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The EMU Academic History Project

Welcome to the site where we will post a series of periodic posts about EMU's past. An early focus will be to share information about EMU's academic buildings, and we intend to broaden this focus to other areas, such as featured faculty, 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 Spaces

The John Mayhelm Barry Sill Hall Building

November 9 - 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 - 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.