Introducing our latest project: The Archaeology of MSU in 20 Artifacts. Below you can view a 3D virtual exhibit where you can uncover some lesser known tidbits from MSU’s history…one artifact at a time! Each week we will share a 3D model of – and the archaeology behind – one artifact found on campus.
We will be exploring the archaeology of campus throughout four phases of MSU history from 1855 to 1955.
1855-1870: The Beginnings
In 1855, the Michigan State legislature passed a bill establishing the State Agricultural College. The purpose of the college was to train students in new, scientific approaches to agriculture with the hope that graduates would return to their communities and share what they learned.
The first period of MSU
history represents the first steps of the Agricultural College of the State of
Michigan, before it received Land Grant funding and had very little in the way
of state support. Despite the hardship and struggles of these early days, there
was optimism for what education could do for Michigan and there was hope for
the future of the college. During this period the first buildings were erected,
including Saints’ Rest, the first dormitory, and College Hall, the first
academic building. Money was scarce, the college fought off potential threats
of closure, and students and
faculty had to work together to maintain the college’s buildings and land.
Though conditions were hard, the college’s close community helped it survive
these early days.
The archaeological remains of
Saints’ Rest and College Hall show the struggle of the students and staff to
maintain what resources they had. Maintenance tools and construction materials
were found in the Saints’ Rest basement, and plaster from a wall in College
Hall holds the signatures of students who helped with its maintenance.
When the Morrill Act passed in 1862, it opened the door to the creation and government funding of land-grant colleges. It took several years, but eventually the Agricultural College of the State of Michigan was designated a Land Grant institution and began to receive funding through the Morrill Land Grant. This influx of financial support transformed both the school and its campus, marking the shift into a new, second era in MSU history.
This newfound economic
stability allowed for the construction of new buildings for living and teaching
space. Like many other Land Grant institutions, the growing campus was designed
as a “model rural neighborhood” similar to the communities where students would
return after graduation. Faculty housing, student dorms, and labs were each
separate, two- to three-story structures designed to mimic small-town
buildings. They were surrounded by shrubbery and trees and connected by winding
walks in a park-like design that celebrated the campus’ natural beauty.
As the campus grew during this second phase, so did the number of students, faculty, and programs offered. The first women and international students began enrolling and the college began to assert its identity by wearing green and holding their first official football season. From this era, CAP has found trash heaps near the Beal Gardens with historic ceramics, shoes and oil lamps showing the rise in students. We have also found wooden water pipes and trolley railway spikes, evidence of the early growth of the funded college.
The turn of the century brought many changes to campus. Industrialization brought about a need for education in mechanics, science, and engineering. At the same time, access to higher education opened up and women, students of color, and students from rural and middle-class backgrounds enrolled in increasing numbers. As a result the school population tripled between 1885 and 1905, while the academic catalogue grew from five programs to thirteen.
This program expansion had a direct impact on the campus landscape. The establishment of the Women’s and Engineering Colleges led to the construction of Morrill and Olds Halls, respectively. The increasing size of the campus and student body also led to an increase in support staff: more faculty, librarians, and maintenance people were required to maintain the large campus and dependency on student labor decreased. The College began to expand across the Red Cedar River and land south of the river was dedicated to the construction of new athletic facilities. The campus was often flooded with visitors for football games and became center of social activity for the surrounding communities.
The College itself became less isolated and more connected with the outside world during this period. In the 1890s a new trolley line was built to connect the western edge of campus with the city of Lansing. This was extended to the Faculty Row area in 1902. The city of East Lansing, originally Collegeville, was incorporated in 1907. The automobile also helped make the college more accessible. In Lansing, just three miles from MAC, R.E. Olds established the first assembly line, and produced 425 cars in 1901.
Finally, MAC became centralized within Michigan’s agricultural system during this period. The Smith-Lever Act, passed in 1914, supported the funding of a state cooperative extension service. This allowed the university to spread agricultural research throughout the state.
1925, the Michigan Agricultural College became the Michigan State College of
Agriculture and Applied Science (MSC). This name change reflected the college’s
growth and its dedication to educating the entire state. The college was not
done growing yet. The period between 1925 and 1955 saw exponential expansion
and diversification of the campus and curriculum, catalyzed by a series of
national and global events.
From the 1930s to the 1950s the newly minted MSC began a dramatic building campaign. In the 1930s, New Deal legislation provided federal dollars to fund new construction on campus. In the 1940s and 1950s, building continued to accommodate the arrival of GI Bill students returning from World War II. Housing and teaching spaces were erected south of the river to make room for these new students. Additionally, WWII led to the advancement of higher education as a place for technological and scientific progress through large-scale research. At MSC this led to increased hiring of faculty and researchers, setting the college on course to become a major research university.
During this period MSC began to integrate itself within the community and assert the identity we know today. The MSC Creamery began to bottle and distribute products to surrounding communities. The growing athletic programs brought residents and alumni to campus on a regular basis. The college became part of the Big Ten, attended its first national conferences in football and basketball, and introduced Sparty as its mascot. MSC was well on its way to becoming a central part of Michigan’s economic future. This legacy was solidified when MSC was promoted to Michigan State University in 1955.
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