From the Archives: Jenison Field House
Earlier this summer, the Campus Archaeology team surveyed the green spaces behind Jenison Fieldhouse, next to the Red Cedar. We weren’t finding much, just the occasional nail or piece of glass, but regardless, we still wanted to know more about the building and the land around it. So with quite a few research goals in mind, we all took a trip to MSU’s Archives and Historical Collections to do some digging around.
The fieldhouse was built in 1939, opened in 1940, and was named the Frederick Cowles Jenison Fieldhouse, after the alumnus who willed his entire estate to the university. The Jenison Estate along with funds from the Public Works Administration, were used to fund the construction. Jenison Fieldhouse housed the men’s basketball team until 1989 when it was moved to the Breslin Center, today it houses the women’s volleyball, gymnastics, wrestling, and indoor track and field teams as well as the administrative offices for the Athletic Department. The fieldhouse was built on an open field south of the Red Cedar, and northwest of Demonstration Hall. It cost more than $1,100,000, and at the time of its opening was perhaps the finest building of its kind in the world.
It originally featured several handball, shuffle board, and table tennis courts, numerous locker and equipment rooms, offices, a swimming pool, fencing, dancing, and wrestling rooms, as well as a gymnasium and running track all within the building. North of the fieldhouse there were two regulation size baseball diamonds, to the west of those was a large golf practice green, and immediately south of Jenison’s south entrance was an archery range. Jenison Fieldhouse has undergone a series of renovations since then, including replacing the golf green and archery range with parking lots. The most recent large scale renovation was in 2003, which is how it is seen today.
The reason we went to dig at Jenison Fieldhouse was that there a few patches of sidewalks that were being replaced and we needed to shovel test pit underneath the old sidewalks before the new ones were laid down. We were also going to survey the remaining green space around the parking lots and near the river that hadn’t been done during previous surveys of the area. We started out surveying the green space in the morning; we set up a grid and had upwards of 15 test pits to dig.
Aside from a number of large rocks and troublesome tree roots, the test pits were relatively empty. Like I mentioned before, we found the usual scatter of miscellaneous artifacts, some nails, tiny ceramic sherds, bits of metal, and a few pieces of glass. But we did find something that at the time seemed unusual, a golf ball. It was certainly an unexpected find, but after a foray into the Archive’s collections we were able to put it into context. The ball was a Titleist, and the only markings on it were the words “Titleist 2.” The dimples were also larger than most of the golf balls we see currently, which led us to believe it might be an older ball. After some online research we found out that Titleist golf balls have been around since 1930, and that combined with our new knowledge of the golf green that is now a parking lot to the west of the building, the same parking lot we were surveying next to, led to a better understanding of why we had found a golf ball in such a seemingly wrong location. So with a little research and the help of the MSU Archive’s staff, we were able to fit the golf ball we pulled out of the ground into Jenison’s historical context.
Author: Josh Schnell