Discovering Campus Through the Creation of an Exhibit

For the past few months Amy Michael and I have been working on preparing an exhibit for Chittenden Hall, which is soon to be the home of the new Graduate School. This upcoming exhibit will highlight the origins of research at Michigan State University, with a focus on Laboratory Row.

Chittenden Hall, courtesy MSU Archives
Chittenden Hall, courtesy MSU Archives

The display in Chittenden Hall will feature artifacts and photographs of the early buildings of Laboratory Row, as well as of the students and faculty who occupied these structures. Located on the north side of campus, Laboratory Row contains some of the oldest buildings on campus; all pertaining to the College’s original research focus: agriculture. These buildings include Agriculture Hall, Cook Hall, Chittenden Hall, Eustace-Cole Hall, Marshall-Adams Hall, and Old Botany, all of which are on the State Register of Historic Places.

Research for this exhibit began with the University Archives in order to find historical documents and photographs that pertain to these buildings. Through the examination of these records we were able to find the history of the buildings, including their original uses and how their functions changed over time. Chitttenden Hall, specifically, was originally constructed in 1901 as to house the Dairy Department, which even received a commercial license to operate a dairy facility. The building later became home to the Forest Department, as the name on the frieze above the entrance suggests, until it was mostly vacated in the 1960s.

Campus Archaeology offers us a unique chance to pair MSU’s history with artifacts that have been found through archaeological operations on campus.

Laboratory Row, courtesy MSU Archives
Laboratory Row, courtesy MSU Archives

These artifacts are stored and curated and pertain to the activities that took place on the early campus. We now have the opportunity to put some of these objects on public display in order to teach the community about this important area, which represent some of the beginnings of research at MSU.

One goal of Campus Archaeology is to better understand MSU’s history, both academically and socially, and to disseminate this information. By placing this exhibit in the soon to be renovated Chittenden Hall, visitors of the Graduate School will be able to learn and better understand the history and transformation of Laboratory Row and how these buildings have impacted MSU’s long history of research.

This project has been a learning process for both Amy and me on how to prepare an exhibit. It has also taught us a lot about the history of campus that we otherwise would not have known. We encourage you to visit Chittenden Hall upon completion in order to learn more about these buildings and Campus Archaeology’s mission.

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