College Hall (1856—1918) SR
College Hall, circa 1857. Note the pitched roof. Photo Credit: M.S.U. Archives.
This three-story brick building was the first in the United States to be erected for the teaching of scientific agriculture. It was designed by John C. Holmes as one wing of a larger structure, but limited funds led to building only the west wing, which contained classrooms, laboratories, and offices.* College Hall was the treasured heart of the College, and its likeness is emblazoned on the official seal of Michigan State University along with the words “Founded 1855.”
According to Stanford & Dewhurst, the clay for the bricks was dug in the area now known as “Sleepy Hollow,” the low garden space between Beaumont Tower and the Music Building. However, those authors have missed the fact that the Sleepy Hollow appellation, in decades (and centuries) past, was used for a different location. Madison Kuhn writes that “the brick [not only for College Hall, but also for Saints’ Rest, the first horse barn, and the first four Faculty Row houses] was made at the west end of the present Circle,” and a map of campus circa 1857 shows the “Brickyard” was due west of today’s Cowles House, just south of the point where West Circle Drive meets Beal Entrance. This was the “Sleepy Hollow” that was the site of many freshman cap burning ceremonies in the early years of the College.[Stanford, p. 50; Kuhn, p. 14; Miller, p. 10.]
Kuhn describes at length the shoddy workmanship by the contractors of College Hall, including doors that would not open, close, and/or lock; soft pine flooring that had shrunk so badly that it did not reach the walls; and leaky roofing that led to falling plaster. The defects, a lesson in government work contracted to the lowest bidder (combined with inattentive oversight by the State Board of Education), delayed the opening session of the College by several months. During the first term, in the summer of 1857, students helped to build a sloped roof over the flat—and leaking—original.[Kuhn, pp. 14, 39.]
Despite its many flaws, College Hall became quite beloved to M.A.C. alumni over the years. It was considered for use as a student union around the turn of the century, even with outer walls that were “badly cracked and growing worse,” but when work was undertaken to reinforce and renovate the building, further examples of the contractors’ “careless if not dishonest” construction were discovered. The foundation of soft brick rested on wooden piers—and one corner of it enclosed a massive tree stump. The renovation was halted and the weak spots were shored up. In August of 1918, “while a band played the national anthem at a war trainees’ retreat,” two of the exterior walls collapsed. The building was soon torn down. For a time, an artillery garage was erected on its foundations, but within a decade of its demise, College Hall had received “a more aesthetic memorial.”[Lautner, pp. 95. Kuhn, pp. 13, 263, 266.]
Beaumont Tower (1928)
Beaumont Tower, August 2006. Photo Credit: Kevin S. Forsyth.
Today, Beaumont Tower stands at the northeast corner of the College Hall site. Completed in 1928, it was a gift of John Wesley Beaumont (M.A.C. ’82), member of the State Board of Agriculture 1912–1918.[Beal, pp. 376-7] It bears a State Historical Plaque with this inscription:
MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITYFounded 1855
On this site stood College Hall, first building in the United States erected for the teaching of scientific agriculture. Here began the first college of its kind in America, and the model for Land-Grant colleges established under the Morrill Act of 1862. This act granted lands for the endowment of colleges to provide for “liberal and practical education . . . in the several pursuits and professions in life.”
Courtyard at Beaumont Tower, Spring 1994. Photo Credit: Kevin S. Forsyth.