Leonard Menzi's Lost Negatives

Published In:
Ypsilanti Gleanings
Original Images:

Author: Sean McConnell

Large monuments are often erected to commemorate famous people or events, allowing passersby to reflect on the past. One may also learn about the past from the historical narratives recorded in books. Yet sometimes it is a dusty box of negatives, housed in envelopes yellowed with age, that brings the lives of those long gone to the forefront. Such was the case when Alexis Braun Marks, head of Eastern Michigan University Archives, gave me a large collection of negatives to digitize earlier in the summer. The negatives date from the late 1920s to the early 1940s and document Roosevelt School’s history.

Roosevelt School was constructed on the Michigan State Normal College campus in 1925, becoming the second laboratory school on the campus after Welch Hall. Roosevelt remained a laboratory school until 1969, when the Michigan State Legislature governed the dismantling of the laboratory school system. Roosevelt served as both a grade school and high school during its time on campus, and the building now accommodates classrooms for Eastern Michigan University. We knew little about the newly discovered negatives when I started digitizing them, beyond what we gleaned from words penciled on the envelopes. We knew that the negatives portrayed Roosevelt students and faculty inside and outside the classroom, but we did not even know who created the negatives. We soon found our answer after viewing the images for the first time.

Over 800 negatives have been scanned to date, and hundreds more remain. The name “Leonard Menzi” was written on some of the envelopes. I initially suspected that Mr. Menzi may have been the photographer in question, but I became certain only recently. A few of the images feature a tidy white house on an Ypsilanti street corner. After locating Mr. Menzi’s address in the 1940 census, I confirmed that it was the house in which he lived. I later searched through the Roosevelt School collection, housed in the Eastern Michigan University Archives, and found books that Mr. Menzi produced. Many of the images in the negative collection appear in these books as prints. Ypsilanti Gleanings readers likely know that Leonard Menzi taught science at Roosevelt starting in the late 1920s and served as the school principal from 1940 to 1961. Mr. Menzi’s negatives provide a reminder of his interesting life and Roosevelt School’s unique programs, as well as the beauty of the Michigan State Normal College campus.

Leonard Menzi hailed from Oberlin, Ohio, where he received his Bachelor of Arts degree at the liberal arts college that shares his hometown’s name. He later earned a Master of Arts degree in Education from the University of Chicago. Not bound by national borders, Mr. Menzi traveled all the way to China to teach science and serve as principal of the North China American School. He lived in Tungchow with his wife, Margaret, whose parents were Christian missionaries. The Menzis arrived in Ypsilanti at the end of the 1920s, when Mr. Menzi secured employment at Roosevelt. Materials on the North China American School may be found at the Yale Divinity Library, but you do not have to travel all the way to Connecticut to view materials on the Menzis. Margaret Menzi donated her papers to the University of Michigan’s Bentley Library, including photocopies of the diary she kept in China. An even shorter trip to the Eastern Michigan University Archives’ website leads to the numerous images Mr. Menzi took of his family, colleagues, and the students who populated Roosevelt School’s classrooms.

Mr. Menzi taught science at Roosevelt before becoming principal in 1940, and he also participated in extracurricular activities. He organized in 1931 the “Kodak Klub,” also known as the “Photography Club,” and shared with students his passion for photography. Betty Pooler wrote in the 1932 Hillcrest yearbook that “members take, as well as develop, print, and enlarge, their own pictures.” These pictures were showcased in Roosevelt’s main lobby. While the Photography Club clearly existed as a pleasurable activity for Roosevelt students, the organization maintained a practical side as well. Betty noted photography’s burgeoning popularity and found that it “is to meet this rapidly growing demand that members of the photography group are so zealously studying.” As the Great Depression ravaged many Americans’ fortunes, the Photography Club members knew “that by diligent application they will find themselves safely out of the ranks of the unemployed.”

Photography Club members actively engaged in their chosen craft, and also highlighted other well-known photographs. According to a 1938 edition of the Rough Rider, Roosevelt’s school newspaper, the Eastman Kodak Company displayed photographs in the lobby. Kodak presented, among others, the infamous image of the burning Hindenburg. Photography Club members were to display their own images the following week, and Mr. Menzi was to award the student who took the best photograph. Besides awarding talented photographers, Mr. Menzi encouraged students’ creativity when he paired his own photographs with students’ poetry. The collaboration resulted in the 1935 edition of Adventures in Creative Expression, also housed within the University Archives’ Roosevelt School collection. Mr. Menzi photographed numerous fall and winter scenes around campus, including the fall image displayed in this article, and placed them in the book. A student’s poem appeared beside each photograph. Lillian Anspach, then 10 years old, perfectly captured this photograph’s autumnal imagery:

Fall is here. The trees are
shedding their golden hair.
When this season is over the
branches will be bare.

Other teachers also created a lively atmosphere at Roosevelt. Louis A. Golczynski, a science teacher as well, decided that Roosevelt needed a zoo and started housing animals on campus. Students writing in the 1931 Hillcrest called the zoo “something decidedly unique in secondary education circles.” Mr. Golczynski provided shelter for a “strange menagerie” of “coyotes, mice, guinea pigs, skunks, and raccoons” and many other animals. The zoo proved popular. In “one week a guest quota of three hundred was reached,” showing the Hillcrest writers that “the animal hotel is attractive to those who seek entertainment or information.” Geese apparently found shelter at the Roosevelt School zoo alongside the coyotes and mice.

Mr. Menzi and his colleagues promoted progressive education at Roosevelt School. Instead of rote memorization, students learned how to think critically and to apply knowledge. Teachers created programs like the Photography Club to supply students with skills. An article in the Fall 1930 edition of the Integrator, the Ypsilanti teachers’ newsletter, referred to a proposed industrial arts program that would “give students on the junior high level an opportunity to explore and experiment in the fields of printing, wood work, general metal work (which includes bench metal, forging, and foundry), mechanical drawing, electricity, and home mechanics.” The Industrial Arts program became enacted under the guidance of Duane G. Chamberlain, and Roosevelt soon contained home workshops. Mr. Menzi took photographs of the workshops, including the one shown in this article of a boy painting a chair in 1941.

This is a small selection of a wonderful collection of images that have been scanned and uploaded to the University Archives’ LUNA database that features faculty, student plays, baseball teams, campus grounds, field trips, and numerous other people and events. These images provide a perfect supplement to the Roosevelt School collection, which includes scrapbooks, yearbooks, and other administrative records. Everyone is welcome to visit the archives to view the collection of photographs and documents, or to access the database of images on the Eastern Michigan University Archives’ website and see these past scenes from a unique Ypsilanti educational center.

(Sean McConnell recently graduated from Wayne State University with a Master of Arts in history and a graduate certificate in archival administration. He is an aspiring archivist.)

Photo Captions:

Photo 1: Leonard Menzi hailed from Oberlin, Ohio.

Photo 2: Menzi’s Photography Club members posing outside Roosevelt School in 1938.

Photo 3: Mr. Menzi photographed numerous fall and winter scenes around campus and then placed them in a book with student poems.

Photo 4: Geese apparently found shelter at the Roosevelt School zoo alongside coyotes and mice.

Photo 5: Mr. Menzi took photographs of students working in the school shops such as this one showing a student painting a chair.

The 1893 Cyclone - A Terrible Night of Desolation in Ypsilanti

Published In:
Ypsilanti Gleanings
Original Images:

Author: James Mann

Wednesday, April 12, 1893 was an unusually warm day with rain in the late morning. The skies cleared in the afternoon and the air was still warm. In the early evening clouds were seen forming in the west, the shape and actions of which indicated strong winds. Just before 7:00 pm a storm passed over the city with a vivid display of lightning. As a precaution, the electric lights of the city were turned off, enveloping the city in darkness. At about 7:05 pm a tornado formed and came to earth near the south end of Summit Street. (Note: technically the storm was a tornado but local newspapers of the time referred to it as a cyclone.)

“Chimneys and outbuildings and trees were overturned on the west side of the street, and on the east side the house of George Voorhees, lately purchased from Mr. Miles, was moved from its foundation, windows and doors broken, and the contents of the house generally wrecked. The family were fortunately absent. An old house north of that was somewhat shattered, and trees and small buildings were destroyed as far as M. T. Conklin's to the north and Prof. McClenshan's south showing thus a width of about 500 feet. The trees were thrown both east and west at the same spot,” noted The Ypsilantian of Thursday, April 13, 1893.

Only one building south of Michigan Avenue was damaged, this was Good Samaritan Hall, a church. It is said the sexton was just raising his arms to ring the bell, when the wind carried off the roof and the belfry. “His surprise”, noted The Ypsilanti Commercial of Friday, April 14, 1893, “may be imagined.”

The tornado continued on leaving the streets full of debris. The tornado lifted at Michigan, then known as Congress, and Ballard, returning to earth at Michigan and Adams. “The fine double residence occupied by Mr. Grove Spencer and Mrs. S. A. De Nike was utterly demolished. This is one of the most perfect wrecks left by the storm. The entire western half of the house is razed to within a few feet of the ground and the eastern wall all blown away. Mr. Spencer's family escaped the certain death that waited them had they been upstairs, by being at supper in the basement, and Mrs. De Nike's family on the first floor were saved by the strong partition walls,” reported The Ypsilanti Commercial.

The wind carried away the roof and walls to the upper floor of the Curtis Carriage factory (where the Key Bank Building is now), leaving buggies exposed. The tornado then crossed the street to make a wreck of the Cleary College building, the eastern wall gone, the tower ripped down to the second floor and the north wing totally destroyed. The Opera House was demolished, with only the front wall left standing. The Opera House was empty at the time.

The walls of the Opera House fell onto the Hawkins House next door, caving in the wooden portion at the rear, the first floor used as a dining room with sleeping rooms on the second. Cassius Valentine had just finished his supper in the dining room, and was in the office, where he had just paid his bill, as he was preparing to leave on the train. Suddenly the large attractive room was filled with dust and particles of brick and mortar. After the roar of the storm had passed, he heard the cries of several young women in the dining room.

“Mrs. Westfall and daughter were in one of the chambers above, and as the building crushed and darkness enveloped them, they felt the floor sink. They clasped arms about each other and a moment later found themselves in the dining room below, surrounded by brick and mortar and broken boards, and marvelous to relate, quite unhurt. A whole bedroom with its four walls in place now stands in that dining room,” reported The Ypsilantian.

“One girl was in the room when the crash came, and she was rescued with some difficulty but unhurt. A traveling man who was ill had retired, and he, bed and bedroom and all was suddenly dropped into the dining room. He gathered his night robe gracefully about him it is said and walked out from among the rubbish unhurt,” reported The Ypsilanti Commercial. It is said the traveling man left the city on the next train.

The tall chimney of the box factory on Pearl Street is said to have been carried off in one piece, and was, it is said, seen flying horizontally toward the east. The chimney was never found. Then the tornado moved onto Huron Street, damaging the buildings between Michigan Avenue and Pearl Street. It ripped the front off the second floor of a market, and shattered the wide windows of the stores, then drenched the interiors with water. A tin roof was carried off a building, and ended up wrapped around the front of a boarding house across the street.

Crossing the river the tornado continued on its path of destruction, ripping roofs off houses, breaking windows and spreading debris. A barn was torn into kindling wood, but the mustang in the barn was not hurt. “Then the storm crossed the M. C. track to the spacious and beautiful grounds of John Gilbert, destroying trees and fences, but the fine, high house escaped with broken windows,” reported The Ypsilantian.

“Across Grove Street there,” continued The Ypsilanti Commercial, “the home of W. A. Moore was unroofed and most of the interior and rear walls torn out. His barn was torn all to pieces, and he found his horse on the hay floor, faced about and still hitched to the ruins of the manger, and unhurt.”

As suddenly as it began, it ended. The tornado passed through the city in a span of time lasting ten to fifteen minutes. This writhing demon of a storm had crossed a mile and a half of the city with the sound of a hundred freight trains. As soon as the storm had passed men and women, holding lanterns, went out onto the darken streets, filled with ruin, to search for the dead and injured. The pleasant surprise was, there were no dead, and there were no serious injuries. At the time, the cost of the damage was placed at $100,000. The work of rebuilding began almost at once.

“The cyclone struck Ypsilanti, Mich.,” reported The St. Louis Post Dispatch, “but the name of the town was not harmed. It is neither better nor worse than before the storm. It is supposed that the letters were blown together in the first place, and that no cyclone can further tangle them up.”

(James Mann is a local author and historian, a volunteer in the YHS Archives, and a regular contributor to the Gleanings.)

Photo Captions:

Photo 1: Damage to the home of Mrs. S. A. DeNike from the 1893 Cyclone. The house was located on Michigan Avenue just West of Cleary College.

Photo 2: Damage to buildings along Huron Street from the 1893 Cyclone.

Photo 3: Damage to the Ypsilanti Opera House from the Cyclone of 1893.

Photo 4: Damage to the West side of Huron Street North to Pearl Street from the Cyclone of 1893.

Photo 5: Damage to the Ypsilanti Business District from the Cyclone of 1893.

Ypsilanti's Mineral Water Sanitariums

Published In:
Ypsilanti Gleanings
Original Images:

(Note: This article appeared in a 1973 issue of the Gleanings.)

The Ypsilanti Commercial of Saturday, October 6, 1883, contained the following:

“OUR CITY: Last January when the merchants of Ypsilanti came to figure up the result of their year’s business they found that the trade of the City had never before been equaled the sales of the year just past. As this fact was whispered from ear to ear the talk of the town, which for years had been pessimistic, began slowly to change. In the spring the Ypsilanti Paper Company, which, thanks to Mr. Clark Cornwall, has always been an enterprising concern, began to bore for mineral water near their lower mills. After a time the labor was crowned with success and water of unusual strength (and smell) was struck. The water found is strong enough to eat up a tin dipper in a couple of hours’ time, and in color has the appearance of milky water. Immediately all the lame and halt of the town began to bathe in this veritable Poll of Siloam, and when the cures were noised abroad there came a struggle to see who should be first to use the limited accommodations of the town. Then strangers began to flock to the City and such was the potency of the water and so great the number of Strangers who came to be cured of their infirmities that an enterprising citizen, Mr. George Moorman, getting some aid, began the erection of a $30,000 bath house, which is now fast approaching completion. In a short time ample accommodations will be provided for all who care to take the baths.”

Between the years of 1880 and 1917 there were two successful Mineral Water Sanitariums in our city, each supplied with mineral water from local wells. In an article in The Ypsilanti Commercial of December 15, 1883, entitled: “Ypsilanti, a Review of the City and Its Industries, ” we read:

“… The Ypsilanti Paper Company completed a well on their premises for the purpose of obtaining a supply of pure water for use in the manufacture of paper. The well reached a depth of nearly 800 feet, when it struck a vein of water that had a peculiar taste and was acknowledged to possess some medical properties. The real value of the water was not known until several very remarkable cures of cancer, rheumatism and other kindred diseases could be traced to the effects of the water. The reputation of this mineral water spread very rapidly, and hundreds of our citizens can testify as to its beneficial effects. It became the one theme of conversation on our street, and the demand for treatment from this water became more and more apparent every day. Our citizens became interested in the matter, and, seeing it would be a great addition to the city, offered a donation of $5,000 to anyone who would start a suitable establishment where persons suffering from disease could receive treatment from this water. After due consideration the proposition was accepted by George Moorman and Clark Cornwell . These gentlemen began the erection of a building on the eighth of last May. They have pushed its construction as fast as weather would permit. It will be ready for occupancy about the first of January, and when finished, be the finest building in the city…”

In the archives of the City Museum we have the original invitation to the opening of the Ypsilanti Mineral Bath House, (Huron North of Congress (Michigan) . There were speeches given, music provided by the Ypsilanti Quartet Club and refreshments were served by the Ladies’ Library Association. On January 12, 1884, The Ypsilanti Commercial copied a report of the opening ceremonies. The speeches were praised, the Ladies’ of the Library Association were congratulated on the refreshments and it was proudly noted that a reporter from The Chicago Times covered the event for his paper.

Six months later Tubal Cain Owen announced that he, too, had a mineral well and claimed that his “waters” had even more curative powers than that of the Cornwell-Moorman well. The fact that frequent articles concerning the mineral wells appeared in The Ypsilanti Commercial seems to point up the fact that the townspeople, particularly the business men and landlords were keenly interested in the success of the Sanitariums. For instance, on July 26, 1884, there appears yet another article, entitled, “The Mineral Wells.”

…These wells are rendering Ypsilanti famous the world over. The healing waters flowing free from these wells seem destined to be an untold blessing to affected humanity…Ypsilanti has already come to be the center of attraction for the halt, the lame and the blind, the palsied and paralylics. It is by no means a crippled city, but a city of cripples. The cry every day, “still they come.” Let them come! The Hawkins House, the Follette House, the Barton, and all the other hotels and numerous nice boarding houses are full. Ere another season a mammoth hotel may be in the process of erection.

About this same time the paper started listing the names of those registering at the Sanitariums. Helen McAndrew had water from the Owen well piped to her “Rest for the Weary” establishment on South Huron Street. The editor of the paper proudly called especial attention to the names of “guests” of the Sanitariums who came from outside the state.

Tubal Cain Owen, the owner of the Forest Avenue Mineral Well, was not only a good business man but he was a wonderful promoter of his products. He erected a tall building over his derrick and in it established a factory for making soap (“Sapon”), salts, ointments and other products of the well besides bottling hundreds of bottles and barrels of the mineral water, which he named “Atlantis,” the name being in black lettering that reached from the ground to the top of the building. His charged mineral water he called “Paragon.” He had various brochures prepared for the purpose of advertising his products and from one entitled, “Natures Remedy; Natural Mineral Water From the Owen Mineral Well at Ypsilanti, Michigan and the DISEASES IT WILL CURE together with Directions for Treatment.” It read as follows:

“TO THE PUBLIC: The waters of the Owen Mineral Well is on the market to fulfill its errand of mercy, and we wish everyone to know just exactly what he is using, that he may use it intelligently and rationally. We have no myths nor Indian legends to relate to appeal to the public’s credulity. We sank our well on scientific principles in search of HEALING WATERS. We use the most approved modern machinery; we believe that waters of untold value to suffering humanity were below us, and we wanted to bring them to the light of day and utilize them for their legitimate purposes. Our expectations were high, and we believe they have been fully realized. We base the claims for our water upon the medicinal value of its mineral salts as demonstrated by the actual experience and testimony of the highest authorities.”

In the same brochure the treatment of cancer was outlined as follows:

“The water must be taken freely, three or four glasses a day, no matter how nauseating it may be. Sponge the entire body twice a day with moderately warmed water. Apply to the affected part thick cloths saturated with the water at its natural temperature, renewing them as ofter as they become at all dry. After the disease shows signs of yielding, by no means cease the treatment, but continue it faithfully until the cancer is entirely healed. Besides applying the water by means of the cloths before mentioned, the diseased part should be bathed freely and frequently with the water. We cannot impress too strongly upon the mind of the patient, the absolute necessity of drinking freely of the water…”

The cost of the Owen Mineral Water was as follows:
Per Barrel $8.00
Per Half Barrel $4.50
Ten Gallon Kegs $3.25
Pints (per doz.) $3.00
Quarts (per doz.) $5.00

In jugs, five gallons and under, the water will be sold at the uniform price of twenty cents per gallon, and ten cents per gallon for package.

In yet another Owen brochure are listed testimonials from those cured plus a list of local people who claimed cures and the ailments of which they are cured are also listed. Of course, the Ypsilanti Sanitarium (Occidental Hotel) also had its brochure. It was lavishly illustrated with pictures of the building and of its various rooms. The introduction to its brochure reads as follows:

“THE YPSILANTI SANITARIUM was designed especially for the rational treatment of cases which require the constant attention of competent physicians and trained nurses. The natural advantages of Ypsilanti, viz.; high altitude, picturesque wooded country, and what is of most importance, The Ypsilanti Mineral Springs, make it especially adapted for a health resort.

The thorough equipment of its laboratories for research and study and its complete departments for the treatment of various diseases make it particularly desirable for cases that cannot practically be treated at home.

Experienced physicians and professional nurses are in constant attendance.

The Sanitarium will maintain perfectly equipped departments…From all boat lines touching Detroit, it is but a short trip. It is on the main line of the Michigan Central R.R., 45 minutes’ ride from Detroit and a little over 6 hours ride from Chicago. It is the eastern terminus of the Ypsilanti branch of the Lake Shore & Michigan Southern R.R. and its connecting lines viz. the Detroit, Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor trolley lines. From Ann Arbor on the trolley line it is 30 minutes and from Detroit 1 hour and 30 minutes distant. On the Wabash R.R. Ypsilanti may be reached via. Belleville…”

The interesting question is, why did Ypsilanti’s flourishing and comparatively well known sanitariums close? An article in the Ypsilanti Press for September 9th, 1945, tells us that a Mr. J. M. Chidister ran the Occidental Hotel and Spa for the Cornwell-Moorman group during it first years of existence. Patronage declined and the spa was closed for a time.

“About 1902, however, the mineral industry was revived by Dr. C. C. Yemans, prominent Detroit physician and long time professor in the Detroit College of Medicine. He repaired the well casing, restored the baths and opened part of the old hotel. Hospital equipment was installed and rooms were renovated and furnished for patients. Old students of Dr. Yemans sent patients from all over the country and business flourished. The Hospital, long needed here was filled. However, the hotel part, separately operated was carelessly kept. Patients were admitted without Dr. Yemans’s approval and netted too many dt. victims. Their yells annoyed other patients and Mrs. Yemans. That appeared to be the last straw and Dr. Yemans retired. His successor, a young man whose chief interest was in breeding fancy dogs at Mt. Clemens, spent too little time here and the whole concern soon collapsed. About the time of World War I, Tracy Towner, Bert Moorman, and others again opened the well and the baths with Dr. G. F. Clarke, Bay City, in charge. There were patients but not enough for profit and new trouble appeared when the well casing started to collapse. The cost of 220 feet of casing was considered prohibitive, and again Ypsilanti’s chance of increased income and mineral water fame went glimmering…”

On the decline of the Owen Mineral Sanitarium, operated by Dr. M. S. Hall, the same article states:

“…To utilize the water baths, Dr. M. S. Hall put up a bath house, next to 510 W. Forest Avenue, about two blocks from the well and fitted up the adjoining residence for a hotel. He had a large patronage for several years and amazing cures for many different diseases were reported. About 1890 he sold the buildings to Dr. O. E. Pratt, but he, because of advanced age, finally closed it and sold the building for residences. After Mr. Owen’s death, his son Eber, continued for many years to ship quantities of the Owen water in bulk to Chicago and Boston in response to a steady demand.”

In the closing paragraph of the same article the writer attempts to explain the decline and failure of the spas thusly:

“…Just why Ypsilanti’s mineral water, equal in medicinal properties to other popular resorts, failed to become a permanent municipal asset seems unexplainable. Opinions of older residents brings out two possible factors. 1) Indifference of management including too frequently insufficient regard for comfort and entertainment of patients. 2) Determination on the part of several of the more wealthy and conservative residents that Ypsilanti should remain a quiet residential community and that industry of every kind should be discouraged.”

There are good and valid reasons for the failure and closing of the Sanitariums of Ypsilanti; but something happened in 1906 of nationwide importance which in all probability was the most important factor in tolling the death bell for these centers of miraculous cures. In June 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt signed the Federal Pure Food and Drug Act which became a law on January 1, 1907. Stewart H. Holbrook tells us in his book, The Golden Age of Quackery that Harvey W. Wiley, Chief Chemist of the United States Department of Agriculture had been trying since 1883 to have a law passed to regulate the labeling of foods and medicines. “Tell the truth on a label,” said Wiley, and “let the consumer judge for himself.” The legislation of 1906 required honest labels. One of the prime instigators for the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Law was Samuel Hopkins Adams who, early in 1906, wrote a series of articles for Collier’s magazine entitled, The Great American Fraud in which he ruthlessly unearthed and named concerns and people who were advertising falsely. The reading public became awakened, and perhaps terrified, when they read Hopkin’s shocking exposes. Common sense forced them to realize that no quick cure salts or waters would replace medical drugs as a cure. In The New York Times for October 8th, 1966, there is a very interesting article about spas which shows that although they have gone from our section there are many still in existence in our country. But the article also points out the changes which have taken place in their make-up. The final passage reads:

“…Spas reached their hayday in the 19th century when their special function was as important as the therapeutic activity. Today the less severe European spas still offer operettas, concerts, balls, parties and casinos to divert guests in search of pleasure with therapy.”

On January 19, 1884, shortly after the opening of the city Mineral Water House, the following poem by “A Farmer” appeared in The Commercial:

Ypsilanti Water

Come all ye weary, sick and sore,
Who want to suffer pain no more,
And take a drink of Cornwell’s bore,
Beside the Huron River.

Let Smith and Sampson keep their drugs,
Fetch on your glasses and your mugs,
Your barrels, bowls and your jugs,
And get the healing water.

If you are sick, just try our cure,
Drink Ypsilanti’s water pure,
That health and life may long endure,
And all your friends rejoice.

Moorman’s put down another bore,
For water, gas and something more,
They say it’s better than before,
To drive woe and pain away.

If you are sad with sickness worn,
And have the headache every morn,
Just come and drink a healing horn,
Of Ypsilanti’s water.

There’s forty new baths agoing,
And all the healing waters flowing,
Better days and health bestowing,
On many a weary one.

If you are growing weak and lean,
Just come and try our healing stream,
And splash till you are pure and clean,
And your troubles washed away.

They will bathe you either cold or warm,
It will do you good and never harm,
And it may come o’re you like a charm,
And double all your joy.

You need not travel far and long,
To drink Saratoga’s water strong,
We have the real thing at home,
Down on the books of Moorman.

It’s true, it has a woeful smell,
But if your stomache don’t rebel,
It’s just the thing to make you well,
And praise up Ypsilanti.

Photo Captions:

Photo 1: The Owen Mineral Well, named “Atlantis” was located on the back of the Eber Owen homestead off Forest Avenue.

Photo 2: Tubal Cain Owen was a great promoter and marketed his products to a wide audience.

Photo 3: Owen called his charged mineral water “Paragon” and advertised that his “Paragon Ginger Ale” was “excellent tonic for the stomach.”

Photo 4: An advertisement for Ypsilanti Mineral Water.

Photo 5: Trade Mark for Ypsilanti Mineral Water Company.

Photo 6: Claims were made that Natural Mineral Water successfully cured a variety of diseases.

Photo 7: The Owen Sanitarium Company tried to raise $1,250,000 to build the Sanitarium Building shown above.

Photo 8: Ad claiming that “The King of Mineral Waters…is natures greatest remedy for disordered blood.”

Photo 9: Ad for Owen’s Salicura Soap. Also sold were Atlantis Toothpaste, Atlantis Shaving Soap and Atlantis Youth Soap that had “…potent curative properties in every kind of skin desease, burns, bites or poisons, yet so harmless that it will improve the skin of a new-born baby.”

Museum Board Report

Published In:
Ypsilanti Gleanings
Original Images:

Author: Nancy Wheeler

The Ypsilanti Historical Museum lost a great benefactor with the death of Kathryn Howard. Read about her legacy elsewhere in this issue.

Thanks to six of our members and only $100, we have new lace curtains in the parlors and on the front door. The old curtains were remade for the bedroom and upper hall. Seamstresses were Virginia Davis-Brown, Rita Sprague, Nancy Wheeler, and Daneen Zureich. Bill and Karen Nickles manned the tape measure and ladders.

New exhibits include Daneen Zureich's Fenton Rabbits, Shelton Clifton's Mosser Glass from Cambridge Ohio, Cathie McClures' Century Collection of Miss Ginny Dolls, a new Craft Room display, and others in the planning stage. We have large and small exhibit areas if you have a collection we could borrow for a month or two. Call 734-482-4990.

Save May 10, 2014 from 2:00 to 4:00p.m. for "HIGH TEA at the Museum," hat and gloves optional. It will feature entertainment and lots of goodies. Tickets will be $5.00 and can be reserved by calling 734-484-0080. The deadline for reservations is May 1, 2014.

The Best of Lost Ypsilanti display will be July 1 thru September 1. More information about these displays will be published in the next issue.

Welcome to new Docents Allison Savoy, Lana Hull, and Stacia Suckstorff. If you have an extra three hours once a month, especially on the week-ends, we always need Docents. Training is provided and you will not be guiding alone. Call 734-482-4990 and volunteer.

(Nancy Wheeler is the Interim Chairperson of the Museum Advisory Board.)

News from the Fletcher-White Archives

Published In:
Ypsilanti Gleanings
Original Images:

Author: Gerry Pety

No report about the YHS Archives should begin without mentioning the incredibly cruel weather we have had so far this year in Ypsilanti. The winter of 2013/2014 will long be remembered, so if you have chosen to stay home and away from this place, we don’t blame you. As you read this we hope spring is in the air!

This winter has not been wasted in the Archives, as we have been doing some much needed house cleaning of our files, auditing their contents for relevance and order. Every two years or so, this is necessary to keep them up-to-date and orderly. Ms. Melanie Parker, our Graduate Intern from the Historic Preservation Program at Eastern Michigan University, has been working with four dedicated volunteers to scan and upload 2,500 images to our website. Our thanks go out to the volunteers who are committed to this project, with only free coffee as a reward.

Due to our increased Internet presence, we have been able to reach broader audiences. Over the past seven months, we have had 120 visitors from all over the United States visit the Archives. In addition to the on-site visitors, more than 30 requests for information and research have been received via telephone and email.

We appreciate the generosity of our patrons, for without them we would not be able to provide research services for the local and international community. In 2014 we have already received many generous financial donations as well as many donations of artifacts related to the people and places in Ypsilanti and the surrounding communities. Some of the items received were: 1) Film footage of the Ypsilanti High School football team from the 1960s and 1970s; 2) Memorabilia of Jack Hopkins, class of 1963, the first man from Ypsilanti to be killed in Vietnam; and 3) Items from the World War II era, including ration books. These were contributed by Barry LaRue, who found them in a house he acquired in Ypsilanti.

As you can see, we have been quite busy! We hope you will visit us in the YHS Archives as we are willing and able to help you with research on Ypsilanti people, places and happenings.

From the President’s Desk

Published In:
Ypsilanti Gleanings
Original Images:

Author: Alvin E. Rudisill

I just returned from two months in Florida and was amazed to see the high piles of snow around the sidewalks and parking lot at the Museum. I can’t remember ever seeing this much snow on the ground in Ypsilanti in March. Thanks to all those who kept the sidewalks and parking lot clear throughout the winter months.

We will certainly miss the friendship and significant volunteer contributions that Kathryn Howard made to the Society over the years. Her expertise and the thousands of hours she devoted to the Museum over the years made our Museum one of the best house museums in the entire country.

Our main priority this year will be to plan and carry out several fundraising campaigns to “Retire the Mortgage.” The Society purchased the buildings and property at 220 North Huron Street from the City of Ypsilanti for $250,000 back in 2006. A down payment of $125,000 was paid at that time and an agreement was signed to pay the balance of $125,000 in ten years with no interest charged by the City. At the present time we have raised approximately $91,000 and we still need to raise $34,000 so this final payment can be made. One of the first activities planned is to sell personalized bricks that will be placed in the front yard of the Museum. Other activities being considered include sending general fundraising letters to YHS members and Ypsilanti businesses and service clubs, yard sales in the Normal Park and College Heights areas, silent auctions at our quarterly meetings, restaurant sponsor days where YHS would receive 10% of gross sales, antique evaluation by an antique specialist and, as a last resort, the sale of certain collections owned by YHS that have no connection to Ypsilanti.

If you are not currently on our email listserv please call the Museum at 734-482-4990 and have your name added. We are using the listserv only for program notifications and your email address will not be shared with others. Also, please check the Event Schedule on our web site for upcoming special programs and displays.

We are looking for volunteers to serve as docents for the Museum or research assistants for the Archives. Both the Museum and Archives are open from 2:00 to 5:00 pm Tuesday through Sunday. If you are available during that time and are interested in helping us preserve the historical information and artifacts of the area, or in educating the general public about our history, please give me a call at 734-476-6658.

The River Street Saga Continues: Benjamin and Elvira Norris Follett

Published In:
Ypsilanti Gleanings
Original Images:

Author: Jan Anschuetz

In the Spring 2014 issue of the Gleanings we met Mark and Roccena Vail Norris who were described as the “parents of Depot Town.” They were also the parents of two children: Elvira and Lyman Decatur. In this installment of “The River Street Saga” we will learn more about Elvira, her life, her family (including her amazing husband, Benjamin Follett), and their own influence on the growing town of Ypsilanti in the nineteenth century.

We can only imagine the challenging life of Elvira, who was born in a log cabin on January 22, 1821 in Covington, New York. When she was only seven years old, the Norris family made the grueling trip from New York State to a sparsely settled wilderness lacking any degree of civilization – a place without a church, organized town council, roads, mills, or even a name. Mark and Roccena soon helped to change that and contributed greatly to making Ypsilanti a community in which people wanted to live - complete with a town organization, a railroad, laws, schools, churches, cultural opportunities, a library, stores, mills, and beautiful homes.

For the first year of their arrival, the Norris family lived behind a storefront at what is now the southwest corner of Michigan Avenue and Washington Street. This cramped space did not stop Elvira’s mother from teaching children of the settlement in one of the four rooms that the family shared. Roccena was dismayed that there was no place for religious instruction or worship and quickly organized a Sunday School for all ages that met in a log cabin each week and would also welcome circuit riders to preach when possible. The Norris home was always available to offer hospitality to visiting preachers.

The following year, the small family was able to move into the first sawn wood-frame home east of the Huron River, and within a few years was living in a brick mansion which was originally built for Roccena’s uncle. When her uncle was unable to move into it, Mark and Roccena purchased the unfinished structure from him for $1,000. It was in this eight bedroom mini-mansion on River Street that Elvira and her brother spent their childhood. Aside from the years 1834 to 1836 when she attended a celebrated all girls finishing school in Detroit, Elvira received her entire education in Ypsilanti.

Elvira grew up accustomed to fine gowns, a beautiful home complete with gardens, and indulgent parents. She had friends, a church community, and charitable activities to keep her occupied, and enjoyed the status of being a part of one of the wealthiest families in Washtenaw County due to her father’s ambition and hard work. She was brought up to cherish reading and education and the finer things in life. Her brother spoke of Elvira’s education in a life sketch he prepared for Elvira’s funeral. Speaking of his own childhood home on River Street he stated “…the pioneer home was perhaps a better school for life and its duties than most of our modern young ladies’ seminaries. In that home, heart, mind and soul were trained into symmetry and strength. That hospitable roof sheltered more than one guest, from which the family gained more than they gave. The ‘prophet’s chamber’ was seldom vacant in their day, when the traveler was forced to rely upon private hospitality for entertainment by the way, and the growing girl may have learned much of that breadth of broad-gauge sympathy with all classes and conditions, which she displayed in later years, from this contact with the men and women of many types, which the exigencies of those pioneer times brought to the door.”

Mark Norris, Elvira’s father, was from a large family with 14 children and many of Elvira’s uncles and aunts on both sides of her family moved into the community. One of her uncles, Justus Norris, who lived nearby and ran her father’s Western Hotel on River Street, was a noted and outspoken abolitionist in Washtenaw County. More will be written about him in another segment of “The River Street Saga.”

Elvira’s maternal grandmother moved from New York State to enjoy living on the Huron River in their fine house. It was not unusual for Elvira and her mother to travel back to New York by train or ship to visit family there or to enjoy some of the “cures” offered at that time in various spas. On one such trip, she arrived home at the train station in Depot Town only to have her father meet his beloved wife and daughter in a beautiful new carriage pulled by two matching and elegant horses which delivered them to the family home one block away. There, another surprise awaited them - a new grand piano in the parlor.

You might imagine that it would be difficult for a young woman brought up in luxury to find a suitable husband in the frontier town of Ypsilanti, but somehow the right man was waiting for her, living only a few blocks away. Benjamin Follett, who would wed Elvira, seemed the perfect match. He too had been born in New York State, where his father had been a store owner as had Elvira’s father when they lived in New York. Benjamin’s parents were Nathan and Nancy Keith Follett. Prior to marrying Nathan, Nancy Keith was a young widow with two children of her own. When they were married in Canandaigua, New York in 1818, the young couple was admired for their handsome appearance. Benjamin was born the next year in 1819.

Nathan owned a hat store and was also a successful businessman. The family lived in Batavia, New York, and was comprised of Benjamin (who was the oldest) along with Nancy Keith’s two children from her first marriage. In a family paper written by Roy K. Spencer, we learn that Nathan built a hat factory and was also a banker. “For many years he was one of Batavia’s most prominent citizens. He was repeatedly elected to the most important posts in Batavia’s village government, he was vestryman of the Episcopal Church, and he became one of the wealthiest men in Batavia.”

Benjamin grew up in a large and luxurious home with servants, some of whom were once slaves on the Virginian plantation on which his mother grew up. His mother and father were adamant abolitionists and when they inherited the plantation they freed the slaves, sold the property, and moved north to a state that did not allow slavery. Some of their former slaves moved with them and became paid servants. We read that Benjamin’s childhood home was always filled with the pets that his father Nathan loved including dogs, cats and birds. Sadly, this happy family life came to an end with the death of a child in infancy and the death of Nathan’s young and beautiful wife. Nathan married again a few years later to a first cousin and they had three more children before she also died.

Perhaps because of an anti-Mason sentiment in New York at the time, or perhaps because Benjamin simply wanted to “go west and seek his fortune” as many young men were advised to do, he arrived in Ypsilanti as a young man. We do know that Benjamin Follett was first mentioned in the written history of Ypsilanti at the age of 19, in the year 1836. At that time he was employed as a cashier for the Bank of Ypsilanti. In T. H. Rinchman’s book Banks and Banking in Michigan with Historical Sketches, published in 1887, Follett is described as “a worthy, conscientious and competent young banker.”

Mark Norris was a major stock holder in the Bank of Ypsilanti and we can only guess that Mark and Roccena invited this eligible young bachelor with a good character, family, and prospects into their home to meet their young daughter from a similar background. We do know that by 1841, after the failure of the Bank of Ypsilanti in the “Wildcat Schemes” of the time, Benjamin had returned to Batavia, New York to work as a bank cashier and to be closer to his family. It was there that he sent for and married Elvira on September 23, 1841. The young couple lived in that community for two years even though Elvira missed her family and friends in Ypsilanti. Letters from her father found in the Ypsilanti Historical Museum archives, which counseled her to try to make the best of her new community and to always speak positively of the people of Batavia, seem to suggest that Elvira was not happy living away from her River Street home.

It seems that Mark and Roccena also missed the company of their daughter and Mark might have influenced their return to Ypsilanti by offering his son-in-law partnership in a mill. Perhaps the “icing on the cake” was building and gifting them a spacious, elegant, and charming new home on the east side of River Street, between Oak and Maple Streets, just three blocks away from Elvira’s childhood home. In 1843, after two years in New York, the young couple returned home. We read in Sister Maria Hayda’s book The Urban Dimension and the Midwestern Frontier, A Study of Democracy at Ypsilanti Michigan, 1825-1858 that “Benjamin Follett possessed relatively large amounts of capital from his own family resources in New York” which he was ready to invest in Ypsilanti. In fact, tax records from the 1850 federal census cite him as owning $27,000 worth of real estate and he was estimated to be the fifth wealthiest citizen in town.

The partnership with his father-in-law sharing the ownership of a mill did not work out. It seems that Benjamin was not a successful miller and within a few years had returned to banking and financing. He also spent time and energy investing in railroads, building and running a fine hotel, investing in a store, two mills, and other ventures. Benjamin had a gift for leadership and soon became a pillar of Ypsilanti life, influencing its development. Like his father before him, he believed in giving back to the community and sharing his time for the good of the people of the growing town. In 1860, Benjamin was elected Ypsilanti’s third mayor. As such, he helped to organize the first fire department and paid for the fire equipment out of his own money. Later he served on the city council and was active in the Democratic Party. He was an active member of St. Luke’s parish and served on the building committee for a new church. Benjamin partnered in a land deal which added a vast amount of area to the city of Ypsilanti. He influenced city leaders into building the first city hall and jail on Cross Street on the east side near Depot Town. Benjamin was one of the founding members of the Masonic Wyandotte Lodge Number 10, and built their headquarters in what is now known as the three-story Masonic Block on Cross Street in Depot Town.

Benjamin invested heavily in the growing Depot Town area by financing and building a lavish hotel in 1859 which is still standing and bears his name as The Follett Block. Not only that, but this amazing, energetic, and imaginative man also organized and led a choir which regularly sang and entertained the community in Follett Hall located in the building. His business interests extended to the Peninsular Paper Company, the Farmer’s General Store, the Eagle Mill, the Huron Mill, as well as other business undertakings.

Benjamin’s father Nathan moved to Ypsilanti in the year 1849. Nathan was only 50 years old at the time of his second wife’s death. He had 5 children to raise alone and his financial status, as well as his personal life in New York State, quickly nose-dived when three friends for which he had signed promissory notes defaulted. That left Nathan responsible for their debts, which amounted to a large sum of money. Spencer tells us that “saddened by the death of his wife and disillusioned by the conduct of his alleged friends, he packed his furniture into a railroad freight car, took his numerous family, consisting of his four daughters and the two children of Nancy, whose husband had died a few years after marriage to settle in Ypsilanti, Michigan, where his son, Benjamin, was an active and successful citizen.” Nathan also brought four or five servants with him but they soon tired of the “wild west” of Ypsilanti and returned to the “more civilized” New York.

Nathan was able to reclaim his role as a community leader in his new town of Ypsilanti. He purchased the stone house across from the Quirk mansion on North Huron Street and had enough capital to buy and run two successful flour mills in town. He joined his son Benjamin in becoming an active member of the Episcopal Church and was remembered as a man who, like his son, lived his Christian religion with kind regard for all. An example of this was his interest in the education and promotion of a young black man, John Fox. Nathan hired him to do minor clerical work but paid him well enough so that he was able to study law and be admitted to the bar. Indeed, this liberal attitude that all people were equal seemed to be extended to his son Benjamin who was rumored to aid escaped slaves.

While Benjamin, his father, and father-in-law were busy making money as the town of Ypsilanti expanded, Benjamin and Elvira’s family expanded as well. They had seven children, five sons and two daughters, to fill their large home and their hearts. The oldest daughter, Alice, was born in 1844. Another daughter, Lucy Elvira, followed in 1847. A son, Nathan, was born in 1849 and another boy, Lyman Decatur, in 1851. Benjamin was born in 1854. Mark Norris was born in 1858 and his brother Simeon Keith, born in 1860, completed the family.

Elvira’s widowed aunt, Mrs. Blackmon, sister of her mother, came to live with the family soon after they moved into their River Street home and became a second mother to the children. Lyman Norris tells us “For thirty years this good aunt remained with them, leaving this home only for an eternal one. During all these years, she bestowed upon Mrs. Follett and her children all the love and care of her motherly heart. Her presence made it possible for Mrs. Follett to enter more into outside affairs than she could otherwise have done; to take many journeys, longer and shorter, with her husband; and to assist him more freely in that large hospitality which he so enjoyed.”

A photograph of happy children, dogs, flowers, grass, and a fountain in front of their charming house on River Street gives us the impression that Elvira and Benjamin were well rewarded for their work ethic. In The History of Ypsilanti, written in 1923 by Harvey Colburn, this River Street mansion is described as follows: “The beautiful Follett home was for years one of the show places of the city. It was situated on River Street in a grove of oak trees extending from Oak Street to Maple, a great rambling structure with big bay windows. The surrounding grounds were extensive, brilliant with flowers, and adorned by a large fountain fed by a windmill standing on the hill above.” The home was the first in Ypsilanti illuminated by gas lights. People came from miles around just to admire the barn which was considered one of the finest in Michigan, if not in the country.

Benjamin and Elvira, though busy with their family and life in Ypsilanti, also enjoyed traveling. In 1853 the young couple, along with her parents and brother, took a vacation which included visiting Montreal, Bellows Falls, New Haven and New York. In her letters we read that Elvira thought that traveling and adventure were important to further her education and life views. She was also interested in a healthy life style and one of her favorite excursions was to visit the water cure at Elmira, New York, sometimes staying there for several months. Her youngest two children were born there.

Elvira also had a serious side. Like her mother, she was dedicated to helping to improve the community. She was a life-long member of The Home Association, which she helped to organize in 1857 and later served on the board and as an officer. This was a group of women from various churches, who attempted to make the lives of the poor and destitute of the community better in any way that they could – providing food, transportation, clothes, and even firewood.

For many years she was one of the vice-presidents of the Detroit Home for the Friendless and her organizational and interpersonal skills helped to form the agency and its policies. She shared her mother’s love of reading and was the first president of The Ypsilanti Ladies’ Library Association. Her brother commented that “the influence of this valuable Library Association upon the mental growth and culture of the town has been very great; and she was one of the most indefatigable of the body of intelligent, cultured women, to whose labors the library owes its continued success.”

Alas, the lives of this energetic, active, happy, and productive couple changed. First Elvira’s father Mark Norris died in 1862 after an extended and painful illness. The next year, in 1863, his namesake, their six year old son, Mark Norris Follett, died suddenly of diphtheria. After that, things only seemed to get worse. Benjamin Follett was one of the founders of the beautiful Highland Cemetery on River Street which was dedicated in 1864. Little did he know that only four months after making one of the speeches at the opening ceremony, he, himself would be buried there. It seems that he attended the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, leaving in good health and then on September 1st he was stricken with coughing and hemorrhaging of the lungs and conveyed back to his River Street home and family. In a letter written to her grandmother in late 1864, daughter Alice stated “Father gains very slowly and coughs a good deal. Dr. (sic) was here and insisted there is no tubercular disease of the lungs. He does not want him to go away for all winter but wants him to visit and be away from all worrying business. It seems very slow and discouraging.” Benjamin and Elvira followed the doctor’s orders and left for the water cures they had often taken at Elmira, New York. The night before they left they gathered their family around them in prayer. Benjamin also met with the pastor of his beloved church and placed in his hands a discharge of mortgage for the new church and parsonage, stating that he couldn’t leave the earth without doing this. He had paid the remaining amount of the mortgage with his own funds.

The doctors at Elmira offered him little hope and told him that he would die soon. He accepted this calmly but said that he wished to live. His entire family traveled to New York and was with him when he died on December 26, 1864 at 3 o’clock in the afternoon, offering prayers and comfort. He was only forty-five years old. He was so well-loved and respected in Ypsilanti that when the train carrying his body home for burial arrived at the depot a few days later, a crowd was waiting to welcome him home, including formal delegates from the city, friends, townspeople, and representations of organizations and businesses.

The young Benjamin lay in state in the parlor of his beautiful home the next day from nine in the morning until one in the afternoon and it was reported in his obituary in The Ypsilanti True Democrat that there was “a constant throng of visitors to see the corpse. Dressed in his business suit he looked natural as if he had quietly gone to sleep.” At one in the afternoon the remains were then escorted to St. Luke’s Episcopalian Church on North Huron Street, which he loved so well. The funeral sermon described him as a true Christian man who daily lived his religious with honesty, generosity, and love for all men. From the church the long funeral procession brought the body of Benjamin Follett back to his beloved River Street where it remains to this day at Highland Cemetery, now surrounded by the remains of his loving wife Elvira and much of his family.

Elvira was left to raise six children, which she did with the help of her aunt. Death visited the River Street mansion again within the year when daughter Lucy died at the age of 18. Elvira’s oldest daughter, Alice, married in May, 1865 and one by one, the Follett children grew and left home. Elvira, often in the company of her mother, continued to be active in community endeavors. She also was able to enjoy travel and adventure and in 1873, accompanied by her son, L.D. Follett, went out west to visit her two sons, Nathan and Benjamin, who were living as pioneers on a ranch in Fort Collins, Colorado. Elvira’s health was not good at this time, but she thought that the change of climate might be helpful. While in Colorado, she ventured into the mountains for campouts of three or four days with her sons and returned in good spirits believing that the adventure had much improved her body and her spirits. Her letters to friends reflected her joy in anticipating trips and also in returning from them.

In 1876, Elvira’s mother, Roccena Norris, died a painful death following a long illness, and the next year, 1877, her aunt, Mrs. Blackmon, who had been a second mother to the Follett children and lived with them, also died. Unfortunately Elvira’s health was on a decline and she spent less and less time at her own beloved home, which she refused to move from, and more of it with her children in Grand Rapids, Detroit, and even Kansas, but she returned to her home on River Street to live out her last days.

Even though she was an invalid, suffering with pain, the last four years of her life were blessed. Her children and grandchildren often came to stay with her, and her River Street mansion again came alive with lively conversation and children’s laughter and games. She continued to enjoy reading, learning, and reflecting on her well-lived life. Thinking that death was near, all of her children were summoned to their childhood home on River Street in late summer, 1884. However Elvira seemed to have rallied from the visit and they left back to their own homes. Shortly after that, Elvira caught a chill and died on September 10, 1884. She was 63 years old. After a well-attended viewing at the home and funeral at St. Luke’s, her brother Lyman so eloquently stated “The weary, pain racked body was laid to rest beside that of the husband of her youth, in beautiful ‘Highland Cemetery’, which now crowns the hill that overlooks the valley of the Huron, and where in the month of June, 1828, she and her mother caught the first glimpse of the home they afterwards came to know and love for almost half a century.” Elvira returned to River Street to rest for eternity.

And what of the beautiful mansion that was once the crown jewel of Ypsilanti? Part of it still remains, a shadow of the glory that it once was. The “gymnasium” of the Benjamin Follett estate on River Street was purchased in 1861 by Charles Woodard and moved to 301 Grove Street. He converted it to a residence and added a two story wing in 1863. The Woodard family lived in the home for almost a century. Unfortunately, the home and property were on a decline when purchased in 1980 by Joseph Mattimoe and Henry Prebys who have lovingly restored, improved, and turned the homes and gardens into another east side showplace. The barn had burned down, and after the death of Elvira, the house and garden were untended. In 1904, Shelly Hutchinson, who had grown up across the street from it, purchased the home and land to use for gardens to glorify the mansion that he was having built on River Street between Forest and Oak Street.

Though the Follett mansion is gone, the legacy of Benjamin and Elvira Norris Follett lives on in other structures - the Follett and Masonic Blocks are an integral part of Depot Town. Take a walk down Cross Street in Depot Town and feel their presence in the love, vitality, and hope that this generous couple bequeathed to Ypsilanti, Michigan.

(Jan Anschuetz is a long time member of the Ypsilanti Historical Society and a regular contributor to the Gleanings.)

Photo Captions:

Photo 1: The Follett residence as featured in the Washtenaw County Plat Map publication in 1856 and 1864.

Photo 2: Mark Norris Follett (named for his grandfather) who died at six years old.

Photo 3: The Follett House c1870.

Photo 4: Nathan Follett

Photo 5: The Follett Residence in c1870.

Photo 6: The “gymnasium” of the Benjamin Follett estate on River Street was purchased in 1861 by Charles Woodard and moved to 301 Grove Street. He converted it to a residence and added a two story wing in 1863.

Photo 7: East Cross Street looking west in c1859. The Follett Block is on the right side of the street.

Photo 8: Benjamin Follett.

Photo 9: (left to right) Mrs. Mark Norris, Mrs. Benjamin Follett, Lucy Uhl and Mrs. Ed. Uhl.

John Challis

John Challis

John Challis playing one of his hand crafted harpsichords.

Rights Held By: 
Ypsilanti Historical Society

The Smeet Frog Marker

The Smeet Frog Marker

The Smeet Frog marker can be seen looking south from the tridge.

Rights Held By: 
Ypsilanti Historical Society

Smeet Frog

Smeet Frog

The Smeet Frog is supposedly the only amphibian possessing a fur coat and capable of flight.

Rights Held By: 
Ypsilanti Historical Society

Syndicate content