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Michigan State University

MSU Traditions: If these Walls Could Talk

Cowles House Front Door

MSU Traditions: If these Walls Could Talk

Cowles House renewed as campus hospitality hub

If you haven’t had the opportunity to peek inside the oldest building on MSU’s campus lately, get ready for a whole new source of Spartan pride.

Thanks to the generosity of dozens of donors and contributors, Cowles House, the university’s official presidential residence and most intimate venue for campus hospitality, has undergone a major transformation.

Gone are dated furnishings, makeshift nooks and dark corners. In are Herman Miller’s finest seating, wide open spaces and plenty of natural light. The result is a fully accessible, accommodating and user-friendly center that honors Michigan’s role in the mid-century modern movement.

When each graduating class takes advantage of that special invitation to gather in celebration at Cowles House, they will be surrounded by uniquely-MSU artifacts and beauty—a true reflection of all they have accomplished and can reach. From a stunning Pewabic tile mural depicting campus traditions to picturesque views of the lushly landscaped campus park outside, every detail showcases the meaning of Spartans Will. New additions to the house include a finely crafted wood bar and a colorful donor mural both constructed via the university’s Sustainable Wood Recovery Initiative from trees felled on campus.  

Taking in the elegant and modern vibe of today’s Cowles House, you’d never suspect it was once the home of this rather understated gentleman, none other than distinguished botanist William J. Beal.


Botanist William J. Beal
“Faculty Row House #7 looks a lot different than when I lived there!”


If the Cowles House walls could talk, they would certainly have some Spartan sagas to share. Constructed in 1857, Alice B. Cowles House is considered the oldest standing building on campus. It was one of several homes built for MSU’s earliest administrators and faculty in an area that became known as Faculty Row.

The building served a number of residential and other uses through the years until John A. Hannah occupied it upon assuming the college’s presidency in 1941. Its 1949-50 renovation occurred during his tenure when Alice B. Cowles House took on its current name in honor of the project benefactor’s mother.

Since then, the second floor of Cowles House has served as a residence for most MSU presidents, including the present one, Samuel L. Stanley Jr., M.D. The first floor’s public spaces play host to more than 150 campus events each year.

If the walls of Cowles House really could talk, no doubt they would be saying how proud they are to be part of such a beautiful and important facility. And maybe, they’d tell us the secret location of those seeds Professor Beal buried in the legendary, still running experiment he started 142 years ago!

Governor Jim and Janet Blanchard Entry Foyer
The Christman Company Living Room
Terrace Room
Kojaian Properties, Inc. Terrace Room
Pewabic Tile Mural
MSU Federal Credit Union Pewabic Tile Mural
Landscaping with Salvaged Morrill Hall Pillars

Author: Lois Furry, '89

MSU Traditions