1883 Heating Plant and 1894 Boiler House

Heating Planting - 1883

A third heating plant was constructed in 1883-84 to heat the buildings in the southeast section of the campus. This unit provided heat for the Engineering Building (one of the professor’s houses of 1840 which had been enlarged and remodeled), the Engineering Shops, and the Physics Laboratory. Soon after the erection of this unit, the heating plant at the Chemical Laboratory was abandoned, and the Chemical Laboratory and the Medical Building were connected with the new plant.

Boiler House

By 1894 the number of buildings on the campus had so increased that it became necessary either to build additional plants or to abandon those then in service for one central plant and distribution system. The latter plan was adapted, and the structure known as the campus Boiler House and an underground heating tunnel system were built. This unit, at the site of the heating plant constructed in 1883-84, necessitated a complete enlargement of the old unit, the construction of a heating tunnel system, and the erection of a new 125-foot brick chimney.

The tunnel system consisted of approximately 2,400 feet of horseshoe-shaped brick tunnel, 6 feet 10 inches high and 5 feet 6 inches wide, in which heating mains were installed to service all the campus buildings. Two new 150-brake horsepower water-tube boilers were provided, and these were augmented by boilers removed from the heating plant behind University Hall and later by those from the plant at the Chemical Laboratory.

This, the first central heating plant, was destined to serve the University for a period of twenty years. Many changes and additions to equipment had to be made in an effort to keep the plant abreast of the demands of the rapidly expanding physical plant. Auxiliary steel stacks were built at one time to serve those boilers remote from the chimney and to increase their output. Many other expediencies, such as the installation of heat control on radiators and the weather-stripping of windows were introduced throughout the University buildings in an effort to keep them properly heated.

By 1911 it had become evident that drastic changes were required in the heating system. Smith, Hinchman and Grylls, a Detroit firm of architects and engineers, was commissioned to study the problem and to prepare plans for an adequate central heating plant. As a result of these studies, construction of the Washington Street Heating Plant and its system of distribution tunnels began in 1912. The project was completed in 1914, and the new unit served all University buildings, with the exception of the Hospitals, until 1924.

The Boiler House was built of cut stone in 1894 at a cost of about $57,000.


From the central station the first tunnel system, of brick, was extended to the various buildings on the campus. The conduit was 5 1/2 by 6 1/2 feet high. The floor was of Portland cement, and workmen could pass from one end to the other in making repairs.

The Boiler House had a gross floor area of 17,235 square feet and measured 85 by 93 feet. The smokestack connected with this old heating plant was a campus landmark for many years. It was originally 125 feet high, but the upper part was removed in 1924. After the erection of the heating and power plant on Washington Street, the old heating plant building was used for some time as an engineering laboratory, but in 1923 it was turned over to the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps as a center for their activities. ROTC remained in the building until 1942.

1923-1945 Reserve Officers’ Training Corps

The development of the heating, electric power and lighting, gas, and water systems of the University has been closely allied to the physical plant expansion and to the advancements in accepted practices in the field of the various utilities. From time to time the various systems have been extended, modernized, or rebuilt as conditions warranted, and every effort has been made to have them conform to the standard practices of the day.

Mortimer Cooley, Dean of Engineering never liked having the Power Plant located on the Central Campus. He tells the following story:

“Professor Demmon and I were walking east on the diagonal walk and as we came opposite the power house I crowded Demmon slightly to the right where stood a post and a chimney guy rope just high enough to knock a man’s hat off. Demmon’s hat went off.  He turned to me indignantly. ‘I understand you are responsible for that rope. Why in the world did you put it so low?’

Professor Demmon, I replied, I hoped you would ask me that. I explained to him that when we had enlarged the heating plant because of the new buildings on campus, additional smokestacks became necessary in order to increase the capacity of the boilers. These were of metal. I gave instructions to my good friends, the Wickes Brothers of Saginaw, who constructed them, to make these smokestacks as ugly as possible, and in installing them to run one of the guy ropes across the diagonal walk just high enough to knock a man’s hat off. The reason for doing this, I told Professor Demmon, was because for several years I have been trying to get the boiler house moved off the campus. Nobody else has been interested, and I can’t do it alone. I thought if I could make the boiler house as ugly as possible, and fix the guy ropes so some of the professors would get their heads bumped, I might get some help. Suffice to say, the following year I was authorized to make plans for the present boiler house in the old ‘Cat Hole’.” (Scientific Blacksmith, p. 82)