Legend of the Smeet Frog

Published In:
Ypsilanti Gleanings
Original Images:

Author: James Mann

Sometime during the summer of 1999 a mysterious marker appeared on the tridge, the three way walkway under Cross Street Bridge, documenting the story of the Smeet Frog.

The Smeet Frog, according to the marker, is the only amphibian possessing a fur court and is capable of flight. It is unusual to hear or see a Smeet Frog, as they only come out at night. Numbering in the hundreds of thousands, it may have been the mainstay of the winter diet of Native Americans camping along the Huron River. The Smeet Frog, the marker noted, is found only on the Huron River. Rarely seen, its fur coat becomes covered in moss, making it almost impossible to see. Now a protected species, the hunting of Smeet Frogs is strictly forbidden. The marker, it was duly noted, was from the “Ypsilanti Hysterical Society.”

Soon after the appearance of the marker, it was removed by city workers. Not long after this, a second marker appeared, with additional information on the history of research on the Smeet Frog. The new marker stated the Smeet Frog migrated every year from Riverside Park, to a site on the northern coast of Labrador. This marker was allowed to remain in place for a time. Some questioned the reality of the Smeet Frog, as some said it was some kind of joke. School children visiting Depot Town made inquiries of biologists at several universities, who admitted they had never heard of the Smeet Frog. The biologists even went so far as to suggest the marker was a hoax.

One fifth grade teacher from a north-of-Detroit suburb wrote an acerbic letter to local editors decrying the practice of telling lies to children. Fables of Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy notwithstanding, she was irate and pledged to never again bring her students to Ypsilanti.

Still, the Smeet Frog was the subject of a puppet show at the Dreamland Theater, honored with an ale named for it and displayed on a Tee shirt. Some have even claimed to have heard the strange call of the Smeet Frog late at night.

The second marker was not as well made as the first, and in time became moldy and unsightly. It was finally removed, and this time was not replaced until a third marker appeared near the end of 2010. This marker was in time removed as well. A fourth marker was placed on the tridge in 2013, this time to honor the memory of Tom Dodd.

Still, on summer evenings, when the sun is low and the shadows are long, young couples will walk to the banks of the Huron River to search for the Smeet Frog. These couples are seen holding hands and gazing into each others eyes, as they disappear from sight on their quest. There’s something about a good romantic fable that gets people holding hands and gazing blankly at things.

(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 tridge walkway connects Riverside Park, Frog Island Park and Depot Town.

Photo 2: The Smeet Frog is supposedly the only amphibian possessing a fur court and capable of flight.

Photo 3: The Smeet Frog marker can be seen looking south from the tridge.

There Has Always Been Heavy Traffic On Downtown Michigan Avenue

Published In:
Ypsilanti Gleanings
Original Images:

Author: Tom Dodd

We’ve been down this road before

Michigan Avenue
US -112
Congress Street
The Chicago Road
Military Highway
Sauk Trail
Mastodon Highway

Take another look at downtown Ypsilanti’s Michigan Avenue. Take away the cars and trucks; take away the concrete and asphalt. Let’s even take away what’s left of the Interurban tracks and the paving bricks and get right down to the dirt. Now we can see footprints on the bare earth. The traffic where this thoroughfare crosses the Huron River has been coming through for centuries. Welcome to our Real Main Street.

This road is a path; a very old path
The earliest inhabitants of this Michigan peninsula traveled mostly by water and, for most Native Americans, by birch-bark canoe, along lakes and rivers. Few Indians inhabited the upland, drier portions of land––areas mostly seen while “just passing through.” Light Indian canoes were easily guided through the rivers that kept a regular flow before deforestation took place. These same routes and their portages were later used by the first European travelers.

Once on land, however, paths were created for foot travel. As those paths developed, at least a few were the beginnings of highways like downtown’s Michigan Avenue.

Some early Indian trails are still in place
Sauk Trail, followed roughly the line of present US 12 from Detroit through Ypsilanti and to Lake Michigan through the “smile” of prairie that extended across the bottom of the lower peninsula
Saginaw Trail from Toledo through Saginaw to Mackinac, part of which forms today’s Dixie Highway
Grand River Trail between Detroit and Grand Rapids, now followed by the trunk line US 16
Sault and Green Bay Trail east/west across the upper peninsula, now by US 2 and State Rte. 35

The Sauk Trail ran through Illinois, Indiana and Michigan. From west to east, the trail connected Rock Island on the Mississippi River to the Illinois River near modern Peru, with the trail along the north bank of that river to Joliet, and on to Valparaiso, Indiana. It then ran northeasterly to LaPorte and into southern Michigan through Niles, Three Rivers, and Ypsilanti, ending at the Detroit River. The trail followed a winding path along the ridges of dune and moraines that marked the earlier glacial period Lake Michigan shorelines. European settlers improved the trail into a wagon road and later into modern highways.

There are even older trails
Many will settle for tracing the origin of these roadways back to the Native Americans but some of these ancient paths were here even before that. Sections of the trail followed the southern boundary between he dense forest and the mixed grassland regions. The presence of a mastodon trailway along the same path indicates that humans may have been using a long established game trail.

Every generation of road-builders in history has had to skirt the edges of the great salt marsh between Ypsilanti and Saline. Pittsfield Township’s C. Edward Wall still harbors dreams of installing life-size sculptures of mastodons in that marshy area just east of the City of Saline.

Side roads proliferated
Narrower tributaries from the major trails cut swaths through the prairie that extended across Michigan’s lower peninsula. “An Indian trail was merely a narrow path, about 12 to 18 inches wide, permitting only single-file travel,” noted Dorothy G. Pohl, Director of the Ionia County Road Commission, in her report to the Association of Southern Michigan Road Commissions in 1997. “It was not until the coming of the white settlers, laden with supplies, that the trails were improved. The use of the packhorse was the first step in the process of widening these pathways. Branches and bushes were broken off from each side of the trail and soon it was several feet wide. Later, when settlers flocked to Michigan Territory, bringing their possessions in oxen-drawn wagons, there was a need for even wider roads.”

Henry Schoolcraft, at present-day Michigan City, Indiana in 1820, described the trail, as a “plain horse path, which is considerably traveled by traders, hunters, and others...” and said a stranger could not follow it without the services of a guide because of the numerous side trails. The Sauk Trail intersected many important trails and early roads including the trails to Vincennes, Green Bay, Fort Wayne and north to Little Traverse Bay.

Sections of the Sauk Trail still exist in some form. There is a winding road still called Sauk Trail which runs from Frankfort, Illinois to Dyer, Indiana, passing through Sauk Village, Illinois. Johnson Sauk Trail State Park in western Illinois sits on another section of the trail. Sauk Trail forms the southern boundary of Sauk Trail Woods park. When America’s first national transcontinental highway, the Lincoln Highway, was built, its route through western Indiana followed the roads built over the Sauk Trail.

Treasures found along the paths
Along the many trails, archeologists have identified over 1,000 mounds, 80 enclosures and embankments, 30 so-called ‘garden beds,’ 750 village sites, and 260 burying grounds. Unearthed along the Indian paths are miscellaneous artifacts such as arrowheads, hammers, knives, drills, hoes, spades, pipes, fragments of pottery, and large and small effigies in stone.

The ancient highway in Northwestern Lower Michigan has revealed countless Native American artifacts and campsites. Near Mesick, nearly 50 mounds have been discovered. U.S. Forest Service workers have found 150 circular fire pits near Buckley.

MSU’s Randall Schaetzl has paraphrased from C.M. Davis’ Readings in the Geography of Michigan (1964): “Those who travel its fading lanes often find themselves on a journey that leads them back in time. Faded and worn stone markers remain at certain sections of the trail to point the way down the old highway which has nearly been lost in the pages of time. The evidence that it was also an old stagecoach route is that there are tracks of wagon wheels found along certain parts of the trail. Information available at the Forest Service also states that a silver oxidated cross, which is believed to have belonged to a Jesuit priest, was found at Buckley. A sword and pieces of metal that resembled armor were additional relics obtained at the site. Records indicate that a sword and armor found at the location may possibly have been from the French explorer La Salle, who is known to have visited St. Joseph, Michigan at one time.”

Entire communities of Native American families walked these trails. The paths followed the areas of least resistance and crossed rivers where they were shallowest. When European settlers arrived, many of the trails became stagecoach highways.

Roadways continue to follow the old paths. The Michigan State Highway Department was created by Governor Fred Warner in 1905 and the State Trunkline Act came into play in 1913. Pohl and Brown highlight the 1916 Federal-Aid Road Act, the beginning of snow removal in 1918, gasoline taxes in 1925, and further legislation that created the infrastructure of today’s roadways.

In her report to the Road Commission, Dorothy Pohl’s study (with Norman E. Brown, MDOT Act 51 Administrator) on the history of roads in Michigan goes far beyond early Indian trails. Their study examines farm-to-market routes in 1805, military roads in 1816, early State-sponsored transportation improvements, township road-building in 1817, private turnpike companies, swamp land roads of 1859, and on to the 1880s impact of bicyclists.

Pohl concludes, “Many of us in the road business have heard and used the phrase that the roads just “grew” there. Now we really know what happened!”

The mastodon is our state fossil
The giant mastodon (Mammut americanum) was designated the official state fossil of Michigan in 2002. This magnificent animal disappeared from the Ypsilanti area about 10,000 years ago. One of the most complete mastodon skeletons was discovered near Owosso, and is now displayed at the U of M’s Museum of Natural History. The most intact trail of mastodon footprints (30) has been found along Michigan Avenue west of Saline across from Harry’s Furniture. The campaign to adopt the mastodon as Michigan’s state fossil was led by David P. Thomas, Sr., a geology instructor at Washtenaw Community College.

Mastodon vs. mammoth?
The American mastodon is different from the woolly mammoth. Mastodons had straighter tusks and both the body and head of the mastodon is longer and squatter than the woolly mammoth and its back doesn’t slope like a mammoth’s. Mastodons were about the size of an Asiatic elephant of today, but its ears were smaller than modern elephants. They had thick body hair similar to a mammoth, but mastodon teeth suggest the diet of a browser, not a grazer. The mastodon also lacks the high, peaked knob on the head seen on the woolly mammoth. Mastodons are an older species, originating in Africa 35 million years ago and entering North America about 15 million years ago.

“The Calf-Path” by Sam Walter Foss
One day through the primeval wood
A calf walked home as good calves should;
But made a trail all bent askew,
A crooked trail as all calves do.
Since then three hundred years have fled,
And I infer the calf is dead.
But still he left behind his trail,
And thereby hangs my moral tale.
The trail was taken up next day
By a lone dog that passed that way;
And then a wise bellwether sheep
Pursued the trail o’er vale and steep,
And drew the flock behind him, too,
As good bellwethers always do.
And from that day, o’er hill and glade,
Through those old woods a path was made.
And many men wound in and out,
And dodged and turned and bent about,
And uttered words of righteous wrath
Because ‘twas such a crooked path;
But still they followed — do not laugh –
The first migrations of that calf,
And through this winding wood-way stalked
Because he wobbled when he walked.

This forest path became a lane
That bent and turned and turned again;
This crooked lane became a road,
Where many a poor horse with his load
Toiled on beneath the burning sun,
And traveled some three miles in one.
And thus a century and a half
They trod the footsteps of that calf.
The years passed on in swiftness fleet,
The road became a village street;
And this, before men were aware,
A city’s crowded thoroughfare.

And soon the central street was this
Of a renowned metropolis;
And men two centuries and a half
Trod in the footsteps of that calf.
Each day a hundred thousand rout
Followed this zigzag calf about
And o’er his crooked journey went
The traffic of a continent.
A hundred thousand men were led
By one calf near three centuries dead.

They followed still his crooked way.
And lost one hundred years a day,
For thus such reverence is lent
To well-established precedent.

A moral lesson this might teach
Were I ordained and called to preach;
For men are prone to go it blind
Along the calf-paths of the mind,
And work away from sun to sun
To do what other men have done.
They follow in the beaten track,
And out and in, and forth and back,
And still their devious course pursue,
To keep the path that others do.
They keep the path a sacred groove,
Along which all their lives they move;
But how the wise old wood-gods laugh,
Who saw the first primeval calf.
Ah, many things this tale might teach
But I am not ordained to preach.

Photo captions:

1.Mastodon (no caption)

2. Downtown overlay

3. Indian trails of importance to Michigan

4. Major Indian tribes and trails – 1760

5. Mastodon skeletons have been found near Textile and Carpenter Roads and in the gravel pits along Michigan Avenue west of Saline (north of Harry’s Furniture)

6. U of M’s old fossil

7. Paths through tall grass prairies connected the main Indian trails

Climbing the Camperdown Elm as Children

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

Author: Robert and Eric Anschuetz

One of the advantages of growing up in an old house is that there are lots of mature trees on the property––trees over 100 years of age. The Anschuetz property on the corner of Forest Avenue and River Street had several large sugar maples once evenly spaced down both streets that framed the property. These trees were tapped for maple syrup in the 1980s, and produced buckets full of sap that boiled down to a few gallons of syrup. The Anschuetz family was also fortunate to have backyard “woods” lining the driveway leading back to their garage that had formerly been a school house and a malt house. In these woods, there are mostly more sugar maples, but also box elders, elms, mulberries, and walnut trees, plus a very old and large apple tree. In the front of the house, they had two very interesting and prominent trees––a Camperdown Elm which no longer survives, and a Japanese Maple which still exists to this day.

These trees played an important role for the five Anschuetz children who grew up in the Swaine-Anschuetz house. Twins Robert and Eric Anschuetz moved to the house when they were four years old and lived there all the way through college. In the years before computer games and VCR tapes, the twins spent a lot of time playing outside and constructed several tree houses in the maples and box elders near the back driveway. The tree houses weren’t elaborate––nor were they too high off the ground––but they were fun places to spend time after school and on the weekends. These tree houses would be torn down after only a couple weeks––or often they just fell apart.

The Anschuetz children got bird’s eye views of their yard by climbing high up in the many trees in the yard. The sugar maples that lined the street had branches that were too high and out of reach, so they rarely climbed them. Their favorite tree to climb was the Camperdown Elm in the front yard, which regrettably died of old age and had to be cut down around the year 2000. The Camperdown Elm is a grafted tree where the branches of a Camperdown Elm are grafted to the severed trunk of a Wych Elm at a very young age. The leaves grow from the grafted branches and form a gnarled canopy distinctive of this variety of tree. The Anschuetz’ Camperdown Elm had a distinct ring near the top where it had been grafted. Above this ring were three primary branches. These three branches became designated sitting spots for Eric, Robert, and their friends. Each one of the children took command of one of the three primary branches and sat in the “saddle” bend of them. They would sit up there for hours on end. It was easy to climb the tree, because there was a big knot that could be grabbed like a saddle-horn that was just within reach of their hands. They would then pull themselves up and each would shimmy over to their designated positions in the tree. Sometimes, they would climb far out on the branches to where it would almost be at the snapping point.

In the backyard woods, their favorite tree to climb was the heritage variety apple tree. The apple tree was very old, and several of its branches were rotten and had to be sawed off periodically. This was a very tall apple tree, reaching a height of 50 feet or so. Every other year or so, the apple tree produced lots of apples. In the fall, the apples were all over the ground by the garage, and the Anschuetz children would often throw them over the house or hit them with baseball bats and watch them splatter. During the autumn, there used to be a great smell of apples in the backyard when they dropped from the tree. The Anschuetz family never really ate many of the apples because they had little worm holes in most of them. On the apple tree in their backyard, there was one horizontal branch that stuck out from the tree that several neighborhood children all climbed on. When they got a little older, the children would climb higher vertically into the tree. The Anschuetz children nailed “steps” into the apple tree to make it up to that lowest horizontal branch, because it was too high to reach by hand.

One very large elm tree that once dominated these backyard woods succumbed to Dutch Elm disease in the early 1970s, but several of its sapling relatives grew to large trees and survive to this day. Meeting the same fate as the large elm and the Camperdown Elm, several other trees on the Anschuetz property are no longer around. The apple tree succumbed to old age and had to be cut down around 1990. Several 100-year-old sugar maples declined over the years and in 2011 had to be removed. Several small fruit trees planted by the Anschuetz family were removed over the years as well. Fortunately, several sugar maples along Forest Avenue and River Street are still standing, along with several maples, elms, and walnut trees which are still thriving in the backyard woods. The very beautiful Japanese Maple still frames the front entrance of the house.

[Robert and Eric Anschuetz grew up on the northeast corner of North River Street and Forest Avenue.]

Photo Caption:

1. The Camperdown Elm at the Anschuetz home died a slow death and had to be reduced to stumps

Ypsilanti's Natural Crowning Jewel: The Camperdown Elm

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

Author: Janice Anschuetz

With the advent of a tree farm on the Water Street property this year, and the recent audit of city trees, it is fitting to talk about one of the most beautiful and elegant trees that once were plentiful in Ypsilanti ––“ulmus glabra Camperdownii,” or the Camperdown Elm. With its distinctive form and elegance, the Camperdown Elm served as the crowning jewel of many Victorian homes or gardens, and could also be seen among the hills and woodlands of Highland Cemetery. Unfortunately, most of these trees have now died of old age. A few, however, can still be seen, and perhaps this article will inspire some residents to plant new Camperdown Elms that can be admired and cherished by future generations.

The special appeal of the Camperdown Elm derives largely from its unusual anatomy: the tree’s abundant canopy consists not of normal elm branches and leaves, but of a grafted crown composed of root-like branches and oval leaves. For a brief period in the spring, the canopy is colored by a lush blossoming of paper-thin chartreuse flowers.

Every living Camperdown Elm is in a way a direct descendant of the first Camperdown Elm, which was created around 1840 in Scotland. It seems that the head forester at the time, a David Taylor by name, noticed an unusual branch growing along the forest grounds on the estate of the Earl of Camperdown, which was located in Dundee, Scotland. The discovery inspired the earl’s gardener to cut off the top of a common Wych Elm tree and create a variant of it by grafting a piece of the branch to the trunk. Like all Wych Elms, the new creation maintained the Latin genus/species botanical name of ulmus glabra, in which ulmus refers to a “deciduous tree” and glabra means “smooth” – denoting the quality of the leaf surfaces. The Camperdown Elm variant took on the added reference Camperdownii, and is known formally as ulmus glabra Camperdownii. From the initial grafting, it produced a luxurious canopy of root-like branches and smooth-surfaced leaves that looked as if it grew naturally out of the top of the severed tree trunk. Even today, every Camperdown Elm must be individually created, using a descendant piece of the unusual branch found on the Camperdown estate. No Camperdown Elm can grow directly from seed.

In Ypsilanti during the nineteenth century, the unusual make-up and appearance of the Camperdown Elm satisfied the Victorian passion for curiosities, and copies of the tree were featured in a variety of public places. They served as memorial icons at Highland Cemetery. They could be seen, as well, at botanical gardens, such as the one at the Hutchinson mansion on the southeast corner of North River and East Forest, and at public parks, such as Recreation Park, where a withered and dying vestige of the trees remains to this day. Two Camperdown Elms also graced the campus of Eastern Michigan University, standing outside King Hall until they died about ten years ago. They were elegant legacies of a stately mansion once located there, owned by Samuel Post, a prominent politician and Ypsilanti businessman in the mid-1800s. The Post home was torn down and replaced in 1939 by the King Hall dormitory for women – which was itself renovated in 1971 to house the music and special education departments, and is currently home to the EMU Women’s Center, the Office of the Dean of Students, and several other university functions.

Our own family home, the Swaine House, at North River and East Forest, was also graced for many years by a Camperdown Elm on our front lawn. We loved the tree, and our neighbors and passersby were enthralled by it, giving it nicknames like “the umbrella tree” or “the upside-down tree.” Both were accurate descriptions. The tree’s root-like branches twisted and turned in an amazing way. And, with its weeping-type canopy and dense leaf cover, it could indeed serve as an umbrella to provide protection from rain and sun. The tree also definitely looked upside-down. Every Camperdown Elm displays a conspicuous graft line, with a different type of bark above and below it.

Like most Camperdown Elms in Ypsilanti, our own died a slow and painful death in old age, despite the treatment we had arborists give it. The ones at Highland Cemetery are also gone, and this may well be the last year for the spindly and deformed specimen at Recreation Park on Congress. Nevertheless, several of the trees can still be found in town. There is one on High Street at Grove, and a magnificent one I like to visit on Hamilton Street, north of Cross. The one at the Hutchinson mansion on North River and East Forest also seems to be thriving. I might add that, in travels with my husband, I have seen an abundance of Camperdown Elms on Mackinac Island, and others in places as far away as China and Great Britain.

Any Ypsilanti residents who may be interested in planting their own Camperdown Elm can take heart in the fact that the tree is hardy and survives our Michigan winters well. Still, it should be noted that Camperdown Elms must be given a great deal of water in periods of summer drought, and also be sprayed often for leaf miner - which is the reason I myself don’t wish to plant another one. Those who are willing to provide the necessary maintenance, however, will find a great reward in the tree’s distinctive beauty and style. A number of current YouTube videos offer a wonderful introduction to this marvelous tree. (You’ll find them by simply googling “Camperdown Elm YouTube videos.”) If you find yourself in a buying mood, Camperdown Elms can be purchased through several suppliers that advertise on the web, and I have even seen them for sale on eBay.

[Janice Anschuetz is a local history buff and a regular contributor to the GLEANINGS.]

Photo captions:

1. The Camperdown Elm in Prospect Part in Brooklyn, New York was planted in 1897

2. Camperdown Elm (August 1990) at the Swaine House in Ypsilanti on the corner of North River and East Forest

3. Camperdown Elm in winter when the root-like branches are exposed

4. The graft line is clearly visible on the Camperdown Elm in Recreation Park

5. The Camperdown Elm at the Hutchinson mansion on North River Street

Clark's Lake - How it Sank

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

Author: George Ridenour

The following was published in the Ypsilanti Commercial of April 22, 1871

"In the town of superior, which is eight miles north of this city, was a pond of water known as Clark's Lake. Mr. Edmond Day, the contractor under the County Drain Commissioner, dug a ditch to drain the road nearby so as to make it passable without so much corduroy material. The job had already broken three different contractors who failed in the attempt. Mr. D. took hold with a will bound to accomplish it. he dug his ditch fifteen feet wide and three fourths of a mile in length. About a month after he opened his ditch the water began flowing from the Lake. It ran two days, ploughing deeper and deeper, until the lake was nearly dry, leaving a cauldron embracing something over an acre about 100 feet deep.

Mr. D was standing close to the edge of what was once the lake when all at once he felt a movement, the earth sliding out from under him. He fled on the double quick with the ground heaving, sinking and waving beneath his feet. Unlike Lot's wife, he dared not look behind him until he reached a place of safety. Then, looking behind, he saw the ground all around what was once a lake, twenty acres more or less, sunk from five to six feet, broken off from the main land and separated by fissures from 18 inches to 10 feet wide and over 20 feet deep. it seems the water held this land in place.

It is a sight worth going to see. Mr. Clark has lost 20 acres of land more or less. If he could only board it in and charge a reasonable compensation he would make a fortune. Superior has no railroad but she is made. She has a natural curiosity equal to one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Shut in from the outside world she is booked to become the centre of a grand attraction. That air Line has got to come now to furnish accomodations to the wondering, gaping crowds that ill visit this inland town, destined to be the Highway of Empire."

It must have been quite a sight.

On the Banks of Sneak-a-Leak-Creek

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

Author: George Ridenour

As the days become warm, green colors the dead trees of winter, my jacket comes off, and my mind begins to wander. My heart becomes mellow. My car turns from LeForge Road to West Clark Road. I stop for a few minutes at 415 West Clark Road. My God how many changes have occurred since I lived there from age 5-18, before leaving for a tour of duty in the U.S. Army?

Memories of days and years that passed so very quickly flood my mind like motion pictures. Days of youth gone by. This time of year along the dusty road I remember the beauty of wild blood root, violets, asparagus, Queen Ann’s lace, and purple or white lilac trees that filled the air with their sweet smells. Occasionally cars hummed by the front of our house and disappeared in the distance except in the time of “spring thaws” when they sometimes became stalled in axle deep mud. No, roads were not paved!

I remember the “question” from kids during school when they found out I lived on West Clark Road “…Oh, what is it like to live in the country?” The distance to the business center of Ypsilanti was only one and a half miles! Oh well, with only four nearby houses, a couple of farms and lots of vacant land I can see where they thought we were really “…out there?”

We even had our own baseball field! However, there was no back stop behind the catcher to stop missed balls and when a ball was hit into the corn field behind the outfield it was an automatic “home run.” During the fall of the year our side yard was transformed from a garden into a football arena! I still have the bruises to prove it.

We had an acre of garden too! We grew our own food which Mom canned, and we used a root cellar! We grew everything, well before the current local produce movement. With ten mouths to feed we needed to cut costs and it gave Dad something for us kids to do during the summer. I still remember carrying buckets of cow pies (yep, nice fresh cow pies) and scooping them into the dirt mounds where the cucumbers were planted. We had mighty big “cukes” all summer long!

Then there were the cows from the farm on LeForge Road that sometimes wandered down the lanes stretching all the way to Clark Road. We often played in the fields which surrounded the neighborhood being careful not to step in the cow pies. The cows loved that area. One time they even cornered me in a tree where I had to stay until my brother finally rescued me. I was the butt of jokes for weeks after that. The area included wild thistles with purple and yellow flowers, grass (which the cows helped mow!), trees, butterflies of all colors, birds of all kinds, frogs, turtles, and sledding sites for winter.

Through all this flowed this slow meandering “creek” which varied from ankle to shin deep. To this day I don’t remember finding the source of the creek. I do remember it flowed under Clark Road and into the fields, down past our house, and all the way to empty into the Huron River. It was a lifeline for nature, cows, and boys wanting adventure either in catching frogs, wading, maybe an occasional skinny dip, and ice skating rink (at the largest big enough for four people to skate single file). To us it was the best. Many a frog and butterfly were captured and studied. At night the darkened sky was lit with fireflies by the thousands and sounds of crickets and frogs filled the night air.

At our house I slept in a room with three brothers. In those days sharing a bed was common. I watched my four brothers grow, drive their first cars, complete school, marry, have children. Sometime later I would be an uncle to 22 nieces and nephews!

My mind comes into focus. I decide to try and look where I remembered the “headwater” for Sneak-a-Leak-Creek flowed. Today, there is housing, housing, and more housing. There are now over fifteen houses on West Clark Road. A patch of woods is where we had talks, and explored the attic of Gerald Everett. In the attic there were many papers, letters, and books. Gerald would tell us of relatives who studied Egyptian hieroglyphics and he gave me two letters from the early 1800’s which I have today. One letter tells of how it is thought that as one travels south “it gets warmer and warmer.” The Gerald Everett house is gone and a jungle of trees now invades the land where this home stood. Mr. Everett was a grand old man and often Mom would take him pies and holiday treats.

I drive down the road looking to find Sneak-a-Leak-Creek. Finally, after searching for some time with the sound of horns in the background, the wind rushing by, and avoiding countless speeding cars I see a place in the fence, pushed in, filled with branches and full of trash blown from the road. In a burst of reflected sunlight I see the slow meandering water of Sneak-a-Leak-Creek! I can only stare with disappointment and am overcome with disappointment that wells into a sigh. A jewel, a remembrance of days gone, boyhood adventurers where the creek, fields, and Highland cemetery provided relief from problems at home, adventures, an appreciation of the beauty of nature, and even today a love of water (from showers to oceans).

When I was young I could be anyone, anywhere, and live free! I could hide in and smell the earthiness of cornfields (no one could see me) or lie beside wheat and eat the kernels. I could gather shafts of straw, mix dishwashing soap and blow bubbles. I could sit on hot summer days, when allowed, and share washtubs with the other kids pretending it was a pool. To escape the heat we would sit under the weeping willow tree in the front yard.

Ok, you are probably wondering how did the creek (which really had no name that we ever knew) get the name Sneak-a-Leak-Creek? Well, like all good stories “You Decide.” Those fond memories filled with colors, smells, and adventures on the banks of “Sneak-a-Leak-Creek” will be with me forever.

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

Photo Captions:

Photo 1: George Ridenour as he looked in his pre-teen years on West Clark Road.

Photo 2: Sneak-a-Leak-Creek can still be seen through the rusted fence along side of West Clark Road.

Ypsilanti, 1892

Published In:
Ypsilanti Gleanings, June 1992,
June 1992
Original Images:

The Michigan Central Greenhouse was constructed north of the Depot in April. It was used to grow the plants for the flowers that were used in the gardens at the Railroad Station.

Following is an article about the Depot Gardens that was written in the Commercial, the Newspaper of the Period.

The Depot Garden

It may be interesting to the flower loving people of Ypsilanti, to know something of the work that is being done on the depot grounds of the Michigan Central. For two years past the company has been beautifying its property surrounding the depot building, making it beautiful and attractive for the eyes of its patrons as well as the citizens of Ypsilanti. The grounds have been tastefully laid out under the direction of the gardener, Mr. Laidlaw. The closely shaven lawn is dotted every where with flower beds of all shapes and sizes. Hard rolled gravel walks with borders of coleus wind about in various directions, thus enabling the visitors to obtain a near view of all of the beds.

The masonic bed is perhaps the most attractive of all. In a large circular space, various emblems of masory are worked out in different colored leaf-plants in a most skillful manner.

The designs have all been made by Mr. Laidlaw, who has shown excellent taste in the grouping and arrangement of his plants and colors. The large pyramid of cannas, petunias, nasturtiums, and many other varieties of plants, is gorgeous, being a mass of flowers of many colors on all sides. On a rise of ground and surrounding the water-tank the name “Ypsilanti” is spelled out in red letters. The very large Scotch thistle is a great attraction with its long, grayish green leaves thickly covered with needle-like spines. It must be 6 or 7 feet high now and has not yet reached its full growth.

All the plants used were propagated in the little green-house just at the rear of the depot. The new green-house, now in process of construction at the extreme west end of the grounds will be 5 times as large, 20 by 100 feet, and will afford facilities for the propagation of 100,000 plants. It is to be heated with a hot water furnace and will have all the conveniences necessary for the work to be carried on there. Hotbeds, etc., are just in the rear of the building. The now rather diminutive fish-pond is to be considerably enlarged for the accommodation of many more of the tribe.

Last summer, the company distributed bouquets of flowers as souvenirs to its patrons on the through trains and this summer has resumed this pleasant custom of surprising the weary traveler with a bunch of fresh and fragrant flowers.

About 120 bunches are distributed daily to 3 of the through trains, the remaining 4 trains being supplied with flowers at other points.

Visitors to the grounds are unanimous in declaring them worthy of the highest praise and admiration, and yet are assured that next summer they will not know the place, so superior will be the gardening to what it is now and has been hitherto.

M. C. Depot, Ypsilanti, Mich.

The great Meteoric Shower of November 14, 1833

Published In:
Ypsilanti Gleanings, February 1981,
February 1981
Original Images:

Author: C.S. Woodard

Few comparatively, are now alive who knew much of and far less, who saw that wonderful “Phenomena”.

At that time my parents lived or rather stayed in a rude log Shanty in the midst of the then dense Forest, and not far from the Junction of the Lake Shore & Mich Southern and Ann & Toledo Railroads in the Township of Pittsfield, Washtenaw County, Mich.

On the night of Nov. 14, 1833, my mother was awakened and saw through the joints between the logs of the shanty what she thought to be some strange light.

She awakened my father and they going to the door saw that wonderful display of Meteors. They were frightened and so did not call me to see it-which I have always regretted.

Mother described it as like a furious Snow Storm of large lakes-except the flakes were of Fire instead of Snow.

Notwithstanding the fright of every one who saw the penomona, there was a laughable circumstance that happened at Saline. At that early day, the “Old Time Stage” was run along the Chicago Road, which wound around through the woods between Saline, Ypsilanti and Detroit.

The driver was an old Dutchman and going out very early to feed the horses saw the sight, and being terribly frightened, ran back into the Tavern (then kept by Orange Risdon). Said —Mine Got-mens, the Vorlt comes to end-no use go mit Ypsilanti —and so they did not until the Show was over.

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