Albion Interactive History / McMillan Chemical Laboratory

Albion Interactive History

Albion Interactive History / Buildings / Albion College

McMillan Chemical Laboratory, 1893
    Renovated 1952


Block +
US Census Block # 34-118

Built in 1893, one year after the Old Gymnasium. The four-story, brick building which occupied an 87 by 52 foot plot cost $24,800. The money was given by U.S. Senator James McMillan.

Prof. Fall gives Mr. Gardner much of the credit for helping to obtain the pledge from SenatorMcMillan. It was through association with Mr. Gardner that the senator was persuaded to make a $25,000 contribution for chemical laboratory construction.

The McMillan building was the last college structure to be built in the nineteenth century. This sixth college building must have caused college authorities to feel a great deal of pride, for the architects floor plans of the structure for each of the four floors were printed in a number of college catalogs shortly after the building’s completion. It seems clear that Prof. Fall regarded what became his domain as one of the state’s and the Midwest’s better college chemistry laboratories.

A story concerning the building which seems to be impossible to establish as authentic, centers about reasons why the main entrance of the structure faces west rather than east, or toward the inside of the campus quadrangle. True, the eastfloor has been used for almost the entire history of the building as the main entrance although the more imposing of the two entrances is that which faces west. The first published photographsshow the building from the west side.

In recent years the story concerning the west seldom used entrance has been that is was built into the structure at the behest of Senator McMillan himself. The unauthenticated account is that the senator asked for the main entrance there so he could view the front of the building as he rode through Albion on the trains of the New York Central Railroad. The laboratory is in clear view of the railroad as it curves through Albion, slicing off a small piece of the southwest corner of the campus. Gildart, 138

Board of Trustees sponsored renovation of laboratory, Summer 1952 at cost of $25,000. The work concerned two laboratories and the balance room. The names of the donors of funds to pay for the work were Dr. andMrs. Mark E. Putnam of Midland. Dr. Whitehouse credited the remodeling with enabling the college to obtain almost immediately two chemical research grants from two corporations.

Exterior view of the “chem building” after its completion in 1893.

A chemistry class utilizing the new laboratory facilities. (Note Professor Delos Fall in background.)

Source: Fennimore, Keith. 1985.

The gentleman in the stovepipe hat reportedly is Bishop Warren, a note on the back of this photograph relates. The picture was taken, the same note says, on May 10, 1983, when the cornerstone of McMillan Chemical Laboratory was laid.

A note on the back of this picture found in the Alumni Office states that it is a photograph of a general chemistry class of the 1912-13 academic year.

Now 67 years old, McMillan Chemical Laboratory looked like this shortly after completion in 1893. The entrance shown is the seldom used western, or “main entrance. The structure no longer is surmounted by a railing along the edges of its eaves.

Source: Gildart, Robert. Albion College, 1835-1960, A History. Chicago: Donnelley Lakeside Press, 1961.

From the Albion College Archives

McMillan Chemical Laboratory

McMillan Laboratory Painting, n.d.

The original chemistry laboratory had been in North Hall and moved to the ground floor of the Central Building previous to 1891. The Central Building at that time also housed everything from the sciences and the museum to the literary society rooms and a sorority hall. On January 6, 1892 a fire broke out in the chemistry lab, which, had it been discovered five minutes later, could have easily taken down the entire building. Because it was found quickly, there was minimal damage done to the lab and only the hall of the Alpha Chi Omega Sorority was damaged from smoke. But the threat of future fires spurred on the effort to obtain the funds necessary to build a proper chemistry lab.

Qualitative Laboratory, n.d.

A single donor, James McMillan, a United States Senator with no ties to Albion, presented the College in June of 1892 with the funds necessary to build a new Chemistry facility – a windfall that had been previously unheard of in College history. After legal squabbles concerning the feasibility of further western campus expansion, building of the McMillan Lab began in the winter of 1893. Construction of the Lab was completed by November of 1893, despite difficulties Senator McMillan had with making payments on his gift due to the Depression of 1893. (Fennimore, pp.295, 300-01, 304-05)

At the dedication ceremony for laying the cornerstone of the Lab, President Fiske filled a copper box with items chosen by the entire College: a copy of the current Year Book, a description of the new laboratory, contributions from each of the ten campus literary societies, a current Pleiad and several other publications, and the New Testament.

The box was then sealed and placed in the cornerstone to await another generation…

All photographs from the Albion College Archives Photograph Files, unless otherwise noted.

Source: Albion College Archives, 2003 [Downloaded July 3, 2003]

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