109-113 Catherine

Published In:
Ann Arbor Observer, September 1988,
September 1988

Author: Grace Shackman

From humble garage to elegant office

The Michigan Central depot

Published In:
Ann Arbor Observer, May 1991,
May 1991

Author: Grace Shackman

When the railroad was the city's lifeline, it was Ann Arbor's grand entrance

The elegant 1886 Michigan Central Railroad Station at 401 Depot Street, now the Gandy Dancer restaurant, testifies to the importance of train travel a hundred years ago. No expense was spared to make this massive two-towered stone building what the Ann Arbor Register called "the finest station on the line between Buffalo and Chicago."

Access to a railroad line could mean the difference between life and death for a struggling young town in the mid-nineteenth century. Before the Michigan Central reached Ann Arbor in 1839, a trip to Detroit was a difficult all-day affair on horseback. On the train, it could be done comfortably in two and a half hours. The movement of freight improved even more dramatically. The depot swiftly became the funnel through which virtually all traffic in and out of the city passed.

The Michigan Central was putting up new depots all along its route when the Ann Arbor station was built, but each had its own unique design. Ann Arbor's was designed by Detroit architect Frederick Spier (who also designed the Kelsey Museum and St. Thomas Catholic Church) in the then-popular Richardson Romanesque style. It was built by Gearing and Sons of Detroit of glacial stones quarried from Four Mile Lake between Chelsea and Dexter and cut at Foster's Station on Huron River Drive near Maple Road.

The inside was elegant, with stained-glass windows, red oak ceilings and trim, and French tile floors, and even separate waiting areas for men and women. Ivy grew up the side of the building, petunias and carnations were planted around it, and a fountain spurted at the point of a triangular garden just east of the baggage shed, where the Gandy Dancer's valet parking lot is now. In the 1880's, gardens were considered an important element in railroad station design--after all, the station was the first impression visitors received of the town.

Freight operations were handled out of a smaller stone building to the west of the main station. In those days, before trucks, trains carried goods of every description, from food (for instance, bread from the Ann Arbor Home Bakery was delivered to the western part of the state) to kit houses. Whole train cars were devoted to mail, which was sorted as the train moved and then thrown out onto station platforms as the train whizzed by. Mail service was often faster than it is today: a letter mailed at the Ann Arbor station in the morning could be delivered in Chicago that afternoon.

Postcard of Michigan Central Depot

No amount of fine detailing—stained-glass windows, French tile floors, and even its own garden and fountain—could mask the depot's location in what was then a gritty industrial district. The dark mass looming on the left in this early postcard was the huge illuminating gas plant on Broadway.

Even after the automobile came into general use, people took the train for most long trips. In 1915, there were thirteen Detroit to Chicago passenger trains a day, plus other, shorter runs. Many Ann Arborites commuted daily to jobs along the route. Others used the train for excursions. Kathryn Leidy recalls day outings with friends to Hudson's in downtown Detroit. And of course the beginnings and endings of university semesters found the train station crowded with students, the more adventurous of whom had slid down State Street on their trunks.

Celebrities and artists arrived by train and were met at the station by committees of dignitaries. Alva Sink, whose husband, Charles Sink, was head of the University Musical Society, greeted countless musicians, including Ignace Paderewski, who arrived in 1933 in his own sleeping car. Former U-M bands director William Revelli often provided the escort as they left; among those he saw off at the depot were Victor Borge, Meredith Willson, Gene Krupa, Benny Goodman, and Pablo Casals.

As late as World War II, when rationing of gas and tires made car travel difficult, the depot hummed. Betty Gillan Seward, who worked as the station's accountant during the war, remembers it as a very busy time. In addition to the regular trains, there were extras for troop transport. Art Gallagher, retired editor of the Ann Arbor News, remembers traveling to Kalamazoo during the war to visit his father and often having to stand the whole way because the train was so crowded with soldiers and civilians.

The depot's last hurrah came in 1960, when both John Kennedy and Richard Nixon addressed rallies from their campaign trains. They were the last in a long line of politicians to make whistle-stops in Ann Arbor, running back to William Howard Taft, Teddy Roosevelt, Grover Cleveland, and William Jennings Bryan.

In 1970, the depot was sold to Chuck Muer, a restaurateur with an interest in historic restoration. By then the trickle of passenger traffic that remained was easily accommodated in the former freight building to the west and later in a small station built by Amtrak west of the Broadway Bridge. Muir, who later did similar remodeling of an historic fire station in Cincinnati and a railroad station in Pittsburgh, kept the building intact. The original stone walls, slate roof, stained-glass windows, red oak ceilings, fireplace, and baggage scale are still there. He added a kitchen in the open area between the baggage building and waiting room, windowed in the platform area, and changed the color of the outside trim, from green to dark mauve. Muer named his restaurant the Gandy Dancer, after the laborers who once maintained the tracks.

Inglis House

Published In:
Ann Arbor Observer, September 1990,
September 1990

Author: Grace Shackman

The U-M's elegant retreat was built with a fortune based on factory fans

At one time or another early in this century, all six children of Detroit physician Richard Inglis lived in Ann Arbor. An interesting bunch, they included Agnes, the first curator of the U-M's Labadie collection of social protest literature; Frank, a Detroit pharmacist; David, a pioneer neurologist; Will, a Detroit businessman; and Kate, who owned a fruit and chicken farm that stretched all the way from Geddes Avenue to the Huron River.

But the sibling who left the most imposing legacy was James, a wealthy industrialist. He and his wife, Elizabeth, built Inglis House, an elegant English-style mansion that since 1951 has been owned by the U-M. The university uses it to house and entertain its many visiting dignitaries in suitable style. During her fourteen-year tenure, former facilities coordinator Sandra Simms amassed a collection of thank-you notes extending from former president Gerald Ford and his wife, Betty, to the exiled Tibetan religious leader the Dalai Lama. (An aide wrote to say that "His Holiness very much enjoyed His stay.")

The Inglises built the secluded mansion, which occupies an 8.5-acre plot at 2301 Highland Road, as a retirement home. Its formal, traditional style belies the mundane business that paid for it.

Photograph of Inglis house & front
yard

The Inglis’ stately home, designed by local architect Woody Woodburn to resemble a French Chateau, has hosted visitors ranging from Gerald and Betty Ford to the Dalai Lama.

James Inglis was ten when his father died. The family was left a legacy of $3,000 a year from real estate holdings, enough to live comfortably at that time, but James left school at age fourteen. According to family legend, it was because his mother wouldn't give him enough money to get his hair cut as often as he liked. Starting out as an office boy at $2.50 a week, Inglis advanced to become owner of American Blower Co., where he developed fans for cooling Detroit's burgeoning auto factories. The company was immensely successful and respected — so much so that during the Depression, the National Bank of Detroit asked Inglis to serve on its board to help raise public confidence in the institution.

In 1903, when he was thirty-nine, Inglis married Elizabeth Hughes, a Presbyterian minister's daughter fourteen years his junior. They moved to Ann Arbor about 1918, living originally on Baldwin Street.

They had become familiar with the town during frequent visits to Inglis's sister Kate, who had moved to the farm on Geddes with her husband, Frank Smith, in 1901. The Smiths' big white farmhouse still stands, looking much the same, at 2105 Geddes, near Concord. During the city's building boom in the 1920's, the Smiths started subdividing the farm into residential lots on what are now Highland, Concord, Lenawee, and Lafayette streets. James Inglis saved his sister the job of platting the bottom of her farm by buying the land that ran down to the river as a site for his dream home.

Architect Lilburn "Woody" Woodworth designed an English-style house of stones and irregular bricks, with a slate roof and elegant accoutrements. Though large (twelve rooms on four levels), it worked well as a family home. Inglis's niece, travel writer Carol Spicer (daughter of brother Will), remembers the house as the natural gathering place for the extended family. She recalls "lots of jokes and laughter in the house."

The gardens, designed by Elizabeth Inglis, were also quintessentially English, with a formal garden, a cutting garden, a meadow, an orchard, and wildflower areas. The grounds also included a tennis court and a three-hole golf course and even, at one time, peacocks. (They eventually had to be banished because of their noise.)

James Inglis died in 1950, leaving the house to his wife for her lifetime and then to the university. But Elizabeth Inglis did not wait that long. She gave the house to the U-M less than a year later when she moved to Kalamazoo to be with her daughter.

Elizabeth and James Inglis family seated in
front of Inglis House

Elizabeth and James Inglis (top center) with their children and grandchildren sit under the wisteria covered arches at the back of their house in 1945.

The new U-M president, Harlan Hatcher — like all incoming university presidents since — was given the choice of living in Inglis House or in the president's house on South University. In a 1982 seminar on the evolving role of the president's wife (published by the Bentley Library), Hatcher's wife, Anne, recalled thinking that "in many ways, it would have been nice, for the children particularly, to be in a neighborhood rather than in the middle of a campus with no little kids around to play with. But we really felt that it was important to maintain the central location."

Inglis House stood empty until 1964, when the university decided to use it as a guest home for important visitors and out-of-town regents. They refurbished it, filling it with a mixture of modern, traditional, and French Provincial furniture and hanging some original paintings by Courbet and Turner borrowed from the U-M art museum.

It took horticulturist Chuck Jenkins five years to restore the gardens to their former glory after fourteen years of neglect. He says he "got a good sense for the major elements" by looking at pictures and talking to Walter Stampflei, the Inglis's gardener, who still lived in the gatehouse; he also corresponded through a third party with Elizabeth Inglis, who lived until 1974.

Inglis House can accommodate forty people at a formal dinner and more for a reception or meeting. The Inglis family's unusual combination living room/dining room now serves well as a big dining room. Guests easily make do without a living room by beginning their evenings in the paneled downstairs library with hors d'oeuvre and cocktails. Carol Spicer, speaking of the house's present use, says, "If my aunt and uncle came back, they would be pleased."

Lane Hall

Published In:
Ann Arbor Observer, December 2000,
December 2000

Author: Grace Shackman

From the YMCA to women's studies

If the walls of Lane Hall could talk, they might recall discussions on ethical, religious, and international topics, and distinguished visitors such as Bertrand Russell, Reinhold Niebuhr, and the Dalai Lama. The elegantly understated Georgian Colonial Revival building on the south-west corner of State and Washington has been an intellectual center for student discussions since it was built. From 1917 to 1956 all varieties of religious topics were examined; from 1964 to 1997 it changed to an international focus. In October, after a major expansion and renovation, it was rededicated as the new home for women's studies at the U-M.

Lane Hall was built in 1916-1917 by the U-M YMCA. Within a few years it came under the control of the university's Student Christian Association, which included the campus branches of both the YMCA and the YWCA. In addition to organizing traditional religious activities, SCA published a student handbook, ran a rooming service, and helped students get jobs.

Funded in part by a $60,000 gift from John D. Rockefeller, Lane Hall was named after Victor H. Lane, a law professor and former judge who was active in SCA. When it opened in 1917, students could read books on religion in the library, listen to music in the music room, meet with student pastors in individual offices, or attend functions, either in the 450-seat auditorium upstairs or the social room in the basement.

Photograph of Lane Hall when it was still
the Y.M.C.A.

Post card view of Lane Hall when it was still the Y.M.C.A.

SCA cooperated with area churches and also provided meeting places for groups that didn't have a home church, such as Chinese Christians and Baha'is. But Lane Hall is most remembered for its own nondenominational programs, which were open to all students on campus. Some, like Bible study, had an obvious religious connection, but the programs also included the Fresh Air Camp (which enlisted U-M students to serve as big brothers to neglected boys), extensive services for foreign students, and eating clubs.

Lane Hall became one of the most intellectually stimulating places on campus. "While the university was, much more than now, organized in tightly bounded disciplines and departments, our program was working with the connections between them, and particularly the ethical implications of those interconnections," recalls C. Grey Austin, who was assistant coordinator of religious affairs in the 1950s. "Religion was similarly organized in clearly defined institutions, and we were working, again, with that fascinating area in which they touch one another."

With the coming of the Great Depression, many students struggled financially. In 1932, looking for a way to save money, a local activist named Sher Quraishi (later an advocate for post-partition Pakistan) organized the Wolverine Eating Club in the basement of Lane Hall. The club's cook, Anna Panzner, recalled in a 1983 interview that they fed about 250 people three meals a day. She was assisted with the cooking by John Ragland, who later became the only black lawyer in town. About forty students helped with the prep and cleanup in exchange for free meals, while the rest paid $2.50 a week.

Lane Hall itself had trouble keeping going during the depression, often limping along without adequate staffing. Finally, in 1936, SCA gave Lane Hall to the university. The group didn't stipulate the use of the building but said they hoped it might "serve the purpose for which it was originally intended, that is, a center of religious study and activities for all students in the university." The university agreed and, while changing the name to Student Religious Association, kept and expanded the SCA programming.

The official head of Lane Hall would be a minister hired by the university, but the work was done by Edna Alber," recalls Jerry Rees, who worked there in the 1950s. "Alber ran Lane Hall like a drill sergeant," agrees Lew Towler, who was active in Lane Hall activities. "You'd try to stay on her good side."

The first university-hired director of Lane Hall was Kenneth Morgan. The high point of his tenure was a series of lectures on "The Existence and Nature of God" given by Bertrand Russell, Fulton Sheen, and Reinhold Niebuhr.

Morgan left during World War II and was replaced by Frank Littell. "He was a dynamic man who you either liked or didn't," recalls Jo Glass, who was active at Lane Hall after the war. "He made changes and left." After Littell, DeWitt C. Baldwin, who had been Lane Hall's assistant director, took over. Called "Uncle Cy" by many, he was an idealistic former missionary who also led the Lisle Fellowship, a summer program to encourage international understanding.

Although social action was important, religion as the study of the Bible was not ignored. For instance, Littell led a seminar for grad students on aspects of religion in the Old and New Testament. Participant Marilyn Mason, now a U-M music prof and the university organist, compares the seminar to a jam session, saying, "They were very open minded."

Other Lane Hall activities were just plain fun. Jerry Rees enjoyed folk dancing on Tuesday evenings in the basement social hall. Jo Glass has happy memories of the Friday afternoon teas held in the library. "You'd go to religious teas and meet people you met on Sunday, or go to international teas and meet people from other countries," she says, "but you'd go to Lane Hall and meet a mixture of everybody--all kinds of people wandered in."

Doris Reed Ramon was head of international activities at Lane Hall. She remembers that in addition to providing room for international students to meet, the building had a Muslim prayer room and space for Indian students to cook meals together. After World War II, with the campus full of returning servicemen struggling to make it on the GI Bill, a new eating co-op was organized, called the Barnaby Club. Member Russell Fuller, later pastor of Memorial Christian Church, recalls that the group hired a cook but did all the other work themselves, coming early to peel potatoes or set the table, or staying afterward to clean up.

The Lane Hall programming came to an end in 1956, when the religious office was moved to the Student Activities Building. The niche that Lane Hall held had gradually eroded as more churches established campus centers and the university founded an academic program in religious studies. Also, according to Grey Austin, there were more questions about the role of religion in a secular school. "The growing consensus was that the study of religions was okay but that experience with religion was better left to the religious organizations that ringed the campus."

In the 1960s, centers for area studies began moving into Lane Hall--Japanese studies, Chinese studies, Middle and North African studies, and South Asian and Southeast Asian studies, all of which were rising in importance during the Cold War. Many townsfolk, as well as students, remember attending stimulating brown-bag lunches on various international topics, as well as enjoying the Japanese pool garden in the lobby. During this time visitors ranged from president Gerald Ford and governor James Blanchard (who was delighted with the help the center gave him in developing trade with China) to foreign leaders such as the Dalai Lama and Bashir Gemayel, who became president of Lebanon, and famous writers such as Joseph Brodsky and Czeslaw Milosz.

One of the people who passed through Lane Hall during this period was Hugo Lane, great-grandson of Victor Lane. In response to an e-mail query, Lane recalled that he had an office in Lane Hall when he worked as a graduate assistant for the East European Survey, a project of the Center for Russian and East European Studies. "Needless to say, I took great pleasure in that coincidence. . . . On those occasions when my parents visited Ann Arbor, a stop at the hall was obligatory."

The centers for area studies eventually joined the U-M International Center in the new School of Social Work building across the Diag. After they left, Lane Hall became a temporary headquarters for the School of Natural Resources and Environment while its building was renovated. Then Lane Hall was vacated for its own extensive addition and renovation.

Today, the new and improved Lane Hall is home to the U-M's Women's Studies Program and the Institute for Research on Women and Gender. "It's wonderful space to the occupants, very affirming," says institute director Abby Stewart. "It feels good to be here."

When Football Players danced the Can-Can

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

Author: Grace Shackman

The Michigan Union Opera’s Cross-Gender Fun

In 1949 U-M junior Jimmie Lobaugh landed a starring role in the Michigan Union Opera. He dressed up as a pregnant woman and belted out a showstopper entitled “I Want a Pickle.”

The show was Froggy Bottom, a parody of the efforts of World War II veterans and their families to cope with the red tape of the GI Bill. “It was dreadful, horrible,” Lobaugh laughs, “but we had a heck of a lot of fun.”

A U-M tradition from 1908 to 1955, the Michigan Union Opera was created to raise funds for the Michigan Union building. Since the Michigan Student Union was then an all-male club, men made up the entire cast, playing both male and female roles.

Photograph of two female university
students helping two male university students into dresses and hats in preparation for a Michigan
Union Opera Show

Since the Michigan Union was an all-male club, men played all the roles-both male and female.

The cross-dressing was always a source of much hilarity, especially among the friends of the “actresses.” But some spectators were taken in. “After the shows, guys would wait outside to get dates with the ‘girls,’” recalls Jim Graf, who as a child saw many of the pre–World War II shows, because his dad built the scenery. “It was that good, their costumes and makeup.”

There couldn’t have been any question, however, about the gender of the burly football players who were recruited to form chorus lines in female costumes relevant to the plot. Depending on the year, they might appear as geishas, Egyptian temple dancers, or can-can girls.

The MUO’s first show, 1908’s Michigenda, set the tone for ensuing productions. The plot concerned efforts to keep a rich donor, Mr. Moneyfeller, from finding out that his nephew wasn’t actually on the U-M faculty. The “real” professors—students impersonating well-known faculty members of the time—were hidden away in a tunnel, which eventually exploded from all the hot air. Meanwhile, the student characters were transported to the magic land of the title, a place where there were no professors and where Granger’s, a then-popular dance hall on Huron Street, was open six nights a week.

Michigenda opened at the Whitney Theater downtown, a location chosen to encourage attendance by local residents as well as academics. On opening night the enthusiastic audience stood in the aisles and refused to leave until the cast had taken five curtain calls. All five performances were sold out, with special trains of U-M alumni coming in from Detroit.

The next year’s show, Culture, was just as big a hit. The plot revolved around a ten-foot slide rule that could solve any problem. After the show, the slide rule was acquired by the engineering department, where for years afterward it was a fixture of the annual Engineers’ Ball.

The Michigan Union, the first such organization in the country, was formed in 1904. In 1907 the group purchased the State Street home of law pro¬fessor Thomas Cooley. The rest of the site of the present Union was purchased with the proceeds of the first two Michigan Union Operas.

The custom of using football players in the chorus originated with the fourth production, The Awakened Ramses. Two weeks before the show opened, the dean of students announced new eligibility rules that prevented half the cast from taking part. The production could have been doomed but for the timely intervention of football coach Fielding Yost, who convinced his players to fill in.

The players had recently concluded their season and showed up with “bruised shoulders, bandaged knees, and clumsy feet,” recalled Earl Moore, the show’s student conductor (later the U-M music school dean). But “there was no question of the dedication and zeal that these new ‘actors and dancers’ put forth in Whitney Theater to match the same qualities in their performances on Ferry Field.” The athletes caused such a sensation that from then on, no MUO performance was considered complete unless it included a chorus of football players dressed as women.

Planning for the MUO productions started with a campus wide competition for scripts. The director usually reshaped the material, and often cast members had ideas to make it funnier, so it would turn out to be a group effort.

Photograph of Jimmy Lobaugh in drag making
faces at an amused Governor G. Mennen Williams

Star Jimmie Lobaugh mugs with audience member Governor G. Mennen Williams.

The MUO became so popular that many more students tried out than there were roles available. The men who were cast came from all over the university. “You crossed paths with people you wouldn’t otherwise know—premed, athletes,” recalls Jack Felton, who appeared in several 1950s productions and wrote some of the music for one. “I wanted to do it for an extracurricular activity, to do something besides grind away at books,” recalls Jerry Gray, who danced in the chorus for 1953’s Up ’n’ Atom wearing a woman’s dancing outfit complete with a stuffed brassiere. Although Gray claims he wasn’t much of a social dancer, he had no trouble learning the steps, which he often practiced going home through the Law Quad.

The MUO went on the road for the first time in 1914, when both the Detroit and Chicago alumni associations offered to sponsor shows. That year’s opera, A Model Daughter, took place in Paris and so seemed well suited for export. There had been talk of touring before; questions about whether out-of-town audiences would catch the U-M humor, and if so whether it would paint an unflattering picture of the campus, had made the producers hesitate. But the first road trip was such a success that it became a yearly tradition.

Construction on the present Union building started in 1916, and subsequent operas helped pay off the bonds that financed it. But the tradition nearly faltered when the United States entered World War I the following year. By 1918 so many men were off fighting that Union manager Homer Heath asked, “Which shall it be: an opera with Michigan girls or no opera?” That was the only year in which women appeared in the MUO.

A turning point came with the arrival of Broadway director E. Mortimer Shuter in 1919. Unable to get into the army during World War I, Shuter was doing his bit for the war effort by directing USO shows when MUO general chairman F. C. Bell met him in Philadelphia and convinced him to come to Ann Arbor for a year.

The 1919 show, Come On, Dad, featured elaborate scenery, fancy costumes, and new dance styles. (Shuter’s good friend Roy Hoyer, a Broadway singer and dancer, helped coach the students.) Earl Moore praised Shuter’s “ability to create almost professional results with average amateur materials.” The show was such a triumph both in town and on the road that Shuter was persuaded to stay instead of returning to Broadway.

In 1921 Shuter produced Top o’ th’ Mornin’, with pre-law major Thomas Dewey play¬ing the male lead. As Patrick O’Dare, an evil pretender to the Irish throne, the future New York governor and Republican presidential candidate stopped the show with a number called “A Paradise of Micks.” Reviewers raved about the “velvety texture” of Dewey’s baritone voice, and he toured eight cities when the show went on the road. But according to Dewey’s biographer, Richard Norton Smith, “usually on these train trips, he could be found alone, often in the last car, uncomfortable with the camaraderie and alcohol” shared by the rest of the cast.

Promotional photograph of Lionel Ames in
drag

Star Lionel Ames went on to a vaudeville career as a female impersonator.

Shuter reached his peak with 1923’s Cotton Stockings (Never Made a Man Look Twice). Lionel Ames, described by a reviewer as “a clever actor and mimic,” played the female lead so successfully that he later went on to a vaudeville career as a female impersonator. That year the MUO invaded Ivy League territory, playing in Philadelphia, New York, and Washington, and receiving rave reviews wherever it went. Several female characters “looked astonishingly real as pretty fixtures of feminine grace,” reported the Washington Times. “Others, chorines notably, were such virile masculines that all fashion’s fripperies and layers of cosmetics couldn’t disguise razored chins or stalwart underpinning.” The cast met President Coolidge in Washington and went on to New York, where they set the record at the Metropolitan Opera for the highest box office of an amateur production.

By then there were complaints that the MUO was straying too far from its roots, so Shuter chose Tickled to Death for the next production, with a plot that revolved around U-M archaeologists in China. The set contained a temple reputed to be a replica of an actual Chinese one, but the characterizations were evidently less authentic—a Chinese graduate student wrote a letter to the Michigan Daily complaining that the production was “a gross misrepresentation of Chinese.”

Although the shows originally made a lot of money, the productions were always financially risky because of the high costs of sets, rented costumes, and travel. On New Year’s Eve 1929, shortly after the stock market crash, the MUO suffered a major loss, playing to an empty theater in New York during a blizzard. The next year the opera suspended production.

In the mid-1930s the MUO was revived in a lower-budget form, with students doing more of the work. The plot of the 1934 show, With Banners Flying, had athletic director Fielding Yost taking over as university president, and featured scenes in the Michigan Daily, the Arb, student boardinghouses, and the Union. It was followed by Give Us Rhythm in 1935. But neither show was a big financial success, so the operas were suspended again.

The next revival, in 1939, went in the opposite direction, returning to the days of full-scale productions. Plans even called for Shuter to direct, but he died that November. His death delayed the premiere of Four out of Five (based on the gibe that four out of five girls were pretty, and the fifth went to the U-M) until February 1940. Football players, including Forest Evashevski and Bob Westfall, again formed a chorus, while Heisman Trophy winner Tom Harmon played a lead: as Jimmie Roosevelt, the president’s son, he helped a freshman become a Big Man on Campus by fixing him up with movie star Hedy La Tour. The MUO returned to its usual December dates later that year with Take a Number. It featured a date lottery, modeled on the draft lottery, which set up boy-girl meetings in the Arb. The last show in this series, Full House, opened four days after Pearl Harbor and was hardly noticed.

The MUO resumed in 1949 with Froggy Bottom (a takeoff on Foggy Bottom in Washington, D.C.), which dealt with the problems of veterans and their families on campus. “Congress didn’t understand academic requirements, universities couldn’t understand the red tape to make them work, and the GIs were caught in the confusion,” Jack Felton recalls.

Some of the lyrics for Froggy Bottom were actually written by a woman student, Ann Husselman (now Rusanoff). Edward Chudacoff, an MUO composer, had come up with a tune but had no words for it; Husselman suggested some, and he asked her to write more, which she did. Although she never came near the all-male set, one of the songs she wrote, “Till the Dawn,” was picked up by Fred Waring and played on his radio show.

Jimmie Lobaugh, the lead in Froggy Bottom, helped publicize the show by co-hosting a reception at the Women’s League with the “male” star of the Junior Girls’ Play. He recalls getting into wig, makeup, black dress, black hat, and black high heels, and riding from the Union to the League in a horse-drawn carriage. His counterpart was a short woman dressed as a farmer, wearing a hat with a big brim. The two stayed in character through the reception. When it was over Lobaugh went back downstairs, but to his dismay the horse and carriage were gone. His costume didn’t include a purse, so he had no money to call a cab. He describes the walk back in high heels as “no treat.”

Lobaugh went on to play leading-woman parts for the next four years, alternating with roles in productions of the Gilbert and Sullivan Society, of which he was a founder. He played a Mae West character in the 1951 Go West, Madam and a former vaudeville star the next year in Never Too Late. “Gosh, I was beautiful,” he laughs.

Photograph of the 1914 all-female cast of
the Junior Girls' Play

Cast of the 1914 "Junior Girls’ Play".

Four years before male students began the Michigan Union Opera, female students were putting on the Junior Girls’ Play, with women cross-dressing to play men’s roles. For the first show, in 1904, dean of women Myra Jordan lent her husband’s clothes to the “male” characters.

Like the MUO, the JGP was written, composed, and directed by students. The story lines also were similar—takeoffs on campus events, satires of classic books, or fun in exotic locales. After the men produced their first show, Michigenda, the women responded with a parody called Michiguse. One of the male leads in the 1914 production (above) was played by future dean of women Alice Lloyd—better remembered today for giving her name to a postwar dormitory.

Originally most of the performances were open to women only. But in the 1920s the JGP took a page from the men’s book and opened the play to the general public as fund-raisers for the Michigan League building. After the building was completed in 1930, the JGP moved into its new Lydia Mendelssohn Theater.

The JGP not only predated the MUO, it outlived it as well—the last JGP show was in 1962.

Lobaugh’s parents would come by train from Bartlesville, Oklahoma, to attend the opening nights, sitting in the orchestra next to such dignitaries as then-governor G. Mennen Williams. Lobaugh once posed for a photo sitting on the governor’s lap. After graduation Lobaugh was asked to come to Broadway as a female impersonator, but he didn’t want to spend his life playing women, opting instead for a career as a high school music and drama teacher. Even there, though, he found his MUO experience valuable: “I could direct both males and females,” he says. “I could help the girls walk, talk, act, and behave in style.”

The postwar MUO stuck to the original formula but with up-to-date subjects such as the atomic bomb (Up ’n’ Atom), labor unions (Lace It Up, set in a lingerie factory), and radio giveaway shows (Never Too Late). Football players continued to form chorus lines in costumes appropriate for each play—in Go West, Madam they were can-can girls.

The postwar plays also toured, traveling by bus around Michigan and to nearby states. If not quite as glamorous as playing Manhattan, the experience was still memorable. “We had so much fun, it’s a wonder we had any voice left,” recalls Felton. Arriving and playing at important theaters was always awe inspiring. Lobaugh remembers performing in a theater in Buffalo where Mae West had appeared the week before.

At the parties after the out-of-town performances, alumni were often more interested in meeting the football players than the stars in the cast. Robert Segar, who played a male cheerleader in 1954’s Hail to Victor, recalls football players “taking an empty wine bottle to show the plays. The center would put it between his legs and toss it a few feet to the quarterback. The alumni loved it.”

In the 1950s the cross-dressing was still considered risqué by some. From the first there had been accusations of vulgarity, partly due to suggestive ad-libbing by cast members. “The humor was slightly naughty,” admits Jack Felton. And of course, the gay implications were also there. Lobaugh recalls that one of his leading men would bring a girlfriend to rehearsals. “He told me, ‘I don’t want anyone to get the idea you and I are a pair.’ I was so naive I hadn’t thought of it.”

In 1956, the year the Union finally opened to women (before that they could come in only through a side door and, with a few exceptions, had to be accompanied by a male), MUO was absorbed into MUSKET—“Michigan Union Show and Ko-eds Too”—ending almost half a century of same-sex casting.

But even though it ended almost half a century ago, the MUO is not forgotten. Besides raising money for the Union building, the shows created a treasury of U-M songs, the tours were great publicity for the university, and the productions provided a start for many show business careers. Among the long list of notables coming out of the MUO are Billy Mills, who was the bandleader for the Fibber McGee and Molly radio show; Jay Gorney (Gornetzky), who wrote the music of “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?”; and Valentine Davies, who wrote the story for the movie Miracle on Thirty-fourth Street.

At the Michigan Union centennial in January 2004, the Union acknowledged its debt by making the Michigan Union Opera the centerpiece of the celebration. The Union invited MUO alumni back, had present music students sing MUO songs, and rechristened a room the Union Opera Lounge. Located on the first floor across from the Anderson Room, the lounge is a treasury of MUO pictures and memorabilia.

The Detroit Observatory

Published In:
Ann Arbor Observer, May 1999,
May 1999

Author: Grace Shackman

It launched the U-M on the path to greatness

“How can we truly be called a nation, if we cannot possess within ourselves the sources of a literary, scientific, and artistic life?” asked Henry Philip Tappan, the first president of the University of Michigan, at his inaugural address in 1852. Henry N. Walker, a prominent Detroit lawyer in the audience, was inspired by Tappan’s vision and asked what he could do to help. Tappan suggested he raise money to build an astronomical observatory.

Born into a prominent New York family, Tappan had astonished his friends by agreeing, at age forty-seven, to head what was then an obscure frontier college. The attraction for Tappan, who previously had been a minister, professor, and writer, was the chance Michigan offered to put his educational philosophy into practice—“to change the wilderness into fruitful fields,” as he put it in his inaugural address.

An adherent of the Prussian model of education, Tappan believed that universities should expand their curriculum beyond the classics to teach science and encourage research. An observatory would embody the new approach perfectly—and Walker was ideally positioned to make it a reality.

Walker was a former state attorney general who often handled railroad cases. Well connected to both intellectuals and business people in Detroit, he attracted contributors who desired to advance scientific knowledge, as well as those who were interested in astronomy’s practical uses, particularly in establishing accurate time.

Photograph of Detroit Observatory,
surrounded by open fields

The earliest known picture of the Observatory, circa 1858. The man is probably first director Franz Brunnow with his father-in-law’s dog, Leo.

Because Walker raised most of its $22,000 cost from Detroiters, the building was named the “Detroit Observatory.” Tappan originally planned to have just one telescope, a refractor, suitable for research and instruction. But Walker offered to pay for a meridian-circle telescope as well. It would be better suited for measuring the transit of the stars and thus for establishing more accurate time—a matter of vital importance to railroads, which needed to run on schedule.

The regents sited the observatory on a four-acre lot, high on a hill outside the city limits. Although only half a mile east of Central Campus, it was then considered way out in the country. In the early days it could be reached only by a footpath, and astronomers complained of the long walk.

Tappan said later that he took credit for everything about the observatory except its location, which he would have preferred be on the main campus. “It has proved an inconvenient location, and has caused much fatigue to the astronomer,” he wrote. However, the remote site probably saved it: nearly every building of its age on Central Campus has long since been torn down.

In 1853, Tappan and Walker traveled to New York to order the refracting telescope from Henry Fitz, the country’s leading telescope maker. With an objective lens twelve and five-eighths inches across, it would be the largest refractor yet built in the United States, and the third largest telescope in the world, after instruments in Pulkovo, Russia, and at Harvard.

Meridian-circle telescopes were not manufactured in the United States, so Tappan went to Europe. On the advice of Johann Encke, director of the Prussian Royal Observatory in Berlin, he ordered a brass meridian-circle telescope from Pistor and Martins, a Berlin firm.

Tappan asked several American astronomers to head the new observatory, but they all turned him down. At that point he thought of Franz Brunnow, Encke’s assistant, who had been very enthusiastic about the project. Some objected to hiring a foreigner as astronomer, but Tappan prevailed. And certainly Brunnow was eminently qualified--he was the first Ph.D. on the U-M faculty. Under his direction, Ann Arbor soon became “the place to study astronomy,” according to Patricia Whitesell, the observatory director, curator, and author of A Creation of His Own: Tappan’s Detroit Observatory. Brunnow socialized with the Tappans and in 1857 married Tappan’s daughter Rebecca.

Tappan launched many other initiatives to turn the U-M into a first-rate university. He moved the students out of the two classroom buildings, letting them board in town, to make more space for academic uses--classrooms, natural history and art museums, and library. He encouraged the growth of the medical school, started the law school, and built the first chemistry laboratory in the country to be used exclusively for research and teaching. Under his leadership, the U-M granted its first bachelor of science degrees in 1855, its first graduate degrees in 1859, and its first civil engineering degrees in 1860.

But Tappan also made enemies--people who found his changes too precipitous or his manner too haughty. In 1863, Tappan was fired in a surprise vote by a lame-duck board of regents. Tappan moved his family to Europe, never to return; he died in Switzerland in 1881. Fortunately, his successors continued on the course he’d set, securing the U-M’s reputation as one of the nation’s leading universities.

Brunnow resigned after Tappan was fired; his star student, James Craig Watson, succeeded him. During Watson’s tenure, a director’s house was built west of the observatory.

Photograph of Detroit Observatory &
director's house

The Observatory with the director’s house on the west side. While Brunnow was able to live in the president’s house, Watson, the next director, needed a home, so one was built that connected to his office in the Observatory.

In 1908 an addition was built to the east to hold a thirty-seven-inch reflector telescope. But as the campus grew out to the observatory, lights from the power plant (1914) and from the Ann Street hospital and Couzens Hall (both 1925) interfered with viewing. Over the decades that followed, the astronomy department transferred its serious research to a series of increasingly remote locations (currently Arizona and Chile). But the old observatory continued to be used for educational purposes until 1963, when the Dennison physics and astronomy building was completed.

In the tight-budget 1970s, there was talk of bulldozing the observatory. After World War II, the director’s house had been torn down to make room for an expansion of Couzens Hall, and the 1908 addition was razed in 1976, when the university decided it was too run down to maintain. But the original observatory was saved—though the rescue took a three-part campaign lasting close to thirty years.

Step one took place in the early 1970s, when a group of local preservationists led by John Hathaway, then chair of the Historic District Commission, and Dr. Hazel Losh, legendary U-M astronomy professor, convinced the university to give it a stay of execution.

Next, enter history professors Nick and Peg Steneck, who were called in by Al Hiltner, then chair of the astronomy department, and Orren Mohler, the former chair. Peg Steneck remembers that on her first tour of the building, “squatters were gaining access by climbing the chestnut tree out front and entering through the trapdoor in the roof. Evidence of occupancy, such as mattresses and Kentucky Fried Chicken boxes, littered the dome room, and a mural was painted around the wall of the dome.”

Nick Steneck tried to keep the building in use, setting up his office there, teaching classes, and using the upper level for the Collegiate Institute for Values in Science. Peg Steneck started research on the observatory’s history, which grew into a course she still teaches on the history of the university. Under the Stenecks’ prodding, the university took steps to stop the deterioration, fixing the roof, masonry foundation, and stucco.

Step three took place in 1994, when the university history and traditions committee asked vice president for research Homer Neal to restore the observatory. Neal assigned Whitesell, who was working in his office, to write a proposal, which she happily did, starting with Peg Steneck’s research.

Whitesell had a Ph.D. in higher education, was interested in both historic preservation and the history of science, and had long admired the observatory. Her new assignment, she says, “was a dream come true.” Neal agreed to the restoration and appointed Whitesell project manager.

Like the original construction, the million-dollar project, spearheaded enthusiastically by Anne and Jim Duderstadt, was paid for by gifts from private donors. The work began in June 1997 and was completed a year and a half later.
The university’s first total restoration project, the observatory has a lot of “first” and “only” distinctions. It is the oldest unaltered observatory in America that has its original instruments intact, in their original mounts, and operational. The meridian-circle telescope is the oldest in its original mount in the entire world. The building is the second oldest on campus (next to the president’s house) and the oldest unaltered one.

Restored, the observatory serves both as a museum of astronomical history and as a location for many academic events.

The 1838 jail

Published In:
Ann Arbor Observer, May 2000,
May 2000

Author: Grace Shackman

Jailbreaks were a constant danger

Even in the good old days there were criminals. Ann Arbor was smaller and more neighborly in the nineteenth century, but there were still very serious crimes, including robbery and murder. Thus, there was a need for jails. For half the century, from 1838 to 1887, local wrongdoers were imprisoned in a Greek Revival building on North Main, where the Ann Arbor Community Center now stands.

When John Allen and Elisha Rumsey founded Ann Arbor in 1824, Rumsey gave the land bounded by Fourth and Fifth avenues and Liberty and William streets (now containing the downtown post office, the Blake Transit Center, and the YMCA) to the community as a site for a jail. Allen contributed the block at Main and Huron still used for the county courthouse.

The county’s first jail was built on Rumsey’s square in 1829. The project was organized in a socialist fashion. “The citizens of Ann Arbor and vicinity contributed, each according to his ability, some timber, lumber, work or other materials necessary for the construction of a building that would answer for a county prison,” wrote a local historian in the Charles C. Chapman 1881 History of Washtenaw County. The wooden building included quarters for the jailer’s family as well as one room for prisoners.

The first jail was notoriously insecure. According to O. W. Stevenson’s Ann Arbor: The First Hundred Years, “No one could be sure that a prisoner who had been placed within its confines on any particular night would be found there the next morning.” Less than seven years after it was built, a grand jury concluded that a new jail was needed. The county bought the land on North Main, four blocks from the courthouse, and the next year the Davison brothers began construction of a two-and-a-half-story red brick building.

The work evidently took several years to finish; local newspapers published numerous letters asking why it wasn’t done yet, and explanations for the slowness of getting the necessary funds. Meanwhile, large numbers of prisoners continued to escape from the old jail--five when the door was opened for delivery of some dishes, and seven others who managed to cut a hole through the floor.

Photograph of Ann Arbor Tire Supply,
formerly the jail

After the jail moved to downtown Ann Arbor, the old jail building on North Main was converted first to a private home and then to a gas station.

“When erected [the Main Street jail] was considered a handsome building, in which the citizens felt a just pride,” Chapman’s historian wrote. William Spaulding, son of sheriff Ephraim Spaulding (who served from 1847 to 1852), had a less cheerful description in his memoirs, written in the 1920s. Spaulding remembered how “the family lived in a wing of the big gloomy jail, with its barred windows, in the lower part of town. ‘When we lived in the jail’ was a very common reference in our family, and there was no stigma attached.”

Spaulding’s entire family was involved in keeping the jail. “My brother James was old enough to act as ‘turnkey,’ which involved locking and unlocking cells at stated times,” Spaulding recalled. “Imagine a boy serving in such capacity in one of our modern prisons.”

The sheriff’s wife, Jane McCormick Spaulding, cooked for the prisoners in her own kitchen. “Father and mother made due allowance for the fact that the jail was a place of enforced restraint. But, when these stern requirements were satisfied, every effort was made to treat the prisoners with consideration and kindness. . . . This policy not only contributed to the discipline and good order of the institution, but it actually gained the confidence and good will of many of the prisoners,” Spaulding wrote. He went on to say that his parents often helped the families of prisoners, and that after they were released, they often came by to “give good account of themselves and testify their appreciation. In testimony of this Mother treasured various keep-sakes of hand-craft which had been presented to her on such occasions.”

Ann Arbor’s citizens had reason to worry about their safety even after the new jail opened. Criminals held there included horse thieves and bank robbers. Murderers were sent to the state penitentiary (as they still are today), but even they stayed in the county jail while they awaited trial. And despite the new jail’s brick construction, jailbreaks in Ann Arbor were still rife. On June 1, 1842, the State Journal recorded that “Henry Andrews, indicted for larceny, made his escape from our jail on Sunday last by digging through the outer wall. He was not confined in a cell. He has acquitted himself without the assistance of judge or jury, and avoided his trial which was to have taken place today.”

Chapman’s history tells of two men convicted in 1857 for the murder of Simon Holden and sentenced to the state penitentiary for life. About a year after the sentence, the court ordered a new trial. “They were returned to Ann Arbor jail, but before court next convened they escaped from jail and were never re-captured.”

Allen K. Donahue, who lived across the street from the jail, reminisced about it toward the end of his life in a 1943 Ann Arbor News interview. Many of his stories concerned escapees such as Charles Chorr, who was sentenced to hang for murder in 1843 but escaped and was never caught. Donahue recalled a pair of prisoners who got out through the jail’s chimney in the middle of winter but were glad to be caught again because they were so cold. Two other prisoners tried to escape through the underground drainage pipe but couldn’t get beyond a heavy grate and were dead by the time they were found. Another escapee, a horse thief, was shot and killed while trying to get to the stables.

There were escape attempts even during Spaulding’s benign reign. “One story which my father told was of pursuing and capturing a number of prisoners who had escaped. There was a rough-and-tumble bout between the officers and the fugitives. Revolvers hadn’t been invented, and shooting was not such a ready resort. Father grabbed one of the escapees, wrestled him down, and was sitting astride him, when he chanced to glimpse something out of one corner of his eye which caused him to dodge with the free part of his body. It was just in time to avoid a large rock which the fellow hurled at him: the missile whizzed by and split open the head of the prisoner beneath.”

If Spaulding couldn’t stop all escapes, his methods allowed him to stop one. “Once, when a gang of tough customers had just been incarcerated, they managed to secure from outside confederates, tools to saw their way out, and arms. They had nearly brought matters to a climax, and were prepared to murder the guard or anyone who opposed them, when a warning word was passed by one of the inmates to the sheriff. At least that was a substantial return for the humanitarian policy toward prisoners.”

There were also quiet times in the jail. Donahue recalled that he had seen the jail “swamped with inmates and devoid of any life at all.” An 1843 newspaper article noted little activity. “There is but one person in our jail and he is committed for want of bail to keep the peace. It is supposed that the man is partially deranged or he never should have been there.” Unfortunately, the incarceration of mentally ill people is still an issue.

As the county grew, especially in the years after the Civil War, the Main Street jail became too small. After a new courthouse was finished in 1878, civic leaders began discussing building a new jail. They lost a ballot issue in 1884, but by selling the old jail they managed to raise enough money to buy land at Ashley and Ann. The jail stayed on that site, in two different buildings, until 1970, when it moved to its present location at Hogback and Washtenaw in Pittsfield Township.
John J. Robison, who had served as state senator, county clerk, and mayor of Ann Arbor, bought the Main Street jail in 1887 and made it into his family home. He took off the cell block in back and used the bricks to build two houses to the south, one of which was turned into a store.

In 1917 Morris Kraizman bought the old jail and used it for a tire company, gas station, and scrap metal and junk store. Later it became the Pentecostal Church of God, then apartments. In 1951 it was severely damaged by fire. In 1958 what was left of the building was torn down. The Ann Arbor Community Center was built on the site two years later.

Ann Arbor's Carnegie Library

Published In:
Ann Arbor Observer, February 1991,
February 1991

Author: Grace Shackman

The steel magnate's gift was grafted onto the public high school

Look closely at the north side of the U-M's Frieze Building on Huron opposite North Thayer, and you'll see that part of it is actually a distinct structure, set closer to Huron Street and built of stone blocks rather than brick. The main brick building was built in 1907 as Ann Arbor High School. The smaller stone one was built the same year, as one of America's 1,679 Carnegie libraries.

Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919) was a Scottish immigrant who made his fortune in steel (he replaced many wooden bridges with steel ones) and railroads (he introduced the first sleeping cars). After he sold Carnegie Steel to financier J. P. Morgan in 1901, he devoted his energies to giving away his vast fortune for social and educational advancement.

Carnegie believed that great wealth was a public trust that should be shared. But he did not believe in straight alms-giving. (This was, after all, the Carnegie who broke the 1886 strike at his steel plant in Homestead, Pennsylvania, with 200 Pinkerton detectives. It took the state militia to put down the riots that resulted.) Building libraries to encourage self-improvement was consistent with Carnegie's philosophy of helping people help themselves. He paid for the buildings but required the community to provide the site and to pay for books and maintenance in perpetuity.

At the time it was built, Ann Arbor's Carnegie Library was believed to be the only one in the country attached to another building. But it was a natural pairing in a town where the library and the high school had already been associated for nearly fifty years. The contents of the high school's library, which started operating in 1858, were the city's first publicly owned books. In 1883, the collection was given its own quarters on the second floor of the school, and Nellie Loving was hired to be the first librarian. At this time, or soon after, the general public also was allowed to use the library, thus setting the precedent, continued to this day, of the school board taking responsibility for the public library.

Photograph of Carnegie Library

Post card view of Ann Arbor's Carnegie Library. It was said to be the only one in the country attached to another building.

Another source of books for nineteenth-century readers was the Ladies Library Association. It was organized in 1866 by thirty-five women as a subscription library, based on a model started by Benjamin Franklin. By 1885, members had raised enough money — through Easter and Christmas fairs, lectures, cantatas, and strawberry festivals — to build their own library on Huron Street between Division and Fifth, in a building since torn down to make room for Michigan Bell.

In 1902, Anna Botsford Bach, then president of the Ladies Library Association, suggested applying for a Carnegie grant to build a city library. The city's application was supported by the school board, the city council, and the Ladies Library Association. But after Carnegie granted $20,000 for the project in 1903, the applicants could not agree among themselves on a site. (The school board wanted the new library to be near the high school so the students could continue using it. The Ladies Library Association thought an entirely separate location would better serve the general public.) The deadlock was resolved only after the application was resubmitted in 1904 without the participation of the Ladies Library Association. This time, the city and school board were awarded $30,000.

The Carnegie grant came just in time: on the night of December 31, 1904, the high school burned down. Luckily, school officials and students who rushed to the scene were able to save most of the library's 8,000 books before the building was destroyed.

A few months later, voters approved a bond issue to build a new school. The school and the library went up simultaneously; both were designed by architects Malcomson and Higginbottom of Detroit, and built by M. Campbell of Findlay, Ohio. (The interior finishing work was done by the Lewis Company of Bay City, which later began building kit homes.) Despite its unusual connection to the high school, the library looked much like other Carnegie libraries: large pillars on the front, big windows, high ceilings, and a massive center staircase. The board of education, pleased with the result, called the new building "beautiful and commodious."

In 1932, the high school library moved into separate quarters on the library's third floor, but students continued to use the lower floors after school. Gene Wilson, retired director of the public library, remembers that when he began working there in 1951, the busiest time of day was right after school, when the students would flock over to do their homework. By the time Wilson came to the library, the once spacious building was, in his words, "obscured by shelving on top of shelving. It was a rabbit warren of a building, typical of libraries at the end of their life, with six times as many books as planned for with stacks all over."

Since the late 1940's, citizens' groups had been talking about the need for a new library. The school board took action in 1953, selling the high school and library building to the U-M for $1.4 million. (By then the new Ann Arbor High — now Pioneer — was under construction at the corner of West Stadium and South Main.) The board used the proceeds of the sale to buy the Beal property at the corner of Fifth and William as the site for a new library, ending nearly a century of close association between the high school and the public library.

The library remained in the old Carnegie building for a few years after the high school moved out. It left in 1957, when the new public library on Fifth Avenue was ready for occupancy.

The university remodeled and enlarged the old library and high school building and renamed it the Henry S. Frieze Building, after a professor of classics who also had served as acting president. In 2004 the university announced plans to build a dormitory on the site.


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The Private Hospital Era

Published In:
Ann Arbor Observer, March 1994,
March 1994

Author: Grace Shackman

Between 1875 and 1945, the city was home to seventeen proprietary hospitals. Ann Arborites could go to Dr. Cowie for a difficult diagnosis, study nursing with Dr. Peterson, get cuts stitched by Dr. Gates, and have their babies in Nurse Grove’s home.

When Dr. Carl Malcolm Jr. started practicing in Ann Arbor in the 1930's, many patients still expected him to treat them at home. When he urged them to go to the hospital, Malcolm recalls, "they thought it was the end of things."

Malcolm's older patients had been born in a time when anything a doctor could do to help he could do in their homes. As recently as the mid-1800s, hospitals were charity institutions for those who had no home to be sick in—"refuges mainly for the homeless poor and insane," according to Paul Starr's The Social Transformation of American Medicine.

Photograph of Dr. David Cowie in a hospital
ward

Dr. David Cowie is best remembered today as the instigator of adding iodine to salt to prevent goiters.

Starr's fascinating medical history explains how, "in a matter of decades, roughly between 1870 and 1910, hospitals moved from the periphery to the center of medical education and medical practice." A string of breakthroughs, including antisepsis, anesthesia, and X-rays, transformed surgery from a desperate last resort into a routine medical tool. At first, doctors performed surgery in people's homes--Elsa Goetz Ordway remembers the family physician operating on her mother on the dining room table in 1914. But as medical standards rose, more and more doctors preferred to work in hospitals, which gradually evolved from shelters for the poor and the dying into, in Starr's words, "doctors' workshops for all types and classes of patients."

Today, Ann Arbor's three huge hospitals--the U-M, St. Joe's, and the VA--together handle more than a million patient visits every year. But it took a long time to get there. Both the University of Michigan Hospital (1869) and St. Joseph Mercy Hospital (1911) started out serving mere handfuls of patients in converted homes. For two generations, they shared the town with numerous small hospitals owned by individual practitioners.

Between 1875 and 1945, Ann Arbor had at least seventeen "proprietary" hospitals. All were located in converted houses. Otherwise, they were as different as the personalities and medical specialties of their owners.

The hospitals' owners included some of the most distinguished physicians in the city. Dr. David Murray Cowie founded the U-M pediatrics department, cared for patients at the U-M Hospital, and engaged in extensive research while also running his own hospital in a former mansion on South Division Street. His colleague Dr. Reuben Peterson, U-M professor of "women's and children's diseases," established a private medical complex that eventually filled ten buildings on Forest, Church, and South University. At the other end of the spectrum, nurse Josephine Grove took patients into her own home on Huron near Revena, caring for them around the clock. And Neil Gates, a down-to-earth general practitioner, attempted to treat almost every kind of medical ailment, whether in a patient's home, in his downtown office, or in his hospital on South Fifth Avenue.

Dr. Cowie's exclusive clientele

Dr. David Cowie's sprawling brick mansion at 320 South Division is by far the most impressive surviving former hospital. In its day, it was also the most prestigious.
Cowie was born in Canada in 1872 to Scottish parents (his obituary called him "as Scotch as MacGregor"). He came to Michigan in 1892 to attend Battle Creek College but soon transferred to the U-M, where he graduated from the medical school and was hired as an assistant in internal medicine in 1896. He earned a second medical degree at the University of Heidelberg in 1908, the year he married Anna Marion Cook, who was also a doctor, although there is no evidence that she ever practiced medicine.

When Cowie returned from Germany, he was asked by medical dean George Dock to start a pediatrics department at the U-M Hospital. He opened his private diagnostic hospital a few years later, starting out with four rooms on the second floor at 122 North Fourth Avenue.

In 1918, Cowie tripled the number of patients he could serve by buying the home at 320 South Division built in the mid-1880s for Adelbert Noble, proprietor of the Star Clothing House. Cowie added on an institutional dining room and kitchen to the back of the house and built a third floor for additional patient rooms. Set up to provide complete medical and surgical services, the hospital boasted an automatic elevator, and every room had running water. The nurses wore pink uniforms.

Edith Staebler Kempf, whose in-laws lived next door in what is now the Kempf House Center for Local History, remembered Cowie Private Hospital as "a hospital for rich women." But according to the Medical History of Michigan, published in 1930 by the Michigan State Medical Society, some exceptions were made. The authors wrote of Cowie's "ministration to semi-indigent gentlefolk" as "a pleasant feature" of the hospital.

Retired surgeon Thurston Thieme sometimes assisted with operations at Cowie's as a U-M intern. He agrees with Kempf about the high-toned clientele. He remembers setting out the sterilized instruments for Dr. Frederick Coller, the distinguished chairman of surgery at the U-M, while Coller complained that the patient should have come to the U-M Hospital for the operation. But according to Thieme,"Cowie had the best families as patients. He got the necessary doctors to come in."

Cowie attracted patients from all around the state. Dr. Allen Saunders, a local pediatrician who grew up in Coldwater, remembers that a number of relatives and family friends chose to come to Cowie's in Ann Arbor rather than be treated locally.

Cowie's prominent patients included Francis Kelsey, U-M professor of Latin and director of Near East research. Kelsey, for whom the Kelsey Museum was named, was a friend and admirer of Cowie's. In a 1924 letter to philanthropist Horace Rackham, who underwrote his archaeological work, Kelsey wrote that his wife, Isabelle was sick but was receiving expert care from Cowie: "I have a friend who is a scientific physician in charge of a private hospital where obscure cases of her sort are investigated. She is there now and her case is being studied with the help of the X-ray and other means of diagnosis." It is not known what Cowie found, but Isabelle Kelsey lived another twenty years, to the age of eighty-two.

Francis Kelsey was not so lucky. In 1927, he returned from a dig in Egypt in failing health and immediately checked into Cowie's hospital. Too weak to give the paper on his findings that he had come home expressly to deliver, he got out of his sick bed to go to the meeting and hear someone else read it for him. He came back to the hospital and died a few weeks later.

Photograph of the Cowie Private Hospital
building taken in 2006

Dr. David Cowie took care of patients in his private hospital at 320 S. Division, now an apartment building.

Though his hospital was exclusive, Cowie's research ended up benefiting children throughout the state and the nation. At the time, many children in the Great Lakes region suffered from goiters--swollen thyroid glands in the neck—due to a lack of iodine in the soil. At Cowie's suggestion, a state commission was appointed in 1922 to study the problem. Cowie chaired the group, which first considered adding the iodine to drinking water. When that proved too expensive, they switched to the idea of adding it to table salt. At their urging, iodized salt was marketed in Michigan starting in 1924. Before Cowie began his crusade, 35 percent of Detroit school¬children suffered from goiters. With the introduction of iodized salt, the incidence was reduced to 1.4 percent. The use of iodized salt spread throughout the country and is commonplace today.

Cowie died on January 27, 1940. He became sick while on the way to his cottage in the Irish Hills, returned to Ann Arbor, and entered his own hospital, where he died of a coronary thrombosis. "Dr. Cowie's interests extended far beyond the limits of his profession," the Ann Arbor News wrote. "He was widely read, of broad human sympathies, quiet in demeanor, yet forceful. Literally hundreds of children owed their lives to his professional knowledge and unusual sympathetic insight." After Cowie's death, his hospital was divided into apartments, a use it still retains.

Dr. Peterson's medical empire

Like Cowie, Reuben Peterson served people who were willing to pay for better service than was available in the public hospitals of the time. Thurston Thieme remembers Dr. Peterson's Private Hospital as "a fine hospital, greatly respected and well known." His patients were all women and children, some of whom came from other towns and even other states.

For most of its early years, Peterson's hospital was located in a former fraternity house at 620 South Forest. He was so successful that he expanded into surrounding buildings, until he had the capacity to treat forty patients and train sixteen nurses. His private medical empire eventually included an annex at 614 Forest; a maternity hospital at 610 Forest; five residences for employees and nursing students on Forest, Church, and South University; and two hospitals, run for him by other doctors, at 1216 and 1218 South University.

Peterson was born in Boston in 1862; he received both undergraduate and medical degrees from Harvard, graduating in 1889. He set up the nurse's training program at St. Mark's Hospital in Grand Rapids and taught gynecology at Rush Medical School in Chicago before accepting an appointment to the U-M medical school in 1901. He started his hospital the next year. "The University of Michigan Hospital contains 225 beds," he wrote to explain the move. "It is full to overflowing the year around and many patients are compelled to board outside and wait for beds."

Peterson's hospital opened in June 1902 in an old house at 1215 South University. Peterson's partners, Fantine Pemberton, an early graduate of the new U-M nursing school, and her widowed mother, Laura Pemberton, rented and furnished the hospital building. Besides serving for many years as Peterson's superintendent of nursing and matron respectively, the two women also provided household goods, equipment, and tableware of their own for use in the hospital. A few months later, the hospital moved to the larger house at 620 Forest.

Peterson ran his own nurse's training program at his hospital. He awarded the first degrees in 1907, the same year he incorporated the school and bought out the Pembertons' interest. (Both women continued to work for him.) By 1909, he had six nurses in training. In 1912 Peterson set up the hospital annex and the next year the maternity hospital.

Peterson did not strictly separate his private life from the hospital. In 1910, he installed a "laundry appliance and mangle" in the basement of the hospital and hired Mary Simons and her husband for laundry work, with the understanding that they also would do his wife's laundry. (He had married the former Josephine Davis of Elk Rapids in 1890.) When he used 614 Forest as a home for nurses, he and Mrs. Peterson furnished it with a piano from their home.

In 1920 Peterson decided to discontinue the nurse's training school, "because of the difficulties in maintaining a high standard of training under present conditions." Nursing historian Linda Strodtman explains that "as nursing standards developed, it was not sufficient to just offer women's care." After 1920, Peterson confined his work to one building, keeping 620 Forest as the hospital and the house next door at 614 for a nurses' home, and selling or renting the rest of his property. Shortly after, in 1922, he was promoted to head the ob-gyn department at the U-M medical school.

Clara Schnierle worked at Peterson's hospital from 1928 to 1932 as a cook's helper. She remembers Peterson as a good man and a good doctor--reserved, but still someone you felt comfortable around. "He was strict, like everyone in those days," Schnierle recalls. "You did your duties as he wanted; if you didn't like it, you moved on." Schnierle lived on the third floor of the hospital, which also contained the operating room. On the second floor there were eight private rooms and a nursery where the newborns slept in little baskets.

As a boy, book manufacturer Joe Edwards had his tonsils out at Peterson's. Many women were there for childbirth, but some came with illnesses. According to Schnierle, the patients generally chose Peterson's so they could have a private room and avoid the medical students at University Hospital. Maternity patients stayed two weeks, sitting up only after ten days. If they had twins, they stayed three weeks. Some of the patients hired their own personal nurses. Schnierle remembers a preemie, born three months early, who was tended by two nurses in twelve-hour shifts. The mother was cared for by two other private nurses. After three months in the hospital, the baby and mother went home, accompanied by all four nurses.

Schnierle recalls that Dr. Peterson came by every day, usually in the afternoon, after attending to his work at the university. He spent every summer, when the university was in recess, at his summer home in Duxbury, Massachusetts, arranging with other doctors to take care of emergencies and putting off elective surgery until he returned in the fall.

In 1931, Peterson retired from the university. When Schnierle left to get married in 1932, she was not replaced because Peterson's hospital was shrinking again. It closed for good the next year and Peterson moved permanently to Duxbury, where he died on November 25, 1942, at age eighty. His hospital became a rooming house and later was torn down to make room for the Forest Avenue parking structure.

Nurse Grove's home hospital

Most proprietary hospitals were owned by doctors. But the Grove Cottage Hospital, 1422 West Huron at Revena, was owned and operated by nurse Josephine Grove and her husband, Otto, who was listed in the city directory as a traveling salesman.
The Groves turned their home into a hospital in the mid-1920s and ran it until Otto's death in 1934. Upstairs were two bedrooms for patients (they kept the third bedroom for themselves). Downstairs another bedroom was available for overflow patients. The upstairs bathroom served visiting doctors as an operating room. Mrs. Grove herself cared for her patients around the clock.

Most of Grove's patients were referred by a neighbor, Dr. John Gates, who lived at 201 South Revena. Many were women giving birth. Helen Wolf Curtis remembers that her brother was born at the Grove Cottage Hospital in 1927. Her family lived at 110 South Revena, so when her mother, Lucy Wolf, went into labor, she just walked down the street. After Dr. Peterson's hospital closed, his former employee, Clara Schnierle, chose to have her first child at Grove's. She explains that in those days people differed on whether to have their babies at home or in the hospital. Schnierle and her husband decided they would rather have the first one in a hospital, so their physician, John Gates, recommended the Grove Cottage Hospital. Schnierle remembers Mrs. Grove as "very pleasant, very serious-minded.”

Sophie Walker, who lived nearby at 330 South Seventh, had her baby at Grove's hospital in 1928, not with Dr. Gates, but with another doctor, whom she chose because he spoke German. She had come from Germany just two years before. She liked Grove's hospital because it was like a private home, but she has a sad memory of the patient in the other room crying after giving birth: she wasn't married and was giving up her baby for adoption.

Maternity was not the only service offered. When Helen Wolf Curtis was a girl, she fell off the front stoop and broke her arm, and Dr. John Gates set it. Eleven years later, in 1929, she had the plate taken out at Grove's hospital, and while she was there she also had her tonsils and adenoids out. She remembers the hospital as "a wonderful place, not very plush but neat and clean."

Dr. John Gates's elder brother, Neil, was also a doctor, a well-loved general practitioner. But according to his grandson Jeff Rentschler, he struggled financially until he bought his own hospital.

Gates's hospital at 314 South Fifth Avenue (now the parking lot of the Federal Building) exemplified a general practitioner's proprietary hospital. Neil Gates was the classic GP--he made house calls even in the worst weather, never took vacations (another grandson, David Gates, remembers him saying, "I'll take a vacation on the day nobody gets sick"), and was rarely allowed to sleep through the night. He smoked cigars constantly; people said they didn't recognize him without one. His niece Janet Ivory remembers him coming to her house when she was sick as a little girl. "When I smelled the cigar smoke, I felt better because I knew he was there. I knew I would get better."

Gates was born in Ann Arbor in 1873, the son of contractor John Gates and Dora McCormick Gates. He graduated from the U-M medical school in 1897 and started his career in Dexter. In about 1900 he built the Gates Block there as an office and infirmary (it is now occupied by insurance and real estate offices). Ten years later he moved to Ann Arbor and opened an office at 117 East Liberty, but he still kept up his large rural practice.

In the early days, Gates made house calls in a horse and buggy. In later years, his daughter, Lois Gates Rentschler, would drive him, often taking her son, Jeff, along. Jeff and his mother would usually stay in the car or walk around outside, but he has one memory of going inside the house of an elderly women in Dexter and eating homemade graham crackers with butter in front of her wood-burning stove.
During the flu epidemic of 1918, Gates ministered heroically to his rural patients. The epidemic hit Ann Arbor in the fall, but didn't get out into the country until the winter. Gates usually made winter visits in a one-horse sleigh that he drove himself, but during the epidemic he hired a two-horse wagon and a driver so that he could sleep between visits. During the terrible epidemic, which claimed 548,000 lives nationwide, it was the only rest he got.

Gates made a lot of his own medicine using natural materials--plants, weeds, bark, fungus-—that he mashed with a pestle. For refined ingredients, he dealt exclusively with Fischer's Pharmacy. David Gates remembers that his grandfather carried three or four bags filled with all sorts of medicines, including some sugar pills he gave to people with imagined illnesses.

The Ann Arbor Railroad tracks ran right behind Gates's house at 440 South Main. When he was at home, his wife would put a scarf on the pole of the bird-house in the backyard, so the train crews could stop if they had a medical problem. They would toot their whistle and Gates would come out to take a cinder out of an eye, treat a burn, set a broken arm, or help a passenger with motion sickness.

Despite all his business, Gates for many years didn't make much money. David Gates remembers that his grandparents had a monster icebox and a big pantry, usually filled with eggs, chickens, and whatever produce was in season, contributed by patients who couldn't afford to pay in cash. But Jeff Rentschler says their grandfather did much better after he started his own hospital in 1924.

The hospital Gates bought was an old Queen Anne house on South Fifth Avenue, built about 1895, complete with tower and wraparound front porch. In 1906, U-M medical professor Cyrenus Darling had converted it into a hospital with its own operating room and eight private patient rooms. In 1911, Darling became one of eight founding staff doctors at St. Joe's, which started out in a former rooming house on the corner of State and Kingsley. For a few years Darling worked at both hospitals, but in 1916 he decided to concentrate on St. Joe's. The hospital was run by James and Muriel McLaren as "Maplehurst" until Dr. Gates bought it 1924.

Gates modernized the hospital by adding an X-ray facility, a second operating room (used mainly for delivering babies), and two wards, raising its capacity to twenty-eight patients. In his book Historic Michigan, George Fuller called Gates's hospital "one of the most complete and up-to-date of the many privately owned institutions of its kind in the United States."

As in his office and rural practice, Gates continued to treat whatever needs his patients had, although he had a reputation for being particularly good at stitching. W. H. Priestkorn went there as a boy to have his appendix out. Nate Weinberg's mother was operated on for pleurisy. Sam Schlect remembers someone he knew being stitched up by Dr. Gates after a Fourth of July explosion slashed his cheek.

Gates had a lot of maternity business. Mary Schlect, Sam's wife, gave birth to their daughter there in 1943. Sam was in the army, so she came with her neighbor, Gladys Water, who also was pregnant, and stayed in a three-bed ward. She remembers that the fee was $110, reduced to $100 if paid in cash. Election worker Bev Kirsht, who was born in Gates's hospital, reports that her father, George Lirette, was in the delivery room both for her birth and that of her sister. Years later, the Lamaze Association would have to fight local hospitals for this privilege, but Gates was ahead of his time on the issue. He routinely told the men, "Go out and take off your tie and jacket and come back in. It's your baby, too." David Gates believes there was a large influx of babies named "Neil" from the Gates's hospital—he says that when his grandfather delivered a boy he would hold him up and say, "If you don't know what to name him, name him 'Neil.' "

Gates never retired. During World War II he was able to continue his usual rural calls, thanks to a special permit that enabled him to buy gasoline and hard-to-obtain tires, both rationed. He was also issued extra ration coupons to buy food for the patients in his hospital.

Dr. Gates died July 16, 1945. By then, his was the last surviving private hospital in the city. The rest had slowly died out, unable to compete with St. Joe's, which had built a big hospital on Ingalls in 1913, and the U-M, which had built a large modern hospital in 1925.

Of all hospitals, Paul Starr writes, the proprietary hospitals' "rate of institutional survival was the lowest. In this regard they were typical of small businesses; they opened and closed with the vicissitudes of personal fortune." Ann Arbor's experience bears this out. None of the hospitals survived their owners. After Gates's death, his hospital was converted to a rooming house. The turreted building was torn down in 1973 to make room for the Federal Building.

Proprietary Hospitals

The following list of proprietary hospitals and the doctors who owned them was compiled from the City Directory and from people's memories.

Ann Arbor Sanitarium and Private Hospital, Dr. James Lynds, 403 S. Fourth Ave. (now Muehlig's Funeral Chapel)
Ann Arbor Private Hospital, Mrs. Margaret Kelly, proprietor, Huron near First, then 1129 Washtenaw Ave.
Bethel Faith Home, Mrs. Augusta Whitlark, matron, 126 Observatory
Dr. William Blair, 311 S. Division St.
Burrett-Smith, Dr. Cyrus Burrett and Dr. Dean T. Smith, first at 721 E. Washington, then at 416 S. Fifth Ave.
Classen Private Hospital, Dr. Carrie Classen, osteopath, 429 Hamilton Place
Cowie Private Hospital, Dr. David M. Cowie, 320 S. Division St.
Curtrest Maternity Home and Hospital, Mrs. Severine C. Curtiss, 1100 E. Huron St.
Dr. Neil Gates, 314 S. Fifth Ave.
Grove Cottage Hospital, Josephine and Otto Grove, 1422 W. Huron St.
Herdman's Private Hospital, Dr. William James Herdman, 709 W. Huron St.
Institute of Ozonotherapy, R. M. Leggett, manager, 120 N. Fourth Ave.
Maplehurst, James and Muriel McLaren, first at 314 S. Fifth Ave., then at 822 Arch
Dr. Katherine Martin, 120 N. Fourth Ave.
Dr. Peterson's Private Hospital, Dr., Reuben Peterson, 620 S. Forest Ave.
Washtenaw Private Hospital, also known as Dr. Cummings's Private Hospital, Dr. Howard Cummings, 216 N. State St.
Vreeland Maternity Home, Mrs.Velva C. Vreeland, 315 W. Mosley


[Photo caption from book]: Dr. Rueben Peterson, standing by his wife’s roses, ran a hospital for women and children that also served as a nurse’s training school.

[Photo caption from book]: Dr. Neil Gates ran the city's last private hospital at 314 S. Fifth. Unable to keep up with advances at public hospitals, it closed after his death in 1945 and was torn down in 1973.


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Cobblestone Houses in Washtenaw County

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

Author: Grace Shackman

They're a spinoff of the Erie Canal

Cobblestone Farm on Packard Road is one of at last seven cobblestone houses in Washtenaw County. Highly distinctive but incredibly laborious to build, they're examples of a folk art that flourished between the completion of the Erie Canal in 1825 and the Civil War.

Cobblestone houses first appeared in western New York State immediately after the canal was completed. Their creation was due to a fortunate combination of circumstances: a labor force of skilled masons looking for work after the canal's completion, an abundance of glacial stones, and a population eager to build new homes with profits from the canal. Most of the known examples (900 in all) are in New York, but as New Yorkers moved west, they took the craft with them and built scattered cobblestone houses in southern Ontario, southern Michigan, Illinois, and Wisconsin--wherever they found the style's namesake building materials, glacial stones, formed during the Ice Age, small enough to hold in one hand.

Cobblestone Farm

The city-owned property known as Cobblestone Farm, built in 1844 for naval surgeon Benajah Ticknor, is today the site of many community activities.

Even the most informative book on cobblestone architecture, Cobblestone Landmarks of New York State, by Olaf William Shelgren, Jr., Cary Lattin, and Robert W. Frasch, is unable to trace an inventor of the style. The authors assume that most masons did only three or four cobblestone houses and that "they learned the cobblestone technique from each other or by examining finished buildings."

Cobblestone houses' exterior walls were constructed with the stones arranged in neat rows, usually either vertically or horizontally but sometimes in fancier designs, and held together with cement that formed ridges between the layers. The simple lines of the prevalent architectural styles of the period, such as Federal, Classic Revival, and Greek Revival, lent themselves perfectly to this type of construction.

The masons experimented, and the homes became more involved and elaborate as the years went by. But even the simplest style was very labor-intensive, requiring hand placement of each stone. In the earliest homes, the stones were embedded right in the cement, forming an integral part of the outside wall. Later, the stones were more of a veneer, with just an occasional longer stone poked all the way into the cement. Toward the end of the era, the houses became very fancy, with tinier stones used merely for a veneer and arranged in elaborate patterns.

The cobblestone houses in Washtenaw County fit in with what is known about the homes in general: all were built in the 1830's and 1840's; all are in places where western New Yorkers settled; and all are of simple design, either Classic Revival or Greek Revival. Where the building time is documented, it runs from two to seven years, showing how laborious the work was. While two of the homes may have been done by the same mason, the other five seem to have been done by different individuals. All are located either on the Huron River or near streams, where stones were easier to find.

cobblestone closeup

Cobblestone houses, built from stones small enough to hold in one hand, are very labor intensive because the construction process entails putting in the stones one by one.

Cobblestone Farm, built in 1844 at 2781 Packard, is now a city-owned museum. Both the owner and the builder had New York origins. Heman Ticknor, who bought the farm for his brother, Dr. Benajah Ticknor, had farmed in Pittstown, New York, near Troy; the probable builder, Steven Mills, learned to be a mason in Phelps, in western New York.

Ann Arbor's other cobblestone house, at 2940 Fuller Road, across from Huron High, was built in 1836 for Orrin White, the first settler in Ann Arbor Township. White migrated here from Palmyra, in Wayne County, New York, the county with the largest number of recorded cobblestone houses. Present owners Nan and Robert Hodges believe that their house was also built by Steven Mills because it is very similar to the Ticknor-Campbell house: both are Classic Revival, and they have identical herringbone patterns of angled stones and similar interior layouts.

Lima Township's cobblestone house, at 10725 Jerusalem Road, is similar to the Ann Arbor cobblestone houses in size and design. Original owner Lester Jewett, who hailed from Seneca, New York, was, like Benajah Ticknor, a medical doctor. According to stories that have been passed down, the house took seven years to build. Dr. Jewett had two brothers who also settled on Jerusalem Road. They, too, built stone houses, but used larger fieldstones. Family legend is that the stone houses brought them luck.

The Rufus Knight home on Scio Church Road also has a similar look except for smaller upstairs windows. Knight, a miller who arrived in this area in 1826 from Wheatville, New York, was a pathfinder who, according to the 1891 Washtenaw County Portrait and Biographical Album, "ground the first grist which ever went between the stones in this county." He set another record - the first marriage to be entered in the county archives, when he married Sallie Scott in 1827. The 1891 book's description of Knight ends, "The old cobble stone house is still in use and as good as ever although it was erected as long ago as 1849."

Orrin White house from 1874 plat map

The Orrin White house across the street from Huron High School is believed to be built by Steven Mills, the same mason who constructed Cobblestone Farm.

A Greek Revival-style cobblestone is found at 3555 West Delhi Road, just a little to the west of the Delhi settlement. The house was built by Norman Goodale, an important mill owner during Delhi's days of prominence, for his mother, Harriet Church Goodale. Goodale settled in Delhi in 1838, so the house must have been built sometime after that. After the Goodale ownership, it passed through several hands, including Henry Ford's. He used it for a retreat, especially enjoying it when the peach trees on the property were in bloom.

A second Greek Revival in Scio Township (the owner prefers not to reveal its exact location) was the home of farmer Morris Richmond, who hailed from New York and built his house in 1847, taking more than two years to do it. The house was obviously built by someone who knew about architecture, since it features classic Greek Revival attributes: gable entrance, symmetrical windows, and even a raised area under the beams forming a frieze.

The most rustic of the seven Washtenaw County cobblestone homes is probably the only owner-built house in the group. Located on the corner of Baker and Shields just south of Dexter, it was built by Obed Taylor, who, according to information researched by his great-great-grandson, Welton Chamberlain, had been a surveyor and a road builder in Northbridge, Massachusetts, before coming west. After his arrival in Dexter, he was hired by Vrelan Bates to dig out a mill race for the Bates Saw Mill on Mill Creek. Taylor worked for three years, digging with pick and shovel, for which he was rewarded with 40 acres of nearby land.

He used the stones that he dug out to construct his house, burning the larger pieces of limestone for cement and using the smaller stones for the walls. Records indicate that he must have finished his home by 1844 because in that year he was hired by Judge Samuel Dexter to build a fence just like the one around his own home.

People curious about cobblestone houses and willing to travel farther afield can see all the cobblestone houses they could ever desire by going to western New York State and driving along Route 104, built on an old sandbar that parallels the Erie Canal: In Childs, New York, there is a Cobblestone Society, located in a cobblestone church; a cobblestone home and cobblestone one-room school are also on display. A little closer to home, in Paris, Ontario, near Brantford, are Canada's finest examples of cobblestone homes, all built by Levi Broughton, a mason from Normandale, New York.

Right here in Washtenaw County, we are lucky to have the seven we have: all slightly different, all well kept up, and all beautiful. The best time to view cobblestone houses is when the sun shines on them, giving the stones a beautiful three-dimensional look.


[Photo caption from original print edition]: Matching herringbone stonework suggests that Cobblestone Farm and the Orrin White House on Fuller Road (as it appeared in 1891) were built by the same mason.

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