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June 9, 2011
Where can we see the physical forms of U-M as it looked before the turn of the 20th century? Only a few such spots remain. Here are four:
Of the University's six original buildings—four identical "professor's houses" and two classroom buildings—it is the only one still standing. Built when Martin Van Buren was president, it cost $7,712.50.
One or more professors—it's not certain which—lived there for a time, and it may have housed the University's earliest book collection. Then Henry Phillip Tappan, U-M's first president, moved in. Every one of his successors except Harry Burns Hutchins, who preferred his own house, followed Tappan's precedent. Additions were built in 1864, 1891, 1920 and 1933.
President Tappan was determined that U-M would be a great research university on the European model. The Detroit Observatory was the first structure on campus to embody that commitment. It was named for U-M boosters in Detroit who raised money to pay most of the $22,000 cost of construction plus instruments.
The first astronomer to use the telescope was Franz Brunnow, (1821-1891) who was one of the first to make the study of stars an advanced science. (He also became President Tappan's son-in-law.) No longer isolated on its hill, but nearly swallowed by the Medical Campus, the observatory was restored to its original condition in 1998. It is now a University museum open regularly to visitors. (Learn more in this two-part segment of the TV show Out of the Blue: Part one and Part two.)
Newberry Hall was built to house the Students' Christian Association, thanks to a major gift from Helen S. Newberry to honor her husband, John S. Newberry, an 1847 U-M graduate who made a fortune manufacturing railroad cars in Detroit at the time of the Civil War. It was built of native fieldstone in the heavy, Romanesque style popularized by the architect H.H. Richardson.
Newberry Hall may have served more departments than any other building on the campus. At various times it has hosted the School of Music; classes in English, history and philosophy; and the Department of Classical Studies. The building didn't become the University's property until 1937. It was renamed the Francis W. Kelsey Museum of Archaeology in 1953. After the addition of the William E. Upjohn Exhibit Wing, it contains even more space for its archaeological treasures (click for slideshow).
After University Hall—the great classroom building that faced State Street from 1871 to 1950—the most recognized edifice on campus for many years was the old Library. It stood where the north end of the Hatcher Graduate Library stands now, fronting on the Diag's central square. But its design was more distinctive, with two massive towers and a great, semicircular reading room. Its stacks—cast-iron and fire-proof—were built to hold 80,000 volumes.
Those ponderous stacks remained in place through a series of major renovations, including the addition of more stacks just to the south of the originals in 1898, the demolition of the outer shell of the old Library and the construction of the new General Library from 1916 to 1920; and the construction of the eight-story South Stacks Addition in 1970. The building, old parts and new, was renamed the Harlan Hatcher Graduate Library to honor the University's eighth president (1951-1967). Books have been removed and replaced on those same shelves for 130 years, and the stairs show the wear of untold numbers of students' treads.
The additions have led many—including this sarcastic amateur filmmaker—to remark on the eccentricities of the library's interior architecture.