College Hall, first academic building at MSU, Found

Last week, Campus Archaeology performed survey at Beaumont Tower, to investigate the area below sidewalks that were being replaced. Underneath sidwalks located under the southeast corner of Beaumont, foundation stones were located. There is little doubt that these stones are the original foundations of College Hall, the first building built on MSU’s campus.

Our excavations, completed with the express purpose of uncovering the foundation stones and identifying whether or not the building was in place, were completed in two days. Once completely uncovered, most of the Northeast corner of the building was visible. The structure was only located 30 cm. below the surface, and only 30 cm. the foundation was still left. However, it was clear that there were stones and mortar that were still connected and in place, spanning 3.5 meters South, into the area which still has concrete sidewalks on top of it.

As discussed earlier, this building met an unfortunate demise, falling to the ground in 1918 due to its shoddy construction. Inspections of the building in 1916 had indicated that part of the building was built over a tree stump, that the homemade bricks were crumbling, and that the walls themselves were hollow. Our excavations corroborate this evidence, providing more support for the terrible construction. River stones were used, most likely pulled from the Red Cedar. These stones smooth edges are typically poor construction material. Additionally, small stones were used at the bottom of the foundation, implying that the first stones taken from the river were used as the very basis for the three story structure; this is not good building technique.

Regardless,this building was the literal foundation of MSU and Land Grant Education. The first classes that brought the concepts of a scientific approach to agriculture were taught here; students who normally would have been denied an education elsewhere were given opportunities within this building. Some of the great professors such as Kedzie, Beal, and Abbot taught in this structure. Henry A. Haigh, an 1874 graduate, highlighted the significance of this building when he argued that it should be kept standing:

Great and useful institutions have institutions have good, inspiring traditions…And in this spirit I would urge the preservation of old College Hall, the one remaining monument of the trials and triumphs of long ago. I hope that it may never be razed from the commanding spot where it has stood these four and fifty years…I would keep, preserve, strengthen, restore, and fondly cherish the old structure forever, in memory of the dear, dead days that are gone…Bind up its bruises with bands of steel and masonry, and keep it in loving memory of those devoted and heroic sould whose lives were lavished in the founding and up-buliding of this first of the plain people’s greatpractical schools. Keep it with utmost care, as a repository for the mementoes of the progress toward better farming, better mechanics, better applied physics, and better and broader human life.

We have not yet decided what the best approach to further investigation of the site will be. More testing will need to be completed to determine how much of the building may still remain. For now, we are simply excited that Haigh’s wish, that the building never be razed, is still partly in tact.

Author: Terry Brock

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