People’s Park: the Short Course Dormitories

As our archaeological investigation of People’s Park continues, so does our archival investigation. As Adrianne explained in our last blog one of the motivating factors behind our shovel test survey of People’s Park was pinpointing the location of the Chittenden Memorial Cabin; however there were other structures located at People’s Park that we had to consider for our research. Three buildings labeled as “Short-course dormitories” stood in the now vacant space for several decades after WWII.

Aside from what the name itself describes, the short-course dormitory buildings are particularly interesting because we really don’t know much about them, giving Campus Archaeology an excellent opportunity to survey the area for any remnants of these buildings that may give us more insight into their structure and function. Prior to breaking ground however, we did a thorough search of the MSU archives and online campus records to try and find out as much about these structures as possible. Much to my surprise, there was nothing, not just too little to work with but a literal void in any records about the existence of these buildings. As such, the only proof that the short course dormitories ever stood is their presence on campus maps appearing in the post WWII years through 1969, as well as the rare passing mention in transcripts of interviews with former students and faculty.

Based on the size and shape of the dormitory buildings on historic maps of campus, as well as the University’s trend in the post WWII era of constructing temporary Quonset dormitories, cafeterias, and classroom buildings in an (albeit quite successful) attempt to house the influx of military veterans attending the University on the newly drafted GI bill, we can reasonably presume that the short course dormitory buildings were similarly Quonset style structures. Constructed of corrugated steel, Quonset huts were generally built atop a foundation of concrete pilings, wood planks, or nothing at all, meaning that if the short course dormitories were in fact Quonsets, we could expect to find remnants of concrete, wood planks, or nothing. While not the wealth of information we were looking for, we hoped that the archaeological record would be more revealing.

Without knowing the exact location of the dormitories however, we relied on a general grid test-pit survey of the entire courtyard to find remnants of these buildings (among others), but again, there was little to indicate the presence of any structures. While there was a general assortment of brick, charcoal, and small pieces of concrete throughout People’s Park, there were never any concentrations or patterns of these discoveries to indicate a structure. Further, the only notably large pieces of concrete that we discovered turned out to be large broken chunks of sidewalk.

As such, our recent search for the short course dormitory structures shows that not all archaeological research, even that of semi-recent history results in answers on the first try. To continue the search we may have to look in other archives around campus, or try to find out the colloquial names for each of these buildings that may result in more information than did our searches for ‘short course dormitories,’ so that next time we return to the field, we will be better equipped to find the remnants of this part of our campus history.


Author: Ian Harrison

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