Tag: MSU History

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 

The History of Laboratory Space at MSU: Part IV

The History of Laboratory Space at MSU: Part IV

Welcome back to our blog series on research and historical laboratories on MSU’s campus! In our last blog we discussed how MSU branched out to expand their research to fields outside sciences directly related to agriculture, such as chemistry and botany, by creating a Mechanical 

The History of Laboratory Space at MSU: Part III

The History of Laboratory Space at MSU: Part III

Welcome back to our blog series on research and historical laboratories on MSU’s campus! In our last blog, we talked about the first two laboratories on campus, the Chemistry and Botanical Laboratories. Both laboratories highlight MSU’s commitment to agriculture, as a better understanding of the hard science as well as the plant species themselves likely directly impacted the types of plants and crops grown at the College and how they were cared for. As mentioned in the first blog of this series, Michigan was still trying to establish itself as a new state in the existing market and the research from early MSU, the only agricultural college in the state, must have made large contributions to the state’s efforts!

In fact, MSU quickly realized the benefit of their new laboratory spaces and soon began to expand beyond just agricultural research with the addition of the Mechanical Building and Laboratory Row. A look at these spaces demonstrates MSU’s strong research ethics across the board!

Mechanical Building (1885-1916, 1916-1966)

Upon the establishment of MSU, the College was tasked to teach a variety of hard sciences, “such branches of learning as are related to … the mechanical arts” (as cited in Kuhn 1955:146). But the adoption of a curriculum in the mechanical arts, besides a few courses related to farming, was slow. At first, the College just didn’t have funds – if they were to offer a degree in mechanical arts to the level of their agricultural one, the College would need a wood-shop, a foundry, and a metal-finishing shop at minimum (Kuhn 1955:146). However, even when the College overcame their financial insecurity, friends of the College objected to the creation of the new degree – what if students chose mechanical arts over agriculture?

This all changed when Hon. Edwin Willits took over as a new president of the university. Willits recognized the importance of a degree in mechanical arts and refused to take office unless the College agreed to fund one! Not only was his request fulfilled, but the College received $17,000 for one new building and a salary for a professor of Mechanics (Kuhn 1955:147).

Mechanical Building, dated to 1888. Image courtesy of MSU Archives and Historical Collections.
Mechanical Building, dated to 1888. Image courtesy of MSU Archives and Historical Collections.

With the necessary funds available, a new structure of engineering shops, known as the Mechanical Building, was constructed in 1885, southeast of College Hall (Forsyth 2020a). The Mechanical Building included office spaces, a woodshop, a blacksmith shop, an iron shop, a brass foundry, and an iron foundry – this enabled the students to “carry a machine from the drawing-board through the wood pattern to the casting and the finished machine” (Kuhn 1955:148). While much of the first decade was spent creating new tools for the shops, including an electric motor, the shops were open for personal projects on Saturdays, which allowed the students to build and sell folding beds for dorm rooms (Kuhn 1955:148).

Left: Interior of machine or mechanical shop, dated to 1888. Right: College of Engineering Shop, undated photograph. Images courtesy of MSU Archives and Historical Collections.

Although the program began as part of a general Mechanical Department, soon other courses were added to the basic curriculum. In 1901, an option of civil engineering coursework became available for juniors and seniors. A course catalogue from 1906 stands as the first evidence of the College offering courses in electrical engineering, but they must have been a huge success as just one year later the Mechanical Department formally changed to the Engineering Department (Beal 1915:149). Although mathematics and civil engineering later split from the Engineering Department, it continued to house civil engineering, drawing and design, mechanical engineering, physics, and electrical engineering (Beal 1915:149) – quite a selection for potential students of the College! The department grew so fast that a separate Engineering Building had to be built in the adjacent plot in 1907 in order to accommodate office and shop space for each of the different courses.

Unfortunately, on March 5, 1916, a fire broke out in the shops that burnt down both the Mechanical Building and the Engineering Building (Forsyth 2020a). Little could be salvaged from the fire, but luckily, due to a donation from Ransom E. Olds, the college was able to rebuild the Shops, as well as a new Forge and Foundry (Forsyth 2020a). The new buildings were built and ready that same year – clearly, the College recognized the importance of the Engineering Department and the need for working shops!

Forge and Foundry, dated to 1934. Image courtesy of MSU Physical Plant.
Forge and Foundry, dated to 1934. Image courtesy of MSU Physical Plant.

Over time, the Engineering Department has grown and changed to reflect its current mission, but shifts in the curriculum and the ability to relocate buildings across campus affected the continued use of the Mechanical Building. Today, only Olds Hall and the Electric Engineering Building remain, as the rest were torn down in 1966-68 to create space for the new Hannah Administration Building (Forsyth 2020a). Although the old shops are no longer a feature on campus, their growth in both space and courses offered highlights MSU’s efforts to increase research and hands-on learning across their curricula and not just those related to agriculture!

In 2010, CAP had the opportunity to perform a series of shovel tests around the current Hannah Administration Building, the plot of the old Mechanical Building (CAP Report No. 27). During this excavation, historical artifacts including glass, ceramic, brick, coal, and drain tile were uncovered (CAP Report No. 27). It is likely that these artifacts hail from the shops that previously rested on this plot of land! No further excavation has taken place in this region of campus to date, but it has been recommended that any future construction work be carefully monitored due to the high abundance of artifacts found in the 2010 shovel testing.

Laboratory Row

The need for more laboratory space for a multitude of departments soon became apparent, as curricula began to shift to purse the more hands-on approach already fostered within the Chemistry Department and Mechanical Arts. This need led to the construction of Laboratory Row, a row of seven separate buildings, constructed over a twenty-four-year period, which provided laboratory spaces for a variety of different departments. Construction began in 1885 with the Veterinary Laboratory and finished in 1909 with the addition of the new Agriculture Hall.

Laboratory Row, dated to 1912. From left: Horticulture, Bacteriology, Botany, Dairy, Entomology, and Agriculture (Veterinary is out of view to the right). Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.
Laboratory Row, dated to 1912. From left: Horticulture, Bacteriology, Botany, Dairy, Entomology, and Agriculture (Veterinary is out of view to the right). Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

As time passed, most of these departments moved away to larger replacements elsewhere on campus, calling into question the need for these buildings. In fact, in the early 1920s, several plans were made to demolish the row, including plans made by T. Glenn Phillips in 1926 to replace the row with one single building with double-wing offices and classrooms (Forsyth 2020b). However, this plan did not come to fruition due to a lack of funds. Another attempt to replace the row with a single large building for the Basic College (Social Science, Humanities, etc.) was put forth in 1958, but was never executed. Today, the remaining six buildings are still in use and are included in the State Historic Register (Forsyth 2020b).

While the buildings on Laboratory Row do not necessarily house the departments they were built for anymore, their creation demonstrates the College’s efforts to increase research in all departments! To learn more about the departments included in Laboratory Row, join us next week for the next part of this blog series!


  • Beal, W. J. 1915   History of the Michigan Agricultural College and biogeographical sketches of trustees and professors. Agricultural College, East Lansing, Michigan.
  • Forsyth, K. 2020a. Accessed at: https://kevinforsyth.net/ELMI/engineering-shops.htm
  • Forsyth, K. 2020b. Accessed at: https://kevinforsyth.net/ELMI/laboratory-row.htm
  • Kuhn, M. 1955. Michigan State: The First Hundred Years. The Michigan State University Press, East Lansing.
  • Stawski, C. 2010. Administration Building Survey Report. MSU Campus Archaeology Program, Report No. 27, East Lansing, Michigan.



Welcome back to our blog series on research and historical laboratories on MSU’s campus! In our last blog, we outlined how the university gained its start with an emphasis on scientific research and its uses for agriculture. Although the College used as much of its 

The History of Laboratory Space at MSU: Part I

The History of Laboratory Space at MSU: Part I

We are all familiar with Michigan State University’s (MSU) status as a part of the top ten conference (Go Spartans!) and for its place as a top tier research university (recently ranked in the top 8% nationwide). In fact, MSU offers 170 degrees for undergraduate 

Apparitions & Archaeology: 5th Annual Haunted Campus Tour

Apparitions & Archaeology: 5th Annual Haunted Campus Tour

Happy Halloween! Yesterday we hosted our 5th annual Apparitions & Archaeology: A Haunted Campus Tour. For this year’s tour, we decided to change several of the stops and the MSU Paranormal Society added stories from their investigations of each area! If you weren’t able to attend the tour last night, below you can read about some of the stories told at each stop:

Southeast corner of Beaumont Tower, 1928. Photo courtesy of MSU Archives and Historical Collections.

Beaumont Tower:
Prior to Beaumont Tower, College Hall, the first building on campus, was located at this spot. It was erected in 1856 and was the first structure in America that was dedicated to the instruction of scientific agriculture. 

The tower itself was constructed where the northeast corner of College Hall once stood. Some of the foundation walls for the original building still exist underneath the sidewalks. In the fall of 2009, the Campus Archaeology Program (CAP) tested areas north and south of Beaumont Tower and discovered the foundation of College Hall and cinder pathways that would have been used by the first MSU students!

There are many stories of hauntings around Beaumont tower. For example, specters of couples in old-fashioned dress holding hands have been seen walking slowly by on foggy mornings. On very dark nights, there have been multiple sightings of a man in tails and a stovepipe hat wandering around the tower.

Saints Rest:
Saints’ Rest was the first dormitory on campus, constructed in 1857. Unfortunately in the winter of 1876, while students were on break, the building burned down. In 2005, CAP investigated the debris left behind from the building, and determined that the fire likely started in the basement where construction tools were found burned in place. 

Students outside Saints’ Rest ca. 1857. Image from MSU Archives.

Although there were no reported deaths in the fire, there have been numerous sightings of ghostly students in 19th century clothing wandering through this space, looking for their lost dorm building. When the Paranormal Society investigated this area, the flashlight set on the ground near the Saints’ Rest sign flicked when asked if there were any spirits that wanted to communicate…

Mable Reconstructed
Mabel Post-Reconstruction

In 2015, a privy associated with the Saints’ Rest dormitory was discovered and excavated by CAP. Not only was this the bathroom for students, but it also served as a dumping ground for illicit items–such as smoking pipes and alcohol bottles–that students wished to hide forever. Also discovered in the historic privy was the head of a porcelain doll, who came to be known as Mabel. Why someone living in Saints’ Rest, an all-male dormitory, was seeking to get rid of a doll remains a mystery.

Mary Mayo Hall:
The area by this dormitory was once known as “Faculty Row,” as it was where the first faculty homes were built on campus. The only Faculty Row building still here today is Cowles House, which is the oldest standing structure on the MSU campus. 

In 2008, CAP excavated between Landon and Campbell Halls and uncovered early construction materials including wood plumbing and bricks made of clay sourced from the Red Cedar River. 

Mary Mayo Hall, a stop on the Apparitions and Archaeology Tour, is said to be haunted
Mary Mayo Hall – Image courtesy of MSU Archives.

Mary Mayo is supposed to be one of the most haunted buildings on campus. Several strange occurrences have been reported. A woman’s figure has been seen near the piano in the West Lounge and sometimes the piano plays all by itself.

MSU Museum:
Long ago, a very different building stood in this spot: Williams Hall, which was the second dormitory on campus. It was built in 1869, but like Saints’ Rest, it burned down in 1919 during winter break. 

Although limited archaeology has been done in the immediate vicinity of the museum, just to the west of Beaumont Tower, a small Archaic campsite, dating to between 3000 and 500 BC was discovered and excavated by CAP.

MSU Museum - Image courtesy of MSU Archives
MSU Museum – Image courtesy of MSU Archives

In the MSU Museum over the years, archaeology graduate students working in the basement labs reported hearing people walking around on the first and second floors, as well as strange noises coming from behind the exhibits.

Beal Gardens: 
Beal Botanical Garden is the longest continually maintained university garden in the nation. It was established by William Beal, MAC’s first Botany professor. In 1879, a Botanical Laboratory was built in the area near the Botanical Garden. 

Beal's first Botanical Laboratory - Image Source: MSU Archives & Historical Collection FLICKR
Beal’s first Botanical Laboratory – Image Source: MSU Archives & Historical Collection FLICKR

Campus Archaeology excavated between West Circle Drive and the Beal Garden gazebo in 2016 and found building remains believed to be the remnants of the Botanical Laboratory. Artifacts recovered included building materials, melted glass, and charcoal, most likely associated with the 1890 fire that destroyed the building. 

Students and faculty members have reported seeing a male apparition dressed in clothes from the 1920s – some say it is Professor Beal coming back to the garden to check on his seed experiment that he started in 1879.

CAP fellow, Kate Frederick standing by historic steam tunnel.
CAP fellow, Kate Frederick standing by historic steam tunnel.

Steam Tunnels:
Throughout north campus there are historic steam tunnels; they are a series of honeycombed tubes that are over 100 years old. In 1884, the first boiler and power plant was constructed on campus, behind Olds hall. The steam created by the boiler was used to heat the original Wells and Williams Halls, the Chemistry building, library, and museum. 

During the 2014 West Circle construction, Campus Archaeology was able to excavate one of these historic steam tunnels. We were lucky to be able to document this stretch of tunnel, as most of the historic tunnels have been deeply buried, are caved in, or have been removed by construction.

Author: Autumn Painter

MSU’s First Veterinary Laboratory

MSU’s First Veterinary Laboratory

Our first week of CAP summer work focused almost exclusively on the remains of the first Veterinary Laboratory that was uncovered by construction work related to the ongoing West Circle Steam Renovation project. This week we were finally, able to get into the MSU Archives 

A Personal Connection to Landon Hall

A Personal Connection to Landon Hall

This summer CAP has the opportunity to again look for the site of the Faculty Row buildings located where Landon Hall currently is as well as artifacts that might give us insights into early student life. Cowles House is the only building left of the 

MSU Archival Tidbits: Labor, Fires, and Enrollment

MSU Archival Tidbits: Labor, Fires, and Enrollment

I am still working on the sustainability project which seems to have generated endless research questions. As I try to reign it all in, I have been writing about a category that I have blandly termed “Student Life” in my draft. This is the catch-all portion for the interesting factoids I come across in the University Archives. Somehow I will assimilate this information into a working draft, but for now I will share what I have learned below:

In the early days of the college, all students attending the college were required to split their days between labor and academics (T. Gunson, 1940). Through manual labor in the gardens and farms, as well as clearing land for buildings and roads, the student body effectively constructed the foundations of the institution while receiving their education.

In 1871, student Henry Haigh reported a fee of $29.95 for boarding at Saint’s Rest. Haigh journaled about the atmosphere in the dining halls which were structured by assigned seating. He mentioned the presence of women in the halls, though the ratio of men to women was still quite unequal at this time.

Engineering Lab on Fire in 1916, via MSU Archives

During October 1871, the year of the Great Chicago Fire, there were numerous raging fires in the woods around the new campus and across Michigan. Students were dispatched to fight the blazes along with seminal faculty members, Dr. Miles and Dr. Kedzie. Many people lost their lives and homes, especially in the thumb region of the state, but the college was spared due to the management of the students and their vigilance against the fires. Drs. Miles and Kedzie would divide students into groups to battle the blazes through the night, a task compounded by the water shortage from an ongoing drought. Classes were largely cancelled for a week while students joined with neighboring farmers to keep watch over the advancement of the fires. Haigh noted that many students knew how to combat fires and dense smoke, having experience with managing agricultural lands on their family properties. (Sidenote: if anyone has any information about the fire outbreaks during this time period, please share! I am curious as to why there were so many fires in Michigan at this time, though I presume it is due to dry environment).

Faced with declining enrollment numbers, President Snyder (1896-1915) personally corresponded with potential students and advocated the incorporation of promotional literature and calendars into the college’s recruitment plans. As a result, student enrollment increased during his presidency (though the onset of World War I drew students to combat soon after he stepped down). President Snyder encouraged the training of women at the college through a series of short course programs. During his term, Snyder also helped initiate summer courses and railroad institutes. All of these programs lended the college credibility in the eyes of the state population, as MAC faculty members traveled to rural areas of Michigan to give lectures and perform demonstrations for farmers. In an effort to appear relevant and indispensible to the state, the college also enacted county extension programs.

Frank Kedzie, President of the college from 1916-1921 during the turbulent war years, resigned in the wake of weak post-war enrollment growth. A change in leadership was thought to be needed to reignite admissions, so leadership was passed to President Friday in 1921. Friday was an economist and agriculturalist hired to solve the issues stemming from the national war effort. State farmers were suffering during the post-WWI depression. During his administration, Friday endorsed more liberal education programs, allowing engineering students to pursue liberal arts courses in place of some more technical class requirements. President Friday spearheaded the effort to grant PhDs, with the first degree conferred in 1925.

Author: Amy Michael

This Month in MSU’s History: March

This Month in MSU’s History: March

Well today is officially the second day of Spring despite the snow. We are currently preparing for our summer archaeological work, which includes surveys and monitoring on at least 7 different construction projects! Its going to be a balancing act- but hopefully by doing lots