Field of Dreams: An Eclectic History of the Adams Field Area

During this semester, I have been researching the use history of the Adams Field/Music Building area ahead of proposed construction.  This work has reminded me just how complex, and sometimes odd, college campuses can be, and the many activities that take place within them.  On researching this one particular area, it seems as if a million different things happened there in just the last 162 years; a slight exaggeration, but not by much! Sporting events, side shows, dances, two presidential visits, farming, construction and landscape modification, and temporary camps are just a few of the many documented happenings in this particular part of campus.  Here, I will quickly review a few of these events that I have not already discussed elsewhere and explore their importance for us at the Campus Archaeology Program.

One of the more important activities, the reason an armory and Adams Field were originally constructed around 1885, was for military training.  While much of this training involved marching, drills, exercise, and the occasional skirmish, practice with different firearms also took place (Kuhn 1955:155-156).  Physical training facilities, in high demand by students, were also housed in the armory, such as “parallel and horizontal bars, a trapeze, rings, ladders, dumb bells, and Indian clubs” (Kuhn 1955: 156).  Directly north of the armory, an updated bathhouse was constructed in 1902 in order to aid in this physical training and provide students with a readily available place to bathe.  The two buildings were connected by a corridor and the bathhouse held, among other features, a “plunge bath” that was 35 ft. by 17 ft. in dimensions and about 5’ 6” deep (Beal 1915:277).

1886 image of officer candidates drilling with firearms on Adams Field.

1886 image of officer candidates drilling with firearms on Adams Field. Image Source

While military and athletic pursuits were a major activity in this part of campus, other events took place here as well.   The armory was occasionally used for lectures, speeches, and even commencement ceremonies early in the history of the University (Beal 1915:271).  It was also utilized as an extra living space for summer visitors when rooms were short, as well as the headquarters for doctor’s visits before a hospital was established on campus (Kuhn 1955:168, 188).  While we don’t often think of this space as a residential area, in 1888 the first Abbot Hall was built just north and east of the present Music Building.  This space became the women’s dormitory early on and housed a fully equipped cooking laboratory and dining room (Beal 1915:271-272; Lautner 1978: Key to Map, 120).

Large university events also have a long history in this part of campus.  Before the university athletic program was funded by the university and ticket purchases, teams were supported by fundraising.  The largest fundraiser, started in 1907, was the athletic carnival, which took place in the armory and Adams Field.  For one day each year, each campus group would host or create an attraction or side show, including a gambling station, wild west saloon, shooting gallery, the Russian bearded lady, and “Wadji, the fossil bedbug, sole survivor of ‘Saint’s Rest’” (M.A.C. Record, March 2, 1909; April 13, 1909).  Along with these attractions, the domestic science department supplied food for hungry attendees.  The day began with a parade through campus and ended with a large dance in the armory, where the “floor was covered with dancers tripping the light fantastic” (M.A.C. Record, April 30, 1912).  The revelry continued long into the night (M.A.C. Record, April 30, 1912).  This event was able to raise enough money to help support the athletic program each year, until it became unnecessary in 1912 (Kuhn 1955:257). Other campus dances, such as the Junior Hop, an institution in campus social life for decades, were held in the armory as well (Kuhn 1955:191). One sitting President, Theodore Roosevelt (1907), and one future President, Barack Obama (2007), have also given speeches on Adams Field, which drew massive crowds from all over the area (Kuhn 1955:202; Stawski 2011).

1909 Athletic Carnival. Costumed students marching in front of Morrill Hall.

1909 Athletic Carnival. Costumed students marching in front of Morrill Hall. Image Source

The crowd at President Roosevelt’s 1907 address on Adams Field

The crowd at President Roosevelt’s 1907 address on Adams Field. Image Source

All of these different activities involve material culture in some way.  While many of these events would have been cleaned up, leaving few archaeological traces, even the loss and trampling of individual objects over time may contribute to the archaeological record that we at Campus Archaeology find and document.  Other activities, such as the leveling of Adams Field for sports and military drills, might destroy earlier archaeological evidence and context by moving and mixing up objects that were once peacefully buried.  All of these events, no matter how large and what types of objects were used, are important to document, as they all, over time, possibly contribute to what we find, or do not find, in a particular area.  They also contribute to our overall understanding of a space and the role it played over time in campus history.  While this area today is just an open field and a few school buildings, it has seen things over the last 162 years that few other parts of campus have.


References Cited

Beal, W. J.
1915   History of the Michigan Agricultural College and Biographical Sketches of Trustees and Professors.  Michigan Agricultural College, East Lansing.

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

Lautner, Harold W.
1978   From an Oak Opening: A Record of the Development of the Campus Park of Michigan State University, 1855-1969.  Volume 1.  Self-published manuscript on file at the MSU Archives and Historical Collections.

MSU Archives and Historical Collections
M.A.C. Record, Vol. 14, No. 22, March 2, 1909

M.A.C. Record, Vol. 14, No. 27, April 13, 1909

M.A.C. Record, Vol. 17, No. 30, April 30, 1912

Stawski, Christopher
2011   “Walter Adams Field Survey: Archaeological Report”.  Campus Archaeology Program, Michigan State University, East Lansing.

Military at MAC: Decoding Ammunition from Campus

Recently a supervisor from landscape services contacted us after they uncovered an artifact. During the last big wind storm approximately 20 tree were badly damaged. One of the uprooted trees was located on the east side of Cowles House, and the crew discovered an old ammunition casing under the tree’s root ball. So what can this ammunition casing tell us?

Ammunition casing recovered near Cowle's House

Ammunition casing recovered near Cowles House

There are several ways to identify the size of ammunition from the cartridge case. Each type of ammunition has a unique:

  • case length (the longest measurement of the cartridge case)
Casing case length. Image Source.

Casing case length. Image Source.

  • neck diameter (front portion of cartridge case where bullet is seated. Neck diameter is the external measure of this feature)
Cartridge neck. Image source.

Cartridge neck. Image source.

  • diameter at base of case
  • rim diameter (not all cartridges are rimmed, a cartridge with a rim has a base rim that is larger in diameter than the rest of the head).

This particular bullet is a .30-06. This .30 caliber bullet was introduced in 1906, hence to 06 ending. The .30-06 was the U.S. Army’s primary rifle cartridge for nearly 50 years.

So now we’ve figured out the caliber of the ammunition, but who made the bullet? Thankfully, similar to ceramic makers marks or registered designs, ammunition cartridges have identifying marks on the headstamp.

Headstamp example. Image source.

Headstamp example. Image source.

These markings usually contain information on the caliber and manufacturer of the cartridge, and if it’s military ammunition the date of manufacture. This headstamp reads “F A 7 11”.

Headstamp of Cowels House ammunition casing.

Headstamp of Cowels House ammunition casing.

The F A stands for Frankford Arsenal. This ammunition plant opened in 1816 and was the main U.S. military small-arms ammunition producer until 1977. Ammunition produced prior to World War I at this plant was dated with a numerical month-year, so the 7 11 indicates a production date of July 1911.

CAP has found ammo casings and shells at various locations across north campus, so the find didn’t surprise us. But you might be thinking, why do we commonly find evidence of ammunition, specifically military ammunition, on campus? The answer is fairly straightforward; historically there was a military presence on campus.

MAC training detachment c. 1910. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections.

MAC training detachment c. 1910. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections.

In the 1800s there were military training classes offered (in 1863 a Military Department was organized and many Michigan State students and faculty served in the Civil War), and small arms & artillery were stored on campus. By the 20th century there was also an active R.O.T.C. contingent, and during WWI a student army training corp in addition to enlisted soldiers training on campus.

Student Army Training Corps (SATC) c. 1918. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections.

Student Army Training Corps (SATC) c. 1918. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections.

After the collapse of College Hall in 1918 the surviving corner of the building was incorporated into an artillery shed/garage. The artillery shed was used to house military vehicles and ammunition. Beaumont Tower now occupies this space (and the money was donated by Beaumont to build this after he visited campus and was angered by the artillery garage replacing what was College Hall) and this location is not far from Cowles House, where the casing was recovered.

Artillery Shed/Garage. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections.

Artillery Shed/Garage. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections.

The ammunition was likely used within 10-15 years of the production date. Modern factory produced ammunition, when stored properly, is good for approximately 10 years. We will never know under what specific circumstances this rifle was fired on campus, but it’s presence is part of a long military connection.



Paying the Iron Price: The Spartan of Gettysburg

With Veteran’s Day fast approaching and being a history buff (odd for an aspiring archaeologist, right?), I spent some free time this week reading about Michigan’s contributions to the Civil War. At the outset of the war Michigan joined the rest of the Union in answering President Lincoln’s call for volunteer soldiers. By the end of the war in 1865 the state had mustered over 50 volunteer regiments, many of which included MSU students. Of particular note, the seven students of the MAC class of 1861 received special exemptions to depart the University early to begin training as Army engineers, something the military was in dire need of at the time. At the end of their enlistment later in 1861 all but two mustered out of service. The two remaining soldiers, Henry D. Benham and Gilbert A. Dickey, reenlisted, were subsequently reassigned to different units, and eventually both received commissions as officers. Unfortunately, First Lieutenant (1LT) Benham died of disease in South Carolina in 1864 while Second Lieutenant (2LT) Dickey was killed in action on the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg.

I was immediately fascinated by 2LT. Dickey’s experience at Gettysburg and decided to dig a little deeper and find which unit he served with, then piece together his actions Gilbert Dickeyduring the battle. I discovered that 2LT Dickey had been assigned to the 24th Michigan Infantry Regiment of Volunteers, which was one of five infantry regiments (all from the Midwest) comprising the 1st Brigade, 1st Division, I Corps. The Iron Brigade… Although several military units on both sides carried the nickname “iron brigade” during the Civil War, the 1st Brigade was the most well known and deserving. Also known as the Black Hats for their distinctive headwear, the Iron Brigade is remembered today as one of the fiercest fighting units during the Civil War and, perhaps due in part to their ferocity on the battlefield, sustained one of the highest casualty rates of the entire war.

In the early hours of the battle on 1 July 1863, the first elements of I Corps under Major General John Reynolds began advancing into a wooded area known as McPherson’s Woods. General Reynolds personally oversaw the deployment of the Iron Brigade, initially placing the 24th Michigan on the extreme left flank of Union line. While encouraging the Iron Brigade to advance against the well-trained Confederates, he was shot and killed by a sharpshooter. General Reynolds’ last words to the 7th Wisconsin Volunteers before falling from his horse were: “Forward! For God’s sake forward!” Although the general’s death was a heavy blow to the Union, the Iron Brigade continued fighting late into the day, engaging in a successful flanking maneuver, which led to a temporary withdrawal by Confederate Major General Henry Heth’s division around midday. Success was short lived however, as the Confederate army counterattacked later in the day. The intense fighting that followed led to severe casualties on both sides, with the Iron Brigade suffering particularly heavily. After no more than a few hours of fighting, the Federal troops were forced to pull back in what became a bloody retreat east through the streets of Gettysburg.

2LT Dickey was killed relatively early in the engagement. 24th Michigan commanding officer, Colonel Henry Morrow reported that the regiment had maneuvered between the 7th Wisconsin Volunteers on the right and the 19th Indiana Volunteers on the left. After receiving severe enemy fire to his regiment’s left flank, Col. Morrow pulled back slightly to reposition the unit. During the maneuver the Confederates attacked in force, leading to severe casualties for the 24th Michigan, including 2LT Dickey, whom Col. Morrow described as a “young officer of great potential”. After the battle, Gilbert Dickey and thousands of his comrades were interred at the Gettysburg National Cemetery.

According to the 24th Michigan Infantry Regiment battlefield marker at Gettysburg, the regiment arrived on the battlefield with a total strength of 494 officers and enlisted men. When the regiment reached its position defending Culp’s Hill at the end of July 1, 363 had become casualties, for a total casualty rate of 73% within a period of roughly eight to ten hours.

Student enrollment at MAC remained low but steady for the duration of the war, with the highest enrollment reaching eighty-eight students in 1865. To contribute to the war effort, the college introduced formal military training and associated coursework related to military life to prepare potential student-soldiers for military service.


Foote, Shelby. 1963 The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian. Random House, New York.

DeLand, Colonel Charles V. 1903 DeLand’s History of Jackson County, Michigan. B.F. Bowen.