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.

The County Poor House

Published In:
Ann Arbor Observer, October 1986,
October 1986

Author: Grace Shackman

It doubled as an insane asylum

The County Farm Park, on the east side between Platt and Medford, is devoted to recreation such as jogging and gardening. But once it was the location of the County Poor House. Homeless people of both sexes and all ages lived there. The Poor House sheltered a diverse group of unfortunates: the insane, alcoholic, feeble, indolent, senile, retarded, handicapped, injured, sick, transient, or just down on their luck. Their common denominator was their poverty. Some stayed only for a short time, but others remained until they died. If no relative claimed the body, it was buried on the premises or given to the U-M medical school. Some human bones found in the 1960s when Washtenaw Avenue was being widened were at first believed to be Indian relics until someone figured out that the road extended over the area used for the poor house cemetery.

County Poor House

The Washtenaw County Poor House, on Washtenaw near Platt, housed a variety of unfortunates, from the insane, handicapped, retarded, and injured, to the just plain down on their luck. An 1830 Michigan law required each county to have a poor house.

Poor farms were the nineteenth century solution to poverty. Reformers such as Dorothea Dix, a pioneer in the movement for specialized treatment of the insane, believed that placing people on working farms could make them into contributing members of society and also relieve the public of paying for their care. Most of the people who lived in poor houses were not able to work, however, or if they could, were not very productive. Income from crops raised at the Washtenaw County Poor House helped defray costs, but except for a few years during the Civil War, it was never enough to cover all expenses.

The land for the Washtenaw County Poor House was purchased by the county in 1836 from Revolutionary War veteran Claudius Britton, to comply with an 1830 Michigan law directing each county to build a poor house. The county hired a keeper, always a local person with a farming background, who lived on the premises with a wife who cooked for the residents (or "inmates," as they were called in the official reports).

The farm included orchards of apples, peaches, and pears; livestock (pigs, cattle, sheep, and chickens); and gardens with vegetables and grains. George Campbell, who grew up on nearby Cobblestone Farm, recalled, "I would often see poor farm residents out in the fields pitching hay, always under supervision. The men worked the farm as long as it was done with horse power, but they couldn't manage farm machinery. The women residents helped in the kitchen, setting the tables or peeling potatoes. During the day they would sew." Campbell also remembered that Platt Road used to be known as "Pauper's Alley" and that "Poor House residents used to sneak away and, using a little money they might have gotten from relatives, buy some tobacco at McMillan's store on Packard, where the Sunoco station is now."

Photograph of Washtenaw County Infirmary,
taken from a high point across the road

An 1830 Michigan law required each county to have a poorhouse. The county infirmary, the successor to the poorhouse, was for poor people who needed continual medical care. Built in 1917, it closed in 1971 and was torn down in 1979.

Poor houses are usually depicted as bleak, terrible places, but Ann Arborites old enough to remember believe this one was not such a bad place. According to lifelong Ann Arbor resident Arthur Rieff, "it was a lot nicer than old age homes are today. Those who could work, did, and there was a nice visiting room. No one minded going there to live." Edith Staebler Kempf agrees it was a pleasant enough place, especially with all the home-grown food, but says there was enough of a social stigma in being there that she was taught in her childhood to refer to it not as the "poor farm" but as the "county home." She adds, "People of means were ostracized if they let their relatives live there."

After the welfare system arose in the 1930s, the farm changed from a home for poor people to a place for people who needed continual medical care but could not afford it. The farm lands were rented to Ralph McCalla, who continued raising cattle and growing crops until 1960. According to McCalla, "Some of the Poor House residents still helped. They would come down to the barn and feed the livestock just to have something to do."

The County Infirmary, as it was known after 1917, was closed in 1971 after county officials decided it would cost too much to modernize. It was torn down in 1979. For a time, St. Joseph's Mercy Hospital seriously considered building on the site, and doctors' offices were built on the eastern side of Platt in anticipation of this move. After St. Joe's decided to locate elsewhere, debate centered on whether the land should be used for new county buildings or for a park.

After the county commissioners decided to keep the county courthouse in downtown Ann Arbor, the County Parks and Recreation Department went to work creating the County Farm Park. Today the 127-acre park includes a parcours (a jogging-exercise trail patterned after European fitness courses), a woodland trail, a perennial garden complete with native shrubs, Project Grow gardens, and an irrigation system powered by a windmill. All that remains of the poor farm is the barn now used to store maintenance equipment.

The Anna Bach Home on West Liberty

Published In:
Ann Arbor Observer, December 1983,
December 1983

Author: Grace Shackman and Mary Hunt

Looking like a yellow stucco Italian villa of neoclassical design, the Anna Botsford Bach Home stands on the very crest of the long hill Liberty Street climbs on its way from town. Between it and downtown are suburban streets of the 1920's, but after it, Liberty takes on an air that is even today rather rural.

Weinberg's Coliseum

Published In:
Ann Arbor Observer, February 1983,
February 1983

Author: Grace Shackman

Winter and summer, one of Ann Arbor's livelier recreational attractions seventy years ago was Weinberg's coliseum and swimming pool, down at the end of Fifth Avenue where it intersects with Hill Street. The concrete building that housed the indoor ice rink was erected by masonry contractor Fred Weinberg, probably in 1909. It survives today as the U-M Coliseum, which was the home of Michigan's ice hockey team until 1973.

Weinberg's indoor ice rink, the first in town, boasted a huge Wurlitzer player organ, akin to a player piano, which imitated the sounds of an entire orchestra. Songs like the Skater's Waltz, The Blue Danube Waltz, and the Poet and Peasant Overture were played again and again, so often that a generation of older Ann Arborites who used to patronize the place can still vividly recollect the sound as if it were being played today. The organ was so loud, in fact, that it could be heard all over the neighborhood. Fred Weinberg's son Nate (of the old Nate's Boat Shop) recalls that the music carried clearly over to their house on Mary Street, some four blocks away, whenever the windows were open and the rink was in session, which was frequent. The building had no heat and no refrigeration equipment. To freeze the ice, the windows were simply opened to let in the cold air. New layers of ice were added to build up the surface in case of warm spells. Because conditions at his ice arena were unpredictable, Weinberg arranged with State Street merchants to post flags in front of their stores on days when there was enough ice for skating.

If you came to the rink on Saturdays before noon, you could get in for ten cents and stay all day, a practice that many Ann Arbor children followed. They would either bring a lunch or buy one at the snack bar. The ice rink also had a balcony for roller skating, but roller skaters had to climb down the stairs in their skates and cross over part of the ice to get a snack.

Weinberg's Coliseum supplemented the older outdoor ice rink next to it, which Weinberg had built some twelve years earlier. In fact, the coliseum's doors opened onto the outside ice, which extended all the way to John Street. That rink, which doubled as a swimming pool in summer, was fed by springs on nearby city property, where the Michigan Stadium now stands. At first, the swimming pool was a rather primitive affair. Jonas Otto, Weinberg's nephew, remembers how he earned spending money as a boy by pulling frogs out of the pool. A cement pool bottom was poured about the same time the indoor rink was built.

Skating on Weinberg's original outdoor rink was preferable to skating on the Huron River or other ponds around town because of the live music provided by Weinberg's brother-in-law, Louis Otto, leader of Otto's Band, and seven or eight of his musicians. They would sit and play in a small hut in the middle of the rink, closing the windows periodically so they could warm up.

When it was too warm for ice skating, the Coliseum was often used for circuses, speeches, horse shows, indoor carnivals, dances, roller skating, and other special events.

Weinberg's Coliseum played host to the U-M's first ice hockey game, in 1920, and to over fifty hockey seasons thereafter. Weinberg himself did not live to witness that first in Michigan athletic history, however. He died in 1917, the victim of a collision between his automobile and one of the interurban trains that ran through town along Packard, Main, and Huron. His wife and son, Julius, took over the ice rink and Julius installed an auto paint shop in the rear.

Famed U-M neurosurgeon Edgar Kahn was on the first Michigan ice-hockey team. He remembers that the natural ice caused some problems. Players might be playing in a pool of water by the last period, and occasionally, if the weather were unseasonably mild, a game would be called off, sometimes after the visiting team had traveled a long distance for the contest.

In 1924, a fire starting in the paint shop burned the wooden roof and partitions, but the cement walls survived and still form the building's basic shell. The U-M bought the Coliseum in 1925 and installed artificial ice equipment the following year, thus overcoming the vagaries of weather. But the main problem with the rink as a hockey arena was that there was never enough room for spectators. Even after the 1949 remodeling put seats all around, the building's size necessitated very steep seating, so that anyone sitting on top was unable to see the whole rink.

In 1973, after the ice rink was moved to Yost Field House, which had just been converted to Yost Ice Arena, the building was turned into a gymnasium, now used for women's athletics and an occasional special event like the U-M Artists and Craftsmen's Guild Christmas Art Fair.

[Photo caption from original print edition]: Postcard of Weinberg's Coliseum published by A.S. Lyndon. Folding chairs around the periphery provided very limited seating. The player organ in the balcony was flanked by a bandstand where live music was played on special occasions. (Middle left) Members of Otto's Band inside their hut at the old ice rink. (Middle right) Charlie Swarthout scraping the ice on Weinberg's old outdoor ice rink. (Bottom) Nate Weinberg (fourth from right) was one of the gang of enthusiastic "rink rats" who helped maintain the ice in the Coliseum's middle years in return for skating privileges. The Michigan hockey team played there, and the rink was also open to the public at certain times. 1938 photo, left to right: Marv Olson, Aldin Ratti, Bob Ingold, Bob Flory, Bill Carpenter, Sam Otto, Bill Mast, Phil Brier, Nate Weinberg, Bill Bush, Bill Folske, and Don Wright.


[Photo caption from original print edition]: Views of the huge swimming pool show the adjoining houses, barns, and sheds of South Division as they climb the hill to Packard and Madison.

[Photo caption from original print edition]: Extra decks were added to the primitive diving tower.

[Photo caption from original print edition]: The Coliseum today.

[Photo caption from original print edition]: The Coliseum sometime before 1919, when the swimming pool was still in operation.


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Ann Arbor Central Mills

Published In:
Ann Arbor Observer, April 1982,
April 1982

Author: Grace Shackman

When the Ann Arbor Central Mills on First Street opened in 1882, the increased use of farm machinery, especially the thresher, made wheat growing so profitable that over a million bushels a year were being grown in Washtenaw County. This mill exported flour to New England, the Midwest, the South, and even abroad. It operated from 1882 to 1927, spanning some of Washtenaw County's best and worst years for agriculture.

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