A Day of Discovery: Spotlight on Waco’s Mayborn Museum Complex

Feb 13, 2024

Calling all nature lovers and science enthusiasts! If the Mayborn Museum Complex isn’t on your bucket list yet, it’s time to break out your pen.

The Mayborn is an acclaimed natural science and cultural museum on the Baylor University campus. This 143,000-square-foot museum is a place of discovery for all ages, from little explorers to senior knowledge seekers.

Inside, you’ll find exhibits ranging from prehistoric fossils to the latest in rocket technology—and everything in between. Leave yourself a few hours to explore, as there’s plenty to see! (It’s an especially welcome retreat in those blazing days of summer.)

Use this guide to plan your visit to the Mayborn, from Strecker’s Cabinet of Curiosities to the 19th-century village on the site.

Know before you go: The Mayborn is closed during Baylor football home games to let students and staff support the Bears. Check their calendar for possible closures on Saturdays during football season, from early September to late November.

Natural and Cultural History Exhibits

The Mayborn’s primary building holds four large halls dedicated to natural history and culture. Here’s what you’ll find inside.

Strecker’s Cabinet of Curiosities

Strecker’s Cabinet of Curiosities is a unique exhibit hall at the Mayborn Museum, inspired by the early natural history museums of the 19th century. These old collections were presented for entertainment and shock value, rather than scholarship and education.

The exhibit includes fascinating artifacts from the natural world like an ancient tree cross section and the skull of a humpback whale. Bones, fossils, and preserved animal specimens are presented in old-fashioned wood cases, making the hall feel like the private display in the home of an eccentric collector.

Cretaceous Sea Exhibit

During the Cretaceous period (145 million years ago to 66 million years ago), Waco and Central Texas spent millennia under shallow seas. The result? A profusion of marine fossils buried deep beneath our feet.

In the Cretaceous Sea Exhibit, you can see wonders like a life-size replica of a 28-foot Ceraunosaurus brownum, a species of plesiosaur. This marine reptile species was first  discovered below the old Waco dam in 1948. You can also browse cabinets full of smaller lifeforms…many which would have been plesiosaur food.

Hall of Natural History

The Mayborn Museum’s Hall of Natural History presents even more to see. Step inside walk-in dioramas of a limestone cave and a Texas forest to learn more about the Central Texas landscape. There are also plenty of fossils and relics to look at, like an ancient sea turtle.

You can also visit the Waco Mammoth Site Exhibit, featuring casts of the original fossils discovered at Waco Mammoth National Monument. The museum partners with the dig site to store and research the excavated mammoth fossils. At the Mayborn’s exhibit, the enormous bone casts are exhibited under a glass floor, just how they lay on the dig site. This lets you get an even closer look at the size and scope of the find.

Texas Lifeways

Learn about the relationship between nature and humanity at the Texas Lifeways exhibit. This hall displays common 19th-century homes, including a Waco Indian grass house, a Norwegian rock house, a Comanche tipi, and an early log house.

They also have a miniature recreation of a Waco tribe village, rendered in meticulous detail. Spot residences, ceremonial houses, crops, and livestock in this special exhibit.

Traveling Exhibits

In addition to the permanent exhibits, the Mayborn Museum hosts a rotation of traveling exhibits for fresh ideas and new perspectives. In 2024, these exhibits will take us beyond the Earth’s atmosphere and into the great mystery of space.

A New Moon Rises

Exhibit Dates: December 5, 2023 – April 14, 2024

In preparation for the epic solar eclipse that will cross Waco on April 8, 2024, the Mayborn is presenting A New Moon Rises in partnership with the Smithsonian. This exhibit includes large-scale, high resolution photos of the lunar surface taken between 2009 and 2015 by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC). You’ve never seen the moon like this!

Journey to Space

Exhibit Dates: January 27, 2024 – April 21, 2024

This exhibit by the Science Museum of Minnesota explores what it takes to journey to and live in space. You can walk through a full-scale lab modeled after an International Space Station lab. Control a mini robotic arm and see what it’s like to use a space station toilet!

Governor Bill and Vara Daniel Historic Village

Outside the primary museum building, step back in time in a recreation of a small turn of the century Texas village.

The Governor Bill and Vara Daniel Historic Village includes nine wood-framed buildings, dating back to the 1890s. While they now look well-placed on the banks of the Brazos, these structures were relocated from Liberty, Texas to the Baylor campus in 1986.

The village consists of a church, a lawyer’s office, a commissary, a barn, a smithy, a carriage house, a cook’s house, a planter’s house, and a schoolhouse. Each building is laid out with period-appropriate furniture, decor, and functional items from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. You can walk through some of the buildings, and peek into the others through glass panes.

During “Village Wednesdays” from 10 a.m. to noon, the Mayborn’s education team and a group of volunteers demonstrate activities that would have been regular parts of daily life, like grinding coffee or working in the garden with era-appropriate tools. You may even spot some volunteers in historic costumes!

These special historic buildings were donated to Baylor by the Daniel family in 1985. Bill Daniel was a Baylor graduate who served as Governor of Guam and as a member of the Texas House of Representatives. (He even had a small role in The Alamo starring John Wayne!)

The village is closed on occasion due to inclement weather, so call ahead to verify availability.

Jeanes Discovery Center

The Mayborn Museum is a family-friendly spot for kids of all ages. But they particularly enjoy the Jeanes Discovery Center, a children’s wing dedicated to exploration and educational play.

Kids can pique their curiosity with hands-on exhibits that play with light and sound, like making music on a walk-on piano or stepping inside giant bubbles. They can learn about simple machines, and see dinosaurs at scale in the augmented reality room. And in the SpaceX Room, they can get close to a real Merlin engine that has seen outer space.

The Backyard Ecology Hall gets kids excited about natural science, with live animals, climbable honeycomb, real microscopes, a Brazos-themed water table, and more. For little explorers ages 5 and under, Play Waco offers a mini fire station, a mini HEB, and a mini Hippodrome based on Waco’s historic theater.

The Discovery Center also has a rotating exhibit space. Up next (summer/fall 2024) is Sacred Places by the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis. This exhibit provides an immersive look into places that have deep meaning throughout the world, like Easter Island and a Tibetan monastery.

Design Den

To encourage creation and imagination, the Design Den is a “creative laboratory” that encourages children to make, play, and tinker. Kids can build robots, create colorful art, and do a wide variety of crafts. They may also be able to take things apart, like washing machines or laptops, to see what’s inside.

Special programs are sometimes available as well. In 2023, “Cardboard Craze” encouraged kids to build and play with recycled cardboard collected from local businesses. There was even a recreation of the City of Waco made from cardboard.

The Design Den is open on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to noon for free play, included in the price of museum admission.

Lectures, Special Events, & More

The Mayborn offers educational opportunities like gallery talks for further learning. They also host a Summer Lecture Series, inviting authors to share fascinating topics from their books and offer signings.

Plus, there’s a full calendar of annual activities to educate and entertain. Events change each year, so check their website for up-to-date information!

Black History Month

Each February, the Mayborn celebrates the lives and work of Black inventors, creators, and historical figures, especially those from Texas. The museum also offers lectures by Black historians and scientists.

Hispanic Heritage Month

From September 15th to October 15th each year, honor Hispanic Heritage Month at the Mayborn. It kicks off with a big celebration featuring live music and delicious food from across Latin America. The rest of the month may include panels, storytime, films, and more.

You can also remember those who are no longer with us at the community ofrenda, an altar built to honor lost loved ones. Bring a picture or offering to leave behind.

Native American Heritage Month

Each November, the Mayborn recognizes Native American Heritage Month with a series of special events. Learn more about the Native tribes of Central Texas, including the Waco people. In 2023, the calendar focused on Native storytelling through oral traditions, dance, and music.

Christmas Lights in the Village

The museum’s annual holiday tradition is Christmas Lights in the Village, a sparkling celebration at the Governor Bill and Vara Daniel Historic Village each December. Wander the historic buildings lit with thousands of festive lights. Visit Santa, write a letter to the North Pole, and stop by the petting zoo for more holiday fun.

Wish the Mayborn a Happy 20th Birthday!

The year 2024 will be the Mayborn’s 20th anniversary of sparking curiosity in Central Texas, and they’ll be hosting events throughout the year to celebrate.

In April, a pair of life-sized bronze mammoths will be erected in front of the museum where they’ll welcome visitors for years to come. And in May, there will be two major celebrations: the Mayborn’s Mammoth Masquerade on May 17th, and the official “birthday party” on May 18th with cake, activities, and a Dr Pepper toast!

Contact the Waco TPID

Waco Tourism Public Improvement District Corporation

424 Clay Avenue, Suite 2343
Waco, TX 76706
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