The Final Morrill Hall Survey

It is fall 1900 and you are eagerly awaiting your first steps into your new home.  Like many freshman you are nervous, anxious, and ready to taste some independence.  You join the other 59 female students, and as you enter the brand new red sandstone dormitory just for women- The Women’s Building- you are not just taking a few step forward for yourself but also for women of your time.  This is a monumental day in your life and a substantial sign of the turn of the century changes, which led to more opportunities for women.   This red sandstone structure represents a home, a change, and a new century.

Morrill Hall in 1900, via MSU Archives and Historical Records
Morrill Hall in 1900, via MSU Archives and Historical Records

At Campus Archaeology this summer we monitored the demolition of this extraordinary piece of both MSU’s and America’s history. In May asbestos was abated, furniture was removed, windows were taken out, bricks went up for sale, and the building was picked apart and eventually all the remains were removed over two months of demolition work. Over June, the building was slowly torn down. Everyday, Campus Archaeology documented the process of the demolition. Portions of the building were torn down from west to east, leaving the Gothic inspired front stair and columns until the very end. A monument of campus was gone. (You can follow our demolition photos on our Flickr page).

The Final Days of Morrill Hall, only the front remains, via Katy Meyers
The Final Days of Morrill Hall, only the front remains, via Katy Meyers

Shortly after the removal of debris from the area the campus archaeology team members surveyed the area of removed sidewalks for finds.  There were no artifacts recovered from this area and in fact all of the shovel test pits brought up what we refer to as fill, a orange colored sand that is use to fill in areas after construction.

In this area there is a high amount of sewer lines explaining this area of unnatural soil.  Furthermore, the area that was tested by our crew was at the front of the building.  A lack of finds in this area reflects how the fronts of campus buildings act as a showcase for the school and are therefore well kept.  Litter which leads to the types of archaeological finds around campus sidewalks, was likely quickly picked up and not in the archaeological record.

Surveying at Morrill Hall, via Katie Scharra
Surveying at Morrill Hall, via Katie Scharra

Over 110 years have altered the importance and meaning of this building.  It now over the course of this summer has been demolished. The dilapidated red sandstone building was rumored to have been home to cockroaches and bats in the time before it was torn down due to safety issues.  Morrill Hall the building that was once The Women’s Building hardly holds onto the memory of an era of change that it once represented.

Currently the site is being cleared and rebuilt, new winding sidewalks making their way through the rubble, and once again renewing the historical social significance the building had.   A walk will replicate the central hallway of the building, while a sitting area of red sandstone will mark what was the entrance to the building.  Finally, a plaque will stand at the site to describe the plaza’s significance.  A whole new era of Spartans will be able to experience the memory of change the Morrill Hall represented.

Works Cited

Gilchrist, Maude. MAC Catalogue 1899-1900. The first three decades of home economics at Michigan state college 1896- 1926.



2 thoughts on “The Final Morrill Hall Survey”

  • It was interesting to read the record posted here. Thanks for the careful work and reporting. I was a TA in the English Department in the early ’70s, and had an office that looked out the back side of Morrill, on the first (not ground) floor. Had classes in Morrill, shared the office with a couple of memorable fellow TAs, met my composition students there, and even practiced fiddle some nights, after everyone (I hope!) had gone home. When I was back in 2013, I walked right past where Morrill had been and didn’t notice a thing, sadly. Some kind of vertical, above ground-level marker might help …

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