Baker University Old Castle Building

Old Castle Building (present day Castle Museum) source [Diana Staresinic-Deane](

Old Castle Building (present day Castle Museum) source Diana Staresinic-Deane

Baker University first opened its doors to students in November 1858, in East Central Kansas, in the city of Baldwin. The school holds the honor of being the first university in Kansas, Old Castle Hall was the first building of Baker University, and classes were held there through 1871. 1 Baldwin City is one of the oldest settlements in Kansas, located about 15 miles south of Lawrence, the city got its start during the opening days of Kansas Territory when it was little more than a trail stop on the Santa Fe Trail. 2

History of the Area and University

The University is named for Osman Cleander Baker, a distinguished scholar and bishop of what is now the United Methodist Church. 3 The university has a rich history, growing up side-by-side with the state of Kansas, Baldwin City began as a trail stop on the Santa Fe Trail named Palmyra. Palmyra, which later became a part of Baldwin was long a favorite place for repairing wagons and for rest, the added commerce of the Santa Fe Trail helped Baldwin grow enough to build a University within the city. 4 In the colleges long history it has survived major events such as, the Civil War, drought, floods, tornadoes, and even grasshoppers to remain one of the most popular universities in the state of Kansas. 5

Main Street of Baldwin City, KS 1911 source [Kathy Weiser/ Legends of Kansas](

Main Street of Baldwin City, KS 1911 source Kathy Weiser/ Legends of Kansas

Significance of the University

Baker University is significant because it admitted women early on in its history, the first graduating class in 1866 contained one women, and two men. 6 President Abraham Lincoln donated $100 in 1864 during the height of the Civil War to help build Parmenter Hall, the only donation he ever gave to any university. 7 Baker University struggled through its first years due to a drought in 1860 and the Civil War, as the war funneled prospective students into military service, the first class didn’t graduate until 1866. 8 1874 a massive grasshopper plague spread across the region devouring everything in sight, they ate crops out of the ground, as well as the wool from live sheep and clothing off people’s backs. Paper, tree bark, and even wooden tool handles were devoured, hoppers were reported to have been several inches deep on the ground. 9

Copy of a cartoon by Kansas artist Henry Worrall showing Kansas farmers battling grasshoppers 1874. source [Kansas Historical Society](

Copy of a cartoon by Kansas artist Henry Worrall showing Kansas farmers battling grasshoppers 1874. source Kansas Historical Society

Construction of Old Castle Hall

Castle Hall 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. 10 Old Castle Hall architecturally is a fine example of early plains vernacular architecture, it is 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. 11

Building uses Through the Years

By 1871 another building was completed on campus named Parmenter Hall, thus in March the students and faculty left Old Castle Hall for the new facility. 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, public school, and storage place for athletic materials and other college property. 12 The Old Castle Hall is now used as museum, showcasing not only the schools long history, but as well as houses artifacts from the State of Kansas and Methodist history.

Baker University Today

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. 13

Relation to the Santa Fe Trail

Santa Fe Trail passing near Baldwin, KS. source [Santa Fe Trail Association, Douglas County Chapter](

Santa Fe Trail passing near Baldwin, KS. source Santa Fe Trail Association, Douglas County Chapter

The Santa Fe Trail entered Douglas County near its southeast corner, a few miles east of Blackjack Battle Field, from where it took a northwesterly course through Palmyra and on to Willow Springs. Here it turned to the southwest, passing close to Globe and Baden of later days and into Osage county about three miles north of the southwest corner of Douglas County. Wagon ruts are still visible at several locations in Douglas County. To the east, in Johnson County, the trail splits from the Oregon Trail and California Trail near Gardner, Kansas. Trail ruts can easily be seen at the Ivan L. Boyd Prairie Preserve which is adjacent to the Battle of Black Jack site, at Black Jack Park near Baldwin City, KS. 14


The Old Castle Complex is just east of the main campus at 511 Fifth Street, Baldwin City, KS 66006.
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