Baker University Old Castle Building

The Old Castle Building (now the Castle Museum). [source](
The Old Castle Building (now the Castle Museum). source

Baker University, located in the eastern Kansas town of Baldwin City, first opened its doors in November 1858. The school was the first university in Kansas, and Old Castle Hall was the university’s first building; classes were held there through 1871.1 Baldwin City is one of the oldest settlements in Kansas, located about fifteen miles south of Lawrence. The city got its start before Kansas became a state when it was little more than a trail stop on the Santa Fe Trail.2

History of the Area and University

The school has a rich history, growing up alongside the state of Kansas. Baker University is named for Osman Cleander Baker, a distinguished scholar and bishop of what is now the United Methodist Church.3 Baldwin City began as a trail stop on the Santa Fe Trail named Palmyra. Palmyra was long a favorite place for repairing wagons and resting, and the added commerce of the Santa Fe Trail helped the town grow enough to build a university.4 Baker University survived the Civil War, droughts, floods, tornadoes, and even grasshopper infestations; it remains one of the most popular universities in the state of Kansas.5

Main Street, Baldwin City, KS (1911). [source](
Main Street, Baldwin City, KS (1911). source

The University’s Significance

Baker University admitted women earlier than many other colleges; its first graduating class in 1866 contained one women and two men.6 During the height of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln donated $100 to help build Parmenter Hall–the only donation he ever gave to any university.7 Baker University struggled during Civil War, as the growing conflict funneled prospective students into military service; as a result, the first class didn’t graduate until 1866.8 In 1874 a massive grasshopper plague spread across the region, eating crops out of the ground, clothing off people’s backs, and even wool from live sheep. The insects devoured paper, tree bark, and even wooden tool handles. Hoppers were reported to have been several inches deep on the ground.9

A cartoon by Kansas artist Henry Worrall showing Kansas farmers battling grasshoppers, 1874. [source](
A cartoon by Kansas artist Henry Worrall showing Kansas farmers battling grasshoppers, 1874. source

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 for 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 Architecturally, Old Castle Hall is a crudely quoined three-story rubble-stone building and a fine example of early Plains vernacular architecture. The aforementioned third story was torn off because of poor mortar joints; it was then rebuilt and remains in place to this day.11

Building Uses Through the Years

By 1871 Parmenter Hall was completed, and that March students and faculty left Old Castle Hall for the new facility. Since the Old Castle Hall was no longer used for classes, the president of the college, Joseph Denison, used it as his home in 1874. Over the years Castle Hall has also served as a mill, student dorm, public school, and storage place for athletic materials and other college property.12 The Old Castle Hall is now a museum, showcasing the school’s long history as well as other artifacts from the State of Kansas and its 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

The Santa Fe Trail passing near Baldwin, KS. [source](
The Santa Fe Trail passing near Baldwin, KS. source

The Santa Fe Trail entered Douglas County near its southeastern corner, a few miles east of Black Jack Battle Field. From there it took a northwesterly course through Palmyra and on to Willow Springs. 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.
View directions on Google Maps


  1. Historic Campus Architecture Project (HCAP) 

  2. Santa Fe Trail Association, Douglas County Chapter 

  3. Kansas Historical Society, Baker University

  4. Santa Fe Trail Association, Doulas County Chapter 

  5. Historic Campus Architecture Project (HCAP) 

  6. Baker University, Vision & Values

  7. Kansaspedia, Baker University

  8. Kansas Historical Society, Baker University

  9. Kansaspedia, Grasshopper Plague of 1874

  10. Historic Campus Architecture Project 

  11. Hall and Pankratz, Old Castle Hall (Baker University)

  12. Historic Campus Architecture Project 

  13. Baker University, Vision & Values

  14. Santa Fe Trail Association, Douglas County Chapter 

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