College Hall Testing Complete

This past Tuesday, the Campus Archaeology Program completed their testing at College Hall, in an effort to determine whether or not a summer field school would be possible at the site. Unfortunately, the results are not favorable.

The Artillery Garage, built in 1918. Photo courtesy of MSU Archives and Historical Collections

The extensive historical survey, and the photographs that were discovered, certainly indicate that much of the material culture that would have been located just south of  Beaumont Tower were removed in 1918 and prior to the construction of the Tower in 1928. Archaeological work indicates that after much of the building was torn down in 1918, it was transferred to an area located off the intersection of Beal and Kalamazoo Street to serve as fill along the river. The leftover foundations were used to construct an artillery garage that stood for nearly 10 years. This shed housed 16 army trucks, and used part of the walls of College Hall. It was probably taken down in the mid to late 1920s, as minutes from Board of Trustees meetings in 1927 ask for the foundations of College Hall to be removed.

Southeast corner of Beaumont Tower, 1928. Photo courtesy of MSU Archives and Historical Collections.

The photographs of Beaumont being built in 1928 provide the best evidence supporting the lack of remains. The first photo, taken of the Southeast corner of Beaumont Tower, shows that the sidewalk under which we discovered the northeast corner of College Hall was in tact during the construction of Beaumont. This explains the walls preservation. The second photo, taken from the Southwest corner of Beaumont Tower, shows that a good deal of earth was removed along the West side of the sidewalk, in order to provide a deep footing for the Tower. This is where the interior of College Hall would have been.

Our test units attempted to locate the West and South walls of the building. What resulted was some rubble of possible foundations stones, but nothing in situ. It is likely that much of the building was cleared out when Beaumont was built, and then redistributed across the site when the began to fill in the area that was excavated. The Northeast corner, however, was preserved underneath the sidewalk. Along the South end, a good deal of disturbance also came from the installation of steam, irrigation, and communication lines, limiting the areas possible for excavations, and further disturbing the deposits.

All is not lost, however. The discovery of the northeast corner, provided further insight into the difficult, early phases of the Agricultural College. The poor construction of the foundation, as evidenced by the use of small river stones and poor mortar, corroborate the historical record which indicates that the building was poorly built. The graffiti covered walls showed how manual labor by the students was a regular part of student life. This was further emphasized by the work done by the football team in 1918, who moved the remains of College Hall to their current resting spot at Kalamazoo and Beal Street.

Northeast Corner of College Hall Foundation, 2009. Note the rounded stones and bricks used in foundation.

This movement of the building’s remains also provide a glimpse into a period of transition and expansion, as Michigan Agricultural College became Michigan State College in 1925. Symbolized by the falling down of College Hall, and made permanent by the construction of Beaumont Tower, this transition included the construction of new, larger buildings such as the Memorial Student Union, the new Library (now Museum), and the addition of larger athletic facilities South of the Red Cedar River. Remains of College Hall were, therefore, discovered in two places, each a critical piece of this transition from MAC to MSC. The first is underneath the 1920s version of the Bridge to Future: the bricks of College Hall support the Kalamazoo Street Bridge, built as a link to South Campus. The foundation of College Hall rests in the shadow of Beaumont Tower, which symbolizes the advancement of Michigan State College as the founding Land Grant College, and continues to stand today as a reminder of our Univerisity’s heritage. Despite the fact that a field school at College Hall will not be possible, a significant amount of detail can be gleaned when what was discovered is put in a larger context.

Regarding a field school, we are still investigating other possibilities, so all is not lost in that regard as well. Additional opportunities are available, and will make an announcement soon. Stay tuned!

Author: Terry Brock

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