The University of Michigan, an encyclopedic survey ... Wilfred B. Shaw, editor.
University of Michigan.
The Old (First) Medical Building

The Old Medical Building, long a landmark on the east side of the campus, was one of the earliest University buildings. Preliminary action was taken in January, 1847, when it was resolved "that a building be erected upon the University Grounds similar in its dimensions and general plan to the principal building now in use, that suitable rooms for a Laboratory, Lectures, Anatomical Dissections, etc., for the use of the Medical Department be prepared in one section of said building … (R.P., 1837-64, p. 365). The sum of $5,000 was appropriated for the purpose and $3,000 more was set aside in 1848 when the completion of the building was finally authorized. It was occupied in 1850, and the total cost upon completion of the exterior in 1852 was $9,991.84 (see Part V: The Medical School).

Constructed under the supervision of Professor Silas H. Douglas, a member of the first medical faculty, who at that time also served as Superintendent of Buildings and Grounds, this building was the center of medical instruction on the campus for more than fifty years. While there is no record of an architect, it is probable that the plans were prepared under Douglass' direction, in cooperation with Jonathan Kearsley, at that time chairman of the Executive Committee of the Board of Regents.

During the period of its construction, it was known as the Laboratory Building, apparently in order to secure a better insurance rate and also to distinguish it from the South University Building (South Wing of University Hall), which was under construction at about the same time. The new building was 92 feet in length, 42 feet in width, and three stories high. It contained laboratories and lecture rooms, particularly a large lecture room on the second floor with a small dome above to admit light. A striking feature of the building was the portico on the east side with four tall Greek columns of brick and stucco construction, the capitals of which were designed and cast in Detroit.

Page  1697The Medical Department of the University was opened immediately upon the completion of the new building and from the first grew so rapidly that by 1864 an addition was necessary. In January, 1864, the Regents considered how they might enlarge the building. An examination of the finances of the institution showed that it could not be done without incurring debt. An appeal was made to the citizens of Ann Arbor, who responded by a gift of $10,000, raised by a general tax. The cost of the addition, according to Farrand, was $20,000. This four-story structure at the west end of the building was 60 feet square, thus more than doubling the classroom and laboratory space. It had offices and two large lecture rooms or amphitheaters, each containing seats for 600 persons. The top floor provided a new and enlarged dissecting room. For more than half a century all the pre-clinical medical work on the campus was carried on in this building and in the small Anatomical Laboratory Building, which was completed in 1889 just to the south of the Medical Building.

It was not until the West Medical Building, for many years known as the New Medical Building, was completed in 1903 that the old building which had served the University since the opening of the Medical School was superseded. The rear wing, as a matter of fact, proved so dangerous and ill-adapted that on the completion of the new building it was no longer used for classes. Later, however, permission was given for the continued use of the first-floor laboratories, and for some years the older east section was used. On August 12, 1911, a fire of unknown origin broke out on the third floor of the rear wing, which practically destroyed the west half of the building. The old front part was saved, only to be razed in 1914, to the regret of all the medical alumni of the University, who had already raised funds to save the building and adapt it for modern conditions of instruction. This proved impracticable, however, particularly in view of the fact that, with the expansion of the University and the erection of new buildings, the land upon which it stood had become extremely valuable. Randall Laboratory of Physics stands upon the site of the Old (First) Medical Building.