March/April 1998
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An historic perspective

Although the 15-foot-deep-by-20-foot-wide trench to be torn through Francis Quadrangle will be an eyesore, it presents a unique opportunity to learn about MU history.

The trench will cut directly through areas where a much-frequented lake was once located and where Academic Hall stood before burning to the ground. Both are sections of the Quad that may hold treasures from the past.

There used to be a lake?

It has been forgotten by most over the years but, during the first 50-plus years of the university's existence, a lake was located on the Quad to the front of the present-day Chancellor's Residence.

In MU's early days, Lake Saint Mary was a popular place for boating in the summer and ice skating during the winter. The lake was also a popular courting place, as Flirtation Walk ran over a section of the lake.

Illustration: 1872 Campus Plan
Campus Plan from 1872, showing part of the area to be excavated.

Considering the large number of people who frequented the area, there is no telling what may be found in what was once the lake bed.

The fire of 1892

Jan. 9, 1892 is a date etched into MU history. That evening, as the Athenaean Society prepared for a program in the chapel, a chandelier fell, starting a fire that destroyed Academic Hall.

Most of the remains of Academic Hall were used to fill the lake, with the rest being buried at the site.

Hidden treasures

Michael O'Brien, professor of archeology at MU, did excavation work on the Quad in 1989 for MU's sesquicentennial. Even with shallow four-foot digs, O'Brien and his team found footings and piping from Academic Hall.

Given the location of the construction trench and its depth, O'Brien predicts that much ofthe remains of Academic Hall and, possibly, artifacts from the lake bed, could be recovered.

"What you'll probably find mainly is rubble from Academic Hall from when the site was leveled after the fire,'' said O'Brien. "During the sesquicentennial we did a magnetometer reading to map the area across the sidewalk along the west side of the Columns and that thing went wild. That area is loaded with bricks."

O'Brien added that the original contour of the lake will probably be determined.

"I think, in the lake site, you should find a layer of things below the rubble,'' O'Brien said. "It would take detailed looking though to find anything beneath the rubble.''

Countdown to history

Although archeologists have done excavations of the Quad, nothing has approached the scale of what will happen this summer. By digging through the old lake bed and Academic Hall sites, artifacts from the 18th century will be unearthed. A massive trench through the old lake bed and Academic Hall sites will provide a doorway to, and artifacts from, an important time in MU's history.

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Facilities Focus is a newsletter published by Campus Facilities' Communications department to share news about MU facilities with the campus community. If you have questions or comments about this web site, please send them to Campus Facilities Communications, email: cfweb@missouri.edu; mail address: 180 General Services Building, Columbia, MO 65211; telephone: 573-882-3327; fax: 573-882-5603.

Revised 7/2005

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