ECW welcomes back guest author Adam Burke
College Hall, MAC campus in 1856. From James W. Beal (1915) History of the Michigan Agricultural College and Biographical Sketches of Trustees and Professors. East Lansing: Agricultural college.
In 1855 the state of Michigan established the State Agricultural College in Lansing, MI. Today the institution is known as Michigan State University and boasts a beautiful and well landscaped 5,000 acre campus, home to almost 50,000 students who readily adopt the identity of their beloved sports teams—the Spartans. In 1861, however, campus consisted of three buildings, one of which was a barn built on a 200 acre field along the banks of the Red Cedar River. Hundreds of recently cut stumps speckled the clearing. The first students, known as “The Aggies,” cleared many of the trees themselves as part of a grueling daily work regimen. Classes formally began in 1857, and by November of 1861 the college was ready to graduate its first class.
To prepare for graduation, an administrator prepared seven diplomas. However, the pioneering graduates did not receive their well-earned diplomas. Commencement was canceled. In fact, the young men did not even have time to complete final examinations. These men wrote home to inform their families of a dramatic mid-semester change of plans. It is a good thing they did. Had their families made the arduous trip to Lansing to celebrate, they would not have found their sons on campus. The entire class of 1861 already marched off to war.