The History of Laboratory Space at MSU: Part V

The History of Laboratory Space at MSU: Part V

Welcome back to our blog series on research and historical laboratories on MSU’s campus! In our last blog we learned more about the first three buildings added to Laboratory Row and how they have been used on campus over time. As we mentioned in our first blog post in the series, MSU was established in an effort to create an institution unlike any other and distinctly separated its curriculum from that seen in a more classical education – therefore, the push for research and hands-on learning likely acted as a major draw for student enrollment. And the creation of these laboratories over the twenty-four-year period from 1885 to 1909 clearly demonstrate the steady growth of both the College and each individual department, as almost all of these departments needed to relocate to even larger spaces!

Laboratory Row stands as a testament to MSU’s efforts to earn its place as a reputable and credible university – which seemed to have worked quite well based on MSU’s current status as an R1 institution! Today, for the last blog post in this series, we will explore the last buildings added to Laboratory Row and their place on campus today.

Botany Laboratory (1892-Present)

After the original Botany Laboratory burnt down in 1890, Professor Beal made every effort to build a new laboratory and a new museum near his Faculty Row No. 7 residence, but was prevented from doing so, as the potential site would have rested on the “Sacred Space” (Forsyth 2020a). Furthermore, a space in Laboratory Row had already been chosen by the Board of Agriculture, where it still stands today across from Linton Hall. While the College made sure to build the new structure in brick to prevent another fire, Beal notes that it “was never large enough” (Beal 1915:172) – in fact, there was not enough space in the new Botanical Laboratory or money to reinstate the extensive Botanical Collection that rested on the second floor of the original building (Kuhn 1955:182).

New Botany Laboratory (left), dated to 1904. Image courtesy of MSU Archives and Historical Collections.
New Botany Laboratory (left), dated to 1904. Image courtesy of MSU Archives and Historical Collections.

Most students today will recognize the new Botany Laboratory by its current name: “Old Botany.” However, the building looks a bit different than it did when it was built in 1892 because a 25×50 ft “long much needed” two-story addition was constructed in 1909 (Beal 1915:172). In 1910, a greenhouse for plant physiology was also added, which contained many cement structures to hold plants and act as benches for the students (CAP Report No. 18). While the College decided to update many of the greenhouses in 1930, it is unclear how this affected the Botany greenhouse, as greenhouses were not distinguished by number or any other individualizing moniker (CAP Report No. 18).

Left: Students on a botany trip, dated to May 1914. Right: Botany class in new Botanical Laboratory, dated to 1900. Images courtesy of MSU Archives and Historical Collections.

Today, Old Botany is the last building in Laboratory Row, of the six left standing, that is still awaiting renovations (MSU Today 2019).

Dairy/Forestry Laboratory (1901-Present)

As we have mentioned in a previous blog post, dairy courses were not a part of the original curriculum of the College even though dairy barns were an important fixture on the early campus. However, this changed due to the first ever short course, taught in the basement of the first Agriculture Laboratory, which focused on creamery management and was extremely successful. Therefore, a Dairy Building was completed in 1901 at the cost of $15,000, as the first building fully dedicated to dairy operations (Beal 1915:276; Forsyth 2020b).

The completed Dairy Building was 64×70 ft and stood two-stories high. The basement held store rooms, cold storage, a cheese curing room, as well as lockers and washrooms for the students (Beal 1915:276). The first floor contained a home dairy room, a butter room, a cheese room, a wash room, and a testing room (Beal 1915:276). The second floor contained classrooms, offices and laboratory spaces (Beal 1915:276). However, even with all its amenities, its use as a Dairy Building was short lived, as a new and larger Dairy Building was constructed in 1912. After the dairy operations moved to the new building, the old Dairy Building transitioned to the Department of Forestry in 1914, becoming the Forestry Laboratory (Forsyth 2020b).

Left: Early short course in creamery management (Kuhn 1955:70). Right: Forest Laboratory (originally the Dairy Laboratory), dated to 1934. Image courtesy of MSU Physical Plant.

The Department of Forestry used the structure for almost 50 years, which led to the building being renamed in honor of Professor Alfred K. Chittenden, who served as the Professor of Forestry from 1914 to 1930 (Forsyth 2020b). After Forestry relocated, Graduate Assistants for the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources used Chittenden hall until 1999, after which the building remained empty for 15 years. Since the turn of century, Chittenden Hall has been completely renovated, but this construction modernized many aspects of the building (Forsyth 2020b). One feature that remains from the building’s original purpose as the Dairy Building is a cow door, which hovers a few feet above the ground on one side of Chittenden Hall (Forsyth 2020b). Today, Chittenden Hall is used by the Graduate School.

Cow entrance along north wall of Chittenden Hall, dated to 1992. Image courtesy of MSU Campus Maps.
Cow entrance along north wall of Chittenden Hall, dated to 1992. Image courtesy of MSU Campus Maps.

During the renovation of Chittenden Hall, CAP performed a series of shovel pit tests along the west side of the building and uncovered a plethora of historical artifacts, including window glass, nails, ceramics, slag, and potential ash dumps (CAP Report No. 39). Additionally, CAP team members uncovered pieces of granite that matched those used in the building’s foundation, suggesting that the granites used for construction were likely cut on site (CAP Report No. 39). As this building sits in a historic portion of campus, it has been recommended that any future construction work be monitored closely.

Bacteriology Laboratory (1902-Present)

MSU formally created the Department of Bacteriology and Farm Hygiene in 1900 and was one of the first institutions to do so (Forsyth 2020c). At first, the Department of Bacteriology and Farm Hygiene worked out of the second floor of Veterinary Laboratory (built in 1885), but was able to transition to a customized building in 1902 upon construction of the Bacteriology Laboratory, the first laboratory space wholly dedicated to bacteriology in the United States. (Forsyth 2020c). The laboratory, nicknamed “Old Bact’y,” was built at a cost of $30,000 and also included an attached barn in the rear of the building to house livestock. The building location was just northwest of the new Botany Laboratory and on the plot of the old Experiment Station Forcing house (Beal 1915:279).

Bacteriology Laboratory, dated to 1903. Image courtesy of MSU Physical Plant.
Bacteriology Laboratory, dated to 1903. Image courtesy of MSU Physical Plant.

This laboratory earned quite a reputation over time, as it produced serums for profit as well as a journal, Microbiology, which was edited by the department head, Charles E. Marshall. Both of these pursuits enabled the laboratory to fund any improvements needed and sustain state-of-the-art equipment (Kuhn 1955:231). The laboratory was also used to cremate the remains from anatomical dissections on the second floor of the Veterinary Laboratory – students were paid 15 cents an hour to aid with this task (Kuhn 1955:232). After Marshall left MSU, the building was renamed as Marshall Hall and Professor Ward Giltner took over as the new head until 1947. Giltner’s role as head prompted the movement of the department to Giltner Hall in 1952 (Forsyth 2020c).

Left: Students working in a lab for bacteriology research, prior to the Bacteriology Laboratory, dated to 1890. Right: Student conducting research in Bacteriology Laboratory, dated to 1905. Images courtesy of MSU Archives and Historical Collections.

In 1991, the building received an addition in the form of a new seminar room along the rear of the structure, but underwent a full restoration in 2002 due to a donation from Randall and Mary Pittman (Forsyth 2020c). With their donation, the Pittmans renamed the building to Marshall-Adams Hall, the current building name today.

Agriculture Hall (1909-Present)

After the Department of Agriculture had moved into the first Agriculture Laboratory (built in 1889), research boomed and prompted the construction of new, larger Agriculture Hall in 1909 just south of the first laboratory on the plot of an old horse barn. When the building was dedicated, it was the largest building on campus at five-stories tall (Forsyth 2020d). The building was constructed at a cost of $182,000 with stone and paving brick, as well as concrete, to ensure that it would remain fire-proof (Beal 1915:285). The expansive building contained classrooms, laboratories, offices, and even a livestock judging pavilion, which was once located in the center of the large building (Forsyth 2020d). Additionally, the building allowed “the work of farm mechanics, meat demonstration, farm machinery, instruction in the use of cement, animal husbandry, agronomy, work in soils, [and] chemistry of the experimental station” (Beal 1915:285).

Left: Agriculture Hall, dated to 1909. Right: Original floor plan of Agriculture Hall, undated photograph. Images courtesy of MSU Physical Plant.

However, that still wasn’t enough space! In 1991, a new rear entrance was added to Agriculture Hall and a 27,000 square foot annex was added in 2000. This building is still used today and remains a main feature on MSU’s campus, but following the demolition of Morrill Hall in 2013, Ag Hall was renamed as the Justin S. Morrill Hall of Agriculture (Forsyth 2020d).

Left: Agriculture students in a lab, dated to 1918. Right: Crop class, dated to 1946. Images courtesy of MSU Archives and Historical Collections.

Image: Two-course stair structure uncovered by CAP in May, 2014 (CAP Report No. 43).

 In 2014, CAP was called to a construction site near Agricultural Hall on West Circle Drive, as crews had uncovered an intact stone and concrete feature adjacent to the building’s foundation (CAP Report No. 43). Upon further excavation, a two-course stair structure was uncovered, which may be a remnant of an earlier version of the building’s façade or the foundation of a structure that predated Agriculture Hall (CAP Report No. 43).

Although no other artifacts were found, it has been recommended that the foundation feature indicates the importance of this site to MSU’s history and so any future construction work in this area should be carefully monitored or investigated further (CAP Report No. 43).


We hope you have enjoyed this blog series on laboratory spaces at MSU! A closer look at how these spaces have been added and have grown with the departments on campus truly show how dedicated MSU has been to the advancement of research from the start. Although MSU struggled in its early years, research has always been a focal point, which continues to bring in students from around the world. It is no surprise that MSU has achieved R1 status and supports so many different research endeavors on campus today!

If you enjoyed this blog series, please check out our new StoryMap on MSU’s historic laboratories! StoryMap acts as a virtual tour and allows you to click through the different laboratory spaces and see where they are located on a map of today’s MSU campus! We hope this provides you with a better idea of where these laboratories were located in comparison to one another and how the campus expanded over time.

A screenshot of the MSU Laboratory Space StoryMap.
A screenshot of the MSU Laboratory Space StoryMap.

We really enjoyed exploring MSU’s different laboratories and can’t wait to explore other historic features of campus in our future blog posts!


  • Beal, W. J. 1915   History of the Michigan Agricultural College and biogeographical sketches of trustees and professors. Agricultural College, East Lansing, Michigan.
  • Frederick, Kate. 2013. Chittenden Hall Survey Report. MSU Campus Archaeology Program, Report No. 39, East Lansing, Michigan.
  • Frederick, Kate. 2014. Agricultural Hall Foundation Survey Report. MSU Campus Archaeology Program, Report No. 43, East Lansing, Michigan.
  • Forsyth, K. 2020a. Accessed at:
  • Forsyth, K. 2020b. Accessed at:
  • Forsyth, K. 2020c. Accessed at:
  • Forsyth, K. 2020d. Accessed at:
  • Meyers, Katy. 2013. Old Botany Greenhouse Survey Report. MSU Campus Archaeology Program, Report No. 18, East Lansing, Michigan.
  • Kuhn, M. 1955. Michigan State: The First Hundred Years. The Michigan State University Press, East Lansing.

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