Benton City Institute

The ruins of the Benton City Institute.

Local residents and passersby perhaps have noticed a dilapidated rock building located three miles east of Lytle, near the intersection of Atascosa and Medina Counties, on the meandering Benton City Road. Twenty-first century folks may observe such ruins with a passing glance, but it would serve us best to be informed of the history of such once notable edifices and communities.
Benton City was established in the 1840s on what was once known as the Old San Antonio Road and was named after either Senator Thomas Hart Benton or a Samuel Benton, who fought in the Texas Revolution. Within its first forty years, “…the town grew to include three cotton gins, a hotel, several grocery stores, a newspaper, a drug store, a blacksmith, a carpenter shop, a saddle and boot shop, a sawmill, a livery stable, several churches, a Masonic Lodge, and a school.” (THSA) A stage line made regular stops to the community, and it delivered mail several times each week.
Then, with the arrival of the railroad in nearby Lytle in the 1880s, Benton City’s population fluctuated several times until the town finally disappeared. Today, there remains two remnants of the once thriving community. One is a cemetery, the oldest in the area – founded in 1870 – in which such local pioneers as Lytle, Jones, Calk, and McDonnell are buried, as well as many veterans of the Indian warfare, the Civil War, both World Wars, and area residents who died during a tuberculosis outbreak which occurred in the 1800s. The other is the ruins of the Benton City Institute.
This institute stood as an important school in the area. Established in 1876, it was originally called the Benton City Normal Institute and operated under a Texas law distributing state funds to supplement private tuition. It was owned, however, by its educators, and it was first run by John D. Morrison. In the beginning, its top floor was bought and used by Atascosa Lodge 379, A.F. & A.M., and classes were held in the lower floor. Basic classes were taught as well as accounting, law, music, and surveying. Later, the school became fully tax-supported, and in 1878, the school became coeducational. It was then owned and operated by Professor and Mrs. Bernard C. Hendrix of Kentucky, and in 1889, its name was changed to Benton School.
In 1909, the Masons relocated to Lytle, and the school then encompassed the second floor. Another change was made in 1910, renaming the school Old Rock School, and it thrived until 1919 when the school district was consolidated with Lytle. The building was still in use for various purposes until 1934.
All that remains today of this once bustling “city” is the overgrown and neglected cemetery and remnants of the once auspicious rock building. Even the metal plaque, designating Benton City as a historical site in 1972 by the State of Texas, has been removed.