Power Plants (1882, 1904, 1921, 1948, 1966)
The first Boiler House was built in 1882. Designed by R. C. Carpenter, it had a square chimney, 60 feet tall, and provided steam heat for Wells Hall, Williams Hall, the Chemical Laboratory, and the Library–Museum. A power plant was completed in 1894, and allowed the campus’ first electric lights.[Beal, p. 271]
First Boiler House, circa 1894. Note the power lines on the pole in the background. Photo Credit: Beal, p. 100.
In 1901, the Pere Marquette railroad spur was completed, providing for easy delivery of coal to the boiler house and the shops, as well as building materials for the campus.
Pere Marquette trestle over the Red Cedar River during a spring thaw, view toward the northeast, circa 1909. The square smokestack of the first boiler house may be seen at right, with second Wells Hall at left and Engineering at center. Photo Credit: M.S.U. Archives. Reprinted in Nixon, p. 31.
A second Boiler House was built in 1904. Its round chimney, ten feet in diameter at its base, stood 125 feet tall. After its completion, the old boiler house was converted to store rooms and a tin shop.[Beal, p. 280]
Second Boiler House, viewed facing southeast, date unknown. At left rear is the Horse Barn of 1906. Photo courtesy of Tom Duncan.
Along with this building was built a system of tunnels, six feet six inches tall and some 4,100 feet long in total, which carried “steam pipes for heating purposes, the electric lighting wires, and the telephone wires.”[Beal, p. 271] Among many improvements, the steam tunnels made possible the demolition of a small boiler house which stood just to the north of Morrill Hall and was a temporary expedient (1900–1905), providing heat to Morrill and the Dairy during those buildings’ first few years.[Minutes, 9 Mar 1905, p. 272. 40th AR, p. 25. MSU CAPBlog, 18 Jul 2012.]
Steam tunnel under construction, 17 September 1904. View is toward the southeast, with the southernmost corner of Morrill Hall at center and the second Botany Laboratory faintly visible in the right distance. Photo Credit: Fred J. Wagenvoord, courtesy of Jonathan McGlone.
The third Power Plant (a name that implied the ascendancy of electric power over steam heat) was built in 1921 on a site southeast of Olds Hall and the replacement Engineering Shops—today, the front lawn of the Hannah Administration building. Its chimney incorporated tan-colored bricks, arranged to spell “M.A.C.” It is likely that the old boiler houses were razed around this time, either to make room for the power plant or soon after its completion. They do not appear in a 1929 aerial view of campus.
Third Power Plant, shortly before its demolition in 1966 to make room for the Hannah Administration Building. Photo Credit: M.S.U. Archives.
The fourth and fifth power plants, both of which are still in use, date from after the end of this site’s nominal era (1925), but are included here for completeness and because they enabled the older power plant to be razed.
The fourth Power Plant was built in 1948 along Shaw Lane, just east of the football stadium. It was designed in the Collegiate Gothic style, common for campus buildings of that era. Its location was chosen due to the proximity of the old Pere Marquette railroad spur, which ran along the west side of the building. As in the previous power plant, light-colored bricks were used in the chimney stack, this time spelling “M.S.C.” The boxy east wing was added in 1958.
Power Plant – Shaw Lane, August 2006. Photo Credit: Kevin S. Forsyth.
The Shaw Lane plant was the campus’ main power source from its completion until 1975. In the meantime, “Power Plant № 65,” the original section of the T. B. Simon Power Plant with two boiler units, was completed in 1966. A coal-burning facility like all campus power plants before it, № 65 received its fuel by way of a new rail spur that was extended from the nearby C&O line (now owned by CSX). When № 65 was brought on line, it enabled the demolition of the 1921 Power Plant and its “M.A.C.” smokestack, which occurred in August 1966.
An addition for a third boiler unit, built in 1974, allowed the Simon plant to assume the role as primary power generator a year later. Additional boilers were added in 1993 and 2006. In April 2016 the Simon plant transitioned to use exclusively natural gas, thereby eliminating coal-fired power throughout the University.
T. B. Simon Power Plant, August 1989, with “M.S.U.” lettering barely visible on the far stack. At left is a line of full CSX (and a few Chessie) coal cars. At right, beyond the transformers, is a mountain of coal. Photo Credit: Kevin S. Forsyth.
The Shaw plant now serves as an electrical substation.[Stanford, p. 112. PP Databook.] Its “M.S.C.” smokestack, for decades a campus landmark—in particular during football games as it loomed over the southeast stands of Spartan Stadium—was removed beginning in May 2011 following years of disuse, neglect and deterioration.
Note the short spans of appropriateness in the old plants’ chimney lettering. The “M.A.C.” stack was erected just four years before the school changed its name to Michigan State College. The “M.S.C.” stack lasted a bit longer before the College became a University: a whole seven years.