Terhune Pioneer Memorial Park – Current Site of Pioneer Cemetery

Published In:
Ypsilanti Gleanings
Original Images:

Author: Alvin Rudisill

Pioneer Cemetery is a well kept secret that many Washtenaw County residents have never heard of or seen. It is located in Terhune Pioneer Memorial Park, which is part of the Ann Arbor Parks and Recreation Department, and is hidden by a grove of trees near the intersection of Packard Road and Highway U.S. 23. Although it is one of the oldest cemeteries in Washtenaw County, it contains only three tombstones and no bodies.

The story dates back to 1825 when several families arrived in Woodruff’s Grove via the Huron River and settled in what is now Pittsfield Township. The area became known as “Carpenter’s Corners.” One of the pioneers who settled there was Luke Whitmore. When his 18 year old daughter Emily died, there was no local cemetery available so he set aside a site on his property for a cemetery. Some believe that Emily Whitmore was Washtenaw County’s first-born white child. It was also believed by others that Alpha Washtenaw Bryan was the first non-native American child born in Washtenaw County and was buried there though historians have not been able to confirm that. It is believed that approximately 20 to 50 individuals were buried there. Eventually the ground, consisting of approximately one acre was permanently dedicated as a “cemetery.”

John Terhune, who was born in Hackensack, New Jersey, and his wife moved to Michigan in 1831. They settled near the farm of Luke Whitmore, close to “Carpenter’s Corners.” Terhune had served as a Sergeant and Ensign in the Revolutionary War and received nine bayonet wounds. His wife, Sarah, was also a hero in the Revolutionary War. As a girl of seventeen after seeing her aged and bedridden grandfather shot before her eyes by a British officer, she made her way early in the morning through brush and weeds to warn the American Army of the presence of British and Hessian troops camped on a corner of her father’s farm. Her clothes were torn and she was scratched and bleeding when she reached the camp. Ensign John Terhune was a member of the company and a romance started as a result of that first meeting. They were married on December 26, 1779. John died in 1839 and Sarah died in 1850. They were both buried in the cemetery located on the Luke Whitmore farm.

The site was referred to over the years by a variety of names including Emily Whitmore Cemetery, Pittsfield Cemetery and the Terhune Burying Grounds. Many of the bodies that were buried in the cemetery were moved to other cemeteries such as the Forest Hill Cemetery on Observation Street in Ann Arbor. In about 1900 the cemetery was in such a state of neglect that the farmer who owned the land around the cemetery piled up the headstones in a corner and tilled the land. In 1909, the Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti Chapters of the Daughters of the American Revolution (D.A.R.) discovered that the grave of Revolutionary War veteran John Terhune, which had been obscured and forgotten for many years, was in that location. In the early 1920’s the Whitmore home and barn buildings were torn down and a real estate company platted a large portion of the ground and began selling lots. The particular lots which included the cemetery area had not been sold but all of the markers and gravestones were again removed and placed in a pile. The members of the Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor chapters of the D.A.R. discovered what had happened, and knowing that Revolutionary Soldiers were buried there, started proceedings in Lansing to reclaim the area as a cemetery. The Boy Scout Troop of Platt became involved in attempting to piece together the broken markers and gravestones and an attempt was made to restore the cemetery.

Then in 1939 the Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti Chapters of the D.A.R. constructed the Pioneer Cemetery just north of the original cemetery. The cemetery consisted of a low rock wall and the gravestones of John Terhune, his wife Sarah and Emily Whitmore. In the cornerstone of the wall was placed: 1) a history of each of the three pioneers; 2) records of the two D.A.R. Chapters; and 3) a photostatic copy of the original deed of the property granted by Luke Whitmore. About 50 members of the two D.A.R. Chapters were present for the naming and dedication ceremony. The ceremony was conducted by Mrs. C. A. Thomas, Regent of the Sara Angell Ann Arbor Chapter and Mrs. Horace Z. Wilber of the Ypsilanti Chapter. Mrs. Thomas donated the stones for the wall and the Ypsilanti Chapter provided the gate in memory of one of its members. For many years classes of students from Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti schools visited the site to pay homage to the veterans of wars including the Revolutionary War.

In 1955 the Township Board of Pittsfield petitioned the court to vacate the property on which the Pioneer Cemetery was located. The Daughters of the American Revolution went to court and prevented the cemetery from being abandoned. After that time there have been at least two attempts to condemn the Pioneer Cemetery and use the property for other purposes. Finally the property was bought by Bert Smokler who agreed to leave the cemetery intact. Smokler then built the Forestbrooke subdivision and named one of the streets Terhune Road. The general area became the city of East Ann Arbor in 1947 and then in the April 1957 election the property was voted into the City of Ann Arbor.

For many years the property was maintained by the Ann Arbor Parks Department with the help of Mr. and Mrs. Robert Conn, who lived next door. Maintenance was a problem because the property south of the cemetery on Packard Road was surrounded by a fence cutting off access to the property except for a very steep bank off Terhune Road. The Conns allowed the City access to the site through their property and often mowed the grass themselves. Then, in 1990 the City installed steps off Terhune Road creating public access to the property.

(The information for this article was gleaned from letters, newspaper accounts and court documents in the “Pioneer Cemetery” file located in the Cemetery Collection in the Ypsilanti Historical Society Archives.)

Photo Captions:

Photo 1: The Pioneer Cemetery is located in Terhune Pioneer Memorial Park near the intersection of Packard Road and U. S. 23. Access is off Terhune Road which is accessible from Brandywine Drive.

Photo 2: The steps off Terhune Road that provide access to Terhune Pioneer Memorial Park and the Pioneer Cemetery.

Photo 3: Pioneer Cemetery, located in Terhune Pioneer Memorial Park, is surrounded by a low rock wall and contains the gravestones of John Terhune, Sarah Terhune and Emily Whitmore.

Photo 4: View of the three gravestones in the Pioneer Cemetery.

Photo 5: Members of the Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti Chapters of the Daughters of the American Revolution (D.A.R.) on Memorial Day in May of 1939 at the dedication of the Pioneer Cemetery.

Photo 6: The Dedication Ceremony of Pioneer Cemetery in May of 1939.

Photo 7: The Terhune Memorial Park sign that is located close to the Pioneer Cemetery.

Photo 8: The Pioneer Cemetery sign that is attached to the rock wall around the cemetery.

Photo 9: Sign on the gate to Pioneer Cemetery.

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

George Payne and the Assault on Officer Rehill

Published In:
Ypsilanti Gleanings
Original Images:

Author: James Mann

Ypsilanti Police Officer Rehill was at the corner of Michigan Avenue and Washington Street on the evening of Saturday, June 12, 1915, when he noticed George Payne nearby. Rehill became aware of Payne because Payne was shouting at him, asking why Rehill did not arrest those who were driving without lights. Rehill had arrested Payne a few days before, on the charge of driving without lights. Rehill told Payne he was doing his job. Payne was a former Ypsilanti police officer, and something of a bully. He had been arrested a year before, and charged with resisting an officer. He should have known better, than to yell at Rehill on the street.

Rehill finally had had enough of Payne, and decided to place him under arrest. Payne felt he had not done anything he could be arrested for, and tried to explain this to Rehill by using his fists. "His intentions seemed perfectly good, but age had deprived Payne's punches of their old time force and he soon found that he was receiving the worst side of the encounter. Rehill's blows left two ugly gashes on Payne's forehead, one over each eye," noted The Daily Ypsilanti Press of Monday, June 14, 1915.

Payne was taken to the office of Dr. Clark, where his wounds were treated. On leaving the office of Dr. Clark, Payne decided to seek Rehill out for another confrontation. Payne got in his car and drove down Washington Street to the corner of Michigan and Washington, where Rehill was directing traffic. At the corner, Payne drove head on into Rehill. To save himself, Rehill jumped onto the car. Payne knocked Rehill off the car and drove on. Rehill tried to give chase on foot, but soon gave up and returned to the corner.

"The whole affair had created much disturbance in the streets and Micheal O'Neil, who had the appearance of drinking too freely, took occasion to pass a few remarks," noted the account. "Officer Bissell attempted to dispose of his case peaceably, but Rehill couldn't let it pass that way. He grabbed O'Neil and landed him in jail." O'Neil was later fined $20.00 and costs.

A warrant was issued for the arrest of Payne, on complaint of Officer Rehill. The complaint charged that Payne "did then and there beat, bruise, wound and ill treat...the said Rehill...and with force and arms did make an assault upon the person of Officer Rehill." The case came up for trial during the October term of the circuit court. The first witness was Officer Rehill. He told the court he had arrested Payne a few days before June 12, 1915, for driving without lighting the lights of his car. Rehill told the court the trouble started on June 12, when Payne called out to him, when a car passed with its lights out, "Why don't you get that fellow?" Payne, said Rehill, had continued to call that question, as a crowd gathered around. A second officer, said Rehill, told Payne to move on and be quiet. Later, Rehill arrested Payne and tried to take him to the lock up. Payne resisted, and Rehill admitted dragging him along. Rehill further admitted striking Payne with his fist until blood flowed. Then Payne was taken to Dr. Clarkeís office for treatment. About an hour and a half later, said Rehill, Payne returned, driving his car within the speed limit. Payne struck Rehill with the car, crying out, "I've got you now," with what Rehill called profane and vile language. To save himself, said Rehill, he jumped onto the hood of the car, holding onto the cup. He was then jostled off by the motion of the car, and rolled onto the pavement. This, Rehill alleged, was the assault, which caused him to be laid up for three days with a strained foot and ankle.

Payne admitted on the stand that he had taken Rehill's handcuffs from him and tossed them into the street. Payne explained, he did not want the handcuffs on his wrists. He denied any further resistance, and said he never intended to run Rehill down with his car after his wounds were dressed by Dr. Clark. "His chief point was that he was so badly beaten by Patrolman Rehill that he was unable to recall all that happened between that time and the time he reached home. He declared that he did not strike Rehill nor resist except to insist on walking instead of running as he claimed Rehill insisted that he should do," reported The Daily Ypsilanti Press of Thursday, October 7, 1915.

"Dr. Clark of Ypsilanti, was also called by the defense, and testified to a lacerated wound across the bridge of Mr. Payne's nose, and a contused wound on the back of his head, the size of a silver dollar. He said Paine was in a semi-conscious condition when brought into the office. He advised him not to go home alone, but to get someone to go with him. For three days afterward he attended Paine who suffered from soreness all over, and kept to his bed. During this time he bled badly from the nose and expectorated blood. He also examined Rehill, and advised him to go off duty about midnight the night of the trouble, because of his strained foot and ankle. He made one or two professional calls upon Rehill at his home," reported the account. The jury returned after one hour and fifteen minutes having reached a verdict of guilty. Sentencing was deferred to the next session of the court.

Payne was granted a new trial on December 13, 1915, on motion of his attorney John P. Kirk. During the trial, it seems, the jury was sent out of the courtroom to inspect Payne's car, which was parked in front of the court house. The jury was accompanied by officers, Payne and Rehill. Kirk had depositions from witnesses that Rehill talked to members of the jury during this time. "Prosecuting Attorney Carl A. Lehman opposed the motion for a new trial, and told the court that the jury evidently had thought Paine guilty or they would not have convicted him," reported The Ann Arbor Daily Times News of Monday, December 13, 1915.

A new trial was set for the March term of the court. The second trial was never held, as by this time Rehill could not be produced as a witness because he had talked directly to members of the jury. Payne was set free on the opening day of the term of the circuit court.

By this time Rehill had left the Ypsilanti Police Department, and joined the city Fire Department. At about the same time he married his second wife, after the death of the first. This was not a happy marriage. She accused Rehill of cruelty, and Rehill responded with the charge that she had married him only for his money. After the divorce was granted, Rehill moved to northern Michigan. He would return to Ypsilanti, but not of his own choice. He had failed to pay support to his ex wife and she had him arrested and jailed.

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

The Ypsilanti Centennial Celebration: Stagecoach Special

Published In:
Ypsilanti Gleanings
Original Images:

Author: Kelly Beattie & Courtney Brandt

An advertisement from 1923 reads, “Ypsilanti will celebrate in a very unusual way its One Hundredth Anniversary, July 1 to 4.” The “unusual way” included a formal ball, a historic log cabin, reenacting a stagecoach robbery, and a seven-episode pageant on the history of Ypsilanti. However, the story of the stagecoach is the most interesting of these many topics.

Ypsilanti had to rely on other communities to accomplish many components of the Centennial Celebration. The Board of Commerce sent letters to towns and cities in the surrounding area to try to acquire a team of oxen to portray the early settlers of the city and a group of “axmen” to build a replica of a log cabin from Ypsilanti’s early years. With funds from an Ypsilanti Rotary Club contribution, the board also began their search for a stagecoach. Despite offering $100 for a stagecoach in running order, none were found locally.

Fortunately, one month before the Centennial Celebration Donald J. Howard, Manager of the Altoona, Pennsylvania Chamber of Commerce was able to find and purchase a suitable stagecoach in his town on behalf of the Ypsilanti Board of Commerce. Mr. Howard bought the stagecoach from a man named John Conner, and in his letter to the Ypsilanti Board of Commerce, dated May 31, 1923, he informed them of his purchase and wrote extensively about the condition of the stagecoach. The stagecoach was in poor condition but in running order, and the seller had employed a master carpenter to make some repairs before shipping it off. His remarks included the observation that modern fire hose segments served as a structural component, reinforcing the body of the stagecoach. Howard concluded his letter by writing, “I will be frank in saying that when I first saw it my impulse was to wire you not to bother with it, but I feel that with the repairs that can be made that it can be put in fairly decent shape.”

With some delay, the stagecoach arrived June 20, 1923. The following day the Ypsilanti Board of Commerce inspected the new star of their show. They were not pleased. Mr. Olin C. Eckley, Managing Secretary of the Ypsilanti Board of Commerce wrote to Mr. Howard to express his dissatisfaction with the purchase. In this letter dated June 21, 1923 Mr. Eckley wrote, “While I realized from your letter that it was not new, I did not think it was such an impossible proposition as it is. We will have a couple of men on it for a week to make it look like anything at all.” Following this, Eckley asks for a partial refund writing that “...anything over $25 is robbery.” Mr. Howard responded to this letter, writing that he proposed the idea of a partial refund to Mr. Conner, who refused, and he concluded the matter, saying that Mr. Conner “is not the business-man type whom I could influence to make any adjustments.”

The condition of the coach made its way into a note attached to the draft of The Huron’s advertisement. However, this note is far more interesting as evidence of the popularity of the stagecoach reenactment. This note reads, “Ypsilanti citizens are striving for the honor of riding in the stagecoach from Detroit out to Ypsilanti at the time of the celebration … Some contend that long-time residence in the city should determine who will occupy the coach. Some of Ypsi’s attractive co-eds indicate that perhaps youthful beauty might attract more attention than having pioneer ancestry.”

The Annual Report of the Ypsilanti Board of Commerce for the year ending June 1, 1924 also reported on the reenactment, stating that, “Highwaymen held up the party at Dearborn and Wayne and the entire populace came out to welcome the ‘Sedan of 1823." The welcome took place at Gilbert Park, where members of the Kiwanis Club reconstituted a log cabin from 20 miles outside town for the centennial. These are just a few of the celebratory efforts. With such a celebration in the city’s past, the question remains “… how will the 2023 bicentennial celebration top the extravagance of the 1923 celebration?”

(Kelly Beattie is an Intern in the YHS Archives from the graduate program in Historical Preservation at Eastern Michigan University. Courtney Brandt is a volunteer in the Archives.)

Photo Captions:

Photo 1: A 1923 Advertisement commemorating the Ypsilanti Centennial stagecoach reenactment which promotes the newly built Huron Hotel.

Photo 2: A photo of the re-enactment of the robbery which took place in Dearborn.

Ypsilanti Vigilance Committee – 1838

Published In:
Ypsilanti Gleanings
Original Images:

Author: George Ridenour

Ypsilanti had its own Vigilance Committee during the early 19th century. However, many Ypsilanti residents are only vaguely familiar with the notion of a Vigilance Committee. Oftentimes these groups seem larger-than-life appearing in film and novels. The truth behind real-life vigilance committees is referenced in part on Dictionary.com, which defines the groups as the following:

• An unauthorized committee of citizens organized for the maintenance of order and the summary punishment of crime in the absence of regular or efficient courts.

• Historically, (in the South) an organization of citizens using extralegal means to control or intimidate blacks and abolitionists and during the Civil War to suppress Union loyalists.

The specifics of the Ypsilanti Vigilance Committee are slightly harder to determine as the organization met in secret and there is no record of their proceedings. However, a compilation of sources allows researchers to piece together an understanding of the Vigilance Committee.

One source, The Story of Ypsilanti written by Harvey C. Colburn in 1923 adds some insight as to the environment at the time of the creation of the committee.

“The year 1838 was strangely marked in the Ypsilanti community by a wave of lawlessness and terror. Robberies and depredations of an aggravated nature occurred in rapid succession, until respectable people generally were on a verge of panic.”(Colburn, Page 93)

Modern sources such as the City of Ypsilanti Webpage also include mention of the Vigilance Committee. For example the webpage reads,

“Curiously, the Ypsilanti Police Department can be traced to around 1825 when Benjamin Woodruff became Sheriff. Four years later was added a Constable.” (City of Ypsilanti web page)

In both The Story of Ypsilanti and in an 1881 book, History and Biography of Washtenaw County, published by Charles Chapman Company, similar information is presented. On pages, 1119 and 1120 of The History and Biography of Washtenaw County the following information is available:

“To remedy such evil, the citizens assembled at the house of Abiel Hawkins, considered well a proposition to organize a committee of defense, and at a second meeting held at the Hawkins House on December 15, 1838 decided to form a society know as “The Ypsilanti Vigilance Committee.”

The roll of the organization shows: Officers: James Gillis, President; James Edmunds, Secretary; and M. V. Hall, Treasurer. Executive Committee: Chauncey Joslin, Mark Norris, Abraham Sage, Marcus Lane, D. C. McKinstry, Arden H. Ballard and Walter B. Hewitt. (The Executive Committee members were described as the real power players.)

The History and Biography of Washtenaw County reveals the following: “This central committee had the direction of the various orders of the society, the meetings were of the most secret character, and the method employed for bringing the guilty to justice at once practical and thorough” Coburn adds: “There is, however, no record that these measures were violent or illegal.” & “Before the end of the year 1839, 112 men had been convicted of crime, $10,000 worth of stolen goods recovered, and numbers of undesirable citizens driven from the community. Considering the small population of the times this record is no less than astounding.”

Finally the City of Ypsilanti web page states: “…what is known is that over 50 men participated in battling against the rash of lawlessness that plagued the area at the time.”

Even with the success of the Vigilance Committee, the group disbanded in 1839 leaving a faint, but enduring mark on the face of Ypsilanti history.

(George Ridenour is a regular contributor to the Gleanings and serves as a researcher in the YHS Archives. He was assisted with this article by our Graduate Intern, Kelly Beattie.)

Photo Captions:

Photo 1: Andrew Ballard opened a store in Ypsilanti in 1828 with Levi Cook. He helped form the Ypsilanti Vigilance Committee in 1838 and served as Mayor of Ypsilanti in 1859.

Photo 2: Walter B. Hewitt co-founded Walled Lake, Michigan in 1825. He opened a shoe shop in Ypsilanti in 1831, He helped form the Ypsilanti Vigilance Committee in 1838 and served as the Town Treasurer in 1939.

Photo 3: Abiel Hawkins was the owner of the Hawkins House Hotel in 1835. He helped form the Ypsilanti Vigilance Committee in 1838 and was named Ypsilanti Postmaster under Polk, but resigned soon thereafter.

Snapshots of Ypsilanti

Published In:
Ypsilanti Gleanings
Original Images:

“Snapshots of Ypsilanti” was a project orchestrated by Graduate Assistants Ashley Turner and Melanie Parker. It was completed during the 2014 Heritage Festival parade and is now on exhibit at the museum.

Community members were invited to select an image that sparked their interest or evoked a memory, and paste it onto the poster board. This created a collage of “Snapshots of Ypsilanti History.” All of the photos are prints of digitized images from the Ypsilanti Historical Society collection.

For more information on our digitization project, visit the Photo Archives on our website, www.ypsilantihistoricalsociety.org

Photo Captions:

Photo 1: Ashley Turner working the “Snapshots of Ypsilanti” table at the Heritage Festival.

Photo 2: The completed collage of “Snapshots of Ypsilanti History.”

CHAUTAUQUA at the Riverside

Published In:
Ypsilanti Gleanings
Original Images:

Author: Val Kabat

Founded by Tom Dodd to interject some heritage back into the Ypsilanti Heritage Festival, Chautauqua at the Riverside has perhaps been Ypsilanti’s best-kept secret since its first appearance in 2012. Now organized under the auspices of the Ypsilanti Historical Society, Chautauqua at the Riverside is looking forward to a bright future—beginning with this year’s event on Saturday, October 18, and you are invited to attend!

The event takes its name, in part from its venue: Ypsilanti’s own Riverside Arts Center on North Huron Street.

There will be eight 45-minute presentations, organized around the four traditional pillars of a Chautauqua (arts, education, recreation, and religion), beginning at 10 a.m. The grand finale of the day will be a three-hour performance by Paul Klinger’s Easy Street Jazz Band, a group that’s been a mainstay of the traditional jazz scene in Washtenaw County for the past 40 years. The complete schedule (including each segment’s sponsor) follows. You are encourage to attend some or all:

In addition to the individual sponsors, we are fortunate to have received a grant from the Michigan Humanities Council, an affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Because of these grants and sponsorships, admission to any and all of the segments is free, but donations are gratefully accepted. Come to some or come to all of the presentations. And if you’d like a little break, please enjoy the area walking tour that has been prepared for the occasion. The tour booklet has been made possible by a contribution from the Ypsilanti Heritage Foundation.

10-10:45 a.m.: “Stevens T. Mason: The Boy Governor”
Don Faber, speech-writer, news-writer, and history writer
Sponsored by Phoenix Contractors, Inc.

11-11:45 a.m: “Mothers and Warriors: Native American Women in Michigan History”
Kathleen Chamberlain, Professor of History, Eastern Michigan University
Sponsored by the Olson-Bellfi Financial Group of Wells Fargo Advisors

12-12:45 p.m.: “The Power of the Written Word Translated Through Music”
Ypsilanti Community Choir
Sponsored by the Ypsilanti Area Convention & Visitors Bureau

1-1:45 p.m.: “Frederic Pease and the 100th Anniversary of His Namesake Auditorium”
Kevin Miller, Director of Orchestral Activities, Eastern Michigan University
Sponsored by Eastern Michigan University

2-2:45 p.m.: “A Conversation with Henry Ford & Thomas Edison”
Rob Chrenko and Russell Doré, Doré Productions
Sponsored by the Washtenaw Federal Credit Union

3-3:45 p.m.: “Those Damned Michigan Men: Law and Order in Civil War Michigan Regiments”
Steven J. Ramold, Associate Professor of History, Eastern Michigan University
Sponsored by Bank of Ann Arbor

4-4:45 p.m.: “Michigan Cities: How Did They Get Those Crazy Names?”
Pat Grimes
Sponsored by Haab’s Restaurant

5-5:45 p.m.: “Wait, Wait! Don’t Confuse Me” (inspired by NPR’s “Wait, Wait! Don’t Tell Me®”)
A panel of local raconteurs will try to stump the audience with their knowledge of historical (or not) photos presented to them.
Sponsored by Premier Choice Realty

6-9 p.m.: Paul Klinger’s Easy Street Jazz Band
Traditional Jazz and Dixieland Music
(Cash bar and light refreshments served in the lobby.)
Sponsored by Sesi Motors

On display in the Gallery:
“Great Lakes Small Works”
An annual exhibit featuring two- and three-dimensional works by artists from the seven Great Lakes States and Ontario.

On display in the Lobby:
“Vintage Postcards from Southeastern Michigan”
from the collection of Lisa Mills Walters

Contact: P.O. Box 980551, Ypsilanti, MI 48198-0551

Finds - The YHS Archives

Published In:
Ypsilanti Gleanings
Original Images:

Author: Gerry Pety

As Rick Harrison says on the intro to his popular TV show Pawn Stars, “You never know what will come in through those doors.” If you have read the Gleanings over the last two years you know we have had a number of remarkable treasures come through our doors here at the YHS Archives.

Back in May of this year we received a package of documents pertaining to Ypsilanti dating back to the 1830’s and involving something that is rarely seen even in books dealing with the subject of money, banking and script. Besides the more common family items were some “commodity money” and a personal promissory note for $1000 issued through the Bank of Michigan negotiable on June 15, 1838.

Let me give you a little background of the period of history known as the Jacksonian Era of U.S. history. In 1837, under the Andrew Jackson administration, the U.S. government instituted a requirement that all land purchases and some fees and taxes to the United States were now to be paid with “specie” only, a fancy way of saying gold and silver. If you only had banknotes from a local bank you couldn’t buy a square foot of land from the US government. Ypsilanti, which saw a tremendous influx of people from other states during this period and necessitating the purchasing of land from these environs, was put into financial shock. Since the banks of the period were required to back up their local currencies with gold and silver it meant a financial “panic” when land buyers and depositors went to their local bank to exchange their paper money for “specie.” The results were financial “runs” on the local banks all over the country! The banks, unable to redeem their banknotes in full, started to fail in rapid succession and a lot of depositors lost all of the value they had either in their bank accounts or in the money they carried in their pockets. With one edict from the government, the entire country was thrown into the financial “Panic of 1837” which was to last until as late as 1842 in this part of the country.

Suddenly Ypsilanti had no money! Included in this financial panic were our own local banks: the Bank of Ypsilanti, the Bank of the Huron and the Bank of Superior all of whom decided not to even open at the onset of the Crisis. Eventually they all went out of business permanently, ruining many people. Out of this catastrophe was born a near-money referred to as “commodity money.” In one case two respected business people, Julius Movius and Alf Hammond, business partners in grains, warehousing and jobbers, printed notes based on what the Ypsilanti wheat farmers brought in to be made into flour. The product was readied for transport to the eastern markets where real U.S. money was available. The “commodity money” could be traded for other items which were sold here. Essentially, this money was backed by a commodity such as wheat or flour which was as good as gold in such a situation.

We received seven intact commodity notes that had been issued to local farmers. What makes this so rare is that once redeemed and traded back to the issuers, the “commodity money” was usually destroyed. Each note was denominated in whole barrels of flour and they were used the same way you would use banknotes or U.S. money of the period, except they were in flour units. Being an agricultural society most people were aware of how much flour was selling for and they could exchange the “commodity money” for other goods and services. These types of solutions to the government crisis were being employed all over America as people used their wits to make barter easier, and bartering was the name of the game as there was very little real money in circulation. There were even more remedies such as ledger money, third party barter, and personal notes of indebtedness, all being employed to facilitate trade. This crisis was met by the people of Ypsilanti with trust in their fellow citizens, and just plain straight thinking.

It is these types of donations to the Archives that are so fascinating and paint a picture of how people of the past handled problems without relying on the central government with good “ole” Yankee “know-how” at the local level.

(Gerry Pety is the Director of the Ypsilanti Historical Society Archives.)

Photo Captions:

Photo 1: A “Wild Cat” note issued in 1837 by The Bank of Ypsilanti. Eventually, the bank issued too much paper money and went out of business.

Photo 2: A promissory note issued in 1838 through the Bank of Michigan by Julius Movius and Alf Hammond. It circulated for more than three months and was redeemed promptly by the maker of the note.

Photo 3: An excellent example of “commodity money” that was issued by Movius and Hammond on November 8, 1838. It was backed up by five barrels of flour.

Summit Street Cemetery

Published In:
Ypsilanti Gleanings
Original Images:

Author: George Ridenour

In the early part of the past century Mrs. P.R. Cleary of Cleary College wondered why and how the children of the neighborhood were finding bones and bringing them home! They were finding them on the corner of Summit and Michigan Avenue. Were they animal or human remains? Indian burial mounds. Take them back and rebury them!

Even today most people have no knowledge of there being a cemetery at that location. Through the years most of the land has been paved or housing erected on the site of the old cemetery.

Over the years questions have been raised by researchers and neighbors over the cemetery. How many people were buried there? Were they moved and if so what was done with the remains? Are there still remains at the location?

Judge Larzelere gifted the original site to the village of Ypsilanti in 1830. Charles Chapman in his 1881 book History of Washtenaw County: West Cemetery was the first cemetery for the village of Ypsilanti. It was a rude burial place and was used from 1830-1847 and was to be the resting place for 150-250 persons.” When it was later proposed that the remains should be moved shouts of indignation and horror were directed towards those even suggesting such a sacrilege.

As early as 1858 Mark Norris had proposed closing both Summit and Prospect cemeteries. However, it was not until July, 1864 that Highland Cemetery was dedicated. The first two interments were Elias Norton and Minerva Dow (wife of banker Asa Dow). Both of whom died in July, 1864

The Ypsilanti Commercial of July 7, 1866, page 3, reported that: “The Cemetery Commission referred the petition of one W. M. Cross and others to vacate the West cemetery. Resolved: That the duty of this city and its citizens to the dead will be best preformed by vacating the cemetery on Summit Street and the same shall be vacated as soon as proper arrangements can be made for the tile of the land, and the city attorney give notice all persons interested. Approved.”

On February 6, 1871 a resolution was passed by common council requesting the mayor ask the state legislature pass an act permitting the city to vacate West Cemetery. This was reported in the Ypsilanti Commercial of March 11, 1871.

The State of Michigan legislature entered the debate in 1871. The legislation passed… “authorized the common council of Ypsilanti to vacate the cemetery known as West Cemetery….and to remove bodies therein buries. PROVIDED THAT NO REMOVAL OF THE BODIES SHALL BE MADE BETWEEN THE FIRST DAY OF July AND THE FIRST DAY OF October (??) Approved March 31, 1871.

May 15, 1871 common council was presented a resolution for the following actions: “The city attorney is hereby requested to prepare and present a draft ordinance for the removal of the West Cemetery on the corner of Michigan Avenue and Summit street(s).”

May 29, 1871 Summit Street cemetery was: “Declared vacated and abandoned for burial purposes and notice is given to all persons with friends buried in Summit cemetery that they have 30 days to remove the bodies to their chosen location. The Cemetery Commission is to proceed with removal to Highland Cemetery at city expense.” $175 was allotted for the lots at Highland Cemetery and this was done in January, 1872.

September 18, 1871 the marshal was to remove all remains “left” in West Cemetery to Highland Cemetery.

December 18, 1871 a deed from Highland cemetery, Number 319, was received and reported to common council.

According to Tina at Highland Cemetery, the remains were moved by one man, one horse, one shovel, and one body at a time.

We do have the records of those who died in Ypsilanti between 1830 and 1847. These records are from tombstone observations done between 1937-1942 at Highland by our archives namesake Louis S. White, who served as City Historian for many years. However a Summit registry still remains ELUSIVE.

(POST SCRIPT: Gerry, YHS Archivist, Lyle, research volunteer and Kelly our EMU intern continue researching the cemetery. If you have or find information about persons who were buried at Summit Street Cemetery or facts surrounding the removal of remains please call Kelly at the Ypsilanti Historical Society Archives (734) 217-8236.)

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

Photo Captions:

Photo 1: Old Cemetery alongside Chicago and Summit Streets.

Waiting Room to the City of the Dead: The Receiving Vault at Highland Cemetery

Published In:
Ypsilanti Gleanings
Original Images:

Author: James Mann

When one passes through the main gates of Highland Cemetery on River Street, straight ahead is the Starkweather Chapel. To the right is what appears to be a door in the side of a hill. This is the Receiving Vault of Highland. A receiving vault was needed by every cemetery, as a place to store the remains of those who had died until burial.

Highland most likely had a receiving vault from the day it was dedicated in 1864, but the record of this is incomplete. There is a small room at the rear of Starkweather Chapel, which may have been a receiving vault. The number of remains it could hold was about three.

The receiving vault was needed during the cold months of winter, when the ground was frozen and graves could not be dug. Caskets would be stacked on the ground behind Starkweather Chapel until spring. Sometimes there would be four or as many as six caskets on the ground. The caskets would remain outside from December and sometimes as late as March.

Another reason for the receiving vault was to prevent the bodies of the recently deceased from being stolen. For many years medical schools, including the University of Michigan, had trouble finding enough bodies for their anatomy classes. To fill the need, the schools purchased bodies from grave robbers, who entered cemeteries at night to dig up the bodies and sell them to the schools. The receiving vault was one way to keep the remains safe.

The receiving vault at Highland was a gift from Daniel L. Quirk, and was presented in September of 1906. “The need of such a building has long been felt by the trustees of the association, but they were unable to see their way clear to its erection. The generosity of Mr. Quirk is appreciated very much by all interested in Ypsilanti's beautiful City of the Dead. The erection of such a building will add very much to the appearance of the grounds as well as furnishing a temporary place for the remains of loved ones,” noted The Ypsilanti Daily Press of February 16, 1906.

The architects for the receiving vault were Donaldson and Meier of Detroit. The builder was Batchelder and Wasmund, who were also of Detroit. “The plan shows a very pleasing exterior, the massive appearance of the building being relieved by an ornate bronze door of the vestibule, through which can be seen the highly ornamental door leading into the lobby,” noted the report.

The vault is roughly 15 by 29 feet, with a lobby of 9 by 11 feet. The vault was made from grayish white, canyon sandstone. “The interior of the building contains twenty-four crypts, the doors and entire fronts of which are of polished marble with bronze fittings,” reported The Ypsilanti Daily Press of Saturday, September 15, 1906.

The dedication of the receiving vault was held on Sunday, September 16, 1906, with between 500 and 600 people attending. The day was an ideal one, noted The Ypsilanti Daily Press, Monday, September 17, 1906. The dedication was held on the north lawn of Starkweather Chapel, at 4:00 pm. The program opened with a quartet, under the direction of Prof. Pease, singing, “O God, Our Help in Ages Past.”

This was followed by a reading of Psalm 121, “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills from whence cometh my help,” by the Rev William Gardam. The Rev. Gardam then read Psalm 145, “I will magnify Thee, O Lord, my King: and I will praise Thy name forever and ever.” This was followed by a prayer, and an address by Prof. Strong. As part of his address, Prof. Strong expressed gratitude to Daniel Quirk for the receiving vault. Once the address was concluded, the quartet sang “Our Father's God to Thee.”

Daniel Quirk then presented the keys to the vault to Charles King, President of the Highland Cemetery Association. The Doxology was sung by all present, and the program concluded with the Benediction by the Rev. Eugene Allen. “The massive doors of the vault were thrown open for the afternoon and the crowd spent several hours after the program in viewing the interior of the magnificent structure.”

Over the years since the dedication, the equipment used to dig graves has improved, so burials can take place even after the ground has frozen. The receiving vault was used only in the most severe weather, otherwise it stood empty and unused. Then in 1994 the receiving vault was turned into a mausoleum. On each side of the vault, are now spaces for the urns of those who have been cremated.

(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 Receiving Vault at Highland Cemetery.

Photo 2: The Receiving Vault has steel doors to prevent grave robbers from stealing the bodies.

Photo 3: The leaded glass windows above the entrance door to the Receiving Vault.

Photo 4: The 9 x 11 foot lobby in the Receiving Vault.

Photo 5: The crypts along each side of the Receiving Vault.

Photo 6: On each side of the Receiving Vault are spaces for urns of those who have been cremated.

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