Childhood Memories of Frog Island from the 1970’s

Published In:
Ypsilanti Gleanings
Original Images:

Author: Robert and Eric Anschuetz

Twins Robert and Eric Anschuetz spent much of their childhood hanging out at the Huron River while growing up in Ypsilanti during the 1970’s. They knew almost every foot of the river from the Peninsular Paper Company dam on Leforge Road, past the Highland Cemetery, along the area known as “Greenland” behind Railroad Street, near the Forest Avenue railroad and street bridges, along the stretch bordering Frog Island, through Riverside Park, past the hobo camps across from Waterworks Park, leading up to Gilbert Park, along the stretch near Grove Street, past the Ford plant, and emptying out to Ford Lake. Robert and Eric were never the most avid fishermen, but they did enjoy going fishing at the river when they were children. Their two favorite spots to fish were on top of the drainage culvert that fed into the river next to the railroad bridge at Forest Avenue, and on the bank of the river at the Forest Avenue and Rice Street entrance to Frog Island. They would typically go fishing by themselves, with their brother Kurt, or with other friends.

One of their fishing buddies was a kid about five years older than them named Eugene who lived a block away on Dwight Street. Eugene used to stop by Robert and Eric’s house on the way to the river and ask if they wanted to go fishing. They would usually oblige and go along with him. At the end of the day, they would bring home a string of fish and sell them to some of the families who lived on River Street, between Forest Avenue and Norris Street, in houses that have since been torn down. In those days, it seemed that there were only four kinds of fish in the Huron River: bluegill, catfish, suckers and carp. Bluegill and catfish were plentiful. The catfish were a beautiful variety with long whiskers, stinging gills, a bright white under-body, yellow coloring on the sides, and a dark green back. Suckers were bigger and pretty rare. They were called suckers because their mouth had a distinctive shape that looked like a suction cup. Carp were also pretty rare but they were a prized catch. At least once a year, a local kid fishing in the river would land a huge carp up to 30 or 40 pounds. Sometimes Robert and Eric would find a huge carp on the side of the shore rotting away.

One day Robert, Eric, and Eugene decided to set a lofty goal of catching 100 fish in a single day. If the families on River Street did not buy the fish, Robert and Eric’s mother (frequent Gleanings contributor, Jan Anschuetz) would bury them in her garden as fertilizer, taking a hint from the Indians who also taught that technique to the Pilgrims. This was way before the time of “catch and release” fishing that is much more humane. Robert, Eric and Eugene spent the whole day fishing, and sure enough, at the end of the day, they had their 100 fish. They remember taking them back home to show their mother, who took a picture that has since faded, but still captures the monumental achievement. It was a day of fishing that the twins will never forget.

Fishing wasn’t the only activity that Robert and Eric enjoyed at Frog Island during their childhood. Warm spring days with westerly winds always meant one thing to Robert and Eric – kite flying weather! In those days, Frog Island was a rarely-used park that provided a vast expanse of open space to fly kites. When Robert and Eric first started flying kites, they tried to construct a “box kite” out of sticks of balsa wood and newspaper. Their box kite never really flew too well, so they changed their strategy to buying plastic kites – usually from Weber’s Drugs on Cross Street in Depot Town or from the Hobby Shop on Prospect Road near Prospect Park.

Their favorite model of plastic kite was called the “baby bat” kite. The “baby bat” was a black kite in the shape of a delta-winged bat that had two stickers for eyes. This type of kite didn’t come with any string, so Robert and Eric had to buy a spool of string separately. Just as all kids do, they would try to launch the kite in the air by running along the field with about 10 feet of string leading to the kite. The kites would invariably get a couple feet off the ground, do a couple twists, and then crash down to the ground with a thump. The spines of the kites were constructed out of plastic sticks, which sometimes bent, or even broke, if the kite crashed too hard.

If the wind was really blowing steadily, Robert and Eric would be able to get their kites in the sky and slowly let out more string. They would put their index fingers on either side of the spool of string and let the wind carry the kite further and further into the sky. Sometimes the string would burn the twins’ fingers if they tried to grab it when it was unwinding too fast. On rare occasions, they used up an entire ball of string. When the kite eventually came crashing to the earth when the wind died down, it would always be a huge mess to roll the string back onto the cardboard tube which held the string. There would always be small sticks and grass entangled with the string, and it would become so full of knots that it would basically be unusable ever again.

One year, Robert and Eric bought a plastic kite crank-handle that was attached to a spool of string. This allowed the string to be let out while flying the kites, and then it could be easily reeled back in after the day of kite flying was over. This made the hassle of flying kites go away, and the twins went more and more often to Frog Island to fly their kites. On one particular fine spring day in the mid 1970’s, the wind was blowing from the west directly over the Huron River and across Frog Island toward the railroad tracks. Robert and Eric got one of their kites so far up in the sky that they had to use two rolls of string connected together on their crank-handle system. They still remember looking far off in the distance seeing the little spec in the sky dancing above the railroad tracks near the Michigan Ladder Company. Suddenly the kite string became entangled in the power lines running along the railroad tracks and that ended a great day of kite flying. Ah, those were the days, long before video games, high-def televisions, smart phones, and laptops would provide the modern generation of kids with all of their entertainment that keeps them mostly confined indoors. They don’t know what they’re missing!

(Robert and Eric Anschuetz grew up on River Street and are regular contributors to the Gleanings.)

Photo Captions:

Photo 1: Site on the Huron River at Frog Island where Robert and Eric Anschuetz once caught 100 fish in a single day.

Photo 2: Eric, Eugene, an unknown friend, and Robert with a portion of their haul of 100 fish. These strung-up fish were the unfortunate leftovers destined for the garden after the kids made some sales on River Street.

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

Quilt Exhibit – Sept 23 to Oct 14, 2012

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

Quilt Exhibit – Sept 23 to Oct 14

This year the Ypsilanti Historical Museum will present its 10th annual Quilt Exhibit from September 23 thru October 14. You will want to visit during that time to see the array of beautiful quilts crafted by local artists.

In addition, you will have an opportunity to win a quilt crafted by a member of the Historical Society and on display in the Heritage Room. This quilt may be used as a large wall hanging or a sofa quilt. It is titled “Wisdom” and is described as “a scrappy log cabin quilt – with attitude.” The centers of the log cabin blocks consist of quotations by well-known persons, both past and present. You need only drop a donation and your name and phone number in the receptacle provided. The drawing will take place at the close of the Exhibit and the winner will be notified shortly thereafter. The proceeds from this drawing will be dedicated to much needed enhancements to the Museum.

Photo Caption:

Photo: “Wisdom” is described as “a scrappy log cabin quilt – with attitude.”

Ypsilanti Parades

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

We remember Hometown parades

Ypsilantians love a parade and we have lots of them in our town. Most of Ypsilanti’s parades have hundreds of folks marching and thousands more on the sidelines watching and waving. Some newer and shorter parades encourage the folks on the sidewalk to get up and walk in the street with them. Like Garrison Keillor’s fictitious “Lake Wobegon,” sometimes we have to participatae in the parade and then get a place on the sidewalk and watch the rest of the parade go by. It’s a continuous process and one that is enjoyed by all.

Ypsilanti’s notable parades include homecomings for all the schools and colleges in the area, the solemn Memorial Day example––which is not a parade at all, but a procession, the oldest Independence Day Parade in the state, and the 35-year-old Heritage Parade that celebrate’s our community’s proud history.

Other parades that pop up intermittently have included a Santa Claus Parade, St. Patrick’s Day Parade, and countless line-ups of vintage vehicles. This July will see the famed Great Race vintage vehicles finish their route around the Great Lakes as they stop here for lunch on the way to the finish line at Dearborn’s Henry Ford.

[Photo caption from original print edition]: In 1937, the American Legion sponsored the Fourth of July Parade on Michigan Ave. [Fletcher-White Archives]

Historic Preservation Tax Credits for Your Old Car?

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

Ypsilanti is crawling with history, but it’s rolling with it too. Vintage auto exhibitions in Riverside Park and the every-Thursday summer Cruise Nights give ample evidence that all our ancient history is not just old buildings; it’s old cars too. Carmel Robert’s story (below) from the Historic Vehicle Association brings collectors of authentic vintage vehicles up to date on efforts to preserve and protect their prized possessions.

From “Making Your Collector Car a Historic Treasure”
HVA group seeks to extend National Historic Preservation Act to cover vintage automobiles

Should your historic vehicle have the same cultural status and favorable regulatory treat- ment as historic buildings? That was an in- triguing question for the HVA. After taking the idea out for a test drive, it appears that the answer may hold the key to long-term, significant benefits for collector cars.

Historic buildings, airplanes, canoes, gas stations and strips of highway have all found official recognition, status and pro- tection under the National Historic Preser- vation Act of 1966. It’s an odd quirk that the most significant invention of the 20th century has yet to take its formal place alongside buildings and other transportation-related sites and historic objects.

While there are many possible reasons for the omission of collector cars in the existing framework, there is one reason that quickly comes to mind––thinking of our “iron” as historic or culturally significant is counterintuitive to most collectors. The typical collector is more motivated by nostalgia than the thought of preserving a vehicle or being a steward of a piece of history.

We are in our early stages of exploration on this idea, but we have had encouraging dialogue and feedback from a number of prominent collectors and historians inside and outside the collector car world about the benefits of including collector cars in the National Historic Preservation Act. In our initial research we found that inclusion under the Act is always voluntary, and the rights of the property owner remain intact. We aren’t interested in pursuing any initiative that would create more red tape or allow the government to tell us how to use our cars.

The HVA’s mission is to keep “Yesterday’s Vehicles on Tomorrow’s Roads” by estab- lishing a collaborative platform among historic vehicle enthusiasts.

Ypsilanti has hot rods and fire trucks, “orphans” and semis, vintage vehicles and classic cars. Our streets, parking lots, diveways, and garages are burgeoning with history on wheels. And it’s no wonder: many of them were conceived and born right here. They are as much a part of our heritage as are our buildings, parks, monuments, and cemeteries.

Photo caption: The question arose at the final Cruise Night of the summer in Depot Town: We’ve got old buildings,garages, barns, and even a caboose in our famed Historic District; why not include old cars as well?


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

Author: Peg Porter

My Diary: January 1, 1951- I went skating today. We had a good New Years dinner. Michigan won in the Rose Bole. (Sic).

It all started with Sonja Henie, the very blonde Norwegian Olympic champion in figure skating. Sonja went on to appear in movies in the late 1930s and 1940s. She also had her own ice show that traveled the country. I do not remember when I first became aware of Sonja. I do remem- ber, however, that I wanted to become like Sonja, dancing on ice.

My first skates were double runners, baby skates that strapped onto your shoe or boot. Gliding across the ice was impossi- ble. I could stand upright and do a sort of walking motion and once I gained enough forward momentum could put my feet to- gether and actually move a few inches. Ice dancing it was not.

My dad took me to an ice rink on Frog Island. I was bundled up against the cold, layers under my snowsuit with a scarf wrapped around my neck. Once my skates were strapped on I stepped onto the ice and began my walking motion. There were other skaters gliding by. That is what I wanted to do but could not. Still it was exciting to be on a real rink. After about 30 minutes of waddling around the ice I got cold and was ready to go home. The Sonja dream was fading fast.

But then there was a minor miracle. Sonja Henie came to Detroit, Dad got tickets and off we went to the Olympia to see Sonja in person. She did not disappoint, she glittered and sparkled while she danced across the ice. I, along with hundreds of other little girls, was captivated. We did not notice that she was no longer as young as she was when she won her gold medals. She was our beautiful ice dancer.

My next skates were real figure skates. They had belonged to one of the older girls in the neighborhood, most likely Su- sie or Barbie Brien. Their father, Bancroft Brien, had a shoe store downtown. The skates were too big, of course, but I wore several pairs of thick socks and stuffed the toes with cotton. When I laced them up tight they almost felt as if they fit.

In the winter, there was a large rink in Recreation Park. One of my friends and I would walk the five blocks from our house on Owendale to the Park. If we left right after school, we could get almost two hours of skating in before it began to get dark. We changed into our skates in a shed at the edge of the rink, took a few steps to the ice and then joined the other skaters traveling counter clockwise around the rink. Since I’d been roller skating for a few years, the skating motion came eas- ily. We went around and around until the sky started to darken and the streetlights.

came on. By then we were cold and ready to leave. Our feet felt frozen on the walk home. They did not begin to warm up un- til we were eating our evening meal. Then began the exquisite agony of the circula- tion returning to our extremities that hurt, stung and felt good all at the same time.

The following Christmas I got my own skates, brilliant white with sharp, shiny blades. By now I had learned how to skate backwards and to rotate on the ice. I probably tried to do an arabesque with a minimum of wobbling. Still most of the time was spend circling the rink. On one outing I felt a sharp stinging pain in my right foot. I’d been hit by a hockey puck. The hockey players were confined to one end of the rink but pucks did not recognize boundaries. Hockey skate boots have a lot of padding, figure skating boots don’t. Getting hit by a puck hurt!

There was another trip to Olympia to see an ice show. This one featured Barbara Ann Scott, a Canadian Olympic medalist. Unlike Sonja, she was not an “ice princess,” she was a more athletic skater. I half convinced myself that Barbara and I were distant cousins. My grandparents were born in Canada and my great-grand- mother from Scotland was named Ellen Scott. So it seemed possible. Actually my Canadian cousins were hockey players.

About the time I left Estabrook to begin junior high at Roosevelt, my skating days came to a quiet close. I had a chance to try out for the Ann Arbor Skating Club that I turned down. Our parents always emphasized choices. You could not do every- thing so starting a new activity meant ending another one. There was another reason though: fear. At some point I knew I would have to do jumps. Leaping and jumping were no problem in Grace Begoles’s bal- let studio. The surface there, however, was wood. The thought of both feet leaving the ice and then landing on the hard, slip- pery surface was more than I could deal with.

Growing up involves gaining realistic expectations. As painful as it sometimes was, I let go of some of my dreams. The skates went to the back of the closet.

(Peg Porter grew up in Ypsilanti and is the GLEANINGS Assistant Editor and a regular contributor of articles for our publication.)

Photo captions:

Photo 1: Sonja Henie, Norwegian Olympic figure skating champion, appeared in movies in the late 1930s and 1940s

Photo 2: Barbara Ann Scott, a Canadian Olympic figure skating medalist, was a very athletic skater

An Automobile Trip - 1915-Style

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

Spring 2011

Author: Janice Anschuetz

The label “Victorian woman” usually brings to mind a woman in a long gown with plenty of petticoats, a high neckline, long sleeves and gloves, sitting in an ornate parlor chair, drinking tea, and gossiping behind a hand-held fan. That was not the case, however, with Florence and Jessie Swaine. They are the adventuresome sisters who were born and lived in the Swaine House at the corner of North River and East Forest, and influenced many a youngster by becoming teachers.

In 1915, during their summer vacation from teaching, they traveled by car over 1,600 miles to see something of the country and share good times with friends. The ten-day circular trip took them from Ypsilanti, to Cleveland, to Pittsburgh, to Gettysburg, to Washington, D.C., to Atlantic City, to Philadelphia, and back to Cleveland, from where they returned to Detroit by boat. The following place-by-place account is their story. Although it is not signed, we can guess at its author, who at one point makes a reference to “mother and Florence.” That makes it probable that it was written by Bertha Smith, who appears to be the daughter of Mrs. F. E. Smith. We can also infer that Dudley Smith, “whose party it was,” and presumably the driver, is related to the other two passengers with the surname Smith.

This gem of a story allows us a look back into a time when an automobile offered a new way to travel and gasoline was about 14 cents a gallon. The narrative was found in the Ypsilanti Historical Museum archives, with other papers left to the museum by Florence and Jessie Swaine. Here it is, exactly as originally written:

AUTOMOBILE TRIP: June 27 to July 8, 1915 - The party was composed of Florence and Jessie Swaine, Edith Shaw, Mrs. F. E. Smith, Ruth and Bertha Smith and Dudley K. Smith, whose party it was. The car was a 1915 Paige Six.

The cities represented were Ypsilanti, Ann Arbor, Marshall, Detroit and Royal Oak; all of Michigan. The license of the car was 10031. The speedometer registered 524 miles when we left Ypsilanti.

The party left Ypsilanti at 10:30 Eastern Time and reached Toledo at 2:00 p.m. Eastern Time, stopping to eat lunch by the roadside at Dundee. Passed through Woodville, Fremont, Clude, Bellevue, Monroeville, Norwalk, where we stopped and had ice cream and Edith Shaw called on a cousin. The Smiths called on the Bacons at Toledo, Wakoman, Ripton, Elyria. Arrived at Cleveland at 9:00 p.m. 699 miles. Called on the Wicks, (that is, the Smiths did). Spent the night at the Hotel Regent on Euclid Avenue near 105 Street. Left there at 9:30 Monday morning, June 28th. Passed through Bedford, Twinsburg, Hudson, Darwinville, Kent, Ravenna, Palmyra, Youngstown, stopped there and had water-melon. Time 3:30. 781 miles. Jessie Swaine and Edith Shaw had a mutual friend on whom Edith called up there. From there on to Pittsburgh passing through Sowickley, a very beautiful place, on into Allegheny, where we had supper and across the river into Pittsburgh at 9:00. Spent the night there at Hotel Anderson, speedometer registered 852 miles. Left Tuesday morning June 29th at 8:45. Drove around Schenley Park, which is a very beautiful park high up. Pittsburgh is very hilly. Business portion very unattractive. Saw the block house of Fort Pitt, which was built in 1764 – now owned by the Daughters of the American Revolution of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania.
From Pittsburgh we went on to Gettysburg on the Lincoln Highway. Lunched in a field on the way across from an old oil well which we examined and where Florence Swaine lost the heel of one of her slippers. On this ride we went over the Allegheny Mountains and on the way into Ligonier had a race up hills and down with some Elks on the way to a picnic. Beautiful ride.
Stopped at Grand View Point, which is considered to be the best view point between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia and certainly was very fine. Passed through Bedford, Harrisonburg, bought lunch, bolony (bad). Wonderful view. Had supper at Chambersburg, had frog supper 9:15 p.m. Lost suitcase on way to Gettysburg over mountains. Arrived at Gettysburg 12:00 p.m. Stayed at Eagle Hotel, had Harry Long for guide around battlefield and places of interest. June 30th. Battlefield 16,000 acres, cost 7 million. Went to Round Top Hill, Peach Orchard, Wheatfield, Cupps Hill. Saw where the fish hook line was, Spangler Spring and woods, Cemetery Hill and Seminary Hill. Left there at 12:45 p.m. Passed through Emmetsburg, Frederick (Barbara Fritchie), Hagertown, arriving at Washington through Chevy Chase at 5:00 p.m., going around Rock Creek Park and Zoological Park on the way in. Called on Mrs. Watling, rode around the city. Called for Mrs. Watling, took her with us, went in the Christian Science Church (note: Florence Swaine was a Christian Scientist), through the Congressional Library, new Post Office and Station. Left Washington Friday, July 2nd at 12:30 p.m. (Note: the writer uses “a.m.” for any time before 1 p.m. This is changed for clarity.) Spent two nights there at Hotel Ulster corner of 19th and Corcoran Streets. Thursday July 1st. Visited the Capitol, White House, National Museum where we saw Roosevelt’s African Expedition specimens of animals. Went in the Smithsonian Museum, were taken around the Bureau of Printing and Engraving, seeing them making stamps and bills. Went in the Office Building of the Representatives. In the afternoon went out to Mount Vernon, saw house, tomb, kitchen, coach house, fine view. From there to Fort Meyer and Arlington Cemetery, Robert Lee’s old home. Drove around the Potomac River on way back. Beautiful.
Started for Atlantic City, July 2nd, passed through Baltimore, distinguished by its red brick houses with marble steps and blue shades. 11:20. Some of the party visited the market and purchased cherries. Went through Belair and Osborne. Had lunch at Havre De Grace, 10 cent sandwiches. Watermelon down by the river. Crossed Susquehanna river over long bridge, Toll $1.00. Beautiful view. Left 4:00 o’clock. Passed through Elkton, Md., Newark, Del. Arrived at Wilmington Del. at 6:00 o’clock, just in time to take the Ferry across Delaware River, arriving at Heon’s Grove at 6:40. Got 3 ½ miles out of the way just before reaching May’s Landing. Rode into Pleasantville at the rate of 61 miles an hour some of the way. Very exciting. Splendid roads. Had tire trouble at Pleasantville causing delay of ¾ hour. Reached Boardwalk Atlantic City at 11:00 p.m., where we stayed until 1:00 a.m. Spent the night at Majestic Hotel. Had supper (lobster) in restaurant on Boardwalk.

The car was run into at Atlantic City. Left Atlantic City July 3rd, at 2 p.m. had tire trouble on the way out. Speedometer registered 1429 miles. Spent the morning on Boardwalk. Mother, Florence Swaine and B. Smith rode in chair. Passed through avenue of trees to Hammonton. Arrived at Camden Ferry just in time to go right on over into Philadelphia. Policeman greeted us with “It’s a Long way to Tipperary” when he saw our Michigan License. Time 5:35 – 1490 miles. Rode around city, passed Independence Hall, Betsy Ross’ house, Franklin’s grave. Had tires mended. Hunted up Dudley’s friend. Michigan license caused considerable comment. Also damaged car. Spent the night at Continental Hotel. Had dinner at Automat. Retired at 12:30. Sunday, July 4th, breakfasted Roof Garden Hotel Continental, Philadelphia, left 9:50 a.m. Speedometer registered 1615 miles. Visited Navy Yards, saw battle ships – Massachusetts, Indiana, Alabama, Illinois, Cruiser Brooklyn, Collier Mars, Columbia, Hancock. Went through the South Dakota, the largest of those there. From there went out to Fairmont Park onto Wisenhicken Drive (very beautiful) (hills and valleys). 1:15 along Lincoln Highway through Germantown, Chestnut Hill, Willow Grove, beautiful homes and road. Doylestown 3:30 p.m. 1672 miles. Had orangeade, on through Lehigh Valley, into Easton, Delaware Valley, Blue Mountains, stopped at Kittakinnly Hotel while some got postcards. This is in the Delaware Water Gap, very beautiful.

Through Stroudsburg, Mount Pocono. Spent the night there at Mount Pleasant House, $12.00 for party of seven, wanted $5.00 to $7.00 for one. Had dinner there. Left July 5th, Monday morning at 6:40 – miles 1647. Arrived Wilkesbarre 8:30 through beautiful scenery, raining part of the way. Had breakfast at Wilkesbarre and tire fixed, leaving there at 12:00 noon. Sat on steps of house, helped string beans for lady, Mrs. Eddy. 1689 miles. Passed through Berwick, Bloomsburg, Danville, Milton, Williamsport, Newberg. Took haven into Bellefonte at 9:30 p.m. Polliceman spoke to us for not parking where we should. Grand Home Coming week, big celebration. Lady Bicycle rider on tightrope, husband walking upside down below her, fireworks streaming down. Very wonderful. Had supper there, sandwiches, etc. Arrived at Phillipsburg, Pa. Hotel Sheffer (nice place, good breakfast) at 12:45 over high mountains, fine drive but dangerous. Left at 8:30 a.m. July 6th – 1872 miles. Went through coal mine, owner or the man who leased it took us through. Very agreeable, fat mule Pat (pulled) the coal wagon. Through Clearfield town, policeman spoke to us for turning around in the middle of the block. Oil wells. From there through to Painsville into Cleveland, over unpaved roads and interurban car track. Reached Cleveland 11:45 Hotel Regent, supper at 12:00 -2127 miles. Left Cleveland Wednesday morning July 7th at 10:30 a.m. by boat. Ended trip by dinner at Library Park Hotel, Detroit, given by D. K. Smith. Number of miles by auto from Ypsilanti, 1603; from Detroit 1635. 125 gallons of gasoline. Cost: $17.72.

June 27, number of miles 209
June 28, number of miles 153
June 29, number of miles 192
June 30, number of miles 120
July 1, number of miles 66
July 2, number of miles 199
July 3, number of miles 86
July 4, number of miles 132
July 5, number of miles 228
July 6, number of miles 253

From the statistics above, it can be calculated that the cost of gas would have been about fourteen cents a gallon and that the travelers’ brand-new Paige would have averaged around 13 miles per gallon. Because seven people went along on this adventure, we can assume that they traveled in the seven-passenger Paige “Town Car,” which sold for a hefty $2,250. In advertisements for this six-cylinder car, the public would have been awed by references to its “Richelieu Blue” color, its wheels of a “deep rich red,” and a narrow bead of red that “added a touch of distinctive individuality to the front of the radiator.” Company literature stated: “The strikingly beautiful body design of the Six-46 is now set off with a painting finish so rich and lustrous that it is positively mirror-like. To secure this lasting brilliancy requires 24 days of painting and hand rubbing until it is ready for the final exquisite finish.”

The seven-passenger town car had an open driving compartment in front with room for just one passenger. The back section, which was enclosed, would hold three passengers on the seat and had two auxiliary folding chairs. The May 19, 1915 edition of “The Horseless Age” glorified this automobile by stating that the town car “is a vehicle of pleasure and utility for the folks whose social position in a community demands exclusiveness and the ownership of the finest equipage.” The article goes on to note that the “driving compartment” was upholstered in hand-buffed French glaze long grain leather of select quality.”

In the same article we read that there are two other color combinations available besides the one based on “Richelieu Blue,” which is described as royal blue. Another color for the body and running gear was “Brunswick Green.” This came with a black top and a gray Bedford cloth interior with a little green pattern on it. Still another color for the body of the car was “Battleship Gray.” This had a black top, a running gear painted “Cleveland Gray,” and a gray “Bedford cloth with a brown stripe” for the interior.

The Paige-Detroit Automobile Company announced its brand new six-cylinder Paige automobiles in the January, 1915 issue of the Saturday Evening Post, and the car was well received by a public interested in replacing their horses and buggies. One can only imagine the excitement and interest that our vacationing Swaine sisters and their friends created, when the Michigan license plates were seen on this brand-new touring car as far away as Atlantic City.

(Janice Anschuetz currently lives in the Swaine House that is located at 110 East Forest and is very interested in the history of the neighborhood.)

Photo Captions:

Photo 1: The Swaine horse and buggy with Jessie in the front with Florence sitting next to her mother Eliza. The name of the horse was Nellie and she lived to be 30 years old.

Photo 2: Part of the automobile trip party, in the boat on the way to Detroit from Cleveland. Florence is in the front row on the left next to Mrs. F. E. Smith. Jessie is on the far right.

Photo 3: On the first night of the trip the party stayed at the Regent Hotel in Cleveland, Ohio.

Photo 4: The party toured the Boardwalk in Atlantic City and stayed overnight at the Majestic Hotel.

Photo 5: The ad in the January, 1915, Saturday Evening Post for the Paige Automobile produced by the Paige-Detroit Motor Car Company.

Among the Rocky Mountains in Colorado

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

Winter 2010

Author: Florence Lizzie Swaine (c1905)

(Editor’ Note: The author of this article, Florence Lizzie Swaine (1875-1960) was born and died in Ypsilanti, Michigan.  She was the oldest daughter of Frederick and Eliza George Swaine.  Her father was not only a maltster, but a musician, actor, poet, photographer, politician and a very devoted and encouraging parent. Both of her parents immigrated from England to seek their fortunes in Ypsilanti where they met and married. Florence was born and grew up in the Swaine House at the corner of River & Forest Streets.  Both Florence and her younger sister Jessie were independent women, college educated, gardeners, enjoyed playing cards, interested in reading and writing, outgoing, and earned their living as dedicated teachers. This essay and photographs of the trip were donated to the Ypsilanti Historical Museum by the Swaine family and were found in the archives – a real treasure chest!

One of the pleasantest two weeks’ trips my friend and I have ever had and the cheapest, for the pleasure and beauty of scenery it afforded us, we took this summer among the mountains of Colorado.  The clear, dry, invigorating climate is a fine tonic; and the medicinal qualities of the water from the soda, iron, and sulfur springs at Manitou are excellent.  Whoever has tasted or felt the benefit of these delicious, effervescent waters, which are free to all, will always think of Manitou with much pleasure.

We started from Chicago at 6:00 p.m. and were due in Denver the next day at 8:30 p.m.  The weather was the hottest of the season but we met many pleasant people on the train; and having plenty to read, the time passed very quickly.  In Denver, we had a very pretty room in the central part of the city; and took our meals at cafes, where we found the cuisine excellent and the price moderate.  Having but two weeks for our holiday, we had only two days for this clean and charming city, including a trip around the Georgetown Loop.  We took two delightful rides on the observation cars; which are provided with a guide, who in an entertaining manner, points out places of interest.  One car goes around the residence portion of the city; the other, around the picturesque suburbs, showing a view of the distant snow covered mountains.  We went through the capitol building, in which is a collection of state minerals;  and through the U.S. Mint, where we lifted a brick of gold valued at $1,200; and saw the gold re-melted in hot furnaces and poured into waxed moulds to cool and harden.

Colorado is certainly an interesting country.  It is marvelous what the ingenuity of man has done in utilizing the wonderful works of nature, thereby making a barren wilderness into a fruitful country, giving homes for thousands and supplying the world with large quantities of gold and precious minerals.  If the progress of the last decade continues, what will be the future of this western country!  The mountain streams are caught in reservoirs, filtered and carried in troughs or ditches to wherever it is needed for irrigation.  Between the rows of grain and vegetables are small streams of water.  It is strange to see one side of the road barren; and the other, where irrigation is practiced, fertile.  The saying is that, “farmers used to plant rows of potatoes and onions alternately.  They watered the onions only, as the onions made the eyes of the potatoes water.”

Wishing to spend most of our time in the mountains, we went to Manitou, six miles from Colorado Springs.  We were delighted with this most beautiful spot.  The green trees, little gurgling brooks and waterfalls, mountains, canyons and valleys, pretty lawns and little parks all add to the charm of this delightful resort.  The red soil reminds one of the red man and his pipe stone.  The many legends and traditions of the Indian are brought to mind; although there are few, if any, of this interesting race in this village of “healing waters,” which they named in honor of Manitou, the Great Spirit.

This resort differs from Lucerne in Switzerland, although both places are equally attractive.  The Rockies are magnificent, the Alps, beautiful.  In Switzerland, one finds more snow, plenty of verdure, blue lakes, low floating clouds, and quaint villages. Here, one is alone with nature, surrounded with tremendous cliffs and grotesque rocks.  We boarded in such a pretty place, and met many pleasant people.  Although we walked a great deal, we were never too tired to enjoy a pleasant evening together.  What pleasures we had playing cards, singing, or sitting on the wide piazza telling stories.  There are plenty of amusements in Manitou; concerts, dances, bathing pools, potato roasts in the cliffs, and many beautiful walks and drives.

We walked through the Cheyenne canyons, and never had I beheld such magnificent works of nature.  The massive, richly colored rocks towering on both sides; and the rushing streams of water make one conscious of the frailty of man and the strength and greatness of his creator.  Above the Seven Falls, which rush down the rocks in seven leaps from a height of over two hundred feet, Helen Hunt Jackson was buried (Editor’s Note: Helen Hunt Jackson was a 19th Century author and supporter of rights for American Indians).

The scenery on the way to Cripple Creek, the greatest gold mining camp in the world, is grand.  The train stops for passengers to gather flowers and view the magnificent panorama of stupendous cliffs in fantastic and curious forms, rollicking falls, glistening lakes and rolling plains.

One day a merry party of us walked through the pass to the end of William’s Canyon with its mighty rocks and rushing water.  We ate our lunch by the side of a dear little stream in a grove of sweet scented pines; and spent the afternoon rambling among the trees, picking flowers and wild strawberries.  On our way home, from the top of one of the mountains, we had a most beautiful view of the Rocky Mountains, and let me say now, never were mountains more appropriately named.  Above all, loomed old Pike with its bald head and patches of snow.  On the plains in the distance, were the towering pinnacles and grotesque formations of rocks in the Garden of the Gods.

Of course we could not leave Colorado until we had been to the summit of the world renowned Pike’s Peak.  There is nothing I enjoy more than mountain climbing and money being an object with us, we were courageous enough to attempt this climb of 9 miles up 7,518 feet to an altitude of 14,147 feet.  We started in the afternoon and rested until dark at the Half Way House; then we climbed on, on, and on all night.  It was monotonous, but we were a jolly party and full of adventure.  It was quite romantic to eat our lunch in the dead of night by the side of a camp fire on the lonely mountain, with the lightening and thunder below us, the lights of cities beneath, the lights of heaven above.  We grew very tired and the hard climb seemed endless.  I thought of poor Christian’s hard journey to the Celestial City (Editor’s Note: A reference to the main character in Pilgrim’s Progress).  We reached the top at 2:00 p.m. and rested until the glorious sunset.  We descended the burro trail, going through Crystal Park.  We were like witches in appearance when we reached home, and the remark greeted us on all sides as we walked through the streets “They have been to the Peak.”  We answered “Pike’s Peak or bust”.

Above the timber line on Pike’s Peak, the fields are studded with dainty Alpine flowers among them the forget-me-not, which has a sweet perfume and is larger and of a deeper blue than it’s sister of the lower altitude.  The flowers of Colorado are so deep and rich in color.  There are fields of a brilliant blue flower like the deep blue of heaven to whose nearness it seems to cling as it soon dies in a lower altitude.  Then there are the lovely columbines, the state flower, in yellow, white and blue.

No visit to Colorado is complete without a ride on one of those obstinate little burros, who will do exactly as they please.  Space will not permit my speaking of all the delightful times we had, but to enjoy this sublime scenery one must see it oneself, and now let me say:

Sweet Canyon, All Hail! And Adieu!

My heart leaps with rejoicing to you.

Oh, cliffs towering up to the sky,

So rugged, and mighty and high,

Oh, dear little brook dancing on

O’er your wind-about pathway of stone,

Some day in the winter so blue

How my heart will leap yearning to you,

When I stumble along ‘neath the chill frown of fate

Which follows me early and follows me late,

And knock all in vain at the Muse’s locked gate,

Sweet Canyon, All Hail!  And Adieu!

(This article was submitted by Janice Anschuetz who currently lives in the Swaine House located at 101 East Forest Street.  Janice is very interested in the history of the neighborhood and is becoming a regular contributor to the Gleanings.)

Photo Captions:

Photo 1: Photograph of Florence Lizzie Swaine taken in 1902 when she was 27 years old.

Photo 2: This somewhat blurred photograph is believed to be of the group that traveled to Colorado in c1902.

Photo 3: Picture taken in front of Swaine House in c1890. Florence Lizzie Swaine is at the right in the middle row and Jessie Swaine, her sister, is at the right in the front row.

Photo 4: Florence Lizzie Swaine getting a pail of water from the outdoor pump.

Photo 5: One of the views in the Colorado Mountains seen by Florence Swaine and her group.

Photo 6: Florence Swaine and her group in the Colorado Mountains in their “hiking clothes.”alf Way House; then we climbed on, -HH

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.

We are Seeking: Lost Restaurants of Ypsilanti

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

Summer 2010

Author: Peg Porter

It started when a friend and I happened to be reminiscing. We both remembered a restaurant in a house just off Packard. The red brick house still stands. Neither of us could remember its name or much else. But the fact that we both remembered such a place was reassuring. My friend, Judy, was visiting with another Ypsilantian who thought the house/restaurant on Packard was named The Gables. As a result, it occurred to us that there were a number of restaurants in Ypsilanti over the years. There were “special occasion” restaurants (e.g. Mothers Day), date restaurants, Italian and Greek restaurants. Some were very small while others featured linen table cloths and napkins.

Now, dear readers, we ask your assistance in identifying the Lost Restaurants of Ypsilanti. What dining establishments do you remember? Where were they? Did you have a particular favorite on the menu? When, approximately, did they close? Please share any special memories. Would the restaurant do well in today’s Ypsilanti?

Running a restaurant is hard work and since eating out is more often a luxury than a necessity; the business is particularly vulnerable to changes in the economy. And yet, some of them live on in our memories. Please share your memories and stories. Let’s hear from former wait staff, cooks and owners as well.

We will report back in an upcoming issue. Bon Appétit!

(Send your recollections to Peg Porter, c/o Ypsilanti Historical Museum, or by email: Mention “restaurant” in subject line. Responses requested by September 1, 2010.)

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