Warren Lewis and his famed Auction Sales Pavilion

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

Author: James Mann

Warren Lewis started out his career as a circus barker. According to an article in the February 5, 1941 issue of a local paper, “Mr. Lewis’ father, W. H. Lewis, operated a chain of hotels including the famous Follett House and the Oliver House at the Depot. There the circus and show people stopped and early in life Mr. Lewis mingled with them. He joined the John Robinson Railroad Show from Cincinnati when they stopped in Ypsilanti. The shows unloaded and loaded at the Deubel Mills and from his window, Mr. Lewis, then past 15, watched and made up his mind to join them. Mr. and Mrs. Gill Robinson, part owners of the circus, stayed at the Follett House and after Warren was discovered with the show, Mrs. Robinson looked after him in a motherly way. Mrs. Robinson was the daughter of “Wild Bill” Hickok, of Western fame.” Lewis had become disabled at age 11 when he lost his left hand above the wrist.

According to other sources Lewis not only traveled with circuses all over the United States but also spent considerable time in Europe with the Barnum and Bailey Circus. According to an article in the October 30, 1954 Ypsilanti Press, “His happiest days were those with the Barnum circus where, as chief barker, he road atop the leading wagon in the old time parade and warned, “Watch your horses, the elephants are coming.’” Lewis married one of the “best bareback riders of her day” and together they owned “Hamptons Great Empire and Warren Lewis’s Two Ring Circus.” The show consisted of two railroad cars when they started out but in 1917 when he sold the show it consisted of 22 railroad cars.

Today Warren Lewis is best remembered as the manager of the Lewis Horse Exchange, a gambling den he operated in Depot Town during the early years of the 20th Century. Gamblers rode the Interurban from Detroit during the racing season to place their bets on the races. This activity received a great deal of attention at the time, until it was closed by order of the governor in 1911.

Yet during his lifetime Lewis was best known for his skills as an auctioneer. He may have been the first to sell an automobile at auction. It was said, if there was anything he had not auctioned a new addition of the dictionary would have to be issued to include it. Lewis resided at the house at 204 North Street, and owned a large tract of land around the house. This property was bounded by North Street, the Michigan Central Railroad sidetrack on Lincoln Ave. and Babbitt Street. On this property Lewis announced he was planning to build an auction sales pavilion. “The sales pavilion will be built adjoining the Michigan Central sidetrack which passed over Mr. Lewis’ property. This insures the best of shipping facilities for those who will send stock here to dispose of at auction and to buyers who may wish to ship out their purchase,” reported The Ypsilanti Daily Press of Saturday, March 21, 1908.

“The pavilion will be built with glass sides and wholly enclosed,” continued the account. “The seats will be amphitheater style with a ring as in a circus where the stock will be in plain view of everyone when it is under the hammer. There will be an auctioneer’s stand and cashier’s desk. The sales will be conducted summer and winter and in order to make it thoroughly comfortable in cold weather, the pavilion will be equipped with a steam heating plant. There won’t be anything small or cheap about the whole affair. It is designed to be one of the auction centers of the country and a leading attraction of the city.”

The pavilion was principally designed for the sale of horses and cattle. “I propose to pull off some of the big farm auction sales there too,” said Lewis. “It will be central and farmers can bring in everything they have to offer.”

The auction sales pavilion must have been a success, as Lewis added a second pavilion some twelve years later. “The new pavilion has a Michigan (Central Railroad) siding and loading shoot and about 8,900 feet of floor space and will accommodate 20 automobiles or vehicles, large consignments of house furnishings, general merchandise, and will be an excellent place for holding stock sales,” reported The Ypsilanti Record of Thursday, April 22, 1920. “It faces the D. U. R. tracks (Interurban) on Michigan Avenue and will also serve the farmers who wish to dispose of their farm products of live stock, or farm machinery which they wish to bring for private or public sale, with little or no expense to them, in fact, they can advertise and conduct their own sale.”

Lewis was known throughout the United States and Europe for his auctioneering skills. M. Cummings, editor of a big auction journal in Chicago published the following comments: “America has had many really great auctioneers who have made fame and fortune usually specializing in some particular line of sales. Warren Lewis is the greatest all around auctioneer on earth. The reason for this is he can become an expert on any kind of a sale, selling on a few minutes’ notice. Our files in this office show that he specialized with the top liners for several years before he stepped out in the champion class of all around auctioneers and is now in a class by himself. Besides conducting larges sales Warren Lewis is an instructor in the art of auctioneering at his large home auction studio in the college city of Ypsilanti, Michigan. The writer is thinking that if anyone can give fundamental principles and teach auctioneering in all its branches Warren Lewis is the man.”

Lewis sold the auction grounds to the Ward Company of Jackson on Friday, May 28, 1937. The new owners planned to remodel the buildings and set up a buying and shipping business. “The grounds have been a landmark for many years,” noted The Ypsilanti Daily Press of Friday, May 28, 1937, “and many deals, starting with horses in former days and progressing to automobiles in recent times have been transacted.”

Today there is nothing of the auction pavilion to be seen. All that remains is the house where Lewis once lived.

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

[Photo caption from original print edition]: Warren Lewis enjoyed the attention he received because of his jaunty attire and the fact that he usually carried a cane

[Photo caption from original print edition]: The Warren Lewis Auction Sales Pavilion was located at 204 North Street where he owned a large tract of land around the house

Water Street Auto Dealers

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

Author: Bill Nickels

In 1999, the City of Ypsilanti decided to redevelop thirty-four acres bounded by Michigan Avenue, Park Street, and the Huron River. The redevelopment became known as the Water Street Project. Since the area had a rich automotive history, the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) required that the history be recorded. This article tells the history of auto dealerships along the south side of Michigan Avenue between the Huron River Bridge and Park Street, a distance of only a quarter mile.

Before The Automobile

The vacant land we now see on Michigan Avenue in downtown Ypsilanti was an avenue for the wealthy during the last half of the Nineteenth Century. Alva Worden invented a new and improved whip socket. As the name implies, a whip socket is a holder on a carriage that secures a whip that is used to encourage horses. With brothers John and Chancey, they manufactured their whip sockets in a building on South River Street in the present day Water Street area. Using their new-found wealth, each of the brothers built their own French Second Empire mansion on Michigan Avenue between the Huron River and River Street. Before being torn down late in the Twentieth Century, the last of the mansions watched the transition of Michigan Avenue from an elegant residential avenue to an avenue for the sale of not-yet-invented automobiles during the Twentieth Century.

6 East Michigan Avenue

Close to the Huron River and on the southeast corner of Water Street and Michigan Avenue, 6 East Michigan Avenue was a car dealership twice. In 1927, Alex Longnecker rented the newly built building at 2 East Michigan (now 6 East Michigan) and opened a Hudson and Essex dealership. Carl Miller bought into the business late in 1932. They stayed until 1933 when the depression encouraged them to move their dealership to the southeast corner of East Cross and North River in Depot Town for cheaper rent. Their Depot Town dealership is now the Ypsilanti Automotive Heritage Museum with Carl’s son Jack as curator. Silkworth Oil Company used 6 East Michigan after Longnecker and Miller moved. From about 1948 to the mid 1950s, Schaffer Motor Sales occupied 6 East Michigan selling Chrysler, Plymouth, and GMC trucks. It is unusual that Lawrence Schaffer sold GMC trucks in a Chrysler dealership. It is explained knowing that Joseph Thompson sold Dodge trucks in his Dodge and Plymouth dealership across Michigan Avenue.

In 1957, Ralph Gorlick came to Ypsilanti from a Packard dealership in Wayne to partner with Eric Lidell. They formed Gor-Dell Incorporated, a DeSoto Plymouth franchise at 6 East Michigan.

In 1960, Myron and Ray Serbay bought Gor-Dell Incorporated. When Chrysler Corporation dropped the DeSoto line in 1961, Serbay became an Imperial, Chrysler, Plymouth, and Valiant dealer. When Vincent Chevrolet moved from 34 East Michigan in 1962, the Serbay brothers took the opportunity to move to their modern building. After 1962, 6 East Michigan was occupied by auto related businesses, but never found use as a new car dealership again.

20 East Michigan

Starting in 1828, the Thompson family made significant contributions to the Ypsilanti scene. Benjamin first used his millwright skills to help build the many mills that flourished along the Huron River. He Detroit’s auto plants switched to the production of military vehicles during World War II, Thompson moved his dealership across the street to 21 East Michigan. He resumed the sale of Dodges, Plymouths, and Dodge trucks after the war until 1956. Thompson was a charter member and once president of the Ypsilanti Board of Commerce, Ypsilanti Kiwanis Club member, and Mackinaw Island State Park Commission member.

Joe Sesi, Sr.

Joseph Sesi left his home in Mesopotamia and arrived in America in 1923. He came to Detroit where a handful of fellow countrymen had settled and began working as a grocery store delivery boy. In the early 1930s, he opened a grocery store in Detroit’s Boston Edison Neighborhood named “The Olde Shop” which later became “The New Center Market.” Featuring one of the nation’s first frozen food sections selling Birdseye products, Joe met Henry Ford I, the Fisher Brothers, and other prominent Boston Edison Neighborhood residents.

At the conclusion of World War II, Henry Ford I and Ford family members were so impressed with Sesi’s work ethic and dedication that they offered him an opportunity to manufacture auto parts. Alan Chapel, husband of Mrs. Ford’s niece, partnered with Joe and founded Ypsilanti Industries in 1946. Alan was president and Joe was vice president. They decided to use the building vacated by Joseph Thompson at 20 East Michigan. He and Alan had a contract from Henry Ford to manufacture 50% of the roller bearings and synchronizer rings for manual transmissions Ford needed to start post war auto manufacturing. Borg Warner had a contract for the other 50% of the roller bearings. When the Borg Warner workers went on strike, Joe and Alan worked twenty-four hours a day to keep production going for Henry Ford.

As the demand for cars increased after the war, Ford Motor Company decided to separate the sale of Lincolns and Mercurys from Ford dealerships. On March 14, 1947, the two entrepreneurs opened one of the original twenty-seven LincolnMercury dealerships in the United States in the front of 20 East Michigan Avenue. In 1948, they also sold Ford tractors and farm implements at 20 East Michigan under the name of Ypsilanti Tractor Sales Inc. By 1957, the Chapel/Sesi partnership was consolidated under Joe, his wife Catherine, and nephew Joe Sesi Junior. In 1965, Sesi Lincoln Mercury moved from 20 East Michigan farther east on Michigan Avenue in Ypsilanti Township. The Ypsilanti Press newspaper then took over the building ending the sale of new cars at 20 East Michigan.

40-42 East

Michigan After graduating from Cleary Business College, Theodore Schaible was hired by Ford Motor Company as a Washtenaw County representative. In 1910, Theodore Schaible partnered with E. G. Wiedman and opened the first Ford agency for Washtenaw County. Starting in Saline, they moved to 27 North Washington in Ypsilanti. In the spring of 1912, fire destroyed their building. The partnership dissolved with Wiedman retaining the Ford dealership and moving to 212 Pearl Street. Schaible tore down the wood frame Thorton General Store at the southwest corner of River Street and Michigan Avenue and built a salesroom and garage for the sale of new Buicks. Schaible was active in civic affairs and was Ypsilanti mayor from 1920 to 1922. The Buick dealership continued with a name change to Hall Motor Sales, WJ Pink President, in 1928. Theodore Schaible again became President until 1933 when he last sold Buicks at the corner of River Street and Michigan Avenue. In 1935 he moved his residence to Ann Arbor.

With the Depression still lingering in 1934, 40-42 East Michigan no longer sold new cars and provided automotive service under the name of Dudley Motor Service. In 1937, Harold Dietrich Auto Service serviced cars and occupied the building. Edwin Doran grew up in Detroit, attended Massachusetts Institute of Technology and, in the early 1920s, became personal service representative for William S. Knudsen who was vice president of General Motors and general manager of the Chevrolet Division. In 1938, Schaible’s building became Doran Chevrolet Company and Ypsilanti Motor Sales Incorporated, Roy Wise President and Manager. Doran sold Chevrolets and Wise sold Oldsmobiles. The original show room burned down leading to the construction of a new show room during World War II. At the conclusion of the war in 1945, the corner was entirely Doran Chevrolet Company and, in addition to Chevrolets, sold Oldsmobiles, Buicks, and Cadillacs. Doran was a member of the Michigan and National Automobile Dealers Associations and director of the National Bank of Ypsilanti. He was a member of the American Legion, Ypsilanti Kiwanis Club, Camp Newton Club, and a charter member of the Automobile Oldtimers. Doran Chevrolet closed in 1951 when George Vincent left Shalla Chevrolet in Detroit and bought the Doran franchise. Vincent Chevrolet continued at 40 East Michigan until 1953 when they moved to the newer more modern building at 34-38 East Michigan.

Owning Airport Cab Company, an ambulance service, and the car wash next to the Masonic Temple; Ray Milligan was an entrepreneur of sorts around Ypsilanti. He briefly opened a DeSoto Plymouth dealership at 40 East Michigan in 1954. The also built and used Depot Town’s Thompson Building for manufacturing. His son Oliver was once mayor, his grandson was a member of the school board for three years.

It was Benjamin’s great grandson Joseph who moved his Dodge dealership in Depot Town’s Thompson Building to 20 East Michigan in 1927. Spencer Davis came with him from Depot Town as Vice President. By 1934, the dealership offerings expanded to include Plymouth and Dodge trucks. When dealership closed in 1956. Ray operated the last new car dealship at this corner. The building was later occupied by a fish market.

34–38 East Michigan

With a pent up demand for new cars after World War II, Ralph Gerganoff designed an ultra modern dealership at 34 East Michigan for James Davis, son of Spencer Davis, long time Vice President and salesman for Joseph Thompson Dodge at 20 East Michigan. They first sold for DeSoto and Plymouth. Davis also sold foreign cars in the basement of 34 East Michigan. Next door, at 38 East Michigan, dad Spencer Davis and Herbert Teachout sold for Packard, Crosley, and International Trucks. The DeSoto Plymouth dealership was last known as Richards DeSoto Plym- 1953 - Richards DeSoto Plymouth, 34 East Michigan; Davis Motor Sales, 38 East Michigan 1983 - Serbay Motor Sales, 34 East Michigan, Ray Serbay outh and closed in 1953. Leaving the corner of South River and East Michigan, Vincent Chevrolet moved into 34 East Michigan in 1953 and stayed until 1962 when they moved farther east on Michigan Avenue outside the city limits.

Using the opportunity to move to a newer more modern building, Myron and Ray Serbay moved their Imperial, Chrysler, Plymouth, and Valiant dealership from 6 East Michigan into 34 East Michigan. In 1980, brother Myron got out of the business and Ray dropped the Chrysler franchise and picked up Buick, Datsun (which became Nissan), and GMC trucks. By 1989, the franchise was named Davis Buick, GMC, and Nissan. Not staying the same very long, in 1991 34 East Michigan became Campus Buick, Honda, and GMC trucks with George Davidson as president. With the close of this dealership sometime in the 1990s, the sale of new cars during most of the twentieth Century along this short stretch of the south side of Michigan Avenue ended.


In all, 31 name plates were sold on the south side of Michigan Avenue during the Twentieth Century. The following list summarizes the dealers: Buick, Theo Schaible Garage, 40 – 42 E. Michigan Dodge, Graham Brothers Trucks, Joseph Thompson Incorporated, 20 E. Michigan Buick, Hall Motor Sales, 40 – 42 E. Michigan Hudson, Hudson (& Essex) Sales and Service, Alex Longnecker, 2 E. Michigan Dodge, Plymouth, Dodge Trucks, Joseph Thompson, 20 E. Michigan Packard Motor Sales & Service, Spencer Davis, 22 E. Michigan Doran Chevrolet, Cadillac, Oldsmobile, Edwin Doran, 40 - 42 E. Michigan Oldsmobile, Ypsilanti Motor Sales Inc., Roy Wise, 40 – 42 E. Michigan Packard, Crosley, Ypsilanti Body Shop, Harold Teachout, 38 E. Michigan Richard’s Desoto Plymouth, 34 E. Michigan Ray Milligan DeSoto Plymouth, 40-42 E. Michigan Davis Motor Sales, MG, Jaguar, Moran, Singer, Volkswagen, Renault, Porsche, 38 E. Michigan Avenue Teachout & Spencer, Packard, Crosley, International Truck, Ypsilanti Body Shop, 38 E. Michigan Chapel and Sesi, Ford Tractor, Ypsilanti Tractor Sales, Inc. 20 E. Michigan Sesi Lincoln Mercury, 20 – 22 E. Michigan Serbay Motor Sales, Imperial, Chrysler, Plymouth, Valiant, 2–4 E. Michigan Buick, GMC, Datsun, Campus, 34 E. Michigan It is doubtful if any similar quarter mile in any city could match this retail automotive history. NOTE: Information sources for this report include Ypsilanti Street Directories from the Archives of the Ypsilanti Historical Museum and interviews with Mickey Ichesco, Jack Miller, and Joe Sesi Junior.

The Second Wife

Published In:
Ypsilanti Gleanings, Winter 2011,
Winter 2011
Original Images:

Author: Janet Buchanan

After only eight years of marriage to Kate, his young second wife, Brooks Bowman Hazelton died on December 10, 1899, at their home at 424 Cross Street, Ypsilanti, Michigan. Brooks also left two daughters, nine and seven years older than Kate, who apparently had a questionable relationship with the stepmother as events will show. He was 70 years of age. The cause on his death certificate was noted as “uremia” and “enlargement of prostate.” Brooks was a prominent business man, having been in the lumber business most of his adult life and, at the time of his death, was one of the own- ers of the Ypsilanti Lumber Company.

Less than two years after the death of his first wife, Brooks met and married a very young, Katherine ‘Kate’ J. Schaff, who was born in 1866. Kate was 25 and Brooks was 62! The couple married in Saginaw, Michigan, on November 18, 1891. It may have been a clerk’s error or otherwise, but Brooks’ age is written as 52 on the marriage record. Before her marriage, Kate lived with her parents. There is no record of how or where Brooks and Kate met.

Sarah Ann Lane Hazelton, Brooks’ first wife of over 40 years, had died on January 29, 1890. Two daughters, Mary ‘Ella’ Childs (1857-1941) and Frances ‘Frankie’ Ann Burke (1859-1952), survived her.

The Will:
Brooks’ handwritten Last Will and Testament was dated December 6, 1899. He died four days later. His signature at the bottom of the will is very feeble-looking, making it obvious that he could not have written the will. Who might have, or certainly, who helped to write this obviously legal document, is open to speculation. If a previous will existed, it was never brought forth.

Brooks bequeaths to his wife, Kate, the following:

• an amount of my stock in the Ypsilanti Lumber Company as shall equal the value of the two dwelling houses and lots owned by said company and situated on Cross and Ballard Streets, in the City of Ypsilanti.

• all of my household goods and fur- niture and ornaments and my horse and buggy and its equipment.

• one third of all the rest, and residue of the estate, real, personal, and mixed, of which I shall die seized and possessed, or to which I shall be entitled at my decease.

His two daughters receive:

• the remaining two thirds of my said estate, I give, devise, and bequeath to my daughters, Ella Childs and Frankie Burke, share and share alike, subject however, to the payment of all my debts and funeral expenses including a debt of five hundred dollars which I owe my said wife, Kate J. Hazelton.

Lastly the will states:

• I nominate and appoint my said wife, Kate J. Hazelton, to be the executrix of this my last will and testament.

Kate’s Petition for the Probate of a Will:

The will was “deposited and filed in said Court” before Judge H. Wirt Newkirk, Judge of Probate for Washtenaw County, on December 16, 1899, six days after Brooks died. It was “attested and sub- scribed” by Charles C. Carr and David R. Morford, witnesses. Charles was a nurse, and one assumes he was employed as Brooks’ nurse at the time. David was part-owner of a nearby drug store and was also in the Michigan National Guard with Kate’s brother-in-law, who is mentioned later in this article.

Brooks’ estate was estimated to be worth $25,000 ($600,000 in today’s dollars). In this document, Kate is asking the Court to “appoint a time and place for proving said will, and that due notice thereof be given to all persons interested as the Court shall direct, and that said will may be allowed and admitted to probate, and that admin- istration of said estate may be granted to Kate J. Hazelton the executrix named in said will.” It indicated that along with Kate J. Hazelton (33), Mary Ella Childs (42) and Frankie Burke (40) were possible “persons interested in said estate.” It is signed by Kate J. Hazelton and notarized by Fred W. Green, who was an Assistant Editor to the local newspaper, The Ypsilantian. He was also associated with Mr. Morford and Kate’s brother-in-law in the National Guard.

Things not going smoothly:

About a month later, on January 12, 1900, Ella Childs and Frankie Burke, answered the petition by Kate Hazelton. This docu- ment starts out with wording indicating that the daughters agree with when he died, where he died and the value of the estate. They further agree that Kate is the widow and that they are the daughters of Brooks. BUT, they deny that the deceased left ANY last will and testament, and they DENY that the instrument now on file in the court, the last will and testament IS the last will and testament. They deny that their father executed the will “in his life- time in the manner the same purports to have been executed, and they deny that it was ever executed by the said deceased either under the forms and ceremonies provided by the statute, or otherwise.”

At the time the will is dated, it continues, “or purports to have been executed, the said Brooks B. Hazelton, was of un- sound mind and incapable, by reason of mental weakness, imbecility and disease, of executing any last will and testament whatever.” In other words, he was “insane and incompetent to execute the same” and that he was under “undue influence of said petitioner Kate J. Hazelton, and others to these respondents unknown, but whose names when discovered, these respondents beg leave to have inserted in this provision of this answer.” It continues stating that the will “does not in any wise express the true will and desire of the said Brooks B. Hazelton, in respect to his property and the disposition to be made thereof” It requests that the petition be dismissed. It is notarized by Philip Blum, Jr, Deputy County Clerk for Washtenaw County.

Additional Documents are submitted:
Two “Proof of Probate of Will” forms were submitted on Wednesday, January 17, 1900, five days after the daughters responded to the petitions already sub- mitted. These verified the two witnesses of the will, Charles C. Carr and David R. Morfort, are who they say they are, that they had known Brooks for many years, and that they saw him sign and seal his last will and testament on December 6, 1899. They further state that Mr. Hazelton knew they were signing as witnesses and wanted them to do so. They state that he was over the age of 21 and was of sound mind and under no restraint whatsoever. These are signed by the witnesses mentioned above and “sworn, taken and subscribed before me” by Judge Newkirk.

Certificate of Probate of Will:
This form is dated two months later on March 26, 1900, also signed and wit- nessed by Judge Newkirk, and accepts Kate’s appeal that the Last Will and Testa- ment “approved, allowed, established and have full force and effect as the last Will and Testament of said deceased.” And that “the administration of the estate of said deceased be granted to Kate J. Hazelton, the Executrix in said Will named, who is Two Thousand Dollars, with sufficient sureties, as required by the statute in such case made and provided.”

The Final Agreement:

No other documents connected with the will were located. The final agreement is dated one year to the day after Brooks died, on December 10, 1900, and is be- tween Kate and the daughters, Ella and Frankie, and signed by all, including wit- nesses John P. Kirk, Atty., and George R. Gunn. John Kirk is Kate’s brother-in-law mentioned earlier. He is married to her sister, Mary. Mr. Gunn is a law student. Could he have been an intern at the City Attorney’s office?

One assumes that the daughters wanted to make sure that things were divided fair- ly and probably didn’t want Kate as the executrix and therefore in control of the estate. In particular, they may have been concerned about the personal property. Things were divided differently after the agreement. The will was accepted by all parties. The changes made by the final agreement are summarized here:

* the appeal by the sisters will be dis- missed and the will probated.

* Kate will NOT be the executrix.

* all of Brooks’ debts will be paid by the estate, including $100 for the funeral, Kate will pay any balance. [In 1899, an average funeral cost $80.]

* widow’s allowance will stop on January 1, 1901.

* the rest of the estate will be divided: 1/2 to Kate and 1/4 to each of the daughters, additionally each side will receive 1/2 of the “good” securities and 1/2 of the “bad” securities.

* household goods and furniture will be appraised and turned over to Kate at the appraised value. The daughters will get a few things, divisions to be made by John P. Kirk and Oliver Ainsworth.

Here again, John Kirk’s name appears. Mr. Ainsworth was a local prominent busi- nessman and veteran of the Civil War.

Brooks and Kate:

After their marriage, Brooks lived at vari- ous addresses in Ypsilanti, according to the city directories available. Kate is not listed with him or elsewhere, until the 1899 city directory when they are both residing at 424 W. Cross Street. Were these omis- sions by the editors of the directories or is she living elsewhere but not recorded? Even though they married in late 1891, Brooks resides at a rooming house at 114 E. Congress in the 1892 directory. In the 1895 directory, his residence is 208 Par- sons Street. His lumber company owned the house at 424 W. Cross Street, where he and Kate finally settled. Kate continued to live in this house until her death on No- vember 21, 1950. The land is now part of the campus of St. John’s Catholic Church. A copy of a will for Kate was not found, so how the Church came to own the prop- erty is unclear.

Although Brooks was not Catholic, he is buried with Kate’s family in St. John’s Catholic Cemetery in Ypsilanti. Did this burial site for their father also cause addi- tional friction between the daughters and Kate? Were the daughters consulted? Ella and Frankie are buried in Highland Ceme- tery. There appears to be room in that plot for their father.

in July, 1904, to Alvah P. Ferguson. Al- vah (45) was born in August, 1859, and probably died between the 1920 census, and 1922, when he is no longer listed with her in the city directory. No record can be found of Alvah’s death or burial. Kate never had children.

On the 1900 census for Ann Arbor, Alvah is listed with his first wife, Nellie and chil- dren, Ray and Marjorie. Alvah, over the years, is listed as a blacksmith, traveling salesman, or a manufacturer of carriages, on the censuses. Eventually, he held sever- al patents on carriages and equipment and owned a carriage factory in Ann Arbor. Al- vah was a prosperous businessman, held various county offices during his lifetime, and is listed in the “Portrait and Biograph- ical Album of Washtenaw County, Michi- gan.” He and Nellie divorced sometime between 1900 and when he married Kate in 1904. Did Alvah and Nellie divorce before or after he met Kate? Nellie appears to have had rough times after the divorce. She and the children eventually moved to Los Angeles.

Was Brooks of sound mind when he wrote his will four days before his death? Was there undue influence by the young wife and her family? What were the daughters given from their mother’s estate after her death and before their father’s remarriage? What did the daughters gain by challenging the will?

Most of these questions do not have an answer. Kate was married to Brooks for eight years. It would appear, with the final agreement, that the daughters really wanted more control over how the assets were divided and most likely did not want Kate to be in charge. In fact, it appears they relinquished some inheritance to keep Kate from being named executrix.

The Agreement States in a Paragraph::

It is hereby agreed that the appeal of said second parties from the decision of the Probate Court of Washtenaw County sub- mitting to probate the last will and testa- ment of said Brooks B. Hazelton, shall be dismissed without costs, and that said last will be probated; that the said Kate J. Ha- zelton shall refuse in writing to accept the position as executor of said last will and testament, and that Robert W. Hemphill, shall be appointed administrator with the will annexed, and that for his service he shall be paid by said estate.

This paragraph is rich with emotion. It shows the daughters initiated the “appeal of said second parties,” because the trial court ruled in favor of Kate. We do not know if the trial court ruled to validate the will or to find that Kate's actions as a finduciary were appropriate. The agreement immediately removes Kate form controlling personal property and prevents her from distributing the stock in the lumber company.

We also have to consider whether the daughters brought the litigation out of necessity or greed. The daughters appear to be comfortable both financially and socially. The most effective way to change a will is to bring a lawsuit that moves the parties to settle. It does not necessarily mean a hostile situation, but may just be distrust. We will also never know if Kate was greedy or just didn’t have a good re- lationship with her stepdaughters. The fact that two people are appointed to handle the personal property, might in itself show the importance of the personal property to the daughters, albeit, Kate’s brother-in- law being one of the individuals.

Additional Information:

Attorney John P. Kirk was the City Attor- ney and a Prosecuting Attorney for Ypsi- lanti. He served in the State of Michigan House of Representatives from 1903-04 and was elected mayor of Ypsilanti from 1908-1910. He was a Captain with Co. G, 1st Infantry, Michigan National Guard of the Ypsilanti Light Guard. He was a ma- jor during the Spanish-American War, and later, a general. He died in 1952.

Robert William Hemphill, (1839-1922) was a prominent banker of Ypsilanti, as well as Brooks’ partner in the lumber business.

I wish to say thank you to my fellow writ- ers in the Western Women Writers Group in Phoenix, Arizona, for their support and many contributions. Thank you also to Lynn Keeling, friend, neighbor and law- yer, for her insightful comments about some of the legal aspects of the documents involved. -J. M. B.

Janet (McDougall) Buchanan does obituary searches for heir research and law firms and has done a great deal of re- search on the McDougall and Beckington families.

Photo captions:

Photo 1: Brooks Bowman Hazelton was 62 years old when he married his young second wife, Katherine J. Schaff who was 25

Photo 2: Sarah Ann Hazelton was Brooks’ first wife of over 40 years. She died on January 29, 1890

Photo 3: Frances Ann Hazelton, daughter of Brooks and Sarah Ann Hazelton, was born in 1859 and died in 1952

Photo 4: Mary Ella Hazelton, daughter of Brooks and Sarah Ann Hazelton, was born in 1857 and died in 1941

The Bomber Restaurant

Published In:
Ypsilanti Gleanings, Spring 2011,
Spring 2011
Original Images:

Spring 2011

Author: James Mann

There are places that seem to have always been around, that warm comfortable chair, the never changing view out the window and the people who always give a greeting when someone enters the door. One such place is the Bomber Restaurant at 306 East Michigan Avenue which seems the same, but has changed over the years.

Florence Baldwin opened her restaurant in 1936, and called it the Baldwin Diner. Florence had just separated from her husband and opened her diner to compete with his Averill’s Diner just down the block (Note: see Lost Restaurants of Ypsilanti article in Fall – 2010 issue of the Gleanings). Back then the Baldwin Diner was the quintessential diner, with the big horseshoe shaped counter at the back, and the cooks used a coal burner. Those were the days when a hot beef sandwich was 15 cents and a pork chop dinner was 25 cents.

Then came the years of the Second World War when the bomber plant opened at Willow Run, where Ford built the B-24 Liberator Bomber. To operate the plant, Ford brought in workers from Kentucky and Tennessee. Ypsilanti changed from a sleepy college town to a factory town seemingly over night. Florence changed the name of her diner to the Bomber and made the out of state workers feel welcomed. She added to the menu items that would appeal to the workers, such as beans with cornbread, red-eye gravy and Southern-style grits. On the window was the image of a fighter plane, with unlikely shaped wings. The Bomber was filled with hungry workers at all hours of the day and night. She kept the place running in spite of war time rationing.

After the war Florence’s son Yale “Red” Averill joined his mother in the business as a partner. Florence retired in 1976 and died in 1978. Red Averill sold the business in 1976. The new owners renamed the business Bob’s Bar B-Q.

The restaurant was purchased in November of 1989 by Joseph Nellis, a local pharmacist. He hung a sign in the window: “The Bomber is Back.” Nellis restored the name and began to remodel the interior on a World War II theme. The decorating included flags and photographs from the war years.

Then on December 21, 1989, just weeks after Nellis purchased the business, the building was gutted by fire. The restaurant had opened at 5:00 am that morning. The deep fryer started to emit smoke and was turned off, but the switch failed to work, and smoke continued to emit from the fryer. The fire was doused with a fire extinguisher, and the fire would seem to go out for a few minutes and then flame up again. Unable to contain the blaze, the flames spread from the kitchen.

Traffic on Michigan Ave. was rerouted for several hours because of the fire. Firefighters had trouble staying on their feet, as water sprayed on the fire turned to ice in the below-zero cold. The loss to the fire was estimated at $100,000.

The Bomber reopened after repairs were completed and improvements made to the building. The once narrow space was now wider and more open. Tables no longer had one leg shorter than the others, and new booths replaced the ones destroyed in the fire. The place ended up with pink walls, a Kelly green carpet, flowers on the tables and big wooden spindle-backed armchairs at the tables and counter. The regulars came back and new patrons came in the door.

Johanna McCoy and John Sebestyen purchased the Bomber in 1995, and continued the use of the name and the history. They painted the walls, hung new curtains, installed a new ceiling and made changes to the menu. In keeping with the 1940’s theme, patrons began bringing in model airplanes of the war years, as well as photographs of B-24’s, Willow Village, as well as other items, including uniforms and a hand grenade. The model planes now hang from the ceiling in simulated flight above the tables. On the walls are the photographs, rifles, posters and other items.

The Bomber restaurant made history of its own in 2003, when the Food Network showcased the Bomber Breakfast on a program about over the top portions. The Bomber Breakfast includes four eggs, a pound of potatoes and a pound of meat. This is the perfect meal to share with friends.

Today the Bomber is a part of the lives of those who stop in for breakfast or lunch, and many have been doing so for years. The regulars come in and expect to sit in the same chair in the same spot every time. There are the coffee groups who come in and sit at one of the tables to sip coffee and talk. The place has become a part of the personal history of the patrons. The Bomber will continue to have a history for as long as those patrons come for the coffee, the food and the company.

John Sebestyen, co-owner of The Bomber, died on January 26, 2011. All his friends from The Bomber miss him. Johanna McCoy, who co-owned and managed The Bomber, with John still runs the restaurant. The history of The Bomber continues.

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

Photo Captions:

Photo 1: The front window of the Bomber Restaurant shortly after Florence Baldwin changed the name from the Baldwin Diner.

Photo 2: After World War II Florence Baldwin’s son Yale “Red” Averill joined his mother in the business as a partner.

Photo 3: John Sebestyen was co-owner of The Bomber beginning in 1995 until his death on January 26, 2011.

The Humble Hobby Shop

Published In:
Ypsilanti Gleanings, Spring 2011,
Spring 2011
Original Images:

Spring 2011

Author: Derek Spinei

In the 1940s, Ypsilanti was home to one of the tiniest businesses in the state of Michigan. Terence S. Vincent’s hobby shop at 103 ½ North Washington was 4.5 ft by 10 ft. with a 12 ft. ceiling. No one seems to know where he came from, but according to a 1947 Detroit Free Press article he moved to Ypsilanti and opened his business because “it’s a good way to retire” and keep up interest in persons and events. In a former life he was a newspaper man, having written 2,000 one-page stories and 400 radio transcripts. He continued writing accounts of his neighborhood while sitting in the shop waiting for customers.

To say he was an eccentric is an understatement. He was known to promote the sale of box kites for “kite fishing,” whereby he would use a kite to drag fishing lines across the water while he relaxed on the bank. However his real specialty was “travelcraft,” as he called things that go. A 1947 advertisement stated:

Terence Vincent’s Aircraft Are “Easy To Make - Sure to Fly For Beginners”
Balsa - Wire - Cement - Dope - Boats - Wagons - Model Airplanes - Knives and Blades - Tissue - Thinner - Engines (Gas, Diesel, CO2) - Fuel.

Few business ventures can function in so small a space. Prior to the hobby shop, it served as a news stand and in the 1930s it was a taxi stand for the Wolverine Cab Company. More recently the space was part of Carty’s Music until the commercial buildings on the northwest corner of Washington and Pearl Streets were demolished for an entrance to a parking lot in the late 1980s or early 1990s.

As for Mr. Vincent, he seems to have slipped through the cracks of history. After residing in a modest old house at 501 North Hamilton Street, he quietly disappears from the public record in the 1950s, with no evidence in the archives as to when he passed away or where he is buried. At least we know that for a short time he was able to bring joy to the children of Ypsilanti and enjoy his final years.

(Derek Spinei is a student in the graduate program in Historical Preservation at EMU and is serving an internship in the YHS Archives.)

Photo Captions:

Photo 1: Terence Vincent standing in the doorway of his hobby shop.

Photo 2: Terence Vincent outside his hobby shop demonstrating how to fly a kite to potential customers.

Photo 3: Terence Vincent demonstrating how to assemble one of the kits sold in his hobby shop.
Photo 4: In a former life Vincent was a newspaper man and he continued to write stories about his neighborhood as he sat in his shop waiting for customers.

Photo 5: Children looking at the window display in the front door of Vincent’s hobby shop.

Lost Businesses of Ypsilanti - Zwergel’s on West Cross Street

Published In:
Ypsilanti Gleanings, Winter 2010,
Winter 2010
Original Images:

Winter 2010

Author: Peg Porter

If you attended Roosevelt, the “lab school” of MSNC, later EMU, chances are you remember Zwergel's. Like most other Roosevelt students you likely made regular visits to Zwergel’s during the lunch hour. Out the door, down the street past Pease Auditorium, around the corner and up the worn cement steps, and there close to the door on the right stood the candy counter. Oh, the decisions to be made. Would you like a rope of licorice or perhaps a piece of Double Bubble bubblegum? How about a jaw breaker? Were you up to handling a Fireball? And if you had more than a couple of pennies you could choose a candy bar or a package of Chuckles. So many choices!

Zwergel’s wasn’t in business to sell penny candy. Yet one of the clerks stood behind the counter patiently waiting for us to choose. We were never pressured nor treated like a minor nuisance (which we probably were). We headed back to school ready to begin the second half of the school day.

J. George Zwergel was born in 1851, to German immigrants, in Freedom Township, Washtenaw County. The family had settled in the County in the 1840’s. J. George left the family farm at age 22 to enter commercial life. He clerked for the John C. Liken Company in two different locations learning the trade. In 1896 he bought a lot in Ypsilanti on Cross Street where he built his store, just across the street from what was then the main campus. Zwergel’s sold books and school supplies as well as groceries and dry goods. For a time, Zwergel also operated an ice cream parlor. The business prospered. His prime location became the campus stop for the Interurban. Passengers would wait on the steps of Zwergel's for their car likely having made a stop at the store first.

Active in city affairs, Zwergel served as alderman for the Third Ward in 1902 and 1903. He was president of the City Council and Chairman of Ways and Means during his two terms. He died in 1915. Upon his passing, his daughter Mary, who had been clerking at the store, took over the business which she managed until her death in 1944. During her tenure the business expanded to include a beauty shop run by her niece Helen Zwergel Bassett. Prior to taking over the store Mary completed a year’s course in Cleary College and worked as a bookkeeper at the telephone company.

The following was written in the January 1, 1932, issue of the Ypsilanti Daily Press: “Miss Mary Zwergel, who heads four business enterprises at 616 and 618 West Cross Street is looking forward to improved conditions in 1932 even though the depression failed to make an appreciable difference in her sales. She is proprietor of Zwergel’s (the store at the Normal), Zwergel’s Beauty and Gift Shoppe, and Zwergel’s grocery and meat market.”

The location and the store’s reputation for customer service combined to create a very successful business that would last for many years. As the college, then University, expanded all around the store, the corner property eventually was acquired by the University, the store was demolished and the grounds of Pease Auditorium were extended to Cross Street.
I have not looked to see if there is any sort of marker to designate where Zwergel’s once stood. If there isn’t, there should be for the store was a vital part of campus and city life for almost 100 years.

(Peg Porter grew up in Ypsilanti and is the Assistant Editor of the Gleanings.)

Photo Captions:

Photo 1: George Zwergel outside The Normal Book Store just after the turn of the Century.

Photo 2: Newly constructed Roosevelt School (c1927). The sidewalk in the foreground leads to Cross Street.

Photo 3: An ad for “Holeproof Hosiery” from Zwergel’s at the Normal.

Photo 4: An ad for “Fresh Meats” from Zwergel’s, The Store at the Normal.

Photo 5: The front cover of Zwergel’s Beauty Review that was published in 1940.

"Cash for Clunkers"

Published In:
Ypsilanti Gleanings, Fall 2009,
Fall 2009
Original Images:

Author: Laura Bien

The current “Cash for Clunkers” program had a Depression-era predecessor called the “Na- tional Used Car Exchange Week.” Created by automakers in 1938, the promotion was meant to ease the glut of used cars clogging dealer- ships. Then, as now, people frightened by the economic climate were hanging on to their old cars, which stifled dealership turnover.

Edsel Ford, GM’s William Knudsen, and Chrysler’s K. T. Keller met with Roosevelt in January of 1938. Afterwards, Ford sales manager John Davis contacted Automobile Manufacturers Association president Alvan Macauley, to say the plan was greenlighted. From Manhattan, Macauley announced that U.S. automakers would spend over a million dollars to promote March 5-12, 1938 as “National Car Exchange Week.” The plan included a one-week campaign of billboard, radio and newspaper ads promoting the exchange of one’s old car for a newer used one.

“National Car Exchange Week” first appears in the February 28, 1938 Ypsilanti Daily Press, with the headline, “Advertising to Break Auto Jam.” The article says, “The American automobile industry moved as a unit for the first time in history today in an effort to beat the business recession with one of the great- est advertising campaigns of all time. The industry … announced Sunday that it will spend $1,250,000 [almost 19 million dollars in today’s money] in a single week to break the used car jam that has been blamed for the collapse of the market for 1938 model cars.”

On March 1, another story appeared. “Edsel Ford, William Knudsen, and K. T. Keller today threw the weight of the motor industry’s ‘big three’ behind the $1,250,000 advertising campaign to end the business recession by breaking the jam of used cars in the stocks of dealers. . . Ford, a “second generation” man of a motor family that has been known for its independent action, spoke of the industry as a whole, saying: “The one great contribution the automobile industry made to the nation in its efforts to throw off the last Depression was its demonstration of courage in the face of adversity. That same fearlessness is evident today as a united industry moves forward to start the wheels rolling again.”

By March 2, the Ypsilanti community had made plans. “Local Car Dealers Take Part in National Drive,” read one Press headline. “Yp- silanti auto dealers meeting at the Huron Ho- tel Thursday unanimously agreed to cooperate with manufacturers and 46,000 other dealers throughout the United States in a campaign to break the used car jam and to aid in sound recovery from the current business recession.” A parade was planned, and the Daily Press printed a mayoral proclamation:

“Whereas, a concerted movement to stimulate used car sales and pave the way for a resumption of automobile manu- facturing and employment on a normal basis has been inaugurated by the Ameri- can automobile industry, and, Whereas, the business interests of Ypsilanti have pledged their enthusiastic cooperation to this campaign, and, Whereas, the “Drive- A-Better-Car” movement will make an important contribution to motoring safety in Ypsilanti, now, Therefore, I hereby proclaim the week of March 5 to 12 National Used Car Exchange Week and urge the cooperation of all citizens in insuring its success. Witness my Hand and Seal, Ray H. Burrell, Mayor.”

In the same paper, a cartoon titled “AN- CHORS OR WINGS?” boosted the pro- gram. In the first panel, an antiquated old car is dragging a ship’s anchor. “Holy smoke, Myrt,” says the driver, “what’s got into this moss-grown tub? We’re shovelin’ out the price of a summer trip for gas, oil, and repairs!” In the next panel, a sleek new car appears. “Baby, what National Used Car Exchange Week did for us! More room—steel body—safety brakes—big tires—smooth engine. Looks like we’re in the dough, but most of the dough is still in my pocket!”

Ypsi’s E. G. Wiedman Auto Company, at 212 Pearl St and 15 E. Michigan, ran an ad touting used car bargains. Prices ranged from $275 for a Ford DeLuxe Tudor Sedan to $795 for a Lincoln-Zephyr Fordor Sedan (these prices, in 2009 dollars, would be $4,000 and $12,000 respectively).

On Saturday, the campaign’s opening day, the city woke up to ice and snow. Nevertheless, the parade went on as planned, featuring the Girls’ Drum and Bugle Corps and the Ypsilanti High School Band, along with a procession of some sample used cars, washed and polished, from dealerships across town. Despite the weather, the day was a success: $10,000 (about $151,000 today) in sales at Ypsi dealerships was reported.

By Tuesday, “first reports indicated marked increases in the sales of used cars,” said the Daily Press. “H. H. Shuart, manager of the Detroit Auto Dealers Association said dealers had reported last weekend’s business as the best in six months and that sales showed increases of 100 to 300 per cent. He said similar reports had “Cash for Clunkers” in the 1930s! continued from page 6 been received from dealers in other cities.”

The Wednesday paper quoted John Lonskey, president of Ypsi metalworking firm the Central Specialty Company. “In Ypsilanti alone, this will directly affect six factories with increased orders, meaning more employment and more money circulating in the city.

The paper continued, “In illustration of this Mr. Lonskey explained that in the case of the Central Specialty Co. there has been a drop in employment of 365 workers since the peak employment of last year when 850 men and women were employed. The emergency purchase of used cars throughout the country will result in putting automobile factories and related industries in operation everywhere with, in some cases, a 60 per cent or greater increase in demand for parts and equipment, he estimated. Many of these parts are made in this city.”

By the end of the week, National Used Car Exchange Week was deemed a success. Fifty- five old cars had been turned in by those who purchased newer ones, and a total of $18,000 worth of newer used cars had been sold. Ypsilanti dealers were so pleased with the results they planned to petition the state to mount another sales campaign in the future, this time by declaring 1932 model year cars as “marginal.” In the meantime, the 55 Ypsilanti drivers behind the wheels of their new used cars had done their part to help get the local economy moving again.

(Laura Bien is a volunteer in the YHS Archives, author of the Daily Diary Blog, and a regular contributor to the Gleanings.)

Photo captions:

Photo 1: Ford Dealer newspaper ad for “National Used Car Exchange Week” in 1938.

Photo 2: E. G. Wiedman Auto Company newspaper ad was part of the 1938 “National Used Car Exchange Week.”

Photo 3: 1938 “Exchange Week” ad sponsored by the Automobile Dealers and Manufacturers of the United States.

Gone But Not Forgotten: Ypsilanti Area Dairies

Published In:
Ypsilanti Gleanings, Spring 2009,
Spring 2009
Original Images:

Author: Pamela German and Veronica Robinson

Early in Ypsilanti’s history, many families kept cows to furnish their families with milk and butter. As the Midwest began the process of industrialization and more citizens went to work in specialized labor, Ypsilanti’s dairies came to the fore, delivering milk in horse-drawn wagons. In 1851 Ypsilanti dairies produced over 40,000 pounds of butter.

By 1892, a group of farmers founded the Ypsilanti Dairy Association in order to cooperatively improve both their products and their marketing strategies. The Association was located on Spring and Race Street, southeast of downtown Ypsilanti. These farmers sold most of their products locally, and according to a 1942 newspaper, any surplus was sent to Detroit and cities on the east coast.

Joseph Warner, an employee of the Ypsilanti Dairy Association from 1897 to 1898, owned about a half-dozen cows of his own and in 1914 founded the Warner Dairy. In 1934 Warner’s business was worth about two million dollars and by 1942, they had absorbed another area dairy – the Lewis Creamery.

1930 saw the founding of the Ypsilanti Dairy by Fredrick J. Peters Sr., who originally trained as a plumber. His two sons, Fred Jr., and Art as well as his daughter, Bernadine helped run the dairy, performing office and delivery duties. Eventually, the dairy began producing ice cream products in addition to milk, coffee cream, buttermilk and chocolate milk.

According to the 1923 Washtenaw Post, 42 different milk dealers supplied Ypsilanti with butter, milk, cottage cheese and various other dairy products.

In the 1950s and 1960s, it became more and more difficult for small dairies to sustain their business due to competition with larger corporations, increasing suburbanization of the U.S. population and rising land values. Many of the Ypsilanti dairy owners found other employment including Fred Peters of the Ypsilanti Dairy which closed in 1965. Though these icons of another era no longer exist in great quantity, they continue to exist in the collective memory of Ypsilanti as a large part of our heritage.

Gone But Not Forgotten - Spotlight on Bella Vista Dairy: Bella Vista Farms was founded in 1922 by Ferdinand “Fred” Palma Sr. It was located at 1084 South Huron Street in Ypsilanti. His son, Fred Palma Jr., ran the farm after his father became ill in 1934 and continued after his father’s death in 1938.

According to a 1954 advertisement in the Ypsilanti Courier, Bella Vista Farms covered 465 acres. It was a certified dairy, and also had one of only three certified herds in the state of Michigan. At the time of the article, the herd at Bella Vista numbered 150 strong. In order to operate the farm there were twelve buildings on the land set aside for dairy production including four cow barns for the herd. The dairy had twelve employees whose work was dedicated to caring for the herd. The employees lived on the land in one of the five buildings reserved exclusively for them.

Bella Vista produced a variety of goods for sale and delivery in the local community. During World War II, the dairy delivered to Willow Run Village. Some of the products available for purchase included: homogenized vitamin D milk, pasteurized milk, chocolate milk, coffee cream, whipping cream, cottage cheese, buttermilk, yogurt, skimmed milk and an orange drink.

By 1981, the dairy and the remainder of its land were sold off to Morgan-Mitsubishi Corporation, a New York state developer. The dairy had already been parceled off, and the developer purchased the remaining 130 acres. The buildings that remained were set afire on September 14, 1981 in a controlled burn managed by several local fire departments. Today where Bella Vista Farms once stood, modern development now resides. As you drive by the McDonald’s and the nearby stores, you can imagine the once proud dairy that operated on site. It may be gone, but it is not forgotten.

(Pamela German and Veronica Robinson are graduate students in the Historical Preservation Program at Eastern Michigan University and serve as interns in the YHS Museum and Archives.)

Photo Captions:

Photo 1: The Ypsilanti Dairy Association barn.
Photo 2: The Warner Dairy in 1928, located at 1024 W. Michigan Avenue.
Photo 3: A Parade float for the Lewis Creamery.
Photo 4: Bella Vista Farms used to occupy 465 acres along South Huron.
Photo 5: Bella Vista Dairy delivery trucks covered the region in the 1940s.
Photo 6: A Bella Vista Dairy milk bottling line in 1948.

Gone, but Not Forgotten

Published In:
Ypsilanti Gleanings, Winter 2008,
Winter 2008
Original Images:

Author: Pamela German and Veronica Robinson

The greater Ypsilanti area has a long history of innovation in business and industry. Much of this history has been captured in the Archives of the Ypsilanti Historical Society so that present and future generations will not forget our past. This article is the first in a series that will feature some of the Ypsilanti area businesses and organizations from earlier years that may no longer be around, but will surely not be forgotten.

Mack and Mack Furniture: Once located at 211 West Michigan Avenue in downtown Ypsilanti, the Mack and Mack Furniture store was in business for 108 years. A Scottish cabinetmaker, William McAndrew, moved to the United States around 1850 and settled in Rawsonville, but soon moved to Ypsilanti. It was in Ypsilanti that he began the furniture company. His wife, Elizabeth McAndrew, was Washtenaw County’s first female physician.

McAndrew started a furniture business with a man named Captain Stanley at 125 W. Michigan Avenue. A year later, William Clarke bought Stanley’s share in the company. Shortly thereafter, Clarke and McAndrew took on a third partner, James M. Wallace and began employing McAndrew’s son Thomas as an upholsterer. The business prospered for several years, but with the rise in popularity of machine-made furniture in the early 1870s, McAndrew retired from furniture making.

In 1876, Thomas W. McAndrew, William’s son and George McElcheran bought the business and it officially became Mack and Mack. This partnership lasted for 30 years until McElcheran’s retirement when Thomas’ son, Atwood, took an active role in the business.

Atwood McAndrew Jr., grandson of Thomas, was the last generation to mind the store. In 1976 Mack and Mack Furniture was honored by the Washtenaw County Historical Society for being the oldest business in Washtenaw County still in its original location. After three generations of ownership, due to economic changes in Ypsilanti, Mack and Mack closed its doors in 1985. The first tenant in the building after the furniture store closed was the First Savings Bank.

Cornwell Paper Mill: The Cornwell Paper Mill was the first paper mill located in Ypsilanti and is considered the beginning of the paper industry in Washtenaw County. Though other companies had produced paper within Washtenaw County boundaries, the Cornwell Mill was the first large-scale enterprise. Records indicate that Cornelius Cornwell in either in 1855 or 1856 built the mill, with significant investment from Mrs. H.W. Larzelere and Mr. VanCleve. By 1863 both had sold their shares to Cornwell who then became sole owner.

The Cornwell Paper Company manufactured newsprint at a rate of 3.5 to 4 tons per day. Purchasers included the Chicago Times, Detroit Post, and Detroit Tribune. The mill operated on water power, used a 30 horsepower steam engine as a backup generator, and was lit by gas that was manufactured on the grounds.

A series of fires made work in the mill quite dangerous. On January 14, 1876, at noon, a boiler exploded killing two workers and injuring another. The explosion was caused by a faulty steam gauge, which misread the boiler pressure, allowing it to build to disastrous levels. The boiler flew nearly 180 feet into the air. A local paper reported that many nearby residents felt the explosion and thought it was an earthquake. The damage cost to the Cornwell family, the owners of the mill, was around $10,000. The Peninsular Paper Company opened soon after, and the Cornwell Paper Mill was no longer the only paper mill in the city.

Dixboro General Store: The Dixboro General Store was located in nearby Dixboro on 5210 Plymouth Road. Its time of construction is disputed, but most sources say it was built between 1840 and the 1860. A later wing addition was added onto the store in 1924. The structure served as a general store for most of its early years, but later it also operated as a post office and antique store. Several different people have owned and operated businesses within the building. In 1980 the building was designated a state historic site and a sign indicative of this honor was placed at its location. The last store to operate in the original building closed in 1989.

The Ypsilanti Hay Press Company: Frank T. Newton started the Ypsilanti Hay Press Company in 1907. The company was located on Forest Street just east of the railroad tracks. The claim was made that the facility was the “Largest Factory in the World devoted exclusively to the manufacture of Hay Presses.”

The Ypsilanti plant specialized in belt-powered presses that were available with wood or steel frames to suit the purchaser. The 1910 offerings of the Wolverine Balers included a number of sizes including 14x18, 16x18, 17x22, and 18x22, so that baler operators could regulate the length of their desired bales.

In 1912, the Ypsilanti Hay Press Company was also building tractors with the Wolverine name that utilized 18, 25 and 35 horsepower engines. Each tractor had a sliding gear transmission and a pair of forward speeds off a two cylinder opposed engine.

Frank Newton moved to Ypsilanti in 1890 with his wife Ella and lived at 110 Park Street until 1931 when they moved to 216 South Huron Street. He was first employed as a teacher but left to become an agent of the Union Central Life Insurance Company and later an agent for Equitable Life Insurance Company of New York. In 1898 he joined with John S. Haggerty, a former Secretary of State, to found the Newton and Haggerty Ladder Company in Detroit. The ladder company moved to Ann Arbor in 1907.

Newton served four years as the Sheriff of Washtenaw County, was elected to the Michigan State Senate from the 12th District, and served as a Director of the Ypsilanti Savings Bank. At the time of his death, in 1931, he was the U.S. Marshall for the Eastern District of Michigan.

The Ypsilanti Reed & Fibre Furniture Company: The Ypsilanti Reed and Fibre Furniture Company was established in Ypsilanti in 1901, and was headquartered here until 1903. In 1904 the company moved to Ionia and remained there under the same name until 1942. It was known for its maple and rattan furniture. “The beauty of design and workmanship of Ypsilanti Furniture is due to the years of training of the men and women who produce it.” (1922 Good Housekeeping Ad)

During its peak in the 1920’s and 30’s the Ypsilanti Reed & Fibre Furniture Company carried its unique and skillful designs across the globe. By 1938, it was the largest manufacturer in Ionia, with over 2,400 employees. Its new sales manager that year was Don R. Mitchell. At its most successful point, the Reed and Fibre Furniture Company owned a processing plant in Singapore as well as showrooms in Manhattan and Chicago. The designers included Donald Deskey, who created his own line of rattan furniture that became known as the Ypsilanti “Flekrom” line.

In 1942, the Ypsilanti Reed and Fibre Furniture Company became the Ionia Manufacturing Company and under Don Mitchell’s leadership their revenue increased to a peak of $6.5 million in 1943. The company employed over 10,000 skilled craftsmen in 1949. In the 1950’s the Ionia Manufacturing Company developed a replacement prototype for the World War II Jeep, but their design wasn’t selected. They lost the bid to Ford, Hupp and Willys.

It was in 1953 that the last remnants of the original Ypsilanti Reed & Fibre Furniture Company was lost, as the newer Ionia Manufacturing Company was absorbed into the Mitchell-Bentley Corporation as a subsidiary part.

(Pamela German and Veronica Robinson are graduate interns from the Historical Preservation Program at Eastern Michigan University assigned to the Museum and Archives.)

Photo Captions:

Photo 1: Mack & Mack Furniture used to be located at 211 W. Michigan Ave.
Photo 2: Mack & Mack Furniture was in business for 108 and finally closed in 1985.
Photo 3: The Cornwell Paper Mill was the first large-scale paper manufacturer in Washtenaw County.
Photo 4: Damage to the Cornwell Mill after the 1876 boiler explosion.
Photo 5: The Dixboro General Store has been the site of many businesses, including the antiques store pictured above.
Photo 6: The Wolverine Baler was manufactured by the Ypsilanti Hay Press Company.
Photo 7: The Ypsilanti Hay Press Company on East Forest Street was advertised as the “Largest Factory in the World devoted exclusively to the manufacture of hay presses.”
Photo 8: In 1912 three sizes of the Wolverine Tractor were manufactured by the Ypsilanti Hay Press Company.
Photo 9: Frank T. Newton died in 1932 and is buried in Highland Cemetery.
Photo 10: Advertisement for the Ypsilanti Reed and Fibre Furniture Company.
Photo 11: A reed fern stand from a Reed and Fibre Furniture Company catalogue.

Vajen-Bader Smoke Protector Loaned to Firehouse Museum

Published In:
Ypsilanti Gleanings, Fall 2008,
Fall 2008
Original Images:

Author: Alvin Rudisill

The Vajen-Bader smoke protector owned by the YHS Museum has been placed on permanent loan to the Firehouse Museum. The smoke protector was found in storage in the basement of the Museum and a decision was made to loan it to the Firehouse Museum where it can be placed on permanent display. The smoke protector was patented by the Vajen-Bader company in the late 1800s.

The 1896 Vajen-Bader catalog had the following description of the protector: “The wearer of the Vajen helmet can see through eye-pieces that were guarded by cross wires. Over his ears the plates of the helmet are constructed as to furnish him with an artificial tympanum, rendering his hearing even more distinct than natural. There is a whistle in the front bottom part of the helmet which is a means of calling and signaling. On top of the helmet there is a strong cushion protecting the head from falling debris. This helmet enables the firemen to venture into thick smoke without fear of suffocation.”

The next time you visit the Firehouse Museum make sure you search out the Vajen-Bader smoke protector.

(Al Rudisill is the editor of The Gleanings and President of the YHS.)

Photo Captions:

Photo 1: The Vajen-Bader smoke protector loaned to the Firehouse Museum.
Photo 2: Front view of the smoke protector.
Photo 3: Rear view of the smoke protector.
Photo 4: Early ad for the smoke protector.

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