Weather Bureau (1910—1948)
Weather Bureau observation building, circa 1934, when it was in use as the Music Building. Road in foreground is Grand River Avenue; at left are Abbot Entrance and the Union. Photo Credit: M.S.U. Physical Plant.
Accurate weather forecasts are an important part of scientific agriculture, but meteorology is an exceedingly vague science without steady observational data. For this reason records were kept at M.A.C. beginning in its very earliest years. At least as early as November 1858, John C. Holmes tracked atmospheric pressure, winds, clouds, and precipitation three times a day. Perhaps surprisingly, outside temperature was not recorded.
Dr. R. C. Kedzie made his first recorded observation in April 1863, noting the temperature, rainfall, atmospheric pressure, wind direction and velocity, humidity, and cloudiness. He made a daily routine of this and reported his data to the Smithsonian Institution, “faithfully [and] with almost no interruption,” until his death in 1902.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Army Signal Service established a regular reporting station at Lansing in January 1887; it was subsequently closed in July 1891 when its reporter was recalled to Detroit. About that same time, the weather service was honorably discharged from the Department of War, given a new home in the civilian Department of Agriculture, and named the Weather Bureau. (This became known as the National Weather Service in 1970.) The Weather Bureau re-opened the Lansing station in February 1895, but closed it again on June 30, 1903. Yet observations at the Agricultural College went steadily on, with chemists from the Experiment Station keeping Dr. Kedzie’s legacy in fine form. Those data are now the “oldest series of continuous weather observations in the state.”[Kuhn, monograph of 14 May 1969, quoted in Stanford, p. 69]
The Weather Bureau finally got its act together in 1909, and from that summer to the spring of 1910 it constructed the two-story observation building shown above. The building stood just east of the original north entrance to the college, directly across Grand River Avenue from the Woodbury house. It served as the residence of the local Bureau forecaster, Dewey A. Seeley, and his family; it was fitted with the latest instruments and had a rooftop cupola and “widow’s walk” for sky observations. The Weather Bureau building was dedicated on May 1, 1910, and from that day onward Mr. Seeley provided not only daily observations, but also forecasts, weather maps, and bulletins. These were based in part on telegraphic reports he received from all parts of the country and Canada, and generally could predict events some 36 to 48 hours in advance. Towar claims the post had an 86% accuracy rate.[Beal, pp. 256–257. Towar, p. 114]
In 1927, the Weather Bureau built a new, larger building to the west. The original Weather Bureau was given over to the Music Department, which remained there until the Music Building was completed in 1940. The old building, which stood prominently near the southwest corner of Abbot Entrance, was torn down in 1948.[Lautner, p. 97. Minutes, 21 Oct 1948, p. 2653]
Second Weather Bureau building, circa 1934. Today this is called Wills House. Photo Credit: M.S.U. Physical Plant.
The second Weather Bureau building was designed by the firm of Bowd–Munson and built at a cost of $38,000. It too was a combination residence/observation post and served a similar purpose into the 1940s, when improvements in meteorological equipment precluded the need for such elaborate trappings. Today the building sits mysteriously in a secluded spot near the north residence halls, overlooking Michigan Avenue. Since 1969 it has been known as Wills House, after its first occupant and owner H. Merrill Wills, and has been quietly used by many units of the school over the past several decades. Today it is the home of the M.S.U. Virtual University Design and Technology Group.[Towar, p. 114. Minutes, 16 May 1969, p. 6448]