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The EMU Academic History Project - Spaces

Welcome to the site where we will post a series of periodic posts about EMU's past. An early focus shared information about EMU's academic buildings, being broadened to focus on other areas, such as featured faculty, administrators, notable students, and academic programs of interest. Thanks to the Halle Library Archives and Alexis Braun Marks for providing this content, and without whom this series would not be possible.

Academic History People Page

Academic Spaces

Edwin A. Strong Hall

Strong Hall

Strong Hall.

Edwin A. Strong Hall was planned to replace Sherzer Hall as the home of science on campus. With rapidly expanding enrollment in the post-World War II period, Michigan State Normal College needed more classroom space and better science equipment. Construction on the building began in 1956, and the building was dedicated in 1958. The construction of Strong Hall was timely, given the new urgency of science education in the United States in response to the Soviet Union launch of Sputnik in 1957.

The building was designed in the "International" style by Swanson and Associates, of Bloomfield Hills, MI. The original structure was built for a cost of $1,320,000.00. The building was dedicated in February of 1958; the 1943 Nobel Prize in Chemistry winner Dr. Harold Urey spoke to the campus about growth and success in science. Listen to Dr. Urey’s dedication. 

Edwin Atson Strong is the building's namesake. Born in Otisco, New York, January 3, 1834, at the age of fifteen he entered Courtland Academy, where he carried on his studies for six years. He married Harriet Jane Pomeroy in Auburn, New York, August 8, 1861. In 1855, he entered Union College at Schenectady, and earned his A.B. within three years. Strong relocated to Grand Rapids, Michigan, in 1858, to serve the school system in capacitates from instructor to superintendent of schools. In 1885, Professor Strong came to Michigan State Normal School in Ypsilanti to head the Department of Physics and Chemistry. Friends called Strong one of the most learned men on campus, known for his wide interests in knowledge for its own sake, his broad knowledge of science, and his kindness and courtesy. He served as head of the department until his retirement in 1919. Professor Strong died February 3, 1920.

Edwin A. Strong

Edwin A. Strong

Strong Hall had been a top state capital outlay project since 2010, and in 2016 Eastern Michigan University finally received authorization to renovate Strong Hall, which had seen no major improvements since its initial construction. The project involves a complete renovation of the structure, including updates to the architectural, structural, mechanical and electrical systems. Estimated cost to renovate Strong Hall is $39.5 million. At a funding mix of 75 percent from the state and 25 percent from the university, Eastern's cost share will be $9.9 million. Work began in the summer of 2017, and the building is scheduled to reopen for the start of the Winter semester in 2019.


Special Commencement Post


Commencement in the Convocation Center, 2017.

In 1854, the first ‘closing exercises’ were held at the Michigan State Normal School. By 1861 they were being referred to as the ‘exercises of the graduating class’ and took place once a year in March. These exercises consisted of musical performances, primarily hymns, and a benediction. The first ‘commencement’ was held in 1870 at the M.E. Church in Ypsilanti on June 30th. Commencement moved to campus with the erection of Pease Auditorium, was also held in the Warner gymnasium, and is now held in the Convocation Center to accommodate the number of graduates and their friends and families. Approximately 1,100 students “walk” during each ceremony, with about 6,000 family and friends in attendance. Between the 1880s and 1920s, in addition to the June commencement, additional ceremonies for instructional departments and certificate programs were held.

As enrollment numbers started to rise in the 1950s and 1960s it necessitated the addition of a second commencement event, held in January. In 1971 there were three commencements held in January, June and December and then starting in 1972, the schedule we follow today of an April and December commencement event was established. Another long standing tradition of the commencement ceremony has been the honorary degrees conferred. Since 1890 members of the community, alumni, and keynote speakers have received honorary degrees ranging from Doctor of Law, to Master of Education. Individuals who have received such degrees include: Julian Bond in January of 1971, Rosa Parks in April of 1981, Fred Rogers in April 1973, John D. Dingell Jr. in April of 2006, and President Bill Clinton in April of 2000.

Commencement at Pease Auditorium

Commencement at Pease Auditorium. 

From our audio archives, here are links to commencement speeches by Fred Rogers (1973), Hannah Arendt (1964), and  Lenore Romney (1965).

Information for the April, 2018 commencement ceremonies can be accessed here



The John M. Hover Building

The Hover Building

The J.M. Hover Building

The erstwhile Hover laboratory was built during the era of President Munson's building projects, and its name honors John Milton Hover, 1908 graduate of Normal College, Department Head of Natural Sciences, and Dean of Administration (1919-1940). Munson was able to use Works Project Administration (WPA) labor to build the new laboratory building for $53,000. The WPA was a Depression Era program run by the federal government in an effort to give jobs to hundreds of unemployed workers. Using his broad influence, Munson was able to get WPA labor to construct not only the laboratory, but also hundreds of miles of pipes under the campus of EMU.

The building was designed to house the Department of Biology laboratories, a greenhouse, and a plant laboratory and Biology Career Center. The brick building had classrooms on either side of entrance, with workrooms behind them, and offices connected to the workrooms. A green house was connected to the back. The architects designed the building so that wings could be added later if desired.

For many years, the old greenhouse was a popular lunch spot. The college acquired it in 1941, but the building is believed to have been constructed about 1902. With his usual frugality, Munson negotiated the purchase of the $20,000 greenhouse for the paltry sum of $3,500 from the Eskine estate of South Bend, IN. The Greenhouse replaced the science garden that had been planted behind Sherzer Hall.

On its new site, the greenhouse included a bulb caller and space for two classrooms, as well as a desert room containing a century plant, a cork oak tree, and tropical room housing a dwarf banana plant. Approximately 200 plants were in the building, including an Indian rubber plant, a fig tree, a corn plant, orchids, and birds of paradise. Spanish moss hung from the plants and was used in the spring by squirrels to line their nests. Many doves often nested in the tops of the trees, gaining entrance through vents in the top.


John M. Hover

The kindly John Hover.

John M. Hover had an impressive life, including an attempt for the 1934 Republican nomination for congress. He was active among civic functions including city council member and a member of the Ypsilanti Board of Education. Students at Normal liked and respected Hover for his kindness and deep involvement with campus life. Hover had such popularity with the student body, that following his sudden death in 1940, President Munson wrote the faculty on June 10, 1940: “The funeral of Dean Hover takes place at 4:00 o'clock Tuesday. The examination period 2-4 Tuesday afternoon will close promptly at 3:30. All instructors are requested to reduce extent of examinations accordingly.”


The Old Main Building

Old Main Building

The Old Main Building.

Built in 1853, the original three story brick building with a recessed front door and an ornamented cornice provided space on the first floor for the model school, offices for the department of Physics and Chemistry, a small reception room and library; a second floor featuring recitation rooms and the main school room; and a large room and smaller meeting rooms on the third floor. On the evening of Friday October 28th, 1859 all but the exterior walls and some scientific instruments burned beyond salvage.

Repairs to the building were completed by April 1860 and included a change in the roofline and the addition of a small cupola. Starting in 1874 administration of the Normal School sought state funds to improve and expand the structure. The Michigan Legislature of 1877 appropriated funds to complete work of an 88 x 93 foot addition to the front, tearing down and rebuilding a large part of the rear wall of the old building, raising of the roof to correspond to the roof of the addition, and the remodeling of most of the interior.  This legislative appropriation was only $30,000, with actual expenditures totaling $43,347.18. Much of these additional expenses were covered by an institutional fund as well as contributions by citizens of Ypsilanti for the erection of the tower at the northeast corner.

Additional renovations, improvements and expansions to this main building were made in 1884, 1887 and 1892 adding two stories to the rear of the building, and two wings. The model classroom moved into Welch Hall in 1897 creating more instructional space in the main building; however, with the expansion of class and degree offerings at the Michigan State Normal College, enrollment grew as did the need for additional instructional buildings on campus. This led to the construction of Sherzer Hall, Pease Auditorium, Hover Hall, Ford Hall, and Roosevelt School. All of these spaces in addition to various residence halls and the student union were built in the first 40 years of the 20th century, and likely led to a redirection of funds that may have otherwise been used to keep up the main building. By the mid-1940s the main building, by the referred to as “Old Main” was slated for demolition and plans for a new building had been drafted. Demolition took place in 1948 with the construction and dedication of the new building, Pierce Hall, scheduled to take place during the college’s centennial year celebration. At the dedication of the new building in 1949, then retired History Professor Anna W. Field gave a remembrance of the “Old Main” building as the cultural center of the college. You can hear her remarks as part of our oral history archive

Additional images:

Richard G. Boone Hall

Richard G. Boone was born on September 9, 1849, in Spiceland, Indiana. Following grammar school, Boone studied at Spiceland Academy, teaching

RIchard G. Boone

Richard G. Boone, 9th President.

in rural common schools in order to finance his own education. When he graduated from Spiceland in 1871, at the age of 22, Boone was appointed a teacher in the high school at Frankfort, Indiana, where subsequently in 1876, he became superintendent of schools. Boone was renowned as an educator, and was issued an honorary degree in 1884 from DePauw University. Boone left Frankfort to become a Professor of Pedagogy at Indiana University (IU) in 1886. As the first IU Professor of Pedagogics, Boone installed a sequential set of ten courses in pedagogy. He did graduate work at Johns Hopkins University under the world renowned psychologist G. Stanley Hall. Boone was awarded a Ph.D. in 1890 from the Ohio State University. While at IU, he published landmark textbooks, "Education in the United States," and "History of Education in Indiana," as well as articles in scholarly journals. In the fall of 1893, Boone resigned from IU to become principal of Ypsilanti State Normal School. In 1898, he became president of the newly formed Michigan State Normal College, where he remained until 1899.  Boone then became the superintendent of schools in Cincinnati, Ohio from 1899 until 1905. From 1905 until his death in 1923, he was a member of the education faculty at the University of California at Berkeley. 

Built in 1914 on the site of the Conservatory of Music building, Richard G. Boone Hall served campus as the primary administration building at the executive core of campus. In 1950, following the construction of Pierce Hall, the new administration building, Boone Hall transitioned into the Arts Building. For several decades, Boone Hall was known as both the Art Building and as R. Clyde Ford Hall; the building contained the Department of Art, the Department of Industrial Education and Applied Arts, and University Art Gallery. The building was renamed for Richard Gause Boone in 1968, for the ninth president of the Normal College, 1893-1899.

Boone Hall

Boone Hall as the "Administration Building," Michigan State Normal College.

The John W. Porter Building

Photo of the John W. Porter Building.

The John W. Porter Building, as seen from West Circle Drive

December 13, 2917 - In May of 1967, the new library building, five times the size of the former R. Clyde Ford Library, opened on the campus of Eastern Michigan University. Built with a combination of federal and state funds for the cost of $2.68 million, it contained 133,500 square feet of space for collections, services and study. By the late 1980s the student body was asking for a new library to be built. Once the Bruce T. Halle Library was opened in 1998, the old library building was remodeled to hold the College of Education and was renamed the John W. Porter building.  Dr. Porter had a distinguished career as a teacher and administrator in the K-12 schools of Michigan before becoming the Michigan State Superintendent of Schools, and then President of  Eastern Michigan University from 1979-1988.

The 133,500 square foot building was designed to provide a variety of teaching/learning environments, including extensive technology capability for the preparation of school personnel and professionals in related areas. During the renovations in 1998 and 1999, work crews rewired the entire building, providing state-of-the-art computer networks and an up-to-date multimedia system for a cost of almost $2 million. The College of Education's move to the renovated building created a new environment for students in the disciplines of Teacher Education, Special Education and Leadership and Counseling. The John W. Porter Building was reopened on October 8th, 1999. The total cost of renovation was $13.8 million.

John W. Porter was born in Fort Wayne, Indiana, on August 13, 1931, former state superintendent of schools and president of Eastern Michigan University. He opened many doors during his distinguished career in education. He was the first black professional hired by the state education department, starting out as a researcher and becoming the nation's first African American superintendent of schools. His many accomplishments include setting up the Guaranteed Student Loan Program for college students and the Michigan Educational Assessment Program (MEAP), which was used to test students throughout the state.

Photo of John W. Porter

John W. Porter, December 2003

Beginning in 1979, Porter was for ten years the president of Eastern Michigan University (EMU). In 1989 he was asked to help out Detroit Public Schools as temporary superintendent. Porter balanced its budget and came up with an improvement plan for the struggling district.

He returned to EMU in 1991 as president and CEO of Urban Education Alliance, Inc, from which he retired. Porter remained active in matters related to urban schools and in the school reform movement throughout his life.

At EMU, the College of Education building, an urban education department professorship, an undergraduate scholarship, and a distinguished service award are all named in his honor. Porter holds ten honorary doctorates, and has been named both an Albion College Distinguished Alumnus and a member of Albion College's Athletic Hall of Fame. He served on the Albion College board of trustees for 15 years, subsequently becoming an honorary trustee.

U.S. Presidents Johnson, Nixon, Ford, and Carter all appointed Porter to commissions and councils addressing higher education, employment, and mental health. He held leadership positions and served on the boards of numerous national organizations, including the Council of Chief State School Officers; the American Council of Education (Educational Credit Commission); the National Advisory Council on Social Security; the National Urban League; and the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation. Porter's accomplishments and career were recognized and honored by organizations as varied as the Michigan State Legislature, the Tuskegee Airmen, Incorporated, and the Michigan Education Hall of Fame.

Porter, who received his undergraduate degree from Albion College, earned a master's degree in counseling and guidance and a doctorate in higher education administration from Michigan State University. He died on June 27, 2012 at the age of 80. The University held an on campus celebration of his life and dedication to education in December of 2012.

Normal Gymnasium, "Red Gym"

November 30, 2017 - We continue our series on academic buildings with the legendary Red Gym, the site of the current Normal Street Parking lot across from Welch Hall. The Normal Gymnasium was constructed in response to the 1871 fire of the school's original gymnasium and the formal addition of a department of physical training. The groundbreaking took place in October of 1892, after state appropriations of $20,000 and a lot purchase supported by the Ypsilanti Council and community members.

Red Gym - Exterior

Exterior of the Normal Gymnasium, the "Red Gym"

The red brick building was constructed on a 250 x 275 ft lot near the water tower on Cross Street across from Welch Hall. “Beautifully graded, and terraced on the east and north, and finished with double tennis courts in the rear. The two main rooms [were] each 46 x 80 ft. with walls eighteen feet high, and show[ed] the supporting trusses beneath the roof. Nine feet from the floor, there [was] a running track on the boys’ side, and for the girls a gallery extend[ed] around three sides of the room. In the basement [were] swimming pools, bathing apartments, lockers and closets.” Professor Wilbur P. Bowen was placed in charge of the new department as Director and Fannie Burton was named assistant director. Both were graduates of the Michigan State Normal School. Bowen completed additional training at Harvard and taught at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln before returning to Ypsilanti. Burton studied briefly at the Emerson school in Chicago before returning to the faculty at the Michigan State Normal College.

The building was modified to meet the changing needs and growth of the Department. For the 1930 school year, the physical education space served as “laboratories for [the] department. The equipment include[d] three large exercise halls, two swimming pools, a rest room, two rooms used for corrective and remedial exercises, two examining rooms, seven offices, a library, and two classrooms. The three exercise halls [were] equipped with all forms of German and Swedish apparatus and with the materials for all the minor games and athletics. Mats [were] provided for tumbling.” The space also boasted of having the space to allow for “four games of basketball, volleyball, or indoor baseball [to] be played at once, making it possible to carry on extensive tournaments.”

The Physical Education Department has moved onto campus, holding instruction in Warner and Bowen Field Houses. The “Red Gym” was demolished in 1965 after state funding was secured to demolish the building that had been condemned since 1963. The Eastern Echo reported that “the old gym, an Eastern landmark for 70 years, will soon disappear from the campus as the Dore Wrecking Co, of Kawkawlin, Michigan takes over for the termites.” A caption that ran under a picture of the demolished building in the January 21st 1965 Eastern Echo proclaimed “AND THE WALLS CAME TUMBLING DOWN!! The Old Gym is finally coming down! For the past week workmen have been working night and day to clear the rubble in order to begin construction on the new PARKING LOT FOR 80 CARS!!!”

More building photos can be accessed in the EMU Archives Flickr album.

The John Mayhelm Barry Sill Hall Building

November 9, 2017 - The Sill Hall renovation recently moved closer to being a reality, since  the EMU Board of Regents approved the renovation as the top priority in its annual capital outlay request to the state of Michigan at its October 20 meeting. This is a good time for a brief look at the building's past.

John Mayelm Barry Sill

John Mayhelm Barry Sill

The building is named for John Mayhelm Barry Sill, born October 23, 1831, at Black Rock, in western New York. Sill moved with his family to the area of Jonesville, Michigan, in 1836, where he helped on the family farm and attended district school a few months out of the year. In 1847, Jonesville established the first Union School in the state with A.S. Welch (as in Welch Hall) as principal.  Under Welch's instruction, Sill prepared for entrance into the University, while working to support himself. In the winter of 1849-1850, while attending classes, Sill taught at his first school in the township of Scipio, Hillsdale County, receiving $60 for his winter work. He continued on with his studies and was an assistant teacher in the Jonesville School. When the Normal School was established in 1852, Prof. Welch was chosen its first principal and Mr. Sill accompanied him, pursuing advanced studies. Sill was one of the first three persons who comprised the first graduating class of 1854. Prior to graduation, Sill was appointed as a regular instructor, having charge of the Model School and the Department of English, which is a position he retained until 1863, when he was chosen as superintendent of the Detroit Public Schools. After two years as superintendent, Sill moved on to take charge of the Detroit Female Seminary, where he remained for the next ten years. From 1867-1870 he was a Regent of M.S.N.C., and in 1871, he was granted a degree of Master of Arts. In 1875, Sill returned as superintendent of the Detroit Public Schools, remaining in this position until 1886 when he was elected Principal of the State Normal School. Under his administration the school prospered markedly, and the number of students increased to 1,000. In 1893, Sill resigned from his position as superintendent  and was appointed Minister to Korea, where he represented the United States government. Prof. Sill returned to Detroit in 1897, ill with malaria, and died at Grace Hospital four years later, on March 6, 1901. 

Sill Hall was designed to house the Fine and Industrial Arts programs in the high style of the 1960s. It cost approximately $1.5 million dollars

Sill Hall

 JMB Sill Hall

 to complete between 1964 and 1965. The two-story wing was designed by Swanson and Associates of Bloomfield Hills, MI for the Fine Arts Department, and included classrooms, studios, and offices. The one-story wing housed industrial arts classrooms, including a variety of shop facilities and offices.

Sill Hall is perhaps the finest example of the International style on campus. The plain boxy shape and the steel girder bridge at the front are all emblematic of the simplicity and purity of line reflected in the International style. Many buildings built from the mid-1950s to the 1980s have similar characteristics. Plain surfaces that emphasized utility above decoration were chosen for being practical and durable. The concrete paneling on Sill's exterior combined an interest in new building materials with a desire to show that the building was supported from the inside, not by the exterior curtain walls. The building was renovated in the 1980s.

The Home Economics Practice House

October 25, 2017 - We kick off this series of posts about EMU's academic spaces with a look at a building that no longer exists. Behold the Home Economics Practice House.

Originally, this gable front Queen Anne home at 415 Perrin Street was used at the Health Cottage for ailing students. When the new health clinic opened, the health cottage became a co-ed practice house where students were able to try their hand at home making.

Home Economics Practice House
The Home Economics Practice House

Under the direction of Miss Eula May Underbrink, associate professor in the Home Economics Department, students spent a semester living at the house, and in their care was the entire management of keeping the home. A group of six women resided in the home during a given semester, and the home duties were divided amongst the girls. With each woman fulfilling two weeks of service under each division.

As an article in the Normal News (now the Eastern Echo) dated December 14, 1941 described: "The housekeeper is in charge of the lower floor and acts as the host at table, with the assistant housekeeper in charge of the upper floors and the bed-making duties. No one chances to offend the cook, for with her lies the control of the girls' appetites, and before a cook graduates from her position she must have successfully baked cakes, pies and yeast bread. The unpopular task tasks of washing dishes and making salads go to the assistant cook. To the hostess goes the cares and worries of shopping, keeping accounts, entertaining, and inviting for guest night once a week. The one remaining position is with the waitress who waits at table, dries dishes and does the ironing."

The building was demolished in 1973.