Marston renovation uncovers century-old artifacts

Multiple artifacts were found during the Marston Hall renovation and can now be located in the General Services Building.

Vanessa Franklin

Buried beneath the floor of Marston Hall lies some century-old secrets to the building’s past.

As the renovation continues in Marston, home to the College of Engineering, construction workers have dug up some artifacts under the floor of the dean’s office, as well as found some remnants of the past in the attic and basement.

Under the debris, workers found two inkwells, an old apothecary bottle, broken pieces of pottery, a salt cellar and a lard bucket. A wooden barrel and tin cup were also found in the attic, along with an original light fixture found in the basement of the building.

“What’s fun about these things is that you never know what you’re going to find,” said Kerry Dixon, project manager for the Marston renovation. “It tells a story and we just get a snapshot.”

Dixon has been collecting the artifacts and digging up more information about their pasts.

“You just ask the questions, ‘how did this end up here?’ and, ‘what was this used for?’ but there’s no one alive to tell us, so it’s fun to just explore,” Dixon said.

Dixon said she believes the plate shards found under the dean’s office must date back to at least 1901, since that was when the floor was poured.

As for the lard bucket, Dixon said her theory was that it was used for food services and eventually made it’s way to Marston. After doing some research, Dixon found that the logo on the bucket was used from 1916 and changed by 1935, so the bucket must have dated back to sometime during that time frame.

“Part of it is the stuff that these people thought was trash becomes sort of an archaeological expedition for us,” Dixon said. “We look at it now while we’re redoing [Marston] and we wonder what will be found 100 years from now.”

David Miller, vice president of facilities planning and management, said he wasn’t surprised when construction workers began to dig up pieces of the building’s history.

“We run across this type of stuff all the time,” Miller said. “The last time we put an addition on the Memorial Union, we ran across some bottles and some other stuff. This university doesn’t have a lot of mysteries, but we still continue to find things.”

Bill Elrod, construction superintendent, said he also became interested in the history behind what his workers were continuing to find.

“After finding the inkwells, my initial reaction was ‘wow, this is really cool.’ I knew I needed to do some research on what we were finding,” Elrod said.

Dixon said she believes the inkwells date back to the late 1890s, possibly used when Marston was built in the early 1900s.

As of now, the artifacts will be on show in a display case in the main hallway of the General Services Building. After that, Dixon said she believes the University Archives may take some of the items.

Dixon also said she believes there may be another original light fixture in what used to be the engineering reading room, although she says it is still difficult to tell if it’s there.

The complete renovation of Marston still continues and is projected to be complete by spring 2016. Although students might not see much going on, most of the demolition is taking place inside the building.

“The opportunity to restore one of our iconic buildings on campus is a unique project,” Miller said. “The ability to bring this building back to life is a wonderful opportunity.”

Miller also says the renovation will bring life back into Marston, as the renovation includes building two 100-seat classrooms, bringing in more student traffic than ever before.

Elrod also cautions students to simply continue to be careful when walking around Marston during its renovation.