Saints’ Rest Sidewalk Project

Over the past week, the Campus Archaeology team has been busy excavating beneath the sidewalks that were laid above Saints’ Rest. The building was first erected in 1856. It is the second building constructed at Michigan State University and the first dormitory. The name, Saints’ Rest, was a nickname from the students to the building more commonly known as the ‘hall’ or ‘home’. It was named so after a religious devotional book by Richard Baxter, The Saints’ Everlasting Rest, which was first published circa 1649 and was required reading for the first class of MSU students. The building was poorly made and in the winter of 1876, it burned down.

Saints Rest in 1857, via MSU Archives and Historical Records

In 2005 the northeast portion of the building and parts of the western interior were excavated as part of the sesquicentennial of MSU. Over a six week period the archaeological team discovered stoves, barrels, ceramics, student belongings, building equipment and conducted a thorough excavation. However, large portions of the building couldn’t be examined due to the sidewalks that crisscrossed over it. Later excavations in 2008 and 2009 in the same general area revealed a trash pit associated with the site.

Revealing the NW Corner of Saints’ Rest, 2012

As part of the general sidewalk reconstruction project occurring over the past month, the sidewalks above Saints’ Rest were removed. This gave us the opportunity to fill in a blank spot of the first excavation and explore the northwest portion of the building. Once the sidewalks were removed we began our survey by skimming off layers of dirt in 10cm intervals. When we were down about 20cm we hit a layer of mottled dirt with tons of artifacts throughout it. We found dozens of nails, pieces of ceramic, and chunks of glass. Another 10cm lower and we found a clear layer of grey and black ash. We knew we were close! Below that layer we hit the building itself.

After a week of cleaning and removing dirt we have been able to reveal a large section of the northernmost wall, the northwest corner (including the cornerstone of the building), and one interior room at the eastern edge of the building. We have recovered whole glass bottles, inkwells, sash weights and pulleys, slate pencils, buttons, porcelain, piping, and a large number of unidentifiable metal pieces. Today is the last day of the project, and we are carefully mapping out the foundation walls, and photographing the site.

North Wall of Saints' Rest, 2012
North Wall of Saints’ Rest, 2012

Most of us who are working on the dig are newer to MSU, and hadn’t gotten the chance to work on the original Saints’ Rest excavation. It is exciting to work in the first dormitory and reveal a new section. We are actively adding to MSU’s history! Once we are done, the foundation will be covered back up, the sidewalks will be replaced and we will begin analysis of the artifacts. Saints’ Rest will once again be buried beneath our feet.

Author: Katy Meyers Emery

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