One Tower House

Published In:
Ypsilanti Gleanings
Original Images:


Author: James Mann

Ypsilanti is fortunate to have so many stately homes of the late nineteenth century lining its streets. Some of these homes have been restored to their past glory and add to the quality of life. Then there are homes that can be called “works in progress.” Sadly, there are not as many of the grand homes as there once were. A number of the grand old homes have been demolished because of neglect or to make way for a new structure. A few have been lost to fire. One such house stood at 701 East Forest Avenue.

William Evens built the two and a half story frame house at 701 East Forest Avenue in 1892. He is listed in the 1896 Ypsilanti City Directory as a real estate agent. The house had a tall tower on the front west end, and a wide porch below the tower. Evens and his wife Helen lived in the house until 1899, when it was sold to a Major B. H. Rothwell of Detroit, who moved into the house in April of that year. William and Helen Evens moved to Detroit. Major Rothwell would return to Detroit to live in October of the same year, after selling the house to Louis B. Littlefield, the former sheriff of Wayne County. Successful in business in Detroit, Littlefield was elected Alderman in 1883, and later as sheriff of Wayne County.

“In those days the river front, from Gross Point to Wyandott was considered rather “lively,” and in certain localities low dives and gambling dens existed with little restriction. Cock fights, dog fights, fargo tables, road houses where orgies were held, and other interesting places, made up a rather warm combination,” noted The Ypsilanti Commercial of Thursday, January 4, 1900.

“Sheriff Littlefield made a systematic move on the gamblers and pit fighters” the report continued, "and many are the interesting stories related to his raids. When the famous McCarthy road house murder occurred he began a systematic effort to restore law and order among this class of public places, and succeeded admirably. He was an officer feared by law breakers, and was always prompt in deciding on his official course. So great was the fear of his strong hand that a number of River Rouge and Ecorse's sporting residents can even now remember taking a cold plunge into the river one night from back windows of a certain resort, when it was announced that “Louie Littlefield was in front.” Littlefield was later elected city treasurer and then retired from politics because of failing health.

“The property conveyed to Mr. Littlefield includes 10 acres, fruit orchard and buildings, and the price paid was $16,905,” reported The Ann Arbor Argus-Democrat of Wednesday, October 20, 1899. “It is not known,” the report concluded, “whether he will remain out of politics in this county or whether he will soon make a break for the republican leadership here. At any rate, the younger politicians who get into his good graces will find his political advice of value.”

Whatever reason Littlefield had for moving to Washtenaw County never became clear, as he died at his new home on Wednesday, January 3, 1900. Soon after, the house was sold to a Charles Widrig, a traveling salesman, and his wife Elizabeth. Charles Widrig seems to have come into some notoriety himself, as The Ypsilanti Sentinel-Commercial of December 1, 1903 noted: “This is the house where Mr. Widrig had his celebrated smoking den, which figured so largely in the lawsuit about the fine rugs which he bought in Detroit.”

Widrig and his wife sold the house and moved out by September of 1903. The house was then the property of D. C. Griffin. Mr. Griffin appears to have been in no hurry to move in, as the house stood empty for some time. A Martin Cremer stopped by the house on Wednesday, November 25, 1903, and found everything in order. The furniture consisted chiefly of two stoves, a gas range, curtains and cushions. Cremer locked the house as he left.

A neighbor was returning home just after midnight of Saturday, November 27, 1903, and saw the house was on fire. An alarm was immediately turned in. The fire department responded promptly and did Trojan work, succeeding in saving the laundry buildings, barns and the adjoining neighboring residences. “When they arrived on the spot there seemed to be fire in every room in the house, and the floors were falling in,” noted The Ypsilanti Sentinel-Commercial of December 1, 1903. “The origin of the fire is unknown.” All that was left of the house were two tall chimneys and the foundation walls. Everything else had burned to the ground. “There was an insurance of $5,000 on the house but this will not begin to cover the loss,” reported The Evening Times of Saturday, November 28, 1903. “There seems to be some question, whether on account of the vacancy of the house the insurance has not been reduced one-third,” noted The Ypsilanti Sentinel-Commercial.

In time, a new house was built on the site, which still stands today.

(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: The “One Tower House” at 701 East Forest Avenue burned to the ground in 1903.

Pease Auditorium Turns 100 Magnificent Years

Published In:
Ypsilanti Gleanings
Original Images:






Author: Janice Anschuetz

If buildings could talk, Pease Auditorium in Ypsilanti, on College Place between Cross and Forest, would be boasting about its one hundredth birthday celebration which reached a crescendo on March 22, 2015 with a gala of historic importance.

Under the imaginative and creative leadership of Dr. Diane Winder, head of the Department of Music and Dance at Eastern Michigan University, this historic building was glorified over the course of an entire year with a variety of events ranging from small displays to concerts, dance performances, lectures, the installation of stained glass windows and an honorary plaque. Winder said that she “wanted to make a year-long celebration that the department, campus and community could enjoy and take part in.” To accomplish this, all appropriate departments at Eastern Michigan University were asked for their input and participation. This included the Convocation Center, the Provost’s and President’s offices, Marketing, Halle Library, the EMU Foundation, Communications Department, and the Ypsilanti Chamber of Commerce, among others. It took about 18 months of monthly meetings by a five-person steering committee, with help from various departments, to plan and execute the birthday celebration.

Pease Auditorium was constructed in 1914 and was dedicated in June, 1915. It was named after Ypsilanti resident Frederic Pease, who not only began the first music department of the then Michigan State Normal College, but was also a vibrant and energetic member of the Ypsilanti Community and co-founder of the Ypsilanti Musical Union. He was one of the first to teach teachers how to instruct their own students about music and for this purpose authored several textbooks on how to teach music. He also conducted choirs, taught both piano and organ, and composed music – including popular sheet music, operettas and hymns. He was a very popular teacher and man, noted for his dry wit, winning smile, and enthusiastic encouragement of staff and students.

The auditorium had always been a dream of Frederic Pease, and after he died suddenly in 1909, the dream started to become a reality. It was designed by the architectural firm of Smith, Hinchman and Gryllis of Detroit in a Classical-Revival style highlighted by Corinthian columns on the building’s façade. Originally it was to have been named for John D. Pierce, the first Michigan Superintendent of Public Instruction. However, a petition was soon circulated throughout the town of Ypsilanti and the college campus requesting that this elegant structure be named, instead, for the man who had devoted 45 years of his life to the teacher training program and shaping it with his intelligence, wit, insight, creativity, integrity and love.

Who could have imagined when the building was dedicated in June, 1915 that it would have had so much impact over 100 years for both the town and the college? Dignitaries and performers who have graced its stage include First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, Vice President Hubert Humphrey, Attorney General Robert Kennedy, Activist Julian Bond, Nobel scientist Linus Pauling, “Roots” author Alex Haley, actress Cicely Tyson, Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, poet e.e. Cummings, Dr. Martin Luther King, anthropologist Margaret Mead, and many others..

Even to this day, the auditorium is the busy hub linking the “gown with the town” with a schedule of impressive performances adding to those who have performed at Pease including The Joffrey Ballet, opera singers Beverly Sills and William Warfield, The Detroit Symphony Orchestra, The Arianna String Quartet, Marvin Hamlisch, The Temptations, Pearl Bailey, country singer Merle Haggard, jazz greats Duke Ellington and Wynton Marsalis, and jazz drummer Louis Bellson.

The building was placed on the National Registry of Historic Places in 1984 at a time that it was showing its age. By then this once elegant structure, famous for its acoustics, was plagued by a noisy radiator system, crumbling plaster, outdated and broken sound systems, and a general run down appearance. In 1990 the beautiful and impressive doors of Pease Auditorium were locked when the building was deemed too unsafe and decayed to be used again.

Both the city and the university community were unwilling to allow this historic and once vital building to be demolished. Under the imaginative leadership of the then Head of the Music Department, James B. Hause, the “Friends of Pease” support group was formed and soon rallied under the cry of “Give Pease a Chance” with a campaign goal of raising a daunting 5.7 million dollars. Once again the community and university came together in support of Pease Auditorium. Susan McKenzie, Steven Raglan, Ronald Miller, Barbara Weiss, Val Kabat, Peggy Pursell, Arnold Kumerow, Kristy Meretta, and many others worked hard to “Give Pease a Chance.” The money raised exceeded this goal and the auditorium was tastefully updated, the building restored, and Pease opened for the 1995 season with a number of celebratory events.

During this restoration, the legendary Frederick Alexander Memorial Organ, which had been installed in 1960 was carefully packed away in thousands of pieces. With persistence, dedication and the hard work of both Eastern Michigan University and Ypsilanti Community leaders, money was raised and on April 6, 2001, the vibrant and impressive organ was again resonating throughout Pease Auditorium.

Thus, through dedication, vision, dreams, commitment, and hard work, Pease Auditorium was well-ready to boast of its 100 year history. “The 100th anniversary of Pease Auditorium represents a significant and proud moment in Eastern Michigan’s 165 year history,” said Dr. Diane Winder, head of the EMU Music Department. She stated in an article dated May 1, 2014, written by Geoff Larcom, “We are recognizing this celebration in numerous ways around campus, so everyone can get in on the excitement.” The auditorium itself was decorated with two large banners gracing the entrance. Eight light-post banners on streets surrounding the building celebrated Pease Auditorium’s special place in the history of Eastern Michigan University. This was funded by the Ypsilanti Chamber of Commerce. There was a small exhibit in McKenny Hall highlighting Pease photographs and memorabilia. Foam core cutouts of Frederic Pease, along with 10 signs on easels and small displays were placed throughout the campus.

The official year-long celebration began with a performance of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra at Pease Auditorium on June 27, 2014. This event was made even more magical by the EMU Foundation which created a gala dinner/reception attended by several hundred participants who were greeted and served by students in period costumes. A commemorative booklet was distributed with a history of Frederic Pease, the Pease Auditorium, and the Aeolian-Skinner organ. Coincidently, the DSO was scheduled to perform a concert for the initial opening of the auditorium in 1915, but work on it was not completed by their scheduled date, so it played instead in an alternative building on the campus of the Normal College.

Winder stated that “During the entire Pease Centennial, the Foundation ran a specific Pease donation campaign, asking for $500 in order to ‘buy a seat’.” The money raised will be used as part of an endowment for the continuing preservation of the auditorium.

In October, 2014, another event, The Ypsilanti Community’s Third Chautauqua at the Riverside Arts Center, featured Eastern Michigan University Orchestra conductor Dr. Kevin Miller, providing an informative and interesting illustrated lecture about the history of Pease Auditorium. Five members of the Pease family were guests.

The celebrations continued with EMU faculty member, Dr. Whitney Prince, honoring the work of Frederic Pease and the centennial of the auditorium, with an original composition “College and Cross,” which was performed at Pease Auditorium on November 22, 2014 by the Wind Symphony. Prince wrote that “After studying various scores in the University Archives, I decided that Pease’s setting of ‘The Lord’s Prayer’ was best suited for use. I chose it for the woodwind quintet because I thought it would work well for those instruments and it would make the piece more appropriate for use during a secular occasion…” He shared the notes that he wrote about the piece. “If ever an individual deserved to have a building named in their honor, it was Frederic H. Pease, Professor of Music and first director of the Michigan State Normal School (now Eastern Michigan University) Conservatory of Music. Pease was a highly esteemed performer, conductor, composer, educator, and administrator who profoundly impacted musical life in Ypsilanti and Michigan for nearly 50 years. Six years after his death, in 1909, the school’s new auditorium located at the intersection of College Place and Cross Street, was named for this beloved and highly respected professor. ‘College and Cross’ is based on motives from Pease’s 1906 setting of the Lord’s Prayer, the only work by Pease that was performed at both his memorial service and at the dedication of the auditorium. It is offered in humble tribute to this historic structure and to the man whose name it bears.”

Also in November 14, 2014, Dr. Winder added that “the Department of Music and Dance created a magical year of Pease programming. For example, Robert Peavler, baritone, presented an interdisciplinary recital ‘Lads in their Hundreds’ featuring songs from WW1 (1914 specifically) complete with dancers, narrations and a slide show.”

There were other tributes made to the Pease Auditorium and Frederic Pease including a documentary video which can be viewed on YouTube (see link at the end of this article). Perhaps one of the most unusual, poignant, and understated efforts by Dr. Winder was the search for and discovery of a Pease family heirloom – a 17th century grandfather clock which was donated to Eastern Michigan University by family members in honor of both Frederic Pease and his first wife, who was once his music student, the beautiful Josephine Van Dolzen. Seemingly forgotten, without any identifying plaque, Dr. Winder discovered the clock on prominent display in the President’s House, but because the clock had been donated nearly 50 years before, and without any sort of plaque on it, its significance had been forgotten.

Her sleuthing did not end there. Tragically, Frederic Pease’s wife Josephine died in childbirth with her 8th child and was buried with the baby at Highland Cemetery. Frederic, heartbroken and dismayed, commissioned a stained glass window to be created and installed at St. Luke’s Church on North Huron Street in Ypsilanti where he was organ master and an honored parishioner. Over time, the window was placed in storage. Dr. Winder, along with graduate student in Historic Preservation, Ceci Riecker, met with church officials and arranged for permanent loan of the window. Riecker then contacted John Donegan, Vice President of the Eastern Michigan University Physical Plant. Dr. Winder wrote “He was very interested and excited by the prospect of moving them to campus. In fact his office has solidified the relationship with St. Luke’s, transported the windows in pieces to EMU, and had the ‘shop’ first build the frame for the windows, then install them expertly into the spaces in Pease. A third and final piece of the Pease windows probably will be on display in a new exhibit area in McKenny Hall.”

She, along with the steering committee, also arranged for a commemorative brass plaque to be made and installed in Pease Auditorium honoring Frederic Pease. The decorative and tasteful plaque bears a picture of this distinguished man with the wording “Frederic H. Pease (1839-1909) Educator, performer, conductor, author, composer, community leader and friend Honoring his 45 years as Chair (1864-1909) of the Department of Music and Conservatory at Michigan State Normal School.”

This brings us to the glorious and historic day of the Centennial Celebration March 22, 2015. While researching and writing my extensive biography of Frederic Pease published earlier in the Gleanings, I was in contact with a number of his descendants and was made an honorary “adoptee” as a Pease family member. I was thrilled when representatives of four generations, ranging from great grandchildren to g-g-g-g grandchildren, 22 in all, traveled from throughout the nation to come to Ypsilanti to attend this event; many of them are graduates of Eastern Michigan University. They were welcomed at a reception before the performance by college president Dr. Susan Martin and led on a tour of the auditorium by Dr. Winder. Copies of the plaque along with a book on the history of Pease Auditorium and stationary with a drawing of it by music professor and artist, Amos Nelson, were given to each descendant and then a presentation was given to them by Dr. Kevin Miller about the history of Pease Auditorium.

A free concert followed, attended by both town and gown. I saw handkerchiefs come out and tears wiped away by a few of the descendants of Pease during the program. The program included a variety of both dance and musical performances involving over 150 staff and students. Remarks were made by Dr. Thomas K. Venner, Dean, College of Arts and Sciences, President Susan Martin, and Dr. Diane L. Winder. Dr. Martin honored the memory of Frederic Pease by inviting each of the descendants to come up on stage. The audience gave their appreciation in the form of hearty applause. This celebration of the life of a man and the impressive auditorium named after him was culminated with a reception at Roosevelt Hall.

Afterwards, members of the family reflected on the day’s festivities. Great granddaughter Cynthia Luce of Grosse Pointe Farms, Michigan stated “The 100 year celebration was an absolutely wonderful tribute to my great grandfather, Frederic H. Pease. It gave me a glimpse of a living man not just a name on a building.”

Another great granddaughter, Roz Peters, related “It was great to learn about an ancestor I had heard so much about as a child. For the most part, all I knew about Frederic Pease was that there was a building named after him at EMU. Other than that it was just a name of a relative I had never met. But now it was great to find out how admired he was and how much his students loved him, and also great to learn of his sarcastic wit which is a family tradition. I wish I could’ve met him.” Talking about the performances, “On another note, how spectacular the music was at the Pease event. It was so diverse and interesting and beautiful. I loved it. Hats off to the music department.”

Great-great granddaughters, Edith King Schmitz, from Waterford, Michigan and her sister, Margery King Webb, from Phoenix, Arizona were very moved to view the newly installed Josephine Pease stained glass windows and stated that their grandmother would have loved to see them in their new home in Pease Auditorium. Webb also described a story that had been handed down in their family about how the memory of their ancestor Frederic Pease had saved her grandmother Margery Hewitt Pease and her sister Josephine Van Dolzen Pease from expulsion from EMU. It seems that the two girls, who were students at the Normal, were caught smoking in the woman’s bathroom and would have been expelled if it were not for their grandfather’s memory. Webb related “How lucky our family is to have been treated to this Grand Gala Celebration for Grandfather Frederic Henry Pease.”

Great-great grandson Peter Hartz, of Keene, New Hampshire, was also impressed with all of the work that the maintenance department had done to not only transport the windows from St. Luke’s church on North Huron Street in Ypsilanti, but the skill in providing such a beautiful setting with a back light to illuminate them.

My husband and I felt that the day had been perfect, with only one thing missing - the presence of Frederic and Josephine Pease. One couldn’t help but wonder though if they were there in spirit as we celebrated the life of this “man of all seasons” and beautiful Pease Auditorium where so much history has occurred over one hundred years.

The next time that you attend a concert or event at Pease Auditorium, spend a quiet moment or two gazing at the bronze plaque and the beautiful stained glass windows. Perhaps you will have the same sense that I did that perhaps buildings do talk in their own way and this one speaks of both love and commitment of Ypsilanti and Eastern Michigan University.

ONLINE ENRICHMENT OPPORTUNITIES:

Video about the history of Pease Auditorium – Go to YouTube.com then search for “Eastern Michigan University Pease Auditorium”, or go directly to https://www.youtube.com/watch?V=LVD6rt15an

Biography of Frederic H. Pease, A Man for All Seasons by Janice Anschuetz in The Ypsilanti Historical Society Gleanings - Go to http://ypsigleanings.aadl.org/ypsigleanings/219318

Photographs of the 100th anniversary event in Pease Auditorium - Go to http://photos.emich.edu/p339820591

Hear Little Dorrit Polka, 1871 sheet music written by Frederic Pease, played on piano by Robert Anschuetz - Go to YouTube.com then search for “Little Dorrit Polka Pease”, or go directly to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rJH_Zi7e3eQ

Hear a reading of Frederic Pease’s 1881 letter written to his Ypsilanti friend Frederick Swaine - Go to YouTube.com and search for “Jessie Swaine Interview Ypsilanti Michigan”, or go directly to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LVD6rt15anc

Several of Frederic Henry Pease’s textbooks on teaching music are on Google Books for free download.

(Janice Anschuetz is a local history buff and a regular contributor to the Gleanings.)


Photo Captions:

Photo 1: Drawing of Frederic Pease.

Photo 2: Frederic Pease as a young man.

Photo 3: Mrs. Frederic Pease (Josephine).

Photo 4: Pease Auditorium 100 year banner.

Photo 5: Dr. Diane Winder, head of the Department of Music and Dance at Eastern Michigan University, provided leadership for the 100 year celebration of Pease Auditorium.

Photo 6: Members of the Pease family on the stage of Pease Auditorium.

Photo 7: Frederic Pease with children (L to R) Marshall, Frederic Jr., Ruth, Jesse, Frederic Sr. & Max. This picture was taken after the death of Josephine.

Photo 8: The stained glass window that was originally installed in St. Luke’s Church.

Photo 9: The inscription on the stained glass window.

Photo 10: The second piece of the stained glass window.

Photo 11: The commemorative plaque honoring Frederic Pease.

An Ypsilanti Landmark Centennial

Published In:
Ypsilanti Gleanings
Original Images:


Author: Peg Porter

In October, 1914, the Ypsilanti Ladies Literary Club held its first meeting at 218 North Washington Street. Jennie Gorton, wife of a Michigan State Normal College physics professor, presided. The previous December, the members of the Club approved the purchase of a house owned by Edward Grant for use as a clubhouse.

On October 12, 2014, the Ladies Literary Club will mark the Centennial of its lovely "home." Emile Lorch, Dean of the School of Architecture, University of Michigan, called the building one of the best examples of Greek Revival Architecture in the entire country. The story of the purchase of the Clubhouse appeared in the Winter - 2013 issue of Gleanings.

During the months leading up to the Centennial, a survey originally conducted by Lorch during the 1930s was updated by Steven Stuckey, a graduate student in EMU's Historic Preservation Program. The original survey is at the Library of Congress. The update will be submitted to the Library as an addendum to the Depression era document. An assessment of the structure followed. The assessment and related documentation serve as a blueprint for future preservation efforts to enhance and protect one of the most historically significant structures in Ypsilanti.

As all of this is happening, the clubhouse continues to serve both the Club and the larger community as a site for meetings, weddings, memorial services, family celebrations and other activities and observances. The ladies of the Club made a wise investment in their purchase at a time when women rarely owned property on their own. This Centennial is significant in many ways, not the least as an example of the role women have played in local history.

A tour of the house and grounds, with particular emphasis on the changes to the structure since it was built in 1843, is planned. If you are interested, please contact Daneen Zureich at 734 483 1453 or zureichd@comcast.net. The date and time will be arranged later.

(Peg Porter is a member of the Ladies’ Literary Club Board of Trustees and an Assistant Editor of the Gleanings.)


Photo Captions:

Photo 1: The Ladies Literary Club purchased the house at 218 North Washington Street in December of 1913.

Photo 2: The drawing features women’s fashions from 1914, the year the Ladies Literary Club held it’s first meeting in the “Greek Revival” house.

The King and Meyer Saloon Controversy

Published In:
Ypsilanti Gleanings
Original Images:



Author: James Mann

As part of the regular business of the Ypsilanti City Council at their meeting on Monday, April 19, 1915, petitioners for liquor licenses were considered. Two petitions caused the most discussion. The concern was that the two saloons, the King and Meyer, were within three hundred feet of Woodruff school on East Michigan Avenue. Under state law, no saloon or bar could be within three hundred feet of a school or church, unless all property owners within three hundred feet of the proposed saloon gave their consent.

“When the request for a license was presented it was accompanied by a document which furnished something of a surprise. It was a paper saying that all the people whose names were affixed were in agreement that a saloon should be conducted in the former Meyer place. The first signature was William Dusbiber and a little way down the list was the signature of H. E. Lutjen, formerly pastor of the Lutheran church,” reported The Daily Ypsilanti Press of Tuesday, April 20, 1915. Among those who had signed the consent, was Katharine Meyer, the widow of Joseph Meyer.

“Ald. Lathers held that this was of no account,” continued the account, “unless it were accompanied by an affidavit to the effect that these were all of the property owners within 300 feet of the saloon. Ald. Bursha promptly met the demand by presenting from his pocket the affidavit. It was sworn to in due form and there was little left to do but to grant the petition. On the same ground the license for the King place was renewed under the name of William Bursha, alderman in the fifth ward, and Erwin Clark.”

These were not new establishments, as the two saloons had been in operation for some years. Now the two were under new ownership. The King Saloon, previously under the management of a John King, had been at 304 East Michigan Avenue, in the Schade Block, for at least thirty years. John King had ended the business by May of 1913. After that, the site was vacant.

The saloon of Joseph Meyer, at 309 East Michigan, was in a building constructed in about 1888 by George Thumm. Here, for a time, he operated a saloon. “It had a fancy walnut bar and mirror as was the custom in the past century,” wrote Eileen Harrison for The Ypsilanti Press of Tuesday, July 24, 1962. “There had been card tables at which the loser was expected to treat every third hand.” By 1892 Thumm had sold the building to Meyer, who continued the business of running a saloon.

Joseph Meyer would continue in the saloon business, until his death at age 66, on February 22, 1915. “He was kind hearted and well liked and a host of friends have a good word to say for 'Joe,' as he was familiarly called,” recalled his obituary. After the death of Joseph Meyer, the family had continued to run the saloon, as it closed the estate. Petitioners for the Meyer Saloon were Matthew Sinkule, son in law of Joseph Meyer, and Lewis Moore, who had been employed as a bartender at the Meyer Saloon.

All seemed well, until it was learned, that the law under which the licenses were granted, had been reversed by the Michigan State Supreme Court. In the case of People vs. Schnelder, found in Volume 170 of Michigan Reports, page 153, and handed down in 1912, read: “The consent of all property owners within 300 feet of a proposed new saloon or bar will not excuse the establishment of such a saloon or bar within 300 feet of the front door of a church or school.”

“According to this decision,” explained The Daily Ypsilanti Press of Thursday, April 22, 1915, “it will be illegal to open a saloon in the former King place and the man who makes the venture, even though he may have been granted a license, will do so in violation of the law and will be subject to arrest. Whether the saloon will be opened anyway and whether an arrest would follow is of course an entirely different question.”

When Ypsilanti Chief of Police Charles Cain was asked if he would close a saloon opened illegally, he said, “I would if I felt like it.” He added that if anyone wanted it closed, “let them get a warrant.”

The question was placed before Washtenaw County Prosecuting Attorney Lehman for an opinion. He met with attorneys for Ald. Bursha and Irwin Clark, to whom the license for the King place was granted. From them he received assurance that as the opening would be illegal, no attempt to open it would be made.

“Rumor is current today,” noted The Daily Ypsilanti Press of Saturday, April 24, 1915, “that an injunction was served on the owner of the building, Mrs. Smith, forbidding her renting the building for saloon purposes, but Prosecuting Attorney Lehman says the story is unfounded since such procedure would be entirely unnecessary.”

The question of whether the Meyer place could continue to do business, under new management, was still to be settled. “The question as to whether the death of the man to whom the license was issued ends the life of a saloon within 300 feet of a school of church is still open in the minds of many, but evidence seems to be against the possibility of the saloon continuing,” reported the account. For this reason, Lehman referred the question to the State Attorney General.

Lehman received his answer on Friday, April 30, 1915, in a letter from Michigan Attorney General Grant Fellows. The letter was published in The Daily Ypsilanti Press that same day. “The inquiry contained in your communication would seem to be answered in the opinion rendered in the case of Rohde vs. Wayne Circuit judge 163 Michigan 690 in which case it was contended that in as much as the realtors sought to operate a saloon in a residence district without gaining the consent of the people therein as provided in section 37 of the Warner-Crampton law, that this fact alone was sufficient ground upon which to reject his application for a license, not withstanding the location had been used for saloon purposes for several years prior to the application of the relator. The court held that if in fact, for several years prior to the date at which relator could have been licensed to operate a saloon, a saloon had been conducted in this particular building that the restrictions contained in section 37 of act 291 of the public acts of 1909 did not apply. This would seem to be true in the case you refer to, providing that the saloon was being operated in this building at the time the Warner-Crampton law took effect and continuously since that date.”

“If however,” concluded Attorney General Fellows, “during any period of this time since the Warner-Crampton law went into effect and after the death of the party formerly operating the saloon the building was not used for saloon purposes then it would be deemed to be a new bar or saloon and would come under the provisions of said section 37.”

In other words, the Meyer saloon could reopen under new management. The Lewis B. Moore saloon did operate at 309 East Michigan from 1916 to 1920, when it was the John F. Maegle variety store. In the 1930's, the building became the Thorne Tire Store, which continued in operation on the site until 1962. In July of that year, the building was demolished to make way for a Burger Chef drive-in restaurant. “Holes in the floor through which pipes reached to barrels in the basement were still there when the building was torn down,” wrote Eileen Harrison. Today, the site of 309 East Michigan is occupied by Luca's Cony Island.

(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: The King Saloon in the Schade Block at 304 East Michigan Avenue was closed in May of 1913.

Photo 2: The Lewis B. Moore saloon operated at 309 East Michigan from 1916 to 1920, when it was the John F. Maegle variety store. In the 1930's, the building became the Thorne Tire Store, which continued in operation on the site until 1962.

Photo 3: In July of 1962 the Thorne Tire Store building was demolished to make way for a Burger Chef drive-in restaurant.

Waiting Room to the City of the Dead: The Receiving Vault at Highland Cemetery

Published In:
Ypsilanti Gleanings
Original Images:


Author: James Mann

When one passes through the main gates of Highland Cemetery on River Street, straight ahead is the Starkweather Chapel. To the right is what appears to be a door in the side of a hill. This is the Receiving Vault of Highland. A receiving vault was needed by every cemetery, as a place to store the remains of those who had died until burial.

Highland most likely had a receiving vault from the day it was dedicated in 1864, but the record of this is incomplete. There is a small room at the rear of Starkweather Chapel, which may have been a receiving vault. The number of remains it could hold was about three.

The receiving vault was needed during the cold months of winter, when the ground was frozen and graves could not be dug. Caskets would be stacked on the ground behind Starkweather Chapel until spring. Sometimes there would be four or as many as six caskets on the ground. The caskets would remain outside from December and sometimes as late as March.

Another reason for the receiving vault was to prevent the bodies of the recently deceased from being stolen. For many years medical schools, including the University of Michigan, had trouble finding enough bodies for their anatomy classes. To fill the need, the schools purchased bodies from grave robbers, who entered cemeteries at night to dig up the bodies and sell them to the schools. The receiving vault was one way to keep the remains safe.

The receiving vault at Highland was a gift from Daniel L. Quirk, and was presented in September of 1906. “The need of such a building has long been felt by the trustees of the association, but they were unable to see their way clear to its erection. The generosity of Mr. Quirk is appreciated very much by all interested in Ypsilanti's beautiful City of the Dead. The erection of such a building will add very much to the appearance of the grounds as well as furnishing a temporary place for the remains of loved ones,” noted The Ypsilanti Daily Press of February 16, 1906.

The architects for the receiving vault were Donaldson and Meier of Detroit. The builder was Batchelder and Wasmund, who were also of Detroit. “The plan shows a very pleasing exterior, the massive appearance of the building being relieved by an ornate bronze door of the vestibule, through which can be seen the highly ornamental door leading into the lobby,” noted the report.

The vault is roughly 15 by 29 feet, with a lobby of 9 by 11 feet. The vault was made from grayish white, canyon sandstone. “The interior of the building contains twenty-four crypts, the doors and entire fronts of which are of polished marble with bronze fittings,” reported The Ypsilanti Daily Press of Saturday, September 15, 1906.

The dedication of the receiving vault was held on Sunday, September 16, 1906, with between 500 and 600 people attending. The day was an ideal one, noted The Ypsilanti Daily Press, Monday, September 17, 1906. The dedication was held on the north lawn of Starkweather Chapel, at 4:00 pm. The program opened with a quartet, under the direction of Prof. Pease, singing, “O God, Our Help in Ages Past.”

This was followed by a reading of Psalm 121, “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills from whence cometh my help,” by the Rev William Gardam. The Rev. Gardam then read Psalm 145, “I will magnify Thee, O Lord, my King: and I will praise Thy name forever and ever.” This was followed by a prayer, and an address by Prof. Strong. As part of his address, Prof. Strong expressed gratitude to Daniel Quirk for the receiving vault. Once the address was concluded, the quartet sang “Our Father's God to Thee.”

Daniel Quirk then presented the keys to the vault to Charles King, President of the Highland Cemetery Association. The Doxology was sung by all present, and the program concluded with the Benediction by the Rev. Eugene Allen. “The massive doors of the vault were thrown open for the afternoon and the crowd spent several hours after the program in viewing the interior of the magnificent structure.”

Over the years since the dedication, the equipment used to dig graves has improved, so burials can take place even after the ground has frozen. The receiving vault was used only in the most severe weather, otherwise it stood empty and unused. Then in 1994 the receiving vault was turned into a mausoleum. On each side of the vault, are now spaces for the urns of those who have been cremated.

(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: The Receiving Vault at Highland Cemetery.

Photo 2: The Receiving Vault has steel doors to prevent grave robbers from stealing the bodies.

Photo 3: The leaded glass windows above the entrance door to the Receiving Vault.

Photo 4: The 9 x 11 foot lobby in the Receiving Vault.

Photo 5: The crypts along each side of the Receiving Vault.

Photo 6: On each side of the Receiving Vault are spaces for urns of those who have been cremated.

The Lay House

Published In:
Ypsilanti Gleanings
Original Images:


Author: Peg Porter

In August of 1965, one of the grandest Ypsilanti area homes was scheduled for demolition. The house was also one of the oldest. It was constructed when Michigan was still a Territory. Based on a mortgage date and information about the owner, it is estimated that the house was built by Ezra D. Lay in 1833, making it older than the Ladies Literary Clubhouse which was constructed about 10 years later. The original location of the house was Section 2, Ypsilanti Township, Michigan which later became 1701 East Michigan Avenue, Ypsilanti Township.

Emil Lorch, Dean of the School of Architecture, University of Michigan, described this house as an important example of Greek Revival Architecture much as he identified the now Ladies Literary Clubhouse. One wonders if the same builder is responsible for both houses.

The house was owned by Ezra D. Lay, born in 1807, Saybrook, Connecticut. While he was still a child, Ezra's family moved to New York where he was educated and learned the cooper's (barrel making) trade. He arrived in the Michigan Territory in 1832 where he purchased 160 acres of land on what was then known as the Ypsilanti Plain. He had brought with him apples, pears, peaches, plums, cherries and grapes. In addition to the fruit he transported shrubbery. He added a greenhouse to his property, the first in Michigan.

His brother, Z.K. Lay, also came from New York. The two brothers planted 25,000 fruit trees on the acreage Ezra purchased. As a result, the History of Washtenaw County cites the Lay operation as the first business in the Michigan Territory. With his business established and his home under construction, Ezra married Malinda Kinne of Monroe County, New York. The couple had three children, two boys and a girl. The youngest son never married, lived at home and helped care for his parents as they got older. Ezra Lay was active in local and state affairs. He was the President of the Pioneer Society of Washtenaw County where he encouraged the compilation of the early history of the area. He also served as a Representative in the State Legislature. In later years, Lay became a general farmer. He died at home on April 28, 1890. His funeral was conducted at his residence.

During the following years the house became run down. Then in 1916, Charles Vapor purchased the house for use as summer residence. Vapor was a Detroit attorney and part-owner of a large produce concern and importer of vegetables and foodstuffs. He did much to restore the house to its previous state. He also removed all the old flooring, replacing it with oak floors throughout. He and his wife entertained regularly and lavishly. Vapor created a wine cellar and personally selected the wine for their many dinner parties. Vapor enjoyed treating his guests to out-of-season fruits. He hung large bunches of bananas in the basement to ripen.

As part of their improvements, however, they had covered up four fireplaces. They modernized the kitchen installing one of the first dishwashers and two electric stoves. Vapor converted part of the back wing into a garage. During the Vapor's ownership, the house had five main bedrooms, including the master with a dressing room, three sleeping rooms for maids and a bathroom. On the main level there was, in addition to the kitchen, a drawing room, dining room, library and breakfast room. There was a laundry and two additional bathrooms.

Sometime in the late 1920's or early 1930's the Vapors no longer owned the house. It seems probable that the Great Depression played a part in this change. The next owners of record, Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Howard of Belleville, may have been responsible for turning some of the rooms into apartments. The Howards discovered a brick wall inside the wooden exterior. They also noted "ADZ" markings on the beams indicating the use of hand-hewn timber. Mrs. Howard recalled that a workman told her the house had been a "blind pig" during the Depression. Whether this is true and whether the Vapors were involved would make for an interesting research project.

Flash forward to the summer of 1965. Now the owners were Don Porter, my father, and Clyde Budd. They had been looking for property zoned for commercial use on East Michigan or Washtenaw. I told my father that I thought Washtenaw would be a better investment. Pretty bold of his twenty-something year old daughter who had no experience in real estate. He replied that there was little property available and it was very expensive. So they opted for the East Michigan site which came fairly cheaply as the new owners would be responsible for demolishing the house. They had no desire for demolition as it is very expensive and were anxious that the house be preserved. They had to act quickly to save the structure. It was first offered to the Ypsilanti Historical Society. The asking price was $1.00. The newly formed Society had no funds nor had it property on which to locate the house. The offer was declined. However, Charles Hagler and his wife, both avid local historians and preservationists made an offer on the house. It was accepted. They then went through a number of challenges in moving a house this size and of this age.

Charles Hagler was President of the Detroit Historical Commission and Vice President of the Michigan Historical Society. His wife, Katherine, was curator of furniture at the Henry Ford Museum. It was fortunate that buyers were found with the resources, interest and knowledge to undertake this major restoration.

For transporting purposes the house was divided into two sections. The destination was 3401 Berry Road in Superior Township. All obstacles were overcome and the house was moved. The Haglers renovated it to "its glory days." Thus, a happy ending for the structure. Not so for the property.

Finding a buyer proved to be difficult. With the building of I-94 most of the traffic that had traveled Michigan Avenue to Detroit now moved to the Expressway. Finally a man who wanted to locate a used car lot on East Michigan approached the sellers. He did not have sufficient funds to make a down payment. The sellers and buyer settled on a Land Contract, an often risky move. The sellers maintained title to the property while the buyer made regular payments toward the agreed upon price.

At first things seemed to be going well and then there were missed payments. The buyer was given a second and then a third chance to repay what he owed. Eventually the buyer filed for bankruptcy. Clyde Budd, my father's business partner became very ill and died in November, 1973. My father's attorney failed to file paperwork in the bankruptcy proceeding thereby leaving him without an opportunity to recoup any of funds in the contract. It was a stressful time for our family, especially for my father. The "East Michigan property" represented failure due to misplaced trust.

Looking back, the investment was a poor one. On the other hand, the house was saved from demolition. As a result I see my father as having had an important role in preserving a building that was, and is, historically significant.

(Primary sources: The Ypsilanti Press, August 9, 1965: Eileen Harrison, Old Pioneer Home Facing Removal After Colorful Past; History of Washtenaw County; U.S. Census; Gleanings, October, 1979; and personal recollections and notes.)

(Peg Porter is the Assistant Editor of the Gleanings and a regular contributor to the publication.)


Photo Captions:

Photo 1: The Ezra D. Lay house was built in 1833 in Section 2 of Ypsilanti Township which later became 1701 East Michigan Avenue, Ypsilanti Township.

Photo 2: Ezra D. Lay arrived in the Michigan Territory in 1832 where he purchased 160 acres of land on what was then known as the Ypsilanti Plain.

Photo 3: In 1965 the Lay house was divided into two sections and moved to 3401 Berry Road in Superior Township.

Photo 4: Map showing the two locations for the Ezra D. Lay house.

The Towner House: A Diamond in the Rough

Published In:
Ypsilanti Gleanings
Original Images:




Author: James Mann

The streetscape of North Huron between Michigan Avenue and Cross Street is an almost complete textbook of the architectural styles of Michigan from the 19th and early 20th Centuries. Here are examples of Italianate Ville, Italianate, Second Empire, Queen Ann, Georgian Revival and Neo Gothic. Each facility restored to former glory, outstanding examples of historic preservation. It is hard to believe these gems suffered years, if not decades, of neglect and abuse. By the 1970's a number of people in the City were ready to see each and every one of these buildings demolished. Now, each is a source of pride for the city. There is, however, one diamond in the rough to be found. This is the Towner House at 303 North Huron, on the corner with Emmet Street.

The Towner House is said to be the oldest house on its original foundation in Ypsilanti. The crossbeams in the basement are tree limbs, with the bark still on. The house is in the Greek Revival style of architecture, the first used in Michigan, after the log cabin. The style was made popular in America by builder guides, such as The American Builder's Companion by Asher Benjamin, The Builder's Assistant by John Haviland and Beauties of Modern Architecture by Minarl Lafever. Guides included plates showing examples of the style, as well as plans and instructions on how to build them. The professional architect was far in the future.

The site on which the Towner House stands was deeded to Marcus Lane and Arden H. Ballard on February 4, 1836, for a consideration of $181.37. Ballard and his wife quit their claim to the deed in April of 1837, for a consideration of $500. The rise in price on a property is usually the result of an improvement to the site, such as the construction of a house. Lane was one of the first attorneys in Washtenaw County. He was a delegate for Washtenaw County at the State Constitutional Convention in 1836. Ballard was a builder and it was he who built what is now the Ladies Literary Club House on North Washington Street and the original section of the Ballard-Breakey House on North Huron. Each was built in the Greek Revival style.

In most accounts of the Towner House, Lane is credited with the construction of the house. The date the house was built is not known, but accounts place it in about 1837. It is likely, that Lane partnered with Ballard to build the house in 1836, and once work was completed, Lane paid Ballard his fee.

“From the standpoint of architectural history,” wrote Kevin J. McDonough, in a paper dated February 7, 1982, “the Towner House is a rarity. It may possibly be the only house of post and beam barn type construction remaining in either Ypsilanti or Washtenaw County. Its' vernacular Greek Revival style, Gothic Revival porch, Michigan basement and haphazard additions make it a unique testament to the pioneer era of early Michigan. Because it stands on its' original site and foundation it is an important link in the physical evolution of the historic environment in which it is located. It's historical significance in this respect is unquestionable”

“The low pitched gable roof with a broken pediment and entablature serving as a base are evidence of its Greek Revival style,” notes a paper prepared by Preservation Eastern. “Adding to the significance of the house are several six-over-six double sash windows. Some of these have their original glass. Later additions to the house include an Egyptian Revival doorway and a Gothic Revival porch, demonstrating the evolution of taste and style in Ypsilanti.”

On April 4, 1840, Marcus Lane died and left his estate to his wife. As executor of the estate, he had named John Geddes. On March 2, 1842 Geddes presided over the sale of the property to the brother of Marcus, Charles. Then on April 19, 1842 Charles and his wife sold the site to William Field for $400. The property was returned to Charles one year later for a mortgage of $400.

“What occurred in the next five years is not totally clear,” wrote McDonough in his history of the Towner House, “but the property was presented by Mr. Field to John S. Worden by Warranty Deed for a consideration of $675. Two months later Mr. Worden sold the property for a profit of $25. The new owner was Lewis Morey and his wife Olive who sold the property on March 6, 1851 for a consideration of $900.”

The new owner was Nancy Spencer Towner, the widow of Ephraim Towner. Her late husband Ephraim is said to have arrived in Ypsilanti in 1835, with eight children by his first wife Anna. She had died giving birth to Norman on November 3, 1816. At Ypsilanti, Ephraim married Nancy, who had several children of her own, including Jeanette.

On May 16, 1854 Norman married Jeanette. They were step brother and step sister. For a time the couple lived in Chicago but then returned to Ypsilanti. The date of their return is uncertain, but it was most likely in the 1850's. The two lived in the house on North Huron Street, after the death of Nancy. The date of her death is not recorded.

The couple had five children. The first child was Caroline, born August 18, 1856. The second child was Guy Carlton Towner, who was born on August 24, 1858. He died at the age of six, on November 17, 1864. The next was Anna Hinsdale Towner, born on December 18, 1860. Tracy Lay Towner was born on March 2, 1864. Laura Magill Towner, the fifth child, was born on January 18,1866. She graduated from the Michigan State Normal College, with a degree in the Scientific Course. Laura died in 1884, at the age of eighteen. Their father, Norman, died at the age of 79, on October 1, 1895, of an “attack of inflammation of the bowels.” Jeanette died on July 11, 1920, in the house on North Huron, and there the funeral service was held.

“Mrs. Towner was a member of St. Luke's church and of the Parish Aid and Home Association and for many years was actively engaged in church work,” noted her obituary, published in The Ypsilanti Daily Press of July 13, 1920. “The last years of her life were spent rather quietly, a sprained ankle in October rendering her unable to go about freely thereafter. She was doubtless the oldest inhabitant of Ypsilanti, making her home in this city and her life has spanned the development of Ypsilanti from a small village to its present standing as a prosperous small city.”

“A most hospitable atmosphere has always pervaded Mrs. Towner's home. Her nearest friends visited her constantly and there are many who considered her their best and most esteemed friend,” continued the obituary. “Gracious and loving and sympathetic she embraced an entire neighborhood in her affection.” She is buried in Highland Cemetery.” The three surviving children lived most of their lives in Ypsilanti in the house on North Huron Street. None of the three married.

Tracy Towner graduated with the law class of the University of Michigan in June of 1888. He joined with Captain E. P. Allen in the practice of law in 1888. After the death of Captain Allen, he continued the practice alone. Their office was in the Ypsilanti Savings Bank Building, now City Hall. Tracy Towner was mayor of Ypsilanti from 1910 to 1912.

“He was one of the most active members of the Goodfellows Organization, and every year, despite rain, snow or sleet, he could be found on Michigan Avenue, selling papers to provide Christmas cheer for needy residents of the city,” noted The Daily Ypsilanti Press of Thursday, October 14, 1943. He died October 14, 1943, at the age of 79.

“Anna was attending grammar school in Ypsilanti in 1873,”, wrote Mary Anderson, in a paper dated February, 1983, “and graduated from Michigan State Normal College in Ypsilanti with an English-Latin Course in 1880 at the age of twenty. In 1885 and 1888-89 she was listed as teaching in the Central Building of Ypsilanti Union School.” She made a career as a teacher, and died at the age of 89, on August 7, 1949.

The last of the children was Caroline, who died at the age of 95, on April 4, 1951. “Miss Towner taught voice for many years at the Conservatory under Prof. Frederic Pease; taught in the Fifth Ward School; studied at the Julliard School of Music and the Louvre Conservatory in Paris, France. She was able to speak fluently in several languages,” reported her obituary.

After the death of Tracy Towner the property passed into the care of St. Luke's Episcopal Church at 120 North Huron Street. The sisters continued to live in the house until their deaths.

In 1951 the house was purchased by Gerald Stewart and his wife, Mary. The couple, with their daughter Susan, lived in the house until 1968. During the years of the Towner occupancy of the house, an addition had been added to the rear of the house. The daughter, Susan Stewart Schoeder, later wrote of these additions, “consisting of a nice dining room with leaded windows, a garden without and a trellis with wisterian vine. Beside the dining room was a smaller room with additional two steps reaching to the stairway, and a cellar door entrance. Behind these two rooms was a kitchen with iron sink and wooden cupboards. The only counter space was a kitchen table. A small porch was in an el behind the dining room and beside the kitchen. Behind the kitchen was a sort of storage room. A separate one car garage had been added behind all this with a lovely grape vine on a fence beside the driveway.”

She noted the house was surrounded by lovely old elm trees, but these succumbed to Dutch Elm disease in the 1950's. The house, she noted, was a very pleasant place to live. “My mother furnished it with lovely, appropriate antiques. Indeed several of them were from the Towners, however recovered and refurbished. Despite the very basic kitchen, there were lovely meals prepared for serving in the dining room and on warmer days on the side porch. I remember the grapes dripping their juice into a metal dishpan to make lovely tasty jelly.”

The property was purchased by the First Presbyterian Church for $61,741.78 on July 17, 1972. This was for future development of church facilities. According to some sources, the church planned to use the site for the expansion of the church parking lot, and others claim it was for the memorial garden. The Session voted unanimously on June 10, 1974, “to tear down the Huron Street property unless the Historical Society is interested in retaining and removing it.”

The intention of the church to demolish the Towner House created a controversy that would continue for years. The Ypsilanti Heritage Foundation was founded to preserve the historic houses and building of the city. The saving of the Towner House was a major goal of the Foundation. The church leased the house to the Heritage Foundation for $1.00 per year. The Foundation in turn sublet the house to Gary Decker, who paid $100 a month. This money went to the upkeep of the property. Decker lived in the house for six years, working to renovate it. It was during these years the house was painted a dark green color. In 1981 the Foundation requested a lease of more than one year. The request was turned down by the church. The church told the Foundation it could no longer have a year to year lease, but must now accept a month to month lease. The Foundation decided against renewing the lease with the church.

A new group, The Friends of the Towner House Children's Museum signed a lease for ten years with the church on August 2, 1982. Under the terms of the lease the committee overseeing the museum agreed to maintain the house, pay all bills, provide adequate insurance and complete specific improvements on the house. Completed improvements included: Stripping off the old roof, installation of new shingles on the roof, replacing and repairing unsound wood in the roof, replacing existing flashing, installing new basement stairs and handrail and reset bathroom stool. The Heritage Foundation donated $1,800 in 1983, for the installation of a new furnace.

Students from the Ypsilanti Public Schools visited the house to learn what life was like in a 19th century home. The home, turned museum, was the site of activities for children during the Heritage Festivals during the 1980's. Teachers from the public schools volunteered their time, to teach 19th century crafts. The Children's Museum sought a $36,000 State of Michigan Equity Grant for the restoration of the house. The grant required a long term lease with the church. The request for a long term lease was turned down by the church, which then told the museum it must now accept a month to month lease. This was rejected by the Children's Museum. The lease with the church was terminated on January 15, 1991.

Over the years the church has received offers to purchase the house, with the intention of restoring it. The church has turned down each offer, and was determined to either demolish the house, or see it moved to another location. The reasons the church gave for refusing to sell the house were: it would be a substantial financial loss, it would defeat the purpose for buying the property, it would interfere with the Memorial Garden, it would diminish the usefulness of whatever property would be left of the east church yard, it would require difficult negotiations with the City over the size of the lot, it would require the approval of the Presbytery of Detroit, and it would further limit future development of church facilities.

As a compromise, the church offered help in moving the house to another location, or restoring the exterior of the original structure, if the additions could be demolished. As part of a compromise, the additions at the rear of the house were demolished in 1999. The house now came under the care of the Towner House Committee, which has cared for it since then.

Now a new chapter in the history of the Towner House is about to begin.

(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: The Towner House at 303 North Huron Street.

Photo 2: The original log beams with the bark still intact in the basement of the Towner House.

Photo 3: The Towner House showing the additions that were added over the years to the original structure.

Photo 4: All of the additions were removed as part of a consent agreement between the City of Ypsilanti and the Presbyterian Church.

The Mansion House - A Lost Landmark

Published In:
Ypsilanti Gleanings
Original Images:

Author: James Mann

During the Second World War workers at the bomber plant at Willow Run would leave their homes in Willow Village and travel east on Michigan Avenue past an impressive structure which they came to call “the Mansion house.”

The Mansion was in fact a farm house built in about 1842 for the family of Grove Spencer. The house was in the Greek Revival style, with four pillars at the front. There were four bedrooms in the upstairs and two in the downstairs. The house had nine chimneys and high ceilings, a living room across the front, and an open stairway with a Walnut balustrade. There was a second living room, which could be divided into two rooms with folding doors. The house had a kitchen with a laundry, a breakfast area and a pantry.

The house was private property until the Second World War, when it was used as a government housing center. Then in 1959, the Willow Run School District restored the house for use as administrative offices. By 1967 the Willow Run School District had moved their offices out of the building. That year the house was demolished to make way for a driveway for the newly opened Gar Wood Industries plant.

“Gar Wood, school officials and the Chamber of Commerce were unsuccessful in efforts to find someone who could maintain the building, which would have had to be moved from the site,” reported The Ypsilanti Press of Friday, March 31, 1967. “It was estimated,” continued the account, “that it would cost about $16,500 to move the building and at least $35,000 to put it back in shape for use.” Because of the age of the building, it could only have been moved a short distance, noted the account.

The possibility of using the building as a library was considered by county and township officials, but they found the house unsuitable and the project too expensive. Someone offered to move the house to a nearby site, if the school district would sell the property. The offer was turned down, because the amount offered for the site was too low. In the end, the building was demolished much as it had been built, brick by brick. “The bricks are being removed for resale by Stan’s Wrecking Company of Ypsilanti, who has purchased them from the Detroit wrecking company in charge of the total project,” reported the local paper. Today there is nothing left of the grand old house.

(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: The Mansion was in fact a farm house built in about 1842 for the family of Grove Spencer.

Gerganoff (continued)

Published In:
Ypsilanti Gleanings, Fall 2012,
Fall 2012
Original Images:

Author: Peg Porter

The headline article in the June 10 Business Section of AnnArbor.com read “SOLD! Investor buys historical Washington Square building in downtown Ann Arbor.” Longtime readers of Gleanings might remember an article I wrote in the Summer 2009 issue titled, “R.S. Gerganoff: An Architect for the 20th century.” That article has since been reprinted in its entirety on the State of Michigan Website, Michigan Modern.

James Costello will oversee the restoration for the new owner Cameron Holdings from Okemos. According to Mr. Costello, “it’s a special building, and post restoration, it’s going to be exceptional. The building was designed by Ypsilanti architect Ralph Stevens (sic) (R.S. Gerganoff.) It was first known as the Ypsi–Ann Building…Gerganoff also was the architect for what is now the Beer Depot in Ann Arbor, in addition to several landmark buildings in Ypsilanti.” He mentions Beyer Hospital, buildings on the EMU campus and several Ypsilanti schools.

It is rewarding to see that well-documented historical articles are used by developers in the restoration of properties. And to this author, it is especially pleasing, to have early 20th century buildings appreciated for their historical value. Now if we could just find a way to finance the restoration of the Gerganoff home on Huron River Drive we would have a real treasure of mid-20th century residential architecture that could draw architectural historians and students from southeastern Michigan and beyond.

Roberts' Corner

Published In:
Ypsilanti Gleanings, Fall 2012,
Fall 2012
Original Images:

Author: James Mann

Until recently there stood a house by the intersection of Michigan Avenue and U. S. 23, notable for many perhaps, because it stood alone surrounded by overgrown wild grass. The house had the appearance of neglect and age. The house was old as it was built in 1840. This was the site of Robert’s Corner.

This was the farm of the Roberts family, on the old Chicago Road, now Michigan Avenue. The house was originally a stage coach stop, where the horses were changed, and travelers could relax for a bit. What became the dining room was at first the tavern, where whiskey was two or three cents a shot.

In the traven was a large fireplace, where travelers would circle around and tell stories, or gaze into the flames of the fire as steaks were broiled. This fireplace was also a means for deciding the order in which guests were treated to rounds of drinks. “When time lagged and excitement was wanted, someone suggested that they all lie down in front of the fireplace for the drinks. A circle was drawn from one corner of the hearth to the other out and away from the fire about an arm’s length. All stretched out on the floor with their heads to the mark and extended an arm toward the fire. He who could leave his hand against the heat the longest time would be the winner. The one with the shortest arm usually won. The first to give up was the first to treat, and so on in turn. The last one only would be the real winner,” noted The Ypsilanti Record of Thursday, February 8, 1917.

In May of 1911 a new bride arrived at the farm named Clara Roberts. Charles married the former school teacher in the Episcopal Church. The couple made the journey to the farm in a carriage from the livery of Oliver Westfall. The couple had to wait as the wheels were changed to runners, as there was eight feet of snow on the ground. As they rode to the farm, the couple probably snuggled close for warmth, as it was eight degrees below zero. At the time what is now Michigan Avenue was a single dirt track road.

Years later Clara would see the first improvements in the road, as the farm was the headquarters for the crew. The workers were, for the most part, prison labor. The heavy work was done with teams of horses and the men slept in a huge tent in the field behind the barn.

“Water from the Roberts farm was used exclusively for a distance of ten miles along the roadway and a doctor, imprisoned in a notorious abortion case, was responsible for its purity. Although the men were fed state food and had their own cooks many had money of their own and supplemented the meals with sandwiches and pie made by Mrs. Roberts. The doctor took the orders from the men, made the deliveries and saw that Mrs. Roberts was paid. She remembers that their favorite pie was lemon,” reported The Ypsilanti Press of May 22, 1961. Clara Roberts was still on the farm when modern machines were used to pave and widen the road, by changing the landscape to its present shape.

Roberts Corner had another landmark as well, that of a concession stand. For at least 32 years the Netterfield family parked their concession stand at the intersection of West Michigan and Carpenter Road. Rows of yellow lights flashed on and off to beckon families to stop for a few minutes to purchase popcorn, candy apples and more.

Every year the Netterfield family traveled from Tampa, Florida to work the fair and carnival season. Paul Netterfield had found the spot at the intersection and stayed for a week, and then two weeks, then three. Then, for years after, the family would arrive in April and open the trailer for business until the Fourth of July, when the fair season began. There is only one newspaper clipping from The Ypsilanti Press in the Roberts file in the Archives to tell the story. Whoever clipped the story from the paper forgot to write the date of publication of the story. Then again, there are still those who remember.

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


Photo Caption:

Photo 1: Roberts Corner was located at the intersection of Michigan Avenue and U. S. 23.

Syndicate content