Primitive Open Hearth Trammel

Published In:
Ypsilanti Gleanings
Original Images:

Author: Peter Diehr

(The Trammel with hooks and chain were found on the old Kelly Farm at 6170 Whittaker Road in Ypsilanti Township, Washtenaw County, Michigan)

Our neighbors found this rusty old chain with three hooks near the old barn of the former Kelly farm. It was clearly hand-forged from old-style wrought iron by a blacksmith. It is a Hearth Trammel:  “An adjustable pothook that was used to hang cooking pots over the fire at different heights. The cook could adjust and lock the trammel into different lengths, thereby controlling the temperature.” This one was made to hang from a beam up inside of a great hearth.

This trammel has three hooks. The largest is on the end of the grab bar and will be hung from the support. The other two are at the opposite ends of the short bar at the hanging end of the chain. The smaller hook can be used to adjust the length of the chain, while the final hook is for hanging the pot.

It probably dates from the earliest days of the Kelly homestead, as cooking was an everyday activity! It would have been relegated to the summer kitchen after a major enlargement and renovation of the house in 1860, when they probably installed a box stove. It was removed to the barn when the farmstead was renovated in 1940.

The founder of the Kelly farm, John Peter Kelly (formerly Köhli) (1780-1829) left Switzerland after the Napoleonic Wars, bringing his family to Philadelphia in 1818. Later, while working on the Erie Canal at Lockport, NY, he met Lyman Graves. When their work was done in the spring of 1825 they came to Ypsilanti Township and took up land near today’s Textile and Whittaker roads. John Peter was a formally trained blacksmith, and the family story is that he started the first blacksmith shop in the area by burning out an old stump for a forge pit.

So John Peter probably made the hearth trammel to fit the great hearth of his new home; or it may have been his son, Christian Kelly (1809-1869), as the house was enlarged over the next few years. Christian married in 1833 and he and his wife raised a large family. Christian was trained in blacksmithing by his father, and there are entries in his cash journal from 1866 for straightening plow shares and sharpening saws.

The “rusty chain” was partially restored by removing the heavy rust without damaging the existing metal or finish, by means of electrolysis.

(Peter Diehr was raised on the family farm and remembers his great grandmother, Ella Youngs Kelly. His grandmother donated many items to the Ypsilanti Historical Society and he has continued the tradition by donating the hearth trammel. You may be able to see it soon, with an old iron pot, hanging in the YHS kitchen! Six generations lived on the old homestead between 1825 and 1975. The farmhouse is still standing.)

Photo Captions:

Photo 1: Christian Kelly (1809-1869) and his wife, Sarah Ann Steers (1812-1893). These photographs taken about 1862 by Edwin P. Baker, Ypsilanti photographer.

Photo 2: Trammel after rust removal.

Photo 3: A demonstration, at Sauder Farm Ohio, of cooking over an open fire with a trammel to hold the pot.

Photo 4: Detail of the individually forged links connected to the grip bar which has been twisted.

Photo 5: Early blacksmith work by the Kelly family, John Peter or Christian c1825.

Figure 6: C. J. Kelly farm on E. Monroe, now Whittaker Road, from an 1873 Atlas.

Photo 7: Kelly farmhouse in 1938. The photo was taken by Harlan John (Foster) Diehr.

The King and Meyer Saloon Controversy

Published In:
Ypsilanti Gleanings
Original Images:

Author: James Mann

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo Captions:

Photo 1: The King Saloon in the Schade Block at 304 East Michigan Avenue was closed in May of 1913.

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

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

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.

Dining in the Museum

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

Author: John Kirkendall

On a summer evening in early July the Ypsilanti Historical Museum was the site of a gala dinner given to benefit Ypsilanti’s historic Freight House. The brainchild of Nat Edmunds, the dinner was auctioned to the highest bidder at an event held at the Ypsilanti Fire Hall. The high bidders, at $800 for a dinner for 8, were Pam Byrnes and Kent Brown. I was the chef for the occasion – and there were lots of talented and experienced people to help pull it together.

As guests entered the museum, they could not help but experience a sense of awe. The cellist, Dr. Robert Reed, known widely for his work with the Detroit Symphony and the Michigan Opera Theatre was playing in the living room next to the fireplace. In the dining room the formal table featured a bouquet of fresh cut, beguiling field flowers, befitting the museum. The flower arrangement was courtesy of Bonnie Penet, Co-Chair of the Friends of the Freight House (Nat Edmunds is the other co-chair.) The table itself was bountiful with sparkling crystal and gleaming Havilland – the china donated to the Museum by the estate of Judge Edward D. Deake – and polished to a fine gloss by Karen Nickels and Kathryn Howard in anticipation of the dinner. The kitchen was alive with aromas of the Beef Wellington and other culinary treasurers awaiting the guests.

Meanwhile, Nat had discovered an area new to her behind the second dining room that housed a double sink – perfect to keep dishes, glasses and silver washed as they were used. Many were recycled for several uses during the dinner. She will likely have dishpan hands for some time! Her principal assistant was Dick Robb who dried and buffed as the dishes were recycled.
Our team of servers was exemplary. The team was orchestrated by Dr. Susan Gregory, Director of the Hotel and Restaurant Management Program at Eastern Michigan University. Our credo was Service, Silence and Safety. There was no unnecessary conversation among our team during the dinner and service was ever present without being obsequious. Pam herself mentioned she had never experienced such service.

Andrea Linn handled the “staging” of the plates. They looked magnificent, each course overshadowing the previous. In the meantime, I was in the kitchen trying to get the courses out in order. (Andrea was also instrumental in the preparation of several other phases of the dinner.)
Wines were paired with the various courses by Jerry Hayes and he arranged to have the wines as well as the champagne donated to the Freight House dinner. Jerry does catering for people and organizations around our community and his largess and expertise was much appreciated.
The delicate museum crystal was used as it was originally intended - much to the delight of the assembled dinner guests.

The evening went like clockwork. Thanks to our team. The director of the Museum, Al Rudisill, was on hand to make sure no need that arose was unmet. The servers were Dick Robb (former EMU Regent and dentist,) Jim Baker (who, along with Bonnie, was our photographer,) Bob Taylor (retired firefighter, who appeared with the fire extinguisher with great effect as the flaming dessert was ignited,) and Tom Tobias (retired school teacher.)

The menu for the dinner included:

  • Appetizers: Amuse-Bouches and Champagne; Michigan Country Paté with buttered, toasted pain de mie rounds; Smoked Upper Peninsula Whitefish.
  • First Course: Vegetable Crepe Gateau; fresh tomato sauce; Blanc de Blanc Leelanau Michigan wine.
  • Second Course: Vichyssoise, a cup served with warm River Street French Bread with Basil Butter and Unsalted Butter.
  • Between Courses: Minted Pineapple Lime Sorbet with Moravian Ginger Cookie served in Sesquicentennial shot glass (yours to keep).
  • Entrée: Tenderloin of Chelsea Beef Wellington; Crisped Potato Baskets with Buttered Snow Peas; Upright Romaine with Maytag Bleu Cheese dipping sauce; Selection of Michigan Reds by Mawby Winery.
  • Dessert: Genoise ice cream roll with Traverse City Cherries Jubilee.

The museum itself provided an elegant backdrop for a wonderful evening. The evening began with a professional tour led by Nancy Wheeler, a thoroughly knowledgeable docent dressed in period clothing. By the time the evening concluded, our out-of-town guests were totally impressed by, and enthusiastic about, an important historical resource available in and for our community and, in fact, a resource used by many others from distant locations.

I have a feeling we will be seeing these guests again.

(John Kirkendall, retired judge and an active chef, prepared the feast that benefitted the Ypsilanti Freight House renovation.)

Photo Captions:

Photo 1: Pam Byrnes and Kent Brown with their guests enjoying one of the many courses of food served at the dinner in the dining room of the YHS Museum.

Photo 2: Servers joining Chef Kirkendall were: (left to right) Tom Tobias, retired teacher; Dick Robb, retired dentist and former EMU regent; Kirkendall; Jim Baker, retired box designer; and Bob Taylor, former firefighter.

Photo 3: Dinner guests were entertained throughout the evening by cellist Dr. Robert Reed, widely known for his work with the Detroit Symphony and the Michigan Opera Theatre.

Photo 4: Al Rudisill, (right) YHS President, greeted the guests at the front door of the Museum and Nancy Wheeler, (left) provided a tour of the Museum and Archives.

Photo 5: Pam Byrnes was the high bidder at $800 for the “Dinner for eight in the YHS Museum Dining Room.”

“Lost Restaurants” of Ypsilanti

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

Author: Peg Porter

Introduction: The summer issue of Gleanings included a call to our readers to share their memories of restaurants that had once been an important element of the town’s social and business life. A number of readers responded including three who live in other parts of the country. In our research we found that close to 100 restaurants have opened and closed since the beginning of the 20th Century. We focused on those establishments that our readers mentioned. In addition we added several others that reflect Ypsilanti’s social history.

“Fast Food” arrived early in Ypsilanti. Familiarly known as Snappy Joe’s, this short order eatery opened its doors in 1932 on Pearl Street next door to the Weidman Ford Dealership. By 1954 it had relocated to 109 1/2 West Michigan, where it was housed in a narrow building (e.g. half a storefront). The interior contained a long counter with stools and a kitchen behind. Popular with the downtown lunch time crowd, the menu consisted primarily of hamburgers, hot dogs, and soup. Often there would be a bean dish, such as chili, prepared ahead of time. Maxe Obermeyer recalls a line outside waiting for a stool to open up. Joe's Snappy Service would continue on Michigan Avenue until the early seventies.

Further east on Michigan Avenue, across the river, stood Russell's Diner, later known as Averill's. This diner offered curb service during the 1930's. (see picture). The diner was opened by the parents of the late Red Averill. After the Averill’s separated, Red’s mother moved the diner further east to the site of what is now The Bomber. Red Averill would go on in the restaurant business. He took over management of The Bomber, and then later opened three Big Boy Restaurants.

A note about the picture of the diner: the service station and garage next door was first the George Fosdick filling station, and then became the location of Thompson Autos. The ornate building in the background was the Worden House. The land where these buildings stood is now vacant and is part of the Water Street Project.

Not everyone wanted or needed to get their food in a hurry. Dining out was still considered a special occasion for most Ypsilantians. The “white tablecloth” restaurants were the best. When the Huron Hotel was completed in 1923 in time for the city’s centennial, the hotel restaurant, The Huron: Ypsilanti’s Community Tavern, opened with great fanfare on January 1, 1923. Harvey Colburn writes, “…on the afternoon and evening of that day three hundred guests gaily celebrated the occasion around its tables.” The restaurant flourished during the late 1920’s. A Christmas Dinner buffet featured a large selection including an Oyster Cocktail, a shrimp and crabmeat Newburgh, ham, turkey, and steak as well as five desserts with three kinds of pie. All of this for a cost of only $1.50 per person.

Constantine Alex, a Greek immigrant, opened the Avon Restaurant in 1930 at 205 W. Michigan. The restaurant was named for the River Avon in England and was decorated in the Tudor style with dark oak, beamed ceilings and leaded glass. Architect Ralph Gerganoff worked with Alex on the design and décor. Alex chose to use red and white or blue and white checked damask tablecloths. Harold Goodsman described Alex in an Ann Arbor News article, as “…a genteel, personable, almost dapper man. He was very gracious.” Alex was known as “Connie” to his patrons. He quickly learned the names of regular customers and seated them at their favorite booth. My mother, Ruth Porter, shared her memories in the same 1997 News article. “Every Sunday, my husband and I would go to the movies and then go over to Connie’s for a bite to eat afterward. We had our own booth and Connie always knew what we wanted without us telling him.”

The Avon seated 100 and featured an extensive menu. The Avon Annex featured a shorter menu for breakfast and lunch time diners. Prior to World War II, the Avon also served Chinese (or rather Chinese American) food such as chop suey and chow mein. The war brought other changes to the restaurant. Gone were the male waiters who were replaced by waitresses. After 42 years in the business, Connie Alex retired in 1972. The Avon is still fondly remembered by Ypsilantians. Our own John Dawson recalls, “It was an institution here in Ypsilanti. It was a nice place to eat. And it was a gathering place for local business people. The menu never changed. It was always the same. My favorite was breaded veal cutlets with mushroom sauce.”

The 1920s and 1930s saw a number of restaurants open in private homes. My grandparents,
E. H. Porter and Ellen Craig Porter, owned and operated The Blue Bird Tea Room in their home at the corner of Brower (now College Place) and Washtenaw. Their path to the restaurant business was circuitous. Both of them were born in Canada, he in Nova Scotia and she in Ontario. My grandfather attended Guelph Agricultural Institute (now the University of Guelph) where he trained as a dairyman. He met my grandmother when he was working on an experimental farm owned by the Massey family, manufacturers of farm equipment and machinery. From 1907 until about 1917 he managed large dairy farms in Missouri and Michigan. The hard work with minimal help due in part to the World War caused my grandfather’s health to decline. My grandparents then managed White Lodge on the Huron Chain of Lakes for a couple of summers. They met people from Ypsilanti at the Lodge who urged them to move to town and open a restaurant.

Their clientele included numerous Normal faculty as well as retired faculty members. Normal students served as waitresses for a meal and tips. My grandmother, an unusually kind and generous person, had a group of “distressed gentlewomen” who relied on her for food. Granny would tell them to pay when they could. Not the best business decision perhaps, but certainly in keeping with her character.

Porter’s was known for its good home cooking and Granny’s marvelous desserts, often made with fruit. She did cobblers, pies, applesauce cake as well as the best oatmeal and raisin cookies around. The frosted molasses cookies ran a close second. The restaurant closed in the early 1940’s; my grandfather died in 1944. A few years later, our grandmother returned to Canada to live with her remaining siblings.

The Gondola first opened in the 1930s in the basement of a home on Marion at Packard. It was first named LaGondola. The restaurant, owned by Laurino (Louie) Agosti served Italian food. Several of our readers remember going to the Gondola with their family when they were young. Pat Cleary recalled eating there with his parents and his sister, now Ann Cleary Kettles. Joe Lawrence said he and his Dad thought the restaurant was o.k., but his mother, Christine, “hated it.”

The Gondola thrived, however. The business was purchased by the Simpson family in the 1950s. The business relocated to a new restaurant on Washtenaw at Cornell, keeping The Gondola on the west side of town and greatly expanding its seating capacity. By this time Ypsilanti had “gone wet” allowing the serving of liquor by the glass in addition to beer and wine. The new restaurant featured an extensive bar and expanded menu. Bill Simpson managed the operation. Mike Kabat, co-owner of Haab's, remembers going to The Gondola for a prom night dinner while he was in high school. In 1966 Bill Simpson sold the restaurant to a group of Ypsilanti business and professional men who renamed it “The Wigwam.” The Wigwam was relatively short-lived. Later, the building was demolished. A CITGO gas station now occupies the property.

Other restaurants were popular with families. Evans White Gables, located at 1004 West Michigan, was owned and run by Helen and Earl Evans. Pam Shepherd DeLaittre, Judy Morey, and I all remember eating there with our families. Mamie Schell Adair and her sister were waitresses at the Gables while they were in high school. She writes from Clearwater, Florida, “There were two dining rooms. The smaller contained one very long table which was filled each lunchtime by local business people who usually ate the “blue-plate special.” A typical “blue plate” was meatloaf, corn and mashed potatoes and included a drink for the price of $1.00. A piece of homemade cherry pie ala mode added 35 cents to the bill. The typical tip was 10 cents, which was earned by waitresses from the neighborhood and college students. It was their total pay, including a meal. On Sundays families dined in the big dining room….It was a busy restaurant.” The building that housed Evans White Gables is now a Mexican restaurant.

While not within the city limits, a number of readers recalled The Farm Cupboard. This restaurant was a popular destination for Sunday dinner. Everyone would get in the car to take a drive through the countryside to Dixboro. Maxe Obermeyer especially recalls Easter Sunday when the lawn of the old farmhouse would be filled with families in their Easter best. The farmhouse opened as a restaurant in the 1920s. It later changed ownership and became The Lord Fox. Just recently the restaurant has undergone renovation and is now Roger Monks.

Talk to local Boomers or their older brothers and sisters about restaurants and their first words will be Casa Nova. Owned by the Falsetta family, the first Casa Nova opened in what is now the third dining room of Haab's. The restaurant quickly became known throughout the area for its pizza. The Falsetta’s moved across Michigan Avenue to a larger, new building. Don Porter, my brother, writes, “This special place was our favorite restaurant. The pasta dishes were fantastic and the sauces were loaded with garlic and rich in flavor. However, the most delicious item on the menu was the antipasto salad with the homemade tomato-based dressing. During Tammy’s (Eberle) first pregnancy she craved that dressing. So I would head to the restaurant and pick up some cartons to go. A few years ago, my nephew obtained the recipe for the special dressing. We made it and it was okay, but it tasted better when we had salad at a table for two at the Casa Nova.”

Sadly, family health problems resulted in the closing of Casa Nova in December, 1977. It lives on in the memories of many former customers who continue to rhapsodize about the pizza, and, of course, the antipasto salad.

Readers mentioned a number of other “lost restaurants” including Marken’s just west of the Casa Nova on Michigan Avenue, first opened in 1944; The Old Town Restaurant in Depot Town, formerly Turner’s that opened in 1941; The Spaghetti Bender, at 23 N. Washington; and George’s Huron Inn, owned by the Beaudette family from the mid-1930s until 1984.

So, what about the “Survivors,” those restaurants that have continued in business throughout the decades? For this article, we identify three, two of which were mentioned earlier: Haab’s, The Bomber, and The Tower Inn. I talked with Mike Kabat of Haab’s about why restaurants, including popular ones, close. He noted that very few restaurants survive beyond one generation. Why? The restaurant business is very hard work, long hours, and subject to increasing regulation. Staffing can be difficult as wages are relatively low. Ypsilanti is blessed with a University whose students fill many wait staff positions although the downside is frequent turnover. Mike discouraged his own children from going into the business. However, after a stint as a paralegal, his son Dave expressed an interest in joining his father and is now Junior Partner. “I failed.” said Mike. Most Ypsilantians would disagree.

Author’s note: my thanks to everyone who contributed to this project. It required a lot of “digging.” Special thanks to the Archives staff, Maxe Obermeyer, Joe Lawrence, Bill Nickels, Mike Kabat, Don Porter Jr. and Penny Schreiber.

Information, including pictures, is sparse especially about businesses. All people interested in local history are urged to look through their scrapbooks, their files or boxes and consider contributing information to the YHS Archives. Photographs can be reproduced and the original returned to its owner.

Photo Captions:

Photo 1: Russell's Diner, later known as Averill's, offered curb service during the 1930's. It was later moved to the site of the current Bomber Restaurant.

Photo 2: The menu for the 1927 Christmas Buffet at the Huron Hotel. Quite a spread for $1.50.

Photo 3: Harold Goodsman described Constantine Alex in an Ann Arbor News article, as “…a genteel, personable, almost dapper man. He was very gracious.”

Photo 4: The Avon Restaurant, located at 205 W. Michigan, was named for the River Avon in England and was decorated in the Tudor style with dark oak, beamed ceilings and leaded glass.

Photo 5: The 40th anniversary of the opening of the Avon Restaurant was celebrated in 1970.

Photo 6: This is a partial menu from the Avon Annex, which had a more casual atmosphere than the main dining room.

Photo 7: E. H. Porter and Ellen Craig Porter owned and operated The Blue Bird Tea Room in their home at the corner of Brower (now College Place) and Washtenaw. The house still stands.

Photo 8: A menu from the Gondola. Note the “U.S. Choice Top Sirloin with Mushrooms” for $3.25.

Photo 9: The interior of the Gondola Restaurant (#2) which was located on Washtenaw Avenue in c1960s.

Photo 10 - Photo 11: The Bismark Café located at 14 North Washington Street provided service to people passing through Ypsilanti on Interurban Railroad Cars.

The Orange Lantern

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

Author: James Mann

For many years, from the end of Prohibition until the year 2000, the Orange Lantern was a popular Ypsilanti landmark, even if it was just across the county line in Van Buren Township. Named for some light fixtures inside, the Orange Lantern drew its clientele from the factories, foundries and tool-and-die shops in the Ypsilanti area. At times the place was so crowded each patron who was coming in had to wait for someone to leave. This was a neighborhood bar, the kind of place where a guy stopped by for a beer while on the way home from the factory job. That may be why it was so popular for so long.

The Orange Lantern opened in 1933, just after the repeal of Prohibition. It was one of the first bars to be granted a liquor license. Then, the land around the Orange Lantern was soybean fields and maple sugar woods. Back then, the Orange Lantern was the last stop for liquor by the glass until Indiana.

During World War II liquor rationing for bars was set by the amount sold before the war, and, it is said, the Orange Lantern had the largest liquor ration in the state. Workers from the Willow Run Bomber plant, where the B-24 Liberator was built, enjoyed the friendly atmosphere of the place. The war years were the heydays of the place, when workers from the plant found it a convenient place to unwind. The regular clientele, it is said, included the woman who was the model for Rosie the Riveter.

The bar was run for years by Bill Eberts, and then for years after by his son, Dick Eberts and Bud Fahndrich, a nephew. Dick Eberts worked at the bar from the age of 18, with four years out for service in the army during the World War II. “It’s my life,” he told the Ann Arbor News for a story published on September 1, 1996. “It’s meeting new people and experiencing different things.”

Over time the number of customers declined, and no one had to wait for someone to leave before they could enter. Still, the regulars came and new ones stopped in. It was a place where everyone knew most everyone else. Dick Eberts died at the age of 83 on October 15, 1999. Fahndrich vowed to keep the Orange Lantern open, and did so for the rest of his life. He died in December of the same year. The doors of the Orange Lantern were closed and the lights turned out for the last time on February 4, 2000. The place is gone, and the memories are fading.

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

Photo Captions:

Photo 1: The Orange Lantern neighborhood bar that opened in 1933 and closed in 2000 (Photo by Jim Rees).

The Sidetrack-A History

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

Author: George Ridenour. Lyle McDermott

The Sidetrack Bar and Grill – A History
By George Ridenour & Lyle McDermott

In 1838 the first train arrived in the newly founded Ypsilanti. Around the depot and freight house area a new part of Ypsilanti developed that has been referred to over the years as “Depot Town.” The Ypsilanti City Directory of 1860-61 lists the Pavillion Saloon at the location that later became 56 East Cross Street where the Sidetrack Bar and Grill is now located. City directories for the years 1861-1873 are rare and we were unable to find the history of the bar during those years.

1873-1874: William Leach had a saloon and Restaurant at the SW corner of East Cross and River Streets. At that time in Ypsilanti history there were no street numbers.
1878-79: Ms. Siva Leach had a dining hall at the same location.

Now listing as 56 East Cross Street the following businesses and time-line:
1892-1910: Nicholas Max Saloon.
1910-1918: Joseph Hock Saloon.
1919-1920: With Prohibition name changed to: Joseph Hock soft drinks/lunches.
1921-1924: Louis Caldwell Soft drinks/lunch.
1926-27: Mike Smith Soft drinks and lunch.
1928-29: Niel Holk soft drinks and lunch.
1930-1933: George Cristos soft drinks and lunch.
1934-1954: George Cristos Tavern and Restaurant (Repeal of Prohibition).
1955-1979: Central Bar & Tavern.
1980- present: Sidetrack Bar &Grill.

In 2000, 54 East Cross Street was added as “Frenchies” which was a banquet facility and overflow for the Sidetrack Bar and Grill.

Local Legends, Lores, Lies and Possibilities: Buffalo Bill stepped off the train at the Ypsilanti depot on a July, 1900 morning. He had 46 box cars to unload. Among his most famous performers was Miss Annie Oakley. They arrived for a one day only show. The parade route was almost three miles long! He arrived a little more than 100 yards from our saloon. Again, he returned in 1910 for his Farewell Tour. He again brought tons of equipment and a cast of hundreds to entertain the locals. We found as well that he had “shirt tail” relatives in the area that we were able to verify he visited at times when he came to Michigan.

Bill was known to have loved his libations. The saloon, only a hundred yards from the train station, would be a tempting site for a man fond of his drink. Having carloads of hungry and thirsty actors and stage hands and being greeted by the local dignitaries gives rise to speculation. Speculation that perhaps Bill came in for a cool one to help relieve his anxieties and tension at all the commotion going on out in the streets…….maybe?

Next door to the Sidetrack during the early 1900’s “The Horse Exchange,” a betting parlor, was housed. The walls, covered in blackboards, welcomed a daily exchange of up to 80 gentlemen (every day on the 2:00 pm train) from the Detroit area to place wagers on horse racing tracks around the country. The results would come in via the wire and fortunes were made and lost on this early form of “off track betting.”

Next door was our saloon where these gentlemen could have drinks, food, and relaxation from the gaming establishment. If a gentleman was so disposed to want fillies of a human kind or “sporting ladies,” Ma (Mary) Bush’s Boarding House on the second floor could provide entertainment for a nominal fee. The gentlemen, at 5:00 pm boarded the train and returned home to Detroit after a day of work at the Horse Exchange. Such was life in Depot Town.

A Day in Sidetrack History: Local historian George Ridenour recounts the day the train hit the Sidetrack-as told by a pet canary who witnessed it all.

“My name is Bobbie. I survived the train wreck of 1929. I am a pet canary. I was sitting in my cage in Mrs. Caldwell’s apartment on January 21, 1929. I was sipping a little water, eating some seeds, and singing my heart out. Mrs. Caldwell, the owner of the building where the Sidetrack is now located was lucky, as she had just gone out of the building and was next to the garage away from the building and to the rear of our building. BAM, BAM, the lights went out and the whole room turned upside down. I was tossed out of my cage and was falllllllllliiiiiinnnnnngggg.

A freight train was just passing through Ypsilanti when the 12th car of an 85 car train went off the tracks! It jumped the track just west of the main depot. The car, carrying a load of lumber, broke its coupling, lurched across the Cross Street intersection and crashed into the restaurant on the first floor of the building owned by Mr. & Mrs. Ollett.

The building (where the Sidetrack is now housed) was severely damaged. The Ypsilanti Press of January 21, 1929 reported: “The East wall was caved in, all effects in the building strewn in the street; the roof of the building was sagging precariously. It fell in about an hour after the accident, leaving only the Cross Street wall standing which was torn down soon afterward. The basement was opened and many of the bricks were tossed into the basement as part of the cleanup.

Oh, yeah, back to the important part. They found me about 4:00 pm, seven hours after the accident, bruised, trying to sing, and lying in a heap of rubbish. When you sit on the patio next to the track you are in fact sitting where the train hit on January 21, 1929. Oh, not to ruffle your feathers, but could it happen again? (Bobbie, the canary, 1929).

Finally, GQ Magazine rated the burgers at the Sidetrack Bar and Grill in the top 20 in the United States. All you have to do is try one and you know why the Sidetrack Bar and Grill in Depot Town, Ypsilanti, Michigan is “the place” not only to eat but to be seen and to see the who’s who of Ypsilanti and the surrounding community.

(Lyle McDermott and George Ridenour are both volunteers in the YHS Archives and regular contributors to the Gleanings.)

Photo Captions:

Photo 1: If you look close at the building on the right you will see the building attached to the “Sidetrack” that was destroyed in the 1929 train wreck.

Photo 2: This picture shows the “Sidetrack” after the corner building had been removed following the train wreck of 1929.

The Chick Inn Drive-In

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

Author: Derek Spinei

Classic food served with a heaping side of nostalgia has kept one Ypsilanti Township drive-in restaurant from driving off into the sunset. The Chick Inn at 501 Holmes Road first opened in April of 1953 in a small build- ing which previously housed a soda fountain. Founders Jim and Charlotte Allen were em- ployed at the Willow Run Kaiser-Frazer plant at the time, but Jim was a baker by trade. He had been looking for a place to start a bakery when he found the site at the corner of North Prospect just begging to be transformed into a drive-in. The Allens set up shop and could soon afford to raze and replace the original structure with the current one in 1955.

Business was booming through the ‘60s, so much so that a time limit of 30 minutes had to be imposed on parked customers, and an employee was required to pace the lot to monitor and enforce the flow of traffic. What made the Chick Inn so popular 56 years ago is the same reason it is popular today – the food. Ordered through an intercom and quickly brought out by a carhop, the food requires some tough decision-making on the part of patrons. The Hammy Sammy (ham and cheese sandwich) competes with foot long hot dogs and cheese steak hoagies for popularity, but nothing compares to the Paul Bunyan. While it does not cost the same 25 cents it did in 1953, this massive hamburger accompanied by a famous peanut butter banana milk shake continues to be a must-have for anyone cruising town on a Saturday evening.

The Allen family continued to operate the Chick Inn for 50 years. Jim Allen retired in 1990 but Charlotte continued with the help of their daughter Debbie until 1997 when rumors began circulating that the establish- ment might close. Fortunately, the Allens’ son Mark and his wife Patti took over the business, making several improvements and upgrades to the property while keeping the original character intact. The Chick Inn finally left the Allens’ hands in 2003 when it was sold to a former automotive engineer, Kevin Lim, who is currently replacing the badly faded menu signs.

At a time when most drive-ins have long since been put out of business by fast food chains or banned by local ordinances (a result of late night noise and littering), the Chick Inn lives on because of its bargain prices, sentimentally loyal locals, great atmosphere for car lovers to show off their pampered rides, and the novelty of year-round curb service.

In 1999 the Chick Inn was honored by the Ypsilanti Heritage Foundation with a historic marker, a result of its retained vintage appearance featuring distinctive rooster graphics, neon signage, and rotating “TIME TO EAT” clock below which is their quaintly illuminated alphanumeric telephone number, HU3-3639, just as it has always been. The drive-in has been further honored by being included as an official member of the Motor- Cities National Heritage Area as defined by the U.S. National Parks Service.

The drive-in’s reputation has also reached out- side of Ypsilanti. In 1983 the restaurant was featured in a promotional film for the Dodge Daytona. In 1990 a Detroit rock band, The Gories, even recorded a devotional song to the drive-in aptly titled “Chick-Inn” – an excerpt from which follows:

Well there’s a place I go every Saturday
It’s up in Ypsilanti and it’s here to stay
The Chick-Inn Wooo yeah! Yeah! Yeah!
The Chick-Inn
Now I’m going there baby
It’s ‘cause I’m feeling so hungry
I’m gonna get me a Hammy Sammy, yeah!
Wooo with that secret sauce
On a Paul Bunyan roll, babe it’s really boss
The Chick-Inn, wooo hooo, the Chick-Inn
Well I’m going there baby, can’t miss it alright
It’s got a chicken on the sign and a neon hotdog
Wooo, yeah! Hammy Sammy, strawberry banana milkshake
Wooo, yeah! and you can get it in chocolate too...

While its’ founding proprietors have passed on, the Chick Inn remains a destination for all occasions, from casual first dates to wed- dings and wedding anniversaries. It serves as a lasting memorial to the days when drive-ins outnumbered “drive-thrus” and kids slid from car to car to talk to their friends rather than typing in front of a computer screen.

(Derek Spinei is a student in the graduate program in Historical Preservation at Eastern Michigan University and is serving as an intern in the YHS Archives.)

Photo 1: Jim Allen, original founder of the Chick Inn in 1954.

Photo 2: Charlotte Allen, original founder of the Chick Inn in 1954.

Photo 3: At a time when most drive-ins have long since been put out of business by fast food chains or banned by local ordinances, the Chick Inn lives on.

Photo 4: Chick Inn Drive-In.

Sidetrack Bar and Grill

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

Author: Ted Badgerow

“Now that the train is stopping here again, I think you’ll see a resurgence of Depot Town.” – Linda French, owner of the Sidetrack Bar and Grill.

One of the movie industry’s highly touted new forays into Michigan recently brought film stars Hilary Swank and Minnie Driver into one of Ypsilanti’s historic buildings, the home of one of its oldest restaurants: the Sidetrack Bar and Grill. It’s the perfect location for a fictional Irish pub. An honest bar and grill, the Sidetrack has served up good food and drink for decades. And it’s likely to do so for decades to come, judging by the restaurant’s steady popularity and the numerous culinary plaudits from GQ, USA Today, the Oprah Winfrey Show, and local diners.

If there’s a better way to pass a summer eve- ning than watching Depot Town fill up with antique cars in the company of good friends and a pint of fresh local ale, I have yet to find it. I make no claim to be a disinterested observer, having been a patron of the establishment since its establishment. Back in the early ‘80s, when I was head brew master and assistant bottle washer of the Real Ale Company in Chelsea, I supplied fresh bottled ales to the Sidetrack. A few years ago I installed the tile and marble work at Linda’s renovated home on Huron Street, within walking distance of the bar. And at her behest, I play and sing holiday requests at the Sidetrack every December whenever I please.

This historic edifice at the intersection of Cross Street and the railroad is built of bricks fired before the Civil War, when Michigan’s 14th and 27th Infantry Regiments occupied the barracks across the tracks. It has contained a saloon since at least 1894, owned and operated by Nicholas Max, Joseph Hack, and George Christos, among others. Through the years it has housed a blacksmith shop, a drug store, a barber shop, a candy store, and a photo and publishing business. Perhaps the most famous, or infamous, venture was the Lewis Horse Exchange, where about 70 Detroit sporting men gathered daily to play the ponies in a setting that conjures up images of Robert Redford and Paul Newman in The Sting. From 1900 until 1911 Warren Lewis ran a notorious and successful operation, calling horse races off the telegraph wires with a “peculiarly penetrating and exciting quality.” When, against prevailing public sentiment, the gambling house was shut down by a prosecu- tor, Mr. Lewis posted a sign across the door: “Closed, sixteen people out of Work here.”

The building underwent an instantaneous renovation in January of 1929, when the 12th car of an 85-car freight train, hauling lumber, left the track and crashed into what quickly became the former Caldwell Building. The owner, who lived upstairs, had stepped out briefly. The restaurant operators, Bert Ollett and his wife, were alone in the restaurant. Pedestrian Laura Kelsey, 17, was struck and knocked unconscious. Scott Sturtevant, a motorist, backed his car out of d anger just in time. Miraculously, no one died.

An historic epicenter of river and railroad, Depot Town has seen its busts and booms, hard times and good times. Next year, after a hiatus of some twenty years, passengers will once again board and disembark from the original freight house. With the announcement of a sizeable federal stimulus grant for the project, portents are favorable for the continuing revitalization of Ypsi’s old junction. Will we see the revival of past glories such as Mr. John Laidlaw’s internationally fa- mous Michigan Central Railroad landscaped gardens? Will pretty young girls once again present nosegays to ladies on the train? We can only hope. Ribbon-cutting is projected for autumn of next year.

A local spearhead for Depot Town renewal, Linda French came to Ypsilanti from Northville to attend Eastern Michigan University. As a young businesswoman she jumped into this ancient center of commerce with an antiques shop, now Frenchie’s. In 1979 she bought the old Central Bar next door and transformed it into the Sidetrack. As a local resident and business owner, Linda has long been, as she puts it, “vested in the area.” Her mother, Nancy Jane French, has worked at the Sidetrack “since day one,” and daughter Jessica, a Kalamazoo College graduate, is learning the ropes of the business.

In March we sat down for a chat in her small brick office at the restaurant. A woman who obviously loves what she does, Linda French has no slow gear. She’s articulate, passionate, and as those who know her will affirm, voluble. Here’s what she has to say about the bar, the building, and her role as caretaker: “My role in life has been to preserve the Sidetrack, and to carry it on to the next generation.”

The following interview with Linda was conducted on March 12, 2009.

What are your earliest memories of the Sidetrack? It was a workingman’s bar, it still had a canopy. The whole front was a 1940’s aluminum, and it had an aluminum white door and a small window. If you went inside it had a beautiful tin ceiling and an old antique back bar to die for.

How old are the oldest bricks in this building? 1850’s. When we tore out a staircase we found little shoes from, like, 1870. And it’s such a cool thing because you can see your place in time, because four generations earlier there was some- body else who sat here. I’m sitting here right now, and in a hundred years there’ll be someone else sit- ting here. This was a railroad town. It was rough. From the Depression on, it was a blue-collar area, and this was a blue-collar bar. If you were near the railroad, it was considered to be “blue-collar”. People didn’t want to live on the other side of the tracks. Now they’re cleaner, safer railroads. They don’t have the dirt and the grime.

How about the boom and bust periods in Depot Town? It rises and falls with the railroad, so now that the train is stopping here again, I think you’ll see a resurgence of Depot Town. I think you’ll see more than just a few entrepreneurs who’ve picked up historic buildings, a new wave of entrepreneurship in the area that’s much more substantial because of the train stopping here. The train hasn’t stopped here in twenty years. They’ll be stopping here again in October of 2010. Now you’ll see a resurrection, an economic boom in the area, that’ll cement Depot Town in.

How do you feel about being a caretaker for this beautiful old historic building? I feel fortunate. In time, I’m just a person who’s taking care of this place. It’s my turn, and my job is to preserve it for the next generation. The old owners have come through with their relatives, people from back then, ‘way back before it was the Central Bar, and actually started crying. They remember it from when they were little and are so glad that it’s the Sidetrack now, and that it’s being carried forth. I’m now the caretaker, and I have to carry the torch. All the karma that’s been laid out here is being carried on, this is a bar filled with good karma. I lucked out, and I’m fortunate in time to be the person in this generation to take care of the Sidetrack. I didn’t let it go to hell. I really believe that if you take individual people who are willing to put their labor into it, and build a sense of community… it takes people who own the building who have businesses inside of them, and not just landlords. Historically, the person who owned the building always was the caretaker of the Sidetrack. That’s really the key to all that.

It’s been really easy to work with, because it’s so sound – three bricks deep. And everything you do, you do for the future. From the fireplace down to every window that we’ve installed, it’s a fifty-year plan, as permanent as we can make it – so that the next person who gets it, if it’s my daughter or whoever, in the future whatever they go to work on, it’ll be that way – permanent. Not much has changed here. There’s really not a lot of stuff you can do to this place. We have a lot of room for expansion here too…we have nothing upstairs, it’s all open, brick wall to brick wall. We haven’t developed it…right now we’re just so busy doing what we do that we don’t have time to do more. The whole building is still evolv- ing, and I want to keep something for the next generation. It won’t be my dream, it may be my daughter’s dream – not something I want to do, but something she wants to do.

We work really hard at what we do, and we re- ally love what we do here. So everybody takes a personal interest – we’re a bunch of foodies, and we all love our beer, so we try to serve the things that we like.

You’ve always had the best selection of beers in town. How many do you have on draft? Sixteen taps. We do Michigan beers and micros, and we have some great imports. We take our beer real seriously. We sell great beer at reasonable prices; we’re the workingman’s bar that has good taste. You can afford to eat here. Handcrafted food, handcrafted beer – that’s what we do here. We know our beer and we know our food.

What’s your best seller? Bell’s Oberon. It has been forever. We sell fifteen kegs a week – that’s a lot of beer.

What’s your bestselling food? Burgers. We have our own formula. We buy as local as we can – 75% of our suppliers are local. And they have been since ‘way before local became popu- lar. I know the suppliers, and we handpick our supplies. If you do it long enough, you learn who’s good and who isn’t. You can tell by the taste.

Do you have any favorite patrons? We have a huge amount of regulars. Most of our customers are regulars. It’s a cast of characters that come in here.

What idiosyncrasies does the old building have? We have one stool that vibrates, at the end of the bar. It’s right above the beer cooler. The generator kicks on and there’s so much concrete it just vibrates. What are your favorite memories of the Sidetrack? I have great memories of some of the personal weddings that have been in here, when the place is closed down. And the wakes – some of the very touching things are when a customer has called me when they’re dying and asked if I will do their wake for them – a celebration of their life. I’ve gone to the hospital and talked with them and planned the wake together. I’ve had some wakes that will bring you to your knees, and I’m very fortunate to have a place that people love that much. They said they couldn’t think of anywhere else they would do it but here. No matter what was going on, I would make sure that we’d clear the joint out and have their wake. There are some things you just have to do. It means a lot – that as a bar we have touched that many people’s lives. Do you have any “worst” moments? One winter a pipe froze and exploded upstairs. The ceiling started to bulge. The customers were all seated in here, and it started to drip, and we ran for our umbrellas, and the tin ceiling started to bow, and we had to take an awl and popped it, and the water gushed down…it was an insurance claim. Another time, last summer, the whole place was packed on all the patios, with a private party next door in Frenchie’s,and a car pulls up on the sidewalk of the front patio, on fire. The woman gets out and starts to run because she thinks it’s going to explode. Meanwhile, everybody’s having their dinner, the flaming car’s on the sidewalk, and then they’re all fleeing the building. Oh yeah, all my customers thought it was going to explode. My staff called me, screaming. They grabbed the fire extinguish- ers and rushed out and kept it under control until the fire department got here and hosed down the whole patio – it was wild! Sounds like a scene in a movie.

How big is your staff? Fifty-five, sixty-five. We have three generations, my mother works here too, and she’s worked here from day one. I have one daughter, Jessica, who graduated from Kalamazoo College, and is here working to see if she likes it. It’s a test of time, to see if the place will be passed on through future generations. At the core beginning of the Sidetrack, everything was done over a beer and a napkin. We were sitting in the old Central Bar here when we thought of the name “Sidetrack.” It’s been here for 160 years. And I hope it’s here for another 160 years."

So the next time you’re sitting on the patio by the tracks, enjoying your handcrafted burger and fresh local brew, please note the curious angle of the building and imagine twenty tons of timber hurtling straight at you. The place still shakes as the Amtrak comes through, but nobody raises an eyebrow or lifts a glass. After all, they’ve rumbled by for a hundred fifty years.

Perhaps some hazy day sixty years from now a patron will see a faded photograph on the wall of the Sidetrack. “Who are those hot ladies in the old-fashioned dresses? Hilary Swank? Minnie Driver? I never heard of them. I think they were actresses. Remember when they used to have movies in theaters? I hear they shot scenes right here at the Sidetrack, ‘way back before Michigan became the film capital of the world…” Some things change - and some things just stay the same…

The curious are well advised to read Tom Dodd’s and James Thomas Mann’s excellent history of the depot district, titled “Down by the Depot in Ypsilanti.”

(Ted Badgerow is a local businessman, a musician involved with a number of local and area musical groups, and a frequent visitor to the Sidetrack.)

Photo captions:

Photo 1: Linda French (owner of the Sidetrack) and daughter Jessica welcome guests to the Sidetrack.

Photo 2: Linda French (left) and Marilyn Collins] in March of 1979 when the old Central Bar was restored and renamed the “Sidetrack.”

Photo 3: A front view of the Sidetrack showing patrons dining outside in the area demolished by the 1929 train wreck.

Wolverine Grill

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

Author: Jeff Davis

After losing everything in the great depression in the 1930’s John Batsakis left Chicago (where he had owned a candy store) and came to Michigan, first to Detroit and then to Ypsilanti. Born in Greece in 1899 John came to the United States as a young boy. When he arrived in Ypsilanti in the early 1930’s John bought the White Palace restaurant in 1932, which was located where the Honda car dealership is now on Michigan Avenue. After selling the White Palace in 1938 John got a job at the Wolverine at 228 West Michigan Avenue and by the end of the year he was the new owner. John owned and ran the Wolverine until 1963 when he sold it to his nephew Greg Batianis who came to the U.S. from Greece in 1956. John continued to keep his upstairs apartment and six days a week came in and worked the counter nine hours a day. He did this for the next 20 plus years and never asked for pay. John once stated, “For me, it’s not work. I love this business; it’s a pleasure for me just to be here meeting all my friends.” Sadly John passed away in 1986.

Greg continued to run the business and during his time there he hired a waitress in 1979 named Deloris Emerson. In 1995 a newspaper article was written about Deloris stating that she puts in 57 hours a week and intends to stick around for many years to come. Well, 14 years later Deloris has stuck around, just like John, serving the customers that she loves. She says “customer service is the name of the game” and she has been proving that for the past 30 years.

When you first walk into the Wolverine Grill and look up on the wall behind the counter you will see the 127 pound, 85 inch long hammerhead shark that Greg caught in Florida back in 1972. Now the Wolverine Grill is owned by Greg’s daughter Debbie Cromer who bought the restaurant in 2008. Debbie’s dad Greg is doing the same thing that John did after retirement. Greg still comes in early every morning and helps get everything ready for the day ahead. Even Debbie’s children Nick & Mallory have worked at the Wolverine Grill. Waiting on customers alongside Deloris is Debbie’s sister Juanita. The Wolverine Grill is only the 2nd restaurant in Ypsilanti to go non-smoking. So next time you are downtown looking for somewhere to eat, stop in at the Wolverine Grill and check them out. The food is great and everyone who works there treats you like family.

(Jeff Davis is a volunteer at the YHS Archives and a regular contributor to the Gleanings.)

Photo 1: John Batsakis in 1984 at 85 years of age. He was still counting change, squeezing lemons and scooping ice cream at The Wolverine Restaurant.

Photo 2: The Wolverine Grill in the 1980s.

Photo 3: Greg Batianis and Deloris Emerson in 1993 on the 30th anniversary of the Wolverine Grill. At that time Deloris had been a waitress at the Wolverine for 15 years.

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