As you may know from my previous blog posts, I have been working on analyzing the faunal remains from Campus Archaeology excavations. My current research project focuses on the Saints’ Rest trash midden, excavated in several seasons by CAP near the location where Saints’ Rest […]
Tag: west circle
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 […]
It may seem unusual to dig up a pair of shoes, yet shoes are not totally uncommon on archaeological excavations. Just last week a report from Northumberland, England announced a find of more than 400 shoes discovered at the Roman fort of Vindolanda. Typically the entire shoe is not preserved, rather the leather from the soles or uppers, as well as any metal used for the lace rivets are what preserves. CAP has uncovered parts of shoes several times, including in the West Circle Privy, the Gunson trash pit, and excavations at west Beaumont Tower. However this summer, while working at Station Terrace we encountered a nearly complete pair of shoes near the bottom of the excavation unit.
You can learn a lot about fashion, gender, and even identity from shoes. Sure, you can get technical and talk about the way the shoe was crafted, is the outsole stitched, nailed, cemented, etc. But shoes can also inform us about changing gender perspectives as seen through fashion over time.
When the field crew was working to uncover and remove the shoes, they informed me that they had found a pair of women’s shoes. At first glance, it’s easy to see how they came to this conclusion. The pointed toe, the stacked heel, the decorative brogueing, and the loop style ties are typical of women’s shoes today. But these are not women’s shoes, these are a pair of men’s dress shoes. We needed to remember the context and time period of this particular site to properly identify these shoes. Station Terrace was used on campus from the early 1890s until 1924, and men’s fashion, specifically footwear, was very different during this period. Based on the shape, style, and height/width of the heel these shoes were most likely produced in the the early 1900s (1900-1920).
The history of men’s fashion is often overlooked, or overshadowed by women’s fashion. Although the changes in mens fashion from the 1890s to the 1920s is not as drastic as changes in women’s fashion, differences do exist.
The Edwardian clothing era (named for England’s Prince Edward VII) was characterized by slight changes to the cuts of jackets, collar styles, and sport and fitness clothing. Men wore lose, plain, suits with wide lapels, called Sack suits (see the above image). During the Edwardian era the shoes did change considerably from the Victorian era. Men’s shoes fell into three distinct categories; boots, oxfords, and pumps. Boots were designed for every day wear and traveling. They were often two tone, with a dark bottom half and white upper half designed to mimic a shoe spats. The oxford, typically used for business or work, is very similar to men’s dress shoes today.
Men’s dress shoes are where perhaps the greatest variation from todays style occurs, for they were classified as pumps. Yes, pumps. In the Edwardian era, men’s formal dress shoes look like a hybrid of today’s men’s oxford and a women’s low-heeled flat. Typically they had the same stenciling (broqueing) details of an oxford, a high arch, and a 1-2 inch thick heel. It’s also important to remember that thin string shoelaces weren’t a thing yet. Shoes either buttoned, or were laced with a ½ inch wide silk ribbon and tied in a bow. You can even see these bows in the two historic pictures featured earlier in this post.
Today we may think that a 2 inch heel and bow are feminine, but it’s important to remember that cultural ideals of what is appropriate for a particular gender change through time. In fact, men’s shoes had high heels long before women’s shoes did. (See this article, or if you find yourself in Toronto stop by the Bata shoe museum’s exhibit “Standing Tall: The Curious History of Men in Heels”).
The teens marked the end of the Edwardian period (1890-1910). During the teens men’s fashion was heavily influenced by military apparel from WWI.
These shoes provide a unique glimpse into everyday life at Station Terrace. Although we will never know why these shoes were left behind in the buildings basement, I’m glad they were.
The West Circle neighborhood is known for its beautiful Collegiate Gothic dorms, with beautifully sculpted gardens and peaceful stands of trees. One grove of trees though holds exceptional significance in the legacy of our university. Just east of Williams Hall is a grove of thirty-three […]
This summer CAP has the opportunity to again look for the site of the Faculty Row buildings located where Landon Hall currently is as well as artifacts that might give us insights into early student life. Cowles House is the only building left of the […]
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!
You may have noticed driving around the newly replaced West Circle Drive that they are beginning to pull up and replace the sidewalks around Linton Hall. Sidewalk removal is a wonderful opportunity for archaeology. Unlike roads which are deeply excavated, sidewalk construction is a shallow […]
It’s been a busy summer for Campus Archaeology. If you were on campus it was hard to miss all the construction thats been going on. West Circle Drive was completely torn up on the northern side, Chestnut Road and Kalamazoo Street were alternatively interrupted, and various […]
This is a blog post by Rachel Cohen; Rachel has been volunteering for Campus Archaeology throughout the summer. She is an undergraduate student from University of Michigan, majoring in archaeology.
While I had some previous experience working with ancient artifacts, this was my first experience with historic artifacts. Most of my time was spent digging Shovel Test Pits (Also known as STPs, see this post for more info). I also worked in a couple of the archaeological units we opened up.
CAP was a big learning experience for me. We found a lot of historical artifacts that are still in use today—pieces of glass, bricks, and metal pipe—as well as less common historical items such as “clinkers”, which are essentially coal waste. Some of the items we found have been around a lot longer than I expected; pencil erasers, for instance, date to 1858. The survey also let us map out what artifacts were found where, to get an idea of what sorts of things were going on historically at MSU.
One thing I really liked was how eager CAP was to explain our work to anyone who walked by. While digging in front of Linton Hall, a man stopped by to talk to us. He told us that there had been a lake nearby in the early 1900’s, which we had never known anything about. It turned out that the lake was in an area where we had found river mud the previous day. We were confused at the time, but now it made sense. It was really cool to see a member of the public who was so knowledgeable and so interested, and who was able to help us solve a problem.
Working in the units was also a good experience for me. I learned how to tell each layer of the soil apart based on its color and composition, how to draw those layers on a map, how to make decisions about what and how to excavate, and how to clean an area for a photo. This helped me a lot when I went to a month-long excavation in Italy; the decisions and directions of the supervisors made a lot more sense than they would have before I did CAP.
This past week, now that we’re done with digging, I’ve been working in the lab analyzing the artifacts. This involves attempting to find a similar object in a textbook, on the internet, or, occasionally, in the 1897 Sears, Roebuck & Co. catalogue. That reference is then used to determine the object’s date and function. It was initially a bit of an overwhelming experience for me to sort through all this information, but I’m learning and becoming more familiar with the research process.
Overall, CAP was a great experience for me and a great way to spend my summer, and I know that it will be a big help for my future career in archaeology. Thanks to everyone at CAP, particularly Charlotte and Katy, for letting me participate and for teaching me so much!
On June 7th during an excavation in West Circle Drive we recovered a paperclip. Now, you should know that we don’t keep anything that is definitely modern. We don’t keep the crushed beer cans from tailgating or the McDonald’s straws from littering. We did keep […]