When completed in 1909, Agriculture Hall was the grandest structure at what that year officially became known as Michigan Agricultural College. Invoking antiquity with its massive concrete Tuscan columns and neoclassical style, it nevertheless became a symbol of the modern land-grant college and contemporary approaches to agricultural research.
Built on the site of the college's original cattle barn, the 190-by-86-foot building also included a two-story livestock-judging pavilion, which occasionally served as an auditorium. Together with the circa 1900 Women's Building to the northwest, it bracketed "laboratory row," including the first Agriculture Hall — now Albert J. Cook Hall.
With the razing of the campus's first Justin Morrill Hall — originally the Women's Building — in 2013 due to structural deterioration, this building was renamed the Justin S. Morrill Hall of Agriculture.
Roots of the MSU College of Agriculture and Natural Resources as well as its extension service and research stations, date back to the university's founding in 1855, spurred primarily by Michigan farming interests. The agricultural college that occupies this building also was shaped by the development of America's land-grant college system in the years following
passage of the Morrill Act in 1862.
The 1887 Hatch Act funded land-grant college agricultural experiment stations. A second Morrill Act in 1890 added direct appropriations to support the colleges and, for states refusing to integrate campuses, funded separate African American colleges. The 1914 Smith-Lever Act appropriated federal funding for cooperative extension services of the sort that the college already had begun to offer throughout Michigan.
Agriculture Hall's construction coincided with reorganization of programs in agriculture, horticulture, veterinary science, and forestry as a division (now, college). Agriculture program head, Robert S. Shaw, became division dean and noted that the work of most departments included elements of education, experimentation, and extension—the three pillars on which MSU's agricultural college continues to stand. From 1928 to 1941, Shaw served as president of Michigan State College of Agriculture and Applied Science.