The earliest demands for recreational facilities on the part of University of Michigan students were answered by the transformation, in 1858, of a manual exercises building, erected in 1856 (Regent's Proceedings, 1856, p. 650) and used as a drill room, into a gymnasium of sorts with apparatus which consisted of a few bars, poles, ropes, and rings. This building, which stood near the site of the heating plant on the east side of the campus proper, was used only in warm weather, as it was erected on poles sunk in the ground and had a tanbark floor. In 1868, however, these facilities were increased with the construction by the class of 1870 of a “gymnasium in embryo,” near the center of the campus behind the Museum, and to the south of South Wing of University Hall. This structure was described as “two uprights with a cross beam and ropes dangling from eye-bolts.” A third recreational center, provided in 1885, was the Old Rink, later to become the Armory, which was fitted up as a gymnasium.
In the meantime, demands for outdoor play facilities had already been met. In early times informal play was limited to that corner of the campus where later Waterman Gymnasium was built and to the old Fair Grounds, now Burns Park, in the southeast part of the city. The University first recognized the need for athletic facilities in 1865, when the Board of Regents appropriated $50 for the care of a cricket field and $100 for the same purpose in the following year.
Because the playground on the campus was wholly inadequate and the Fair Grounds unsatisfactory, since they were not adapted to college games and not subject in any way to University control, the Regents in 1890 purchased for $3,000 the south ten acres of what became Ferry Field and made necessary improvements by grading and drainage. The original field, called Regents' Field, included a quarter-mile track with a 220-yard straightaway on the north side and inside the track a baseball diamond and football gridiron.
Football games were played on the first gridiron, which ran east and west on the original Regents' Field, until 1906. Wooden stands to accommodate 400 persons were put up in 1893, but these burned in 1895 and were then rebuilt to seat 800. A grounds-keeper's house was also erected, and stands seating 1,500 along the straightaway of the running track were constructed. By various stages facilities were expanded, and a record crowd of 17,000 was accommodated at the final football game on the old Regents' Field in the fall of 1905.
In 1902 Dexter M. Ferry, of Detroit, donated to the University an additional seventeen acres to the north of Regent's Field and the combined tract was called Ferry Field.
In 1904 a brick wall was constructed on three sides of Ferry Field and in 1906, through the gifts of Mr. Ferry, the gates and ticket offices at the northeast corner of the field were added. Later expansion to the west of the origin acquisitions and to the south below the wall enlarged the entire plot to approximately eighty acres.
Ferry Field Stadium
In 1906 the site of intercollegiate activities on Ferry Field was shifted to the north part of the field. A new gridiron running east and west, with a quarter-mile cinder track around it, was built. The baseball diamond was also moved north to the present site of Yost Field House. Wooden stands were erected beside the new gridiron, but in 1914 those on the south side were moved, part of them to the baseball field, and the first unit in the construction of a contemplated U-shaped concrete stadium was begun.
Only the south unit of the concrete stadium, first used in the fall of 1914, was ever completed. It was designed after a study had been made of similar stands in other universities, and at that time it was considered one of the best bleachers in the country. It provided seats for 13,600 people and was constructed at a cost of $100,000. The north and west sides of the old field were occupied by the wooden stands, which were kept covered during those seasons of the year when they were not in use. These stands, which seated approximately 46,000 persons, proved far from adequate, however, in that they did not begin to accommodate the huge football crowds attracted to the intercollegiate games after 1920, and, as a result, a strong movement developed favoring the erection of a larger stadium.
The site of the new Michigan Stadium included more than fifteen acres and provided a practice fairway on the east side. The first football game was played there in 1927.
Phil Pack (The University of Michigan: An Encyclopedic Survey, p. 1579.)