For most people, Detroit is known as the Motor City. With the big three companies situated around the city, Detroit is a proud producer of automobiles for customers all over the world. However, what people don’t know is that cars aren’t the only product that Detroit was once famous for. Even before the first Model T rolled off the assembly line and on to the city streets, Detroit was known as the “Stove Capital of the World.” Because of Michigan’s abundance of natural resources, the 19th and 20th century would prove to be an industrious time period for Michigan; the large amount of cast iron stoves produced in Michigan during this time is a clear indication of this. There were many stove producing companies within the state, but the “big three” included the Detroit Stove Works, Michigan Stove Company, and the Peninsula Stove Company.
So why is this important? As you may already know, the Campus Archaeology staff spent part of this past June at the Saints’ Rest site, digging under the sidewalks and eventually expanding to a trench. Saint’s Rest was the first dorm to be used on the MSU campus, and it stood between the years 1856 and 1876, until it (sadly) caught on fire and burnt to the ground. The site was first excavated in 2005 by CAP, and we have continued working on it since then.
This summer, we were thrilled to discover a piece of a (very rusted and burnt) stove door at the Saints’ Rest site. It’s not very large, and with the large amount of rust on it it’s hard to make out many features. However, we do know it says “Detroit Mich” on the center of the door, and the number 25 is on the bottom edge. Because Saints’ Rest burnt down in 1876, we know that the stove had to have been manufactured and used before 1876. This is interesting, because the Detroit Stove Works wasn’t founded until 1864, and the Michigan Stove Company was founded in 1874. This probably means that the stove we found on campus was probably one of the first stoves to be made in Michigan for it to have been on campus the day Saints’ Rest burnt down in 1876.
This is one of the coolest parts about historical archaeology. We can take written and recorded accounts of what was going on at a certain point in history and compare it to the artifacts we find. This comparison then helps us to fill in the gaps between what is written and what is found. The stove door we found is an example of this. From the writing on the door, we know it was manufactured in Detroit, Michigan. From there we can figure out that it was probably made from either the Detroit Stove Works company or the Michigan Stove Company. We also know the stove lived a short life – it was manufactured in the late 1860s to early 1870s, and was then burnt down with the rest of the building it resided in during the Saints’ Rest fire of 1876. Of course, we’ll never know exactly what “life” this stove led, but from the information we do know, we can figure out the general idea of where it was made, who made it, and what became of it.
“Tales of Michigan” by Constance M. Jerlecki