News from the Fletcher-White Archives

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

Author: Gerry Pety

I have never seen a spring like this one where you need pontoons on your lawn mower to cut your grass! Good golly!

I surely expected that the Archives would have some rain leakage like past years – but not a drop. Jerry and Al should be commended for fixing a problem that has plagued the lower level of the Museum, where we are located, for decades.

When next you come to the Archives, be advised that we have a new member, Ms. Deirdre Fortino, who like her predecessor Derek, is studying with Dr. Ted Ligibel in the graduate program in Historical Preservation at Eastern Michigan University. My only worry was that being of Italian/Irish descent she did not know how to make some of those wonderful Italian nougat candies. Well, we are keeping her anyway as she fits in so well with my talented crew of volunteers here in the Archives. Welcome aboard Dee! (Oh, we are going to BUY Dee an Italian candy cookbook.)

Another improvement at the Archives is our ginormous, Minolta 7000, Mk II microfile/microfiche reader with the ability to copy screen images. After having to rely on the Eastern Michigan University Library and the Ypsilanti District Library for years to print out copies of newspaper articles, we now have that capability. The Archives, with an initial gift of $1,000 from Mr. and Mrs. Farmer, was able to raise the funds to purchase this massive mo-chine. Special thanks go to George Ridenour, who assisted Mr. and Mrs. Farmer with their research, and Marcia McCrary who helped organize a campaign to raise the funds, and to all the contributors who made this important addition to our Archives capabilities possible.

And finally, remember this, when the temperatures this summer go up and up, we are here in cool comfort, ready to assist you with any research you might be doing in anything Ypsilanti.

Ypsilanti History Test Answers

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

Author: Peter Fletcher

(Answers for the test)

1. “…when you vote for J. Don Lawrence” who was running in 1963 as a Con-Con (Constitutional Convention) delegate.
2. Timothy J. McBride.
3. A letter of congratulations and best wishes requested from the President was delayed as they had never had a request for recognition of a 75th anniversary and they thought it must be an error. The truth was discovered in time and the letter arrived from President Bush with a day to spare.
4. William C. Martin.
5. First Methodist Episcopal Church, Ypsilanti Historical Museum, Ypsilanti Water Tower, Prospect Park, First Presbyterian Church, Library on Michigan (Elijah McCoy), and Michigan Avenue (Michigans Interurban).
6. Henry Ford had clout and got a State Police Post near each of his early plants.
7. The Gilbert Residence stands on the site of the Swift house, one of the grand homes of Ypsilanti. For many years it was the home of Helen Swift, and then her daughter Harriet. The Swift house was demolished to make room for the Gilbert Residence. What is not well known is the fact the Swift house was once a treatment center for alcoholics.
8. Ada E. Homes.
9. Michigan Avenue is mislabeled and Beyer Hospital is still shown as being open in Ypsilanti.
10. For eight years while on the Board of the Bank of Ann Arbor he heard fellow directors Richard Robb, Cynthia Wilbanks, and Peter Fletcher explain these wonders.
11. Palmyra and Waterville.
12. The R.R. stood for Rural Route.
13. She made her students memorize the French National Anthem.
14. Pianos.
15. Harry Bennett writing about his history with the original Henry Ford.
16. The Ypsilanti Press, Richardson Pharmacy and Michigan Ladder.
17. All burned down at separate times.
18. 10,000 pieces of mail were deposited the night before with big red letters saying “Rommey for Governor.” You can earn extra credit if you can name the trickster.
19. “In the school house on the corner, study students all the time, ancient history and dead Latin, Spanish, French not all in rhyme, or the students, oh the students, etc. etc.
20. Bert Lahr spent the summer here performing in the Greek Theater.

Ypsilanti History – It’s a Test!

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

Author: Peter Fletcher

1. Complete the political phrase “Good things come in torrents…” which was used in a 1963 local election.
2. Identify the prominent 1983 graduate of Eastern Michigan University who went on to become the personal aide to George H. W. Bush.
3. What glitch developed when the First United Methodist Church wanted to celebrate the 75th wedding anniversary of Mr. and Mrs. Courtland Snidecor?
4. Name the prominent Ann Arbor real estate investor and Athletic Director Emeritus of the University of Michigan who still brags about the fact that his first successful real estate venture took place in Ypsilanti.
5. Where are the State of Michigan Historic Markers located in Ypsilanti?
6. Why was Ypsilanti the site of an early Michigan State Police post?
7. Who was the owner of the grand old house located at 203 South Huron Street, current site of the Gilbert Residence?
8. Name the Ypsilanti native who worked for the Michigan Central Railroad, then for Dr. Gerald Spears, then the Credit Bureau of Ypsilanti, retired at age 85, and lived to be 100 years old.
9. Because Ypsilanti no longer has an effective voice on the Michigan State Transportation Commission what errors are on the current State Highway map?
10. Why does Governor Rick Snyder have more than average knowledge on the wonders of Ypsilanti?
11. What names were considered for our community prior to selecting “Ypsilanti?”
12. Many early country farm mailing addresses had an “R.R.” number. Explain.
13. Why can anyone who had Frances Lister for High School French sing along as “The Marseillaise” is performed during the classic movie “Casablanca?”
14. Carrie Chadwick had a retail store at 402 East Michigan Avenue. What did she buy and sell?
15. Who was the local author of “We Never Called Him Henry” and which Henry was the subject?
16. What local businesses were nicknamed “The Ypsi Gyp,” “The Pill Pusher,” and “The Whittling Works?”
17. What did the Masonic Temple, the Ypsilanti Press, the First Baptist Church and the Dixie Shop have in common?
18. What political trick was played on local Democrats when they showed up to dedicate the new post office at 106 South Adams Street?
19. How many verses do you remember of the old comedy song enjoyed by Ypsi High students to the tune of “My Darling Clementine?”
20. Explain the Ypsilanti connection to the cowardly lion in the “Wizard of Oz” movie.

A kind word about this effort is always welcome. Complaints need to be constructive or will be discarded.

Check your answers.

(Peter Fletcher is the President of the Credit Bureau of Ypsilanti and is widely known for his inspirational speeches.)

Community Groups Focused on History

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

Author: Jane Schmiedeke

Ypsilanti has always been a town strongly interested in its history. It’s not surprising, then, that there are several history-related organizations functioning in the community.

Three separate community groups are associated with the history of Ypsilanti: the Ypsilanti Historical Society, the Ypsilanti Heritage Foundation, and the Ypsilanti Historic District Commission. Perhaps the following will help clear up the confusion which often exists about the nature of these groups and what role each plays in our community.

The Ypsilanti Historical Society is a membership organization, open to all interested persons. The Society’s focus is on Ypsilanti history in terms of people and events. Founded in 1965, the Historical Society operates the Historical Museum and Archives and gathers facts and artifacts related to Ypsilanti history. Ypsilanti was fortunate, for some time, to have had a City Historian. In the 1950s, Ypsilanti City Council created the position of City Historian, a position which was filled first by Louis White, then by Foster Fletcher, then by Doris Milliman, and then by James Mann. The City Historian had the duty to collect and preserve items of historical interest to the Ypsilanti area. The Historical Museum collections were first housed in the old Quirk mansion at 206 North Huron, later moved to the basement of the building on Michigan Avenue which is now the downtown branch of the Ypsilanti District Library and, in 1970, moved into the City-owned historic house at 220 North Huron Street. In 2006, the Historical Society bought the building from the City. The Archives, located in the lower level of the Museum, is an extremely valuable resource, containing pictures and information on significant persons, buildings, and events in Ypsilanti history. The Ypsilanti Historical Society publishes a quarterly publication called the Gleanings. For more information, visit the Museum and Archives at 220 North Huron or call 482-4990.

The Ypsilanti Heritage Foundation is also a membership organization, open to all interested persons. Its focus is on Ypsilanti history in terms of buildings - in other words, historic preservation. The Foundation was formed in 1974 to encourage the preservation of historic structures in Ypsilanti by educating the community to the beauty and continued use of Ypsilanti's rich variety of such buildings. The Foundation is responsible for the "Historic Structure" markers on many of our buildings and for bi-monthly educational programs concerning historic preservation. The Foundation's major fund raiser is the annual Historic Home Tour, held during Heritage Festival each August.

The Historic District Commission is a City administrative agency created by City Council in 1978 to administer the Historic District Ordinance. The Commission is composed of seven members, appointed by the Mayor with the concurrence of City Council. The Commission meets twice a month to review all applications for building permits in the Historic District for work which will have an exterior effect. No work can begin until it has been approved by the Commission. All Commission members must be residents of Ypsilanti. The majority of them have their own homes in the Historic District.

Each of these history-related organizations makes unique and significant contributions to the preservation of Ypsilanti history. Together, their work assures that our past will always be part of our future.

(Jane Schmiedeke wrote the historic district ordinance for the City of Ypsilanti that led to the establishment of the Historic District in 1978. She currently serves as the chair of the Historic District Commission and is on the Advisory Board for the YHS Archives. In 1974 she was the co-founder of the Ypsilanti Heritage Foundation.)

Photo Captions:

Photo 1: The Ypsilanti Historical Society owns and operates the Museum and Archives located at 220 North Huron Street.

Photo 2: The Ypsilanti Heritage Foundation is responsible for the “Historic Structure” markers and for bi-monthly educational programs concerning historical preservation.

Photo 3: The Historic District Commission is responsible for the administration of the Historic District Ordinance. The Commission meets twice a month to review applications for building permits in the Historic District.

The Bomber Restaurant

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

Spring 2011

Author: James Mann

There are places that seem to have always been around, that warm comfortable chair, the never changing view out the window and the people who always give a greeting when someone enters the door. One such place is the Bomber Restaurant at 306 East Michigan Avenue which seems the same, but has changed over the years.

Florence Baldwin opened her restaurant in 1936, and called it the Baldwin Diner. Florence had just separated from her husband and opened her diner to compete with his Averill’s Diner just down the block (Note: see Lost Restaurants of Ypsilanti article in Fall – 2010 issue of the Gleanings). Back then the Baldwin Diner was the quintessential diner, with the big horseshoe shaped counter at the back, and the cooks used a coal burner. Those were the days when a hot beef sandwich was 15 cents and a pork chop dinner was 25 cents.

Then came the years of the Second World War when the bomber plant opened at Willow Run, where Ford built the B-24 Liberator Bomber. To operate the plant, Ford brought in workers from Kentucky and Tennessee. Ypsilanti changed from a sleepy college town to a factory town seemingly over night. Florence changed the name of her diner to the Bomber and made the out of state workers feel welcomed. She added to the menu items that would appeal to the workers, such as beans with cornbread, red-eye gravy and Southern-style grits. On the window was the image of a fighter plane, with unlikely shaped wings. The Bomber was filled with hungry workers at all hours of the day and night. She kept the place running in spite of war time rationing.

After the war Florence’s son Yale “Red” Averill joined his mother in the business as a partner. Florence retired in 1976 and died in 1978. Red Averill sold the business in 1976. The new owners renamed the business Bob’s Bar B-Q.

The restaurant was purchased in November of 1989 by Joseph Nellis, a local pharmacist. He hung a sign in the window: “The Bomber is Back.” Nellis restored the name and began to remodel the interior on a World War II theme. The decorating included flags and photographs from the war years.

Then on December 21, 1989, just weeks after Nellis purchased the business, the building was gutted by fire. The restaurant had opened at 5:00 am that morning. The deep fryer started to emit smoke and was turned off, but the switch failed to work, and smoke continued to emit from the fryer. The fire was doused with a fire extinguisher, and the fire would seem to go out for a few minutes and then flame up again. Unable to contain the blaze, the flames spread from the kitchen.

Traffic on Michigan Ave. was rerouted for several hours because of the fire. Firefighters had trouble staying on their feet, as water sprayed on the fire turned to ice in the below-zero cold. The loss to the fire was estimated at $100,000.

The Bomber reopened after repairs were completed and improvements made to the building. The once narrow space was now wider and more open. Tables no longer had one leg shorter than the others, and new booths replaced the ones destroyed in the fire. The place ended up with pink walls, a Kelly green carpet, flowers on the tables and big wooden spindle-backed armchairs at the tables and counter. The regulars came back and new patrons came in the door.

Johanna McCoy and John Sebestyen purchased the Bomber in 1995, and continued the use of the name and the history. They painted the walls, hung new curtains, installed a new ceiling and made changes to the menu. In keeping with the 1940’s theme, patrons began bringing in model airplanes of the war years, as well as photographs of B-24’s, Willow Village, as well as other items, including uniforms and a hand grenade. The model planes now hang from the ceiling in simulated flight above the tables. On the walls are the photographs, rifles, posters and other items.

The Bomber restaurant made history of its own in 2003, when the Food Network showcased the Bomber Breakfast on a program about over the top portions. The Bomber Breakfast includes four eggs, a pound of potatoes and a pound of meat. This is the perfect meal to share with friends.

Today the Bomber is a part of the lives of those who stop in for breakfast or lunch, and many have been doing so for years. The regulars come in and expect to sit in the same chair in the same spot every time. There are the coffee groups who come in and sit at one of the tables to sip coffee and talk. The place has become a part of the personal history of the patrons. The Bomber will continue to have a history for as long as those patrons come for the coffee, the food and the company.

John Sebestyen, co-owner of The Bomber, died on January 26, 2011. All his friends from The Bomber miss him. Johanna McCoy, who co-owned and managed The Bomber, with John still runs the restaurant. The history of The Bomber continues.

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

Photo Captions:

Photo 1: The front window of the Bomber Restaurant shortly after Florence Baldwin changed the name from the Baldwin Diner.

Photo 2: After World War II Florence Baldwin’s son Yale “Red” Averill joined his mother in the business as a partner.

Photo 3: John Sebestyen was co-owner of The Bomber beginning in 1995 until his death on January 26, 2011.

Two killed by Interurban

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

Spring 2011

Author: James Mann

Over time our means of transportation have improved so everyone can go further and faster than previous generations. Modes of transport have moved from the ox cart and horse to the car and airplane. One means of travel during this transition was the Interurban, a kind of trolley car or street railroad, powered by electricity. These electric cars traveled between the cities of Michigan and other states from the early 1890’s to the late 1920’s. The Interurban provided the comfort of a railroad passenger car for the short distance between cities such as Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor. One unfortunate result of this improved transport were the accidents which sometimes occurred, and the deaths that resulted. One such fatal accident occurred on the night of Wednesday, April 6, 1904, between Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor.

On the evening of April 6, 1904, Edna Thumm, who was employed by a hospital in Ann Arbor, went by Interurban to Ypsilanti for a visit. She was the daughter of Edward and Louisa Thumm, who lived just east of the city. The family may not have known she was in Ypsilanti that evening as it is likely she came to see Frank McCoy. How well Edna and Frank knew each other is not known, as they most likely kept their friendship secret because of the racial attitudes of the day. Edna was white and Frank was African-American.

Frank McCoy, who was better known as “Rass,” was a well known character in Ypsilanti, and was the brother of Elijah McCoy the famous African-American inventor. Frank had a reckless nature and enjoyed taking a chance. He was employed as a chauffeur by Andrew Beyer, a multimillionaire who divided his time between Ypsilanti and Pittsburg. McCoy was moderate in his speed when Beyer was his passenger, but would race through the streets when alone. Beyer paid McCoy good wages for his position, and McCoy was said to have been the beau of African-American society in Ypsilanti.

For the ride back to Ann Arbor the couple was not in a car but were riding in a horse drawn carriage. It was a foggy night with limited visibility, making driving a risky act. Just east of Packard and Carpenter the horse stepped onto the track of the Interurban in front of the oncoming car. One account of the accident suggested Frank McCoy got lost in the thick fog, while another supposed the horse became frightened by the car and became unmanageable. In either case, the motorman of the electric car did not see the carriage until the car was almost upon it. The carriage was smashed to kindling wood, scarcely a whole spoke was found, but the horse was unharmed.

“The car was stopped”, reported The Ann Arbor Daily Times of Thursday, April 7, 1909, “and the crew went back to the place of the accident. McCoy’s body was found lying on the south side of the track with his legs across the rails and almost completely severed from the body. His right arm was broken and his head was badly smashed in and he was a frightful looking object.” “As there was no sign of life,” continued the account, “the body was left and Undertaker A. R. McAndrew of this city went out and brought the body to the undertaking rooms of Mack & Mack.”

Edna Thumm had a cut in front of the right ear and another behind the ear, each as deep as the skull. The ear was cut through in several places and there was a severe cut on the top of her head. “The girl’s injuries were internal and her case was seen to be hopeless from the first,” noted The Ann Arbor Daily Argus of Thursday, April 7, 1904. “The seats in the car were arranged into a couch,” reported The Ypsilanti Evening Press of Thursday, April 7, 1904, “and on this Thumm rested until Ypsilanti was reached, where she was taken into the waiting room. Doctors were quickly telephoned for, and her wounds were dressed as well as possible. Later a car was procured and she was taken to her home, one mile east of the city on a cot, where the injuries were again dressed, and she was made as comfortable as possible.”

As she lay moaning in pain, a member of the family asked: “Who were you with?” “A good and true friend,” was her answer, The Ann Arbor Daily Argus would report: “In the carriage were found several bottles of champagne.”

Edna Thumm died at 4 o’clock in the morning of Thursday, April 7, 1904. “The direct cause of her death was,” reported The Ypsilanti Evening Press, “however, probably due to suffocation from the blood which ran into her left lung, which was badly torn from a broken rib. There were also several abdominal injuries, among which was a severe tearing of the intestines, which would have produced death in a short time had not the other injuries been fatal.”

An inquest into the accident was held on Tuesday, April 12, 1904. At the inquest Motorman Beeman testified that he was running about twelve minutes late and was running at a speed of not more than thirty miles an hour. “Then, when he saw the obstruction,” reported The Ypsilanti Evening Press of Tuesday, April 12, 1904, “which was squarely across the track, he reversed his car and did all in his power to stop it, but it was impossible to stop under three or four hundred feet.”

The jury returned a verdict that no blame was attached to anyone for the accident.

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

Photo Captions:

Photo 1: Edna Thumm died on April 7, 1904 from injuries suffered from an accident between a horse and carriage and the Interurban Railroad.

City Council Budget Battles of the 1920s

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

Spring 2011

Author: Laura Bien

It is wise to choose one’s battles. For one hard-headed 1920 Ypsilanti alderman, the hill he chose to die on was a hill of toilet paper.

In that time, the city was halfway between old-time days and the modern age. Less than a third of its 7,400 residents had telephones. The Ypsi’ phone directory was nine pages long. Due to a limited supply of electricity, many city factories deferred working hours to the night time. And an ongoing “sanitary sewer” project, viewed as a progressive upgrade from noisome urban septic tanks and privies, emptied directly into the Huron River.

Issues before the city council reflected this time of transition. At its October 4, 1920, meeting the council weighed the street commissioner’s bill for oats for his horse. The bill had been carried over from a previous council meeting that had struggled but failed to resolve the issue of the horse’s feed.

One alderman was fed up. “Alderman Worden said he had bought oats about the same time for 85 cents a bushel, while the charge for oats in this bill was $1.35,” reported the October 5, 1920 Daily Ypsilanti-Press. “Profound silence on the part of the other aldermen. Finally it was moved that the bill be paid, and the vote was 9 to 1 in favor.”

Local gardener Frank P. Worden did not approve. A veteran city office-holder and recent candidate for mayor, he took a dim view of those who sought political perks. When at the same council meeting the Third Ward election inspectors submitted a bill for election-day refreshments, Worden bristled.

“The amount involved was $2.35 (the equivalent of $25 today) - just the kind of bill that the council had heretofore paid without a murmur,” noted the paper. “But this particular bill was strenuously objected to by Alderman Worden: “The inspectors get $10 ($106 today) a day; let them pay for their own lunches,’ he said.” The other aldermen conceded, and voted it down.

Another bill was submitted for $500 ($5,300) of park improvements despite an emptied parks fund, said the paper. “‘When a fund is exhausted how can a bill be paid?’ asked Alderman Worden. “Nobody has any authority in the charter to pay such a bill.” His colleagues disagreed and approved the expense.

Worden had been overridden on the questions of parks and oats. He wasn’t pleased. The next bill before council kicked off a two-month saga, led by Worden, that involved one of the city’s most popular and prestigious charities.

Members of the Patriotic Service League included many of the city’s most prominent citizens. The group raised money for wartime charity drives and opened a downtown employment office for returning World War soldiers. The P.S.L. raised funds for the erection of a war memorial plaque, visible today on the southwest side of Cross Street Bridge.

The P.S.L. also sought to refine civic life. In the spring of 1919, the group opened a municipal “Rest Room” at 29 North Huron, on the west side of the street just north of Michigan Avenue. The two-story facility offered an elegant yet comfortable parlor with easy chairs, tables of magazines to peruse, a telephone, and a writing desk with complimentary stationery. Another room contained a fainting-couch and basic medical supplies. The Rest Room also had several conference rooms and large and elegant bathrooms. An on-site matron presided over the Rest Room and welcomed downtown shoppers wearied from their labors.

The P.S.L. had originally split the cost of the Rest Room with the city, with the agreement that after a year, the city would assume all expenses. The city had a different understanding, claiming that the 50-50 split was permanent and all it had budgeted for, for the current fiscal year. At the October 4 council meeting, former mayor Lee Brown spoke up for the P.S.L., lauding its work and claiming that the city should henceforth pay the total cost of the Rest Room. Dissent arose. “Something like 15 minutes were occupied in hearing objections to paying incidental bills connected with the Rest Room, of which toilet paper was an item,” said the paper. The issue was tabled.

At the next council meeting on October 18, the battle continued. “Just who will pay for the toilet paper for the Rest Room is still undecided,” said the Press. “‘I don’t see how the city can pay for the Rest Room,’ said Alderman Worden [that] night to Mrs. Brown and Mrs. Quirk, who represented the Patriotic Service League and brought the minutes of their organization with them to show that they had not promised to help support the Rest Room this year, though they had set aside $300 for that purpose.”

Worden did not back down. By December, the issue still wasn’t settled. “What to do with the Rest Room again came before the council,” said the December 7th Press. “Unless some action is taken soon, the rest room will have to be closed up, for the appropriation is about exhausted.

“It was referred to the Rest Room Committee who will meet the officers of the Patriotic Service League and see if some plan cannot be evolved to keep the room open.”

The issue vanished from subsequent Council proceedings as reported in the paper, suggesting that the P.S.L. quietly yielded to the Rest Room Committee’s strictures. If so, Worden’s stubbornness had paid off.

But the Rest Room’s days were numbered. By 1927, it had moved across the street and designated some of its space as an office for city social worker Inez Graves. Shortly thereafter, the Rest Room closed. The local police force took over the spot as a downtown station.

Gone was the fatigued shopper’s elegant alighting-spot.

(Laura Bien is a local writer, a volunteer in the YHS Archives, and a regular contributor to the Gleanings.)

Photo Captions:

Photo 1: The original rest room stood on the west side of Huron just north of Michigan Avenue.

Photo 2: Later, the rest room moved across the street to 56 North Huron Street and was renamed the “Comfort Station."

Photo 3: In 1941 the former “Comfort Station” at 56 North Huron Street was used for a Police Station.

Photo 4: In the early 1980s Douglas Spicer, Attorney at Law, used 56 North Huron Street for his office.

Ypsilanti History – It’s a Test!

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

Spring 2011

Author: Peter Fletcher

  1. During the 1940’s a group of teen age boys were treated to a free movie at the Wuerth Theatre every six months. Why?
  2. What did these women have in common in the 1940’s? Mabel Freeman, Hazel Milks, Irene Ungrodt, Esther Sturm, Nora O’Connor and France Young?
  3. In World War II what was the major duty of the volunteer air raid wardens when night time air raids were staged:
  4. Name the prominent Ypsilantian who is a direct descendant of General Robert E. Lee?
  5. List the three daily Detroit papers of the 1940’s that were circulated here.
  6. Dr. O. Ray Yoder, Superintendent of the Ypsilanti State Mental Hospital had a simple theory on human mental health. What was it?
  7. Many early family diaries and letters referred to frequent serving of a dish based on an ingredient not native to this area. What was it?
  8. How many old time auto dealerships can you list and locate where no dealership exists today?
  9. Between 1858 and 1867 Chauncey Joslin, Arden Ballard, Parmenio Davis, Benjamin Follett, Edgar Bogordus and David Edwards began what tradition continuing to this day?
  10. A flexible metal red letter sign 8” x 15” reading “Sorry, Last Car” resurfaced from the 1920’s. To what is it referring?
  11. How many long ago closed Ypsilanti Auto dealerships can you name and where were they located?
  12. Downtown Michigan Avenue had many gas stations. How many can you name?
  13. What was the original name of the Ypsilanti Public Schools?
  14. In the late 1930’s a town character moved about with an unusual form of locomotion performing what service and known by what name?
  15. Tell us about the plays and the stars the summer of the Greek Theatre here.
  16. In 1943, 1944 and 1945 what empty public building was used to handle the overflow of grade school pupils the war brought to Ypsilanti?
  17. In 1946 what was the weekly subscription rate for the Ypsilanti Press?
  18. In the days before computers how were report cards presented for High School students?
  19. Explain how telephones worked prior to dials where actual operators were needed for each call.
  20. What should be done with those who question the accuracy of the answers provided for these queries?

Click on this page of this issue to check your answers.

(Peter Fletcher is the President of the Credit Bureau of Ypsilanti and is widely known for his inspirational speeches.)

For the Sake of Progress

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

Spring 2011

Author: Derek Spinei

While Ypsilanti may still boast some of the grandest Victorian homes in Washtenaw County, several more have been lost over the years. Perhaps the most stunning was the spectacular Gothic revival mansion which stood at 502 W. Forest Ave. With its vertical board and batten siding, intricate bargeboard, and imposing tower, it was the crown jewel of Forest Avenue which was at one time lined with impressive homes.

The house was built by Daniel Bushnell Greene, an insurance and real estate agent, and he lived with his son Edward Halmer Greene who was a job printer and manager for the Michigan Bell Company. Daniel was born in Northfield, Vermont in 1817 and settled in Clinton when he first moved to Michigan. Based on tax records, he likely built this stately manor in the 1870s but he and his son had already moved away at the time of Daniel’s death in 1899.

The property never saw an extended period of stability, with most residents staying less than five years. However there were some very notable citizens who called 502 W Forest Steet home. After World War I, Mrs. Bessie L. Priddy, the Dean of Women at Michigan State Normal College, lived there and she was succeeded by MSNC professor Marvin Summers Pittman who was the director of rural education. By the 1950s there were renters living in the house and it had likely lost much of its original architectural charm. Eventually Eastern Michigan University bought the land, which was adjacent to campus, and demolished the house by 1961 to make room for the construction of Sill Hall.

Of course the Greene House was not alone on this street. Many other beautiful homes at one time populated Forest Avenue, but were eventually lost. This can’t entirely be blamed on shortsighted school administrators of the mid-twentieth century who, like their civic counterparts, blindly equated progress with the wrecking ball. Even into the 1980s, these irreplaceable mansions were being razed by the university, many of which once housed the preeminent faculty of that very institution.

Thorough documentation of these structures may be lacking, but at least we have a visual record of what was, which can serve as a warning to current and future generations to think twice before embracing the new at the expense of the old.

(Derek Spinei is a student in the graduate program in Historical Preservation at EMU and is serving an internship in the YHS Archives.)

Photo Captions:

Photo 1: The Gothic revival mansion that once stood at 502 West Forest Avenue.
Photo 2: The house that once existed at 420 West Forest Avenue.
Photo 3: The house that once existed at 518 West Forest Avenue.
Photo 4: The house that once existed at 730 West Forest Avenue.

Lost Businesses of Ypsilanti….Packers Outlet

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

Spring 2011

Author: Peg Porter

The supermarket is a 20th century development. In the past, those who were not able to grow their own food relied on small grocery stores, and specialty shops such as the butchers or the bakers. In more rural areas the larger towns might have a General Store that sold food, clothing, household implements and almost anything else for which there was a demand. In towns and cities, grocery shopping occurred on almost a daily basis. You took your list to the grocer and waited while the order was filled or you called in your order with delivery as an option.

Selection was limited to what the grocer had in stock on that particular day. Since the icebox was used for storing foods that needed refrigeration, “stocking up” was pretty much limited to items the housewife had managed to preserve. As a result, purchasing and preparing food were time-consuming tasks.

By the late 1930s, Ypsilanti had two supermarkets, an A&P and Packers Outlet, both located on Michigan Avenue; the A & P was on the corner of Grove while Packers stood near the intersection with River Street. Supermarkets would have a significant impact on American life. Less time was needed for marketing, more types of foods became readily available affecting the American diet, and the cost of many goods was reduced.
Ypsilanti’s first two supermarkets had very different origins. The Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company was founded in1859 as a mail order tea and spice business by George Huntington Hartford and George Gilman. The company opened stores along the East Coast to supplement their mail order business. In 1912 John Hartford pushed for the development of an economy store, limited assortment, cash and carry, no frills format. By the early 1930s, A&P had 15,737 stores nationwide including a number in Canada. A&P developed a number of house brands such as Eight O’clock Coffee and Quaker Maid products. Clearly they were the Goliath of the grocery business.

In the meantime, Charles Grosberg, a native of New York who settled in Detroit after his marriage, established a wholesale grocery business. His father-in-law, Joseph Wolf, was a retail grocer. The two businesses merged. A small chain of Wolf Cash Markets was established in and around Detroit, while the wholesale business continued to prosper. The Depression acted as an impetus to create a type of “hybrid” store, a warehouse type food store, self-service, featuring surplus or distressed merchandise from canners, packers and other merchandisers affected by the Depression. Grosberg would soon modify the concept to include national brands, meat and produce at lower prices than the small independent retailers.

Grosberg was an innovator whose marketing strategy would later be adopted by merchants such as Sam Walton. He was ahead of his time in another way: he recycled buildings. He used industrial buildings, automobile showrooms, furniture buildings, and in the case of Ypsilanti, the car barn that once housed the Inter Urban trolleys. He needed at least 5,000 square feet for his operation. Initially planks were laid on sawhorses to hold the cartons of merchandise. Meat and dairy products were sold behind a counter and produce was weighed and packaged by clerks.

My father, Don Porter, was the first manager of the Ypsilanti Packers. Dad had learned the grocery business while working for Lamb’s, a well-established grocer in the heart of downtown. He started out as a delivery boy in his teens and ended up as a junior partner. After he married, it became clear that he needed a position that would bring increased income as well as longer-term potential. An innovator himself, he was a natural to manage this new type of store.

The grocery store shared a parking lot with Miller’s Ice Cream on the corner of Michigan and River. When you entered Packers you faced a row of five or six checkout stands. The meat department was on the left side of the store with produce on the right. There was a loft at the back of the store that served as the manager’s office. The center had aisles of canned and packaged goods.

Eddie Mayfield, the butcher, was a particular favorite of mine. Occasionally, he would come to visit. One time when I was in the front yard he slowed his car as he approached and drove up with two wheels on the margin and two on the street. I found this stunt very funny and asked him to “Drive your car on the sidewalk, Eddie!” Eddie was a bit of a wild and crazy guy but hardworking. Later he would marry one of the checkers.
Dad hired a number of high school and college students to carry out groceries for customers and stock shelves. Some of them went on to become leaders in the community. Vanzetti Hamilton, the late African-American attorney, used to say, “Don Porter gave me a job when no one else would hire me.”

The store held regular promotions. One was for Phillip Morris and featured a visit from Johnny the Bellhop. I had heard Johnny’s “Call for Phillip Morris” on the radio and was excited at the prospect at meeting this “celebrity.” Johnny was a Little Person. I think I knew this but became very shy when I actually went up to meet this man who was about my size.

Charlie Grosberg would come by the store almost every week. Dad got along well with his boss. After a meeting in the store, they would cross the parking lot to Miller’s where Charlie would treat Dad to a dish of ice cream. My father, who was also a skilled carpenter, shared his ideas on shelving and displays with Grosberg. Soon Packers Outlet became Packers Supermarket with Dad acquiring regional responsibilities for layout and shelving of new stores in the growing chain.

The long hours, travel and talk of a pending merger combined with my father’s increasing community involvement brought my Dad’s supermarket career to a close. He went across Michigan Avenue to become a sales manager for Davis Motors. Less than two years later he was named Business Manager for the Ypsilanti Public Schools, a position he held until his retirement. In 1951, Packers merged with another chain to become Wrigley’s Super Markets.

During the 1970s the large, chain supermarkets left Ypsilanti to establish stores outside the city. The city had one small supermarket in the downtown area. The neighborhood “Mom and Pop” stores held on for awhile but eventually most of them closed.

Today, there is a growing demand for food stores in cities. Few of the existing chains have established urban markets. The Ypsilanti Food Coop on River Street reflects this need. Corinne Sirkowski, General Manager, reports that business has more than doubled in the last two. Charlie Grosberg’s innovations (i.e., recycling existing buildings, focusing on meat, produce and groceries, no frills with an emphasis on customer service) seem even more relevant today.

Epilogue: A & P filed for bankruptcy in December 2010.

Sources: 1. A & P’s History (available on the web), and 2. Charles Grosberg: a Supermarket Pioneer, Jewish Historical Society of Michigan, 1985.

(Peg Porter is the Assistant Editor of the Gleanings and regularly contributes articles)

Photo Captions:

Photo 1: An early Ypsilanti grocery store. The pulleys on the right held string or twine to wrap customer’s parcels.

Photo 2: Don Porter’s Roosevelt High School graduation picture. He began work as a delivery boy for Lamb’s Grocery while still in his teens.

Photo 3: An order slip written in Porter’s unique handwriting, a cross between printing and script.

Photo 4: The Ypsilanti car barn that was converted to house Packers Outlet.

Photo 5: Johnny, the voice of “Call for Phillip Morris” visited Packers on a promotional tour.

Photo 6: Packers, 27 East Michigan Avenue, exterior around 1940.

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