Expecting the unexpected for summer construction projects

As students begin to file out of campus, the orange cones start lining up as a sign of the upcoming summer construction projects. This will be my second summer as Campus Archaeologist and I feel much more prepared this year to expect the unexpected. We’ve been researching in the archives for the past couple of months to make sure we are prepared for every historic feature that may be potentially disturbed throughout the summer. While last year I was caught off-guard with our early discovery of the first Vet Lab, this summer I have a full crew on deck and historic maps in my pocket, so we’re ready to tackle the summer.

The main summer construction project that will occupy CAP is the Phase 4 (final phase) of the North Campus Infrastructure Improvements, or the West Circle steam tunnel renovations. This project will occur in the area between the MSU Museum, Olds Hall and the Library, a very old part of campus. There are three historic buildings that will most likely be affected: the first Williams Hall, the second Wells Hall, and the mechanical engineering shops. CAP is working closely with Granger Construction to insure that we have time to properly survey these areas, and if necessary excavate.

If you’ve been following our blog you know that the second Wells Hall, built in 1916, was torn down in the 1956 to accommodate the new library. Part of the footprint of the second Wells Hall is under the Library’s east parking lot. This parking lost is slated to be torn up and resurfaced, so CAP can sneak in during this process and shovel test. When we shovel test for Wells Hall we want to see if any of the foundation is buried, or if it was completely removed when is was razed. Also, we’re hoping to find artifacts that tell us about the early days of dorm life at MSU.

A new area that we haven’t surveyed too much is the area of the mechanical engineering shops. These shops would have been located to the east of Olds Hall and used for the mechanical engineering program. Associated with the mechanical shops was the power plant, built in 1884, to provide steam forced heat for the university. Previous research on the history of MSU’s power plants indicated that at its inceptions, MSU students were required to feed the coal burning power plant. This adds an interesting element to the potential archaeology of the area since student activity and use of the area was mandatory in order to keep the university heated.

Finally, the West Circle steam tunnel renovations may disturb the foundation of the original Williams Hall. Williams Hall was built in 1869 and burned in 1919. This building housed 80 students and the basement was the cafeteria that fed the university for decades. CAP found a cornerstone of Williams Hall back in 2009, so we know the foundation still exists.

We’ll keep you updated as the construction gets underway.

Author: Kate Frederick

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