Grandparents University and Saints’ Rest

Saint's Rest Boarding Hall circa 1865. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections
Saint’s Rest Boarding Hall circa 1865. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

Next week, the Campus Archaeology Program will be taking part in Grandparents’ University, an event at MSU where alumni grandparents and their grandchildren sign up to take various courses throughout campus. The objective is to have a fun and interactive workshop about a topic…in our case, archaeology. We will have a two-part workshop: the first will be a walking tour of the old campus, where we will discuss a variety of elements about how MSU’s campus has evolved over time, and the second will look at artifacts in the lab that have been excavated at MSU. The tour will include stops at Laboratory Row, Morrill Hall, Linton Hall, Faculty Row (now West Circle Dormitory Complex), College Hall (now Beaumont Tower) and our recently excavated area at Beal Street. One of the most exciting stops along the tour, however, will be at Saints’ Rest, where we have decided to open up a unit for excavation and to demonstrate just how archaeology is done.

Saints’ Rest, as many of you know, was the first dormitory at Michigan Agricultural College, built in 1857. A three story building, it served as the primary dorm until 1871, when Williams Hall was built, and then burned to the ground in 1876. In 2005, a field school was held at the site, where MSU was first introduced to the material culture of our past. This site is recognized, in some sense, as the Campus Archaeology Program’s birth place, and is our most intact campus structure so far discovered at MSU.

Excavations in 2005 uncovered much of the northern portion of the structure, and captured very fully the final moments of the structure’s demise: the building’s cellar was full of brick from the collapsed building; charred wood beams were strewn about; stoves were stacked on top of each other. Very little household or daily use items were discovered, in part because the building had caught fire during the winter break, but also because the dining facilities had moved to Williams Hall in 1876.

Saints’ Rest has been revisited twice since 2005. In 2007 more of the building interior was investigated as the sidewalks were realigned in that area. In 2008, during the year’s first snowfall, archaeologists returned to the site to investigate artifacts that had been discovered while planting a tree. Further investigation revealed artifacts that had never been found at Saints’ Rest: ceramic whiteware, glass tumblers, and cut animal bone, all dating to the 1860s and 70s. We had struck archaeological gold: the refuse pile behind Saints’ Rest.

Erica D. excavates the trash pit found behind Saints Rest.
Erica D. excavates the trash pit found behind Saints’ Rest in November, 2008. Not pictured: Snow.

This coming Tuesday, Campus Archaeology will return yet again to Saints’ Rest to continue excavating this unique and important feature. Last November we had only hit the edge of the pit; we hope to get deeper into the feature with past and future MSU alums watching. Another element of Grandparents’ University is a “Discover MSU” scavenger hunt, which we are a part of. Hopefully, this will drive more people to the site to engage with our cultural past. Please feel free to stop by and ask questions!

Visit the photo gallery from Saints’ Rest excavations last fall.

Visit the Online Exhibit about the 2005 archaeological excavations.

Author: Terry Brock

1 thought on “Grandparents University and Saints’ Rest”

  • Terry, the calendar on the main CAP website says grandparents U is at the end of July, so I guess it’s mis-dated.

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