Title

Exhibit - College Hall

The establishment of the Agricultural College of the State of Michigan, now known as Michigan State University, was on February 12, 1855.  With the 677-acre Burr farm selected as the location for the new college, the first classrooms had to be built. The first building that was erected on the newly formed campus was College Hall. Its sole purpose was the instruction of scientific agriculture.
 
The driving force and mastermind of the newly formed college was John C. Holmes. Holmes was a merchant, member of the Detroit school board, a nurseryman, an editor, and co-organizer of the Michigan State Agricultural Society.  He believed that the new agricultural college should stand alone from other institutions. This caused some contention with the president of University of Michigan Henry P. Tappan, who wanted the agricultural college to part of his university. After two years of debate, it was decided the agricultural college would be its own, separate institution.
 
After the Burr farm was bought, the land remained unsettled while members of the Board of Education decided which buildings should be built. For help, they turned to Holmes to submit building designs for the college. Holmes wanted to know the course of studies, which would help dictate how the buildings would be laid out. For that reason, the Board asked Holmes to create a course of study for the college. Holmes drafted a generalized course of studies and asked for assistance from future professors L. R. Fisk of Ypsilanti and Dr. Henry Goadby of Detroit. The Board approved Holmes’ building plan design and his course of studies outline.
 
In the original design by Holmes, College Hall was supposed to be a central building with two corresponding wings. In the end, only the west wing was built because of cost constraints.
 
Bids for two three-story buildings went out and the Board hired Royce and Copeland at the cost of $26,500.00 to build the classroom and dormitory, which would later be called Saints’ Rest. College Hall was built where Beaumont Tower now stands. The bricks that were used in the construction were made on campus at the west end of today’s Circle Drive, in the area known as “Sleepy Hollow.”
 
Unfortunately, College Hall was poorly constructed. Months into the construction, Board members discovered that several doors wouldn’t open, close, or lock; the floors were either uneven or shrunk and they didn’t reach the walls; baseboards were loose; and the roof leaked so badly that the plaster on the walls fell apart. College Hall was “finished” in 1856 but because of the poor construction, the college was delayed from opening by several months because the Board wanted the contractors to fix the noticeable issues. The contractors said they had completed the building according to their contract, so the Board took Royce and Copeland to court where a financial settlement was reached for the visible errors to be fixed. It wasn’t until later that it was discovered that the foundation of College Hall lay on plank footings and that one corner of the basement foundation included a tree stump.
 
In spite of the poor construction, College Hall was dedicated on May 13, 1857 inside College Hall’s Chapel and was the main educational building for the college from 1857 until 1870. The first floor consisted of the Chapel and the Chemical Laboratory. The second floor held the President and Secretary’s Offices and classrooms. The third floor housed the original library, museum, botany room, and zoology room. For many years, the basement was storage for the horticultural department tools. With the addition of steam heat and electricity, additional classroom space was added in the basement. 
 
It was soon discovered that along with its original faults, College Hall was not adequately built for the use of classrooms. Dr. Beal described how College Hall was built with limited windows which caused him to move to the third floor to get the best light possible when using microscopes. Dr. Kedzie also commented upon how the laboratory was lit with only two windows in the room and the tables had to be rearranged to get the most light. He also spoke about the poor ventilation system that was installed. A fire did breakout in the southeast corner of the basement one Sunday during Elder Weed’s sermon, caused by the hot air furnace. 
 
As the years progressed, College Hall continued to be used for educational lessons, while slowly deteriorating. On March 18, 1914, motioned by John Beaumont, the State Board of Agriculture, now known as the Board of Trustees, made a resolution to preserve College Hall. With that, many M.A.C. alumni voiced how important College Hall was to M.A.C., their memories, and how it should be turned into the Student Union Building. Contractors Charles and William Hoertz were hired to repair College Hall. College architect E. A. Bowd and architect John M. Donaldson helped to determine the safety and restructuring of College Hall.
 
Work began on College Hall but was soon halted when it was discovered just how shoddy the original construction was. The bricks were discovered to be hollow inside, so it wasn’t possible to fill the walls with concrete and reinforced with steel. In a letter to the Board members from University President Frank Kedzie, he described how due to the demand of the War Department pushing for barracks to be created, plans for an Alumni Union were abandoned. It was hoped that College Hall could be revamped to house 250 men that were training to be automobile mechanics on campus. Kedzie wrote how Mr. Bowd stated, “It will be impossible to make a secure and safe building of old College Hall to be used either for the purpose of of (sic) barracks or as a home for the M.A.C. Union. It seems to us that it will be a useless expense to go further in the project or reconstruction.”
 
On August 12, 1918 at 5 o’clock in the evening, large portions of the west and south walls of College Hall came crashing down. As fitting to the first building dedicated to agricultural education, when the walls came tumbling down, the Star Spangled Banner could be heard in the distance from the drill grounds. Thankfully, the building was empty and no one was hurt.
 
Within the week, the rest of the building was razed. By the end of the year, a garage for sixteen army trucks was built on the site of College Hall with sections of the old walls of College Hall used in the construction for the garage. The thought that a garage was standing on the foundation of College Hall, outraged alumni who had their education in that building. One such alumnus and former State Board of Agriculture Trustee member, John Beaumont, later donated money for a tower to be built on the site to honor the memory of College Hall.
 
Sources Cited
Beal, W.J. (1915). History of the Michigan Agricultural College and Biographical Sketches of Trustees and Professors. East Lansing: Agricultural College.
 
Beaumont, John. (March 18, 1914). Board of Trustees Meeting Minutes, pg. 169-170. Michigan State University Archives and Historical Collections.
 
Brock, Terry P. and Lewandowski, David. (2010). College Hall Field Report. Michigan State University. East Lansing, Michigan.
 
“College Hall – The Building Indispensibl (sic) to M.A.C.,” The M.A.C. Record, Vol. 21 No. 11, November 30, 1915.
 
College Hall – Contract, March 1918, Box 826, Folder 47, University Architect and Chairman of the Building Committee Records, UA 4.9.1, Michigan State University Archives and Historical Collections, East Lansing, Michigan.
 
“College Hall Now Pathetic Pile of Debris,” The M.A.C. Record, Vol. 23 No. 25, August 30, 1918.
 
“Concerning College Hall,” The M.A.C. Record, Vol. 19 No. 25, March 31, 1914.
 
Correspondence: July-September 1918, Box 892, Folder 79, Frank S. Kedzie Papers, UA 2.1.8, Michigan State University Archives and Historical Collections, East Lansing, Michigan.

Forsyth, Kevin S. (2018). The Reoganization of 1861. A Brief History of East Lansing, Michigan. Retrieved from http://kevinforsyth.net/ELMI/reorganization.htm

Kuhn, Madison. (1955). Michigan State: The First Hundred Years, 1855-1955. Michigan State University Press. East Lansing, Michigan, pg. 5-7.
 
Michigan State University. Information Files. Buildings. College Hall. Michigan State University Archives and Historical Collections, East Lansing, Michigan.
 
The M.A.C. Record, Vol. 24 No. 2, October 11, 1918


Exhibit written by Jennie Russell, February 2018

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