Neighborhoods Section

In The Archives: Bonnet-Starching Tips

Editor’s note: Laura Bien writes a bi-weekly history column for The Chronicle. This week she describes her experience reenacting the role of an anonymous turn-of-the-century scrubwoman at Ypsilanti’s Heritage Festival, which took place Aug. 20-22.

My rained-on bonnet flopped over my face like a dish towel. I could see only a sliver of sidewalk. What had been a neatly starched head-shield this morning had been ruined by the Saturday rain.

Ypsilanti Heritage Festival Laura Bien

The author made a rag rug in between visitors to Grandma's Trunk.

My long skirt hem was wet, too, and catching on my ankles as I stomped back to the historical museum on Ypsilanti’s Huron Street where our props had been staged overnight. My sleeves were soaked and I was on the verge of tears.

I looked ridiculous. Why, why, had I been so driven to be a historical reenactor at the Ypsilanti Hertitage Festival? Did I even know what I was doing?

Back in the park, the antique trunk I’d borrowed the week before sat under a historically inaccurate blue tarp, waiting for the drizzle to end. I returned from the museum to our staging spot with a basket containing a thermos of water and some bread and cheese concealed under a pillowcase.

My husband had scooped out a rectangle of sod, stored the sod-plank by a nearby tree, and was preparing his firemaking-with-flint-and-steel-and-char-cloth demo. Grey clouds covered the sky. [Full Story]

In the Archives: Two Worlds

Editor’s note: The new University of Michigan North Quad residential hall, which is opening this fall at the corner of State and Huron, will house the Global Scholars Program among various other initiatives. The goal of the program is reflected in a quote from a participant: “I learned to understand differences as diversity, not strangeness.” Historically, that attitude did not always serve as this country’s educational approach to other cultures – as this edition of Laura Bien’s bi-weekly history column shows.


Navajo student Tom Torlino at his arrival to Carlisle Indian School and three years later.

Eighteen-year-old George Moore boarded the eastbound train on a chill November day in 1898. Several of his schoolmates climbed on. The boys sat near Mrs. Lizzie McDonald, their guardian.

It would be a long journey.

Four days and three nights over the clacketing steel rails lay between his Idaho birthplace and a Pennsylvania boarding school.

Built in 1879, the Carlisle school was led by its founder Richard Henry Pratt, a former Civil War volunteer who after the war served as an officer in the 10th Cavalry. Its members included Buffalo Soldiers and Native American scouts. In western Indian Territory, Pratt’s group was in charge of enforcing reservation borders to protect settlers’ lands; Indians left the reservation to seek food.

Pratt was also put in charge of a group of Native American prisoners whom he treated humanely, comparatively speaking, even giving them sketch pads in which to draw their experiences. Years later in his book “Battlefield and Classroom,” Pratt wrote, “Talking with the Indians, I learned that most had received English education in home schools conducted by their tribal government. Their intelligence, civilization, and common sense was a revelation because I had concluded that as an Army officer I was there to deal with atrocious aborigines.”

However, in his later role as schoolmaster, he also said, “In Indian civilization I am a Baptist, because I believe in immersing the Indians in our civilization and when we get them under holding them there until they are thoroughly soaked.” Pratt had firm beliefs about how and why to educate his Carlisle students. In his era, Pratt’s assimilationist ideas were progressive.

George Moore, who had taken the train and attended the Carlisle School, eventually returned part-way back west – to Ypsilanti. [Full Story]

Column: Losing a Friend, and Community

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

It was a beautiful summer morning. I walked from my home in Ann Arbor, down State Street, to St. Thomas the Apostle Church. A crowd had already gathered outside, waiting to pay respects to our old friend, Mr. Brown.

No one told us to call him that. We just did.

In 1937, Mr. Brown’s father and grandfather opened a store called College Shoe Repair. Mr. Brown took over the business in 1951, the same year he married Dorothy – or Mrs. Brown, to us. They worked together every day. They had seven kids, and all of them worked at the store at some point.

When the shoe repair business slowed down in the ’70s, Mr. Brown started selling hockey equipment and sharpening skates. That’s how most of us got to know him. [Full Story]

In the Archives: Victorian Era Death Photos

Editor’s note: Death as a part of life is a theme previously covered by the Chronicle in the form of a column by Jo Mathis: “Letting Go: Many ways to say good-bye to a loved one after death.” And the topic surfaced tangentially at a recent forum for candidates in the Democratic primary for the state House, when they were asked to comment on a state law requiring death certificates to be signed by a funeral director. In her regular local history column for The Ann Arbor Chronicle, Laura Bien takes a look at the role photography played over 100 years ago in documenting the deaths of children.

It was an era without personal cameras, much less digital memory cards storing thousands of shots. The 19th- and early 20th-century family photo albums in the Ypsilanti Archives often contain only one expensive formal studio portrait of each individual family member, or a single economical group portrait.

Obituary in the Ypsilanti Commercial: “DIED: On the 13th inst., Theodore W., only son of J. Willard and Florence Babbitt, aged 10 months.”

Child mortality was high. When a child or other family member died, families would on occasion arrange to have a photograph taken before burial. Sometimes it was the first and last photograph they would ever possess of their loved one.

The fifty-odd family photo albums in the Ypsilanti Archives contain about a dozen examples of these poignant memento mori. [Full Story]

In the Archives: Golden Age of Oysters

Editor’s note: For this installment of Laura Bien’s bi-weekly local history column she takes the Gulf oil spill as an opportunity to drill down into the local area history of oysters.

Detroit oyster packers and restaurants advertised in Ypsilanti papers.

The nation-wide restaurant chain Red Lobster is pulling oysters from its menu. So are other seafood restaurants around the country.

The nation’s oldest continually-operating oyster-shucking company, New Orleans’s P&J’s, has shut down. Nearby is French Quarter neighbor Antoine’s, New Orleans’ oldest restaurant that allegedly invented the sumptuous dish Oysters Rockefeller. The restaurant has kept the recipe secret to this day.

Less occult is that restaurants around the country who rely on Gulf oysters are in trouble. According to NOAA, the Gulf supplied around 67% percent of the nation’s oysters.

Closer to home and over 150 years ago, oysters came from a different coast. Packed in barrels and whisked from New York and Chesapeake Bay to Washtenaw on trains, oysters were a popular area food. [Full Story]

In the Archives: 10 Least Persuasive Ads

Editor’s note: For this installment of Laura Bien’s bi-weekly local history column she counts down a top 10 list of least persuasive advertisements in old time Ypsilanti newspapers.

10. One early cereal offered a transformative experience.

Jim Dumps was a most unfriendly man,
who lived his life on the hermit plan;
In his gloomy way he’d gone through life,
And made the most of woe and strife;
Till Force one day was served to him-
Since then they’ve called him “Sunny Jim.”

Force breakfast wheat flakes were advertised in a 1902 Ypsilanti newspaper with one of the first brand mascots, Sunny Jim. It was only seven years earlier that John Harvey Kellogg had patented his “Flaked Cereals and Process for Preparing Same.” The popular Force ad campaign used six-line verses written by Minnie Maud Hanff and illustrated by Dorothy Ficken.

Jim Dumps asserted, “Too much meat
In summer causes too much heat.
What shall we eat all summer long,
That, without meat, shall keep us strong,
And in the best of summer trim?”
“Why, ‘Force,’ of course,” laughed ‘Sunny Jim.’

Though the poems now seem quaint, in his time Sunny Jim was a popular cultural icon for the cereal that promised “the strength of meat, without the heat.”

(Image links to higher resolution file.)

[Full Story]

In the Archives: The Girl Who Burned

Editor’s note: At its May 20, 2010 meeting, the University of Michigan board of regents approved a $17.7 million expansion of the University Hospital’s emergency department, aimed at reducing overcrowding and patient wait times. In 2009, the hospital’s ER had over 77,000 patient visits. A potential visitor to a UM ER back in the early 1900s would have been Bertha Thorn, the subject of this installment of Laura Bien’s local history column.

The house at 160 North Washington stood dark on the night of December 7, 1908.

The 19-year-old servant girl woke up in her attic room around midnight. She sighed, realizing that she would have to get out of bed and get the chamber pot. It would be cold from the chilly room. Bertha wore a union suit under her nightgown.

girl that burned

Bertha's room was likely in the attic.

She got up and sleepily felt for the kerosene lamp on her bedside table. She lifted the glass chimney and lit the lamp.

The chimney slipped. Bertha grabbed for it. Her nightgown sleeve caught fire.

Bertha jerked back. Her sleeve snagged the lamp. It tumbled and broke on the floor, sending splattered fuel and a column of fire up Bertha’s back. As flames roared up her nightgown, Bertha screamed and ran for the stairs.

“The girl ran shrieking, a pillar of fire, to the hall below,” reported the Dec. 8, 1908 Ypsilanti Daily Press, “where Miss Scovill aroused by her screams overtook her and succeeded with rare presence of mind in wrapping her in a couch throw and extinguished the flames. A physician was summoned and it was found that she was burned from her neck to her feet, the flesh being literally baked on her back, arms, and limbs, although not so severely burned across her chest. The fact that she wore a union suit of heavy underwear made the case more serious as it was almost impossible to remove the garments.” [Full Story]

S. Fifth Ave: Historic District, Development

On May 17, 2010 the Ann Arbor city council gave final approval to the city’s FY 2011 budget.

Also that same evening, at a different public meeting away from the glitz and glamour of budget deliberations, an historic district study committee – appointed by the council in August 2009 – adopted its final report. The report recommends creation of an historic district along South Fifth and Fourth avenues, from William Street down to Packard Avenue, including the south side of Packard.


The colored overlays indicate existing Ann Arbor historic districts. The question mark indicates the general vicinity of the proposed new historic district. (Image links to .kmz file from the city's data catalog, which will open in GoogleEarth, displaying all the current historic districts in the city.)

The council would still need to approve the creation of the district. The issue is currently scheduled to come before the council for a first reading on June 21, followed by a second reading on July 5. A moratorium on all construction work in the area of the study will expire on Aug. 6.

If the historic district is approved, then the Heritage Row project – a planned unit development (PUD) proposed along the east side of Fifth Avenue south of William Street – would need to win approval not just from the city council, but also from the city’s historic district commission (HDC).

Heritage Row is due to come before the city council for its second reading on June 7. It received its first reading approval from the city council on May 3 – with no discussion, but with one dissenting vote from Mike Anglin (Ward 5).

This article takes a look at the recommendation of the historic district study committee, primarily through the lens of the public hearing held on May 5 in city council chambers. The conclusion of the hearing found Scott Munzel and Alex de Parry kidding back and forth with Beverly Strassmann – over their respective remarks at the public hearing. Munzel and de Parry are legal counsel and developer for the Heritage Row project, respectively, while Strassmann is president of the Germantown Neighborhood Association.

In his public hearing remarks, Munzel had – somewhat unexpectedly – presented a case that the area recommended as an historic district should, if anything, be larger than the study committee is recommending. The issue of the possible district’s size was already controversial at the point when the committee was appointed, and continues to be a bit of a chaffing point among residents. [Full Story]

Column: What, If Anything, Is a Bicyclist?

Temperatures hit the high 70s at Sunday’s Artisan Market near Kerrytown, where volunteers for Common Cycle were helping people learn about bicycle repair.


Top to bottom: Tom Wright, Frank Schwende, Thomas Kula. (Photos by the writer.)

And as the weather gets warmer, the primary election season will also start to heat up – just as surely as journalists will appeal to hackneyed clichés to describe it. For local office candidates, as well as commentators on local races, part of the sport is to categorize the community into convenient groupings – like parents, homeowners, renters, students, landlords, environmentalists, developers, new urbanists, preservationists, park-lovers, young professionals, old hippies, the handicapped, business people, transit riders, etc.

I’m not certain that bicyclists would make the list as a voter group. But they’ll serve to make the point I want to make.

Yes, that non-exhaustive list of groupings is a sometimes useful and convenient set of labels. But just as the word “zebra” is a convenient label for those horse-shaped animals with a black and white pattern of stripes, that doesn’t mean that all of those “zebras” are necessarily biologically related.

The title of this column, in fact, is a play on the title of a fairly famous essay by Stephen Jay Gould: “What, If Anything, Is a Zebra?” That essay was written back in the early ’80s and I’m not sure if the evolutionary biologists ever settled the question. I don’t really care – zebras don’t live around these parts, and even if they did, they’re notorious non-voters.

But bicyclists do live around here. And they’ll serve as well as any grouping to illustrate the fact that among any “community” we include in a list of labels, there’ll be smaller sub-communities that have more specialized interests. So we’d do well to avoid thinking of these convenient labels as reflective of any one coherent community.

This column takes a look at three groups of people that could fairly be labeled “bicyclists,” with the idea that they’re separate groups, with maybe some overlap in people, but which are fundamentally different: Washtenaw Bicycling and Walking Coalition, Bicycles Are Traffic, and Common Cycle. I look at each group through the lens of one of their events I’ve attended over the last week and a half. [Full Story]

In the Archives: Ypsi’s Submarine Diver

Editor’s Note: On April 20, 2010, an explosion on an oil rig 50 miles off the Louisiana coast left 11 workers missing and presumed dead. Efforts are now focused on the underwater challenge of trying to cap off the oil well on the sea bed. Local history columnist Laura Bien takes a look back 150 years into the past to recall a Lake Erie underwater challenge resulting from a different tragedy.

In the summer of 1852, $36,000 in cash and gold bars lay in a locked safe 165 feet deep on the floor of Lake Erie.


Many of the overloaded ship's immigrant passengers slept on the deck, as there was no room below.

Worth $920,000 today, the riches lay within the wreck of the steamship Atlantic. So did more grisly testimony of the shipwreck’s victims, estimated as ranging from 130 to over 250. The deaths represented about a third of the 576 travelers packed onto a steamship meant to accommodate far fewer.

The era’s stream of immigrants pouring west made a profitable trade for passenger steamers traveling the Great Lakes. The Atlantic was the fastest one of all, speeding to Detroit from Buffalo in just 16-and-a-half hours. A towering steam engine churned huge paddlewheels on either side of the vessel. Despite her power and 267-foot-long brawn, the Atlantic succumbed when she was struck on the night of Aug. 20, 1852, by the Ogdensburg, a ship from a rival ferry line.

In the chaos and panic that ensued as the Atlantic began sinking, several of the lifeboats swamped when they hit the water. Some passengers grabbed cushions or anything buoyant and jumped in the water. The Ogdensburg circled back and picked up about 250 survivors from the water. [Full Story]

Column: Who Knows What’s Ahead?

Jo Mathis

Jo Mathis

Since my father’s death in February, my siblings and I have been working on Project Keep Mother Busy.

This isn’t difficult, as our upbeat little mama is still interested in what’s next; still in some ways that fun-loving brunette from Staten Island. She’s good company.

The other day, while leaving a bakery, I picked up and handed her a brochure about The Housing Bureau for Seniors’ Senior Living & Housing Awareness Week May 7-16. The week is billed as a one-stop chance to gain information, resources and approaches to help make decisions for better living.

Well, you’d think I had just given her a check for a million dollars. Who knew housing was such a big deal to her? After all, she’s in good health. She lives in a condo, where she doesn’t have to worry about yardwork.

But she wants a place that offers a continuum of care, beginning with independent living and ending with nursing care, or hospice. She wonders how her health will be in a year or so, if she’d become a burden to her kids, and what she’d do if there were a medical emergency and nobody around to help.

And no offense to us, but she’d like to be around a few more people her own age.

This is why on Friday I’ll be taking my mother to the Living & Housing Expo at Washtenaw Community College, and to some open houses at senior housing communities the rest of the week. [Full Story]

In the Archives: The Male Suffragette

Editor’s Note: With primary election season starting to warm up, and an exhibit on suffrage planned for this coming winter at Ann Arbor’s Museum on Main Street, local history columnist Laura Bien takes a look back at the history of the local suffrage movement.

“Baby suffrage” is what one Detroit newspaper proposed in 1874. In that year, Michigan voted on whether to remove the word “male” from a part of its Constitution related to voting. The paper sneered that infants voting in polling booths would be the next step if women were given the vote.

Pattison chose as his bold motto  Free to Do Right: To Do Wrong, Never.

Charles Rich Pattison chose as his bold motto for The Commercial "Free to Do Right: To Do Wrong, Never."

Newspapers of that era often served as explicit vehicles for their editors’ opinions and prejudices. As they did with the Temperance issue, papers across Michigan chose a side in the suffrage question in the key year of 1874.

Their pro- and anti-suffrage positions reflected the divided opinions not just on the national level, but, as in Ypsilanti, on a municipal level.

Edited by Charles Woodruff, the Ypsilanti Sentinel was against suffrage for women. It regularly published editorials that disparaged the idea and disparaged the Sentinel’s competing paper, The Commercial, which was led by arguably the most outspoken editor in Ypsilanti history. [Full Story]

In The Archives: Highland Cemetery Redux

Editor’s note: The previous installment of Laura Bien’s local history column was a walking tour of the southern half of Highland Cemetery. This installment takes readers through the northern half.

Highland cemetery gravestones

The Scovill-Jarvis graves provide a good example of a trio of hand iconography.

Arguably the most beautiful spot in Washtenaw County, Highland Cemetery offers an outstanding chance to examine 19th-century grave symbols. The following self-guided 2-hour tour, available as a .pdf, highlights a range of some of the northern half of the cemetery’s most interesting symbols. Numbers in the text correspond to the map.

Visitors can reach the cemetery by traveling down Washtenaw to its terminus on Huron. Turn left on Huron and right on Cross Street through Depot Town. At the remains of the Thompson Building at River, turn left. You will pass Forest Avenue and the ornate brick Swain home on the northeast corner of Forest and River. Continue down River; Highland Cemetery is a quarter mile down on the left.

Inside the main gates, open 8 a.m.-5 p.m. until April 30 and 8 a.m.-7 p.m. from May 1 to Sept. 30, a small parking lot appears on the right. Park here and walk west to Starkweather Chapel at the end of the main driveway.

On the north (right) side of the chapel, three paths diverge. Take the middle path. A few steps down on the left is the grave of Maria Towler (1) with this barely legible poem: [Full Story]

In the Archives: Highland Cemetery Tour

Editor’s note: Laura Bien’s local history column this week is a walking tour of the southern part of Highland Cemetery. Although she’s supplied a printable version with a map, as the gentlest of prods for readers to visit the cemetery, those who settle in to read the description onscreen will find that it hews to The Chronicle’s motto: “It’s like being there.” Bien’s columns come in a bi-weekly rhythm, and the next one will cover the northern part of the cemetery.

Arguably the most beautiful spot in Washtenaw County, Highland Cemetery offers an outstanding chance to examine 19th-century grave symbols. The following self-guided 1-hour tour, available in printable .pdf format with a map, highlights a range of the most interesting symbols in the southern half of the cemetery. Numbers in the text correspond to the map.

Highland Cemetery

An unusual depiction of a ship on a grave marker, seen at the end of the tour.

Visitors can reach the cemetery by traveling down Washtenaw to its terminus on Huron. Turn left on Huron and right on Cross Street through Depot Town. At the remains of the Thompson Building at River, turn left. You will pass Forest Avenue and the ornate brick Swain home on the northeast corner of Forest and River. Continue down River; Highland Cemetery is a quarter mile down on the left.

Inside the main gates, open 8 a.m.-5 p.m. until April 30 and 8 a.m.-7 p.m. from May 1 to September 30, a small parking lot appears on the right. Park here and walk west to Starkweather Chapel at the end of the main driveway. [Full Story]

In the Archives: The Toad Survey of 1910

Editor’s note: Leslie Science and Nature Center is soon launching its frog and toad survey after holding a kick-off orientation meeting on Feb. 24. Other Leslie frog-related events include Frog Fest on May 15, 2010. Partly in that context, local history columnist Laura Bien takes a froggy look back.

Michigan’s inaugural 1996 Frog and Toad Survey started strong. “I have talked with coordinators in other states,” wrote state frog and toad survey coordinator Lori Sargent in the survey report, “and most are finding it difficult to find enough people to volunteer. Perhaps that says a lot about Michiganians – we care about our natural resources.”

Frog Island Ypsilanti

Ypsilanti's Frog Island, seen here looking north along the present-day eastern side of the running track, was the site in 1895 of Henry Scovill's lumber yard.

So much so that Ypsilantians have been surveying frogs and toads for over a century … off and on.

“Five years ago as we sat on our porch one summer evening a toad hopped out from around the corner to the concrete walk,” was the way one resident was quoted in the July 9, 1907 Ypsilanti Daily Press. “We watched it ‘walk’ down to the street sidewalk and within half an hour or so back it came.”

The Normal Park resident continued, “The next night as we were again sitting on the porch, one said, ‘I wonder whether our toad will be out tonight?’ It was but a few minutes when out it hopped and started down the walk. Within the hour it came back.” [Full Story]

In the Archives: Paper Pennies of Ypsi’s Past

Editor’s note: As a feasibility study on local currency gets underway in Ann Arbor, local history columnist Laura Bien takes a look at how local currencies were used in the past. Bien’s new book on local history, “Tales from the Ypsilanti Archives (MI): Tripe-Mongers, Parker’s Hair Balsam, The Underwear Club & More (American Chronicles)” can be ordered through Amazon.

Local currencies are nothing new to either Ypsilanti or Ann Arbor. In addition to 19th-century municipal banks, both cities created local currencies about 80 years ago. They weren’t created to boost local spending or civic pride. Ypsilanti created her local currency, called scrip, in the fall of 1931 because the city had no other money to pay municipal employees.

Ypsilanti Scrip Money

Ypsilanti "Time Scrip Money" was used to pay for municipal work. (Image links to higher resolution file.)

The currency included paper pennies.

“It was really just an IOU,” recalled Paul Ungrodt, in an April 15, 1975 Ypsilanti Press article, one of a Great Depression retrospective series. “[T]here was no money; hardly anyone could afford to pay taxes, so we made do with the scrip.” In the summer of 1929, Ungrodt was proud to have secured the prestigious job of Ypsilanti Chamber of Commerce secretary. A few months later, the stock market crashed. [Full Story]

Heritage Row Gets Postponed

Ann Arbor Planning Commission meeting (Feb. 18, 2010): After a public hearing on the latest iteration of a controversial South Fifth Avenue housing project, planning commissioners voted to postpone action on a project now called Heritage Row.

A public hearing notice duct-taped to a tree

A public hearing notice duct-taped to a tree on Fifth Avenue, announcing the Feb. 18 public hearing of the proposed Heritage Row development. (Photos by the writer.)

Developer Alex de Parry is asking to rezone the seven-parcel site, with plans to restore the historic houses there and build three 3.5-story buildings behind them. Commissioners generally were favorable toward the project, citing benefits of restoring the older homes, among other things. A fair amount of  their discussion involved what color of brick to use on those new buildings.

The public hearing drew several neighbors who raised concerns they’d voiced over de Parry’s previous project in the same location, called City Place. Several mentioned the new buildings as being too large for the neighborhood. Another concern: An historic district study committee hasn’t finished its report, which could affect the project.

But before they considered Heritage Row, commissioners discussed proposed changes to Plymouth Green Crossings, a mixed use complex off of Plymouth, west of Green Road. The developers, represented by David Kwan, are asking to alter their original agreement with the city.

Economic conditions, including the departure of Pfizer, have slowed plans to complete the project, which was to include a total of three buildings and a standalone restaurant. Two buildings have been constructed – tenants include Sweetwaters and Olga’s – but a perceived lack of parking has stymied attempts to fill the retail space, Kwan said. He and his partners hope to put in a temporary parking lot on the land that originally was slated for the restaurant.

One commissioner wasn’t too excited by Kwan’s idea. Concerns were also raised about payments to the city’s affordable housing fund, which are being spread out over several years. [Full Story]

Fleshing Out Fuller Road Station

At left: Architect John Mouat, a member of the Fuller Road Station design team, talks with Eli Cooper, the city's transportation manager, before the start of the Feb. 10 citizen participation forum. Moaut is a partner in the Ann Arbor firm of Mitchell and Mouat. (Photos by the writer.)

At left: Architect John Mouat, a member of the Fuller Road Station design team, talks with Eli Cooper, the city's transportation program manager, before the start of the Feb. 10 citizen participation forum. Mouat is a partner in the Ann Arbor firm of Mitchell and Mouat. (Photos by the writer.)

For Eli Cooper, the city of Ann Arbor’s transportation program manager, a project like the proposed Fuller Road Station happens “once in a lifetime” – an opportunity for the city, he says, to take a vision and make it reality in a fairly short time.

What it will take to reach that reality was the topic of a Feb. 10 public meeting on the Fuller Road Station, a joint University of Michigan/city of Ann Arbor project. Its first phase entails a parking structure with about 1,000 spaces – nearly 80% of them earmarked for UM use.

But much of the presentation by city staff and members of the design team focused on the broader goals for that site, which they hope will eventually include a train station for commuter rail. [Full Story]

In the Archives: Runway to the Future

Editor’s note: At a recent meeting of the Ann Arbor city council, an item in the city’s capital improvements plan to shift and extend the runway at Ann Arbor’s municipal airport generated much discussion.  This installment of “In the Archives” takes a look at Ypsilanti’s airport, which has faded from the landscape.

The delicate blue Waco 10 biplane roared 10 feet over the grass, past the crowd in the stands. Approaching trees at the airfield’s far end, its nose rose and it climbed, becoming smaller and smaller in view.

Waco 10 biplane

An photograph of a Waco 10 from the airshow program. Five aviators at the 1927 Ypsilanti air show competed in the cutting-edge biplane. (Photos courtesy of the Ypsi Archives.)

The gargling buzz of its 90-horsepower engine grew fainter, until the craft sounded like a distant housefly. Watchers from Detroit, Ypsilanti, and Ann Arbor under the 4 o’clock June sun shaded their eyes with their hands.

The buzz stopped: 1,500 feet in the air, the plane was without power.

The biplane arced to the left, trying to loop back towards the field. The crowd watched intently. The biplane curved again, losing altitude. A box of popcorn fell from the hand of a little boy watching, his mouth open. The plane’s wings wobbled. Airplane and crowd were quiet. On a nearby farm, a dog barked.

The plane dropped. Nearing the field, it slowed, its toylike wheels just a yard over the ground. The plane nearly stalled – and then landed as gently as a butterfly. It rolled to a stop. Its nose nearly touched a black and white checkered pylon. The crowd began clapping and cheering as two men ran to the plane and stretched a yellow measuring tape between the plane’s silver nose and the pylon. One yelled a number. The crowd grew louder, some people standing to cheer and whistle.

The pilot grinned and thrust both fists up. He’d won the “dead-stick” engine-off gliding and landing contest at the 1927 Ypsilanti Airport air show. [Full Story]

Spotlight on Burns Park Players

Tim McKay, Vic Strecher, Clinch Steward (as Nas icely-Nicely Johnson, Rusty Charlie, and Benny Southstreet) on stage

Tim McKay, Vic Strecher, Clinch Steward (as Nicely-Nicely Johnson, Rusty Charlie, and Benny Southstreet) on stage at Tappan Middle School during a rehearsal of "Guys & Dolls."

“You’re not with props, are you?” a woman whispers to The Chronicle, soon after we enter the darkened auditorium at Tappan Middle School.

As we’re telling her no, a disembodied male voice calls out over the speaker system: “Spots! You’re going to do a Venn diagram on all three of them.” Spotlights flick on, directed toward three actors clustered on stage.

They vamp. “Spots, you’re not picking up each of them equally,” intones the voice, which turns out to be coming from the director, Mike Mosallam. Someone else yells: “They’re farther apart than we were told!”

It’s Sunday afternoon – Tech Day for the Burns Park Players, the time when technical glitches like these are worked out before “Guys & Dolls” opens on Feb. 5. The crew arrived around 9 a.m., followed by the 40 or so actors at noon.

They were set to log several hours doing “cue-to-cue” – an abbreviated run-through focusing on transitions of lighting and set – with a full show rehearsal starting at 4 p.m.

The Chronicle dropped by for part of this controlled chaos, joining local photographer Myra Klarman, whose behind-the-scenes shots captured some of the day’s activity. Enjoy. [Full Story]

In the Archives: Bloomers and Bicycles

Editor’s note: At January’s meeting of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board, Ann Arbor’s mayor suggested that the DDA’s transportation committee bring a recommendation to the board to take a position on bicycling on Ann Arbor’s downtown sidewalks.

The fight to keep bikes off of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti sidewalks dates back to the first appearance over a century ago of what many perceived to be “infernal machines.”

Thompson Bike

O.E. Thompson was Ypsilanti's leading seller of bicycles. (Images link to higher resolution files.)

The 1876 Ann Arbor city charter contains no mention of bicycles – it wouldn’t be until two years later that A. A. Pope manufactured the first bicycles in the U.S. The invention spread across the nation, threw city fathers into consternation as they scrambled for their city charters, and incited Ann Arbor’s “Bloomer War.”

It also inspired the creation of a nationwide organization of cyclists, the League of American Wheelmen. Its Michigan chapter’s 1897 edition of their “Road Book” recommended one 271.5-mile jaunt from Detroit to Chicago. Another route circled Lake Erie. The guidebook gave instructions for rides from Ann Arbor to Chelsea, Saline, Whitmore Lake, Pontiac, South Lyon and Dundee.

“Gravel roads will average as shown during entire riding season,” the book stated, “clay ones only in dry seasons.” The L.A.W. received a discount from 66 Michigan hotels ranging from Marquette to Coldwater. In Ann Arbor, the L.A.W.’s hotel was the American House (15% discount), and its Ypsilanti refuge was the Hawkins House (20%). [Full Story]

Water Main Project Set for Bryant Area

Jerry Hancock

Jerry Hancock, Ann Arbor's stormwater and floodplain programs coordinator, explains how soil composition in the Bryant neighborhood factors in the area's water problems. (Photos by the writer.)

A major project to replace water mains and resurface roads in the Bryant neighborhood will get under way this spring, part of a broader plan to address the area’s chronic drainage problems and other issues.

At a Jan. 14 neighborhood meeting, Ann Arbor city staff gave an overview of the project, which included an historical look at the subdivision off  Stone School Road, just south of I-94.

The meeting at the Bryant Community Center – organized by the nonprofit Community Action Network and attended by residents, city and county elected officials and staff, among others – is the latest in a series of efforts to deal with a wide range of challenges to one of the city’s predominantly low-income neighborhoods.

At the end of Thursday’s two-hour session, a question raised by one of the residents – “Is there a happy ending to all of this?” – might best be summarized by the answer, “It depends.” [Full Story]

In the Archives: Ypsilanti’s Waldorf-Astoria

Editor’s note: “In the Archives” is a biweekly series on local area history. In the coming week, on Jan. 19-20, the city of Ann Arbor will interview proposers of different projects for the top of a new underground parking garage at the Library Lot – including some developers who would like to build a hotel there. In this installment of her historical look back, Laura Bien offers a vignette of life just east of Ann Arbor, in Ypsilanti’s Huron Hotel, just after it had opened.

Eula Beardsley and Gladys Huston exited the front door of their Ypsilanti rooming house at Adams and Pearl one late December day in 1924.

Huron Hotel

The hotel opened in 1923, the year that residents celebrated the city's centennial. At left is the Washington Street entrance to the coffee shop and at right is the main Pearl Street entrance. (Image links to higher resolution file.)

“Colder than I thought,” said Gladys. Eula pulled shut the front door. “You’ll warm up at that big lunch today.” The pair walked one block east on Pearl Street, passing shiny rows of black cars in the Wiedman auto dealership to their left.

They crossed Washington, headed towards the door of the elegant new Huron Hotel on the northeast corner of Pearl and Washington.

Two years earlier, the only accommodations the city could offer guests were at the old-fashioned Hawkins House on Michigan Avenue between Washington and Adams. Built in the 19th century, the place had a worn-out and rustic atmosphere. The Ypsilanti Board of Commerce decided the city needed a modern, attractive hotel. It sold shares of stock to city residents, raised $200,000, and built the hotel in eight months, adding two additional floors two years later. [Full Story]

In the Archives: The Cigar Maker’s Son

Editor’s note: “In the Archives” is a biweekly series on local area history.

“The nature of my invention,” wrote Ypsilanti tinsmith Mathias Stein in his 1876 patent application, “consists in the construction and arrangement of a machine for heating sad irons and roasting coffee, either simultaneously or at different times, as will be hereinafter more fully set forth.”

schematic of combination coffee roaster iron heater

Figure 1 from the patent application of Mathias Stein for a combination flatiron heater and coffee roaster. (Image links to higher resolution file with of all six figures from the application.)

Mathias’s intricate 6-part invention, about the size of a large desktop printer, was a tabletop stove. Over a well of coals, it simultaneously roasted coffee and heated solid metal flatirons for ironing clothes, called “sad irons” – one old meaning of “sad” is dense or solid.

Mathias probably had high hopes for his two-in-one cast iron gadget. Shortly after his patent was granted, at age 31, he married the 28-year-old Josephine and the couple settled on Ballard Street just south of Washtenaw Avenue. [Full Story]

Heritage Row Redux: Process Clarified

At a neighborhood meeting held last Monday evening on the Heritage Row Apartments project (formerly City Place) on South Fifth Avenue, a question was raised concerning compliance with Ann Arbor’s citizen participation ordinance for new developments. [Chronicle coverage: "Fifth Avenue Project to Meet Historic Standards"]

That previous article left a possibly confusing impression about how Ann Arbor’s public participation ordinance now applies to the Heritage Row project. The Chronicle followed up by reviewing the history of the Heritage Row project against the specific language of the ordinance – which had been cited at the meeting by resident Tom Whitaker to support his contention that an additional meeting would be required under the ordinance.

That review establishes that no additional meeting is required for the project under the public participation ordinance. This conclusion was confirmed by Wendy Rampson, interim director of planning and development services for the city. [Full Story]

Task Force Tries to Save Senior Center

The Ann Arbor Senior Center is a projected $90,355 closer to bridging a $151,687 gap between revenues and expenses, according to an update given Wednesday. At a public meeting, city staff presented preliminary recommendations of a task force that’s been working on ways to generate revenue and cut expenses at the center.

The Ann Arbor Senior Center already offers bridge games, but a task force hopes to raise additional revenue by adding to the center's bridge programs.

The Ann Arbor Senior Center already offers bridge games, but a task force hopes to raise additional revenue by adding to the center's bridge programs. (Photo by the writer.)

Like Mack Pool, the senior center is slated to close on July 1, 2010 as part of the budget plan for FY 2011, which was presented to the city council earlier this year. Following protests from users of those facilities, the council appointed two task forces this summer to develop strategies that could potentially prevent the closures.

Recommendations for the senior center include expanding a trip program, putting a membership fee in place and using part of a bequest to cover operating expenses in the short-term, among other ideas.

During a Q&A following staff’s presentation, several of the 40 or so people attending the meeting pressed for more information and criticized the city in general for having misplaced spending priorities. “We are not blades of grass,” one woman said. “We’re not golf balls. We are human beings, and closing this center would have a devastating impact on people and their families.” [Full Story]

Fifth Ave. Project to Meet Historic Standards

Monday evening on the third floor of the downtown Ann Arbor District Library, developer Alex de Parry gave residents and neighbors an update on a project he’s been proposing in one form or another since early 2008.

Alex De Parry poining

Alex de Parry describes how the rear of the existing seven homes would in some cases be modified consistent with their period of historical significance. (Photo by the writer.)

The housing development would be located on the east side of Fifth Avenue, just south of William Street.

Previously known as “City Place,” the proposal has been newly baptized as “Heritage Row.” The new nomenclature reflects in part the expressed intent of de Parry’s development team to meet the Secretary of the Interior’s standards for historic preservation for a row of seven old houses. Behind the row of houses, three new buildings would be constructed. Underground parking would be constructed under the three new buildings.

Previous versions of the project would have either demolished the seven houses or preserved them only in part. Now, the plan is to rehabilitate those houses to historic district standards. [Full Story]

Task Force Floats Ways to Save Mack Pool

There aren’t many meetings you can attend where some of the pre-meeting conversation goes like this: “I didn’t recognize you with your clothes on!”

Keeping Mack Pool open is even a campaign issue for student council, based on this sign in the hallway.

Keeping Mack Pool open is even a campaign issue for student council, based on this sign in the hallway. The election is scheduled for Friday, Nov. 13.

Swimmers can get away with that kind of banter, and swimmers of all sorts showed up Thursday night to talk about what the city should do to keep Mack Pool open. The public meeting was held at the media center of the Open School @ Mack, just down the hall from the pool – but far enough away to smell only the faintest whiff of chlorine.

Closing Mack Pool, or turning it over to the Ann Arbor school system, was one of the options proposed by city administrator Roger Fraser at an April 13, 2009 council working session, as a way to help balance the city’s budget in the face of declining revenues projected for 2010 and 2011. There’s about a $100,000 shortfall between what it costs to run the pool each year and the revenues it takes in. Figuring out how to make up that difference is the goal of the Mack Pool Task Force, which hosted Thursday’s meeting. [Full Story]

Photo Essay: Halloween on Main Street

Editor’s note: In what has now officially become an annual Chronicle tradition, we’re delighted to document this year’s Main Street Halloween Treat Parade through the eyes and lens of Myra Klarman, a professional photographer who lives and works in Ann Arbor. Downtown merchants handed out treats to dozens of spooks, superheros, puppies and princesses. If there were tricks, we sure didn’t see any – other than a little rain. Happy Halloween.

Boy in a lion's costume

The Lion

[Full Story]

Seniors Weigh In On Fate of Center

Christopher Taylor, a city councilmember representing Ward 3

Christopher Taylor, right, a city councilmember representing Ward 3, is serving on the senior center task force, and attended Friday's meeting. (Photo by the writer.)

Shucking off raincoats and shaking rain off their umbrellas as they entered, about 50 people gathered Friday afternoon at the Ann Arbor Senior Center to get an update from city staff on the center’s fate, and to give feedback on ways to keep it open.

The meeting was the first of two scheduled by a city task force convened to address a budget crunch that had prompted city staff to recommend closing the center. The next public meeting is set for Tuesday, Oct. 27 from 6:30-8:30 p.m., also at the Burns Park facility, 1320 Baldwin Ave.

Closing the center seems a less certain scenario now, based on comments from staff and task force members. The focus is on finding ways to increase revenues, Colin Smith, the city’s parks and recreation services manager, told the group.

“The fact that so many people came out today shows how important the senior center is,” Smith said. [Full Story]