Author: Janice Anschuetz
One hundred years ago, anyone in town could point the way to Peckville, straight north on River Street, down two blocks from the train station. Today Peckville exists only in memories, a few scraps of paper and pictures at the Ypsilanti museum archives, an unused street and a few old homes and remnants of buildings.
In September, 1823, when present day Ypsilanti was woods, wilderness, swamps, bugs, wild animals and Indians, Joseph and Sophia Peck and two young sons, Egbert and Erwin, under two years of age, came here from New York on a sailing ship, with high hopes and ambition. They brought with them three head of cattle and a pregnant mare. The trip took longer than expected and a foal was born on board the ship. On the voyage, they had run out of food and water for the livestock and the foal was too weak to stand. The starving cattle had to be helped off the boat. The young family remained in Detroit until the animals were strong enough to travel. The next leg of the journey was by flat boat from Detroit to Snow’s landing at Rawsonville, and then on though the wilderness to the pioneer settlement at Woodruff’s Grove.
Joseph and Sophia built a log cabin and settled on a parcel of land from the middle of the river to what is now Prospect St., East Forest Avenue to what is now Holmes Road. In order to file claim to this land, Joseph had to leave his family and travel through dense woods to Detroit which had the nearest land office. His efforts were rewarded in June of 1825 when he received a parchment patent, signed by President John Quincy Adams. This 85 acre farm was bought for 10 shillings (about $1.25) an acre. By 1836 Joseph and Sophia had replaced their first small cabin with a large farm house, which still stands today at 401 East Forest, and was lived in by their descendants for over 130 years.
The pioneer spirit may have been in Joseph’s genes. His direct ancestor William Peck came from England and was one of the founders, in 1638, of the Colony of New Haven, Connecticut. Joseph was born in East Hayden, Connecticut on August 5, 1790. He was one of the eleven children of Elisha and Olive Peck.
In his son Erwin’s obituary, Joseph is given credit for being the first white man who bought a settlement in Ypsilanti. He was considered a very friendly man and while delivering the mail to Detroit, or going there to pick up supplies, he would often return with strangers interested in settling in Ypsilanti, and offer them his hospitality. In The Story of Ypsilanti, Harvey C. Colburn writes, “The Peck home was a center of hospitality and a cordial welcome was given to all new settlers and travelers coming along. Soon this section was known as “Peckville.” Peck Street, which exists now as the second driveway north of East Forest, on River Street, led to an artesian well which supplied early settlers and travelers with fresh water.
Joseph became the first justice of the peace in this area and served on the first jury in Ann Arbor. He is also credited with building a mill around 1830. He must have been a thrifty person, as were his sons. In the museum archives are several torn off bits of paper with legal records on them such as receipts for the bricks and lumber that built the Peck Street Primary on his property and several other legal agreements written on what we would call scrap paper.
Knowing the importance of education, he built the Peck Street Primary in 1839 on what used to be Peck Street. The brick school house was sold to the 4th Ward School District in 1850 for $40. At that time the school had 99 students. It soon became one of the first “graded” schools in the state. This was a revolutionary concept in education promoted by the Normal College (now Eastern Michigan University). In other words, students were assigned to grades as opposed to working out of a common skill book. In 1858-59, there were 139 pupils enrolled in the Peck Street Primary. This building was outgrown and replaced by the Fourth Ward School at Prospect and Oak Streets. The old Peck School was deeded to an English immigrant, George George, in 1866 and soon was converted into a malt house. The malt house was expanded and then torn down in 1912 and what is now the garage at the Swaine House is what remains of the Peck Street Primary. Several slates and slate pencils have been found in the drive, which was once Peck Street.
Joseph Peck died in Ypsilanti at the age of 59 on February 13, 1849 and was buried in the cemetery where Prospect Park is now and then his remains were removed to Highland Cemetery.
His wife Sophia Churchill Peck (on legal records in Washtenaw County she is “Sophia” but is named Sophara in an 1877 genealogical account of the family) was born in June, 1793 in Salsbury, Connecticut and died at the age of 84 in Ypsilanti, on September 30, 1876. Her mother was born in England and is said by the family to have nursed soldiers at Valley Forge. Her family contends that she is part of a branch of the family of Winston Churchill. She must have been a very impressive woman. A family friend, Florence Babbitt, writes of her “my father always said that if Mrs. Peck had been a man she would have been President of the United States.” (This was written from the Hawkins Hotel in Ypsilanti, March 20, 1929.)
Joseph and Sophia built their log cabin at Peck and River Street, among the Indians and in the woods. It is possible that an old photo shows the original home and barn behind the picture of the Swaine house taken in 1883. The old home there matches the description of where the original log cabin stood. When it was torn down, probably in the1890s, the kitchen addition was moved and attached to the Swaine house where it stands today. An oft repeated family tale helps us picture what the wilderness of what would become Ypsilanti was like in the mid 1820’s. Grandson Dwight Peck relates this story in an interview given over 50 years ago and published in the Ypsilanti Press.
“A large double log house was built for the family on an open sandy lot. Across from this open spot were dense woods. Near the house, in the opening, was a permanent camp of tents belonging to the Potawatomi. They were friendly with the pioneers and often were invited into the kitchen to share the newly baked bread, the fresh butter and the milk. However, the squaws did not care for the butter and wiped it off onto the bare floor. The floors were wide white wood and scrubbed until they shone. Being soft wood, the butter immediately stained it and Mr. Peck found an indignant housewife that evening. He calmed his wife and he, himself, scrubbed and sanded the floors until they were again spotless.
However, despite this, the relationships between the family and the Indians remained friendly and the squaws and children were always welcome. One day, a squaw came in with an exceedingly bright eyed and cute papoose. Mrs. Peck, with two small babies of her own, played with the tiny Indian and laughingly asked the squaw if she would swap babies. Quick as a flash, the Indian gathered up Erwin Peck and ran out the door. The father was immediately called and began the search for his son. He frantically went among the tents and through the woods. The day lengthened. Mrs. Peck found she was not too good at soothing a crying papoose. Finally after hours of searching, and inquiry, small Erwin was found, but it was a difficult matter making the squaw understand that the trade in children could not be permanent.”
Over the years the young family prospered in their new, large home at 401 East Forest. The 10 room house was so large that horses could enter by the front door carrying logs for the large fireplace and then walk out the back door. Egbert, born October 31, 1822 and Erwin, born December 27, 1823 were soon joined by Elizabeth born in 1829, Joseph Herbert, born in 1831 and a sister named Lois. More Peck houses were built on East Forest Ave. to house this growing family but only three of these original homes remain today.
Erwin lived for awhile in the home at 59 East Forest. His brother Egbert, wife Juliet Thayer and their children lived at 52 East Forest, in a home that was torn down about 30 years ago. The Peck home at 117 East Forest actually was moved there from across the street and a Peck family lived in that home for over 60 years. The large homestead built by Joseph and Sophia remains today at 401 East Forest. The kitchen of the Swaine house was once part of the early Peck home on River and Peck Street. Remnants of the Peck Street Primary were converted to a garage in 1912. Peck Street remains as a driveway. Dwight Street is named for Dwight Peck, who was the last remaining Peck, along with his wife, Cora LaForge Peck, to live in the home built by Sophia & Joseph.
Erwin and Egbert and some of their children continued to farm the land and various descendants, including Egbert’s son Dwight, who was the last son to live in the family homestead, followed in their footsteps until the majority of the land was sold to a developer in the early 1920s. After World War II, the Prospect Park Subdivision was built on what once were fields, orchards and grazing land.
There are bits and pieces written about the Peck farm which help us to imagine life in Peckville in the 1900’s. In the Michigan Argus of February 3, 1860 we read of a fire in Depot Town with some of the sparks flying as far as Peckville and starting one of Peck’s barns on fire and destroying it.
Fellow farmer and friend William Lambie refers to E. C. Peck numerous times in his diaries. For example in 1880 “Peck got 20 bushels of corn.” Another entry reads “Went to E. C. Peck barn raising.” In 1883 he writes “July 25 Frank and I went to E. C. Peck he promised to come and harvest,” and then in 1890 “Mrs. L. and I went to old friend E. C. Peck’s funeral.”
The local paper in 1875 published a story which illustrates how important the Peck family and descendants have been to the history of Ypsilanti. On March 1, 1875, at a meeting of the Pioneer Society, “it was proposed that the Pioneer residing longest in the County should carry the flag leading the procession to the Vestry of the Baptist Church in Ypsilanti. Quite a contest sprang up as to whom the honor belonged to. An old gentleman, Benjamin F. Knapp, who states he was at Woodruff’s Grove in 1820 (there was no Woodruff’s Grove until April 1823) claimed the right, but he was only on a Prospecting Tour and never a real resident of the County, and now living at Brownsville, Wayne City. Robert Geddes rightly has that honor…The only persons present at the dinner who had been in Washtenaw County over 50 years were Robert Geddes and E. C. Peck.”
E. C. Peck (Egbert) has left other reminders of his life in various papers in the museum archives. An interesting glimpse of farm life is a receipt for sheep and describes the transaction. On November 4, 1867 he gives A. B. Werner 50 sheep with the understanding that Werner is to keep the sheep for three years and deliver to him 100 pounds of wool each year, at his residence and at the end of three years Werner is to deliver 50 sheep, aged one to three years old to E. C. Peck. This seems to be a good business transaction for both men.
Joe Butcko published some of his memories of growing up on East Forest Avenue as a child in the 1930’s in the summer edition, 2008 of the Gleanings. He describes the Peck farm as he remembers it.
“In 1932, there were only about six houses on the north side of Forest Avenue from River Street to Prospect. It was all farmland owned by the Peck family whose house and barns were on Forest Avenue about 150 yards east of River Street. The Peck farm was a working farm with horses, cows, etc. Parents would send their kids with a bucket to get milk. Mr. Peck would let us watch him milk the cows and, with a twist of his wrist, he would squirt us in the face with the milk. Today, he would be put in jail – the milk wasn’t pasteurized. Among Peck’s other enterprises, the city hired him to clear sidewalks with his horse pulling a wooden snowplow.”
Peckville may be gone but will never be forgotten. However, there are few people in Ypsilanti now who can “point the way to Peckville,” where a log cabin and Indian tepees once stood, where children went to school carrying lunch pails and slates, where cattle, sheep, and horses grazed, and where there were fields of corn, apple orchards and sugar maples shading a dirt road. Now there are only houses and yards. However, the pioneer Peck family has left its legacy in establishing a farm from the wilderness, building one of the first schools and even starting the tradition of planting sugar maples down East Forest Avenue from Prospect to the river. Every morning when I go into my very old Peck kitchen, with the bubble glass window panes, or drive my car down Peck Street to the garage (once Peck Street Primary), I think of Joseph and Sophia and their courage, hard work, enterprise and hope.
(Janice Anschuetz currently lives in the Swaine House that is located at 101 East Forest and is very interested in the history of the neighborhood.)
Photo 1: In September of 1823 Sophia Peck came to this area with her husband and two young sons.
Photo 2: This 1869 map of Ypsilanti shows the location of four of the Peck houses as well as the Peck Street Primary School which was at the time converted into a Malt House.
Photo 3: Joseph and Sophia’s home, built in 1836, still stands at 401 East Forest and was occupied by members of the Peck family for over 130 years. Cora and Dwight Peck were the last Pecks to live there.
Photo 4: The Peck Street Primary School was built in 1839 and in the 1860s was turned into a malt house and then in 1913 into a garage which is still in use today.
Photo 5: Slate and slate pencils found near Peck Street Primary that still work.
Photo 6 Reward of Merit presented to Florence Smalley Babbitt in 1857 at the Peckville School.
Photo 7: Egbert, son of Joseph and Sophia, lived for awhile in the home at 59 East Forest with his wife Juliet Thayer Peck. Later, their children lived at 52 East Forest, in a home that was torn down about 30 years ago.
Photo 8 Juliet Thayer Peck, wife of Egbert Peck.
Photo 9: Cora LaForge Peck and Dwight Peck, third generation Pecks, were the last Pecks to live in the 1836 home of Joseph and Sophia at 401 East Forest.
Photo 10 Peck house at 117 East Forest was lived in by Peck descendents for many years. It was moved to that location from the Hutchinson property when he bought the land there for his mansion.
Photo 11 The house and barn that can be seen to the left of the Swaine house (101 East Forest) is believed to be the original home of Joseph and Sophia Peck. The kitchen section of the original house that can be seen is believed to have been later moved and attached to the Swaine House.
Photo 12 Photo shows the current kitchen portion of the Swaine house that is believed to have originally been a part of the Peck house.