Gov. Bill and Vara Daniel Historic Village at Baylor University Opens May 12 After a Two-Year Revitalization

  • Gov. Bill and Vara Daniel Historic Village at Baylor University Opens
    Baylor President Ken Starr cuts the ribbon at the dedication of the revitalized Gov. Bill and Vara Daniel Historic Village as children from Rapoport Academy observe. Pictured are Gov. Bill's daughters. In blue is Ann Daniel Rogers; in gray, Susan Daniel; and in red, Dani Daniel Brister. In turquoise shirt is Gov. Billís grandson Will Daniel Jr. Photo: Robert Rogers/Baylor Marketing and Communication.
  • TenantHouse1
    Trey Crumpton, manager of the Historic Village, gives a tour to the daughters of the late Gov. Bill Daniel. Photo: Robert Rogers/Baylor Marketing and Communications.
May 11, 2012

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Media contact: Terry Goodrich, (254)710-3321

WACO, Texas (May 11, 2012) -- A restored 1890s community on the Brazos River -- The Gov. Bill and Vara Daniel Historic Village of Baylor University's Mayborn Museum Complex -- will re-open on Saturday, May 12, after having undergone a two-year revitalization.

Nestled on a hill adjacent to the Mayborn Museum Complex, the Historic Village will offer museum visitors a realistic glimpse into the past.

"We've kept the essence and original intent of this 25-year-old educational component of our museum complex and made it more accessible and user-friendly to visitors in our modern-day climate of learning," said Ellie Caston, Ph.D., the museum's director.

The story began in 1985 when Gov. Bill Daniel, his wife Vara Martin Daniel and their four children donated Plantation Ranch, a historic village, and thousands of artifacts to Baylor University. In October 1986, a parade-length caravan transported the buildings 236 miles from their original location in Liberty, Texas, to Waco. Upon arrival at the Baylor campus, the settlement was renamed The Gov. Bill and Vara Daniel Historic Village in honor of the donors.

A visit to the renovated village will begin with an exhibit inside the Mayborn on the life of Gov. Daniel.

"Gov. Bill was a larger-than-life character who wore many hats during his extraordinary lifetime," Caston said. "We are fortunate that technology enables us to tell this story, which is so big that traditional exhibit methods just can't cover it all."

Two new touch-screen kiosks will be used in this exhibit, one offering information on Gov. Bill and Miss Vara and the Daniel family, and the other giving a preview of what visitors will experience once they step outdoors.

Integrating the Historic Village into the overall museum experience has been a major goal for the project. A new entrance leads from the museum indoor exhibits to outdoor ones, which include the Bill Daniel Law Office, a church, a school, a commissary, a tenant farmer's house, a planter's house with adjacent cook's house, a barn and a blacksmith shop. Each building has been fully renovated, with additions such as climate control to protect the artifacts on display.

"This is a huge step forward in that we will be able to more fully interpret the story of how people lived in the 1890s through the use of artifacts that will now be protected from the elements," says Trey Crumpton, village manager.

Making the Historic Village more attractive and accessible to the 100,000-plus visitors who annually come to the Mayborn Museum Complex was another important goal, Caston said.

"By blending some new features with the original village buildings, many more visitors will be able to participate," she said. "The new pavilion with picnic tables will be of great service to the thousands of school children who have lunch before or after their school program in the Historic Village. For the first time, some of the wheeled vehicles from the Daniel Collection will be safely displayed year-round in the new carriage house."

New walkways and ramps will make the village accessible for wheelchairs and easier for families with strollers. New perimeter fencing fully secures the site.

A variety of interpretive techniques will be offered, including written information at each building as well as the option of cell phone tours to hear first-person audio enactments describing the lives of village residents. Access will vary, with some buildings to be viewed only through windows, others to be open for visitors to walk through partitioned areas and others with full access.

Attention has been given to details, such as slates and a pot-bellied stove for the classroom, bells for the school and church, and canned goods with reproduction period labels for display on commissary shelves. Demonstrations and costumed interpreters will be available during special fall and spring events.

"It has been wonderful working with Gov. Bill and Miss Vara's daughters -- Ann Daniel Rogers, Susan Daniel and Dani Daniel Brister -- to reach our common goals of revitalization of the Historic Village and making it more accessible to all visitors," said Dr. Karla Leeper, Chief of Staff to the President at Baylor University. "The University's substantial financial commitment has made this possible and demonstrates how important the Gov. Bill & Vara Daniel Historic Village is to the Mayborn Museum Complex and the University."

Liz Taylor, director of the Waco Convention & Visitors Bureau, said the Historic Village will be "a tremendous attribute to promote to educational and other groups to learn about history and participate, and it will be amazing to have events there. This is really unique."


William Partlow Daniel (1915-2006) was a larger-than-life persona who got his start in the cattle business at age 7 and grew up to become governor of Guam and an actor in John Wayne's movie The Alamo. He left behind a legacy that includes the newly transformed Gov. Bill and Vara Daniel Historic Village on the banks of the Brazos River at Baylor University.

As a young man, Daniel hitchhiked to Baylor during the 1930s with $7 in his pocket, determined to get an education. He helped pay his way as trainer and manager for Baylor's football team for all four years of college. His picture once appeared in Life magazine, showing him racing across Baylor's Carroll Field with armfuls of football equipment.

President of his junior and senior class at Baylor, he was elected by write-in vote as a yell leader in 1937-1938 and named Mr. Baylor Spirit in 1936-1938. He graduated from Baylor Law School in 1938, returning to Liberty to set up a law practice he maintained for more than 60 years. He received numerous tributes from the State Bar of Texas.

Daniel also had a successful political career. He served in the Texas House of Representatives from 1949-1953, was appointed to be the Ambassador at Large for Texas by President Eisenhower in 1957 and served as the Governor of Guam from May 1961-January 1963.

In 1949, Daniel gained title to the historic Plantation Ranch, founded in 1818 on the Trinity River. The Daniel family began restoring the village in Liberty in 1968, turning it into a modern, productive cattle ranch as well as a location to host more than half a million guests in philanthropic events. Ed Sullivan was so impressed that he recommended Daniel to assist John Wayne with his film, The Alamo. Daniel furnished more than 400 Longhorn cattle for it and filled three roles in the film.

Daniel attributed much of his success to his close-knit family and supportive wife, affectionately referred to as "Miss Vara." They met when she took the post of the music director for the Liberty school district. Vara died in 1987 at age 69.

The couple had four children: Will Daniel, Ann Daniel Rogers, Susan Daniel and Dani Daniel Brister. The Daniel family continues to grow with many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

In 1985, the Daniel family donated Plantation Ranch to Baylor, where it was renamed The Governor Bill and Vara Daniel Historic Village. In October 1986, a parade-length caravan transported the buildings and artifacts 236 miles from Plantation Ranch in Liberty to Waco, an effort that took two days and was delayed by pouring rain.

Other Baylor facilities that reflect Daniel's dedication to his alma mater include the Bill Daniel Student Center and the Hon. M.P. Daniel Esplanade. Gov. Bill and Vara also made possible the restoration of the George W. Carroll Science Hall.


Baylor University is a private Christian university and a nationally ranked research institution, classified as such with "high research activity" by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. The university provides a vibrant campus community for approximately 15,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest, continually operating university in Texas. Located in Waco, Texas, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 80 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 11 nationally recognized academic divisions.


Located on the Baylor University campus, the Mayborn Museum Complex features a natural science and cultural history museum focusing on Central Texas with walk-in dioramas, including one on the Waco Mammoth Site, and exploration stations for geology, paleontology, archaeology, and natural history. In addition, 17 themed discovery rooms encourage hands-on learning for all ages.

Admission to the Mayborn Museum Complex, which includes the Historic Village, is $6 for adults, $5 for senior citizens and $4 for children. Free to all Museum members and Baylor students. This courtesy is also extended to other college and university students with a valid ID. Museum hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursdays; and 1 to 5 p.m. Sundays. The Village will close at 4 p.m. each day to allow proper closing procedures.

For more information, contact the Mayborn Museum Complex at (254) 710-1104 or visit

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