College Delta (1898)
Map by the author, based on Newman, 1915.
The “Delta,” the triangular area of land extending west from the Michigan Ave. / Grand River Ave. junction to just west of Delta Street, was originally included as part of the Agricultural College when it was founded in 1855. At that time, Michigan Avenue’s eastern end was at Harrison Road. When Michigan was extended to Grand River Avenue around 1863, the Delta was isolated from the rest of campus. With better proximity to the center of campus than Collegeville, the Delta became a prime candidate for faculty housing.
Thus, in 1898 the State Board of Agriculture platted the site into “College Delta,” with proceeds from the sale “going towards the purchase of land for an athletic field on the south side of the river,” now known as Old College Field. Water and sewer service were provided by the college, and housing quickly sprang up. Burton O. Longyear (Instructor in Botany 1894–1904, later State Forester of Colorado) was one of the first to build; his house on the southwest corner lot stands alone on an 1899 map of campus.[Lautner, pp. 59, 80–81, 102. Towar, p. 43. 43rd AR, p. 7]
College Delta, circa 1900, view from campus facing north. Only two years after its platting, at least eight homes have already appeared on the Delta. Photo Credit: Chace Newman Family. Reprinted in Kestenbaum, p. 8.
College Delta was intended for faculty housing, and for several years the Board kept close tabs on its development and purchasers. There is an illustrative and surprisingly candid moment in the Minutes of the Board: Secretary A. C. Bird announced that a Mrs. Olive Backus, having recently purchased the lot at the apex of the Delta, was planning to build a store on it. Bird admitted that she had an “unquestionable” legal right to do so, but since the Board’s intent was that “nothing of this kind should ever be done” he suggested an unsubtle resolution: because the water and sewer service was being provided with “no written agreement entered into… it might be possible to prevent the execution of this building by suggesting to Mrs. Backus that… water supply at least would be cut off from her premises.” The Board gave President Snyder and Bird power to act, and although nothing further was ever mentioned (in the official record at least), no store was built.[Minutes, 29 Aug 1899, p. 339.]
Twelve houses were eventually built on the eleven lots of College Delta, and over the years they sheltered many of East Lansing’s (and the college’s) famous names, among them:
- Ernest Everett Bogue (1864–1907), first Professor of Forestry, 1902–1907.
- Chace Newman.
- Jonathan L. Snyder (1859–1918), President of M.A.C., 1896–1915.
- Ray Stannard Baker (1870–1946, M.A.C. ’89), prominent “muckraking” journalist, awarded honorary LL.D. by M.A.C. in 1917.
- Luther H. Baker (1872–1944, M.A.C. ’93), Mayor of East Lansing, 1925–1928.
- Frederick Cowles Jenison (M.A.C. ’06), millionaire and donor of funds for Jenison Fieldhouse and renovations to Cowles House, renamed for Jenison’s mother, Alice B. Cowles.
- Elizabeth Abbott.[Kestenbaum, pp. 115–116]
Gas station at the apex of College Delta, late 1920s. Photo Credit: James Case. Reprinted in Miller, p. 50.
The Board of Agriculture could not keep its leverage over the Delta forever (particularly once the city began providing water and sewer services), and over time rooming and boarding houses began to supplant the faculty homes. By the 1920s, a gas station had replaced a rooming house at the apex of the Delta, and by 1976 only three historic homes remained on the plat.[Miller, p. 50. Kestenbaum, p. 9] Today the Landon–May house is the sole survivor. The College Delta, with its monolithic student apartments, fraternity houses, and convenience store, now stands as a testament to the fate of historic homes in the midst of urban development.
|Landon–May House, 243 W. Grand River (1902)|
Map by the author, based on Newman, 1915.
Charles and Hannah Brooks filled in the last space between Harrison Road and the Delta with this addition. Louis Street is named for their son, and has since been converted into a cul-de-sac. Empire Avenue was renamed Elm Place by 1915. Prospect Street was changed to Oakhill Avenue following the creation of College Heights, and later became Hillcrest Drive.
|C. M. Krentel House, 322 Elm Place (1906)|
|Central School, 325 W. Grand River (1917) SR/NR|