Spring Digging at Adams Field

Today, Thursday and Friday the Campus Archaeology team will be doing archaeological survey at Walter Adams Field on MSU’s campus.  The project was set in motion when the physical plant and landscape services decided to replace, add and renovate the irrigation system at Adam’s field.

Adams Filed has long been a central point of campus for student life.  It is a large open field, dedicated to providing space for activities and general campus beatification.  Its namesake Walter Adams, was a distinguished economics professor at MSU from 1947, and served as president from April 1, 1969 to January 1, 1970.  He was also an honorary member of the Spartan Marching Band, and frequently led the band from this field to Spartan Stadium (Stanford and Dewhurst 2002).  In 1999, this field was rededicated as Walter Adams Field.  Before that, it was informally known as Landon Field, and before that, Old Drill Field (Stanfird and Dewhurst 2002).  It has housed various student, athletic, and social and political events, including a rally in 2008 for the election campaign of the current President of the United States, Barack Obama.

The history of Adams Field is a long one, starting with the construction of campus in 1856.  At that time, campus was a series of old growth mixed oak and pine forests that shaded the Red Cedar River.  The first job for the construction crews (at that time students) was to clear cut areas where building construction was to take place.  The primary area that was cleared was for the first and second buildings on campus, College Hall and Saints Rest respectively.  This area is now call, the “Sacred Space”.  The second area to be cleared was located to the west of College Hall, and is now called Adams Field.  In 1959 a map was made through the process of combining sources such as USGS maps, early campus depictions and journal entries that shows what campus would have looked like on opening day, May 13th, 1857.  In this map, the two clear cut fields are shown as described above.  Also displayed are 4 faculty houses, which would later become  Faculty Row, as well as Burcham Cabin, which is located approximately where the music building is today.  A second map of early campus comes to us from 1878, and was created by A. Zeese and Company in Chicago.  This map displays the area of Adams field as ‘cultivated’ in their key, with a southern slope running to the Red Cedar River.  In this map, more faculty houses are displayed in Faculty Row, with Cowles house located in the north east of the Adams Field area.  The Burcham cabin is not displayed.

Skipping ahead a few years to 1896, a map of bird nests on campus displays a parade and ball ground directly west of Cowles house and on the eastern side of Adams Field.  The western side of Adams field is labeled as ‘hollow’.  From the turn of the century on, the area now known as Adams Field was kept an open field, used for various student and athletic events, including the main drill field for the Spartan marching band.

Now that you know the history behind this wonderful part of historic MSU, come out and see what kind of history we are unearthing!  Look for the Campus Archaeology flag, and bring questions and hot coffee!


  • Beal, WJ
  • 1915         History of the Michigan Agricultural College and Biographical Sketches of Trustees and Professors.  Agricultural College, east Lansing, MI.
  • Kuhn, M.
  • 1955        Michigan State: The First Hundred Years. The Michigan State University Press, East Lansing, MI.
  • Stanford, L. and C.K. Dewhurst
  • 2002       MSU Campus: Buildings, Places, Spaces.  The Michigan State University Press, East Lansing, MI.
  • Widder, K.
  • 2005       Michigan Agricultural College: the evolution of a land grant philosophy, 1855-1925.  The Michigan State University Press, East Lansing, MI.

3 thoughts on “Spring Digging at Adams Field”

  • How very cool! A life-long EL resident with 2 degrees from MSU, I was born in 1955 during MSU’s centennial year. I find the background details, many of which I did not know, fascinating. I hope the sun shines on you some of your work days and I will definitely drop by to see what interesting revelations this dig brings to add to MSU and EL’s rich history. Go Archaeology!

  • Fascinating … although I’m pretty sure the Obama rally on Adams Field was in fall of 2008 ….

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