Excavating behind Old Hort

We had a busy summer here at CAP. We were able to excavate at some interesting and important places such as the Abbott Entrance and Beals first botanical lab. Our last project area for the summer was behind the Old Horticulture building on north campus. IPF was planning to repave part of the Lot #7 parking lot, so we thankfully had time in the schedule to begin investigating in that area to better prepare us for what we might encounter.

Although this area is a green (at the right time of year) field popular for tailgating this space has had many different identities. CAP had done some investigations in this general area before, when we surveyed the Old Botany greenhouse before its demolition, however we had never surveyed the area directly south of Old Horticulture. Since the opening of campus this area served three main purposes: 1. Farm/barn area, 2. Detention Hospitals, and 3. Experimental Greenhouse.

View of farm area and barns taken from atop the Dairy Building - Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

View of farm area and barns taken from atop the Dairy Building – Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

Prior to the early 1900s this area contained a horse barn, dairy/cattle barn, grain barn, horticultural barn, miscellaneous small buildings, grazing/animal pen areas, as well as at least two residential buildings for farm employees.  Some of these buildings were demolished or moved to make way to the building of the Dairy and other buildings.

Detention Hospitals with Horticultural Barn visible in right corner - Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

Detention Hospitals with Horticultural Barn visible in right corner – Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

Showing Detention Hospitals (52-55) and the Horticulture Barn (57) - Images Source: MSU Map Library

1915 Campus Map Showing Detention Hospitals (52-55) and the Horticulture Barn (57) – Images Source: MSU Map Library

In 1908, to better meet the public health needs of the growing university, four Detention (aka Quarantine) Hospitals were built.  These cottages were demolished in 1923 to make room for the Horticulture building.  At that same time a large greenhouse was erected that was used for experimental work on flowers and vegetables.

View of Old Horticulture and the Greenhouse - Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

View of Old Horticulture and the Greenhouse – Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

Old Horticulture and the Greenhouse were built in 1925.  Though Old Horticulture remains today, the Greenhouse was demolished in the late 1990s since it had fallen in disrepair.

We started a series of shovel test pits in the area, wondering if we would be able to find evidence for the past uses of this area. Unfortunately we were quickly faced with obstacles as the soil was dry and incredibly compact, slowing our progress. However, we soon found ample evidence from the campus greenhouse. We are still working on washing and cataloging everything, but we uncovered terra-cotta pot fragments, water pipes, plant tags, and plant material.

STPs behind Old Hort - Image Source Lisa Bright

STPs behind Old Hort – Image Source Lisa Bright

Jack Biggs uses a mattock to dig in the compact soil. Image Source Lisa Bright

Jack Biggs uses a mattock to dig in the compact soil. Image Source Lisa Bright

Becca Albert and Jack Biggs remove a large piece of water pipe - Image Source Lisa Bright

Becca Albert and Jack Biggs remove a large piece of water pipe – Image Source Lisa Bright

Artifacts including a salt glazed brick, plant tag, flower pot fragment, and snickers wrapper.

Artifacts including a salt glazed brick, plant tag, flower pot fragment, and snickers wrapper.

The extreme compactness of the dirt, as well as the overall depth of the material, which required unit expansion, meant we only completed a few rows of stps/units.  Perhaps in the future we will be able to return and continue to look for evidence of the detention hospitals and farm buildings.

Administration/Gunson Assemblage

One of the major tasks for the semester (in reality probably the entire school year) is to sort, catalog, and accession the artifacts from the Summer 2015 field school. The five units produced an astounding volume of artifacts. We began the field season under the impression that the trash pit was associated with the Bayha Home Management House that occupied Professor Gunson’s home after his death in 1940. However, preliminary analysis of the artifacts date the assemblage to from the 1890’s-mid 1920’s, excluding the Home Management House as the culprit. It became necessary to investigate Professor Gunson, and his time in the house further.

Faculty members of the Horticulture Department, 1910

Faculty members of the Horticulture Department, 1910. Professor Gunson, second from left.

Thomas Gunson was born in Moffat Scotland on July 4th, 1858. He apprenticed as a gardener in England, and later worked in nurseries in England and Scotland. In 1882 he moved first to Quebec, and later to Michigan, where he worked on a farm in Saginaw. There he meet his first wife, Annie Rose. Annie was a good friend of Mrs. Abbot, wife of T. C. Abbot (Michigan Agricultural College president from 1862-1885 and long time professor). It was Mrs. Abbot who influenced Gunson to visit the campus in 1891. On the coach ride to East Lansing he met Mrs. Beal, wife of professor William J. Beal of the botany department. Mrs. Beal arranged for Gunson to meet with college president Oscar Clute and Levi Taft, a professor of horticulture. Mr. Gunson’s horticultural experience was apparent, and he was hired as a foreman of the grounds and moved to East Lansing April 1, 1891. That fall he moved into the campus greenhouse residence where he remained until his death in 1940. His obituary in the January 1941 issue of the MAC Record describes him as, … “the gardener, the counselor, the philosopher, the honest citizen.”

Campus Greenhouse and Residence watercolor painting by Lutie Robinson Gunson, circa 1913

Campus Greenhouse and Residence watercolor painting by Lutie Robinson Gunson, circa 1913. Source: http://bit.ly/1WJpnT6

Mrs. Anne Gunson passed away in April 1913, following a long illness. Mr. Gunson later married their housekeeper, Lutie Robinson in August of 1914. The Gunson residence was remodeled in approximately 1924. The proposed blueprints (dated 8/13/1923) detail major changes to the structure including leveling floors, new plumbing, new kitchen sink, connecting two rooms together, making cloak closet into a pantry, new front door, covering windows looking into the Greenhouse, new radiators, and new cupboards. We’re currently proposing that the field school assemblage is the result of the Gunson house remodel. It’s possible that the debris was dumped directly into its location behind the current Administration building at the time of the remodel, or moved there are a later date in an effort to fill in the riverbank. The combination of the proximity of the house, the mid 1920’s end date to the artifacts, and the high end nature of the artifacts supports the Gunson house as the most likely originator of the trash pit.

Gunson House Remodel

Gunson Residence Remodel Blueprints – Used with permission of MSU Archives

Gunson Remodel Details

Gunson Remodel Proposal – Used with permission of MSU Archives

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As we go through the rest of the field school artifacts I hope that we can tighten the time frame, and get a better idea of the household and lab equipment present.

 

Sources:

Ancestry.com – Lutie Robinson Gunson and Thomas Gunson Marriage Record

MAC Record January 1941 – http://spartanhistory.kora.matrix.msu.edu/files/1/4/1-4-12B8-54-19410101sm.pdf