Introducing the Site of the 2019 CAP Summer Field School

Introducing the Site of the 2019 CAP Summer Field School

Still searching for an archaeology field school for this summer? The Campus Archaeology Program will be offering a field school—right here on MSU’s campus—from May 13 to June 7, 2019.

A field school is one of the best ways to learn what it takes to be an archaeologist, because you learn by actually doing archaeology. CAP summer field school students will earn course credits while gaining hands-on experience and developing key archaeological skills: how to survey, excavate, and map sites, how to identify and interpret artifacts in the lab, how to record and communicate findings, and how to maintain and preserve cultural heritage.

CAP Field School students digging on the banks of the Red Cedar River behind the Admin Building.

Past CAP field schools on MSU’s historic campus have focused on a number of sites across the oldest area of campus known as the “Sacred Space,” a midden associated with construction from Professor Gunson’s house, and Station Terrace, a building that served many uses ranging from housing for bachelor faculty to a post office. 

The 2019 summer field school will focus on the site of a historic homestead, located near present day Shaw Lane and Hagadorn Road on the eastern edge of main campus.

Over the past year, the CAP team has conducted archival research to learn more about the history of this area. Using documents such as U.S. Census records, plat maps, and deeds, we were able to discover how the land was used and who lived there from the mid-1800s to the time it became part of campus in the 1950s.

Peter Toolan and his family owned a strip of land between modern Hagadorn Road and Bogue Street (Plat Book of Ingham County, 1939). From at least 1870 until at least 1920 Peter, and later, his son Peter Jr., farmed land in Meridian Township (U.S. Census 1870-1920). After Peter Jr. died his sister, Mary Rogers, became the head of the household (U.S. Census 1940). Census records from 1940 indicate Mary rented space on the property to John Wesley and Lucy Westrom and Lawrence and Annie Bush (U.S. Census 1940). By 1953, the Westroms must have owned the Toolan property, because warranty deeds show that John Westrom and his son Chester transferred ownership of the land to the Michigan State Board of Agriculture in June of that year.

Plat maps are documents that show divisions of a piece of land. This map from 1939 shows the parcel of land belonging to Peter Toolan.

We also consulted historical maps and aerial photographs to learn about any potential buildings associated with these families. Within the investigation area planned for the field school, these documents show evidence of various structures on the Toolan property. A USGS topographic map of the East Lansing area shows that there was a structure on the property by at least 1909 (USGS 1909). However, since the Toolans were in the area since the 1870’s, a cabin or house could have been present there long before the map was made. The first moderately clear aerial photos of the area, from October 1953, show a house and possible outbuildings on the eastern edge of the Toolan property (MSU IPF). All of these structures appear to have been removed by 1965 (MSU IPF), probably to make way for Holmes Hall’s construction. Based on this evidence, we expect that structural remnants or historical artifacts dating from the 1870s to the 1950s are likely associated with the families living on the Toolan homestead.

October 1953 aerial image of the Toolan home lot. Hagadorn Road is just outside of the image to the right. The image shows the main house on the left, as well as one or two smaller outbuildings to the right.

CAP first began investigating this area during summer 2018 in response to construction projects taking place near the Shaw and Hagadorn intersection. In May, the CAP team conducted pedestrian and systematic shovel test pit surveys. The team recorded various artifacts including colored glass, milk glass, decorated and undecorated ceramics, bath tile, nails, medicine bottles, and butchered animal bones. In June CAP returned to host an Archaeology STEM camp for IB high school students at the site. Most of the artifacts found in May and June are consistent with dates between the mid to late 1800s and the 1950s, the period it was occupied by the Toolan and later the Westrom and Bush families.

IB STEM camp students screen dirt to look for artifacts.

We are excited to learn more about this site because it is one of the few known homesteads in the area that may have been in operation around the same time the university was founded and throughout its expansion. Investigation of this homestead can give us insight into the growth of campus and the surrounding city of East Lansing. As we continue work this summer we hope to find more artifacts and potentially locate structural remnants from the house associated with the Toolan, Westrom, and Bush families.  

If you’re interested in joining the team for the 2019 field school, you can find more information and the application form here. Applications are due to CAP Director Dr. Stacey Camp ( by March 1, 2019.  


Michigan. Ingham County, Town of Meridian. 1870 U.S. Census, page 18.

Michigan. Ingham County, Meridian Township. 1920 U.S. Census, Sheet No. 9A.

Michigan. Ingham County, Meridian Township. 1940 U.S. Census, Sheet No. 20A.

United States Geological Survey. Michigan (Ingham County), Mason Quadrangle. Map. U.S. Department of the Interior. 1909. Accessed:

Plat book of Ingham County, Michigan. Meridian Township. Map. W.W. Hixon & Co. 1939. Accessed:

MSU Infrastructure, Planning, and Facilities (IPF) Public GIS. Accessed:

  • Aerial image, October 15th 1953
  • Aerial image, 1965

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