Baldwin City began as a trail stop on the Santa Fe Trail named “Palmyra”. The first post office in the town, then called Palmyra, was established in June, 1857. In 1858, a group of Methodist ministers founded Baker University. It is the oldest coed four-year university in Kansas, having been coed since it was founded. The town was later named in honor of John Baldwin, a main benefactor of the university.
Baldwin City unwittingly found themselves surrounded by the events that led up to the American Civil War. Three miles east of Baldwin was the town site of Black Jack where the Battle of Black Jack took place on June 2, 1856. After the sack of Lawrence, Quantrill’s raiders withdrew to the South passing within three miles of Baldwin City, August of 1863.
Baldwin City was incorporated on September 22, 1870. Baldwin City draws on it’s rich railroad history. In 1867, the Leavenworth, Lawrence and Fort Gibson railroad laid tracks and became the first Kansas railroad south of the Kansas River. In 1906, the Santa Fe Depot was built and today the Midland Railway offers over 20-mile round trip excursion, including the Kansas Belle Dinner Train, rides to Ottawa via “Nowhere” and Norwood. Midland’s Scout program is one of the few in the country to offer a railroading merit badge and Baldwin City via the Midland Railway has hosted the famous Thomas the Tank Engine attraction the last few years. These popular railroad attractions draw many visitors to Baldwin City each year.
Baldwin City’s Maple Leaf Festival, held every year since 1957, the third full week in October, attracts nearly 25,000 visitors annually. It began as a way to celebrate a successful harvest and to view the fall foliage. Today, it is the largest fall family event in the area and features a parade, arts and crafts, quilt show, theatrical performances, history tours, train rides and live music.
Baldwin City is known for it’s gardens. Residents proudly display their own and Tom Swan Park, located at 8th and High Street in the heart of downtown Baldwin City, is one of three Douglas County Extension Master Gardener Demonstration Gardens. The Demonstration Gardens display current horticulture practices related to trees, flowers, gardening and composting. Many plants are also labeled so visitors may learn more about them.