An historic perspective
lthough 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.
|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
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.
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
"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.