The Strecker Museum is a natural and cultural history museum on the Baylor University campus in Waco. It is the oldest continually operating museum in the state. In the 1857 catalog of Baylor University at Independence the trustees requested contributions for a cabinet for "minerals, shells, and petrifactions." Thus began the collections of what became the Baylor University Museum. The university moved to Waco in 1886, and in 1893 university officials established the Baylor University Museum and named Orlando Clark Charlton, professor of natural science, the first curator. Collections were expanded to include zoological and botanical specimens, archeological relics, and cultural material from foreign lands. John Kern Strecker, Jr., became curator in 1903 and served until his death in 1933. Strecker's collections and publication brought international contacts and exposure to the museum. Because of his efforts, the Baylor University Museum was renamed in his honor by university president Pat Neff in 1940. The museum has been located in several buildings around the campus; since 1968 it has been housed in the Sid Richardson Science Building. Curators and directors of the museum have included James J. Carroll, Walter J. Williams, Leo T. Murray, Cornelia M. Smith, and Bryce C. Brown. The Strecker Museum was accredited by the American Association of Museums in 1973. Collection holdings number about 250,000 items. Although the emphasis is primarily on Texas, the collections of the museum are worldwide in scope and include items from all areas of natural science and the history of both Indian and pioneer settlements. Major donors to the collections of the museum include James M. Carroll, George W. Carroll, Kenneth H. Aynesworth, Frank E. Simmons, Bryce and Lillian Brown, Geoffrey S. Dawson, John A. Howard, Frank H. Watt, and William P. and Vara F. M. Daniel.
The museum contains permanent and temporary exhibits and schedules traveling exhibitions throughout the year. The exhibit subjects encompass earth and space, geology, paleontology, botany, reptiles, amphibians, birds, mammals, and man. Features of the exhibits include the world's largest fossil sea turtle, a whale skull, a living exhibit of local reptiles and amphibians, modular furniture, tools, machines and artifacts of human habitation as it developed, a chronological sequence showing man's cultural heritage in central Texas, and an 1835 log cabin. Programs sponsored by the museum include a volunteer organization, a Museum Associates support group, the Strecker Museum Guild, a Junior Naturalist group, regional science and history fairs, and lecture series, field trips, and summer classes for young people. The museum holds an annual Pioneer Heritage Day in the spring of each year to recall the frontier past through crafts and demonstrations of pioneer skills.
Baylor University offers an undergraduate bachelor of arts degree in museum studies through the museum. Students can, through interdisciplinary studies, concentrate in art, history, natural history, archeology, or anthropology. Field research sites have included the Waco Mammoth Site and Horn Shelter Number 2. Museum research associates conduct investigations in their areas of interest and contribute to Occasional Papers of the Strecker Museum.
Since 1986 the Governor Bill and Vara Daniel Historic Village, a twenty-three-building complex donated by the Daniels to the museum, has occupied a site on the banks of the Brazos River in Waco. It is an authentic late-1890s Texas river town with a cotton gin, livery, saloon, barbershop, school, hotel, church, and several types of homes that was previously located on the Daniel Ranch in Liberty. The museum is a member of the International Organization of Museums and the Texas Museum Association. In 1994 the museum had a staff of ten and received 22,000 visitors. The institution was in the process of raising funds for the construction of a separate museum building.