Prepping for Summer 2019 Field Work

Prepping for Summer 2019 Field Work

Archival research is one of the backbones of archeological work, especially in historical archaeology. Not only do we conduct archival research to find more information about the people who lived at a particular site and how the site was used, but it is also a critical step that must be done before any excavation even takes place. It helps us to understand what we might find before we put a shovel into the ground, what types of buildings or material culture we might encounter, where we should focus most of our attention, and what excavation methods may be necessary.

In preparation for field work this summer, I have been looking at archival sources, especially old maps of MSU’s campus, in order to anticipate what we might find in different areas that are to be disturbed by construction. I have focused on two zones: the south bank of the Red Cedar River between Farm Lane and Bogue Street and Munn Ice Arena. These areas are to be focuses of construction in the next year or two, so we plan on conducting fieldwork at these locations in advance of construction to detect any archaeological deposits.

Overall, these areas of campus were not major areas of construction until recently. During the first few decades of the University, activity was limited to the north side of the Red Cedar River, particularly in the area now encompassed by West Circle Drive. Construction did not occur regularly south of the Red Cedar River until well after 1900 (Kuhn 1955).

In the early- to mid-1900s, the south side of the River between Farm Lane and Bogue Street was used by the Dairy Department, possibly for pasture land since no buildings existed in these areas. A bull barn and two other dairy barns were also found south of this area at what is now Shaw Lane, further indicating the use of this land by the Dairy Department (1942 MSC Farm and Experimental Plots Map). Some time between 1927 and 1941, a WKAR radio tower and transmitter building, as well as a road or sidewalk to this facility, was built near Bogue street, not too far south of the Red Cedar River (1927 Map of Campus; 1941 Map of Campus). These areas then remained largely unaltered until the buildings that currently stand in these locations were constructed.  

1942 map of campus showing the dairy barns and WKAR tower. Image courtesy of MSU Archives and Historical Collections.

The land around Munn Ice Arena has a more complex history. At the current location of the arena, a group of cavalry stables and a military garage were built sometime between 1927 and 1941 (1927 Map of Campus; 1941 Map of Campus). In the 1950s, as veterans returned from overseas, fields of temporary Quonset huts and pre-fabricated apartment structures were set up to the south and west of the stables in order to house the great influx of students, faculty, and military personnel (1950 Map of Campus). Eventually, the stables and temporary housing were removed, and Munn Ice Arena was constructed a few years later in 1974.   

Aerial photo of cavalry stables (triangle of buildings in center) surrounded by Quonset huts, date unknown. Image courtesy of MSU Archives and Historical Collections.

This information, while not very detailed, will help us to determine where to focus much of our field work this summer, and will also help us interpret any finds that we do make during the process.

Author: Jeff Painter


Kuhn, Madison
1955   Michigan State: The First Hundred Years.  The Michigan State University Press, East.

MSU Archives and Historical Collections
1927 Map of MSU Campus and Buildings.

1941 Michigan State College Campus Map.

1942 MSC Farm and Experimental Plots Map.

MSU Map Library
1950 Map of Campus.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *