Bridgewater

Published In:
Community Observer, Summer 1998,
Summer 1998

Author: Grace Shackman

A farmer's mecca

For all of its life, the hamlet of Bridgewater has served the needs of local farmers. "It still does—what's left of them," says Glenn Mann, co-owner of the E. G. Mann feed mill and grain elevator.

Located in farm country, halfway between Saline and Manchester, Bridgewater at its height had a blacksmith shop, a farm-implement company, a lumberyard, and a farm co-op, which marketed the livestock, timber, flour, and feed produced by its members. The hamlet also included a barbershop, an ice-cream parlor, a bank, a tavern, and a general store complete with a smokehouse and an icehouse.

Although most of the early settlers of the area were from the East (Bridgewater takes its name from a town in New York), the hamlet of Bridgewater was largely built by German immigrants. By 1854 there were enough Germans in the area to start their own church, St. John's Lutheran. Organized by Pastor Frederich Schmid, who started German churches all over southeast Michigan, St. John's ran a German school for a time and continued to hold German-language services into the twentieth century. Former Bridgewater resident Jack Livingstone remembers that when his family moved to the area in 1937, many people still spoke with a German accent.

The Detroit, Hillsdale, and Northern Indiana railroad reached Bridgewater in 1870, making a beeline from Saline to Manchester. The station is still there, now used as a storage shed by Bridgewater Lumber. Businesses around the station catered to farmers shipping their crops to market; there were livestock pens, warehouses for wool and potatoes, and a dairy to process milk.

David Ernst, whose parents ran the ice-cream parlor and blacksmith shop, earned extra money as a schoolboy by helping around the railroad station. He sacked the wool fleeces and put bedding in cars for the livestock. "The train car was divided into two decks, about four feet high. So I'd go in and spread hay about eight or ten inches thick," he recalls.

At the center of Bridgewater's social life was its "opera house," above the implement company's storehouse. "It was called the opera house because it had a piano," explains Livingstone. Dorothy Armbruster, whose dad ran the car repair shop, remembers the dances there. "Dad played in the band every Saturday night, big band music," she recalls, "They put us kids to sleep on stage behind the piano."

On weeknights, locals and farmers often played cards in the Ernst family's ice-cream parlor. On weekends, they'd go to one another's houses for potlucks and play euchre or shoot the moon.

During the summers of the late 1940s and early 1950s, merchants sponsored outdoor movies every Tuesday in a lot between the general store and the railroad station. "There was a serial, a cartoon, and movie—like going to the theater," remembers Margie Wurster. They'd set up a projector on a truck and a big screen at the back of the lot. Families came and settled down on blankets and folding chairs or parked their cars across the road on the mill property.

From the 1930s to the 1960s, Bridgewater was home to one of the biggest chicken hatcheries in the state, owned by Luther and Irwin Klager. (Luther founded the Manchester Chicken Broil.) But as the number of farm families has declined, so have some of the businesses the hatchery once supported.

Train service to Bridgewater ended in 1961, and the general store closed in the mid-1970s, unable to compete with big chains. But the Bridgewater Lumber Company and the E. G. Mann Mill—both in their respective families since 1938—are still thriving. The former general store is now Bridgewater Tire, specializing in big tires for farm vehicles. The bank, a victim of the Depression, is now the Bridgewater Bank Tavern, with historic pictures on the walls.

—Grace Shackman

Re-creating the Rentschler Farm

Published In:
Community Observer, Date Unknown,
Unknown

Author: Grace Shackman

Setting the clock back a century

Enthusiastic and knowledgeable volunteers are transforming the Rentschler farm on the edge of Saline into a teaching tool. They're restoring the house to show how a farm family lived at the beginning of the century, bringing in livestock to demonstrate the working of the farm, and re-creating a kitchen garden to teach children how to grow plants—all with the unusual advantage of having the last owner of the farm nearby to answer questions.

The farm is on Michigan Avenue, just east of the Ford plant. It was built in 1906 by Matthew Rentschler on 216 acres that his brother, Emanuel, had bought two years earlier. The land would eventually be farmed by three generations of Rentschlers.

The last was Warren Rentschler, who lived on the farm almost all his life. "We had sheep and chickens, sold eggs at the door, had pigs; we grew corn, hay, wheat, oats," Rentschler says. "We sold hay to the horse trade."

As the city of Saline crept up to the farm, Rentschler gradually split parcels off and sold them, starting with a field for the Ford plant in the 1960s. A few years ago, then-mayor Rick Kuss heard that Rentschler was about to sell the last of his farm to Farmer Jack for a shopping center. Kuss talked to him about selling the house and outbuildings to the city instead.

Rentschler was delighted with the idea. In spring 1998 the city of Saline bought Rentschler's property at a discount, and the Saline Area Historical Society went to work at the farm right away.

The restoration of the house's interior is being organized by Janet Swope, antiques dealer, teacher of antiques classes, organizer of the Saline Antiques Fair, and former owner of the Pineapple House. Swope's plan is to restore the home to the way it looked between 1900 and 1930. "We may have some older things," she says. "People inherit things. But we'll have nothing newer than 1930."

Her goal is to "restore it to what a farmhouse would be like—not real affluent, middle class, but nice." This winter she hopes to finish the downstairs rooms: the master bedroom, dining room, and parlor. If time allows, she and her fellow volunteers will also work on the hired man's room upstairs. The master bedroom will be decorated with a historic Saline wallpaper design, found in the Bondie house on Maple, that's being reproduced by the Thibaut wallpaper company. Next spring, Saline resident and former county clerk Bob Harrison plans to re-create the front porch, using a 1910 photo for guidance.

Cathy Andrews, master gardener and historic furniture restorer, created a kitchen garden with help from area schoolkids. She laid out the beds in long, narrow rows, as the Rentschlers would have in the 1930s, and planted vegetable and flower species common for that period, such as a tasty, pinkish beefsteak tomato and a very red variety developed at Rutgers University that was considered good for canning. She kept the rhubarb and horseradish she found at the farm.

Rick Kuss and Jeff Hess, among others, are tending the animals already housed in the outbuildings. Roosters, ducks, and pigeons were donated from Animal Rescue, while Domino's Farms provided two miniature goats. A local farmer gave two piglets, which have since grown big enough to knock Kuss down. "I liked them better when they were babies," he jokes.

Wayne Clements, president of the historical society, bought two lambs for the farm at the 4-H fair. Others followed his example and began donating their prize lambs to the farm to save them from slaughter.

Today, Warren Rentschler lives on the north side of Saline. What does he think of what's happening at his old farm?

"I like it fine," he says. "They'll preserve it. Who wouldn't want that? My granddad and dad worked so hard to keep it up, and I spent a bit of time too."

—Grace Shackman

Photo Caption: Elizabeth and Emanuel Rentschler with their children. Alma, Alvin, & Herman, in front of their farmhouse around 1910.

The Dexter Co-op

Published In:
Community Observer, Winter 2004,
Winter 2004

Author: Grace Shackman

The rise and fall of a radical idea

In 1919 a group of Dexter-area farmers did something radical. One story says they did it because a Detroit buyer bragged about how much money he was making off them. Another story says that Hoey and Sons Lumber and Coal Company brought it on by charging too much for necessities like feed, grain, and hardware. "Farmers were at a disadvantage dealing one-on-one with packing companies, grain dealers," says Carl Lesser.

In November of that year, about fifty farmers, including Lessor's grandfather, met at the Dexter Opera House and agreed to put in $50 apiece—a tidy sum in those days—to start the Dexter Agriculture Association. Each also pledged an additional $50. "It was just a group of farmers who decided they should be able to buy cheaper and sell for a better price," says Bob Mast, a second-generation member.

In those days, co-ops were relatively new and controversial. The large companies that served as middlemen between farmers and consumers had tried to invoke the 1890 Sherman Antitrust Act to have co-ops declared illegal, even though the act was passed to prevent business monopolies. A 1914 law, the Clayton Act, legalized co-ops but did not define their powers. In 1922 Congress finally spelled out, in the Capper-Volstead Act, that farmers could lawfully unite to collectively process, handle, and market their products.

The Dexter group bought an old house and five lots on a triangle of land bounded by Central Street, Third Street, and the Michigan Central Railroad tracks. It was an excellent location: at the time, the railroad was the main way to ship farm produce and get farm supplies. The co-op opened for business on January 1, 1920. Within two months it had ninety-four members.

The association, renamed the Dexter Co-op in 1927, sold supplies to members at low markups and helped them sell their own products. The co-op converted the old house into a feed production area, mainly for pigs, chickens, and cows. The farmers brought in grain they'd grown, such as oats or corn; ground it in the basement; and then took it upstairs to be mixed with a concentrate. Also upstairs, co-op employees shelled corn. These services were so much in demand at harvest time that farmers lined up from dawn to dark waiting.

The co-op bought a large scale (for a time the only one in the area) and placed it near the house, protecting it with a drive-through shelter. Lesser remembers accompanying his father in a horse-drawn wagon when he brought in loads of hay. "The building was so small it was hard to get the hay in," he recalls. "We had to push it in. We must have lost a lot." The co-op's bookkeeper had only to look out the window of the attached office to record the weight.

To store and ship cash crops, the co-op leased a grain elevator, freight house, and loading dock from the railroad. All of them were flush with the tracks for easy loading. (Wheat was then the biggest cash crop, and most of it was sold to flour mills in the area.) When carloads of incoming supplies such as lumber and coal arrived, they were stored until unloaded on a spur of track in the co-op grounds. As the co-op became more successful, it offered an expanding range of items, from flour and salt to Portland cement, fencing, and twine.

The secret of its success, according to Lesser, was its ability to buy products so cheaply that it could sell competitively and still make enough to cover its operating costs. Buying from other co-ops and from organizations such as the National Farmers Group and the State Farm Bureau allowed the co-op to obtain cattle feed and fertilizer at very low prices. For a few years the Dexter Co-op even sold farm machinery produced by a co-op in Lansing.

The board of directors hired a manager for day-to-day operations. The membership of the co-op met yearly at a big dinner, usually held at either the Masonic Temple or St. Andrew's Church. The meeting included a financial report, election of board members and officers, and a speaker on an agricultural topic.

The people who originally bought shares in the co-op were common stockholders. Common shares, .much in demand because they earned more than bank accounts did, were rarely available. Anyone could be a "preferred stockholder" just by doing business with the co-op. At the end of the year, the customers shared in the year's profits according to how much they bought.

The co-op did well during the Depression and outgrew its facilities. In 1940 it broke ground for a new vitrified-tile building, which the Dexter Mill still uses. To celebrate the building's grand opening on March 8, 1941, the co-op cooked up 100 pounds of free hot dogs and gave away door prizes—knives, pencils, baby chicks. The co-op now had room to stock more agricultural supplies and add new products, such as building materials, hardware, dishes, and kitchen cabinets.

In 1949 a big fire destroyed the wooden grain elevator. The co-op built a new, fire-resistant elevator and a new feed mill where the old house had stood. But the new setup couldn't save the co-op from a decline in family agriculture and a dwindling commitment to the co-op concept. "It was loyalty that kept it going," says Lesser. "The first generation knew the reason for the organization." Later generations were less loyal and more mobile: as farmers got big trucks, they could travel farther and do business for-profit companies that, because of greater volume, could offer lower prices than the co-op did. As the co-op's business declined, it had to buy in smaller volumes, and its prices rose.

In 1969 the co-op board sold the business to Washtenaw Farm and Garden Center, which was leaving its Ann Arbor store in what is now Kerrytown. On March 22, 1980, after the Farm and Garden Center finished paying off its land contract, the co-op held its last meeting to pay off stockholders and close the books. With the help of his wife, Thelma, Bob Mast, who was the last treasurer, was able to find a large number of the original stockholders or their heirs. The co-op made enough from the sale, plus the accumulated interest, to pay $10 a share—the original face value of the stock. "Very few co-ops could do that," says Mast.

John Cares, an agriculture graduate of Michigan State, now runs the Dexter Mill in the old co-op buildings. Cares provides many of the same services the co-op did, making feed, and sells many of the same supplies, such as fertilizer. As full-time farming continues to decline, more of his customers these days are gentlemen farmers or suburbanites with small gardens.

Every now and then people come into the Dexter Mill with old co-op stock certificates, maybe found in Grandpa's attic, and try to redeem them. Cares refers those customers to Mast, who says, "There's not much I can do about it. I tell them to put it on the wall and look at it."

—Grace Shackman

Photo Caption:

Today, the Dexter Mill provides many of the same products and services that the Dexter Co-op did through the 1960s.

Chelsea Farmer's Supply

Author: Grace Shackman

Chelsea Farmer's Supply
It’s still got the feel of its heyday

In 1987, Greg Raye suggested that Chelsea Farmer’s Supply be torn down. Two years later he and his wife, H. K. Leonard, bought the building to keep it from being turned into a parking lot. “I had no desire to run a business,” explains Raye. But today he and Leonard are still running it.

Reinventing the Farmers' Market

Published In:
Ann Arbor Observer, August 2004,
August 2004

Author: Grace Shackman

An end to "dead man's alley"?

Scott Kunst

Published In:
Ann Arbor Observer, November 1995,
November 1995

Author: Grace Shackman

He's one of the nation's leading antique plant specialists

Walking by Scott Kunst's house on Third Street on the Old West Side, you might guess that the owner had more than a passing interest in historic landscaping. Up front are a wrought-iron planter and carpet bedding, both authentic Victorian styles. Peering at the backyard, you can see a more relaxed, early twentieth-century garden with some of Kunst's favorite plants--early pinks, irises, peonies.

Vivienne Farm

Published In:
Ann Arbor Observer, October 1995,
October 1995

Author: Grace Shackman

Once a beloved summer camp for Detroit Edison women, it's about to be replaced by a nursing home

Saline Valley Farms

Published In:
Ann Arbor Observer, August 1989,
August 1989

Author: Grace Shackman

An auto heir's vision of the rural good life, it was a social success but a financial flop

Three miles south of Saline, on Milkey Road, a series of boarded-up houses and deserted farm buildings mark the site that from 1932 to 1953 was Saline Valley Farms. "No Trespassing" signs on trees and fences bar visitors from what was once a busy cooperative farm.

Saline Valley Farms was the brainchild of Harold Gray, "a rich man with rich ideas," according to former resident Ruth Hagen. Gray's grandfather was a practical lawyer who made a fortune as the first president of Ford Motor Company. Harold, on the other hand, was a pacifist and economic dreamer who decided to use his large inheritance to try an alternative method of farming. In interviews at the time, Gray said his idea was to show that by combining agriculture with on-site canning and marketing activities, "a group of people living on the land and working in close cooperation could achieve a standard of living and a degree of security above that of the average farm family."

Man Looking at Chicken on Lap

"Man Looking at Chicken on Lap," Saline Valley Farms

Gray developed his ideas of agricultural economy while studying economics at Harvard (he earned a B.A. and an M.A. and did further graduate work) and as a missionary in China. In the early days of the Depression, he decided to try to put his ideas of farming into action, and after a year of searching found an abandoned 596-acre farm that met his purposes: rural enough for low taxes but near to markets and also to the cultural advantages of Ann Arbor.

Gray's first recruit was Harold Vaughn. Vaughn, a former county extension agent who had retrained as a social worker, became the farm manager. "We arrived on barely passable roads," Vaughn later wrote of his first day, April 4, 1932. "The old farm house and west barn stood empty. Loose doors banged noisily in the wind. The furnace was broken, the water system didn't work and the electricity was off."

Together, Gray and Vaughn found people, eventually twenty families, to move to the farm and turn it into a working operation.

With a lot of work, plus a massive infusion of Gray's capital, the farm was soon transformed: roads built, a lake formed by damming the creek that ran through the property, fields laid out, and orchards planted. Houses for the workers were built with the occupants in mind and varied depending on the size of the family.

Hog Barn

"Hog Barn," Saline Valley Farms

The first ones were dubbed "Detroit News" houses because they were taken from plans published in the newspaper, but two of the later ones were designed by U-M professor of architecture George Brigham.

Behind the original farmhouse, a store was built with a recreation hall upstairs that was used for square dances, potlucks, and plays. Attached at the rear of the store was the canning factory; Saline Valley Farms sold its canned goods under its own label, which featured a picture of the twin-siloed main barn.

Gray liked to have the best of everything. The cows were purebred Guernseys that produced very rich milk; the pigs made excellent sausage. The chickens were Plymouth Barred Rocks that Hagen bred carefully, using the trap nest method so he could account for every egg.

The produce and animal products were preserved in the canning factory, the domain of Marian Vaughn, Harold Vaughn's wife. She was a strong force on the farm, organizing cultural events, setting up a summer camp for the members' children, and acting as peacemaker when her husband and Gray, although friends, periodically fought.

J. L. Hudson's food shop was a major customer for Saline Valley Farms products, but the main mode of distribution was through delivery routes that Gray had developed out of his own practice of taking fresh produce to his friends in the Detroit suburbs. Gray himself and several other delivery men would deliver fresh dairy products, produce, canned goods, and meat on a regular schedule.

Although it produced delicious products, Saline Valley Farms was never a financial success, according to Don Campbell, who kept the books. "The whole operation was too expensive to make any money. It never even broke even." Also, although it was called a co-op, it never really was. Day-to-day decisions were discussed at staff meetings, but no one doubted that Gray had the final say. "My husband and the general manager didn't always agree with him," recalls Ruth Hagen, "but he was the boss."

Farm Buildings

"Farm Buildings," Saline Valley Farms

Although inflexible about the farm operation, Gray was tolerant of most other ideas. Political philosophies ran the gamut from anarchism to Republicanism, and religious beliefs from atheism to extreme piety.

During World War II the farm's diversity and reputation for tolerance increased as they made room for Japanese-Americans whom the government had let out of concentration camps but still wanted to keep an eye on, conscientious objectors paroled from the federal penitentiary in Milan, and European Jewish refugees. Says Daniel Katz, a U-M social psychology professor who lived on the farm for a year during the post-World War II housing shortage, "You wouldn't want a more stimulating group to talk to, or kinder."

After the war, wages went up dramatically and Gray had trouble finding workers for what he was willing to pay.

One by one, crops had proved to be uneconomical and were discontinued. Canning stopped during World War II when rationing made it impossible to guarantee orders. The farm became a shadow of its former self, and in 1953 he decided to stop the whole operation.

After selling the farm equipment, Gray continued to live on the farm with his second wife, Meg, in the larger of the Brigham-designed homes. The farm was turned into a youth hostel, the first one west of the Alleghenies. It was run for many years by Johnny Rule, an English-born jack-of-all-trades who had worked in the farm's poultry department, and his wife, May. People from all over the world and local groups like the scouts enjoyed the beautiful scenery, the lake, and the rural atmosphere.

In 1969, Gray, by then seventy-five, sold the farm to Teamsters Local 299 for a park for their members, but they found it too expensive to operate. Gray died three years later.

Many offspring of the farm families still live in the area and cherish memories of childhoods full of freedom and yet busy, helping from maple syrup season to apple picking time. Says Shirley Hagen Grossman, "I had an idyllic childhood, surrounded by an extended family of twenty. If I fell down and scraped my knee, I just ran to the nearest house." Doris Rule Bable agrees, saying, "Maybe it was a failure financially, but it was a great success in living and in personal relationships; very satisfying to the soul."


[Photo caption from original print edition]: Saline Valley Farms manager Harold Vaughn (left) and founder Harold Gray.

[Photo caption from original print edition:]: Gray sold the farm to a union local in 1969, but it proved too expensive to keep open as a park. It's now deserted.

The Botanical Gardens on Iroquois

Published In:
Ann Arbor Observer, May 2001,
May 2001

Author: Grace Shackman

Primroses, Chinese chestnuts, and pinochle in the boiler room

Since 1960, the U-M Botanical Gardens have been on Dixboro Road straddling Superior and Ann Arbor townships. But for forty-five years before that, they were in the heart of what is now Ann Arbor’s south side. The fifty-two-acre gardens off Iroquois, now Woodbury Gardens apartments, played an important part in university life from 1916 to 1961.

“It was not landscaped for beauty but for [growing] specific plants,” recalls Chuck Cares, who later landscaped the present gardens. “There were pretty plants, of course, but no aesthetic principle was involved.”

“Plants were grown for research, university classes, and decorations for university functions,” explains Dorothy Blanchard, whose mother, Frieda Blanchard, was assistant director from 1919 to 1956. Though “it was not a place for the general public,” Blanchard says, “visitors did occasionally come out and were shown around by Mother.”

Photograph of botanical gardens with old
library in the background

The original botanical gardens were right on campus in front of the old library, about where the Graduate Library now sits.

The university’s first botanical garden was planted on the Diag in 1897, near what is today the Graduate Library. In 1906 it moved to the newly acquired Arboretum. In 1913, finding the Arb’s hilly terrain not conducive to growing plants in controlled conditions, the university bought the Iroquois site.

Harry Gleason, the new garden’s first director, wrote that it was “located immediately beyond the city limits south of Ann Arbor, near the Packard street road, and comprises twenty acres of level fertile land.” As surrounding parcels were purchased, the gardens grew to 51.72 acres.

Harley H. Bartlett replaced Gleason in 1919. “The chief thing that attracted me to the University of Michigan before I knew what a generally delightful place Ann Arbor was, was the new botanical gardens, which would provide perhaps the best facility in the country for work in genetics and plant breeding,” Bartlett wrote in his 1923 Harvard alumni report.

Bartlett was born in Montana in 1886, graduated from Harvard with a chemistry degree, and then worked as a chemical biologist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. While in Washington he became interested in the work of Dutch botanist Hugo DeVries on evolution and began to research the genetics of genus Oenothera, an evening primrose. He accepted an assistant professorship at the U-M in 1915 and, as soon as he could, planted rows of Oenothera at the new botanical gardens to continue his research.

“The development of the garden has been my chief interest since coming to Michigan,” Bartlett claimed in the alumni report--an impressive claim, considering his many competing interests. “A Renaissance man, he [Bartlett] knew a little about everything,” recalls Ed Voss, emeritus professor of botany. “If you asked a question, he’d give you a reference off the top of his head.” In addition to directing the gardens, Bartlett chaired the botany department, taught classes, frequently traveled to Asia and Latin America to collect rare plants, published prolifically, and was much in demand as a consultant to federal agencies.

Bartlett’s secret was that he had accepted the gardens’ directorship on the condition that graduate student Frieda Cobb be appointed the assistant director. While Bartlett dealt with the public and with the university administration, Cobb managed the gardens’ day-to-day operations, taking over completely during Bartlett’s frequent absences. “She kept things at an even keel,” recalls Voss.
Frieda Cobb had come to the U-M at Bartlett’s suggestion and was working on her Ph.D., continuing his Oenothera research. They had met through her brother, Victor Cobb, a classmate of Bartlett’s at Harvard. She arrived in Ann Arbor in 1916 and in 1920 was the first of Bartlett’s students to earn her doctorate. Two years later she married Frank Blanchard, a herpetologist whom she had met in graduate school.

The actual work of growing the plants was done by a series of excellent gardeners, the last of whom, from 1935 on, was Walter Kleinschmidt, who was promoted to superintendent. Part of his job was tending the rare plants brought back from various expeditions. “He was good at growing plants--discovering what was needed. For instance, he figured out how to grow ferns from spores,” recalls Dorothy Blanchard. Kleinschmidt lived with his wife and daughter in a house on the grounds. He supervised about four other gardeners, who took responsibility for specific greenhouses. “The workers, Walter and his group, played pinochle in the boiler room every noon,” recalls Peter Kaufman, who was hired as curator of the gardens in 1956.

The gardens closest to the greenhouse were arranged in a big oval and were dubbed “the graveyard,” according to Kaufman, “because of their arrangement in horizontal beds divided by family and genus.” The land beyond the graveyard was used for specific research projects, such as Eileen Erlanson’s wild roses, Kenneth Jones’s ragweed, and Stanley Cain’s delphinium. Dow Baxter, a forest pathologist from the forestry department, grew Chinese chestnuts, trying to come up with a disease-resistant strain to replace the American chestnut.

Felix Gustafson’s tomato plants loom large in everyone’s memory, because he gave his extras to staff members. “I’d take them and eat them off the vine. They were marvelous,” recalls local pediatrician Mark Hildebrandt, who worked at the gardens as a teenager. Blanchard, who rode her bike to work before getting a car, learned to ride no-handed so she could eat tomatoes on the way home.

The greenhouses provided a year-round source of plants for botany classes and faculty research. Flowers were also grown there for special university occasions, such as commencements or honors convocations or visits from dignitaries like Haile Selassie and the queen of the Netherlands.

The nucleus of the gardens’ collection of cacti and other succulents was assembled by Elzada Clover, a botany professor who had done work in the Southwest and Central America. In January 1938 Bartlett recorded in his diary that “Elzada Clover has a wild plan for a trip through the can[y]on of the Colorado. She assures me it will be a truly scientific venture.” Clover and a friend, Mary Lois Jotter, completed their “wild plan,” earning the distinction of being the first women to make the trip by boat. In 1952 Clover added another first: being the first person to develop and teach an entire class at the botanical gardens. It was a very popular undergraduate course, and according to a history put out by the botanical gardens, “through it many students were led to concentrate in botany.”

In 1955 Bartlett reached retirement age and was succeeded by A. Geoffrey Norman. Five years later the gardens moved to their present site on Dixboro. “We moved as many trees as we could,” recalls Peter Kaufman. “Some spreading junipers didn’t take, but most of what we moved did. We took all the rare stuff that we had collected.” The new gardens were named after regent Fred Matthaei Sr., who donated the land.

The 350-acre Matthaei gardens are seven times as large as the Iroquois site and have more than twice as much greenhouse space--44,000 square feet. The other main difference is that at the present gardens there is much more public involvement, with hiking trails, adult education classes, meeting space, and an active friends group.

The Iroquois site remained empty for most of the 1960s. Helen Corey, who lived on Iroquois in a house backing up to the gardens, used to walk her dogs on the deserted site which she remembers as “an oasis in the middle of the city.” Although the gardens were in ruins and the buildings falling apart, she recalls, there were still “nice trees, some fruit-bearing.”

In 1969 the first stage of the Woodbury Gardens apartments was built. In honor of the former use, the developers named the streets Aster and Wisteria. Residents still enjoy at least nine kinds of trees originally planted in the botanical gardens, including Dow’s Chinese chestnuts.


[Photo caption from book]: The original botanical gardens were right on campus in front of the old library, about where the Graduate Library now sits. “Courtesy Bentley Historical Library”

[Photo caption from book]: Dorothy Blanchard’s kindergarten class looking at the giant chrysanthemums in one of the Iroquois site greenhouses, 1930s. Although not generally open to the public, Blanchard obviously had pull since her mother was the assistant director. “Courtesy Dorothy Blanchard”

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