Happy 130th Birthday, Old Main!
For 130 years now, the spires of Old Main towering above campus have been a signature image of Baylor University. In fact, it was 130 years ago this week — Sept. 19, 1887 — that Old Main opened and held classes for the first time.
The building — originally known simply as “Main Building” — was Baylor’s first building project in Waco after moving here in 1886 from Independence, Texas, where the university resided for its first four decades. With Baylor’s move to Waco and merger with another Baptist college, Waco University, the growing university needed more academic space, and so Main Building was built as the university’s, well, main academic building.
Old Main’s interior and purpose has changed countless times over the years; initially it contained classrooms, a library, laboratories, a studio and a chapel, while today, it’s home to Baylor’s department of modern languages and cultures. But the exterior — both then and now — looks familiar to almost anyone who has ever attended Baylor in Waco. (See this 1887 picture — the earliest known Baylor class photo — for evidence).
The most significant change to Old Main’s exterior came in the early 1950s, when its spires were removed after significant damage suffered as part of the historic 1953 Waco tornado. In the mid 1960s — while Burleson Quadrangle’s buildings were in need of extensive repair — Baylor actually considered replacing Old Main and Burleson Hall with a new campus library building; that plan was eventually reworked into what is today Moody Memorial Library, preserving the historic heart of Baylor’s campus. Once the decision was made to keep Old Main, the building a considerable renovation that included replacing the spires in 1975 to restore the historic look we all know and love.
Today, of course, Old Main is far from the only academic building on campus, but it remains as iconic as ever. The whole complex has grown to include Burleson, Draper Academic Building and Bennett Auditorium, but in the eyes of generations of Baylor students and alumni, just saying “Old Main” will suffice. The building is a monument to Baylor’s early days in Waco — and the move that helped Baylor grow into the institution it is today.
Sic ’em, Old Main!