Preserving Baylor's First Home

I magine being a college student who is asked to help place the University’s founding site in the National Register of Historic Places. That was the task for a Baylor archaeology research class in spring 2019. 

Independence, Texas, was the birthplace of Baylor in 1845 and its home until 1886, when the men’s campus moved north to merge with Waco University and retained the name Baylor University. The female department eventually relocated to Belton, becoming the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor.

In recent years, Baylor students visit the site as incoming freshmen to receive their Line jerseys and to learn about the University’s heritage. As graduation nears, many opt to revisit the iconic columns that remain there.  

This rich history was on the mind of Carol Macaulay-Jameson, a senior lecturer in anthropology, in 2017 while studying artifacts from Independence at Baylor’s Mayborn Museum. She was surprised to learn the old campuses were not on the National Register.

Getting the Go-Ahead

The National Register of Historic Places is the official listing of America’s historic structures, sites and objects worthy of preservation. The nomination process is stringent enough by itself, but Macaulay’s plan to get Baylor accepted had its own hurdles. She needed permission to create a six-hour research course focused solely on the nomination, and she had to recruit five students to take part.

The plan also needed support from Paul Fisher, processing archivist and assistant director of The Texas Collection at Baylor. Fisher, who oversees the University’s properties at Independence and has conducted significant research on the sites, was all in.

“The idea of Baylor students helping to preserve the original site of their school, and the legacy of students and their accomplishments at Baylor being preserved by fellow students 174 years later, is a wonderful picture of students helping students through time,” Fisher said. “It also fit nicely into our mission at The Texas Collection — to collect, preserve and provide access to materials documenting the history, heritage and culture of Texas. And it fits neatly into two of the pillars of Illuminate, Baylor’s strategic plan — research and undergraduate education.”

Students Get to Work

The planning and approvals — including from Mary Hardin-Baylor, which jointly owns the female campus site with Baylor — took 18 months to secure. The work done by Macaulay-Jameson’s students officially started on the first day of class in January 2019.

The students took an online course on Baylor’s history at Independence, compiled by The Texas Collection. Then they reviewed the nomination process, agreed on the criteria outlined in the National Register’s “how-to” manual, and were assigned physical features to investigate on the two campuses. Then the students spent the remainder of the semester gathering information for the nomination narrative.

What They Learned

Macaulay’s students collected data from the archives of The Texas Collection while learning more about the research process and how history is curated.

Bradie Dean, a senior anthropology major with a concentration in archaeology and a minor in history, focused on the female campus and the roots of coeducation in the South.

“It has been especially informative to learn more about the differing opinions on the subject, even among Baylor faculty, and the rules and policies they established in order to protect the idea of coeducation when it was under fire from various sources,” Dean said. “It really gave me a clearer picture of the culture of the 19th Century South and how quickly things were changing.”

Libby Feray, a senior University Scholar, said, “What has been most satisfying for me is knowing that the work I’m doing is hopefully going to make a difference in how well Baylor’s heritage in Independence is preserved in the future. I’m happy to get to use skills I’ve learned during my time at Baylor to give back to the University in this way.”

The National Register is maintained by the U.S. National Park Service with nominations shepherded through historic preservation officers in each state. The nominations for the former male and female Baylor campuses in Independence are scheduled to go before the State Board of Review in January 2020. If approved, the state historic preservation officer will then decide whether to proceed with National Register nominations.

Editor’s Note: This is a condensed version of an article by Jeff Hampton that appeared in the fall 2019 issue of Arts & Sciences Magazine.