Farm Lane bridge, with typical traffic, circa 1915–1921. This was the third bridge on the site. Photo Credit: M.S.U. Archives.
Farm Lane was established very early in the College’s history, and its name suits its purpose: it was the access road to the College farms south of the river. It was positioned along the centerline of the farm for maximum access to the fields—a line that might have seemed inconveniently distant from College Hall in the days before motor vehicles and concrete paving. The lane was authorized by the Board in 1860, along with its first bridge. (Students “skilled in the use of tools” built the first bridge over the river in the winter of 1857–58, but this was likely a simple footbridge.) The bridge, constructed of wood piles and planking, was 150 feet long, 16 feet wide, and cost $750.[Lautner, pp. 26–27]
Farm Lane ran north from the bridge and then turned to the west toward the original brick horse barn, which formed its terminus. (Today, Farm Lane turns at that same point to the east, rather than west, to meet Grand River Avenue opposite Collingwood Drive.) Around 1863, a line of fence along the east side of Farm Lane was extended north to the plank road (now Grand River Avenue), and the lane would soon follow this line to form a new entrance to campus.[2nd AR, p. 38]
The original Farm Lane bridge was carried away by ice during the spring thaw of 1875, and for much of that growing season work teams were detoured by up to three miles to cross the river. A temporary float bridge was used by students until a second wooden bridge designed by R. C. Carpenter could be completed in the same year.[14th AR, pp. 58, 61]
In 1883 a large Grain Barn was built just north of the turn and astride the lane itself, effectively severing the connection between Farm Lane and Grand River Avenue. The path that remained continued to be used for access to the gardens further north. After the Grain Barn was moved to a new location farther south in 1905, Farm Lane once again reached to the Avenue. (This entrance was finally closed some time in the 1930s, although the line remains today in the form of a walking path to Berkey Hall.)
In 1888 the bridge was replaced with the iron bridge seen above, built by the Smith Bridge Company of Toledo, Ohio at a cost of $1,200. Since the dairies and barnyard compounds were north of the river, and the pastures were to the south, for decades livestock was the predominant traffic across the bridge.[Minutes, 16 Aug 1887, p. 527. Beal, p. 89. Kuhn, pp. 104, 154. Lautner, p. 59]
On a side note, in the early years of the women’s program, female students were not allowed to cross to the south side of the river. The land beyond the bridge was considered “too wild”—after all, until the 1920s the south campus was truly barely tamed farmland. This was in an era of strict propriety in loco parentis, and this rule was but one in a litany of curfews and conduct guidelines.[Kestenbaum, p. 137]
In 1935, the Board of Agriculture “requested the State Highway Department to take over the control and maintenance of Farm Lane… including the bridge over the Red Cedar.” Whether this was an attempt at getting the state to foot the bill for a new bridge is uncertain, but four years later Highway Commissioner Murray VanWagoner refused the Board's request to have his department design a replacement for the 1888 bridge. The College turned to the Works Progress Administration for funding, and the current, concrete-piered bridge was designed by Earl H. Shuttleworth and built in 1939. Its sidewalks were widened in the late-1960s.[Lautner, p. 142; Minutes, 19 Jan 1939, p. 1487]