Tag Archives: Charles Curtis

Sunday Snapshot: The Jesuit Origins of Pottawatomie County

An angel perched atop a grave at Mount Calvary Cemetery watches over St. Marys, Kansas.

An angel perched on a grave at Mount Calvary Cemetery watches over St. Marys, Kansas.

A few weeks ago, Jim and I were feeling a little wanderlust and decided to drive to a town we’d never before visited. In Lawrence, we parted from the turnpike and found ourselves wandering through towns like Tecumsah and Silver Lake and Rossville.

And then we found ourselves in St. Marys.

St. Marys is an old Kansas settlement. The Jesuits, also known as the Society of Jesus, who had served the Pottawatomie tribe for over a decade in Eastern Kansas, moved with them to what is now St. Marys in 1848. There they established St. Mary’s Catholic Mission, which was a stop on the Oregon Trial. The first cathedral built between the Rocky Mountains and the Missouri River was a log construction that served as the See of Bishop Miege (known as the “Bishop of the Indians”) from 1851 to 1855 (though other sources suggest the first cathedral was in Leavenworth). The land where it stood would serve as a college and Jesuit seminary for many years. Charles Curtis, a Native American who would serve as vice president to President Herbert Hoover (and whose signature appears on the guest registry at the Old Castle Museum in Baldwin City) was baptized at the St. Marys parish in 1860. The U.S. Pottawatomie agency was also located in St. Marys, and the building still stands today.

Mount Calvary Cemetery is the final resting place for many of the Jesuits who served the Pottawatomie community in the 1800s.

Mount Calvary Cemetery is the final resting place for many of the Jesuits who served the Pottawatomie community in the 1800s.

Today the old college and former seminary belongs to a new order, the Society of Saint Pius X, a Catholic community that has returned to a more conservative interpretation of Catholicism that predates Vatican II. Although we clearly looked out of place–I was wearing jeans on a campus where all of the women wore conservative skirts–we were made to feel incredibly welcome by a community of traditionally garbed nuns, priests, and students who were celebrating the Feast of Christ the King. The congregation was an international one, and we learned that Catholics from all over the world have moved to St. Marys in order to be a part of a religious community that celebrates the Tridentine Mass in Latin as well as send their children to St. Mary’s Academy and College, which uses many of the historic old buildings built by the Jesuits.

Our final stop in St. Marys took us to Mount Calvary Cemetery, which is also known locally as the Jesuit Cemetery. High up on a hill that lets you see miles and miles of the surrounding countryside, the cemetery’s population is strikingly diverse for a small community in central Kansas. A large portion of the graves belong to the Jesuit priests, whose headstones are carved with Latin epitaphs. A large angel looks out over the town far below.

We hope to find our way back to St. Marys. The little town rests upon a wealth of history worth exploring.

Dusk photo

Mount Calvary Cemetery at sunset.

 

 

Sunday Snapshot: Old Castle Museum at Baker University

This weekend, I took advantage of the Museum Day Live events–when more than 1,400 museums across the U.S. offered free admission–to visit a museum that’s usually only open by appointment: the Old Castle Museum in Baldwin City, Kansas.

The Old Castle Meseum was originally known as The College Building. Founded in 1858, Baker University is the oldest continually running university in the state of Kansas.

The Old Castle Meseum was originally known as The College Building. Founded in 1858, Baker University is the oldest continously running university in the state of Kansas.

The Old Castle Museum was originally known as The College Building because it was the only college building in Kansas. Founded in 1858, Baker University, a Methodist university, is the oldest continuously running university in Kansas.

As soon as the Kansas territory opened for settlement, the Methodists, who were staunch Free Staters, put down roots in Douglas County. Their land was very close to the Santa Fe Trail and Palmyra, which was an important watering stop that would later include a post office. The post office building, which was in operation from 1857 to 1862, was moved to Baker’s campus and is next to the Old Castle Museum.

Saving its land for the long-term buildings that would require more funding, the Old Castle Museum building was technically offsite when it was built in 1858. According to Jen McCollough, the museum director and archivist, classes were held in the Old Castle while funds were raised for a new building. One of the donors was President Abraham Lincoln, and it is said that the gift to Baker University was the only gift he ever gave to an academic institution. The building he helped  establish, Parmenter Hall, is still in use today.

Baker University is the only university to receive a gift from Abraham Lincoln. His contribution to the university would help build Parmenter Hall, the first official university building on university land. Lincoln's donation is the second entry listed.

Baker University is the only university to receive a gift from Abraham Lincoln. His contribution to the university would help build Parmenter Hall, the first official university building on university land. Lincoln’s donation is the second entry listed.

Parmenter Hall, the first official university building, is still in use today.

Parmenter Hall, the first official university building, is still in use today.

The Methodist university would attract other national leaders in its history, including U.S. President William Taft and Senator Charles Curtis, a Kansan who would go on to become the only Native American to serve as a U.S. Vice President.

Famous signatures: President Taft and Senator Charles Curtis.

Famous signatures: President Taft and Senator Charles Curtis.

After the Civil War, the Methodist Church took up another cause: Prohibition. On display at the museum is a document bearing the signatures of all but three Kansas Methodist ministers in support of Prohibition. An interesting fact: As Baker University sold off tracts of land, the deeds included a clause that said if alcohol was ever sold on that land, ownership would revert to the university. Much of what is now downtown Baldwin City is part of that original land grant, and it wasn’t until 2008 that the Baker University president officially revoked that portion of the deed, allowing local businesses to sell alcohol.

This ream of papers includes the signatures of all but three Methodist ministers in Kansas...in support of Prohibition.

To show their support for Prohibition, the Methodists collected the signatures of all but three Methodist ministers in Kansas.

The College Building was never intended to be the university’s permanent home, and by the 1880s, it was sold and turned into a grist mill. The university repurchased the property for its fiftieth anniversary.¬† The building has undergone numerous changes during the years. The original third floor was constructed of sandstone, an unfortunate building material that disintegrated from the vibrations of the grist mill and hand to be pulled down. An extension was added to the west side of the building and was later removed. Then the university rebuilt the third floor.

Today, the Baker University Archives maintains the building as well as much of the local Methodist history for the state of Kansas. According to Jen McCollough, if churches or other local Methodist institutions close, their historic information goes to Baker University–an important thing to know if you’re researching your own Methodist ancestors. The building is an artifact in its own right. It reflects the history of both the university and Baldwin City, having served as an academic institution, a grist mill, a boys’ dormitory, a dining facility for post-WWII married student housing, and later a museum. Its exterior walls are covered with the names and initials of former students and grist mill workers.

Methodists indulge in graffiti, too. This sandstone patch on the south side of the building bears many names.

Methodists indulge in graffiti, too. This sandstone patch on the south side of the building bears many names.

But what about the name? There are two stories that suggest why the building became known as the Old Castle. One is that one of the original university leaders was a fan all things Scottish and referred to the building as the Old Castle. Another story suggests that because the building was the only stone building in the area in those early years of Kansas settlement, the building became known as the Castle.

Should you find yourself in Baldwin City, the university and the museum are worth a look. They will further enrich your appreciation for how religious institutions contributed to the state’s heritage.