One Tower House

Published In:
Ypsilanti Gleanings
Original Images:

Author: James Mann

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo Captions:

Photo 1: The “One Tower House” at 701 East Forest Avenue burned to the ground in 1903.

The Lay House

Published In:
Ypsilanti Gleanings
Original Images:

Author: Peg Porter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo Captions:

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

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

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

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

The Towner House: A Diamond in the Rough

Published In:
Ypsilanti Gleanings
Original Images:

Author: James Mann

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo Captions:

Photo 1: The Towner House at 303 North Huron Street.

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

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

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

The River Street Saga Continues: "The Dolls are Home Again!"

Published In:
Ypsilanti Gleanings
Original Images:

Author: Jan Anschuetz

The River Street Saga continues with a whimsical and touching story, appropriate to the holiday season. In this series of articles I have attempted to tell the stories of people who once lived on the short few blocks of River Street in Ypsilanti and who have left their mark on Ypsilanti in some way. I think this little tale will shed a little light on some children that lived here long ago. The word “saga” suggests a journey or adventure over time, and that is what the childhood dolls of Jessie and Florence Swaine have had. The Swaine girls lived all of their lives in the Swaine House at the corner of River and Forest in Ypsilanti, and now their dolls are “home again” in time for Christmas.

Although the dolls left the Victorian Italianate home when the last of the Swaine family, Jessie Swaine, died in 1968, their memory lingered. The present owners of the Swaine House, Robert and Janice Anschuetz, have had pictures of the Swaine girls hugging their dolls on display in the upstairs hallway for over 40 years. The pictures were taken in about 1883. Another picture hanging in the Anschuetz home, below the one of the Swaine girls, shows the children of Worgor George – the Swaine girls’ cousins. Who could ever imagine that the great-granddaughter of Worgor George would return Jessie and Florence’s dolls to the Swaine home in time for Christmas, 2014? Stranger yet, who could imagine that the dolls in the picture still existed?

When the author, Thomas Wolf, wrote his book You Can’t Go Home Again, he didn’t know the story of the 130-year-old dolls who returned to their River Street home this August, thanks to the memories, kindness and generosity of Mary Adams, who had inherited them. Mary Adams is the granddaughter of Jessie and Florence Swaine’s cousin, Edward George, who also grew up on River Street, and for whom George School in Ypsilanti is named. She is also the great granddaughter of Worgor and Anna Shutts George. Mary inherited the dolls from her mother, Marian George Elliot, and the dolls moved with her to her home in Mississippi in 2003. The dolls hold special meaning for Mary, who often saw them in the bedrooms of Jessie and Florence Swaine when she visited them earlier in her life. Mary and her two sisters, Peggy and Jennett, were allowed to hold the dolls carefully and admire them when they visited. She also has fond memories of baking gingerbread men in the old kitchen of the Swaine house. The original kitchen table and dough table are still in daily use by the Anschuetz family. Jessie Swaine was a life-long home economics teacher in the Ypsilanti Schools, and her recipe for the delicious Christmas treats is probably still used by many area families whose grandmothers were taught to cook by Jessie.

Jessie died in the same bed, in the same room, and in the same house she was born in after living there for 86 years. Jessie and her sister Florence never married. Both became teachers, and the only children they had were their cherished childhood dolls which were kept on display in their bedrooms for all of their lives. Although the dolls are more than 130 years old, they have aged well due to the love and tender care that they have always been given. Mary Adams was afraid that the climate in Mississippi, or perhaps a flooding hurricane coming through, would destroy them and so she carefully and lovingly packed them up and brought them back to Michigan. Mary and her sisters felt that it was time that the dolls went “home.” Mary then called Janice Anschuetz who has lived in Jessie and Florence’s home since 1969 and asked if the dolls of Jessie and Florence could once again live there. Janice and her husband Robert and their children are the only people to have lived in the stately home after purchasing it from the estate of Jessie. The house had been built by her father, Frederick Swaine, for his bride Lizzie George in 1875.

It was a jubilant homecoming for the dolls, and they are now carefully displayed in the parlor in a secretary desk that had originally belonged to the Swaines. Their clothes are packed in the original toy antique dresser and within the desk drawers. The dolls and their antique tea set are now joined by two doll dishes which Janice found in the attic. There is a box containing a Victorian doll dress pattern and many clothing items for the china-head French fashion doll, which has human hair and brown eyes that open and close. The two wax German dolls in the picture with Jessie and Florence and their little brother Frederick, taken shortly before he suddenly died of diphtheria at two and a half years, are probably the oldest. Their father, Frederick Swaine, bought the dolls in Germany, while on an overseas trip, to surprise his little girls. The rest of the dolls have china heads with stuffed cloth bodies and hands and feet made of goat skin.

Along with the dolls, Mary also brought the special recipe, passed down in her family, for Gingerbread Men that Jessie taught thousands of girls in her many years of teaching home economics in Ypsilanti.

Jessie Swaine’s Gingerbread Men Cookies

1/3 cup molasses
3 tablespoons shortening
1 1/8 cups flour
1 teaspoon ginger
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
Currants and red cinnamon candies

Heat molasses to boiling point and pour over shortening. Add dry ingredients mixed and sifted. Chill, roll, and cut out gingerbread boy with cookie cutter. Use currants as eyes and cinnamon candy as buttons.

Bake 8 to 10 minutes in moderate oven (350 F)

You might want to hum the holiday tune “I’ll be Home for Christmas” as you roll out the cookie dough and think of the simpler times when Christmas meant carefully playing with a few toys and enjoying good smells coming from the kitchen.

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

Picture Captions:

Photo 1: Jessie and Florence Swaine with their dolls and their brother, Frederick (c1883).

Photo 2: Jessie Swaine with her doll and her brother Frederick. Frederick died within months after this picture was taken (c1883).

Photo 3: Mary Adams sharing the dolls with Janice Anschuetz in August, 2014.

Photo 4: Hayden Rice, Janice Anschuetz’s great granddaughter holding the Swaine dolls.

The Twin Towers House

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

Author: James Mann

The house that once stood at 725 East Forest Avenue was a local landmark. Today, the lot at 725 East Forest is an empty space between two houses on the north side of the street. A hint of what the house looked like can be gleamed from the name of the street connecting East Forest to Holmes Road. The street is named Twin Towers.

The house that stood here was built by Frederick Fisher in the early 1890s. Fisher is listed in the 1892 city directory as rooming at 314 Congress. The next available directory, 1894, has him living at 725 East Forest. His occupation is listed as farmer, and there is no name for a wife.

From the directories

The 1897 directory noted Fisher had moved to Detroit, and Allen Nowlin, who had something to do with lumber, resided in the house. The 1899 directory has a Phillip Barringer residing at the house with his wife
Katherine. No occupation is listed by the directory for Phillip. Listed as rooming at the house are Edward and John Barringer, and each are listed as basket makers. The relationship of Edward and John to Phillip is not explained.

By 1901 the house was the residence of John Platten, who is listed as a farmer, his wife Eva. John DeMosh is also listed as residing at the house. John was in a livery and hack business with his father Joseph on Michigan Avenue. The listing for the 1903 directory is the same. Albert Bond, a real estate agent, and his wife Angie are listed in the 1907 directory at this address. Lettie Bond, a student, is listed as residing at the house. She is presumably a daughter of Albert and Angie. John Harper, a fruit grower, and his wife Melivina are listed in the 1912 directory. Then, in the 1914 directory, Arthur Garity, also a fruit grower, is listed as living alone at the house.

Frederick Zeigen and his wife Myrtle had moved into the house by 1914. He is sometimes listed in the directories as a real estate agent. The couple appears to have lived there with a family as an Eola Zeigen is listed as rooming at the house in the directories for 1922 and 1924. Eola is never listed after 1924, but a Phyllis Zeigen is listed as rooming at the house in the directory for 1926. These were most likely children of Frederick and Myrtle who had come of age. Frederick and his wife Myrtle continued to live in the house until 1930. The house was sold to a Charles Jordan of Detroit in 1930, but he never lived there. The house stood empty through the winter of 1930.

Destroyed by fire

Flames were seen shooting out of a room of the house just after 4 p.m. on Monday, June 1, 1931, and the Fire Department was called. The flames were brought under control by that evening. The upper part of the rear of the house was a charred mass, as was the entire second story. “Except for fire in the back stairway, flames did not reach the first floor. However, much of the antique interior work on this floor was thoroughly water soaked. The rear section of the building did not crumple, although most of the roof on the north and west sides burned away,” reported The Ypsilanti Daily Press on Tuesday, June 2, 1931.

“The top part of the tower on the west side,” continued the account, “was burned while no damage resulted to its mate on the east side. There were no furnishings in the house.”Approximately $10,000 in damage was done to the house. The house, the account noted, was insured. The blaze was believed to have started in a small closet near the kitchen. There was suspicion the cause of the fire was arson.“Residents of the district reported that less then one hour before the fire a large sedan was seen in the yard, and it had also been reported that children frequently played in the house,” reported The Ypsilanti Daily Press of Wednesday, June 3, 1931.The house was knocked down and the rubble pushed into the basement. Now there is only an empty space where the house once stood.

[James Mann is a regular contributor to the GLEANINGS and the author of many books and columns on local history. His most recent book, Wicked Ann Arbor, is a publication of The History Press and is enjoying great success
in that city.]

Winter on the Banks of Sneak-a-Leak Creek

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

Winter 2010

Author: George Ridenour

The last produce from the garden had been harvested and either eaten or preserved for the long winter season. Summer had been spent weeding the garden, playing baseball, exploring Sneak-a-Leak Creek, or shopping for clothes. Sadness reigned because the long days of freedom would now be replaced with School.

At the end of summer the house smelled of vinegar and pickling spices. Steam rose from the kettles of tomatoes being boiled which would soon be turned into tomato juice, diced tomatoes, and oh God, Moms’ great chili sauce. Veggies were cut, dried and canned along with a variety of fruit for jams, jellies and deserts.

There were countless other smells from peanut butter, molasses and anise and the smells wafting from cookies, coffee cakes and other pastries. Many of these items were made by Mom to be used as gifts or for the packages that were delivered for the poor that lived in our neighborhood. The sights and smells tempted all of us whether we were adults or children.

In our house of ten it was essential that every item needed for survival was preserved, used or passed down. Clothes were mended, and if possible, passed to the next brother or sister. Winter, especially to a one-income family, was a hardship. Carrots, potatoes and onions were piled under dirt in the root cellar to be used for those special “Sunday dinners.” In those days these dinners were a once-a-week special occasion.

The first of the many hard freezes and snows transformed the Sneak-a-Leak Creek area into fields of glistening snow and ice. Looking back, it seems like it snowed more often and the drifts were deeper in those days. Snow piled over broken corn stalks provided a haven for pheasants and other wild animals. Cows huddled near barns and would not venture out into the pastures until the green of spring.

Soon after that first snow the sleds appeared and those that had been especially good brought out their new toboggans. There were many hills in the area for all kinds of sledding. Skis were very rare around Sneak-a-Leak Creek. Skates would glide over the snow crusted ice and the occasional frozen stump served as seats on our “ice rinks.” There were places along the creek where you could see rushing water beneath the clear ice and we all wondered “Where’d the fish go?” Traps were set along the banks of Sneak-a-Leak” and we dreamed of selling hides for a few dollars.

Mom would point out footprints in the snow outside our windows. Legend had it that Tom-Tom, a special elf of Santa Claus, watched us through the windows and reported on our behavior. Oh God, our greatest fear that Santa would leave us coal in our stockings.

Speaking of coal, the coal man would come every couple of weeks. With blackened face and clothes, driving a huge coal truck, he would back his truck up to the window to the “coal bin” in the basement.  A ton of coal would “thunder” out of the truck into the basement shaking the house. Then every so often someone would go down in the basement, shake the ashes through the grate, and shovel fresh coal into the furnace. If the fire went out during the night you would wake up to a very cold morning. One of our winter chores was to load the ashes into buckets and take them out and spread some on the driveway and empty the rest into the garden.

As Christmas drew near our thoughts turned to Santa and out came everyone’s “dream books.” The Sears, Spiegel and Montgomery Ward catalogs, along with their “toy supplements” were used to create our “wish lists.” The girls dreamed of receiving dolls, baking ovens and sewing cards, while the boys focused on guns and holsters, bicycles and slinkies. Also on the “wish lists” were board games like Clue, Monopoly, and Sorry. I wonder now if Santa ever read our “wish lists.”

Around Sneak-a-Leak Creek Santa was assisted in providing gifts by “The Old Newsboys” through Uncle George Ridenour. Gifts of meat, bread, toys and clothes helped add joy to our Christmas season and into the New Year. We thought we were blessed by both Santa and Jesus (…and we were!).

One of the things we did was lay face up under the fresh cut Christmas tree which was full of colored lights, old bulbs and streams of icicles. A sky of colored lights, shimmering silver reflections and the smell of pine needles overwhelmed our senses. All too soon it was over. The tree stayed for awhile but everything else was put away.

On free days out favorite thing to do was “go outside” to play. Most of the time this meant picking sides for the snowball fights. I often ended up getting my face washed with snow by my brother. Snow forts, snow angels, sliding, skating and sometimes just walking the dog in the knee deep snow occupied our time.

I remember delivering the Ypsilanti Press in the snow. This meant walking about one and a half miles along the route and then returning home on the dark and lonely roads. Sometimes there was sleet or just the raw, cold wind burning your cheeks. But more often than not, there was the glory and satisfaction of walking along the darkened road as the moon rose, revealing quiet fields now filled with millions of shining diamonds. There was the crunch, crunch, crunch of the cold snow under your feet, the buffs of white breath from your mouth, and the anticipation of getting home and warm again.

Back then, family and home were important, School was a necessary part of learning and growing up, and church and God were a natural part of life. Kids for the most part respected one another and spent a great deal of time playing together. Television was new and computers and cell phones had not been thought of yet. We read newspapers and magazines like Life, Look, and the Saturday Evening Post that we actually held in our hands and would often listen to the radio as a family.

There was an innocence in those days on the banks of Sneak-a-Leak Creek and the wonderful memories of those times will be with me for all the days of my life.

(George Ridenour is a volunteer in the YHS Archives and a regular contributor to the Gleanings.)

Photo Captions:

Photo 1: George and his sister resting after sledding on Sneak-a-Leak Creek.

Photo 2: George in a snowsuit that was passed down from an older sister.

The Farmer and the Poet

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

Winter 2010

Author: Laura Bien

Well-remembered are Robert Frost’s three sojourns to the University of Michigan in the 1920s, and his house on Pontiac Trail, now at the Henry Ford Museum. Forgotten are the works of Ypsilanti poet-farmer William Lambie.

Lambie belonged to a generation earlier than Frost, but like Frost, Lambie had Scottish blood and took as his subject the natural world. Unlike Frost, he never left the occupation of farming or made much money. Lambie never won anything more for his verses than friends’ approval, with one exception – a penny postcard that Lambie valued as priceless. The postcard came from another poet whom Lambie admired.

Lambie emigrated to the U.S. in 1839 at age 18 with his parents and eight siblings from the Scottish village of Strathavan just southeast of Glasgow. The family settled in Detroit, then purchased a farm in Superior Township just north of Highland Cemetery.

“We bought the Moon farm, in the town of Superior, in June, 1839, and had a fair, square battle with privations, exile and penury for many a day,” wrote Lambie in an essay – he read aloud from it years later at a Pioneer Society of Michigan meeting. “It was the half-way house between Sheldon’s and Ann Arbor, and had a bar for the sale of whisky. Kilpatrick, the pioneer auctioneer, said we could make more money on the whisky than on the farm, but we preferred the plow to the whisky barrel.” The family purchased 150 sheep.

Lambie’s father soon tired of America and in 1854 emigrated again to Ontario with his wife and younger children. Other siblings settled in Detroit. Only Lambie’s brother Robert stayed in Ypsilanti, where he worked as a tailor and later opened a clothing store and then a dry goods store. Robert also served on the city’s first city council in 1858.

William remained on the old Moon farm. Anna, the first of his six children, was born in 1851 when William was 30. In his diary entry for December 13, 1886, Lambie wrote, “Anna’s Birthday - It was a cold dreary day when she was born when we only had one wee stove and one room 12 by 16 and our few potatoes all froze - poverty within desolation.” William and his wife Mary wallpapered the inside of the house with newspapers in an effort to save the houseplants, but the plants froze.

William eventually built a larger house elsewhere on the farm and planted a grove of oak and apple trees nearby. By 1860 at age 39 he had five children ranging in age from 2 to 9, and a farm whose value adjusted for inflation – in an era of cheap land – was $94,000, a bit better than many of his neighbors.

On his 80 acres he raised oats, beans, wheat, barley, corn, and chickens and sheep. He also produced poems. In a May 15, 1876 diary entry he wrote, “A sick sheep drowned – pulling the dirty wool off a dead sheep is not very conducive to poetry.”

After William’s failed attempts to have a poem published in Harper’s, local newspapers began publishing his works. “My poem Auld Lang-Syne in the Commercial,” he wrote in his diary on May 26, 1877. This was a reworking of the familiar lyrics. William called it “A New Version of Lang-Syne.” His introduction to the poem reads, “It is a great pity that ever the world-renowned song of ‘Auld Lang-Syne’ should become the song of the drunkard, to lead either drunken or sober men farther away from temperance and virtue, and down the shameful road of disgrace and ruin. If this new song of Lang-Syne is not as good poetry as the old one, it at least inculcates better morality.”

The original song, of course, had been partially collected and partially composed by Robert Burns. Burns’ January 25th birthday was one of two annual events Lambie faithfully noted in his diary every year. Yet the “Ploughman Poet,” the “Bard of Ayrshire,” was not Lambie’s favorite poet.

On February 1, 1886, Lambie wrote in his diary, “[daughter Isabelle] and I drove up with old Frank the horse, to her School. Good sleighing – Had a note from my favorite Poet Whittier.” John Greenleaf Whittier’s note was published in the Ypsilantian, in an edition unfortunately not locally available on microfilm. It was one of two artifacts Lambie would receive from Whittier.

The Presbyterian Lambie shared several values with the outspoken abolitionist Quaker poet, such as pacifism. In Lambie’s essay “Out in the Harvest Field,” from his 1883 collection of prose and poetry “Life on the Farm,” he wrote, “We detest all kinds of war and battle and murder, and believe it is far more manly and heroic to fill a man’s sack with corn than it is to kill him in battle.”

Lambie was also sympathetic to the spirit of abolition. The other annual event he always noted in his diary was Emancipation Day on August 1, commemorating Britain’s 1833 Slavery Abolition Act, which a year later ended slavery in most of the British empire. It was an antebellum holiday that was observed locally in Washtenaw County, Detroit, and Ontario – Canada was one of the British possessions affected by the Act.

In 1876 William attended the August 1st Emancipation Day celebration in Ypsilanti. In his diary he wrote, “Ground very dry – hoping for rain – the colored man’s day of Freedom – [Isabelle] and I went to see the Celebration in William Cross Grove at the Fair Grounds [now Recreation Park] – The dark Beauties rigged out in white, red and blue and a feast of good things. Apples 75¢ a bushel.”

In December of 1887, at age 66, Lambie wrote a poem to Whittier in honor of the poet’s 80th birthday. He enclosed a prepaid penny postcard. The return address, “William Lambie/Ypsilanti, Michigan,” is written in Lambie’s plain yet graceful hand. The Quaker poet returned Lambie's penny postcard.

On January 17 of 1888, Lambie wrote in his diary, “Received a kind complimentary postcard from my favorite poet, Dear delightful John Greenleaf Whittier.” Written in a rapid, looping script, the postcard reads, “Dear Friend, I heartily thank thee for thy poetical tribute and am thy sincere friend. John G Whittier.”

Lambie saved this card and passed it down through family members. More than a century after Lambie’s 1900 death and burial in Highland Cemetery, the tiny and delicate card continues to be cared for today. The fragile relic speaks to the heart of a down-to-earth Ypsilantian farmer who never pretended he was otherwise - and yet befriended one of the nation’s leading poets.

. . . When winter days grow dark and dreary
And I am sad, and weak, and weary,
His pure sweet lines oft make me cheery.

Even Milton in his strains sublime.
And Burn’s in my land of Lang-syne
Are not read so well by me and mine . . .

—“Whittier,” William Lambie

(Laura Bien is a local historian, the author of “Tales from the Ypsilanti Archives,” and a regular volunteer in the YHS Archives.)

Photo Captions:

Photo 1: William Lambie with his oldest daughter Anna and wife Mary in the background.

Photo 2: In 1887 Lambie wrote to Whittier and enclosed a prepaid penny postcard with his return address on it.

Photo 3: Whittier returned Lambie’s penny postcard with a note: “Dear Friend, I heartily thank thee for thy poetical tribute and am thy sincere friend. John G Whittier.”

Early Settlers of Augusta and Superior Townships

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

Winter 2010

Author: Janet (McDougall) Buchanan & Heather (McDougall) Carlson

Augusta Township, Michigan Territory, counted as very early settlers the Muir and McDougall families. The first members arrived from Scotland in 1828 and bought land from the government. Slowly encouraging additional family members to emigrate from Scotland over the next several years, they increased their numbers. Surviving letters between family members from America to the ‘old country’, and back, throughout the years, make for very interesting and informative reading. The Muir children in America (six) had a total of 39 children and at least 63 grandchildren by the late 1800s, most of them staying in the Washtenaw County area.

Andrew and Mary (Donaldson) Muir arrived in New York on the ship Roger Stewart on June 9, 1828, along with their children, Mary, Sarah and Andrew. Andrew later married Huldah Jones; Sarah married Oscar McLouth, and after his death she married James Rambo. Mary married the young apprentice, George S. McDougall, who traveled from Scotland with the Muirs. George and Mary Muir were married on October 31, 1828, in Rochester, New York in Monroe County. By the late fall of 1828, Augusta Township became home to Andrew and Mary Muir and George and Mary (Muir) McDougall.

Mary A. Campbell, in her publication “The Andrew Muir Family of Scotland and Augusta Township, Washtenaw County, Michigan,” related that Andrew Muir's chimney was “the first that smoked in Augusta." She also wrote that, “He built the first fire ever lighted by an American citizen in that portion of the wilderness, and also the first log house ever erected in that section of the county.”

In the book “History of Washtenaw County, Michigan” published by the Biographical Publication Company in 1881, it is noted that “Andrew Muir is said to be the first settler; but there is a faint shadow of probability that James Miller, who made a settlement near Stony Creek in 1829, may be the owner of the honor – he who founded the village of Stony Creek – and to him is accorded the honor of being the father of Andrew Miller, said to be the first white child born in the district.” However, Mary A. Campbell stated, “James Miller’s purchase of land in Section 7 was recorded May 1, 1828, and the patent was recorded on the same day as Andrew Muir’s. These two men made the first recorded purchases in Augusta Township.” Further, Mary A. Campbell notes that “Andrew Miller’s birth date is July 6, 1831. Elizabeth McDougall, daughter of George S. and Mary Muir McDougall, was born in June 1830 and is stated elsewhere to have taken the honor of being the first born in Augusta Township.

Mary Belle (McDougall) Logan described to Thelma (Reddcliffe) McDougall that Andrew Muir’s land was “considerable farm land at Stony Creek, six miles south of Ypsilanti.” Another description of the land (source unknown) is “south of Bemis Road and east of Hitchingham Road (which is east of Stony Creek Road).” And yet another description by Andrew Muir in a letter to relatives in Scotland, gives the land as being “south of Bemis Road and west of Hitchingham Road in Augusta Township.” The Land Office Patent Certificate #626, dated March 6, 1829 and initialed by President Andrew Jackson, described the Andrew Muir land as “for the North West quarter of Section five, in Township four, South, of Range seven, East in the District of lands offered for sale at Monroe, Michigan Territory, containing one hundred and ninety-two acres, and ninety-one hundredths of an acre”).

Muir daughters Margaret and Jane arrived a few years later with their children and respective husbands, Robert Gardner and James Pearson. Robert and Anna (Muir) Campbell and family were the last to arrive from Scotland in October 1842. Their later arrival was probably due to the nineteen year lease on the family Ayrshire farm having nearly expired. The name of the family farm in Ayrshire, Scotland was Lauriston Parish, and was on the Hollybush Estate. A son, Gabriel, had drowned in Scotland in 1826. Daughter Jean’s whereabouts are unknown, but she probably stayed in Scotland.

Andrew and Mary (Donaldson) Muir, their children, and George S. McDougall, were born and raised in Scotland where they attended the same kirk (church) that Robert Burns (1759-1796), the poet, had attended in his lifetime. George McDougall and Mary Muir knew each other from childhood. George was born November 7, 1799, in Moncton Hill, Ayrshire, and Mary was born April 1, 1802, in Glencaird, Dalrymple, Ayrshire. The following was related by Mary B. (McDougall) Logan. “In Scotland the Muirs were wealthy but Andrew’s partner was clever and captured the booty and left them poor so they came to America to begin anew. Mary and her sisters had beautiful linen nightgowns and petticoats and lots of them all trimmed with choice hand embroidery. The bush [of Ypsilanti] offered no place to wear these so they were eventually made into clothing for the babies, nicer than anything that could be obtained otherwise in the new land.”

The following is from a letter dated April 18, 1936, written to Walter McDougall by Delphine (Fowler) McDougall (wife of John A. and mother of Walter): “Yes, Father McDougall’s name was George, but I never heard much about his family. He was bound out to a farmer when he was a boy, and came here with the Muirs. Mother McDougall’s father said he did not want his girls to marry in Scotland for they would never be anything but servants, so Mother and Father McDougall did not get married until they got to New York, then they both got a job and stayed there a year. The rest of the family came on to Michigan. I don’t know how old he was but she was 19. Her father sold everything he had and brought his whole family. George McDougall had four brothers and one sister, Mary McDougall, in Ayrshire, the same place that Robert Burns lived. We heard later that his brothers came here, but don’t know where. There is a large settlement of McDougalls south of Hillsdale.” Note: We now know that Andrew Muir did not bring his whole family with him and Mary Muir was 26, not 19. Father and Mother McDougall refer to George S. and Mary (Muir) McDougall and Mother McDougall’s father was Andrew Muir.

The parentage of Andrew and Mary (Donaldson) Muir: What we know about the parents of Andrew Muir is from his baptism records and those of his siblings, Gabriel and Ann, known children of Andrew and Jean Osburn Muir of Ayrshire. The baptismal dates for these children indicate they are considered “lawful.” In the case of Ann’s baptism record, Jean is mentioned as Andrew’s spouse, this is the only time her name is actually mentioned. These records were transcribed by Heather (McDougall) Carlson from the Scottish Parish Records. The assumption is that Jean’s maiden name is Osburn.

Mary (Donaldson) Muir’s parentage is not clear but Heather has done much research on this, also in the Scottish Parish records. It appears likely that Mary’s father was James Donaldson and James’ father was John. We assume that Mary’s mother’s name was Margaret because of the naming patterns of her children. She did stray from the male naming patterns with second and last son, Gabriel, but one assumes it was because of the early death of her brother, Gabriel.

The following letter is one of many that still remains in the Muir family and was first published by Mary A. Campbell in the Family History Capers article. It was dated October 23, 1830, written by Andrew to his brother, Gabriel, a farmer who still lived in Gorton Parish, Ayrshire, Scotland. The following letter was received January 30, 1831.

“Thanks to the giver of all good we are all in good health. I wrote you last year a long letter and have learned since by a letter from Aunty Ann to Sarah [McLouth] that none of the letters I sent from Scotland ever were received. This is a fine pleasant country though great varieties of soil and of climate prevails. I looked a good deal over the state of New York for a situation. Old settled places are much exhausted by mismanagement and everywhere at a high price to be in this country. They would ask from 15 to 100 dollars per acre for land.

We stopped about 4 months at a place called Clyde on the canal about 146 miles east of Buffalo. I having a strong desire to see the country farther west I started off for Detroit in the territory of Michigan. From there steered my course southward 35 miles here I found a pleasant healthy country, good rich land water pure and abundant. After looking about the country a little I purchased (70 acres of) land of what would in any country be called first-rate land. About 70 acres nearly cleared and the remainder fine timberof hard wood no fir. The price was six dollars per acre I paid the money down and got a handsome allowance for ready money. The situation is very inviting having abundance of pure spring water. One spring brook runs past where we have fixed our house sufficient to drive a threshing machine. Land in its natural state can be had of government at 1 ¼ dollars per acre. I read the newspapers and am sorry to observe the disastrous state of the old country. Two men from Edinburgh are with me when I write this. They are going to purchase land. They say matters are always getting worse in the old country.

I will naturally be asked what is the best way to come among the Yankees. It is answered here temperately …. are firmness and truth the course everyone ought to pursue whether in an old or new country. The potatoes I got from you had a blessing in them. There were a few of them left after we arrived at America. We planted them and have some of them yet.

Blacksmiths charge very high for their work. A single potato hoe costs a dollar and other things in proportion. A tailor charges dollars for making a suit of clothes. The cotton and woolen goods are much inferior in this country to what they are in the old country. We have wheat of excellent quality and as to vegetables we have all kinds that are grown in any country in a similar latitude. It is certainly advisable to such as mean to follow agriculture to come here. There is no method I know of for vesting money equaled to purchasing land in this district. Please give our best respects to all our friends, particularly to Margaret and Anne’s families. My impression is if they can come here have ordinary health and ordinary luck they will soon be independent. In the old country a man with a large family is kept down not so here. A large family is their riches. They soon come to do something and as they grow up the parent is enabled to give each of them 80 acres of land that is equal to a hundred dollars in money. How any children they have there is land enough for at least a thousand years to come. When any of our relations come here please be so good as write us direct to Andrew Muir of Shieldhall by Ypsilanti, County of Washtenaw territory of Michigan, North America.

I shall conclude with the words of the Hebrew poet happy is he who has the God of Jacob for help whose hope is in the Lord his God. I am D Sir yours most truly.” Andrew Muir

Two more letters, with only these remaining excerpts shown below, are retained by the Ypsilanti Historical Society. The first dated January 29, 1832, by son, Andrew Muir, Jr., written to relatives in Scotland.

“The land in our immediate neighborhood is mostly bought, some of it very good and some not … it is about six years since Ypsilanti was founded, there is 600 inhabitants in it, and it is growing fast; there is a grist mill, a turning mill, two carding mills and a filling mill at Ypsi, which is 4 ½ miles from my fathers farm. There is a saw mill a mile above the town, a saw mill ¼ mile below it… there is limestone on the Huron 4 miles above the town, the snow lies in general 3 & 4 months, the river runs toward the lakes. We are said to be about 40 miles east of the ridge where the water turns west, & about 34 west of Lake Erie.

There are six stores, two groceries and 5 Taverns in Ypsilanti & almost everything you can name (except honesty and trust) is to be had for money or produce … most articles are 10 to 25 per cent cheaper than when we came here … “I am nearly broke down. The bears have taken 6 of my hogs last summer… I have been employed nearly two years past for on a farm belonging to Mr. Wilson. This farm is 500 acres. This farm lies on both sides of the River Huron, 2 miles below Ypsilanti. I had 50 [cents] per day summer & winter, & harvest time, haying, 62 ½ cents… I like this country middling well, I don’t much admire some of the people, … there is too much cheating and lying…”

Another quote from the above letter quoted in a newspaper article from 1962 states Andrew, Jr. urged his brother-in-law (Robert Campbell) to come to America where he could easily get land. But he cautioned him not to tell the “poor and idle” about the new country because “a man without money and who will not work, is just as fit to farm the land in America as an old black coach horse would be fit to clerk in the Bank of Scotland.”

The second letter noted above is from the father, Andrew Muir, again to his brother, Gabriel, in Scotland, and is dated January 12, 1832.

“…. This is the third year I have paid taxes. First year I paid 1 ¼ dollars; second year 13 shillings currency, for the last year I paid $1.29 thus it becomes less as settlers come in. This is called the county tax. 6000 settlers came to this county last year….so you are going to have a reform in your election of members of Parliament. The generation which commenced a change in any government very rarely completes it…we are not disturbed by the Indians…greater part of them 100 to 300 miles west…a few straggling Indians came about last year but when they found the country thickly settled they soon cleared out. By a late treaty of Government, they now get the interest of their money when the government takes up their lands. This keeps them in check…when they do not behave this money is withheld. The president has given them to understand that they must give up the practice of going annually to Canada to receive presents from the British government…”

Each letter urged the family to leave Scotland, where it was rare to own land, and move to Washtenaw County where land was there for the settling. The letters even gave specific instructions on how to pack. One letter stated, “Put your baggage in moderate size boxes or barrels like what two men can lift. If too small you are apt to get them stolen. Our press (chest) was rather too large and very unhandy when traveling. But not so now, it is of great use to us."

A letter written in March 1835 by Sarah (Muir) McLouth to relatives in Scotland, explained that “Our father is very frail but mother is in good health and able to do her own work and is brisk and cheerful.” Andrew Muir, Sr. died on April 13, 1837, and was buried on his Augusta Township farm, which he called Shieldhall. His wife, Mary, is buried next to him. Their son, Andrew and his wife, Huldah Jones, are also buried near them. The area has since been developed with homes and condos. The headstones were moved and are now in the storage shed at nearby Stony Creek Cemetery. One headstone reads: "Andrew Muir April 13, 1837 in 68th year," and the two footstones, read A.M. (Andrew Muir) and M.D.M. (Mary Donaldson Muir). A Dalymple Cemetery Transcription website containing records from Ayrshire, Scotland, has this entry: #196 - “In Memory of Andrew Muir 13.4.1837 age 67, wife Mary Donaldson 27.4.1864 age 94, interred Augusta Michigan U.S.A., son Gabriel 26.6.1826 interred here.” Their son Gabriel's stone and his remains also lie in that cemetery. At the bottom of the stone, it says, “…erected by Robert Campbell and Annie Muir his wife, 1882.” Heather Carlson surmises that they must have put up the stone as a memorial to Annie's parents, and young brother long after his death. Mary A. Campbell wrote, “Mary (Donaldson) Muir was blind for many of the last years of her life before her death in 1864. Her daughter, Margaret Gardner, cared for her much of the time.”

(Janet (McDougall) Buchanan edited, compiled and submitted this article. She is a great-great-granddaughter of George S. and Mary (Muir) McDougall, and great-granddaughter of John A. McDougall. Heather (McDougall) Carlson, also a great-great-granddaughter of George S. and Mary (Muir) McDougall, and great-granddaughter of George McDougall (brother of Chet and John A.), has researched the McDougall and Muir families in Scotland for many years. She contributed greatly to this article.)

Photo Captions:

Photo 1: Mr. & Mrs. George McDougall moved to Augusta Township in the fall of 1828.

Marilyn Begole Chose Love

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

Author: Phil Barnes

Broadway almost had a grip on her future but she backed out at the last minute and stayed home. At the urging of Dr. Hugh Norton and Professor Garnet Garrison of the University of Michigan Dance and Theater Department, Marilyn Begole had been asked to accept an opportunity to go to New York City to further her career in dance and theater. Marilyn declined, which was a decision that changed her life forever and also that of “the love of her life, Ellis Freatman. Ellis was an aspiring young attorney at the time and he had asked Marilyn to become his bride.

Little Marilyn arrived in Ypsilanti in 1930 with her parents Grace and Mack Begole. Memories of her early dance lessons prior to the age of five are vividly etched in her mind. Grace opened up a dance studio in Ypsilanti in 1934 and many of the little girls took lessons from her for twenty-five to fifty cents, which was a true bargain. The dance recitals at the Ypsilanti High School Auditorium were outstanding with up to 100 students performing. One of those girls was Lois Katon. Lois and Marilyn were best of friends and took dance instruction from Grace Begole and piano lessons from Margaret Breakey. Lois remembers how beautiful Marilyn was with her flowing curls and a big bow in the side of her hair. In describing her abilities she said “Marilyn was a lovely dancer, specializing in ballet and toe dancing. We were best of friends and stayed very close until high school.” Marilyn went to Roosevelt High School and Lois went to Ypsilanti Central. They remained close and participated in Sunday School activities in the First Methodist Church and Girl Scout functions as well.

Marilyn’s mother Grace decided to further her experience by enrolling her in the Denishawn Dancers in Detroit where she stood out as a top candidate for a future in dance. Her appearances were stunning and she continued to study under her Mother’s soft hand. Dancers from Denishawn were appearing in New York once a month and Marilyn’s work deserved an invitation to go east. Her refusal to go led to more extensive opportunities locally. With her local career flourishing, the Ben Greet Players, a professional group, came forward and offered Marilyn an opportunity to join them. She danced and acted in many performances at the Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre at the University of Michigan. Her career was now in the hands of Paul Hubbell, who headed the Ben Greet Players. She steadily rose to the top and was chosen to play the lead in several performances at the Lydia Mendelssohn Theater. It was her performances in these starring roles that led to the New York invitation which she refused preferring to stay at home and be close to Ellis Freatman. Marilyn’s career was important to her but love won out.

After she received her Master’s Degree in Theater Arts from the University of Michigan, Marilyn was interviewed for a job with the Milan Area Schools by the Superintendent, Mr. Drevdall. The position involved teaching drama at the High School and heading up the school plays. She was sold on the job after her interview with the Superintendent and produced two plays a year during her five years of teaching in Milan. Joan Cullip, one of Marilyn’s students in Milan said, “Mrs. Freatman was a wonderful and well liked teacher and drama coach.” Her work there is still fondly remembered by the many students who performed in the plays she directed.

Marilyn and Ellis now reside in Ypsilanti after raising their family. She and Ellis spend winter months in Florida and the rest of the year with friends and family in Ypsilanti. Ellis still says that Marilyn passed up a chance at the “big time” by not going to New York, but secretly he is very happy she didn’t go!

(Phil Barnes spent 30 years in the Milan school system as an administrator, 13 of those years as Athletic Director, and is a regular member of the Ypsilanti Morning Coffee Group.)

Photo Captions:

Keith: The first three photos should be grouped so they have a common caption and then each one has their own caption.

Photo 1a, 2a and 3a: In 1950 while Marilyn was enrolled as a student in the Department of Speech at the University of Michigan she starred in three plays.
Photo 1a: “King Lear” by William Shakespeare. Marilyn played Cordelia, daughter to Lear.
Photo 2a: “Caesar and Cleopatra” by George Bernard Shaw. Marilyn played Cleopatra.
Photo 3a: “The School for Husbands” by Moliere. Marilyn played the Shepardess.
Photo 4a: A recent picture of Ellis and Marilyn (Begole) Freatman.

The Florence Babbitt Collection

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

(The Eastern Michigan University Florence Babbitt Collection was recently transferred to the YHS Museum on permanent loan. The collection contains 132 items. Included with the Collection was the following biography of Florence Smalley Babbitt.)

Florence Smalley Babbitt – 1847-1929: There is a rather charming story told of Florence Babbitt, Ypsilanti’s best known “collector,” which shows that even as a young girl she appreciated the old and interesting items. She and her parents were invited to a tea at a neighbor’s home. Their hostess had just acquired a new set of white china and was proud of it. The adult guests were served on the new white china and the children on the older “second” set of blue and white china. One of the children complained, “I want to eat off the new.” Whereupon, the story goes, little Florence clasped a piece of the blue and white china to her and said, “Oh, I love this old plate.” When she went home her charmed hostess gave her the plate for her very own. That piece seems to have been part of Florence’s plate collection.

To the majority of people in Ypsilanti the name Florence Smalley Babbitt means nothing; some few might say, “Oh, yes, I have heard of her, she collected “things,” others might know of her name because they had heard of their parents or older relatives mention her. This short paper is presented in the hopes that more will learn of this remarkable woman and the great debt we Ypsilantians do owe to her.

Florence Lewis Smalley Babbitt was born in Friendship, Allegheny County, New York on March 19, 1847. She was the daughter of Mortimore and Nancy Lewis Smalley. In 1852 the Smalleys with their small daughter and son came to Ypsilanti and became neighbors of Doctor and Mrs. John Winthrop Babbitt who lived at 38 North River Street. Their son “Will” Babbitt, twelve years older than Florence was sometimes her “baby sitter.”

During the Civil War Mortimore Smalley enlisted in the Twenty Seventh Michigan Infantry and Florence’s younger brother Albertus, accompanied his father as a drummer boy. Albertus is said to have been Michigan’s youngest drummer boy. After the war, the Smalleys received six hundred acres of land near Caseville, Michigan from the government and moved to that area.

Florence Babbitt graduated from the Union School and attended the Ypsilanti Seminary.

In August of 1866 Florence married John Willard Babbitt (then a young lawyer and signing himself more formally J. Willard Babbitt). They were married in Port Huron but came to Ypsilanti to live and after a few years they bought what was known as “the oldest house in Ypsilanti” and had the house moved to the southeast corner of South Huron and Race Streets (the house situated at 301 South Huron was demolished in 1935).

An article in the Ypsilanti Press of July 4, 1930 reveals quite a good deal about the house. “The house itself is rich in Ypsilanti history, having been built by the Larzelere family in the Larzelere and Post addition. Back of the barn, which is now torn down, may still be seen the Old Indian Council tree about which the Indians use to gather before the house was built. The tree, now fallen, for many years was a landmark for Ypsilanti. Behind the house also is a large mulberry patch which was planted by the early owners of the house. They had planned to start a silk industry in Ypsilanti. The house, a twelve room structure, which has been in the Babbitt family for fifty-eight years, has been unoccupied for the last twenty-eight. Mrs. Babbitt, and inveterate collector of antiques, had during the last few decades stored many of her possessions in the building so that now it is a veritable museum full of surprises.”

One of Mrs. Babbitt’s daughters, Nan Babbitt Church, said she always wondered if the additions made to the house were to accommodate the growing collections or the growing family of four daughters.

Of her mother, Mrs. Church also said, “…long before anyone ever thought of collecting anything American she was the bane of her family with her search for the interesting and beautiful being produced here. People thought of her not too bright and her family would groan when the phaeton would stop at the house and she would climb out with her paper wrapped bundles.”

Mrs. Babbitt became acquainted with thousands of attics and pantries in Michigan. She used to attend Art Loans which were held in the Old Detroit Art Gallery on Jefferson Avenue, and she finally convinced the curator that there was beauty in other things besides painting and statuary and wore down his resistance so that he gave her permission to put on an exhibit of fifty of her finest old plates. Everyone was surprisingly interested in this collection and it was then that Mr. Griffith, the curator, saw how sensible it would be for the Museum to have a room devoted to early American things. However, even though convinced he refused to act, saying “no time, no money,” but he told Mrs. Babbitt she could arrange the exhibit herself. Her answer was that she would furnish the articles if he but supply the room. As she was on very friendly terms with many of the old families of Detroit, she set about the task of getting them to part with their precious “keep-sakes” for what was to be the American Wing of the Detroit Museum.

By 1901 her collections were enormous. She had in her possession approximately 3,000 pieces of old china, 1,500 trays, a bushel basket full of glass cup plates, furniture, old American and English silver, brasses, pewter, lamps, samplers, etc. But in that year of 1901 Judge Babbitt died, and it became necessary for her to earn her own way in life, so she made antiques her business as well as her hobby. Advertisements similar to the following appeared in local papers around the state: “Ypsilantian, October 30, 1902 – Mrs Florence S. Babbitt has for sale a solid mahogany four-post bedstead, with tester, over one hundred years old. A genuine bargain.”

Florence Babbitt had always been interested in the career of Lewis Cass, territorial governor of Michigan from 1813 to 1831 and knew that he too, in his day may have been a “collector” and in fact had started, “A Society for the Preservation of Maps and Documents of Early Michigan” in 1828, and organization later to be known as “The Historical Society of Michigan.” An off-shoot from this organization was the Michigan Pioneer and Michigan Historical Commission, which built up a collection of documents. Florence Babbitt approached the men who headed the Pioneer and Historical Commission and presented to them the idea of preserving the household arts of Michigan. To induce them to carry out this idea she offered 3,000 dishes at $1.00 each.

“When you consider that such articles included were Lowestoft helmets, pitchers, Toby jugs, etc. you can see she made a sacrifice to the idea that Michigan, her beloved state, should preserve these things. She was made official collector for the State Society and with gifts of lamps, brass, pewter and Bennington ware collections, the State Museum at Lansing was started.” So her daughter, Nan Babbitt Church has written.

Also according to a copy of another agreement, dated January 1906, she sold the Michigan Pioneer and Historical Society 1,000 pieces of Pioneer pottery for $2,500. In the files at the Ypsilanti Museum there is also an old invitation which reads: “Mrs. Florence S. Babbitt invites the members of the Grand Chapter of O.E.S. of Michigan to visit the Museum of the Michigan Pioneer and Historical Society located in the Capital at Lansing, Tuesday afternoon from four to six October ninth, nineteen hundred six, where is on exhibition her collection of old china and other relics gathered from the Pioneers of Michigan.”

So great was Florence Babbitt’s love of the past and joy of collecting she wanted to share this love with everybody. There is a perfectly charming story about her endeavor to instill in the very young this appreciation. It is best told as it was written for the Detroit Free Press on December 29, 1907: “Aged Woman Stood in Rain to Give Away Toys of Years Ago – Mrs. Florence S. Babbitt, whose collection of Child playthings is second to King Edward’s, was Santa Claus at Ypsilanti. Christmas day has come and gone, and with it the street Santa Clauses, with their long flowing beards and their red robes; Santas whose figures are familiar to all those who live in the larger and to many who live in the smaller cities, but it remained for one woman to this year enact the role of the street Santa Claus and appear upon the streets of Ypsilanti and give presents to all children between the ages of five and eight who would hand her a slip of paper containing their names and ages. This woman was Mrs. Florence S. Babbitt, widow of the late Judge J. Willard Babbitt, and known throughout the United States as the greatest collector of children’s toys over sixty years of age. Six hundred tiny parcels wrapped in red paper, white paper and blue paper and filling four bushel baskets, were distributed upon the streets, Mrs. Babbitt receiving only a slip of paper containing the recipient’s name and age, and the child was made happy. Each parcel contained a tiny china toy, of a kind quite familiar to every family, which years ago was able to afford a mantel or clock shelf, for the toys distributed were imported into this country from England before the Civil War and would probably never have been distributed had it not been that Mrs. Babbitt is able to “smell a child’s toy about five miles away,” for it was upon one of her collecting expeditions that these toys were found and purchased for distribution among the children of her home city. The afternoons of two-days, December 23 and 24, were given to the distribution of these gifts, and from the hours of three to five each day Mrs. Babbitt stood in front of one of the local stores, braving nasty damp air and rain and the sloppy condition of the street with its half melted snow, to carry out her cherished wish. One hundred and twenty-eight gifts were disposed of the first hour of the 23rd, during which time a slow drizzling rain continued. Many grown folks appeared with the children in that hour, and not a few without. Those who appeared without hoped it would be a “nice day tomorrow, and we will send our Harold or Josephine down,” while those who accompanied their children said it was “such a nasty day for our children to be out.” Only a few thought of the disagreeable day it was for an elderly woman to stand in the rain, that she might distribute Christmas gifts to their children.

Over seven hundred items from her toy collection were given to the Kent County Museum in Grand Rapids...

It was only natural that when Henry Ford started collecting early in the nineteen hundreds that he contacted Mrs. Babbitt and came to her many times to consult with her. He bought many treasures from her, including the largest collection of old jewelry in this country. When he bought the house in which he was born and lived in as a boy he asked her to refurnish it. Mrs. Church has said, “It was rather a difficult task but to her an interesting one for he did not want beautiful pieces but replicas of the pieces he well remembered. I remember momma combed the country before she could find an old ‘Jewett’ stove like the one in the Ford kitchen.”

By this time so great was Mrs. Babbitt’s fame as an authority of early American scene that William A. Brady, well known theatrical producer, sought her out in 1913 to stage the scenes for the first production of Little Women.

She also aided the staff of the Chicago Art Institute in starting an American Wing. Housed there is the Florence S. Babbitt collection of colonial coverlets, to which the Detroit Journal in a June 1917 article paid its respects: “The famous collection of thirty woven coverlets, a species of domestic industrial handicraft of early days of the last century that was gathered from the many notable pioneer families in Michigan by Mrs. Florence S. Babbitt, the well known antiquarian collector of this city, has been purchased by Rev. Dr. Frank Gunsaulus, of Chicago, and presented to the Chicago Art Institute. The Chicago Institute may well exult in thus securing the finest collection of this kind of handicraft in existence. The coverlets all have the date and name of their maker woven into them, and two, the Lafayette coverlet of 1824 and the Washington coverlet of 1831, are considered especially treasures by authorities on handicraft.”

The Chicago Art Institute people certainly appreciated Florence Babbitt, and this is shown in the Institute Newsletter for October 14, 1922: “There is an old lady living in Ypsilanti, Michigan, who is continually on the look-out for rare pieces of porcelain and earthenware. She has a method of marketing her wares peculiarly her own. Under her skirt, which is full and voluminous, is a petticoat sewed full of pockets. Into these pockets rare articles of bric-a-brac are carried to market. One wonders what might happen if she struck the business side of a banana peel. Some time ago she appeared with two rare specimens of French poodles, about three inches high, made of black basalt. There are only five sets of these in existence. These were quickly snatched up and are now reposing with other objects of black basalt in the Blanxius Collection.”

And this was not all she did, for her daughter has remembered other cities that were beneficiaries of her technical knowhow, “She also helped establish the antique wing of the museum at Toledo, Ohio and gave generously of her time and collections to Michigan towns that were brave enough and wise enough to start preserving the treasurers of their people. Three Oaks, Michigan being one of them,” wrote Mrs. Church.

Florence Babbitt became a buyer for the Chicago Art Institute with access into the homes of the very wealthy, either in her capacity as a cataloger or a buyer. In a letter to her daughter written from Chicago in 1923 she told of going one day to inspect the eminent Mrs. Potter Palmer’s collection of china and glass. Another day she was invited to the McCormick home where, she reported, “I met twenty ladies all in Colonial Costume…I was the only one in ‘citizen clothes.’ After the luncheon we sat around in a circle and I began telling of their grandmother’s china cabinets…I had expected to talk about thirty minutes, but talked about two hours for I took up each piece each lady had brought and not only told them who made them but also gave a little biographical sketch of each potter, which made it more interesting for them.”

From the Cadillac News and Express, June 14, 1906 we learn of yet another Michigan museum which benefited from Mrs. Babbitt…: “A new feature in the historical museum, displayed on this occasion for the first time, is the Florence Babbitt Collection of antique dishes, which was placed last week in especially prepared cases, so far as space would permit, though the wholly inadequate quarters would not allow of the display of more than a moderate part of the collection. There are, all together, between thirteen hundred and fourteen hundred pieces, many of them very ancient patterns, rare and valuable and taken as a whole the collection has few equals in the country. (Note: here is what happened to the “blue and white” plate) The nucleus, the nest egg of the collection, was an old blue plate which Florence Smalley, for that was her maiden name, then ten years old, had admired while at tea with her parents at a neighbor’s house, and which was given to her.”

It is difficult to say just what this unusual woman did not collect. One of the special things about her collecting was the information she had on every object, its original owner and something about the person, each object carefully marked as to maker (if known), and all such records carefully kept. Her daughter said, “What made my mother different was her insistence and persistence that someday America would be given its proper place in the museums of the country.”

As Miss Eileen M. Harrison of the Ypsilanti has written Wednesday January 30, 1963, “One of the secrets of her success was that when she was on the trail of a particular antique nothing interfered with her getting it.” This article has given us a humorous picture of Mrs. Babbitt on one of her collecting expeditions: “On one occasion she had gone to Detroit to find an old three legged iron pot. By the time she found one, she was extremely tired and sat down to wait for a street car. As old ladies will, she soon nodded off. In those days all elderly women looked more or less alike. Rich or poor, they usually wore dark colors and Mrs. Babbitt was no exception. There she sat, a tired old lady asleep in the sun, her hat a little askew. Suddenly she was awakened by an odd clink and discovered that a kindly passerby had dropped a coin into the kettle.”

But so sad and so true is Eileen Harrison’s conclusion, “She was nationally recognized through “The American Magazine” but like many…another who has carried a cause, her foresight was not fully appreciated in Ypsilanti and she was unsuccessful in her efforts to establish an historical museum here.”

It is understood that early in nineteen hundred Florence Babbitt offered the City of Ypsilanti that part of her vast collection whose pieces came originally from homes in Ypsilanti City and Township but the city fathers were unable to find a location to display them. Regarding this, the following article from the city paper dated July 25, 1901 is interesting: “A part of the collection of pioneer relics in use prior to the dedication of the Normal School at Ypsilanti in 1852 and gathered through the years of research by Mrs. Florence S. Babbitt, is now on view at Normal College. Mrs. Babbitt hopes to continue it in time to make a formal presentation to the school next year at the Normal’s fiftieth anniversary.”

Some of these articles were kept on display in cases in Old Pierce Hall, but many were packed away for lack of space. When the old building was torn down to make room for the new building over one hundred articles linked to the history of the City of Ypsilanti, Eastern Michigan University (The Old Normal) and nearby areas were found. Mrs. Eugene B. Elliott, wife of the former president of Eastern, found or was told of the boxes of valuable relics. Perhaps Mrs. Elliott thought, “What a shame not to display them some how,” and being fortunate enough to have display space, had taken them to her home and opened her own miniature museum in her basement recreation room. The articles were displayed on specially built shelves and each item was marked with a card telling a little bit of its history. Mrs. Elliott got her information about the pieces from Mrs. Babbitt’s original itemized list of articles. Since the Elliott’s have left Ypsilanti the display has been moved to the rooms of the Home Economics Department in Welch Hall. It is impossible because of space to show the complete collection all at once, so the display is changed monthly.

Mrs. Babbitt was a stickler for authenticity whenever possible. For instance, in 1923, when all Ypsilanti celebrated its centennial to publicize the city even more Mrs. Babbitt appeared in a period costume of the years between 1859-1861 (as close as she could get to the ‘founding date’). The dress and all the accessories were all purchased in Ypsilanti. The material for the dress, a green merino cloth had been bought at Norris & Follet’s Store in 1859. The French embroidered dickie and under sleeves were bought at F. K. Resford Store. The cap had been fashioned by a local milliner in 1861 and the earrings by Marvin Park’s Jewelry Store. The handkerchief, ring and bouquet holder, pins, bracelets and cap pins were from S.H. Dodge’s Jewelry Store, successor to Parks. The black lace shawl and hoops came from the Jerome G. Cross Store. The same costume was worn by Mrs. Babbitt at the Grand Army Encampment at Saginaw, Michigan, also by her at the National Grand Army Encampment at Columbus, Ohio. It was also worn at the fiftieth anniversary of the Order of the Eastern Star in Detroit, the Supreme White Shrine of Jerusalem at Grand Rapids and many other historical gatherings. It is interesting to know that the same dress was found in an old suit case and is still in good condition and was worn as recently as 1965 by a faculty wife for a program put on by the University Wives of Eastern Michigan University.

When Ypsilanti was struck by the disastrous cyclone in 1893 Mrs. Babbitt was right on hand, or at least she was the next day. She took many pictures of the damages. She sold these photographs for only twenty-five cents each, and so there may be quite a few homes in Ypsilanti that have pictorial records of the storm of 1893.

During her lifetime there seem to have been few people in Ypsilanti City and Township and for miles around who were not approached by Mrs. Babbitt and coaxed out of something of theirs for her collections. That this was true is borne out by this little poem attributed to Atwood McAndrew, Sr. and first read at a local dinner which Mrs. Babbitt attended.

There was an old woman named Babbitt
Who gathered up dishes from habit
She started the STAR
Ran the whole G.A.R.
If you have an old dish, she’ll nab it

Now just what else did this amazing woman do to occupy her time? For many the time consuming work of collecting and cataloging would be enough, but obviously Mrs. Babbitt was a real leader and had many causes in which she believed and for which she gave her time and energy.

Her obituary notice of November 4, 1929 listed a number of her varied activities: “She was a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution, Charter Member of Ypsilanti Order of the Eastern Star – 119, honorary member of Grand Chapter O.E.S. in Michigan. She initiated the “Flag Service” at the Grand Chapter in 1902, which is used throughout the chapters in the United States. It was through her suggestion and efforts that a flag was placed in every O.E.S. Chapter room in churches. She was past President of the Carpenter Relief Corps, #65, and held every office in the Department of Women Relief Corp in Michigan. She was honorary member of the Daughters of War Veterans of ’61, honorary member of Women’s Study Club, charter member of the Ladies Literary Club, honorary member of the Supreme White Shrine of Jerusalem, Vice President of the Three-Quarters Century Club, member of the Michigan Historical Society and one of the pioneers of Historical and Antiques Collectors of Michigan. She was a life member of the Episcopal Church and of the Parish Aid Society.

During her presidency of the Carpenter Relief Corps of Ypsilanti the money was raised to build the base for the Civil War Memorial in Highland Cemetery, the statue given by Mrs. John Starkweather, and dedicated May 30, 1895. A newspaper reporter gave her full credit: “The beautiful $5,000 soldiers monument in Ypsilanti is chiefly due to her efforts, which she kept up for years when everybody else had become weary and discouraged, managing excursions and promoting schemes of all sorts, until the necessary money was secured, not only for that but for assisting the soldiers monuments at Dexter and Chelsea. At Ypsilanti she induced the Michigan Central to dedicate a pretty triangular plot of ground at the depot as “Cass Plot” and erected thereon a flagpole, and kept flying from its peak a fine flag during the whole of the Spanish War, as a tribute to our soldier boys and to General Cass, who was a patron saint in her father’s political calendar (Like her father, she was a democrat).

Mrs. Babbitt was active in the 27th Michigan Infantry Auxiliary and served as President of the Auxiliary in 1902. It was while she was president of the Auxiliary that the 27th held its 40th reunion here in Ypsilanti in October of 1902. There is in downtown Ypsilanti a block of buildings known as the Thompson Block. During the Civil War these buildings were used as the barracks of the 27th Michigan Infantry, Mrs. Babbitt’s fathers regiment. The following article from The Cleveland Leader of October 1901 tells a touching story of just how it happened that the 27th held its reunion in Ypsilanti: “The twenty-seventh Michigan Regiment was stampeded Thursday morning by a daughter of the regiment. She selected the place of holding the next meeting and was elected President of the Regiment Association. The 27th Michigan was holding its reunion in a hall at 354 Ontario Street, and the meeting was proceeding slowly along the regular channels. A drum corps of veterans had just finished the opening selection when Mrs. Florence S. Babbitt of Ypsilanti, Michigan, walked in. Four years ago she was made a daughter of the regiment because her father and brother had gone out with that organization in 1861. As soon as she came in Thursday the music stopped and veterans arose to give her a salute. It happened that the next thing on the program was the selection of the place for holding next meeting. Flushing, Michigan, had been selected for this year’s meeting, but arrangements had been changed to come to Cleveland, and some thought that Flushing ought to have the meeting place for next year. About that time Mrs. Babbitt arose and asked them to go to Ypsilanti. All of the places that had been mentioned immediately withdrew their claims, and with shouts of “Ypsilanti,” the veterans arose to their feet and proclaimed that city as their choice. The next thing was the election of officers, in Ypsilanti, Mrs. Florence S. Babbitt was made President by acclamation.

(The article continues with many other tributes to Mrs. Babbitt. A copy of the article was found with the Babbitt Collection on permanent loan to the YHS Museum from the Eastern Michigan University Archives. Author unknown.)

Photo Captions:

Photo 1: Florence Babbitt wearing the historical costume she wore at the Ypsilanti centennial celebration in 1923. All the articles in the costume were bought in Ypsilanti between the years 1859-1861.

Photo 2: The historical costume worn by Florence Babbitt in 1923 is now on display in the YHS Museum.

Photo 3:This picture is in the YHS Archives and the writing on the back indicates it is a Babbitt Collection display at the Kent County Museum in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The date is unknown.

Photo 4: This unique pin cushion bird is part of the EMU Babbitt Collection that is now housed in the YHS Museum. It was donated by Phoebe Thompson Miller of Ypsilanti.

Photo 5: This Willcox & Gibbs automatic noiseless sewing machine is part of the EMU Babbitt Collection now housed in the YHS Museum.

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