The Fullerton House at 111 East Forest

Published In:
Ypsilanti Gleanings, Spring 2005,
Spring 2005
Original Images:

Author: Marcia D. Phillips

On June 23, 1926 Katharine (Kitty) Van Guten, an Ohioan and a new graduate of Michigan State Normal College, married local boy Frank Lidke of Ypsilanti. (1)

Where would they build their new, and ultimately only, family home? The lot location was an easy choice-down the street from Frank's family on Forest Avenue was a newly available property. Frederick Swaine who lived on the comer of Forest and River Street had recently torn down the malt factory he had operated on the lot adjoining his family residence (Prohibition having pretty much decimated that business enterprise). But what would they build? Frank hailed from a family of carpenters who would supply the labor for the newlyweds' home but the materials would come up the hill after arriving at the depot straight from Sears, Roebuck and Company. I like to imagine Frank and Kitty pouring over the 1926 Sears catalogue and I always wonder what made them decide on the “Fullerton”, the kit home they ordered and built in 1927, lived in the rest of their lives, and which still stands at 111 East Forest Avenue as the Phillips' Home.

Sears began selling homes in its catalogue in 1908, primarily as a means to display and advertise its furniture and other home appliances and accessories. (2)

It also had to compete in a business begun here in Michigan by Aladdin Homes of Bay City which discovered it was increasingly shipping lumber to the western railroad depots, suspiciously ordered in precut lengths consistent with house construction. (3)

After Aladdin began to sell the whole house as a “kit” (a perfect marriage with and logical next step from the pattern books of the nineteenth century), the idea spawned many other companies to capitalize on the home building boom by offering affordable housing and a mortgage. Aladdin operated the longest (from 1906 to 1982) but Sears sold the most homes in its thirty-two year foray in the business (estimated at over 100,000 though no exact records exist), stopping only after the Great Depression made it no longer economically profitable (and foreclosures proved bad PR) (4)

But from 1908 until 1940, Sears offered over 400 different models under its Modem Homes promotion. Known as “Honor Bilt Ready Cut House” after World War I, it featured balloon frame homes that cut the hours of labor required in half. (5)

The “Fullerton” built on the 40-foot-wide lot on East Forest not only represented the simple, city dwellings showing up across the Midwest but reflected the desire for uniquely American designs, like the Bungalow and, in this case, the Foursquare. Consistent with the strong, simple lines of the Craftsman movement, the box shaped Foursquare belongs almost exclusively to the first three decades of the twentieth century in period of construction. This manifestation of the design in the Fullerton built at 111 East Forest is typical of the two-story, cube shape with an overhanging hip roof and dormer. Because the Foursquare is actually a house type, the exterior style elements varied according to taste but the best ones were, again like this one, in keeping with the strong, natural lines associated with the offspring of the Arts and Crafts movement. Almost universal to the style is the porch that spans the width of the front facade. The Fullerton deviates slightly with the most common floor plan of four rooms, one per a corner, in that the front room on the first floor extends across the width of the house. But from the exterior, the practical, sturdy lines of the American Foursquare are unmistakable.

Perhaps those very qualities convinced Frank and Kitty Lidke to choose this model. The straightforward information in the catalogue described quality and value in everything from maximum use of floor space to the materials used, like Douglas Fir and high grade millwork (see illustration on page 6). Maybe they were sold by the artistic renditions of the interior rooms (See illustration on page 7). (It should be stated that artistic license was also used to make the rooms appear larger than they are.) No doubt the price of $2,294 was attractive. The Lidkes so loved their home that they made only one major alteration (the application of the exterior asphalt faux brick siding in the 1940's) during the next sixty years they lived there. Even the interior remained the same, including the Sears furniture purchased along with the house (unfortunately the furniture disappeared along with the original blueprints and instructions in the interim between their ownership and ours).

The best scenarios for the preservation of a historic home are the two extremes, loving protection and total neglect. This Fullerton had both in the care of the Lidkes and the neglect (bordering on abuse) of the interim owners. When we first saw it in 1999, it had suffered many broken window panes but none of the interior original features had been removed or even painted. Although we immediately fell in love with the charm of the house, when the realtor mentioned that he thought it was a Sears kit home, my husband and I were sold. Further information from our neighbors in the old Swaine home, Bob and Jan Anschuetz who knew the Lidkes, confirmed the fact. We researched and found a copy of the original catalogue advertisement and later discovered stamped numbers (A148) on the attic boards, consistent with the Sears plan. Glenn Lidke, son of the original owners, has also been very helpful in supplying pictures and information about the early years of the home's history.

When we purchased the home, it appeared to be a dark red brick due to the siding (see photo inset on page 4). During the five years we have lived there, our changes have been mostly landscaping and interior, such as painting, electrical upgrades, etc. However, in the summer of 2004, we had the roof replaced and proceeded to restore the exterior walls. We removed the asphalt siding and nails, cleaned and repaired the wood, applied putty to over 10,000 nail holes, and primed and painted it close to the original color. The original Sears horizontal clapboard was in remarkably good shape.

The appearance of the house today is very much like the Fullerton of 1927 (see photo on page 4). It is two stories with an attic dormer, shingled with cedar shakes. One variation from the catalogue version is the presence of battered brick piers and wall on the porch instead of the wooden one pictured. The two side wooden posts do match the original. A rod iron support post has been added on the middle pier at an undetermined date. The wide steps on the right are in keeping with the asymmetrical front door common in Foursquares. The original 10 pane door and double hung windows (multiple panes on top, single on bottom) complete the exterior look. The interior features original Sears elements like light fixtures, woodwork and floors, and kitchen cabinets and sink.

The Likes made a great choice with the Sears Fullerton. It has stood the test of time and remains a wonderful family home today.


1. Ypsilanti Press, 20 November 1986.

2. Presentation of Michael W. R. Davis, at the Ypsilanti District Library's “Historic Homes” Series, 20 January 2004.

3. Ibid.

4. Ibid.

5. Robert Schweitzer and Michael W. R. Davis, America's Favorite Homes (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1990), 67.


Davis, Michael W. R. “Historic Homes” Series Presentation at Ypsilanti 20 January 2004.

Small Houses of the Twenties. An Unabridged Reprint of The Sears, Roe Catalog. New York: Dover. 1991.

Schweitzer, Robert and Michael W. R. Davis. America's Favorite Home Wayne State University Press. 1990.

Ypsilanti Press. 20 November 1986.


Published In:
Ypsilanti Gleanings, Summer 2004,
Summer 2004
Original Images:

The Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company grocery advertisement of May 18, 1931. There were four neighborhood locations listed for A & P in Ypsilanti that year, they were:

30 E. Cross St.
35 N. Huron St.
115 W. Michigan Ave.
103 N. Washington St.

Grocery stores, starting in the 1920's were forming into “chain store” type organizations as a way of maximizing their purchasing power, thus lowering prices to their customers and driving mom and pop stores into oblivion. These chain stores were also the beginning of the “self service” style of shopping we have today. No more walking up to the counter and ordering a clerk to put together your order for you. You now began to pick the shelves yourself, comparing prices, reading the labels to see what was the better value. Credit was also going away as a matter of general business. If you didn't have t the silver quarter to pay, you didn't get that loaf of Grandmothers Bread and 2 pounds of green beans. No “tick” with most chain stores.

Oh by the way, gas in the late 20's was about 10 cents a gallon or ten gallons for 99 cents. (9.9 cents a gallon) Which is where and why we still have the archaic 9/10 cent pricing structure at the gas pump. Thank goodness we don't have to pump the gas into the “tower” to dispense it into our cars gas tank. Phew, too much work!

Treasurer's Report

Published In:
Ypsilanti Gleanings, Summer 2004,
Summer 2004
Original Images:

Author: Karen Nickels, Treasurer

The 2003–2004 budget year was most successful. Our income budget was $19,622.00. Our actual income for the fiscal year was $24,464.59. Our expense budget was $19,622.00. Our actual expenses were $21,343.80. We had a net profit of $3,120.79. The fiscal year was from July 1, 2003 to June 30, 2004.

Our income is based on dues, donations, gift shop profit, and copies made at the Archives. We had a garage sale in June which generated a profit of $2,237.10 and a donation of $500.00 which brought the total to $2,737.10. THANKS to the many members who donated numerous items. We had the best garage sale ever!

Our expense budget covers gift shop costs, insurance, advertising, office operations, archives, interior maintenance, and some yard work.

If you have any questions please feel free to call me at 483-8896.

Ypsilanti Dairy

Published In:
Ypsilanti Gleanings, Spring 2004,
Spring 2004
Original Images:

My grandfather, Fredrick J. Peters Sr., changed his career from being a plumber to founding the Ypsilanti Dairy in 1930. The dairy was located at 203 North Prospect on the north side of the railroad track and next to my grandfather's house. My dad, Fred Peters Jr., graduated from Ypsilanti High School in 1929 and was able to assume the responsibility of milk deliveries. My uncle, Art Peters helped run the dairy. My Aunt Bernadine worked in the office and became the bookkeeper when she graduated from high school. She later married Howard Carty and they owned Carty's Music Box on the northwest corner of Pearl and N. Washington.

As a child, I remember my family answering the phone with “Ypsilanti Dairy, may I help you.” I can still hear the machines in the back of the dairy washing and sterilizing the bottles to be filled with milk, coffee cream, buttermilk, chocolate milk, and orange drink. After the bottles were filled, they were stored in a huge refrigerator.

After the dairy was in business for a few years, ice cream production started. I remember folding the boxes before they were filled with ice cream and closing the boxes after they were filled. The boxes were then placed in metal container and moved into a huge freezer. My favorite day to work was when we made chocolate ice cream. I volunteered with no problem.

As children, my younger sister, brother, and I would wait at the corner of Cross Street and Prospect Street for Charley and the huge Michigan Milk Producers truck to arrive. It was a thrill to ride with Charley down Prospect Street to the dairy and watch the large hoses transfer milk from the truck to the dairy.

When I was eleven or twelve, my father slipped on ice and broke his leg while we were delivering milk. With directions from my father, I was able to get him inside the milk truck. Once inside the truck, I asked him “Who is going to drive the truck to the hospital?” He replied, “You guessed correctly, Marcia!” With dad's coaching, I successfully drove him to the hospital.

As the business grew, there was need for more parking. Moving my grandfather's house across the street from the dairy expanded the parking lot. I remember playing in the muddy hole for the new basement with neighborhood friends.

I assumed more responsibilities as I grew older. I worked up front waiting on customers, hand packed ice cream, answered the telephone, scrubbed the floor, washed windows, mowed the front yard, and cleaned the dairy trucks. Working for my father was a wonderful learning process. Thanking customers and telling them to have a lovely day has stayed with me forever.

Later, it became difficult for small dairies to stay in business. The Ypsilanti Dairy closed its doors forever in October 1965. My Uncle Art later used the dairy building for a furniture refinishing business for several years.

Thanks to all the people who helped the Ypsilanti Dairy be part of the Ypsilanti community for many years. The Ypsilanti Dairy will always be one of my cherished memories.

History of Dentisty in Ypsilanti, Washtenaw County

Published In:
Ypsilanti Gleanings, Spring 2004,
Spring 2004
Original Images:

From The Ypsilantian, February 1, 1900:

History of Dentistry in Ypsilanti, Washtenaw County.

[By the kindness of Dr. J. A. Watling, we are permitted to give his paper on the history of dentistry in this city, which he read before the Washtenaw Dental Society at Its recent meeting.]

It seems to me, if a perfect history of the dental profession and its work could be written, it would be of very great interest to future generations. I fear that the time has now gone by for gathering up all details, such as dates, first names, etc. But much may be accomplished still, if the profession will organize itself into county societies as we have done, each of which shall compile its own history. I think this is the first county. The question now arises, who was the first practicing dentist in this county? It was either Dr. Burger, of Ann Arbor, or Dr. Frey, of Ypsilanti, presumably the latter. I have learned that Dr. Frey was in practice for some years prior to 1842. In that year Dr. R. V. Ashley began to practice in Ypsilanti, having studied with Dr. Frey, and bought his outfit when he moved away. I remember Dr. Ashley very well. He was a man of a good deal of ability, and after being in business for several years, he went to Detroit in 1851 and opened an office at the corner of Jefferson. Avenue and Griswold Street, and moved his family there in 1852. There he was one of the leading dentists for many years, dying Oct. 6, 1870. Following the removal of Dr. Ashley from Ypsilanti, came Dr. Fred Powers, with whom I had my first experience in dental operations, he removing for me a first lower molar tooth. After a few years he went south; I am unable to learn his final history. His successor was Dr. Seth A. Gerry, who came to Ypsilanti in 1852 or 1853. He had had some experience and study in the state of New York, and being a man of considerable ambition, entertained a high idea of professional dignity. He therefore entered the Medical Department of the U. of M., with the intention of graduating. He attended two or three terms, and would have graduated, had it not been for the perversity of the faculty, who entertained different views than he, about the required qualifications for a degree. He was a man of a good deal of versatility,—occasionally giving lectures on scientific subjects, and making quite a business of preaching in country school houses, and occasionally driving a good trade in horses. He could find more small cavltles in the crowns of teeth, than any man I have ever known. I have personally seen as many as six of his fillings in the crown of one molar tooth. After a number of years of practice, he moved to some small town in the interior of the state, and died some eight or ten years since, I am told, in poverty. He had sister associated with him in practice, a part of the time, she being the first lady to practice Dentistry in the state. In the year 1856, there came to town one Dr. O. M. Carlton from Lowell, Mass. He was a very large, fine looking man, with a decided city air. His wife was equally fine looking, a fashionable woman of stunning appearance. She has the distinction of being the first lady in Ypsilanti to appear in hoop-skirts. She was clever, and had a good deal of literary ability,—so altogether the couple attracted much attention. Dr. Carlton had been in the profession of dentistry 17 years, and was a man of a good deal of ability for those days. I made his acquaintance in the fall of 1856; he filling a number of teeth for me; and two of those fillings are doing me good service yet. After he had completed his work for me, he asked me to enter his office as a student, which offer I accepted and made arrangements to stay with him four years. I of course knew nothing at that time of dental colleges, there being but three in existence, and these poorly equipped. After a couple of years, Dr. Carlton became tired of a small country town, and concluded to return to Lowell. I did not wish to go there with him; neither did I feel competent to go into practice, being very young. I was not as well prepared as I thought I ought to be, though probably I was as well qualified as most young practitioners of those days. I began to look around for a place in some office, where I could do plate-work, as I had a good deal of proficiency in that line. I happened into the office of Dr. Knowlton, of Detroit. He gave me a few days' work to help him out. He then advised me to go to Cincinnati and study in the Dental College there, kindly giving me a letter to his brother of the firm of Knowlton & Taft They gave me employment for two years; I attending the college during the winters and graduating Feb. 22, 1860. I located soon after in Ypsilanti, where I have remained ever since. So far as I can learn, I was the first student to enter a dental college from Michigan, and the first graduate to locate in the state.

During the winter of 1856, Dr. A. F. Barr came to Ypsilanti. He had had a kind of checkered life, being of a roving disposition. He bad worked in a great many offices, with men of a good deal of prominence, and was considered a Very good plate-workman, and in those days that was the most of dentistry. He at first entered the office of Dr. Carlton and did plate-work, I getting much of my first instruction from him. In the following spring he opened an office of his own, continuing in practice until he died about eight years ago. A Dr. Baldwin was in company with Dr. Barr during 1859, which is all I know about his dental career. In the fall of 1857, Dr. W. R. Cutler, who had had a short pupilage in Rochester, N. Y., located here, and was in a limited practice for about six months, when he went to Ionia, where he was more successful, but left dentistry some years ago, and is at the present time engaged in the drug trade. A Dr. Tucker came here in 1853 or 1859 and remained here five or six years; I know nothing further of him. A good sized cyclone struck this county in 1866, when two brothers by the name of Aldermen located here. Where they came from I can't say, one of them had some knowledge of dentistry; the younger had none whatever. He was, however, supplied with forceps and materials for taking impressions, and with the aid of a good team, he commenced a systematic house to house can vass through the county. I think I can truly say that in the four or five years they were here, that one of them had solicited in two-thirds of the houses of this and parts of Wayne and Monroe counties. Prices and truck offered in pay for their operations never stood in the way of a bargain. I have heard of many amusing episodes that they met with in their career. There is no doubt but they did an enormous amount of work, but they had nothing to show for it when they left town. In the spring of 1870, Dr. W. D. Tremper, a graduate of Ohio Dental College, Cincinnati, came to Ypsilanti, entering into partnership with J. A. Watling, which was continued till 1878, when he went to Portsmouth, Ohio, where he still has a large practice. He is one of those rare exceptions to be found in the profession, as he has become quite wealthy, and is at the head of a large shoe manufacturing company. The next one appearing on the scene was O. F. W. Baldwin, coming about the year 1872 from some of the Eastern States, with a very short pupilage. He remained four or five years, then returned East. I don't know what has become of him. Following him came one A. B. Bell, who had had one term in the Pennsylvania College. He didn't pan out very well, and the less said of him the better. In 1878 or 1879, a man by the name of Kingsley came here, from some little town in Western New York. He always warranted his work for twenty years and cut prices in two, making the point, that he just wanted a little business to keep him out of mischief; and did not care about the profit. He found it desirable to go back East in a few years, and died in Rochester, N. Y. In the spring of 1884, Dr. L. M. James, a graduate of the U. of M., formed a partnership with J. A. Wattling, where he has continued in a successful practice up to the present time. In 1885, John W. VanFossen, also a graduate of the U of M, located here, and is still in successful practice. In 1890, Dr. L. D. Camp, another graduate of the U. of M., formed a partnership with A. B. Bell, which continued only for a short time, when the Doctor opened an office on his own account, continuing to thrive here now, as he has done in the past. In 1895, Dr. DeWitt Spalsbury, a graduate of the Class of ‘89 of the U. of M., located here, and has evidently been successful in practice, as well as in a prospective matrimonial alliance. The last to come and the first to go away was Dr. Carrle M. Stewart, a graduate of the U. of M., Class of ‘92, and a D. D. Sc. Failing health compelled her to return to a warmer climate. She is at present at Fort Worth, Texas.

Photo Caption: 121 North Huron Street 1966 Photo of the Watling Home Formerly the Watling Dental Office

My Memories as an Ypsi Press Carrier During the Early 50s

Published In:
Ypsilanti Gleanings, Winter 2003,
Winter 2003
Original Images:

Author: Bob Mayo

I have fond memories of my days as an Ypsi Press carrier from 1949 to 1951. Before I could have a route of my own, I had to go through a week of training by Gary Salyer. My route started with sixty-five customers and, after knocking on many doors, ended with ninety customers. I rode my bike from Thomas Street to the Press Building at the northwest corner of Pearl and Huron to pick up my papers. The beginning of my route was the north side of Michigan from Huron Street to Park Street. My first customer was Haab's Restaurant where I usually bought a bag of shoe string potatoes for 26 cents. When I started, the paper cost 24 cents per week and increased to 26 cents per week and finally cost 28 cents per week.

I delivered to Cliffs Barber Shop, White Palace, Chapman's Pontiac, skipped Packer's Grocery Store, and finally delivered to Miller's Ice Cream Parlor. On Saturdays, I would often treat myself with an ice cream cone at Miller's.

Two of my favorite customers were Silkworth Oil and Preston Tucker, both on Park Street. On some Saturdays, Preston Tucker would give me a ride up town. My dad, Louie Mayo, met Preston Tucker at a Michigan Ave gasoline station before hunting started one year. My dad mentioned he did not have a rifle to go hunting. Preston offered my dad a valuable Weatherby rifle for the season. My dad turned him down saying the gun was too valuable to borrow. For Christmas, I received a Hopalong Cassidy watch from Silkworths and a Mickey Mouse watch from Preston Tucker. My North Street favorite customers were the Newhouses.

Back on Michigan Avenue, I delivered to Floyd Smith at Woodruff School and Justin McCaslin Reality. On Lincoln, across from Woodruff School, I delivered to Ypsilanti Police Sargent Neil Schmink and the Densel family at 204 North Street. Floyd Densel ran a repair shop in his garage. As happens to almost every carrier, a dog bit me in front of 308 Babbitt Street.

On North River, I delivered to the Norris House, three customers in the Cornwell House, and Fire Chief John Dignan at 217 North River. A kid from the Magraw residence at 206 North River sold eggs from a wagon on the street.

At the end of my route, I sometimes would cross Michigan Avenue and buy doughnuts at John Dealy's Bakery in Dutch Town near the Bomber Restaurant. On hot summer days, a cold frosty 5 cent mug of Root Beer at Kluck's A & W Root Beer stand on the corner of North Grove and Michigan was something special.

When I was twelve years old in 1952, the Ypsilanti Press held a contest. Carriers earned points for paying their bill on time, not having complaints, and getting new starts (customers). I covered my route and went out to the township at night to get starts. Carriers Nels Michelson, Jerry Harrison, Tom Pluss, Clarence Steele, and I all won a one week trip to Washington DC. Mr. Michelson drove us in his 1948 Packard. Along the way we stopped at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. In Washington, we stayed at the Burlington Hotel, saw a Washington Senators ball game, and visited the usual sights. While we were in Washington, Richard Nixon took the place of Ike who recently had a heart attack. In addition to the trip, I was fortunate to win a bicycle.

It was wonderful to grow up in the small town of Ypsilanti. Now that I live in Ohio, I enjoy returning to Ypsilanti to watch Eastern Michigan football and visit friends.

Ypsilanti Historical Museum/Archives: Five Year Plan

Published In:
Ypsilanti Gleanings, Autumn 2001,
Autumn 2001
Original Images:

    I. Expand the financial base of our Endowment Fund from $500,000 to $2,000,000 and to establish a Capital Fund for Development.
    II. Expand faciticy and reallocate space.

      A. Provide handicap accessible exhibit and meeting space in basement.
      B. Move archives and administrative functions to “Carriage House.”

    III. Employ a professional Museum Director to guide development and operation of the Museum.
    IV. Establish an ongoing Conservation program for:

      A. Archives
      B. Artifacts-textiles-paintings, etc.
      C. Museum building(s) when and if they are transferred to our ownership

    V. Creation of a Data Base from the archives and an integrated accession system in order to access whatever information we have on artifacts or historical materials.
    VI. Out-Reach Program:

      A. Association with and sharing our facility with related groups (Heritage Foundation, Civil War, Collectors, Genealogists, etc.)
      B. Traveling exhibits to schools
      C. Development of Visual Aids
      D. Lecture series on Antiques and Collectibles.
      E. Membership Drive

Ypsilanti Historical Museum/Archives: Mission

Published In:
Ypsilanti Gleanings, Autumn 2001,
Autumn 2001
Original Images:

The Mission of the Museum and Archives is two fold: it is the collection and preservation of historical materials and through these materials to educate our community about its history in order to better understand our community's place in the larger context of the evolution of our country.

The future of the Ypsilanti Historical Museum/Archives is predicated to a coherent plan for the development and expansion of our present facilities.

Only when we can assure the path of our growth and development will our future be secure. To that end we must increase our Endowment substantially and provide for a Capital Fund for Development.

Increasing our Endowment from our present $500,000 to $2,000,000 would generate an income stream that would allow a salaried, trained professional Museum Director. It would also provide sufficient operating funds to properly maintain the Archives and Museum building(s), and carry out needed conservation efforts.

A Capital Fund for Development is needed to provide funding to create a handicapped access to the basement. Museum activities will be greatly enhanced by having a meeting space available for groups of up to 100 people. It will provide space to orient entire classes at one time as well as employ visual aids for demonstrations and other activities. It would provide space for lectures, and for history affiliated groups to meet.

Most importantly, it will help us to reach the children of our community in a more meaningful way.

Message from the Gift Shop

Published In:
Ypsilanti Gleanings, November 1987,
November 1987
Original Images:

Author: Marge Gauntlett

A Christmas Drawing for a lovely porcelain doll will be held during the Annual Christmas Open House held at the Museum December 13th, 1987. This beautiful 15 inch doll has been skillfully handcrafted by one of our Society members, Mrs. Christine Blinn. Mrs. Blinn has graciously donated it to the Historical Society for this exciting Christmas event. Our doll is completely and beautifully dressed from head to toe and is fully jointed.

She has a curly light brown wig, twinkling Blue Gray eyes and is guaranteed to make someone very happy. Don't miss your chance to be the Lucky Winner. Tickets are available for a $1.00 donation from Marge Gauntlett or at the Museum Office. The doll will be on display at the Museum beginning December 1st until after the Drawing. She is now on display at The Cricket Box in Depot Town.

Christmas will begin to arrive at the Museum gift shop after Thanksgiving weekend, so don't forget to support your Museum by purchasing our Christmas items. This year for the first time we will have some very lovely Christmas Cards for sale. Come and tour the Museum and visit the Gift Shop.

Ypsilanti Electric Light 1887

Published In:
Ypsilanti Gleanings, November 1987,
November 1987
Original Images:

Author: Rev. Laurence N. Woodruff

In his walking around the City, Rev. Laurence N. Woodruff has noted and become interested in some of the old buildings. He has submitted the following material about the brick building in the City's storage yard on West Forest Avenue. We are pleased to have this building's one hundredth anniversary commemorated by Rev. Woodruff.

Street Light Centennial

Exactly one hundred years ago, Ypsilanti took a giant stride forward into the new world of technology and turned on its first electric street lights. In 1887 the little village of about 5,000 residents installed are lamps on top of five seventy-five foot towers, one in each ward. A number of “arm lights” were installed at major inter-sections. These are lamps mounted on their tall towers provided a soft, bluish-white light, suggesting moon light, and people joked about the romantic atmosphere, which had been created in our community.

By our standards the five arc lamps on their high spires and the “arm lamps” would not have provided very much light. Nevertheless for people who knew only the night's natural darkness or the soft glow of a few gas lamps, these electric lights must have seemed like a magnificent advance into the future.

Where did the city get its electric power for these wonderful new street lights? The city produced its own power. After much debate the city council decided to build a power plant on West Forest Avenue. A red brick building housed a boiler, a steam engine and a generator which produced all of the power for the city's electric light system. The puffing steam engine and the whirl of of the generator producing electric current was the marvel of the community. It was reported that boys like to come to watch the steam engine and to magnetize their pocket knives with the powerful magnet of the generator.

In 1896 the city built a water works plant near where the Ford Plant is now located and moved its steam generator to the same location. By 1905 Detroit Edison had taken over this and all the other little power plants, public and private, in the county.

Although a hundred years have come and gone, the building, in which the electric power for Ypsilanti's first street lights was produced, still stand on West Forest Avenue in the Department of Public Works Yard. Inscribed in a stone plaque near the top of the front wall are the words, “Ypsilanti Electric Light, 1887.” This little red brick building ushered our community into the modern world of electric light and power.

(With gratitude to Doris Milliman, City Historian, who provided the research for this article)

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