The History of Frog Island Park – The Island That is Not an Island

Published In:
Ypsilanti Gleanings
Original Images:






Author: Janice Anschuetz

Frog Island is dear to my heart because it is the reason that my husband consented to purchase our home of 45 years at the northeast corner of River Street and Forest Avenue. When I showed him the aging Victorian house that I wanted to call home, with its leaky roof, water in the basement, crumbling plaster, rotting porches, wheezing furnace and all of its “charms,” he was dumbfounded and thought that I had taken leave of my senses. Then I pointed out that we would be only two blocks from the running track at Frog Island and the beautiful Huron River. That was enough for him, and in the many years that we have lived in the Swaine House, he has run or walked thousands of miles on Frog Island.

Like many other Ypsilantians, we have greatly enjoyed Frog Island. Our family has watched soccer games, witnessed historical baseball games, attended jazz festivals, mesmerized when we saw elephants set up circus tents on the island, admired the community gardens, and, in general, experienced the changing seasons of Michigan on the banks of the beautiful Huron River. I would like to share with you the history of Frog Island with the hope that this will add to your appreciation of this charming part of Ypsilanti.

Frog Island is not an island anymore, and was not even an island when settlers came to the area in the early 1800’s. When Mark Norris arrived in what was then a wilderness, in 1827, he quickly surveyed the land for possibilities of making money using the natural resources. Water power was valuable, and he purchased water rights to the river from the partnership of Hardy & Reading who had dammed the river on the West side where Forest Ave crossed the river. In the book The History of Washtenaw County published in 1906, we read how the men initially dammed the river: “The obstruction forming this water power being of brush, clay and logs; it would appear to be the work of a beaver tribe, instead of enterprising men; however, the rude barricade, which confined the Huron at this point, was swept away by the flood of 1832.” The mill and river rights were soon after sold to Mark Norris. Norris was interested in building a mill on the east side of the river on Cross Street on land that he owned. In order to do this he needed a mill race to turn the turbines of the mill. He hired men to dig a trench from the river at Forest Avenue to Cross Street and thus what we now know of as Frog Island was born.

In 1832, Norris leased additional water power on the mill race to A.M. Hurd and his partner, a man by the name of Sage. The lease gave them two square feet of water power with a fall of five feet and they used this to build and operate a foundry. They built a structure 50 by 80 feet and hired Benjamin Thompson to supervise it. The next year the foundry became a plow factory and then a woolen mill. Within a matter of years it became an iron casting plant. All of these changes occurred within a matter of 14 years!

The property was sold in 1844. Timothy Showerman purchased it and converted the building once again. This time it became the Aetna Flouring Mills, which was a rival to the Eagle Flour Mill owned by Mark Norris and his son-in-law, Benjamin Follet. Follet was an attorney and sued Showerman for violating the lease to the water rights stating that the Aetna mill was using too much water power. The flour mill was shut down and Norris and Follet took possession of it and converted the building, still again, to a sash, door and blind factory, taking advantage of the plentiful lumber supply in the area. They expanded the business, which was later purchased by Chauncey Joslin, into a planing mill, gypsum mill, and axe handle factory. However, all was lost in 1854 when a mighty flood washed away all but the heavy water wheels and planing machine. Estimates of value of the loss of the buildings and machinery was over $12,000, which was a great deal of money at that time.

This island did not remain vacant for long. There seems to be something about Ypsilanti, and maybe the river, which attracts colorful characters such as Henry R. Scovill, who soon after the Civil War founded a new company there. Scovill was born in Cleveland, Ohio on January 28, 1843. When he was only two years old his family moved to Ypsilanti. As a young man he enlisted and fought in the Civil War and survived the Battle of Bull Run. After the war he returned to Ypsilanti for a short time and then decided to take the railroad as far west as it traveled and then took a boat to Omaha, Nebraska. There he got a job driving a mule team to Salt Lake City, Utah. This took six months. Along the way he told of meeting up with a number of gunmen including the then famous “Quieting Angel” named because of this reputation as a murderer.

Scovill earned $30 for his six months as a teamster and used this for passage on a wagon train going on to California. He traveled in the chuck wagon. Once there, he got a job as a ranch hand and hunted for gold in his free time. It seems that Scovill did not “strike it rich” and decided to seek his fortune back in his hometown of Ypsilanti instead. This was not an easy journey at that time. He took an ocean steam ship to Nicaragua, went across the isthmus of Panama by boat, took a pack mule to a ship which would make the journey to New York, and by the time he arrived back in Ypsilanti, the adventures of his youth were over.

In 1869, Scovill mortgaged his home for $700, went into partnership with Joseph Follmor who provided an additional $1,000 and started a lumber business renting the island where a lumber mill had once stood. There were still the remains of a saw mill and planing mill. The land at that time had been sold to William Deubel, Sr. who ran the flour mill on East Cross Street once owned by Norris and Follett.

Legend says that Scovill was responsible for the name “Frog Island” due to the number of frogs residing there on the swampy land between the Huron River and the mill stream. Another version, told to us by Chip Porter in an Eastern Echo article from June 13, 1990, explains the name a different way. Ypsilanti was a town where prominent citizens participated in temperance and when the “town elders started staying out most of the night, and had to make excuses to tell their wives that they were at the island killing frogs”, the name Frog Island was born. Of course the town children also went to the island to catch frogs so perhaps that is how it got its name. In the 50 years our family has been visiting Frog Island and the river bank, I have never seen or heard a frog there. Perhaps they were all caught or killed in the 19th century.

Contemporary locals would like us to believe that Frog Island was named after the rare “Smeet Frog”, with fur and being capable of flying, but that legend seems to be related to the creative imagination and incredible sense of humor of Tom Dodd, one of the optimistic people who brought Depot Town in Ypsilanti back to being a vibrant part of the community in the 1960s. “Town Elders” would have to spend more than one night on the island if they went in search of the Smeet Frog. After Tom’s death, a plaque was placed in his honor on the tridge reminding us to remember Tom and the Smeet Frog legend.

Instead of hunting for gold or frogs on Frog Island, Scovill and his partner were using another natural resource to form a business and make a living – standing timber. In the 1860s, the area was filled with trees of many varieties – basswood, oak, maple, beech, ash, walnut, maple and hickory. As soon as the ground froze and snow covered the roads in the winter and the crops were harvested for the year, farmers would pile wagons high with logs. By Spring, the east bank of the mill race would be piled high with thousands of feet of logs which had been bought by Scovill and Follmor.

One of the most popular types of wood used for building at the time was white pine, which was not readily available in the Ypsilanti area. So Scovill would go by train to various destinations in northern Michigan where he would hire a livery to go to towns such as Bay City, Flint and Saginaw to purchase trees. Then the lumber would be shipped to his mill, which was a short distance from the railroad track freight yard and depot. Large open flat cars, each carrying about 10,000 board feet would be used for this purpose.

Scovill and Follmor built a planing mill to cut the lumber into finished products on the west side of the island east of the Woolen Mill, located across the river, and made famous by Ypsilanti Underwear. They shared power from the same dam which was located in the river as opposed to the mill steam. This water power was controlled by the Deubel Mill on Cross Street and the Woolen Mill Company.

In the 1890’s Scovill bought out his partner and continued the business by himself. The business was often hampered by high water and floods, which often did a great deal of damage, especially the monumental flood of March, 1903. The high water poured down the race from the river and washed away hundreds of feet of lumber and timber. Water poured over the banks of the river and the workmen had to be taken off the island by boat. Like the captain on a sinking ship, Scovill was the last man to leave the island and by then the water was so dangerous that his boat was overturned and he struggled to get to safe land with the river raging.

Even though water power was a cheap way to run machinery, much cheaper than steam or electricity, Scovill decided to move his operation to higher land and settled at the nearby property at 298 Jarvis St. in 1903. Even by 1910 Scovill still delivered his lumber in horse drawn wagons. In an article published in the Ypsilanti Press on September 3, 1962, we read about this interesting man who was elected major of Ypsilanti for 3 terms in 1881 and again in 1890 serving 2 terms. “He was probably the last consistent horse driver in Ypsilanti. Each day he went to and from the lumber company in a wagon so punctual that residents could set their watches by the time he passed.” Unfortunately he died the way he lived – but at a ripe old age. His horse and carriage was hit by a car on Forest Avenue and he died almost immediately. Scovill’s business was eventually taken over by his son and his daughter closing after 93 years in 1962.

And what of the island he left behind? Detroit Edison purchased the water rights and was persuaded by Dr. Edward George, then president of the Ypsilanti School District, and others to deed the land to the City of Ypsilanti and the public school district. Dr. George along with his friend, Fielding Yost, drew up plans to transform this once industrial landscape into “Island Park” which contained a running track, baseball field, and football field. Because of his dedication to the transformation of the island, it was jokingly referred to as George Island Park by his friends, instead of Island Park, which was the name that it was given. Island Park was the athletic field for the nearby Ypsilanti High School on Cross Street. Students would walk from the school for their track, football, and baseball activities. During the Great Depression, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) built the cement bridge connecting what was then known as Island Park to Cross Street.

By 1962 the mill stream was all but gone, deliberately filled in by Ypsilanti’s garbage and trash. A sliver of it can be seen today looking to the east of the cement bridge but the water is supplied by a drainage pipe from the nearby parking lot instead of the river. By the 1970’s Island Park was deeded to the City of Ypsilanti by the Ypsilanti School District when the new high school was built on Packard complete with ample athletic fields. The island, whose name was now officially Frog Island, and not Island Park, soon looked unkempt and deserted, perhaps by all except the few who enjoyed fishing in the river and those running the track. Then, the Depot Town Association and Eastern Michigan University formed a team, and in 1981 the island came alive again with a jazz competition which was part of the Heritage Festival. In 1983, the Frog Island Music Festival rocked the island, and this became an annual summer event for several years. Sadly, severe storms several years in a row bankrupted the festival and it ceased to be.

The 1980’s, however brought some improvements to this park. Trails around the high banks were built and a bridge was constructed to allow a beautiful connection to Riverside Park as well as Cross Street and Depot Town. A small stage was built and soccer fields sprouted in the midst of the running track. Cement steps now went from the high flood wall banks to the fishing shore of the river. A recycle center was located on the island around 1987.

More improvement plans were drawn up with grants applied for and some approved for funding by the state, but, by the 1990s the city was unable to come up with the matching funds. Today, Frog Island remains a jewel, with its own charming personality, in the string of parks along the river in Ypsilanti. It is part of the Border to Border Trail which will connect Frog Island to Riverside Park to Water Works Park to North Bay Park and beyond, as far as the Wayne County line, in the near future. The park has recently been adopted by a hard working team of volunteers, and community gardens grace the land that was once a foundry. Soccer games with cheering fans play there weekly during the season and the track is now used by more than just a few hardy individuals like my husband and others in the neighborhood. Not just neighborhood boys are fishing the river. From its shores, fly fisherman can be seen sporting in the waters. Sometimes herons and eagles are spotted, less often a deer. I hope that this brief history of the island, that is not an island, will add to your enjoyment of one of the prettiest places to live and enjoy in the great city of Ypsilanti.

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


Photo Captions:

Photo 1: A bird’s eye view of Frog Island in 1865.

Photo 2: A bird’s eye view of Frog Island in 1890.

Photo 3: Scovill Lumber Company on Frog Island c1895. Note the pile of logs on the right bank.

Photo 4: Scovill Lumber Company Race in c1895.

Photo 5: Damage from the floods in 1918.

Photo 6: Scovill Lumber Company letterhead.

Photo 7: Baseball game on Frog Island on May 18, 1940.

Photo 8: Athletic Field on Frog Island in the Spring of 1941.

Photo 9: Henry R. Scovill

In Search of the Real Rosie the Riveter

Published In:
Ypsilanti Gleanings
Original Images:




Author: James Mann

As part of the effort to save the Willow Run Bomber Plant from demolition, some 776 women dressed as Rosie the Riveter to set a Guinness Book of World Record. The requirements for participation were stringent, the white poke-dots on the red bandanna had to be the right size and the women had to have on the right shoes and pants. The women succeeded in achieving their goal. Pity, none of the women who set the record were dressed as Rosie the Riveter.

The requirements were based on the World War II era “We Can Do It” poster. This poster has come to be accepted as the image of Rosie the Riveter, urging women to leave the traditional role of homemaker and replace men in the factory. The problem is the girl in the poster was not Rosie the Riveter. There is nothing in the poster, to indicate that her name is Rosie or that she is a riveter. The poster tells us, “We can do it,” but does not tell us what we are to do.

The “We Can Do It” poster was the work of graphic artist J. Howard Miller, who was commissioned by the Westinghouse Company to create a series of posters. The purpose of this series of posters was not to empower women, or encourage women to join the workforce, but to discourage disputes between labor and management. Workers were encouraged to meet production goals, cooperate with management and accept corporate values. Workers were not to consider joining a union, demand higher wages or better working conditions. The posters were displayed in employee only areas of Westinghouse plants, and were never seen by the general public during the war years.

On the bottom of the “We Can Do It” poster is the Westinghouse logo, as well as the words, War Production Coordinating Committee, a Westinghouse committee to deal with issues that might affect war production. The woman is wearing a badge on her collar, such as workers wore on the plant floor, and includes an employee number. In the bottom left corner of the poster are the instructions: “Post Feb. 15 to Feb. 28.” The poster was taken down after this time and forgotten until the 1980's, when it reemerged as a feminist icon.

The young woman in the poster was most likely molded after Geraldine Hoff Doyle, who graduated from high school in Ann Arbor, and at age 17, found employment as a metal presser in the American Broach & Machine Co. of Ann Arbor. She left the factory after only a few weeks, because as a cellist, she feared she might injure her hands in the machine. During her brief time at the factory, she was photographed by a wire service photographer. The photograph shows Doyle standing at the metal press, wearing a bandanna with white poke-dots. This image may have inspired J. Howard Miller to create the We Can do It poster. Doyle did not know of the poster, until 1984.

At about the time the We Can Do It poster was being taken down, to be replaced with the next one in the series, the song Rosie the Riveter was being released. The song was the work of Redd Evens and John Jacob Loeb. The two may have been influenced by the story of Rosalind P. Walter, who was employed by Corsair, building the F4U marine gull-winged fighter plane.

All the day long, whether rain or shine
She's a part of the assembly line
She's making history, working for victory
Rosie, brrrrrrrrrrr, the riveter

Keeps a sharp lookout for sabotage
Sitting up there on the fuselage
That little frail can do more than a male can do
Rosie, brrrrrrrrrrr, the riveter

Rosie's got a boyfriend, Charlie
Charlie, he's a Marine
Rosie is protecting Charlie
Workin' overtime on the riveting machine

When they gave her a production 'E'
She was as proud as a girl could be
There's something true about, red, white, and blue about
Rosie, brrrrrrrrrrr, the riveter

Doo-doo-doo-doo
Ev'ryone stops to admire the scene
Rosie at work on the P-19
She's never twittery, nervous or jittery
I'm Rosie, hm-hm-hm-hmm, the riveter

What if she's smeared full of oil and grease
Doin' her bit for the old lend-lease
She keeps the gang around, they love to hang around
Rosie (Hm-hm-hm-hm, that's me, the riveter)

Rosie buys a lot of War Bonds
That girl really has sense
Wishes she could purchase more Bonds
Putting all her extra cash in National Defense

Oh, when they gave her a production 'E'
She was as proud as a girl could be
There's something true about, red, white, and blue about
Rosie the riveter gal

While other girls attend their favorite cocktail bar
Sipping dry Martinis, munching caviar
There's a girl who's really putting them to shame
Rosie is her name

Oh, Rosie buys a lot of War Bonds
That girl really has sense
Wishes she could purchase more Bonds
Putting all her extra cash into National Defense

Oh, Senator Jones, who was in the know
Shouted these words on the radio
Berlin will hear about, Moscow will cheer about
Rosie (Hah-hah-hah-hee-hee-hee), Rosie (Hee-hee-hee-hee)
Rosie the riveter gal

The song was originally recorded by Kay Kyser, the big band leader, and was played on radio, becoming a hit.

Norman Rockwell, the popular cover illustrator for The Saturday Evening Post, was almost certainly among those who had heard the song. This was when women were leaving the home to work in industry, as the men were entering military service. Early in the war effort, there was not only a call to arms, but a call to the production line. At Willow Run, the work force would hit a high of 60% women out of the 42,000 workers there.

Rockwell asked Mary Doyle Keefe, then a 19 year old red-haired telephone operator, to pose for a picture. Mary Doyle Keefe agreed, and posed twice for Rockwell, and for this she was paid $10. The finished picture was the cover for the May 29, 1943, Memorial Day, issue of The Saturday Evening Post. This image is clearly “Rosie the Riveter.”

We know this is Rosie, because her name is on her lunchbox. She is clearly a riveter, as there is a large rivet gun in her lap. The focus of the cover is her large masculine arms, and she is wearing rouge and lipstick, as well as nail polish. She is dressed in overalls, as women did not wear pants in public at this time. That would change as the war went on. She wears penny loafers, as there were no safety shoes made for women until July of 1943. One foot rests on a copy of Hitler's Mein Kampf. This gal means business.

In fact, Mary Doyle Keefe did not have the masculine build of the cover image, and she took a lot of ribbing because of it over the years. “The kidding you took was all my fault,” wrote Rockwell in a 1967 letter, “because I really thought you were the most beautiful woman I had ever seen.”

Rockwell was known for his penchant for touches of humor and satire in his work. Not long after the publication of the issue, it was noticed the Rosie bore a remarkable resemblance to Michelangelo's Prophet Isaiah from the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

The Rockwell Rosie is not as well known today as the “We Can Do It” poster, perhaps in part because of concerns over copyright. The cover was published soon after the release of the song “Rosie the Riveter” and the publishing company may have feared it could be sued over copyright infringement.

At about this time Hollywood leading man actor Walter Pidgeon arrived at the Willow Run Bomber Plant near Ypsilanti, Michigan, to appear in a promotional film for war bonds. There he met Rose Will Monroe, who was employed as a riveter. A real woman named Rosie, who was working as a riveter in an aircraft factory was too good to pass up. She was asked to appear in the film, and she agreed. As her daughter Vicki Javis noted years later, “Mom happened to be in the right place at the right time.”

Born Rose Will Leigh on March 12, 1920, at Pulaski County, Kentucky, she was one of nine brothers and sisters. “She was,” as her daughter recalled, “the one who was a tomboy who could use tools. She could do everything.”

She moved to Michigan with her two children, after the death of her husband in an automobile accident, to seek employment in the war industry. Her hope was to be chosen to learn to fly transport planes to carry aircraft parts around the country. She was passed over, because she was a single mother. Instead, she went to work on the line, as a riveter.

The movie was shown throughout the nation in theaters between the features, to encourage the sale of war bonds. After the war, Rose drove a cab, operated a beauty shop and founded a construction company called Rose Builders. She died at the age of 77 in 1997.

Geraldine Doyle, of the We Can Do It poster, married Leo Doyle, a dentist, in 1943. The couple had six children. She died at the age of 86 in 2010.

The experience of the war years changed life in America, including the role of women. Before the war, women were expected to be content as housewives and mothers. Working and living on their own brought a new freedom to many, and they were never going back to the old ways. The number of women working outside the home has never dropped to prewar levels since.

There is no wonder in this, as They Can Do It.

(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 original “We Can Do It” poster.

Photo 2: The original “We Can Do It” poster may have been inspired by a photograph of Geraldine Hoff Doyle taken by a wire service photographer.

Photo 3: Normal Rockwell, the cover illustrator for The Saturday Evening Post asked Mary Doyle Keefe to pose for the cover of the 1943 Memorial Day issue.

Photo 4: Walter Pidgeon visited the Willow Run Bomber Plant in Ypsilanti and asked Rose Will Monroe to appear in a film, which she agreed to do.

The Force Behind the Yankee Air Museum

Published In:
Ypsilanti Gleanings
Original Images:




Author: Phil Barnes

(Dennis Norton – The Ypsilanti Kid who Grew Up to Lead the Effort to Raise 5.2 Million Dollars that Enabled the Yankee Air Museum to Fly Again.)

Dennis Norton, son of Austin and Dorothy Norton, along with his sister Cindy, grew up on Ypsilanti’s east side at 735 Lowell Street, next to Norton’s Flower Shop. Dennis attended kindergarten through second grade at the old Ypsilanti High School, third through sixth grade at Central on Forest Avenue, entered the new West Junior High School as the first class in the Fall of 1959, and then graduated from Ypsilanti High School in 1965. He had a non-stop approach to everything, academics as well as athletics. While attending Ypsi High, he was one of the key performers on the swim team. His personal best was 23.7 for 50 yards. He, along with Roger Buxton, Doug Peterson and George Sayre, set a school record in the 200 freestyle relay. They were very proud of the accomplishment of breaking this long standing record.

As a youngster Dennis and his Dad, Austin, spent many hours at Willow Run Airport watching aircraft take off and land. Flying aircraft became a hobby later on. Dennis earned his pilot’s license in 1966 and eventually became an instructor teaching new students and current pilots the intricacies of flying. In 1970 Dennis graduated from Eastern Michigan University with a Major in History. While a college student, Dennis worked at Motor Wheel and that experience convinced Dennis that factory work was not for him. He then joined his father, Austin, working in the family business, Norton’s Flowers, which had expanded and moved to the Washtenaw Avenue site. Dennis also became involved in the Jaycees and worked on many projects.

Dennis Norton is well known for his boundless energy and enthusiasm and has been known as a “bulldog” by his close friends. When his mother, Dorothy, was asked about his motivation for the establishment of the Willow Run Yankee Air Museum, Dorothy replied, “When Dennis gets an idea, even as a teenager, he has had a fierce determination to see that idea through to completion.” It’s a well known story that in 198l with his enthusiasm for flying and for preserving aircraft history, the Yankee Air Museum was born. Dennis was the founder and became its first president. Unfortunately, in October of 2004 the museum burned to the ground. However, Yankee staff and volunteers were able to rebuild and in 2010 the new Yankee Air Museum was dedicated. The Michigan Aerospace Foundation was founded to make plans for expansion with Dennis as the President. He has owned a number of planes, including a 1947 French bi-plane, a STAMPE. Through the years he has enjoyed flying the museum planes, the C-47, B-25 and the pride of the Yankee fleet, the B-17.

This all led to an idea to secure part of the Willow Run Bomber plant. In 2011 the question of “where would the B-17 be stored?” was posed. Dennis called Bob Lutz and found that the Bomber Plant was not owned by GM anymore. GM had gone bankrupt in 2010 and the Bomber (B-24) plant was turned over to the RACER trust. In 2011, Dennis contacted the RACER Trust. Ray Hunter, who flew rescue helicopter missions in Vietnam, and Dennis then spearheaded an effort to gain control of at least part of the remaining buildings including a hangar capable of parking the Yankee Air Force B-17 and additional space to expand the Yankee Air Museum. In 2012, a Letter of Intent was signed for one year. Energies were stepped up by Dennis and the foundation to collect funds and 5.2 Million Dollars was raised.

This was the thrust Dennis needed and soon after, in 2013, a purchase agreement was signed and the funds generated by Dennis Norton were secured from the donors. Finally, on October 30, 2014, the purchase was closed and the Yankee Air Museum now owns 144,000 square feet of the historic Willow Run Bomber Plant, saving the last small piece from demolition. Only four Willow Run B-24s still exist out of almost 9,000 that were built. None of the Willow Run B-24s still fly, and only two B-24s that were built in California still fly.

A highlight of the Bomber Plant effort was a reunion of all the “Rosies” and under the new brand the emergence of women in the workforce during the war will be emphasized. In 2014, Twenty-one of the original “Rosie the Riveters” gathered to join in a successful effort to set a World’s Record for the most Rosies gathered in one place. “Rosie” was named for Rosie Monroe of Kentucky when in 1943 Walter Pigeon showed up at the plant to assist in filming a War Bond Special, and Rosie was selected to help. Vickie Croston, Rosie Monroe’s daughter from Texas was pleased to be able to attend the 2014 reunion and help set the World Record.

The new effort will expand the mission of the Museum, change its name from the Yankee Air Museum to the National Museum of Aviation and Technology, and launch a new fund-raising campaign to raise an additional 8.2 million to renovate the space and overhaul the museum exhibits. Under the new expanded mission an effort will be made to emphasize the history of the 5-million-square-foot plant that served as the Arsenal of Democracy during World War II and produced 8,685 B-24 Bombers.

Another focus of the new mission of the Museum is to advance science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education with hands-on learning stations.

Plans have been drawn up to include space needed for all the aircraft the Yankee Air Museum owns, expand the aerospace museum which would be comparable to the one at Dayton and Selfridge, and provide a meeting and convention facility that will seat up to 1,000 people, the largest in the area. The next big event will be the Air Show at the Yankee Air Museum on August 29 and 30, 2015 that will include flying demonstrations by the US Navy “Blue Angels.”

Dennis currently lives in Dexter with his wife Carol. One daughter and four granddaughters live in Gaylord, one son and two grandsons live in Dexter and one daughter lives on Portage Lake.

Dennis remains very proud of the success of his efforts and the efforts of the many volunteers who worked to secure pledges for funds. However, he reminds the public that 8.5 million dollars remains to be raised. Call Dennis at 734-971-2750 to pledge or donate to the project.

(Phil Barnes is a frequent contributor to The Gleanings and served on the U.S.S. Philippine Sea (CV47) in the Korean War.)


Photo Captions:

Photo 1: Dennis and his sister Cindy grew up on Ypsilanti’s east side at 735 Lowell Street, next to Norton’s Flower Shop.

Photo 2: Dennis at the controls of the B-17 owned by the Yankee Air Force. Dennis also serves as the President of the Michigan Aerospace Foundation.

Photo 3: One of the promotional signs being used for fundraising for the preservation and renovation of part of the Willow Run Bomber Plant for use by the Yankee Air Museum.

Photo 4: Dennis at the controls of his 1947 STAMPE with son David in the front seat (1985).

Photo 5: Some of the proposed themes, storylines, exhibits, and facilities for the new National Museum of Aviation and Technology.

Photo 6: The section of the Willow Run Bomber Plant that was recently purchased by the Yankee Air Museum.

Photo 7: Dennis in 2013 with the “Rosie the Riveter” re-enactors.

Photo 8: Dennis with Ray Hunter on November 7, 2014 when they received an award for “Deals of the Year” by the Ann Arbor News in recognition of the October 30, 2014 purchase and saving from demolition of the last remaining piece of the old Willow Run Bomber Plant.

Patent Intrigue in Early Ypsilanti Manufacturing

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


Author: Veronica Robinson

Long before Ypsilanti was manufacturing automobile parts, several companies participated in the invention and manufacture of parts for another form of transportation, the carriage. In the late 19th century Ypsilanti manufacturing was booming – from machine shops and flour mills to paper companies and woolen mills to…whip sockets. Some readers may be familiar with this particular item, but if you are wondering what exactly a whip socket is, read on. A whip socket is actually quite simple; it is a cylindrical holder that attaches onto a horse-drawn carriage near the driver’s seat, for the purposes of holding the whip. Ypsilanti, in fact, had two companies dedicated to the manufacture of different designs of the whip socket or whip holder. The Ypsilanti Whip Socket Company made a version patented by Mr. Beach of ‘Beach’s shifting carriage seat’ whose name also ap- peared on another company in Ypsilanti, one that made full carriages and sleighs. The other whip socket company in Ypsilanti was owned by the Worden brothers, called Worden & Brothers Whip Socket Factory according to city directories. The Worden brothers produced a whip socket design patented by another man but whose patent was sold to them in 1867.

Whip socket manufacturing proved to be a very lucrative business in the 1860s and 1870s. Combined, these Ypsilanti companies sold nearly 90,000 whip sockets per year according to the Ypsilanti Commercial of May 23, 1874. Another indication that the business was booming was that in the 1870s the Worden Brothers were sued for patent infringement by Anson Searles of New Jersey. Searles eventually won the case in the lower courts in the 1880s. As a result the Worden brothers were forced to pay fines and a preliminary injunction was filed against the Wordens, barring them from further manufacture of the whip socket while the case was being heard. The facts of the case are actually quite interesting. In 1867, Alva Worden was granted patent number 70,075 for a design of the whip socket. That same year, Erastus W. Scott received a patent for another design, issued under patent number 70,627. From the numbers, one can assume that Worden’s patent was issued before Scott’s as the number is lower. In 1873, Anson Searles and Erastus Scott filed for a reissue of their patent (now jointly owned) which expanded the details of the original patent. The reissue was granted. On the same day the reissue went into effect, Searles filed suit against A. Worden and Brothers for alleged patent infringement. In 1880, a preliminary decree was given by the Circuit Court of the United States for the Eastern District of Michigan in favor of Searles and Scott, claiming their reissued patent was valid and that the manufacture of Worden’s whip sockets was therefore patent infringement. A perpetual injunction then went into effect, barring the Worden Broth- ers Whip Socket Factory from producing any more of their product. In 1882, a final decree was given, ordering the Worden Brothers to award $24,573.91 to the Plaintiffs, Scott and Searles and the Worden Brothers appealed to the United States Supreme Court.

In March of 1887, the case of Worden v. Searles was finally heard by the court and a decree was handed down by the end of the month. The Supreme Court found in favor of the Worden Brothers. The court’s reasoning was that though the two original patents were similar, the mechanism on each whip socket was different, making them different products. The Worden whip socket patent did not infringe upon the original patent given to Erastus Scott in 1867. Additionally, the court found that the reissue of Searles and Scott’s patent was invalid as the aim of the reissue was to cover the Worden patent, making it possible for Searles and Scott to illegally collect penalties from the Worden brothers’ company. Unfortunately for the Worden Brothers, the legal expenses for the seven year battle nearly ruined their finances and they were not able to continue manufacturing the whip sockets. Who would have known that Ypsilanti’s whip socket industry and the business of patents were both full of such intrigue?

(Veronica Robinson is an EMU intern working at the YHS Museum and is a regular contributor to the Gleanings.)

Photo captions:

Photo 1: A wooden whip socket, currently on display at the museum, manufactured in the late 1870s by the Ypsilanti Whip Socket Company.

Photo 2: Alva Worden, owner of the Worden & Brothers Whip Socket Factory.

Photo 3: Letterhead of the Worden & Brothers Whip Socket Factory from the 1870s, showing one of their patented whip socket designs.

"Cash for Clunkers"

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


Author: Laura Bien

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo captions:

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

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

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

Gone But Not Forgotten: Ypsilanti Area Dairies

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



Author: Pamela German and Veronica Robinson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo Captions:

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

Peninsular Dam & Power Plant

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





Author: Alvin Rudisill

The Peninsular Paper Company was organized on April 3, 1867 with capital stock of $50,000. The original stockholders were Samuel Barnard, Lambert A. Barnes, William H. Myers and Daniel L. Quirk. Lambert Barnes served as the first president until 1870 when Daniel L. Quirk became President. Quirk’s son Daniel joined the firm in 1890 and became President at the turn of the century. The Quirk family then controlled and operated the mill for more than 100 years until it was sold in 1974 to the James River Corporation of Richmond, Virginia.

Construction on the mill began in 1867 and the first paper was produced in 1868. The March 13, 1869 issue of the Ypsilanti Commercial indicated that “…The company called The Peninsular Paper Company have build a dam probably unequaled in the Northwest. The mill is built of brick, main building 40 x 106, three stories high, and an attic, Machine room 30 x 86, Finishing room 28 x 30. In addition wheel room, boiler room and shed. Every part of the building is complete.”

The decision to build the mill at this time was probably made because a contract was obtained from the Chicago Tribune to take the output of the mill in newsprint. At the time newsprint was made from rags and the newsprint contract was for 17 cents per pound. However, after the mill was in operation the Chicago Tribune insisted that the Peninsular Paper Company build another mill far enough away from the first mill to safeguard the newspaper’s supply of paper in case of fire. Therefore, in May of 1876 the capitalization of the company was increased from $50,000 to $100,000 and another one-machine mill was erected on the north side of the Huron River. This second mill was operated for 22 years until 1898 when it was destroyed by fire. The salvaged machinery was then moved to the original building on the south side of the Huron River which was enlarged to accommodate two paper machines and the additional equipment necessary for the increased output.

The original Peninsular Dam was replaced in c1914 but on March 14, 1918 a sudden deluge of rain washed away the dam. The waters of the Huron River rose over 12 feet in 10 minutes causing considerable other damage to bridges along the Huron River chain. Plans for replacing the dam were drawn up by Gardner Williams, one of the most outstanding engineering innovators in the state whose reputation reached far beyond the state and even the country. Williams acted as a designer and consultant to a number of great engineering projects, including a lock on the Great Lakes, steam and diesel powered electric plants, hydro-electric plants in several Midwestern states, and a dam in Siberia that at the time was the longest multiple-arch dam in the world.

The March 8, 1915 issue of the Daily Ypsilanti Press included an article titled “The Story of Ypsilanti’s Successful Fight for Gas Plant.” The article included a picture with the caption “Municipal Water and Electric Light Plant, Ypsilanti, Formerly a Paper Mill with Fine Water Power.” The picture appears to be the north side of the Huron River prior to the construction of the power plant that currently exists on the site.

The Eastern Michigan Edison Company (a subsidiary of Detroit Edison) called on Williams to design a series of nine dams on a 50 mile stretch of the Huron River between Dexter and Belleville. The first of the dams, Barton Dam, was finished in 1912, followed by Argo Dam in 1913, Geddes Dam in 1919, Superior Dam and the Papermill Dam in 1920 and French Landing Dam in Belleville in 1925. Plans on the drawing board for Dexter and Delhi were cancelled because of the depression as were several lakeside villa communities planned as part of the dam developments. Only Barton Hills was completed.

According to a 2001 Dam Inspection Report by Ayres, Lewis, Norris & May, Inc. “…The abandoned powerhouse was constructed in 1918, and was outfitted at that time with two vertical Francis turbines. Power production from the facility was abandoned in 1970. At the time of decommissioning activities, all generators and related electrical equipment were removed. Other decommissioning activities included closure of the head gates, and filling of the vertical turbine pits with earth to prevent passage of water through the structure. That same report indicated problems with dam safety. “…In 1979 the Dam was rated unsafe in a report by the National Dam Safety Program (NDSP) by Ayres, Lewis, Norris & May, Inc. due to severe deterioration and spalling of the left concrete abutment pier between the fixed crest spillway and the radial gate spillway (since replaced with stop-logs). This abutment pier was repaired after the report was issued, and the unsafe rating of the Dam was noted as “removed” in the 1992 MDEQ Dam Inspection Report.”

The January 25, 1983 issue of the Ypsilanti Press indicated the Ypsilanti City Council was interested in looking into the feasibility of getting into the hydro-power business through the use of the Peninsular Dam. The Council voted unanimously to support in principle acquiring the dam and nine acres of adjacent park land that the paper company had proposed donating to the city. The consulting firm of Ayres, Lewis, Norris & May, Inc. advised the Council that installing a turbine generator and power station could feed electricity into Detroit Edison’s lines would cost approximately $570,000. However, the firm further advised that the city could turn a profit of $400,000 in 12 years time by selling the electricity to Detroit Edison, which under state law at the time was required to buy the power, at a price of 6 cents per kilowatt hour.

The Council resolution at the time gave the city administration the authority to inspect more closely the possibility of installing the equipment. The council was informed that the construction could be supported by either voter-approved general obligation bonds or by revenue bonds, which would not have to go on the ballot. However, the consulting firm indicated the power house adjacent to the dam would have to be demolished and rebuilt which drew strong objections from Mayor Pro Tem Thomas Dodd who strongly objected to destroying the power house which supports a large sign advertising the Peninsular Paper Company. Dodd indicated the power house structure “…is a good example of classical revival architecture and was a city landmark.”

Finally, after years of discussion the city approved the purchase of the property. At the City Council meeting on August 25, 1986 “…The $1 acquisition from the James River Corporation includes 6.2 acres on the north side of the Huron River, west of LeForge Road, and an abandoned dam and power station. James River, the Richmond, VA-based firm that owns Peninsular Paper, offered the property as a gesture to the community…The city and James River first discussed the donation of the land six years ago and the corporation approved the deal a year ago.” (Ypsilanti Press – August 27, 1986).

In 1989 the city requested funding from the state to have an “interpretive museum” inside the power house related to hydro-electric activities. However, the funding did not materialize. City Manager Matt Hennessee indicated that “…We still want to do it and the city may want in the future to generate power (from the dam) with Detroit Edison.” (Ypsilanti Press – March 15, 1989).

In June of 2004 the Peninsular Paper Mill buildings on the south side of the Huron River were demolished to make way for two large u-shaped residential buildings called “Peninsular Place,” one of the buildings houses 99 apartments and the other houses 88 apartments. The old paper mill smokestack was preserved as part of the new housing complex.

According to current Ypsilanti City Council Bill Nickels, the city is again interested in exploring uses for the power house and dam. Current thinking, according to Nickels, is that modern power generating equipment will fit in the basement of the power house thereby leaving the first floor open for other uses such as a museum, restaurant, bar or retail shop.

(Al Rudisill is the President of the Ypsilanti Historical Society and the Editor of The Gleanings.)

Photo Captions:

Photo 1: Peninsular Paper plant #2 was constructed on the north side of the Huron River in 1873.
Photo 2: Peninsular Paper plant #2 burned down in 1898 just 25 years after it was constructed.
Photo 3: Peninsular Dam as it looked in 1900.
Photo 4: The rebuilding of the Peninsular Dam in July of 1918.
Photo 5: Dam being rebuilt after a sudden deluge of rain wiped out the old dam on March 14, 1918.
Photo 6: Peninsular Paper Company in 1916 (looking south across the Huron River).
Photo 7: Peninsular Paper Company including the dam and power plant in the early 1900s.
Photo 8: Peninsular Paper Company sign on top of the power plant in 2008.
Photo 9: Peninsular Place Apartments now occupy the space on the south side of the Huron River where the Peninsular Paper Company was located.

Ypsilanti Electric Light 1887

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

Author: Rev. Laurence N. Woodruff

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

Street Light Centennial

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recollection of Willow Run

Published In:
Ypsilanti Gleanings, May 1999,
May 1999
Original Images:



Author: Jack M. Wiltse

My first memories of Willow Run was Camp Legion a produce farm established by Henry Ford to give young boys a place to spend their summer in some type of productive endeavor. The Martha Mary Chapel was the church where these young boys attended worship. This chapel became a very prestigious place to be married. When the construction of the Willow Run Bomber plant started the chapel was moved to Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Michigan.

In the early 1940's the Willow Run Bomber Plant was started. Henry Ford had accepted the challenge to build airplanes much in the same manner as auto production. This would not only facilitate faster production but interchangeable parts. This type of airplane manufacturing was unheard of at the time. The Bomber Plant was to be the largest factory under one roof in the world and it was until they built the Dodge Plant in Chicago where eventually Preston Tucker tried to build his car. I was impressed that the Bomber Plant had to be built in sections for the purpose of expansion and contraction and the floors were made out of wood blocks. During Sunday drives with my parents we would go down Ecorse Road to check the progress of the plant. It seemed like the continuous flow of cement trucks through Ypsilanti was the most impressive to me about the plant construction.

At the same time the plant was being built several roads were under construction to facilitate traffic flow in and out of the plant. The divided highway that went west from the plant ended at Michigan Avenue at the West Side of Ypsilanti. I also recall these special highways had no reinforced steel in them so they were very thick cement. Many of these roads are still in use today with very little maintenance.

My brother, Norris G. Wiltse, Jr., worked on the first bomber built at Willow Run before he went into the Air Force. One night at Ernie's, a malt shop on the north east corner of Michigan Avenue and Adams Street in Ypsilanti, my brother was telling a group about how the hydraulic lines were being bent over the foreman's knee until they fit where they were suppose to go. One of the group spoke up and said it was not right and he was with the FBI and that situation would be investigated. From that point on I always wondered how many government people they had in the area just listening.

There was such an influx of people from the south to work building bombers Willow Run Village was built. This village provided everything: theaters, recreation halls, stores, gas stations, barber shops, the works. The flat top apartments were built first. These units had coal stoves for cooking and a side arm heater for hot water. A small circular coal furnace in the middle of the unit was used for heat. The walls in these units were paper-thin. Most units had a kitchen unit you entered from the front door and the attached living room area had the back door. The bathroom and bedroom were at one end of the apartment and matched these areas of the next door apartment. There was a small open closet opposite the bathroom. There were four of these units in each building. In the front yard of each unit was a good-sized coal box and beside it were the garbage cans. Usually two buildings were in a group and they angled off the street to form a triangular parking area in front of the units. Later peaked roof units were built which were much nicer; they had hard wood floors.

The dorms were large two story buildings with small cubicle rooms. The dorms had both male and female residents, which was almost unheard of at the time. Often times these rooms were shared by people on different shifts so when one occupant worked the other slept. The saying was that most of these beds never got cold.

Ford paid the workers at the plant with cash. The plant worked three shifts. People had more money than things to buy because of the shortages of the war and government rationing of everything from gasoline, several types of food to shoes. Because of all this money the recreational areas of Willow Run Village, which I already mentioned, were crowded with workers looking for something to do twenty-four hours a day. These places were so busy it is a wonder the cement sidewalks didn't wear through from people walking on them. The busiest recreation area of the village is where Willow Run High School now stands.

I remember well that all the lady workers had to wear a special uniform. The uniforms were dark blue and consisted of slacks and a jacket worn with a blouse. They had to wear a baseball type cap which had a fine net attached to hold their hair. Once in a while you would see a worker wearing a pretty contrasting hankie to give the outfit a little femininity. Even the little midgets that worked in the wings of the airplanes had to wear these outfits.

My mother, Hazel C. Wiltse, a true housewife, went to work everyday in her uniform to help the war effort. Everybody car-pooled and my mother rode to work everyday in a green 1940 Hudson sedan driven by Ruth Krause who lived next door to us. We lived at 603 Washtenaw Avenue in Ypsilanti and it was five blocks from the High School. My father, Norris, was principal of Ypsilanti High School and each noon the kids and dad would walk the five blocks and prepare lunch during our noon hour. Macaroni and tomatoes got to be very boring. The evening meal was usually prepared by my father because he would get home sooner than my mother would. I guess this was all OK when you consider the pay envelope, with the cash, my mother brought home each week from her job as a file clerk at the great Bomber Plant.

The merchants of Ypsilanti were happy to have the trade of the Bomber Plant employees because all they had was money to spend and would buy almost anything because of this excess money, the businessmen all prospered. The USO was always packed with servicemen, they spent money too. The USO was located in the building on the north side of Michigan Avenue just west of the Huron River where Materials Unlimited is located today. These servicemen came from the Army camp located on the East Side of Willow Run Airport on Beck Road. The local belles of the area would prepare shows and go out to the camp to entertain the troops. My wife, Mar Lou Miller Wiltse, was one of those belles and did her Rosie The Riveter dance for the boys. Also located at this military station was a German Prisoner of War Camp. I knew the camp was there but it never made a big impression on me.

My memories of the actual B24 Bombers were the constant sound of the planes revving up the engines on the ground day and night. The sounds of these planes could be heard all over the community. Of coarse the B24's were in the sky all the time. If you saw a vapor trail way up in the sky people said it was Charles Lindbergh testing one of the planes. I understand testing the B24 was Lindbergh's job. The most dramatic incident I can remember is when the older brother of my classmate Paul Tower called his mother to say he would be bringing his B24 from England to California and he would pass over the family house and wiggle his wings to let her know it was him. The Tower family lived across from the Water Tower on the south side of Washtenaw Avenue. The plane was to go over late in the afternoon and needless to say Paul and all his buddies were there waiting. The B24 came as scheduled and we heard it flying in low from the east, all of the sudden it appeared flying on the south side of the Water Tower lower than the black roof on the tower, the plane clipped the leaves out of the tops of the trees and shortly was gone. I guess Pilot Tower figured we might miss him if he only wiggled his wings. To this day I am impressed with the freedom of expression and the piloting skills of that event.

While I was in the Navy things at Willow Run changed. My next recall was the plant was used to build twin-boon flying boxcars and Kaiser Frazer was getting ready to build cars. Both my wife and I worked for Kaiser-Frazer. Mar Lou was in Export Billing up on the L balcony on the north side of the plant. I had three different summer jobs while attending college, the front end merry-go-round on the balcony on the south side of the plant, window cleanup on the body assembly line and bicycle messenger for the Administration Building which took me all over the plant. My brother, Norris Jr., the one that worked on the first B24 worked for the Kaiser-Frazer Service Department and went on to Toledo, Ohio with Kaiser-Frazer Jeep to become Service Manager of the whole operation.

During the boom time of Kaiser-Frazer I would go with my friend, Dick McElroy to pick up Kaiser-Frazer cars out of the storage lot. These cars would be lined up single file row upon row, hundreds and hundreds of cars. The first car in each line would have the keys under the left front fender and the rest of the cars in line would have the keys in the ignition. Move the first car and the rest of the line was available to anyone. I always felt this was a poor system but I guess it never caused any problems. Dick's mother was a pilot and ferried B24's to England during the war, she made several trips. Dick's father was in the Air Force. Dick and his sister Sherrill were pretty independent during this time and took care of themselves. They were not the only family that had to change their life style during the war.

My next impression is the Hydra-matic Plant in Livonia burned and the plant was moved to Willow Run after many modifications were made to accommodate a new production. The Willow Run situation today is the Hydramatic Plant, the commercial Willow Run Airport and the Yankee Air Force and all of these fifty years from now will once again be interesting history.

View the following images from the Gleanings image gallery:

President Roosevelt's visit to Willow Run, September 1942
the Willow Run Machine Shop, ca. 1942

Historical Advertisements

Published In:
Ypsilanti Gleanings, October 1995,
October 1995
Original Images:


Something NEW under the HOOD!
Of the ACE is a new type automobile power plant. Read the complete story and description of this marvelous motor on page three.

The Greatest Advancement Made in Internal Combustion Engine Design in Recent Years

PASSE! “Indications are that the streamline, straight-side body is passing out.” So stated a writer in a recent issue of a well-known motor journal.

What more fitting and proper than that a car, bearing the name ACE, and powered by a motor incorporating the greatest forward step in engine design, should set the style and fashion in new body designs.

In the mad race for quantity production, style and appearance were secondary considerations. For proof, observe the marked degree of sameness common to most cars. Style, always a big factor in the choice of a motor car, now influences to a greater degree than ever the selection of this or that car.

NEW! The ACE in four new, handsome body styles establishes a new standard in motor car fashions. There is an air of smartness and originality in their makeup that is as welcome as it is refreshing. Each of these four bodies portrays true grace and beauty in every line and curve and offers a pleasing change in appearance to the man and woman who have grown tired of, a style which has lost its attraction.

Compatible with its distinction and good taste in body improvement are mechanical features which lift the ACE from the ranks of the commonplace and identify it as a truly great and extraordinary motor vehicle.

APEX · MOTOR · CORPORATION · YPSILANTI · MICH.

Commerce SD-11 Roadbuilder

A fast, sturdy, long-lived, light dump truck built exactly to the contractor's own ideas. Continental S4—four-cylinder motor,4 1/4 borex4 1/2 stroke. Special bevel gear rear axle. Extra heavy semi-elliptic front and rear springs. Unit transmission. Double internal brakes. Radius rod drive. All steel automatic dump body of 1 1/3 yards capacity. Write for complete description of this popular job.


—the Commerce Relay Axle Drive

It does pull out”—that's why the Commerce Relay Axle Drive Truck sells itself to the most skeptical dump truck operator. Here is a truck which will out-perform any other truck of similar capacity under any conditions—will deliver thirty per cent more work—with thirty per cent less operating expense.

The Commerce Relay Drive Axle embodies an entirely new method of applying power to the rear wheels of a motor truck. The power of the motor, the momentum, the weight of the load —all these forces are utilized in moving the rear wheels. In other words, the entire truck with the load gets under way first and aids in pulling out the rear wheels.

With such advantages, the Commerce Relay sells, and sells readily—strictly on a performance basis. Do you want your share of this business? Do you want to sell trucks—not prices? To make profits—not just sales? If you do, write or wire us today—find out if your territory is still open. Particulars of the Commerce franchise and descriptions of the complete Commerce line will be furnished you.

COMMERCE MOTOR TRUCK COMPANY

YPSILANTI, MICHIGAN

Export Dept.: 132 Nassau St., New York City
Cable: Commerstrux

MOTOR—Continental 6B, six-cylinder, vertical L-head, 3 3/41 bore × 51 stroke, 70 horsepower. Timken I-beam front axle. Commerce Relay Rear Axle. Multiple disc clutch. Transmission amidships, 4 speeds forward, 1 reverse. Gear ratio, 9.28 to 1. Frame, extra heavy, 7 1–161 section, 5 cross members, 2 brace rods. Front springs, special Commerce compound construction for easy riding. Rear springs, 541 long. 31 wide. Wheels and tires—front, steel spoke type with 36 × 6 pneumatic cords—rear, solid disc, 40 × 12 solids. Footbrake on transmission, emergency Internal expanding on rear wheels. High tension magneto. Electric head and tail lights, starting motor, generator and battery. Equipment —lighting and ignition switch, ammeter dash light, choke and oil gauge on instrument board. Horn button on steering wheel. Electric horn. Front bumper.

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