Armory, date unknown. Photo Credit: Beal, p. 271.
Military service was a factor in the life of every student in the early years of the College for the obvious reason: the Civil War of 1861–65. The first M.A.C. graduating class, ’61, was excused from classes two weeks early so that its members could enlist in the Union army. (One of the seven seniors, Gilbert A. Dickey, was killed on the first day at Gettysburg, July 1, 1863.) Beal’s list of faculty, student, and Agriculture Board enlistees in the Civil War runs for 12 pages of close-set type.[Beal, pp. 484–495]
Despite its importance, military training got off to a slow start at M.A.C. The school’s 1855 charter made no mention of it. The Morrill Act of 1862 specifically required instuction in military tactics—but M.A.C., the pioneer land-grant institution and the model for the Morrill Act, was not subject to said Act. In 1863 the Michigan legislature enacted a law that the Agricultural College would establish a Military School, yet no appropriation of funds accompanied the law, so nothing happened. At the same time, the faculty were opposed to “extend[ing] the sphere of the operations of the college much beyond what ha[d] hitherto been its aims.” In short, they had their hands full with the scientific agriculture curriculum, not to mention the travails of merely keeping the young school alive.[Beal, p. 483]
Drill instruction began on a voluntary and ad hoc basis when Capt. Frederick L. Barker (M.A.C. ’71) enrolled at the school as a veteran in 1867. (Veteran is an understatement: Barker enlisted to the infantry May 13, 1861, fought at First Bull Run, Yorktown, Fair Oaks, Glendale, Malvern Hill, Groveton, Chantilly, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Kelly’s Ford, Locust Grove, Mine Run, Wilderness, Deep Bottom, Boydton Plank Road, and Petersburg, was wounded twice, and mustered out as captain on July 5, 1865.)[Beal, p. 486] After Barker’s graduation, veterans on staff continued the drills, which were held in the basement of the first Wells Hall, or on the drill field south of Faculty Row (today known as Walter Adams Field). “They engaged in target practice with breech-loading Springfield cadet rifles and camped at Pine Lake for field maneuvers.”[Kuhn, p. 116]
Faculty oversight only lasted until 1879, after which the “cadet company lacked strong leadership.” Liberty Bailey suggested in 1881 that the school send a request for an Army officer to improve the company, and a petition to that end was signed by nearly every student.[Kuhn, p. 117] As a result, in 1884 the President of the United States detailed Lieutenant John Alexander Lockwood (b. 1856) to serve as Professor of Military Science and Tactics. Lockwood, son of a Navy surgeon, was 2nd Lt., 17th Infantry, while Professor from 1884 to 1887. He was granted an honorary M.S. degree by the College at the end of his tenure.[Beal, p. 423]
Lt. J. A. Lockwood, Professor of Military Science and Tactics.
Photo Credit: Beal, p. 422.
To support the new Department, the state legislature appropriated $6,000 to fund the construction of the Armory, a low, broad brick building “built by Fuller & Wheeler, of Lansing, for military drill and to serve as a gymnasium and for lectures.” It was located adjacent to the drill field, about where the Music Building is today. Although it was a solidly built structure that Lt. Lockwood in 1886 “pronounced in all reports satisfactory for military purposes,” it had serious drawbacks for multi-purpose use.[Beal, p. 271] Kuhn wrote that “steel girders above and steam pipes along the right wall were hazards for basketball teams.”[Kuhn, p. 198b] Of the flooring material used, Beal wrote “the tar and gravel gave forth a disagreeable odor, and when used by mixed audiences for lectures, orations, commencement, etc., dresses were often badly soiled.” On a more positive note, “after a few years an excellent maple floor was a great improvement for all purposes.”[Beal, p. 271] Kuhn was more pragmatic about the supposedly multi-use design: “The armory never served well its combined functions of drill hall, gymnasium, and ballroom where each activity must contend with the paraphernalia left behind by the occupant of the previous evening or hour.”[Kuhn, p. 215, emphasis added.]
Ultimately, the Armory’s functions were farmed out to a series of new, larger buildings, each with a specific nominal purpose but with the size and versatility to support many roles. A new Gymnasium was built in 1916; a new drill hall, Demonstration Hall, in 1928; and finally a new Auditorium in 1940. By then the Armory, fully obsolete, had been torn down to give way to the new Music Building.