The small depression between Beaumont Tower and the Music Practice Building, known today as Sleepy Hollow, is the last vestige of a small, spring-fed brook entering the campus from the north and draining into the Red Cedar River.
The clear, cool stream ran through sandy black loam over clay soil and has long been a gathering place. Discovery of the remains of a large fire pit and of projectile points at its edge indicate reoccurring habitation dating to 1,000 to 3,000 BC, with Native American presence in the campus area continuing into the 1850s. Records from 1849 describe them trading with Robert Burcham, the area's first white resident. Burcham built his cabin on the site of the current Music Building, clearing portions of adjacent land later set aside for preservation as the university's "Sacred Space."
College Hall, the first campus building and the nation's first building dedicated to the scientific study of agriculture, was erected in 1856 where Beaumont Tower now stands. It is depicted in the university's official seal, seen at the top of this marker. Its bricks were formed from clay soil from the area bounded by the westerly portion of today's West Circle Drive. Labeled "Hollow" on an 1896 map, the depression from where the clay was dug and the adjacent open
area were called Sleepy Hollow by students in the early 1900s. The site was well used for freshman/sophomore rivalry games and an annual bonfire. Known also as Old Drill Field and Landon Field before being renamed Adams Field in 1999, it is unclear when the name Sleepy Hollow transferred eastward to this location.
The stream was harnessed for building College Hall using a water ram and pipes to force water uphill, and a small shelter constructed over the apparatus was used for bathing. The area became known as "Ramsdale," although college administrators preferred the name "Fountain Dell." Clay from the stream banks was used to make tiles to drain campus wetland, and the ravine became a refuse pit for students living in the nearby "Saints' Rest."
Botany professor William J. Beal appropriated the area in 1873 to plant a collection of 140 species of forage grasses and clovers for study. Those test plots were the beginning of today's Botanic Garden where Beal created his "Wild Garden" just across the street in 1877. He continued his experiments with the grasses, and one report has him placing 10,000 plants in the beds of the hollow in 1894 alone. His work earned him regard as perhaps the country's first turf grass scientist, among other recognitions.
A number of dead trees were removed from the banks of the
ravine in 19067, and the creek channel straightened. But by 1914, increased pollution runoff from East Lansing and alarm over outbreaks of typhoid fever prompted enclosure of the once-pristine stream and its incorporation into the community's sewer system.
Sleepy Hollow was officially reunited with the W.J. Beal Botanical Garden in 1961 when the soil of the east slope was treated with acidification amendments to accommodate a new collection of rhododendron and azalea hybrids.