Archive for December, 2009

The Man Behind the Tower

Beaumont Tower is easily the most recognizable building here at Michigan State and has come to be a symbol of the university recognized the world over.  The tower was constructed in 1928 to commemorate College Hall, the first building built at MSU, and to serve as a defensive structure in order to discourage any further construction within the “Sacred Space.”  The tower is named after John W. Beaumont, who had fond memories of his time here as a student and wanted to commemorate that time with the construction of a memorial tower.  I recently went into the archives in search of information on John Beaumont, in order to find out more about the man behind the tower.

John Beaumont was born July 20, 1858 in Elizabeth, New Jersey.  He moved to Michigan in 1875 and graduated from Michigan State, then the State Agricultural College, in 1882.  In fact, Beaumont was a student in the first class that Frank S. Kedzie ever taught here.  Upon graduation, Beaumont went to study law in Saginaw, where he was admitted to the bar in 1884.  He began practicing law in Detroit in 1886, where he would come to be ranked as one of Detroit’s foremost lawyers.  He and his partners founded the firm Beaumont, Smith, and Harris.  In 1898, Beaumont served as a seaman aboard the U.S.S. Yosemite in the Spanish-American War.  The majority of the 285 man crew comprised of Michigan residents.  During the war, the U.S.S. Yosemite intercepted and destroyed the Spanish supply vessel Antonio Lopez off the coast of Puerto Rico on June 28, 1898.  After his return from duty, Beaumont served as judge advocate of the Michigan National Guards from 1904 to 1906.  He served as an elected member to the State Board of Agriculture from 1912 to 1924.  He also served as director of various corporations throughout his lifetime; including the Hudson Motor Car Company, the International Ridge Company, the Michigan Fire and Marine Insurance Company, and the Thomas Berry Chemical Company.

After the collapse of College Hall in 1918, an artillery garage was built on its foundations.  Plans for further development and construction in the area were stopped by the “Save the Circle” campaign organized by M.S.C. alumni.  It was during this time that John Beaumont proposed his idea of building a monument that would commemorate College Hall and inspire future students.  The tower was constructed in 1928 and was dedicated on Alumni Day, June 22, 1929.  Due to illness, Beaumont and his wife were unable to attend the ceremony.  William L. Carpenter, class of 1875 and long time friend of the Beaumonts, spoke on their behalf.  In his address to the crowd, Carpenter spoke of Beaumont’s fondness for College Hall and the college.

“Mr. Beaumont believes, and has long believed, that what he received from his four years’ work and training, and especially what he got from his association during these years with strong and kindly members of the faculty, contributed more than any other single factor to make his life successful and useful…Several years ago Mr. and Mrs. Beaumont determined to do some thing to testify their gratitude for what the college had done for Mr. Beaumont.  This gift received long and careful consideration, and they finally decided it should be a memorial tower to be erected on this site.  The tower is given in the belief and with the hope that it will revive and preserve Old College hall memories and be a spiritual inspiration to the present generation of graduates and students, and to those who may come after them.”

John Beaumont saw his tower for the first and only time during his last visit to campus in 1937; however, he often listened to the radio programs when he knew that the tower chimes were to be played.  Mr. Beaumont contracted Parkinson’s disease and passed away July 17, 1941 at the age of 83.  His love and devotion for his alma mater lives on today through the memorial tower he and his wife graciously donated to the university.  Today, Beaumont Tower stands upon the highest point of the circle as Michigan State’s crown jewel and most iconic building.  The tower itself serves as a monument of inspiration to students of the past and future and is reflected in the sculptured ‘Sower’ over its entrance; an image in which Beaumont hoped would echo the inspiration that came to him through the lives and words of his teachers.


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