Old Castle Museum
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In 1858, Baker University was founded by what was then the Methodist Episcopal Church on the Santa Fe Trail in the middle of the area that was to become known as "Bleeding Kansas." The Kansas Education Association of the Methodist Episcopal Church received a charter from the territorial legislature to establish a college at or near Palmyra, and on February 12 a charter was granted for Baker University. The oldest four-year college in Kansas grew up side-by-side with the state of Kansas to survive the Civil War, drought, floods, tornadoes, and even grasshoppers to become one of the premier colleges in the country. Today, the University serves 3,000 students through the College of Arts and Sciences on the Baldwin City campus; the School of Professional and Graduate Studies in Overland Park, Lawrence, Lee's Summit, Topeka and Wichita; and the School of Nursing Stormont- Vail Health Care in Topeka.
Old Castle Hall, a crudely quoined three-story rubble-stone building, originally consisted of only two stories. The third story was added later and then afterward torn off because of poor mortar joints; it was then added for a second time and remains to date.
A simple rectangular plan of Old Castle Hall is carried through to the straight gable roof. All window and door openings are rectangular with heavy stone lintels and sills.
The second- and third-floor levels are clearly visible because of the beams which extend through the exterior wall surfaces. The old two-story roof line is also clearly visible on the back side of the structure.
Although the interior has been renovated many times over the years, the existing plan and interior are considered to be very close to the original condtions [quoted from 1971 National Register Nomination].
The doors of Old Castle Hall were opened for students November 22, 1858. It was erected off campus because school trustees lacked sufficient funds to build the type of permanent structure they desired and they did not want to erect a temporary structure on the campus. College officials could raise only enough funds to construct two stories of the planned three-story structure. The Palmyra Masonic lodge financed the third floor in exchange for regular use of a room for lodge meetings.
After another building was completed in 1871, the Old Castle Hall was no longer used for classes. In 1874 the president of the college, Joseph Denison, used it as his home. Other uses over the years have been mill, student rooming house, public school, and storage place for athletic materials and other college property.
The third floor was removed during the time it was used as a mill, reportedly because of vibrations of the mill machinery which had weakened it. When Baker celebrated its 50th anniversary, the third floor was rebuilt. In the 1950s extensive restoration work as carried out by the Old Castle's Memorial Association, and today the building is maintained as a museum.
Baker University is special and significant because it is the oldest liberal arts college in Kansas. It is living proof of the trials and tribulations faced by Baldwin City, the state of Kansas, and the nation. The University opened in Old Castle Hall on November 22, 1858, despite the fact that only two floors were finished and it lacked a roof. A third story was later added with the help of the Palmyra Masonic Lodge, who financed the construction in exchange for utilizing building space for lodge meetings. The third floor was removed during a period in which the building was used as a mill, and then was restored once again during a 1950s renovation. Today, the building is used as a museum.
The Baker University campus is significant because of its history, tradition, and people. The college admitted women early on in its history, and the first graduating class in 1866 contained two men and one woman. President Abraham Lincoln gave $100 to help build Parmenter Hall, the only donation he ever gave to any university. During William Quantrill's infamous raid on Lawrence in which he killed close to 200 men, the college's early financial agent, the Reverend Hugh Fisher, was on Quantrill's list of top five men to kill for his habit of liberating not only slaves, but also pro-slavery cattle, horses, and equipment that he gave to the newly liberated people. Andrew Carnegie gave $25,000 to help build Case Memorial Library, a building redesigned by a brilliant young professor named William Bauer. Built before electricity, Bauer designed glass walkways that allowed light to be directed back into the stacks. Dr. Bauer also first wired Baldwin City for electricity, but his project became stalled when he wired the sewing machine of the president's wife. Soon the women of the town clamored at his door for the same service. In the 1890s, the women of Baker and the town became disgusted with the town fathers, ran a voting block, and by evening, Baldwin had its first woman mayor and all-woman city council, many of whom were either University employees or their spouses.
Ebright, Homer Kingsley. The History of Baker University. Baldwin, KS: [Baker University], 1951.
Hall, Charles L., and Richard D. Pankratz. Old Castle Hall [Baker University]. National Register of Historic Places designation report. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior/National Park Service, 1971.
Old Castle [Baker University]. Historic American Building Survey report and photographs. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior/National Park Service, 1958.