Last week I attended the Society for American Archaeology annual meeting, held this year in Washington D.C. This was a particularly pertinent meeting for Campus Archaeology because a symposium was held in honor of Dr. Lynne Goldstein. As she nears retirement and the end of […]
Tag: sacred space
Carefully look at this map of MSU’s campus from the 1880’s.
There is a dark black line running from East Grand River Road into the Sacred Space, and then it turns into a squiggly line that goes all the way into the Red Cedar River. That was once the brook that ran through the middle of campus. The dark line is a drainage system that was meant to aid in draining the swamps north of East Grand River Road. The little brook was important to keeping the swamp areas from flooding and also helped direct wastes into the Red Cedar River. Of course, today there is no brook running through the Sacred Space. So what happened to it? This is the question I’ve been trying to answer the past week. Thanks to Whitney from the MSU Archives and Historical Records I have a couple answers.
Other than the brook being present on maps, it is mentioned in a few historical documents that help us determine where it was located and what happened. In Beal’s (1915) history of the Michigan Agricultural College, he notes that in 1877 they botanic gardens were created, and were located in a ravine northwest of the greenhouses (located once at the SW edge of the Library) and north of the Red Cedar on the banks of a brook. From the Michigan Board of Agriculture Report 1880, Beal reports that there was a footbridge that crossed this ravine from the Chemical Lab (which was located where the fountain in front of the Library currently is) to the Botany Lab (which was located just east of IM West). It was a fairly large bridge, 16 feet wide with five piers supporting it. Pictures of the bridge show that it was primarily meant for the ravine since the brook is barely visible. In 1884, when Abbot Hall was constructed (now the location of the Music Practice Building), it was determined that this bridge wasn’t sturdy enough. The soil removed from the basement of Abbot Hall was used to fill in the ravine where the bridge was, and the brook was directed through via cement drains. So now we know when the ravine was filled in by the roadways, but not when the brook vanished.
We know from both Beal (1915) and Darlington (1929) that the brook and river would often flood the gardens. From 1904 to 1910, Beal raised the level of the garden from four to five feet to prevent the high waters from destroying the garden. Beal (1915:254) wrote “Most perplexing of all, was the habit of the Cedar river in overflowing its banks and covering most of the garden with water, for three to seven days at a time and if this freshet occurred during the growing season, two or three hundred attractive plants are killed outright. To overcome this difficulty a section at a time during six years was raised from one foot to five feet or more.” Due to these alterations, “the brook now flows under ground through a cement tunnel for nearly four hundred feet” (Beal 1915:254). So we now know that the brook that once ran through the garden was still there, but was underground.
There are reports beginning in 1874 and 1890 that sewage from North campus often flowed through this ravine into the river. As the brook became more placed in culverts and drain pipes it further became used for sewage. In 1927, East Lansing determined that a proper sewer system needed to run through campus to prevent pollution. Alumni were up in arms according to various newspaper clippings since the sewer plan involved destruction of a portion of the Beal Gardens. A compromise was made, and it was decided that the new sewer system would run through the pipes of the old brook. By 1929, this plan was enacted, and the brook is no longer evident on campus maps or garden maps. According to Forsyth however, there are drain covers still evident in the gardens, and during periods snow melting the brook can be seen in that a green strip through the garden above the drain will melt first.
In the upcoming summer, construction will begin of West Circle Drive along the area that once was the ravine and bridge. During this, we hope we will be able to document this exactly what happened to the brook by examining the soil stratigraphy of this area!
Beal, WJ. 1915 History of the Michigan Agricultural College. MSU Archives UA 943. LD 3245.M28 B4
Darlington, HT. 1929 Letter to President Shaw Regarding the Beal Gardens. MSU Archives Beal Botanical Gardens 1925-1932. F 17. B 37. C UA 2.1.12
Thank you to MSU Archives for all their help!
If you’ve been following our twitter feed or facebook, you know that we are hard at work surveying beneath the sidewalks around Linton Hall and Beaumont Tower. As part of the campus construction, a majority of the sidewalks within the sacred space are being renovated. […]
Over the next three days, Campus Archaeology is going to be doing an archaeological survey of the soil underneath the sidewalks North of Beaumont Tower. As part of the constant campus construction, they are going to be replacing sections of the sidewalks within the Sacred […]
As archaeologists, we often appear as curious creatures to those individuals who are unfamiliar with our work. Unlike most professions whose employees call a cubicle their home base, archaeologists spend their days out in the field digging holes or trenches, but only when our heads aren’t buried in books or in front of a computer; however, one never sees that glamorous part of the job. Anyway, when we are out in the field we are often seen with a shovel in hand and a screen by our side, slaving away either digging holes (STPs or shovel test pits) or actual test units. As visitors come by to observe our activities, we are often asked various questions. Among the common “Finding any gold?” , “Are there dinosaurs down there?”, or simply “What are you doing?”, we often get asked, “Well, how do you know where to dig…?”. Well to be honest, we kind of don’t. Although we wish we all had X-ray vision to see what’s under the ground, that technology or genetic manipulation has not yet been created. I also wish I could tell you all that we are just THAT smart where we know exactly where everything is…
So how do we know where to dig when in the field? Archaeology is a big puzzle. We study maps, photographs, and other historical records as a way to gain a better understanding of the landscape on which we are working. Often times when determining where to excavate, we dig in a sweep of STPs, or shovel test pits, in an area that is known to have some sort of historical past or in an area that will be altered by construction (which is the case this summer on MSU’s campus). These 1ft wide by 3ft deep holes are meant to give us a glimpse into what is beneath the surface. Based on the artifacts recovered, the stratigraphy (different layers of soil or cultural material within the walls of the STP), and the consistency between the overall make up of these STPs, we are able to determine if there is the possibility of finding a larger site.
In the last two weeks, we have transformed the area of two separate STPs into their own excavation units. In the first area, just north of Linton Hall, we found a series of STPs containing a lot of historic construction material (bricks, nails, window glass), a layer of brick and clinkers (burnt coal) in the stratigraphy, and artifacts such as animal bone and even a penny! The unique make up of these STPs encouraged us to open a larger 2m x 2m excavation unit in the middle of the holes in order to better understand what is going on in that region. Most recently, we have been working on a unit south of Morrill Hall. While digging underneath where there used to be a sidewalk, we had a series of STPs yield a great number of bricks. This mass amount of bricks could mean one of two things: this area was filled up with this material as a way to even out the ground, or it is the foundation of a historic building. However, the only way to actually see what is going on is to open the STP into a larger unit.
Campus Archaeology, like Santa Claus and your 4-year-old, never sleeps. Nor does work take a summer vacation, even when Campus Archaeologist Katy Meyers and Program Director Lynne Goldstein leave the country to pursue other research (you can read about Katy here). In these trying times, […]
In a lot of our blog posts we refer to an area known as the “Sacred Space” on campus. The earliest goals for campus construction in the 19th century aimed at creating an open and natural environment, where students and faculty could easily walk between buildings that were divided by open lawns and groups of trees. Therefore, an area known as the oak opening was left natural in the middle of the buildings. In 1982, President Clute argued against the construction of Old Botany within the open space. Kuhn notes “when the first load of brick was delivered… President Clute looked out from his office window in [Linton Hall] at this sudden invasion of the sacred circle. He then ordered that the brick be moved to the site where the building we now know as Old Botany was erected” (Stanford and Dewhurst 2002:13). The space was first given its ‘sacred’ designation in 1906, O. C. Simonds, a well-known prairie school landscape architect, was creating the plans for the construction of West Circle road.
Simonds wrote “I should regard all the ground included in this area, marked… as a sacred space from which all buildings must be forever excluded. This area contains beautifully rolling land, with a pleasing arrangement of trees, many of which have developed into fine specimens. This area is, I am sure, that feature of the College which is most pleasantly and affectionately remembered by the students after they leave their Alma Mater, and I doubt if any instruction given has a greater effect upon their lives”. It was at this point that construction was forbidden in this space.
In 1915, the space was further defined by the work of the Olmstead brothers, a professional heritage group. They recommended the expansion of the sacred space and its continued protection. The space was expanded to include more area to the east and south, including all of the the extant buildings. They argued to keep the oblong shape and winding paths in order to prevent the more quadrangular and linear shapes of open spaces found on urban campuses (Stanford and Dewhurst 2002:17). In 1930, the space was simplified in order to create a more open feeling. The drive that ran from Music Practice Hall to Cowles House was removed. This plan also included the expansion of the space to the area to include the area north and south of the Red Cedar River.
Stanford and Dewhurst (2002:32) argue that “The responsibility for the future is to prove that a campus such as Michigan State can continue to be a place to study, work, reflect and join together in an inviting natural and built environment. A campus should be an enduring example of how we live on the land and the relationship, in microcosm, of society to nature”. The campus is a public resource for students and faculty. The way that Michigan State has been constructed was done with foresight to protect the open land and natural resources.
The sacred space, however, is more than just a natural resource. It is a historical resource. When the space was expanded to include the extant buildings in 1915, it protected the original campus buildings from destruction. Both Saints Rest and College Hall, the first two buildings on campus, can still be found underneath the ground in this area. Had construction been allowed to occur, it is highly likely we would have lost the foundations and artifacts, therefore losing a major part of our history. At Campus Archaeology, we continue the mission of these early campus architects and protect the space from damage or construction. This summer there is going to be extensive construction and demolition around the sacred space (some of which has already begun across from the Union). Campus Archaeology will be carefully watching the space and conducting a number of surveys to protect the historical heritage of Michigan State.
Stanford, L and Dewhurst, C. 2002 MSU Campus: Buildings, Places and Spaces. Michigan State University Press.
MSU Campus Master Plan. History of Campus Development: https://xcms.gis.msu.edu/masterplan/2001/existing-conditions/history-of-campus-development
This is a Campus Archaeology Intern Update by Eve In 1855, the Michigan Legislature decided to purchase 676 acres of marshy, woodsy, swampy land. These 676 acres would later evolve into what we know today as the beautiful campus of Michigan State University. When the […]