The Chittenden Forestry Cabin

Not many students and recent alumni of MSU know that a rustic log cabin once stood very near where many of us have taken

1950 Campus map, courtesy MSU Archives
1950 Campus map, courtesy MSU Archives

classes, crossed the quad on the way to the International Center, or just sat out to enjoy the sunshine in the green space colloquially known as People’s Park. The Chittenden Memorial Forestry Cabin stood on the south banks of the Red Cedar River just outside of where Wells Hall now stands between 1935-1965. It was named for former MSU  Forestry Professor Alfred K. Chittenden(the namesake of present-day Chittenden Hall as well). It served as a meeting-place for all kinds of campus organizations and social groups in those decades as well as a central point for the Forestry Department. A campaign run by Forestry alumni over the last few years recently succeeded in raising funds to cast and erect a memorial plaque near the former site of the cabin (see the image below, or better yet, head over to Wells Hall and see it for yourself!). 1935-1965, the years in which the cabin served the MSU community, is fondly referred to by members of the department as the “Forestry Cabin era”. A reunion was held this June for all MSU Forestry alumni from this time period.

That the cabin represented something over and above just another campus building is clear from the Forestry Department’s record of how the cabin was constructed: “Many of our alumni have fond memories of the Chittenden Forestry Cabin, which stood among pine, larch, and oak trees on the south side of the Red Cedar River near where Wells Hall now stands. Originally conceived in
1931 by forestry students, the cabin was built over several years. Tamarack logs were cut in a swamp near Bath. The Southern Cypress Manufacturers’ Association contributed the shingles, and the porch floor came from the California Redwood Association. The interior floor was hard maple with birch inlays. The spectacular stone fireplace was built by a mason of the Works Progress
Administration. The pine-tree facsimile hinges for the main door were specially cast by a Munising foundry owned by the family of two students.” The cabin was a labor of love for students and local laborers alike, and brought together both numerous species of American trees and numerous people to create.

Interior view from Chittenden Memorial Cabin, courtesy MSU Archives
Interior view from Chittenden Memorial Cabin, courtesy MSU Archives

The Campus Archaeology Program has spent the week surveying People’s Park with the goal of locating the foundations of the Forestry Cabin and any associated artifacts that may have been discarded nearby. Prior work in the area has recovered a number of fascinating artifacts that speak to student life of days past, such as inkwells, glass milk bottles, and ceramic dishes. Our hope is to contribute more information about the everyday experiences students and faculty had in this unique historical structure and its role in MSU’s development as an agricultural research institution.

 

Author: Adrianne Daggett



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