the presbytery in April 1851 and chaired by Rev. Joel T. Case, who helped establish Victoria Female Academy, reported in the spring of 1852 in favor of establishing a college. Among the towns vying for the college were Lockhart, Victoria, and Goliad. The last offered as inducement the old Aranama mission and its grounds, amounting to twenty acres, plus a league of the unsold lands of the town tract and an additional $1,000 cash and 20,000 acres from the citizens of the town. Goliad was chosen because of its importance to what was called western Texas, the increased immigration of Mexicans and the proximity of Mexico, and the promise of patronage by influential local Mexican families.
The nine members of the first board of trustees were elected on March 27, 1852, and included Joel Case and J. F. Hillyer, founder of Hillyer Female College, a Baptist institution at Goliad. Aranama College, established on the Aranama mission site on the San Antonio River, opened in September 1852 with Blair as president. The Western Presbytery designated $10,000, largely the profit from the sale of the donated lands, to be used over the next five years to erect buildings and a library and to purchase "school apparatus." The school, by its state charter granted on January 25, 1854, was to be "purely literary and scientific." It was open to students of all denominations, whose "moral and religious improvements" were also a goal.
The preparatory department was the first department to function. In 1857 it offered English grammar, orthography, composition, elocution, geography, bookkeeping, elementary and higher mathematics, surveying, Latin, and Greek. Tuition ranged from three to four dollars a month. The college also sponsored the literary contests of the Adelphian Literary Society, which debated in 1859 over the question, "Should the United States re-open the African Slave Trade?"
The college was reorganized in 1860 with the hiring of new faculty members. Its three departments were the four-year college proper, whose graduates received the A.B. degree; the scientific department, designed to prepare students for business; and the preparatory department, maintained to prepare students for college. Tuition was fixed at fifty dollars a term for the college and scientific department, and twenty-five dollars for the preparatory department. Board with respectable families was also available. By 1860 about 100 students were enrolled.
Although financial problems burdened the college throughout most of its existence, it remained open until the Civil War, when the entire student body enlisted in the Confederate Army. The school building, a three-story stone structure with thirty rooms, was used by both Southern and Northern armies as a headquarters during the war. After the war the Western Presbytery was unable to keep the college in operation. Because the school's lands were given conditionally, the presbytery, following a request from local citizens, donated the land and college to the state in February 1871 on the condition that a penitentiary be located at Goliad. In August the presbytery attempted to lease the college to the state for use as a free school. The attempt apparently failed, since by April 1872 the Western Presbytery no longer laid claim to Aranama College, and the trustees had lost a suit to recover the property during the administration of Governor Edmund J. Davis. The college building was destroyed in the great storm of 1886 (see HURRICANES).