Archive for April, 2010

Greenhouses have been a pretty big part of the history of MSU. Over the years there have been a number of them built, destroyed, and rebuilt for; experiments, housing different plant and animal species, and teaching MSU students. The specific interest of my research was the chronology of a trio of Greenhouses; the first one built in 1866:

“The first greenhouse built in 1866, probably by Professor Prentiss, stood where the bath house now stands and was torn down and the plants taken to a second building in 1874, located on a projection near the botanic garden. The second building was erected by Lord& Burnham and the third building now standing (in 1913) on the same site as the second one, was erected by the same company,” (History of Michigan Agricultural College, Beal. Pg 269).

This passage tells us that a greenhouse was built in 1866 (Greenhouse 1) and that it was destroyed and all its plants moved to a second greenhouse (Greenhouse 2) in 1874. Greenhouse 2 then, for whatever reason, was replaced by a third greenhouse (Greenhouse 3) at some point before 1913. But when was it built? And also when was that greenhouse removed? Well that is why you go to the archives. The most challenging thing about this is; there have been A TON of greenhouses on campus, and on top of that…. they are all called a “greenhouse”. On historic maps if you know the location of a greenhouse it is pretty easy to find it, but while reading non-map sources a lot of the greenhouses are just mentioned of specific use or location. So while looking through some of the records it was very hard to determine which greenhouse is which. After a while, the mystery did begin to untangle itself and I am happy to quote the following:

“A greenhouse of seven rooms, containing a choice collection of the best ornamental plants, and of those used in the arts. The structure erected in 1874, having become badly decayed, has been replaced. The new house is both longer and higher than the old one, and as it has iron sills, rafters, purlins and ridge, it should last for many years. It is heated with coils of one and one quarter inch pipe, supplied with hot water. The benches are of iron with slate tops. The work in the greenhouses and forcing houses (Used for vegetables) is performed by students under the direction of the foreman, and they thus become familiar with various operations.” (Michigan Agricultural College Catalogs 1892-93).

In the additions leading up to 1892-93 of the MAC Catalogs there had been mention of the intention of building a new greenhouse because the one in 1874 was in bad shape. The first mention of the NEW greenhouse (Greenhouse 3) is in this edition and it is pretty safe to say that it is in fact the Greenhouse “located on the projection of land near the botanic garden”. After a look at the Maps, Greenhouse 3 located by itself in the location it should have been. But again there is still the question of when was it destroyed? This, my friends, was the tough part. As I mentioned above Greenhouses have been a pretty large part of the history of MSU, their physical remains as well as their use within the University. Another part of the history of MSU is that a lot of the buildings get used for things other than what they were originally built for. In addition things get renamed all the time on maps and in documents. The Beal Botanic Laboratory is now currently Old Botany, the old Physics building is currently the Psychology building. With departments moving buildings and the practice of renaming buildings over the years a Greenhouse in 1892 could have been a nursery in 1950…. And so it was:

Report of the School of Home Economics 1950 Pg 221:

“There are two major needs of the School of Home Economics. One is for a nursery school and the other is for more laboratory space for teaching and research textiles, home furnishing, merchandising, food and nutrition. The present old and inadequate nursery school building is soon to be torn down to provide space for the new college library and thus a new one is essential.” (Annual Report to the Michigan Board of Agriculture 1950)

Report of the School of Home Economics 1951 Pg 222:

“The present nursery school is located in an old house that is too small to provide place for the children and at the same time observation space for the students.” (Annual Report to the Michigan Board of Agriculture 1951)

Report of the School of Home Economics 1954 Pg 208:

“The old house used for the nursery school was torn down to make room for the new library and, therefore, the school is housed in one of the home management houses. However, all four home management houses are needed for class work this coming year which will leave the nursery school without space.” (Annual Report to the Michigan Board of Agriculture 1954)

The “old house” was actually the main building of Greenhouse 3. Checking the maps a building is plotted in the location described for Greenhouse 3 and labeled “greenhouse”. In 1951, the year that the Home Economics department tells of their occupation of the building; the maps are almost exactly the same and the building plotted earlier as “greenhouse” is now “Home Economics- Nursery”. An interesting addition is that pictures from 1951 do show that there was still the Plant Housing section attached to the main house. Proposed outlines on maps from 1953-54 show that Greenhouse 3 was actually located directly under the Southwest corner of the current day library, with perhaps a small portion of its foundations extending past that of the libraries.

Researching this specific building required that I read a lot of Annual Reports by the heads of Colleges from the 1900’s and let me tell you it was pretty much an all out attempt to get more teaching space. The head of the Home Economics division must have asked for a Nursery School and a Lab space for 15 years prior to the 1954 report. Other departments had similar requests and it made me feel a connection to a lot of our past students who had to deal with crammed lecture halls and out dated equipment in some subjects. MSU today is faced with these same problems as our predecessors; whether it is a crammed 300 person lecture, or a projector not working in C106 McDonel. If you don’t believe me, the next time you are trying to find a parking spot remember this next quote from the Campus Land Architect in 1954:

“For almost 100 years the campus of MSC, with its appearance of undulating lawns, fine native trees and its spacious building arrangement, has been one of its oldest and finest traditions. National recognition of its campus came to the college this past year (1953) in the way of: Honorable Award: by the Architectural League of New York to the Campus Landscape Architect and his Assistant, Professor Baron. The award citation reads. “For excellence in handling mass and space with relation to site and function and the integration of planting as part of the over all composition.” This citation was only possible by reason of a fine tradition and heritage and by the understanding of a sympathetic college administration.

Problems: “One of the striking requirements in planning new college building sites and adjusting the old campus is the increasing land area needed for moving and parking automobiles. This, of course, is in conflict with our traditional spacious campus. We have at present 39 acres of asphalt surfaced parking space on campus for 6,230 cars. This is in size 1.6 times the area within the West Circle Drive. During the past year, there were approximately 8,000 campus driving permits issued, made up of about 3,800 staff and 4,200 students. This is almost 1.3 permits per available parking space. This ration of cars per staff and student has greatly increased since the war, and this combined with a greatly increased number of conference visitors and extra curricular activities has at times cause objectionable automobile congestion. On the whole, however, no university offers its staff and students more freedom and facility for automobiles.

There is need for more parking spaces in West Circle Drive area, particularly from the Agricultural Building north and west to Gilchrist Hall. Every new school building needs two to three times its first floor area allotted to parking space. For moving traffic, Bogue Street needs to be extended across the Red Cedar south and west to Farm Land in the vicinity of the Plan Science greenhouses, continuing on through west and north to the Power Plant Road. Shaw Lane needs to be widened and resurfaced and extended east to Hagadorn Road. Chestnut Road needs to be projected north to Demonstration Hall. Preliminary Plans for these improvements have been made.”

Have a good weekend and Go Green


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