Old Castle presents history, financial stress

Story by Bailey Kabrey, Krista Porter, and Abie Roorda

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Behind Collins Gym lies the foundation of Baker University: the Old Castle Museum. The building that led to the creation of this university is now under-funded and under-used.

“It’s the symbol of the university,” Associate Professor of History John Richards said of Old Castle. “People recognize the building.”

According to Jenny McCollough, the director of archives and museum, Old Castle could serve campus better if it received more funding.

History of the Museum

The structure, which was planned to be three stories, was built in 1858. Unfortunately before the third floor could be completed, the university ran out of money and the builders had to put a roof onto the second floor.

Classes started that fall. The original four students were finishing their high school degrees before starting college at Baker University.

Over time, the Old Castle gained an addition to the back of the building before it was sold and became a gristmill.

Eventually it once again became university property, first used as a dormitory and then repurposed for a storage site. After World War II, it became the washhouse and kitchen area for married students living in the nearby trailer park.

In the mid 1950s, Old Castle transitioned into a museum. At first, the museum was curated by a series of retired community ministers. The Santa Fe Trail Association sponsored an exhibit in the museum. Now, the Santa Fe Trail Association of Douglas County helps fund the museum.

In addition to funding Old Castle, the historical society funds Blood’s Post Office. The post office, which is located immediately south of Old Castle, is officially considered part of the museum. The post office is a link between the museum and the original town, Palmyra.

Relevance to Baker Students

Old Castle is used in many different ways in several departments on campus. For past theater productions, furniture and artifacts from Old Castle have been used as props.

The science department also benefited from Old Castle’s artifacts when chemistry students studied historic medicines from the Civil War era.

Dean of Students Cassy Bailey said students might be enticed into Old Castle because of the reported ghost sightings. In previous years, interterm paranormal classes have examined the legitimacy of the ghostly phenomenon.

The history department uses Old Castle as multiple sources for projects. Associate Professor of History Leonard Ortiz sometimes holds classes in the museum. Richards’ History Methods students often pull artifacts from Old Castle, research them and write a paper over the information they have gathered.

“The papers from the students are just incredible,” Richards said.

Though students may still benefit from Old Castle, the lack of funding limits the access and use of the building. The post office is currently being used for the storage of some Old Castle artifacts, including a decades-old printing press that could provide a valuable history lesson to mass media students.

Funding Issues

Visitors to Old Castle can see evidence of the lack of funding. Plywood covers some of the windows. The floor inside the front door is becoming unvarnished. The university is tight on money and that has led to less upkeep of Old Castle.

“It hasn’t really been on anyone’s radar,” McCollough said.

Richards said the resources provided to the museum are on a need basis. When the museum was renovated in the mid ‘90s, the funding was combined with the archives budget.

Richards said that Old Castle needs renovations as well as Blood’s Post Office.

In the past, Old Castle was available more because it used to have volunteers that offered tours. Keeping it open, however, costs a lot of money.

In past years, tuition increases have helped pay utility costs. Though Old Castle is under-used, certain utilities have to be kept on.

Front lights must be kept on for safety reasons. The building also has to be kept heated and cooled to maintain the temperature required for some of the artifacts. The museum has to stay between 68 and 72 degrees and maintain 45 to 55 percent humidity levels.

One way to help cut utility costs in Old Castle is to put in new windows. The museum also needs a new front door; the current one is stripping the wood flooring’s varnish. Many of the needed fixes would be costly.

One idea Richards has mentioned is having members of Baker University’s History Club perform reenactments and offer tours of Old Castle during Maple Leaf.

“If it could pay for itself,” Richards said. “We can fix it up.”