Beauty Demolished, But Never Forgotten
I’ll be honest, when I first started my research project for my Campus Archaeology internship, I didn’t realize how much I would fall in love with Morrill Hall. Before this semester, I knew barely anything about that old red brick building. To me, it was just a building that was next to the Grand River ramp, and I’d been in there maybe once or twice, and I’ll admit it was only to use the restroom while tailgating before the Spartan football games. However, when I opened those scrapbooks from the MSU archives to learn about the women who attended the college in the early 1900s, I started to notice that red building that seemed to be in every other photograph.
I eventually ventured over to that part of campus, to visit the building I was learning so much about. Everything I had read from recent articles is true – the building is crumbling, the floors creak and bend when walked on, and the dust is beginning to layer on deep. The second floor is completely empty of the English department that once resided there, but there are messages on the wall, quotes from famous authors, and notes to the building itself, phrases that say, “you’ll be missed, Morrill,” and “no history deserves to be torn down.” Up on the third floor, the History department is in the midst of clearing out its contents, and on the fourth floor, one can look out the window and see over the rooftops of the other old buildings in the area. In fact, there is a door there that leads to the roof, and I’m quite jealous of those who have managed to get through that door. (The door is currently locked, trust me, I tried.)
However, if you’re quiet enough, and if you’re still enough, you can almost still hear the giggling of gossiping girls, or the scolding of strict Deans, or even the soft closing of a fire escape window that may or may not have been opened to let in a young lady who had missed curfew. The air is so thick with the memories the building has saved over the past century, and walking through the halls was quite a moving experience, at least for me. Maybe it’s because I’ve read so much about the building, and I could imagine what it used to be like back in the hay-day of its long life. I guess you, whoever is taking the time to read this, will have to go walk through its halls one last time and get back to me.
Anyway, construction on Morrill Hall began in 1899, and the building was completed in 1900. It was the first official dormitory on the campus of M.A.C. built solely for the young ladies of the college, meant both to house them, and to hold lessons in. I was fortunate to come across an article in the MSU archives written by a May Kyes Allen, who was one of the first women to stay in the dorm after it was built. In the article, she recalls, “The building was then the last word in modern convenience, and we considered ourselves very fortunate to secure rooms there after Abbot Hall and The Terrace. But the floors were not yet laid in the halls, and we had to trail our long skirts through piles of mortar and debris, leaving clouds of dust behind us.” There is so much more just in this article, not to mention many of the other sources I’ve found, that tell the stories of the young women that were the first ones to experience the beauty and magnificence of the Women’s Building, later to be called Morrill Hall. I won’t go into depth in this blog; if you’re interested in finding out more, come spring I’ll be doing a presentation on everything I’ve found. In the meantime, go check out Morrill Hall yourself. Even if you’ve walked the halls a million times, go one more time, and say farewell to the building. It may seem cliché, but it won’t be around much longer, and you’ll regret it if you don’t one last time visit the place that holds so much history.