William Harrison Allen was born in Kentucky on March 18, 1834, and came to Texas as fast as he could by way of Kansas in 1855. A well-educated young man, he had dreams of becoming a landowner and speculator in Texas – but it turned out that an education in literature and science had not protected him from being the victim of a land fraud scheme, as the government issued certificates were apparently easy to counterfeit.
After this setback, he resolved to turn to teaching to improve his finances and to help bring about an intellectual and moral change in Texas. Area historians believe Allen’s first school in a one-room, clapboard courthouse was probably located in what is now Gainesville in the Cross Timbers Region. While teaching, he also studied law and considered a future in politics – eventually deciding to become a Methodist Episcopal Church minister, receiving his license to minister in 1860. He preached in Blank Station, Texas, near Sabine Pass in 1862 and from there went to war. After the Civil War, Allen became a circuit-riding preacher. He began to amass his fortune buying land and cattle and continued teaching, eventually establishing Allen Academy in the Bethel area in the 1870s. In 1882 the school was sold to Bethel Methodist Church.
Allen and his wife, Abbie Mayes of McKinney, did not have children of their own, but many of the students boarded with the Allens. Persons of note who attended what was commonly called “Uncle Billy’s School” were Dr. I.S. Rogers, Dow Bacchus, and members of the Clark family.
Allen was renowned for his scholarly work. He authored three books during his lifetime and successfully ran for state senate. (An interesting note - The community of Erudia, that was located in the northern area of present day Frisco on the Collin/Denton county line and was home to another early school, was named for a character in one of his books.)
Allen died in 1908, and his will stipulated that upon the death of his wife, his estate should be used to fund the education of poor students at Southwestern University. The Allen Memorial student endowment is still in existence today. In addition, Abbie left a significant sum to Southern Methodist University to be used for professors’ salaries, although that fund is no longer in existence.