Chemical Laboratory (1871—1955)
When College Hall was built, it was intended as one wing of a more substantial edifice, “with a large central structure and two detached wings.” Limited funds led to the construction of only the west wing in 1856. It was soon discovered that experiments and demonstrations conducted in the chemistry lab, in the north end of College Hall, often generated noxious fumes that permeated into the other rooms, including the offices upstairs.[Kuhn, p. 84]
Thus, when $10,000 was granted by the State Legislature to build a chemistry laboratory, it was decided that a wholly separate building would be preferable to another combined-use wing like that of College Hall. The Chemical Laboratory, built by Edwards & Cooper of Ypsilanti (fresh from their completion of Williams Hall), became the first laboratory building on campus when it was occupied in September 1871. Dr. Robert Clark Kedzie established many of the building’s design elements, including the arrangement of the lab tables under the tall and broad windows, rather than between them, to afford abundant natural light to experiments. This was a vast improvement over the dimly lit, under-fenestrated lab space of College Hall. The lab also had a revolutionary ventilating chimney, the first of its kind in the United States; it was infused by steam jets for positive airflow and connected to evaporating hoods to draw off any aforementioned fumes. Built of white brick, the squat, boxy structure with its flat roof and dentiled cornice soon acquired a nickname: the “Chemical Fort.”[Beal, pp. 268–269. Kuhn, pp. 84, 293–294]
Chemical Laboratory from the northeast, 1913. The original building consists of the two darker masses from center to right, with its original north-facing entrance bricked up. The 1882 addition is the lighter shaded portion beyond, with the three-story 1911 addition and its two-story connector at left. Photo Credit: Beal, p. 269.
An addition to the lab, designed by Professor W. S. Holdsworth in a similar style and of the same white brick, was added to the south in 1882.
Physics arose as part of the Chemistry Department in 1889, and soon spawned its own sub-discipline of Electrical Engineering. All three fields of study were taught in the Chemical Lab. E.E. moved into the new Engineering Building in 1907, and split from Physics to become a part of the Engineering Division when that division was created the following year.[Kuhn, pp. 182, 225]
In 1911, a second addition was constructed to the east of the first addition. This was a three-story hall of common brick with a two-story section connecting new to old. This addition contained a lecture hall for 250 students, which Beal lamented was “alas too small in the fall of 1913!” That same year, 1913, the entrance at the north end of the original building was bricked up; the main entrance then faced the south, entering into Holdsworth’s 1882 addition.[Beal, pp. 268–269]
Chemical Laboratory additions from the south, circa 1934, when this was the Physics Building. The 1882 addition with late main entrance is at left, obscuring the original Chemical Lab behind; the 1911 addition is at right. Photo Credit: M.S.U. Physical Plant.
When the Kedzie Chemical Laboratory was built in 1927, the Department of Chemistry moved out of the “Fort,” leaving only Physics, which remained there until the completion of Physics–Mathematics (later Physics–Astronomy, now the Psychology Building) in 1949. After that, it had a short run as a library annex. The old Chemical Laboratory was torn down in 1955 to make way for the new Library (now Main Library, West Wing).[Dressel, p. 367. Stanford, p. 86]