Tag Archives: Methodist Church

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.

Happy birthday, Kansas!

January 29 marks the beginning of Kansas’ sesquicentennial year, a milestone that will be celebrated all over the state.  The State Library of Kansas is maintaining a fantastic blog of Kansas history and facts and other towns are using the occasion to remind Kansans of their state’s sometimes uncertain and sometimes violent beginnings.

For me, the interesting part of Kansas history is why non-native people chose to come here in the first place, giving up the relatively comfortable Victorian lifestyle (read: accessible food, clothing, shelter, a community support system) to trudge out to the wild, beautiful and often unforgiving prairie with little more than prayers and what little they could haul by horseback and wagon.


A few years ago, while at a university function, a professor and I were discussing the frustration of not knowing much about the backgrounds of ancestors who immigrated to the United States. “I wish I knew more about the lives of my great-grandparents,” I said to him, “but we just don’t talk about those things much.” Thoughtful, the professor said, “People don’t leave their homeland, give up family and friends and everything they know, because their lives are wonderful. If everything had been perfect, they would not have had a reason to leave. Sometimes those reasons are painful. Sometimes they want or need something more. But they leave for a chance to have something better.”

I’ve thought about what that professor said often, and especially when I am wandering through an older cemetery with settler’s graves. What was in Kansas that they couldn’t find at home?

Not everyone who came to Kansas would be famous. Not everyone would even live out their lives here. Yet, in those early years, those settlers, homesteaders, rebels — whatever you want to call them — brought their hopes and dreams to a harsh land that offered no guarantees.


My husband and I have now visited twenty-two of the nearly forty cemeteries in Lyon County, Kansas. Each cemetery, whether large or small, speaks volumes of the earliest people who came to Kansas. Evergreen and Greenwood Cemeteries boast many beautiful and substantial monuments in Welsh, proclaiming a successful ethnic community within the county. On the other hand, the Mennonite-Musselman burial ground, whose graves primarily belong to children, speaks of untold hardship in a community that would ultimately move on to the next county. The stones show wealth, hardship, family connections, religion, social membership, allegiance to causes, and even cause of death. The cemetery is the community that lives on long after its inhabitants have passed on.

Sometimes, those old headstones tell the story of settlers who discovered that Kansas was exactly the right place for them to be.


Cyrus R. Rice had an adventurous spirit. Born in Tennessee in 1833, he was the son of a physician and surgeon, and even graduated with a degree in medicine from Lebanon College in 1852 before realizing his destiny was to heal souls instead of bodies. In 1854, he because a licensed minister and was a circuit preacher in Missouri until he was sent to Kansas as a missionary  for the Methodist Episcopal Church a year later. During a brief trip back to Missouri, he met and married Louisa “Lucy” Ann McCormick.

They came to Kansas on their wedding trip, covering the entire 600 miles on horseback.

Lucy must have had a yen for adventure, too.

Rev. Rice organized community churches all over the state, sometimes holding services in school houses, other times under the shade of a big tree. When the Civil War broke out, he took his family to his wife’s parents home and enlisted in the Union army as a Scout. Whether or not he was a good Scout is questionable; he was captured many times; but luck was on his side and he always escaped unharmed, bringing spiritual comfort to soldiers along the way.

After the war, he established the Methodist Episcopal Church in Emporia in 1866.

Some people would have felt like they’d already achieved a lifetime of success at this point. But Rev. Rice went on to organize and serve as pastor for churches in Eureka, Independence, El Dorado, Augusta, Marton, Chetopa, Baldwin, Hartford, Americus, Pleasanton, Burlington, Ottawa, Douglas, and Burlingame. All this at a time when the distance between Emporia and Topeka was still two days by horseback. The “Pioneer Preacher,” as the Emporia Weekly Gazette called him, retired after delivering his final sermon in Baldwin in 1904, with fifty years of preaching behind him.

And yet he and Lucy still didn’t settle down.

In fact, they moved again, this time to Hartford, which became home base for their broader travels.  Their children, it turned out, were also adventurers, and the Rices traveled frequently to New York City, Detroit, and Spokane to visit them. In 1914, the Rices moved again, this time to live with their son, Rev. E.M. Rice, in Eureka.

Cyrus and Lucy Rice are not likely to appear in any broad academic books about the history of Kansas. And yet they played an integral part in establishing social bonds in more than a dozen fledgling communities, something they probably could not have done had Cyrus taken over his father’s medical practice in Tennessee, or on Lucy’s family farm in Missouri.

The legacy of the Rice family lives on in each of the communities they touched, even if the current residents of those cities and towns have no idea who Cyrus and Lucy Rice were. But in Emporia, were several members of the Rice family are buried, there is a monument with just enough information to let passersby know that if nothing else, their time in Kansas brought them a measure of success.

The headstone honoring Rev. and Lucy Rice, a pair of Emporia's earliest citizens, photographed in the summer of 2010.