Founded in 1906 in Dallas, the Terrill School for Boys was one of the great education success stories for Dallas in the early part of the twentieth century. As one of the preeminent preparatory schools for boys outside of the East Coast, the Terrill School enjoyed a reputation for superior academics, strong discipline, and highly competitive athletics. Within a decade of its founding, the school received a reputation as one of the finest preparatory schools in Texas and the Southwest.
The school’s founder, Menter Bradley Terrill, was born in Moberly, Missouri, and raised in Winchester, Tennessee, where his father taught at Winchester Normal College. After graduating from Winchester Normal, Menter B. Terrill taught in schools throughout the South and eventually became president of North Texas Normal College (now the University of North Texas) in Denton in 1894. After North Texas Normal became a state-supported public college in 1899, Terrill left to study at Yale and graduated at age thirty-two as valedictorian with a B.A. degree in 1903. In 1906 Terrill and his wife, neé Ada Thurman, returned to Dallas to establish the Terrill School in the manner of the great eastern prep schools. The first campus was located in a single large building on Swiss Avenue in East Dallas. By 1914 the school grew to include four buildings and a gymnasium and was capable of accommodating approximately 180 pupils, including fifty boarders. Graduates were regularly accepted for study at Yale, Princeton, Dartmouth, Cornell, and Vanderbilt.
Terrill School attracted the sons of Dallas’s wealthy and prominent families and quickly became a leader in classical education, with a heavy dose of discipline exacted by the demanding headmaster. The curriculum included courses of study in math, science, English, literature, debate, Latin, and other rigorous subjects, preparing each boy to have the chance to attend Ivy League universities in the East and elsewhere. Teachers were held to the same high standards, and most boasted credentials from the leading eastern colleges, including many from the Ivy League. A contemporary publication, The Handbook of Private Schools, consistently ranked Terrill as the best private school for boys in Texas. Terrill offered a full array of extracurricular activities, such as orchestra, glee club, military drills, yearbook, newspaper, summer camps, and athletics.
The school became well-known in athletics, assembling football and basketball teams that were able to compete on very high levels. The school attracted athletes from beyond the Dallas area, and many came to Terrill for a post-graduate year. This afforded the football team the ability to play not only various private and public schools, but also freshmen teams from major four-year colleges like the University Texas, Southern Methodist University, Texas Christian University, and Rice, as well as junior college teams from around North Texas.
Menter B. Terrill retired in 1916 for health reasons, and the school was sold to teacher and Columbia University graduate, Martin Bruce Bogarte and his brother, Robert H. Bogarte. The school accelerated its athletics more in the mid-1920s and recruited many athletes with scholarships. The football team went 144–23–8 from 1910–32, yet only four of those losses were against high school-level teams. The 1918 team is considered by many to be one of the most dominant high school football teams in U.S. history. Additionally, the Terrill basketball team won the 1930 “National Academy” championship. In 1931 another teacher, Sam M. Davis, purchased an interest in the school and took over as headmaster.
By 1930 the Terrill School’s intense focus on athletic success alienated many parents, and Terrill began a slow, gradual decline coinciding with the Great Depression. In the early 1930s the school moved from its original location at 4217 Swiss Avenue to the St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church property on Ross Avenue. As the academic reputation began to suffer, the financial conditions deteriorated, and athletic fortunes declined; by the late 1930s, Terrill struggled to field competitive football teams.
Terrill also faced competition from a new school in the mid-1930s. Although Menter B. Terrill had retired years earlier, in the late 1920s he began to offer private tutoring services in his home to boys whose parents were dissatisfied with the Terrill School. These efforts formed the nucleus of a parent-driven initiative to create a new all-boys preparatory school called Texas Country Day School, which opened its doors in 1933. Coincidentally, that same year the Terrill School reorganized itself as Terrill Preparatory School and Junior College for Boys to broaden its reach and attract more students.
By the 1940s, as World War II raged, Terrill was unable to keep pace with its competitors. In 1946 it closed, and its assets, along with the assets of an Episcopal boys schools called St. Luke's School in Austin, were absorbed by the newly-formed, Episcopal Diocese-affiliated Cathedral School for Boys. However, the Cathedral School’s success was short-lived, and by late 1949 Cathedral and Texas Country Day announced that they would merge at the close of the school year in 1950 to create St. Mark’s School of Texas.