A piece of MSU’s historic first building unearthed
EAST LANSING, Mich. – Routine sidewalk replacement has led to the discovery of part of the foundation of Michigan State University’s historic first building, College Hall.
The Campus Archaeology Program on Sept. 17 unearthed the northeast corner of the building’s stone-and-mortar foundation just south of the site where Beaumont Tower now stands.
Built in 1856 as the nation’s first building for the study of scientific agriculture, College Hall was plagued by defective construction and torn down after two walls collapsed in 1918. Today, the building’s image is featured on MSU’s official seal.
The discovery came after MSU Landscape Services, a division of Physical Plant, contacted the Campus Archaeology Program about plans to replace the sidewalk near Beaumont Tower. Construction was put on hold for a few days while team members conducted an excavation – and ultimately discovered the intact foundation a few feet underground.
It’s no surprise that College Hall sat on the ground now occupied by Beaumont Tower. A plaque on Beaumont commemorates the former building.
But campus archaeologists didn’t know what, if anything, was left of the brick-walled structure after it was torn down nearly a century ago. Lynne Goldstein, professor of anthropology who directs the Campus Archaeology Program, said finding the foundation could help answer questions about the early days of the university.
“There’s no question the construction of the building was poor. The foundation is not done as solidly as the other buildings on campus,” Goldstein said.
The foundation was photographed, mapped and carefully covered so it could be re-excavated in the future if necessary. Following this, sidewalk construction was allowed to continue.
Campus Archaeology and the MSU Department of Anthropology may plan an archaeological field school – or an outdoor lab for students – in the future, since the foundation clearly continues into an open area, Goldstein said.
“Such a field school would allow us to continue the tradition started in College Hall of access to education for all students – it would be the ‘last class taught in College Hall,’” she said.
Campus Archaeology is part of the Department of Anthropology and includes undergraduate and graduate students. Terry Brock, a doctoral student, serves as campus archeologist and works with Goldstein to direct campus surveys and excavations.
Michigan State University has been advancing knowledge and transforming lives through innovative teaching, research and outreach for more than 150 years. MSU is known internationally as a major public university with global reach and extraordinary impact. Its 17 degree-granting colleges attract scholars worldwide who are interested in combining education with practical problem solving.