Ypsilanti History Trivia Quiz Answers

Published In:
Ypsilanti Gleanings
Original Images:

Author: Lisa Walters

(Answers for the Trivia Quiz)

1. Benjamin Woodruff

2. Alpha Washtenaw Bryan

3. Walter Oakman, a young immigrant from Ireland, in 1824.

4. Father Gabriel Richard, Roman Catholic priest and vice-president of U of M.

5. Judge Augustus Woodward

6. Jonathan G. Morton, a native of Massachusetts. His store, a log building, was located on the northwest corner of Huron and Pearl Streets.

7. The teacher, Olive Gorton, rowed them across morning and night.

8. The Ypsilanti Republican, edited by John Wallace, was published from 1837-38.

9. At the corner of Michigan Ave. and Summit Street. The second was laid out on the site of Prospect Park. Highland Cemetery opened in 1864.

10. Mack and Mack.

11. Owen Mineral Water.

12. The Ypsilanti Opera House - on the ceiling.

Ypsilanti History Trivia Quiz

Published In:
Ypsilanti Gleanings
Original Images:

Author: Lisa Walters

1. Who was the first postmaster of the new settlement of Ypsilanti, before it was even called Ypsilanti?

2. What was the name of the first white man born in Washtenaw County?

3. Who was the first person to die in Washtenaw County?

4. Who was the Territorial Delegate in Congress in 1825?

5. Who proposed the name "Ypsilanti" in 1825?

6. Who was Ypsilanti's first store-keeper?

7. The first school in Ypsi was on the west bank of the Huron River, north of Michigan Avenue. How did children from the east side get to and from the school?

8. What was the name of Ypsilanti's first newspaper?

9. Where was the first village cemetery located?

10. What store was founded by George McElcheran and Thomas McAndrew?

11. What product claimed, in the late 1880s that it could successfully treat 32 diseases, including cancer, sore eyes, and bee stings?

12. In what Ypsilanti building could be found portraits of Longfellow, Shakespeare, Tennyson, Byron - and Frederic Pease?

Answers found on page 34

The Towner House: A Diamond in the Rough

Published In:
Ypsilanti Gleanings
Original Images:

Author: James Mann

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo Captions:

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

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

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

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

Ypsilanti in the 1940s

Published In:
Ypsilanti Gleanings
Original Images:

Author: Jack D. Minzey

In February, 2014, the Ypsilanti City Council was meeting to discuss the further development of their Water Street Project. When a member of the audience made some references to Ann Arbor, one of the council members responded that “Ypsilanti is no Ann Arbor.” This comment bothered me since I can remember a time when Ypsilanti was greater in reputation than Ann Arbor. I immediately set about writing an article on the Ypsilanti that I remembered and grew up in during the 1940s. At that time, it was my recollection that Ypsilanti was the gem of Washtenaw County, with a unique teacher’s college, an outstanding school system and a reputation as a quaint village that most people envied.

As a result of that article, I received a communication from Barbara Hamilton Cornish in which she commented about the Ypsilanti of that day, and she sent me the following statement. “Wow! You sure captured the slippery slope that Ypsi has experienced. I remember the beautiful tree-lined streets, Washtenaw Avenue. (much narrower than it is now), being proud when I boasted about being from Ypsi, feeling excited to go shopping downtown - Mellencamps, Haywards, Nissleys sewing shop, Terry Bakery (free cookies for kids), creaky old floors in the two “dime stores” (Kresge’s and Woolworth’s), Cunningham’s Drug Store on the corner of Washington and Michigan Avenue with their soda fountain, Seyfried’s Jewelry store where Bill bought my engagement ring, The Dixie Shop, Willoughby’ Shoe Store, Buster Brown Shoe Store (the x-ray machine for your feet), Marsh Office Supply and gift shop, the Martha Washington Theater where Disney movies created lines of patrons that wound around the corner from Washington Street to Pearl Street, The Coffee Cabana behind the theater (greatest hamburger ever), The Wuerth Theater on Michigan Avenue, old Cleary College where my grandfather, sister and brother used to sit on the lawn and eat ice cream cones, two banks, The Casanova Restaurant (across from Haab’s, the post office on Michigan Avenue and the library on Huron Street. Lots of memories as my sister and I rode our bikes from our house east of Prospect Park to the downtown area and then flying down the four hills behind the classic City Hall building hoping that we would be able to stop before we braked by the river’s edge.

On the corner of Huron Street and Cross there was a small Gordon’s food store (building is no longer there). Walking to the older Ypsi High from our house on East Cross Street we would pass the pond and the cannon in Prospect Park where we used to be on the iced tennis courts every evening and weekends playing crack-the-whip during the winter, then visiting Weber’s Drug Store before we would be leaning over the Cross Street Bridge at our beautiful Huron River.”

These nostalgic comments got me to thinking about the downtown that I knew in the 1940’s, and I decided to try to verbally recreate the Michigan Avenue of those days. To help me, I turned to Harold and Marlene Moffett Britton who were raised in Ypsilanti and were a significant part of the Ypsilanti business community. We met for several hours and compiled a list of the places we could remember. I also shared my list with several other people in order to fill in some of the names which we had been unable to recall. I received a great deal of help from Doreen Binder who had a wonderful recollection of the area called Dutch Town of which she had written in “The Gleanings” in the summer of 2004. It is very likely that the list is not complete. I still receive calls from my sources who remember something else about Main Street. However, it is probably complete enough to get some of you “old timers” to thinking about those wonderful days when Ypsilanti was the “Gem of Washtenaw County.

There were many areas of commerce in Ypsilanti in the 1940’s. There was the area on Cross Street around Michigan State Normal College. There was the historic area called Depot Town. There was another area along Ecorse. There were also many individual businesses in neighborhoods throughout the City. This list deals only with the area along Michigan Avenue from Ballard Street to Grove Street. The businesses listed are in the blocks described but not necessarily in the order they existed. There was an area we called “the point” at the intersection of Ballard and Michigan Avenue. On that site was a Standard Gas Station owned by Badaluccos.

-North side: McClure’s Mobil Gas Station, Brook’s Grocery.
-South side: Jones’ Blue Sunoco Gas Station (where the current Police Station is now), Krogers, Dr. Williamson’s office (a house).

-North side: Meyers Restaurant, Greyhound Bus Station, Cleary College.
-South side: Shell Tire, Chamber of Commerce.

-North side: Ernies (soda shop), Wolverine Restaurant, Greystone Hotel, Wuerth Theater, Jack Sprat’s Restaurant, Moffett’s Shoes (Buster Brown), Michos’ (soda shop), Grinnell’s Music Store, Carty’s Music Store, Richardson’s Drugs, Spiegel’s Catalogue Store, Miller Jones Clothing Store, Augustus Furniture, Western Union, Kresge’s Dime Store.
-South side: Post Office, Gas Company, Dawson’s (hardware and lumber), Mack and Mack Furniture, Cigar Store, Avon Restaurant, Tap Room.

-North side: Cunningham’s Drugs, Family Radio, Hartman’s (women’s clothing), Sally Shear Clothing, Freed & ? (tailor?), Wild and Company Men’s Wear, Allison’s Clothes, Mellencamps‘s Clothes, Shaffer Hardware, Weimann and Mathews Drug Store, Sports Store, Webb and Mars Sewing Needs, Seifried’s Jewelers, Shoe Market, Brian-Steven’s Shoe Store, A.J. Green Jewelers, Landy’s Furniture.
-South side: National Bank of Ypsilanti, Dixie Shop (men’s and women’s clothes), Campus Shoes, Giddes Hat Shop, Willoughby’s Shoe Store, M and S Hardware, Snappy Joes Restaurant, The Apparel Shop, Campbell’s Jewelers, Terry’s Bakery, Restaurant.

- North side: Haab’sRestaurant, Furniture Recovered, Moose Lodge, Bowling Alley, Schriner’s Barber Shop, White Palace Restaurant, Chapman’s Auto, Packer’s Outlet (grocery), Miller’s Ice Cream.
-South side: Ypsilanti Savings Bank, Markham’s Restaurant, Moorman’s Lumber Yard, SerbayMotors, Silkworth’s Gas Station and Auto Repair, Sesi Lincoln Mercury.

-North side: Lounsberry’s Standard Gas Station, Woodruff Elementary School, Ken Brokaw’s Gas Station, Dolph Thorne’s Tire and Appliance Store, A & P Grocery Store, A & W Root Beer Stand.
-South Side: Thompson’s Dodge and Chrysler Dealer, Michigan State Police Post, Carrie Chadwick’s Piano Store, Clarence Tyrell’s Plumbing Shop, Bomber Restaurant, Emil Batcheler’sMeat Market, Max Bitker’s Dry Goods, Al Holzhauer’s Print Shop, Parkview Pharmacy (McLlhargie and Binder), C.F. Smith Grocery, Russell’s Bakery, Steffe’s Gas Station, Herzbergs Processing (junk dealer), Otis Tooze’s Barber Shop.

There were also many businesses on the cross streets and parallel streets to Michigan Avenue. For example, on Pearl Street there were the following businesses: Condon’s Hardware, Bill’s gas station, Huron Hotel, Freeman-Bunting Insurance, Manakis’Shoe Repair, Weidman’s Ford Dealership, a Restaurant, and Hunt’s Gulf Station. Perhaps someone with a vivid memory and a historical interest will wish to compile a list of these businesses and organizations.

These were Golden Days for Ypsilanti, a thriving community, and a wonderful place in which to live. It was a place where residents of Ann Arbor wished that their community could be like Ypsilanti. This is hard for rookie residents of Ypsilanti to believe, but “old timers” know this as a fact. Oh how wonderful it would be if we could recapture life in Ypsilanti as it was then.

(Jack Minzey is an active member of the Ypsilanti Historical Society and a regular contributor to the Gleanings.)

Photo Captions:

Photo 1: The North side of Michigan Avenue in 1941 looking West from Huron Street.

Photo 2: The White Palace Restaurant at 7 East Michigan Avenue in c1939. The restaurant continued operation until the early 1960s.

Photo 3: The White Palace menu featured an “Extra Large T-Bone Steak” including potatoes and a side of Bread and Butter for 75 cents.

Photo 4: McClure’s Service advertising featured pictures of employees and the statement “Where Friendly Service is a Habit not an Accident.”

Photo 5: The Thorne Tire building on East Michigan Avenue was built in the mid 1930s and was demolished in July of 1962. Mr. Thorne was a driver for Henry Ford I.

Photo 6: Tom Willoughby took over the Willoughby Shoe’s store on West Michigan Avenue from his father and eventually expanded the business to five stores.

Detroit's 250th Year Anniversary in 1951

Published In:
Ypsilanti Gleanings
Original Images:

Author: Peg Porter

It was 1951 and Detroit was still booming. With the end of World War II, Detroit began manufacturing cars again. They were sold almost as soon as they came off the assembly line. A building boom was underway as well. Plans were well underway for the construction of Cobo Hall. 1951 was also the 250th anniversary of the city's founding by the French under the explorer Cadillac. The week of July 22 to 29, 1951 marked the official celebration.

A four story cake was built in Grand Circus Park, decorated with 250 candles. The Major League All-Star Game was played at Briggs Stadium, a Detroit River Regatta brought the celebration to the waterfront, The University of Detroit hosted a large pageant for 11 performances with a cast of over 1,200. A five hour parade held on July 24, was one of the largest events watched by an estimated one million people.

Business and industry, labor unions, and Michigan communities all were represented in a mammoth parade that moved down Woodward Avenue. President Harry Truman, Mayor Albert Cobo and Governor G. Mennen "Soapy" Williams watched the parade from the reviewing stand. Ypsilanti participated with a float representing the then-city slogan, "Where Commerce and Education Meet."

Less than two weeks before the parade, I received a letter from Mayor Daniel T. Quirk on city letterhead with the Office of the Mayor imprint. He wrote about Detroit's 250th birthday and the planned parade. The City Council had deliberated on how to best select six boys and girls to ride on the City float. While he did not go into detail on the selection process, he did announce that I was chosen to be one of the little girls. He hoped I would "consider this important appointment by your City." It was as I later described it, my first political appointment.

Of course I accepted. What ten year old would turn down a chance to ride on a float in a parade that would be watched by thousands including the President of the United States. And, the parade would be on television. Not everyone had TV's in 1951 so this was a unique opportunity.

The Ypsilanti float portrayed a one room schoolhouse typical of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The six "students" sat on benches, no fancy desks, with slates to write on. The "teacher" stood at the front; she did have a desk. We were not provided with costumes but were told to dress in clothing similar to that earlier period. I cannot remember exactly what I wore (which is unusual as I have detailed memories of clothing); however I am quite sure my outfit involved a pinafore and my hair tied back with plaid ribbons.

On the morning of the parade we drove down to Dearborn's City Hall to board our float. We stopped first at a restroom in city hall, a wise move as the parade went on for hours. Once we got on the float and into our seats we were told to "stay in our seats at all times." Floats, despite their name, do not smoothly make their way along the parade route. Built on trailer beds with no springs or cushioning, the rider feels every bump in the road. Cornering presents its own set of challenges. Riders fall off floats, sometimes sustaining serious injury.

As the parade got underway, we moved out onto Michigan Avenue and made our way toward downtown Detroit. The crowds got larger and the buildings bigger the further east we went. The parade slowed and even stopped at certain points but soon began moving again. I was watching for TV cameras, not sure if I ever saw one. I also don't remember going past the reviewing stand. I do remember the boys on the float starting a spitball fight. This was, of course historically inaccurate as we "students' had no paper." But it drew a laugh from the crowd.

At last we turned onto Woodward Avenue for the final leg of the parade. We were pretty tired by them. The wooden benches were hard, we were thirsty and overdressed for the warm summer weather. A school bus met us at the Fair Grounds for the trip back to Ypsi.

Despite a thorough search of the Historical Society's Archives and contact with the Detroit Historical Society we were unable to find a picture of the Ypsilanti float. While smaller than the mammoth productions sponsored by business and industry, our little schoolroom represented the City's important contribution to education and source of civic pride.

(Author's Note: The relationship between Detroit and Ypsilanti is long-standing, predating the community that came to be called Ypsilanti. French traders established their businesses along the banks of the Huron River in this vicinity. Later Ypsilanti became the first overnight stop on the Chicago Road for travelers leaving Detroit. Ypsilanti has never been considered a suburb of Detroit and established its own unique identity. It is the home of an historic university, set in a particularly lovely stretch of the Huron River valley, a town that is proud of its diversity and dedicated to providing opportunities for all.)

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

Photo Captions:

Photo 1: Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, the French Explorer recognized as the "founder" of Detroit.

Photo 2: Letter from Ypsilanti Mayor Dan Quirk to author Peg Porter.

Photo 3: Peg Porter at about age 10.

Photo 4: President Truman, Mayor Cobo, and Governor G. Mennen "Soapy" Williams on reviewing stand.

Photo 5: Float with birthday cake

Photo 6: Huge crowds watched the 250th Anniversary parade in Detroit.

The 1893 Cyclone - A Terrible Night of Desolation in Ypsilanti

Published In:
Ypsilanti Gleanings
Original Images:

Author: James Mann

Wednesday, April 12, 1893 was an unusually warm day with rain in the late morning. The skies cleared in the afternoon and the air was still warm. In the early evening clouds were seen forming in the west, the shape and actions of which indicated strong winds. Just before 7:00 pm a storm passed over the city with a vivid display of lightning. As a precaution, the electric lights of the city were turned off, enveloping the city in darkness. At about 7:05 pm a tornado formed and came to earth near the south end of Summit Street. (Note: technically the storm was a tornado but local newspapers of the time referred to it as a cyclone.)

“Chimneys and outbuildings and trees were overturned on the west side of the street, and on the east side the house of George Voorhees, lately purchased from Mr. Miles, was moved from its foundation, windows and doors broken, and the contents of the house generally wrecked. The family were fortunately absent. An old house north of that was somewhat shattered, and trees and small buildings were destroyed as far as M. T. Conklin's to the north and Prof. McClenshan's south showing thus a width of about 500 feet. The trees were thrown both east and west at the same spot,” noted The Ypsilantian of Thursday, April 13, 1893.

Only one building south of Michigan Avenue was damaged, this was Good Samaritan Hall, a church. It is said the sexton was just raising his arms to ring the bell, when the wind carried off the roof and the belfry. “His surprise”, noted The Ypsilanti Commercial of Friday, April 14, 1893, “may be imagined.”

The tornado continued on leaving the streets full of debris. The tornado lifted at Michigan, then known as Congress, and Ballard, returning to earth at Michigan and Adams. “The fine double residence occupied by Mr. Grove Spencer and Mrs. S. A. De Nike was utterly demolished. This is one of the most perfect wrecks left by the storm. The entire western half of the house is razed to within a few feet of the ground and the eastern wall all blown away. Mr. Spencer's family escaped the certain death that waited them had they been upstairs, by being at supper in the basement, and Mrs. De Nike's family on the first floor were saved by the strong partition walls,” reported The Ypsilanti Commercial.

The wind carried away the roof and walls to the upper floor of the Curtis Carriage factory (where the Key Bank Building is now), leaving buggies exposed. The tornado then crossed the street to make a wreck of the Cleary College building, the eastern wall gone, the tower ripped down to the second floor and the north wing totally destroyed. The Opera House was demolished, with only the front wall left standing. The Opera House was empty at the time.

The walls of the Opera House fell onto the Hawkins House next door, caving in the wooden portion at the rear, the first floor used as a dining room with sleeping rooms on the second. Cassius Valentine had just finished his supper in the dining room, and was in the office, where he had just paid his bill, as he was preparing to leave on the train. Suddenly the large attractive room was filled with dust and particles of brick and mortar. After the roar of the storm had passed, he heard the cries of several young women in the dining room.

“Mrs. Westfall and daughter were in one of the chambers above, and as the building crushed and darkness enveloped them, they felt the floor sink. They clasped arms about each other and a moment later found themselves in the dining room below, surrounded by brick and mortar and broken boards, and marvelous to relate, quite unhurt. A whole bedroom with its four walls in place now stands in that dining room,” reported The Ypsilantian.

“One girl was in the room when the crash came, and she was rescued with some difficulty but unhurt. A traveling man who was ill had retired, and he, bed and bedroom and all was suddenly dropped into the dining room. He gathered his night robe gracefully about him it is said and walked out from among the rubbish unhurt,” reported The Ypsilanti Commercial. It is said the traveling man left the city on the next train.

The tall chimney of the box factory on Pearl Street is said to have been carried off in one piece, and was, it is said, seen flying horizontally toward the east. The chimney was never found. Then the tornado moved onto Huron Street, damaging the buildings between Michigan Avenue and Pearl Street. It ripped the front off the second floor of a market, and shattered the wide windows of the stores, then drenched the interiors with water. A tin roof was carried off a building, and ended up wrapped around the front of a boarding house across the street.

Crossing the river the tornado continued on its path of destruction, ripping roofs off houses, breaking windows and spreading debris. A barn was torn into kindling wood, but the mustang in the barn was not hurt. “Then the storm crossed the M. C. track to the spacious and beautiful grounds of John Gilbert, destroying trees and fences, but the fine, high house escaped with broken windows,” reported The Ypsilantian.

“Across Grove Street there,” continued The Ypsilanti Commercial, “the home of W. A. Moore was unroofed and most of the interior and rear walls torn out. His barn was torn all to pieces, and he found his horse on the hay floor, faced about and still hitched to the ruins of the manger, and unhurt.”

As suddenly as it began, it ended. The tornado passed through the city in a span of time lasting ten to fifteen minutes. This writhing demon of a storm had crossed a mile and a half of the city with the sound of a hundred freight trains. As soon as the storm had passed men and women, holding lanterns, went out onto the darken streets, filled with ruin, to search for the dead and injured. The pleasant surprise was, there were no dead, and there were no serious injuries. At the time, the cost of the damage was placed at $100,000. The work of rebuilding began almost at once.

“The cyclone struck Ypsilanti, Mich.,” reported The St. Louis Post Dispatch, “but the name of the town was not harmed. It is neither better nor worse than before the storm. It is supposed that the letters were blown together in the first place, and that no cyclone can further tangle them up.”

(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: Damage to the home of Mrs. S. A. DeNike from the 1893 Cyclone. The house was located on Michigan Avenue just West of Cleary College.

Photo 2: Damage to buildings along Huron Street from the 1893 Cyclone.

Photo 3: Damage to the Ypsilanti Opera House from the Cyclone of 1893.

Photo 4: Damage to the West side of Huron Street North to Pearl Street from the Cyclone of 1893.

Photo 5: Damage to the Ypsilanti Business District from the Cyclone of 1893.

Ypsilanti's Mineral Water Sanitariums

Published In:
Ypsilanti Gleanings
Original Images:

(Note: This article appeared in a 1973 issue of the Gleanings.)

The Ypsilanti Commercial of Saturday, October 6, 1883, contained the following:

“OUR CITY: Last January when the merchants of Ypsilanti came to figure up the result of their year’s business they found that the trade of the City had never before been equaled the sales of the year just past. As this fact was whispered from ear to ear the talk of the town, which for years had been pessimistic, began slowly to change. In the spring the Ypsilanti Paper Company, which, thanks to Mr. Clark Cornwall, has always been an enterprising concern, began to bore for mineral water near their lower mills. After a time the labor was crowned with success and water of unusual strength (and smell) was struck. The water found is strong enough to eat up a tin dipper in a couple of hours’ time, and in color has the appearance of milky water. Immediately all the lame and halt of the town began to bathe in this veritable Poll of Siloam, and when the cures were noised abroad there came a struggle to see who should be first to use the limited accommodations of the town. Then strangers began to flock to the City and such was the potency of the water and so great the number of Strangers who came to be cured of their infirmities that an enterprising citizen, Mr. George Moorman, getting some aid, began the erection of a $30,000 bath house, which is now fast approaching completion. In a short time ample accommodations will be provided for all who care to take the baths.”

Between the years of 1880 and 1917 there were two successful Mineral Water Sanitariums in our city, each supplied with mineral water from local wells. In an article in The Ypsilanti Commercial of December 15, 1883, entitled: “Ypsilanti, a Review of the City and Its Industries, ” we read:

“… The Ypsilanti Paper Company completed a well on their premises for the purpose of obtaining a supply of pure water for use in the manufacture of paper. The well reached a depth of nearly 800 feet, when it struck a vein of water that had a peculiar taste and was acknowledged to possess some medical properties. The real value of the water was not known until several very remarkable cures of cancer, rheumatism and other kindred diseases could be traced to the effects of the water. The reputation of this mineral water spread very rapidly, and hundreds of our citizens can testify as to its beneficial effects. It became the one theme of conversation on our street, and the demand for treatment from this water became more and more apparent every day. Our citizens became interested in the matter, and, seeing it would be a great addition to the city, offered a donation of $5,000 to anyone who would start a suitable establishment where persons suffering from disease could receive treatment from this water. After due consideration the proposition was accepted by George Moorman and Clark Cornwell . These gentlemen began the erection of a building on the eighth of last May. They have pushed its construction as fast as weather would permit. It will be ready for occupancy about the first of January, and when finished, be the finest building in the city…”

In the archives of the City Museum we have the original invitation to the opening of the Ypsilanti Mineral Bath House, (Huron North of Congress (Michigan) . There were speeches given, music provided by the Ypsilanti Quartet Club and refreshments were served by the Ladies’ Library Association. On January 12, 1884, The Ypsilanti Commercial copied a report of the opening ceremonies. The speeches were praised, the Ladies’ of the Library Association were congratulated on the refreshments and it was proudly noted that a reporter from The Chicago Times covered the event for his paper.

Six months later Tubal Cain Owen announced that he, too, had a mineral well and claimed that his “waters” had even more curative powers than that of the Cornwell-Moorman well. The fact that frequent articles concerning the mineral wells appeared in The Ypsilanti Commercial seems to point up the fact that the townspeople, particularly the business men and landlords were keenly interested in the success of the Sanitariums. For instance, on July 26, 1884, there appears yet another article, entitled, “The Mineral Wells.”

…These wells are rendering Ypsilanti famous the world over. The healing waters flowing free from these wells seem destined to be an untold blessing to affected humanity…Ypsilanti has already come to be the center of attraction for the halt, the lame and the blind, the palsied and paralylics. It is by no means a crippled city, but a city of cripples. The cry every day, “still they come.” Let them come! The Hawkins House, the Follette House, the Barton, and all the other hotels and numerous nice boarding houses are full. Ere another season a mammoth hotel may be in the process of erection.

About this same time the paper started listing the names of those registering at the Sanitariums. Helen McAndrew had water from the Owen well piped to her “Rest for the Weary” establishment on South Huron Street. The editor of the paper proudly called especial attention to the names of “guests” of the Sanitariums who came from outside the state.

Tubal Cain Owen, the owner of the Forest Avenue Mineral Well, was not only a good business man but he was a wonderful promoter of his products. He erected a tall building over his derrick and in it established a factory for making soap (“Sapon”), salts, ointments and other products of the well besides bottling hundreds of bottles and barrels of the mineral water, which he named “Atlantis,” the name being in black lettering that reached from the ground to the top of the building. His charged mineral water he called “Paragon.” He had various brochures prepared for the purpose of advertising his products and from one entitled, “Natures Remedy; Natural Mineral Water From the Owen Mineral Well at Ypsilanti, Michigan and the DISEASES IT WILL CURE together with Directions for Treatment.” It read as follows:

“TO THE PUBLIC: The waters of the Owen Mineral Well is on the market to fulfill its errand of mercy, and we wish everyone to know just exactly what he is using, that he may use it intelligently and rationally. We have no myths nor Indian legends to relate to appeal to the public’s credulity. We sank our well on scientific principles in search of HEALING WATERS. We use the most approved modern machinery; we believe that waters of untold value to suffering humanity were below us, and we wanted to bring them to the light of day and utilize them for their legitimate purposes. Our expectations were high, and we believe they have been fully realized. We base the claims for our water upon the medicinal value of its mineral salts as demonstrated by the actual experience and testimony of the highest authorities.”

In the same brochure the treatment of cancer was outlined as follows:

“The water must be taken freely, three or four glasses a day, no matter how nauseating it may be. Sponge the entire body twice a day with moderately warmed water. Apply to the affected part thick cloths saturated with the water at its natural temperature, renewing them as ofter as they become at all dry. After the disease shows signs of yielding, by no means cease the treatment, but continue it faithfully until the cancer is entirely healed. Besides applying the water by means of the cloths before mentioned, the diseased part should be bathed freely and frequently with the water. We cannot impress too strongly upon the mind of the patient, the absolute necessity of drinking freely of the water…”

The cost of the Owen Mineral Water was as follows:
Per Barrel $8.00
Per Half Barrel $4.50
Ten Gallon Kegs $3.25
Pints (per doz.) $3.00
Quarts (per doz.) $5.00

In jugs, five gallons and under, the water will be sold at the uniform price of twenty cents per gallon, and ten cents per gallon for package.

In yet another Owen brochure are listed testimonials from those cured plus a list of local people who claimed cures and the ailments of which they are cured are also listed. Of course, the Ypsilanti Sanitarium (Occidental Hotel) also had its brochure. It was lavishly illustrated with pictures of the building and of its various rooms. The introduction to its brochure reads as follows:

“THE YPSILANTI SANITARIUM was designed especially for the rational treatment of cases which require the constant attention of competent physicians and trained nurses. The natural advantages of Ypsilanti, viz.; high altitude, picturesque wooded country, and what is of most importance, The Ypsilanti Mineral Springs, make it especially adapted for a health resort.

The thorough equipment of its laboratories for research and study and its complete departments for the treatment of various diseases make it particularly desirable for cases that cannot practically be treated at home.

Experienced physicians and professional nurses are in constant attendance.

The Sanitarium will maintain perfectly equipped departments…From all boat lines touching Detroit, it is but a short trip. It is on the main line of the Michigan Central R.R., 45 minutes’ ride from Detroit and a little over 6 hours ride from Chicago. It is the eastern terminus of the Ypsilanti branch of the Lake Shore & Michigan Southern R.R. and its connecting lines viz. the Detroit, Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor trolley lines. From Ann Arbor on the trolley line it is 30 minutes and from Detroit 1 hour and 30 minutes distant. On the Wabash R.R. Ypsilanti may be reached via. Belleville…”

The interesting question is, why did Ypsilanti’s flourishing and comparatively well known sanitariums close? An article in the Ypsilanti Press for September 9th, 1945, tells us that a Mr. J. M. Chidister ran the Occidental Hotel and Spa for the Cornwell-Moorman group during it first years of existence. Patronage declined and the spa was closed for a time.

“About 1902, however, the mineral industry was revived by Dr. C. C. Yemans, prominent Detroit physician and long time professor in the Detroit College of Medicine. He repaired the well casing, restored the baths and opened part of the old hotel. Hospital equipment was installed and rooms were renovated and furnished for patients. Old students of Dr. Yemans sent patients from all over the country and business flourished. The Hospital, long needed here was filled. However, the hotel part, separately operated was carelessly kept. Patients were admitted without Dr. Yemans’s approval and netted too many dt. victims. Their yells annoyed other patients and Mrs. Yemans. That appeared to be the last straw and Dr. Yemans retired. His successor, a young man whose chief interest was in breeding fancy dogs at Mt. Clemens, spent too little time here and the whole concern soon collapsed. About the time of World War I, Tracy Towner, Bert Moorman, and others again opened the well and the baths with Dr. G. F. Clarke, Bay City, in charge. There were patients but not enough for profit and new trouble appeared when the well casing started to collapse. The cost of 220 feet of casing was considered prohibitive, and again Ypsilanti’s chance of increased income and mineral water fame went glimmering…”

On the decline of the Owen Mineral Sanitarium, operated by Dr. M. S. Hall, the same article states:

“…To utilize the water baths, Dr. M. S. Hall put up a bath house, next to 510 W. Forest Avenue, about two blocks from the well and fitted up the adjoining residence for a hotel. He had a large patronage for several years and amazing cures for many different diseases were reported. About 1890 he sold the buildings to Dr. O. E. Pratt, but he, because of advanced age, finally closed it and sold the building for residences. After Mr. Owen’s death, his son Eber, continued for many years to ship quantities of the Owen water in bulk to Chicago and Boston in response to a steady demand.”

In the closing paragraph of the same article the writer attempts to explain the decline and failure of the spas thusly:

“…Just why Ypsilanti’s mineral water, equal in medicinal properties to other popular resorts, failed to become a permanent municipal asset seems unexplainable. Opinions of older residents brings out two possible factors. 1) Indifference of management including too frequently insufficient regard for comfort and entertainment of patients. 2) Determination on the part of several of the more wealthy and conservative residents that Ypsilanti should remain a quiet residential community and that industry of every kind should be discouraged.”

There are good and valid reasons for the failure and closing of the Sanitariums of Ypsilanti; but something happened in 1906 of nationwide importance which in all probability was the most important factor in tolling the death bell for these centers of miraculous cures. In June 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt signed the Federal Pure Food and Drug Act which became a law on January 1, 1907. Stewart H. Holbrook tells us in his book, The Golden Age of Quackery that Harvey W. Wiley, Chief Chemist of the United States Department of Agriculture had been trying since 1883 to have a law passed to regulate the labeling of foods and medicines. “Tell the truth on a label,” said Wiley, and “let the consumer judge for himself.” The legislation of 1906 required honest labels. One of the prime instigators for the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Law was Samuel Hopkins Adams who, early in 1906, wrote a series of articles for Collier’s magazine entitled, The Great American Fraud in which he ruthlessly unearthed and named concerns and people who were advertising falsely. The reading public became awakened, and perhaps terrified, when they read Hopkin’s shocking exposes. Common sense forced them to realize that no quick cure salts or waters would replace medical drugs as a cure. In The New York Times for October 8th, 1966, there is a very interesting article about spas which shows that although they have gone from our section there are many still in existence in our country. But the article also points out the changes which have taken place in their make-up. The final passage reads:

“…Spas reached their hayday in the 19th century when their special function was as important as the therapeutic activity. Today the less severe European spas still offer operettas, concerts, balls, parties and casinos to divert guests in search of pleasure with therapy.”

On January 19, 1884, shortly after the opening of the city Mineral Water House, the following poem by “A Farmer” appeared in The Commercial:

Ypsilanti Water

Come all ye weary, sick and sore,
Who want to suffer pain no more,
And take a drink of Cornwell’s bore,
Beside the Huron River.

Let Smith and Sampson keep their drugs,
Fetch on your glasses and your mugs,
Your barrels, bowls and your jugs,
And get the healing water.

If you are sick, just try our cure,
Drink Ypsilanti’s water pure,
That health and life may long endure,
And all your friends rejoice.

Moorman’s put down another bore,
For water, gas and something more,
They say it’s better than before,
To drive woe and pain away.

If you are sad with sickness worn,
And have the headache every morn,
Just come and drink a healing horn,
Of Ypsilanti’s water.

There’s forty new baths agoing,
And all the healing waters flowing,
Better days and health bestowing,
On many a weary one.

If you are growing weak and lean,
Just come and try our healing stream,
And splash till you are pure and clean,
And your troubles washed away.

They will bathe you either cold or warm,
It will do you good and never harm,
And it may come o’re you like a charm,
And double all your joy.

You need not travel far and long,
To drink Saratoga’s water strong,
We have the real thing at home,
Down on the books of Moorman.

It’s true, it has a woeful smell,
But if your stomache don’t rebel,
It’s just the thing to make you well,
And praise up Ypsilanti.

Photo Captions:

Photo 1: The Owen Mineral Well, named “Atlantis”, was located on the back of the Eber Owen homestead off Forest Avenue.

Photo 2: Tubal Cain Owen was a great promoter and marketed his products to a wide audience.

Photo 3: Owen called his charged mineral water “Paragon” and advertised that his “Paragon Ginger Ale” was “excellent tonic for the stomach.”

Photo 4: An advertisement for Ypsilanti Mineral Water.

Photo 5: Trademark for Ypsilanti Mineral Water Company.

Photo 6: Claims were made that Natural Mineral Water successfully cured a variety of diseases.

Photo 7: The Owen Sanitarium Company tried to raise $1,250,000 to build the Sanitarium Building shown above.

Photo 8: Ad claiming that “The King of Mineral Waters…is natures greatest remedy for disordered blood.”

Photo 9: Ad for Owen’s Salicura Soap. Also sold were Atlantis Toothpaste, Atlantis Shaving Soap and Atlantis Youth Soap that had “…potent curative properties in every kind of skin desease, burns, bites or poisons, yet so harmless that it will improve the skin of a new-born baby.”

The River Street Saga Continues: Benjamin and Elvira Norris Follett

Published In:
Ypsilanti Gleanings
Original Images:

Author: Jan Anschuetz

In the Spring 2014 issue of the Gleanings we met Mark and Roccena Vail Norris who were described as the “parents of Depot Town.” They were also the parents of two children: Elvira and Lyman Decatur. In this installment of “The River Street Saga” we will learn more about Elvira, her life, her family (including her amazing husband, Benjamin Follett), and their own influence on the growing town of Ypsilanti in the nineteenth century.

We can only imagine the challenging life of Elvira, who was born in a log cabin on January 22, 1821 in Covington, New York. When she was only seven years old, the Norris family made the grueling trip from New York State to a sparsely settled wilderness lacking any degree of civilization – a place without a church, organized town council, roads, mills, or even a name. Mark and Roccena soon helped to change that and contributed greatly to making Ypsilanti a community in which people wanted to live - complete with a town organization, a railroad, laws, schools, churches, cultural opportunities, a library, stores, mills, and beautiful homes.

For the first year of their arrival, the Norris family lived behind a storefront at what is now the southwest corner of Michigan Avenue and Washington Street. This cramped space did not stop Elvira’s mother from teaching children of the settlement in one of the four rooms that the family shared. Roccena was dismayed that there was no place for religious instruction or worship and quickly organized a Sunday School for all ages that met in a log cabin each week and would also welcome circuit riders to preach when possible. The Norris home was always available to offer hospitality to visiting preachers.

The following year, the small family was able to move into the first sawn wood-frame home east of the Huron River, and within a few years was living in a brick mansion which was originally built for Roccena’s uncle. When her uncle was unable to move into it, Mark and Roccena purchased the unfinished structure from him for $1,000. It was in this eight bedroom mini-mansion on River Street that Elvira and her brother spent their childhood. Aside from the years 1834 to 1836 when she attended a celebrated all girls finishing school in Detroit, Elvira received her entire education in Ypsilanti.

Elvira grew up accustomed to fine gowns, a beautiful home complete with gardens, and indulgent parents. She had friends, a church community, and charitable activities to keep her occupied, and enjoyed the status of being a part of one of the wealthiest families in Washtenaw County due to her father’s ambition and hard work. She was brought up to cherish reading and education and the finer things in life. Her brother spoke of Elvira’s education in a life sketch he prepared for Elvira’s funeral. Speaking of his own childhood home on River Street he stated “…the pioneer home was perhaps a better school for life and its duties than most of our modern young ladies’ seminaries. In that home, heart, mind and soul were trained into symmetry and strength. That hospitable roof sheltered more than one guest, from which the family gained more than they gave. The ‘prophet’s chamber’ was seldom vacant in their day, when the traveler was forced to rely upon private hospitality for entertainment by the way, and the growing girl may have learned much of that breadth of broad-gauge sympathy with all classes and conditions, which she displayed in later years, from this contact with the men and women of many types, which the exigencies of those pioneer times brought to the door.”

Mark Norris, Elvira’s father, was from a large family with 14 children and many of Elvira’s uncles and aunts on both sides of her family moved into the community. One of her uncles, Justus Norris, who lived nearby and ran her father’s Western Hotel on River Street, was a noted and outspoken abolitionist in Washtenaw County. More will be written about him in another segment of “The River Street Saga.”

Elvira’s maternal grandmother moved from New York State to enjoy living on the Huron River in their fine house. It was not unusual for Elvira and her mother to travel back to New York by train or ship to visit family there or to enjoy some of the “cures” offered at that time in various spas. On one such trip, she arrived home at the train station in Depot Town only to have her father meet his beloved wife and daughter in a beautiful new carriage pulled by two matching and elegant horses which delivered them to the family home one block away. There, another surprise awaited them - a new grand piano in the parlor.

You might imagine that it would be difficult for a young woman brought up in luxury to find a suitable husband in the frontier town of Ypsilanti, but somehow the right man was waiting for her, living only a few blocks away. Benjamin Follett, who would wed Elvira, seemed the perfect match. He too had been born in New York State, where his father had been a store owner as had Elvira’s father when they lived in New York. Benjamin’s parents were Nathan and Nancy Keith Follett. Prior to marrying Nathan, Nancy Keith was a young widow with two children of her own. When they were married in Canandaigua, New York in 1818, the young couple was admired for their handsome appearance. Benjamin was born the next year in 1819.

Nathan owned a hat store and was also a successful businessman. The family lived in Batavia, New York, and was comprised of Benjamin (who was the oldest) along with Nancy Keith’s two children from her first marriage. In a family paper written by Roy K. Spencer, we learn that Nathan built a hat factory and was also a banker. “For many years he was one of Batavia’s most prominent citizens. He was repeatedly elected to the most important posts in Batavia’s village government, he was vestryman of the Episcopal Church, and he became one of the wealthiest men in Batavia.”

Benjamin grew up in a large and luxurious home with servants, some of whom were once slaves on the Virginian plantation on which his mother grew up. His mother and father were adamant abolitionists and when they inherited the plantation they freed the slaves, sold the property, and moved north to a state that did not allow slavery. Some of their former slaves moved with them and became paid servants. We read that Benjamin’s childhood home was always filled with the pets that his father Nathan loved including dogs, cats and birds. Sadly, this happy family life came to an end with the death of a child in infancy and the death of Nathan’s young and beautiful wife. Nathan married again a few years later to a first cousin and they had three more children before she also died.

Perhaps because of an anti-Mason sentiment in New York at the time, or perhaps because Benjamin simply wanted to “go west and seek his fortune” as many young men were advised to do, he arrived in Ypsilanti as a young man. We do know that Benjamin Follett was first mentioned in the written history of Ypsilanti at the age of 19, in the year 1836. At that time he was employed as a cashier for the Bank of Ypsilanti. In T. H. Rinchman’s book Banks and Banking in Michigan with Historical Sketches, published in 1887, Follett is described as “a worthy, conscientious and competent young banker.”

Mark Norris was a major stock holder in the Bank of Ypsilanti and we can only guess that Mark and Roccena invited this eligible young bachelor with a good character, family, and prospects into their home to meet their young daughter from a similar background. We do know that by 1841, after the failure of the Bank of Ypsilanti in the “Wildcat Schemes” of the time, Benjamin had returned to Batavia, New York to work as a bank cashier and to be closer to his family. It was there that he sent for and married Elvira on September 23, 1841. The young couple lived in that community for two years even though Elvira missed her family and friends in Ypsilanti. Letters from her father found in the Ypsilanti Historical Museum archives, which counseled her to try to make the best of her new community and to always speak positively of the people of Batavia, seem to suggest that Elvira was not happy living away from her River Street home.

It seems that Mark and Roccena also missed the company of their daughter and Mark might have influenced their return to Ypsilanti by offering his son-in-law partnership in a mill. Perhaps the “icing on the cake” was building and gifting them a spacious, elegant, and charming new home on the east side of River Street, between Oak and Maple Streets, just three blocks away from Elvira’s childhood home. In 1843, after two years in New York, the young couple returned home. We read in Sister Maria Hayda’s book The Urban Dimension and the Midwestern Frontier, A Study of Democracy at Ypsilanti Michigan, 1825-1858 that “Benjamin Follett possessed relatively large amounts of capital from his own family resources in New York” which he was ready to invest in Ypsilanti. In fact, tax records from the 1850 federal census cite him as owning $27,000 worth of real estate and he was estimated to be the fifth wealthiest citizen in town.

The partnership with his father-in-law sharing the ownership of a mill did not work out. It seems that Benjamin was not a successful miller and within a few years had returned to banking and financing. He also spent time and energy investing in railroads, building and running a fine hotel, investing in a store, two mills, and other ventures. Benjamin had a gift for leadership and soon became a pillar of Ypsilanti life, influencing its development. Like his father before him, he believed in giving back to the community and sharing his time for the good of the people of the growing town. In 1860, Benjamin was elected Ypsilanti’s third mayor. As such, he helped to organize the first fire department and paid for the fire equipment out of his own money. Later he served on the city council and was active in the Democratic Party. He was an active member of St. Luke’s parish and served on the building committee for a new church. Benjamin partnered in a land deal which added a vast amount of area to the city of Ypsilanti. He influenced city leaders into building the first city hall and jail on Cross Street on the east side near Depot Town. Benjamin was one of the founding members of the Masonic Wyandotte Lodge Number 10, and built their headquarters in what is now known as the three-story Masonic Block on Cross Street in Depot Town.

Benjamin invested heavily in the growing Depot Town area by financing and building a lavish hotel in 1859 which is still standing and bears his name as The Follett Block. Not only that, but this amazing, energetic, and imaginative man also organized and led a choir which regularly sang and entertained the community in Follett Hall located in the building. His business interests extended to the Peninsular Paper Company, the Farmer’s General Store, the Eagle Mill, the Huron Mill, as well as other business undertakings.

Benjamin’s father Nathan moved to Ypsilanti in the year 1849. Nathan was only 50 years old at the time of his second wife’s death. He had 5 children to raise alone and his financial status, as well as his personal life in New York State, quickly nose-dived when three friends for which he had signed promissory notes defaulted. That left Nathan responsible for their debts, which amounted to a large sum of money. Spencer tells us that “saddened by the death of his wife and disillusioned by the conduct of his alleged friends, he packed his furniture into a railroad freight car, took his numerous family, consisting of his four daughters and the two children of Nancy, whose husband had died a few years after marriage to settle in Ypsilanti, Michigan, where his son, Benjamin, was an active and successful citizen.” Nathan also brought four or five servants with him but they soon tired of the “wild west” of Ypsilanti and returned to the “more civilized” New York.

Nathan was able to reclaim his role as a community leader in his new town of Ypsilanti. He purchased the stone house across from the Quirk mansion on North Huron Street and had enough capital to buy and run two successful flour mills in town. He joined his son Benjamin in becoming an active member of the Episcopal Church and was remembered as a man who, like his son, lived his Christian religion with kind regard for all. An example of this was his interest in the education and promotion of a young black man, John Fox. Nathan hired him to do minor clerical work but paid him well enough so that he was able to study law and be admitted to the bar. Indeed, this liberal attitude that all people were equal seemed to be extended to his son Benjamin who was rumored to aid escaped slaves.

While Benjamin, his father, and father-in-law were busy making money as the town of Ypsilanti expanded, Benjamin and Elvira’s family expanded as well. They had seven children, five sons and two daughters, to fill their large home and their hearts. The oldest daughter, Alice, was born in 1844. Another daughter, Lucy Elvira, followed in 1847. A son, Nathan, was born in 1849 and another boy, Lyman Decatur, in 1851. Benjamin was born in 1854. Mark Norris was born in 1858 and his brother Simeon Keith, born in 1860, completed the family.

Elvira’s widowed aunt, Mrs. Blackmon, sister of her mother, came to live with the family soon after they moved into their River Street home and became a second mother to the children. Lyman Norris tells us “For thirty years this good aunt remained with them, leaving this home only for an eternal one. During all these years, she bestowed upon Mrs. Follett and her children all the love and care of her motherly heart. Her presence made it possible for Mrs. Follett to enter more into outside affairs than she could otherwise have done; to take many journeys, longer and shorter, with her husband; and to assist him more freely in that large hospitality which he so enjoyed.”

A photograph of happy children, dogs, flowers, grass, and a fountain in front of their charming house on River Street gives us the impression that Elvira and Benjamin were well rewarded for their work ethic. In The History of Ypsilanti, written in 1923 by Harvey Colburn, this River Street mansion is described as follows: “The beautiful Follett home was for years one of the show places of the city. It was situated on River Street in a grove of oak trees extending from Oak Street to Maple, a great rambling structure with big bay windows. The surrounding grounds were extensive, brilliant with flowers, and adorned by a large fountain fed by a windmill standing on the hill above.” The home was the first in Ypsilanti illuminated by gas lights. People came from miles around just to admire the barn which was considered one of the finest in Michigan, if not in the country.

Benjamin and Elvira, though busy with their family and life in Ypsilanti, also enjoyed traveling. In 1853 the young couple, along with her parents and brother, took a vacation which included visiting Montreal, Bellows Falls, New Haven and New York. In her letters we read that Elvira thought that traveling and adventure were important to further her education and life views. She was also interested in a healthy life style and one of her favorite excursions was to visit the water cure at Elmira, New York, sometimes staying there for several months. Her youngest two children were born there.

Elvira also had a serious side. Like her mother, she was dedicated to helping to improve the community. She was a life-long member of The Home Association, which she helped to organize in 1857 and later served on the board and as an officer. This was a group of women from various churches, who attempted to make the lives of the poor and destitute of the community better in any way that they could – providing food, transportation, clothes, and even firewood.

For many years she was one of the vice-presidents of the Detroit Home for the Friendless and her organizational and interpersonal skills helped to form the agency and its policies. She shared her mother’s love of reading and was the first president of The Ypsilanti Ladies’ Library Association. Her brother commented that “the influence of this valuable Library Association upon the mental growth and culture of the town has been very great; and she was one of the most indefatigable of the body of intelligent, cultured women, to whose labors the library owes its continued success.”

Alas, the lives of this energetic, active, happy, and productive couple changed. First Elvira’s father Mark Norris died in 1862 after an extended and painful illness. The next year, in 1863, his namesake, their six year old son, Mark Norris Follett, died suddenly of diphtheria. After that, things only seemed to get worse. Benjamin Follett was one of the founders of the beautiful Highland Cemetery on River Street which was dedicated in 1864. Little did he know that only four months after making one of the speeches at the opening ceremony, he, himself would be buried there. It seems that he attended the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, leaving in good health and then on September 1st he was stricken with coughing and hemorrhaging of the lungs and conveyed back to his River Street home and family. In a letter written to her grandmother in late 1864, daughter Alice stated “Father gains very slowly and coughs a good deal. Dr. (sic) was here and insisted there is no tubercular disease of the lungs. He does not want him to go away for all winter but wants him to visit and be away from all worrying business. It seems very slow and discouraging.” Benjamin and Elvira followed the doctor’s orders and left for the water cures they had often taken at Elmira, New York. The night before they left they gathered their family around them in prayer. Benjamin also met with the pastor of his beloved church and placed in his hands a discharge of mortgage for the new church and parsonage, stating that he couldn’t leave the earth without doing this. He had paid the remaining amount of the mortgage with his own funds.

The doctors at Elmira offered him little hope and told him that he would die soon. He accepted this calmly but said that he wished to live. His entire family traveled to New York and was with him when he died on December 26, 1864 at 3 o’clock in the afternoon, offering prayers and comfort. He was only forty-five years old. He was so well-loved and respected in Ypsilanti that when the train carrying his body home for burial arrived at the depot a few days later, a crowd was waiting to welcome him home, including formal delegates from the city, friends, townspeople, and representations of organizations and businesses.

The young Benjamin lay in state in the parlor of his beautiful home the next day from nine in the morning until one in the afternoon and it was reported in his obituary in The Ypsilanti True Democrat that there was “a constant throng of visitors to see the corpse. Dressed in his business suit he looked natural as if he had quietly gone to sleep.” At one in the afternoon the remains were then escorted to St. Luke’s Episcopalian Church on North Huron Street, which he loved so well. The funeral sermon described him as a true Christian man who daily lived his religious with honesty, generosity, and love for all men. From the church the long funeral procession brought the body of Benjamin Follett back to his beloved River Street where it remains to this day at Highland Cemetery, now surrounded by the remains of his loving wife Elvira and much of his family.

Elvira was left to raise six children, which she did with the help of her aunt. Death visited the River Street mansion again within the year when daughter Lucy died at the age of 18. Elvira’s oldest daughter, Alice, married in May, 1865 and one by one, the Follett children grew and left home. Elvira, often in the company of her mother, continued to be active in community endeavors. She also was able to enjoy travel and adventure and in 1873, accompanied by her son, L.D. Follett, went out west to visit her two sons, Nathan and Benjamin, who were living as pioneers on a ranch in Fort Collins, Colorado. Elvira’s health was not good at this time, but she thought that the change of climate might be helpful. While in Colorado, she ventured into the mountains for campouts of three or four days with her sons and returned in good spirits believing that the adventure had much improved her body and her spirits. Her letters to friends reflected her joy in anticipating trips and also in returning from them.

In 1876, Elvira’s mother, Roccena Norris, died a painful death following a long illness, and the next year, 1877, her aunt, Mrs. Blackmon, who had been a second mother to the Follett children and lived with them, also died. Unfortunately Elvira’s health was on a decline and she spent less and less time at her own beloved home, which she refused to move from, and more of it with her children in Grand Rapids, Detroit, and even Kansas, but she returned to her home on River Street to live out her last days.

Even though she was an invalid, suffering with pain, the last four years of her life were blessed. Her children and grandchildren often came to stay with her, and her River Street mansion again came alive with lively conversation and children’s laughter and games. She continued to enjoy reading, learning, and reflecting on her well-lived life. Thinking that death was near, all of her children were summoned to their childhood home on River Street in late summer, 1884. However Elvira seemed to have rallied from the visit and they left back to their own homes. Shortly after that, Elvira caught a chill and died on September 10, 1884. She was 63 years old. After a well-attended viewing at the home and funeral at St. Luke’s, her brother Lyman so eloquently stated “The weary, pain racked body was laid to rest beside that of the husband of her youth, in beautiful ‘Highland Cemetery’, which now crowns the hill that overlooks the valley of the Huron, and where in the month of June, 1828, she and her mother caught the first glimpse of the home they afterwards came to know and love for almost half a century.” Elvira returned to River Street to rest for eternity.

And what of the beautiful mansion that was once the crown jewel of Ypsilanti? Part of it still remains, a shadow of the glory that it once was. The “gymnasium” of the Benjamin Follett estate on River Street was purchased in 1861 by Charles Woodard and moved to 301 Grove Street. He converted it to a residence and added a two story wing in 1863. The Woodard family lived in the home for almost a century. Unfortunately, the home and property were on a decline when purchased in 1980 by Joseph Mattimoe and Henry Prebys who have lovingly restored, improved, and turned the homes and gardens into another east side showplace. The barn had burned down, and after the death of Elvira, the house and garden were untended. In 1904, Shelly Hutchinson, who had grown up across the street from it, purchased the home and land to use for gardens to glorify the mansion that he was having built on River Street between Forest and Oak Street.

Though the Follett mansion is gone, the legacy of Benjamin and Elvira Norris Follett lives on in other structures - the Follett and Masonic Blocks are an integral part of Depot Town. Take a walk down Cross Street in Depot Town and feel their presence in the love, vitality, and hope that this generous couple bequeathed to Ypsilanti, Michigan.

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

Photo Captions:

Photo 1: The Follett residence as featured in the Washtenaw County Plat Map publication in 1856 and 1864.

Photo 2: Mark Norris Follett (named for his grandfather) who died at six years old.

Photo 3: The Follett House c1870.

Photo 4: Nathan Follett

Photo 5: The Follett Residence c1870.

Photo 6: The “gymnasium” of the Benjamin Follett estate on River Street was purchased in 1861 by Charles Woodard and moved to 301 Grove Street. He converted it to a residence and added a two story wing in 1863.

Photo 7: East Cross Street looking west c1859. The Follett Block is on the right side of the street.

Photo 8: Benjamin Follett.

Photo 9: (left to right) Mrs. Mark Norris, Mrs. Benjamin Follett, Lucy Uhl and Mrs. Ed. Uhl.

The Damoose Family In Ypsilanti

Published In:
Ypsilanti Gleanings
Original Images:

Author: Alvin E. Rudisill

The City of Ypsilanti launched a new form of government in 1947 when Naseeb G. Damoose was hired as the first City Manager. Damoose had been recruited from the City of Battle Creek where he had served as Director of Public Works and City Engineer.

According to a report from that time Damoose’s duties as City Manager in Ypsilanti would include: “insuring enforcement of laws and ordinances; supervising and managing all city utilities, public improvements and other facilities; preparing and administering the city budget; making recommendations to the City Council for adoptions of such measures as he deems necessary; acting as centralized purchasing agent for the city and personnel director for all city employees. He is also responsible for the operation of Beyer Hospital with specific responsibilities delegated to a hospital manager through a Board of Trustees.”

Damoose was 44 years old at the time he became Ypsilanti’s City Manager, was married and had three children, Marcia, Mary Lynne and John. His wife Camillia (Boone) Damoose was a descendant of the famed pioneer, Daniel Boone. Damoose had graduated from Central High School in Battle Creek in 1918 and from the University of Michigan in 1925 with a degree in Engineering. Later he attended Michigan State University and received a certificate in Bacteriology and Advanced Sanitary Engineering. In 1953 Damoose was presented with a Distinguished Alumni Award from the University of Michigan - College of Engineering.

His starting salary in Ypsilanti as City Manager was $8,000 per year. Damoose served as Ypsilanti’s City Manager from 1947 to 1955 when he accepted the position of City Manager for Traverse City. He had been a very popular and effective City Manager in Ypsilanti and the following resolution was passed by the Ypsilanti City Council upon receipt of his resignation:


Whereas, N. G. Damoose has accepted the office of City Manager of Traverse City, Michigan, and therefore tendered his resignation as City Manager, City Engineer and Purchasing Agent of the City of Ypsilanti, and

Whereas, he has been an outstanding city official for eight and one-half years and his efforts on behalf of the City of Ypsilanti have made a great contribution to the betterment of the entire community and its citizens; and

Whereas, through his diligent and conscientious efforts a substantial reduction in City Tax Rate was realized in addition to accomplishing a vast and much needed street improvement program and expansion of municipal services; and

Whereas, through his professional leadership he has brought honor and esteem to our official city family; and

Whereas, the welfare of his city has always been paramount to his mind – thus being an inspiration to not only his fellow workers, but his fellow citizens as well,

Now, therefore, be it resolved that, we officially record the gratitude and appreciation of the City Council and the entire community for the excellent and valued services rendered by N. G. Damoose for the past eight and one-half years and wish him and his family God-speed in their future endeavors.

Further, that a copy of this resolution be forwarded to the City of Traverse City, Michigan.


Damoose served as the City Manager of Traverse City from 1955 until 1964 when he accepted the City Manager’s position in Battle Creek. Upon his departure from Traverse City the City Council developed a booklet listing his accomplishments during his tenure as City Manager there. The booklet contained 107 specific projects that had been completed under his leadership.

“Ance” Damoose died unexpectedly in 1967 from an apparent heart attack. He was 65 at the time and still held the position of City Manager of the City of Battle Creek. His wife Camilla had gone to visit her mother in the hospital and when she returned home she found “Ance” unresponsive in a chair in the living room. He had suffered a minor heart attack three years earlier but had fully recovered and returned to his job just three weeks later.

In 1969 a wishing well was dedicated in Traverse City Clinch Park in memory of N. G. “Ance” Damoose. Funds to construct the well were raised by friends of the Damoose family and contributions thrown into the well serve as a living memorial, with funds going to improvements for Clinch Park and the Traverse City Zoo. The plaque on the wishing well reads, “In memory of dedicated and dynamic city manager “Ance”Damoose.”

“Ance” was very proud of his heritage. His parents came to the United States from Syria in 1900. He was one of five children and was the first in the Damoose family to graduate from college. He was also very proud of his three children who all earned college degrees; Marcia with a Bachelor’s Degree from Eastern Michigan University, Mary Lynne with Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees from the University of Michigan, and John with a Bachelor’s Degree from the University of Michigan and a Master’s Degree from Columbia University. Marcia remained in Ypsilanti and became a community leader in a wide variety of organizations. Mary Lynne became a leader in the Shaker Heights Schools program that has been widely emulated all over the United States and John’s career was with the automotive industry. He was brought to Chrysler from Ford Motor Company by Lee Iacocca and was Vice President of Marketing.

After “Ance” Damoose passed away, his wife Camilla moved back to Ypsilanti to be near her daughter Marcia (Damoose) Harrison and her son John who was a senior at the University of Michigan. Before her marriage, Camilla Damoose spent summers in stock theaters and taught drama to a wide variety of students. She had graduated from the Northwestern University School of Speech and played opposite stars like Miriam Hopkins, Joe E. Brown and Margaret O’Brian in stock companies throughout the United States. She toured with Chautauqua and taught acting at Interlochen. When she first moved to Ypsilanti she found that the Ypsilanti Civic Players group started by D. L. Quirk had declined. She reestablished the group and remained active in their activities for ten years. She was active in many Ypsilanti groups and became involved in activities such as directing the Beyer Hospital Auxiliary in a Christmas Tea Skit. She was a member of the Ladies Literary Club and each year produced a play for Drama Day using members as actors. Camilla passed away in 1992 at the age of 86 from Alzheimer’s complications.

Marcia (Damoose) Harrison has been a resident of Ypsilanti since she was ten years old. She received her Bachelor’s Degree from Eastern Michigan University. She held a variety of jobs at Cleary College, Washtenaw Community College, Wilson Learning Corporation and Eastern Michigan University. In addition, she has served on many volunteer boards including the Ypsilanti Board of Education, Washtenaw Community College Board of Trustees, Ann Arbor Convention and Visitors Bureau, Chamber of Commerce, PCHA Board of Directors, Gilbert Residence, Citizens Bank and the Heritage Festival.

In a 1988 article in the Ann Arbor News, Sioux Shelton of the Breakaway Travel Agency is quoted as follows: “Marcia is the most dedicated volunteer that I have ever, ever seen, and I’ve known many, many volunteers. She absolutely doesn’t know how to say no. She’s wonderful and you can depend on her. She’s done everything.”

In 1991, while Marcia served as the Director of the EMU Corporate Education Center, the Ypsilanti Chamber of Commerce selected her to receive the 1991 Distinguished Service Award. A community profile in the Ann Arbor News indicated that “While Marcia has enjoyed her commitment to historic, education, political and service oriented groups, her first and greatest joy comes from her relationship with her three sons John, Tom and Scott, her “Greatest Accomplishments.”

Marcia’s sons John, Tom and Scott grew up in Ypsilanti, attended Ypsilanti public schools and graduated from Ypsilanti High School. John, the oldest of the three graduated from the University of Michigan and became a fighter pilot in the United States Air Force. He is now a pilot with Delta Airlines. Scott graduated from Purdue University and is a Senior Account Director at TMV Group, an advertising agency in Royal Oak, Michigan. Tom received a Bachelor’s Degree from Michigan State University and an MBA from the University of Michigan. In 2005, after living and traveling abroad as the Managing Director of Carhartt Europe, he became CEO of the Michigan Ladder Company. The Depot Town location of the Ladder Company dates back to 1901. Tom took over the leadership of the Ladder Company when Robert Nissly, a member of the family that owned the company since the early 1920s, decided to retire. Although the company still builds the traditional wooden ladders they have expanded the business and are producing fiberglass ladders in addition to other products. Marcia volunteers daily and Tom’s wife Gina, serves as the Marketing Director for the company. Thus the family tradition of Michigan Ladder continues.

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

Photo Captions:

Photo 1: Naseeb G. “Ance” Damoose served for 7 ½ years, beginning in 1947, as Ypsilanti’s first City Manager. Here he is shown in 1950 checking out the new voting machines.

Photo 2: An Ypsilanti City Hall meeting in 1950: (left to right) Robert Fink, Doris Milliman, Creston Meyers, Ance Damoose (City Manager), Daniel Quirk (Mayor), George Weins (City Attorney), Fred Greenstreet, Amos Washington and Carl Sheffler.

Photo 3: Ypsilanti City Manager “Ance” Damoose with his wife Camilia (center) and Betty Fenker (right) who served as Ypsilanti City Clerk.

Photo 4: “Ance” Damoose served as the City Manager in Traverse City from 1956 to 1964. In 1969 a Wishing Well was dedicated to his memory in Clinch Park. (L to R) Traverse City Mayor Nick J. Rajkovich, John Damoose (son of Ance Damoose), Camilia Damoose (widow of Ance Damoose) and Traverse City Commissioner A. R. Jacobs.

Photo 5: Marcia (Damoose) Harrison was awarded a Distinguished Service Award in 1991 by the Ypsilanti Area Chamber of Commerce for her dedicated involvement in community groups and projects.

Photo 6: This is an aerial view of the Michigan Ladder Company (within the outline) in July of 1965 with Motor Wheel Corporation in full operation across Forest Avenue.

Photo 7: The Michigan Ladder Company is owned and operated by Tom Harrison.

Case of the Missing Ring

Published In:
Ypsilanti Gleanings
Original Images:

Author: James Mann

On a pleasant summer evening in 1922, a young couple was saying good-night. Each must have enjoyed the company of the other, as they made a date for the following Saturday evening. Still, there may have been a note of doubt in the air. “I’m afraid you’re fooling,” said George Slanke to Annabelle Morton. “Let me wear your ring until I come, as security.” As she then intended to keep the date, Annabelle let him remove the prized ruby from her finger.

However, Annabelle failed to keep the date, as her “best fellow” came to Ypsilanti that day, and claimed for himself all of her time for the day. Afterward she wrote to George and explained what had happened, but as he did not reply, she wrote again. Annabelle even made two trips to his home in Inkster, but he was not at home each time she arrived. What is a girl to do? Why retain a lawyer, of course.

Annabelle asked Martin Stadtmiller to get her ring back and he obtained a civil warrant from Justice of the Peace D. Z. Curtiss. Then Ypsilanti Police Officer Schneph found George Slanke at his place of employment, the Ford Rouge plant. “Slanke was driving his own car, so the officer placed him in front and they drove tandem to Ypsilanti last evening where Slanke, wearing his fur collared overcoat with his long hair tossed back…denied that he ever had the ring or knew anything about it, while Annabelle, with flashing eyes and flushed cheeks declared he was not telling the truth, the whole truth or anything like the truth,” reported The Daily Ypsilanti Press of Friday, February 23, 1923.

Justice Curtiss set the case for the following Tuesday, February 27, 1923. “Your bail will be $100 for your appearance on that occasion,” pronounced Justice Curtiss. Slanke could not furnish the bond, so Justice Curtiss ordered his car held as security. “I understand,” replied Slanke. “Will you lend me 35 cents to get back to Inkster?” To this request, the Curtiss agreed.

“This security matter case,” added Curtiss, “depends somewhat on whether you were duly authorized by law to take security.”

The following Tuesday George returned to Ypsilanti and tried to prove he was not the man Annabelle had given the ring to. He told the court that she was in the back seat of his car with Otto Capp, while he was driving. Annabelle told the court that it was George she had given the ring too and never saw it again. “Why should Annabelle chase you all over the country, and ask a lawyer to write to you, if she gave her ring to another fellow?” asked Justice Curtiss. As George was unable to answer the question, Justice Curtiss fined him $35 and costs. The total was $52.65.

George was not happy with the conclusion of the case, and Curtiss had to make it clear to him the decision was final. “As George doesn’t draw his bi-monthly income from Henry Ford until a week from Friday, he was given until that date in which to pay up, and in the meantime his car is held in a garage here as security,” noted The Daily Ypsilanti Press of Wednesday, February 28, 1923.

“Why not trade the car for the ring,” suggested Curtiss. “I should say not! I’ll buy her a new ring right away for I can get it on the installment plan, if you’ll let me have my car,” responded George. “I’ll take her to Detroit and let her pick it out.” Martin Stadtmiller, attorney for Annabelle, told the court his client had no intention of going on another date with George, and had no interest in going into the jewelry business either. So George had to do without his car, until he was able to pay the fine and costs. By the way, George did pay back the 35 cents loaned him by Justice Curtiss.

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

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