The History of Laboratory Space at MSU: Part IV

The History of Laboratory Space at MSU: Part IV

Welcome back to our blog series on research and historical laboratories on MSU’s campus! In our last blog we discussed how MSU branched out to expand their research to fields outside sciences directly related to agriculture, such as chemistry and botany, by creating a Mechanical Shop Building. This space allowed students to get hands-on experience creating tools, such as a twelve horse-power engine, and helped to develop the Engineering Department! In fact, this program was so successful, in addition to the growth of chemistry and botany, that the College clearly recognized the importance of providing laboratory space to their other departments. This is illustrated by the creation of Laboratory Row, a row of seven buildings built over a 24-year period to hold laboratory space for different departments in the College.

Today, we will start exploring which buildings were added to Laboratory Row to see how research continued to boom on MSU’s campus!

Veterinary Laboratory (1885-1930)

While the Veterinary Laboratory has been talked in one of our previous blog posts, it is important to recognized how its laboratory space grew on campus! Veterinary coursework was seen as essential from the establishment of the College in 1855, as President Williams stated it was “fundamental to the very idea of an agricultural college” in his second report (as cited by Beal 1915:154). As farming and animal science depends on the ability to keep livestock alive and healthy, it is easy to understand the importance of veterinary science to the early College!

Although Veterinary Medicine did not become an official course of study until 1910, the College could not have functioned without it, which likely led the College to offer courses in the subject in the 1870s (Beal 1915:154). However, as these courses continued to be taught in the College, the need for laboratory space became more and more apparent. So it is no surprise that when the College found the necessary funds in 1885, the Veterinary Laboratory was the first building constructed for what would later be known as Laboratory Row.

Left: Veterinary Laboratory, dated to 1886. Right: Veterinary Medicine class, dated between 1890-1899. Images courtesy of MSU Archives and Historical Collections.

The Veterinary Laboratory was placed next to the Mechanical Shop (also built in 1885), southeast of College Hall. The first floor was used as an operating room for clinical instruction on College livestock, while the second floor contained an anatomy lab where a horse was dissected by the students each fall term (Forsyth 2020a). Furthermore, the Veterinary Laboratory even included an elevator to raise and lower animals between the two floors (Kuhn 1955:151)!

Veterinary Laboratory with barns, dated to 1886. Image courtesy of Beal (1915:154).
Veterinary Laboratory with barns, dated to 1886. Image courtesy of Beal (1915:154).

This location was fitting because it allowed the new laboratory to sit right next to the college farms where they used to sit north of the river, unlike campus today (Forsyth 2020a). These barns later moved to a more southerly location, still north of the river, between 1902 and 1908, which led to the creation of a new Veterinary Clinic (now Giltner Hall) in 1915 (Forysth 2020a). After this move, the old laboratory building transitioned to a space for human anatomy courses until it was torn down in the summer of 1930 during construction of the new, modernized Anatomy Building (Kuhn 1955:352).  

No building has ever replaced the exact plot of old Veterinary Laboratory – the location today would rest west of Auditorium Road and north of the Computer Center parking lot. Due to this, CAP had the opportunity to excavate in this location in 2014. Check out our blog post on the Vet Lab excavation to learn more about what we found!

Horticulture Laboratory (1888-Present)

As would be expected for an agricultural institution, courses in horticulture were offered to students soon after the College was established. But the subject grew exponentially with the addition of Liberty Hyde Bailey to the faculty, who’s lectures were so popular that unregistered students would sit in (Kuhn 1955:151-2)! As both a botanist and horticulturalist, Bailey brought the laboratory mindset to horticulture, teaching students that plants could be advanced through “cross-breeding, by hybridization, by the ‘chance of growing seedlings,’ and by selection from the wild” (Kuhn 1955:152). Even Bailey’s predecessor, Levi Rawson Taft, kept up the scientific vigor, as he introduced Michigan to spraying orchards in order to curb disease (Kuhn 1855:153). It was clear that hands-on research was revolutionizing the field, but it was unheard of to provide laboratory space for horticulture.

Horticulture Laboratory (now Eustace-Cole Hall), dated to 1913 (Beal 1915:88).
Horticulture Laboratory (now Eustace-Cole Hall), dated to 1913 (Beal 1915:88).

While the efforts of the horticulture professors and students won over the College and a Horticulture Laboratory was built in 1888, it was the first of its kind in the United States (Forsyth 2020b)! With no preexisting model, the College did everything it could to provide the department with proper amenities, equipping the building with a classroom, laboratory, seed-room, heeling-in cellar, a dark room for photography, and a grafting room (Kuhn 1955:153). In fact, an additional four acres was provided, which Professor Bailey used to create a fruit garden to give students hands-on experience testing new varieties of small fruits. The garden even included a system of tile drainage placed underground (Beal 1915:88-89)!

Left: Horticulture class, dated to 1893. Right: Horticulture students, dated to 1884. Images courtesy of MSU Archives and Historical Collections.

Unfortunately, it became clear that the laboratory was not nearly large enough and so a new Horticulture Building was constructed in 1924 to provide more space and updated features. After the Horticulture Department moved to the new building, the original laboratory took in the Basic College (Social Sciences, Humanities, etc.) before then taking in the Honors College (Forsyth 2020b). In 1961, it was renamed in honor of Harry J. Eustace, the Chair of the Horticulture Department from 1908-1919, who aided in good storage and transport of food during the first World War (Forsyth 2020b). In 1999, a donation by Jeffrey and Kathryn Cole, former Honor students, allowed for a new set of renovations, which explains its current name of Eustace-Cole Hall (Forsyth 2020f).

Horticulture Building (now Old Horticulture), undated photograph. Image courtesy of MSU Archives and Historical Collections.
Horticulture Building (now Old Horticulture), undated photograph. Image courtesy of MSU Archives and Historical Collections.

In 2016, CAP had a chance to excavate near Old Horticulture. Check out our previous blog post to learn more about what we found!

Agriculture/Entomology Laboratory (1889-Present)

As the first education institution in the state dedicated to agriculture, the Agriculture Department played an essential role in the College – in fact, it was the only department until 1885 (Beal 1915:135). And even after other curricula were offered at the College, Agriculture still housed the most equipment for instruction, was the most strongly advertised throughout the state, and earned $15,000 per year, starting in 1887, for the College for experimental work (Beal 1915:135; Kuhn 1955:162). As a role model for Land Grant universities across the nation, MSU has always taken its dedication to agriculture seriously!

Entomology Laboratory (former Agriculture Laboratory), dated to 1934. Image courtesy of MSU Physical Plant.

In 1889, the College finally provided Agriculture with its own building so that the subject could take advantage of laboratory work in addition to its efforts outdoors (Forsyth 202c). However, considering the strong focus of agriculture in the College, it quickly became clear that the building did not provide nearly enough space for proper instruction and learning. Therefore, just twenty years later, a new Agriculture Hall was constructed that was over three times the size of the original building and the “old” Agriculture Laboratory became the Entomology Laboratory (Forsyth 2020c). Luckily the space was an adequate upgrade for the Entomology Department, who stayed in this building until the new Natural Science Building was added to campus in 1948.

Left: Agriculture Class, undated photograph. Right: New “Entomology” façade on the original Agricultural Laboratory. Images courtesy of MSU Archives and Historical Collections.

Although it no longer held the Entomology Department, in order to celebrate their research in that laboratory space it was renamed in 1969 to honor Dr. Albert Cook, the Professor of Zoology and Entomology from 1868-1893 and the first curator of the museum (Forsyth 2020c). Cook’s Collection of Insects, originally housed in the museum, were moved to an annex at the rear of the Entomology Laboratory in the 1930s, but have since moved to the fourth floor of the Natural Sciences Building (Forsyth 2020c). The Entomology Laboratory was renovated in 1998 and has altered its function to house offices for graduate students in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. Recently, another set of renovations were completed in 2018-2019 thanks to a donation by Gary Seevers, a previous animal science and agricultural student, which led to the building’s current name: Cook-Seevers Hall (MSU Today 2019).

In 2014, CAP was called to the southwest side of Cook-Seevers Hall for a salvage excavation, as a short length of brick wall was uncovered by a construction crew (CAP Report No. 48). Upon further excavation, CAP team members exposed a large metal drum with metal pipes connecting the drum to the foundation of Cook Hall – a cistern! To learn more about this cistern and how they were used on campus, check out our Cook Hall Blog Post!

The creation of Laboratory Row was a big step for MSU in terms of research. But maybe not quite big enough because all three departments housed first on Laboratory Row later required even more space! MSU was a pioneer in providing laboratory space for numerous departments on campus and so needed a few tries – and more funding – to provide the right amount of space for their departments, but the ability of the College to meet these demands for space demonstrates its commitment to providing its students with hands-on opportunities and facilitating state-of-the-art research!

Join us next week to learn about the last four laboratories built as a part of Laboratory Row!

Resources

  • Beal, W. J. 1915   History of the Michigan Agricultural College and biogeographical sketches of trustees and professors. Agricultural College, East Lansing, Michigan.
  • Frederick, Kate. 2014. Cook Hall Cistern Survey Report. MSU Campus Archaeology Program, Report No. 48, East Lansing, Michigan.
  • Forsyth, K. 2020a. Accessed at: https://kevinforsyth.net/ELMI/vet-lab.htm
  • Forsyth, K. 2020b. Accessed at: https://kevinforsyth.net/ELMI/hort-lab.htm
  • Forsyth, K. 2020c. Accessed at: https://kevinforsyth.net/ELMI/ag-lab.htm
  • Kuhn, M. 1955. Michigan State: The First Hundred Years. The Michigan State University Press, East Lansing



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