Historic Boiler House Uncovered on North Campus

Historic view of central campus

Historic view of central campus

Construction: a word dreaded by most individuals, especially during these summer months when it seems to be the most prevalent. Like many other people, archaeologists dislike construction for the fact that it makes it extremely difficult for us to get to work; however, construction can be an archaeologist’s best friend believe it or not. Last week, Campus Archaeology was called in when the construction workers hit a historic wall foundation in between Morrill and Eustace Cole Halls while working on the West Circle steam loop.  As dreadful as construction can be, it sometimes is able to open up doors into discovering more of our archaeological past.

Historic Boiler House foundation found between Morrill and Eustace Cole Halls

Historic Boiler House foundation found between Morrill and Eustace Cole Halls

To the construction workers, it looked like a boring wall. To us, well, it looked like a boring wall too – but only at first glance. When we first began our work, the wall was a mystery.  There is no evidence of any structure in that location on any type of historic map of campus. After a few days of clearing away giant piles of dirt, detailing every stone of the wall, and drawing very intricate profiles, we were able to learn a little bit more about the history of this historic foundation.

With the help of the University Archives and Historical Collections, we were also able to find an old image of the university from 1903 with a large boiler house located in the exact location where the wall was uncovered as well as an unnamed building on maps that it could possibly be. When we first saw the image, we were all shocked that no one had noticed this building before seeing as though there was a HUGE smokestack attached to the structure. The boiler house dates from 1900-1904, and was used to heat Morrill Hall.

Profiling the historic foundation

Profiling the historic foundation

Although just a foundation, we can tell a lot about what possibly happened to the building from what now remains. From the looks of it, after the structure was demolished, the foundation was covered by the road rather than being completely removed. The wall runs northwest to southeast, and on the north end we’ve uncovered a series of bricks, mortar, and a large pipe, perhaps materials used in a road made of brick before the paved road near Morrill was constructed. We also excavated in hopes of finding evidence of a builder’s trench, but came up short of anything. In archaeology however, it is sometimes the absence of such things that can offer insight as well. The fact that there is no builder’s trench, along with evidence of the wall tapering off on the south end and the brick structure on the north end, leads us to believe that this area was highly disturbed throughout the years. This old boiler house was most likely destroyed and forgotten until now. Although, just a simple wall, this historic boiler house foundation gives us another glimpse into MSU’s past and how it operated in historic times.

We are still conducting research with the help of the University Archives and Historical Collections to try and learn a little bit more about the boiler house. In the mean time, you can check out the State News and their stories regarding the boiler house excavations!

The State News :: Unknown building found near Morrill Hall

The State News :: Possible 20th-century boiler room discovered

Site Reports

The Campus Archaeology Program spends the winter months doing a couple of things: getting ready for excavations in the spring and summer, and writing up reports for the projects that were completed over the previous year. These reports discuss what it was we found at a site, provides some basic site interpretation about what we think the objects are, and ties them into a larger picture of what happened at that site over time.

Each of these reports concludes with “Recommendations” section, which presents our interpretation of the cultural and historical value of the site, and how future development on that site should proceed in regards to the material record. Because of this, we also make sure that these reports are submitted to the Physical Plant.

Over the next couple of weeks, we will be posting these reports in our Research section, where they are available to download. We want these to also be available to the public, so that you can see what work is being done, and how we go about establishing our conclusions. It is, after all, your past that we are examining!