Saline's mansion

Author: 
Grace Shackman

A May fund-raiser offers a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see how the Davenports and Curtisses lived

The Davenport-Curtiss mansion and its grounds take up a full block of land right on Michigan Avenue in downtown Saline. The house is so impressive that someone I know assumed it must be a public building—only when he was rebuffed at the door did he learn to his embarrassment that it is a private residence. Built in 1876, the mansion has served as a home for two presidents of the Citizens Bank of Saline, William Davenport and Carl Curtiss, and is still owned by the Curtiss family.

Davenport (1826-1909), the bank's founder, built the house, hiring prominent Detroit architect William Scott to design it. (Scott, trained in England, also designed the 1882 Ann Arbor fire station—now the Hands-On Museum.) The Curtiss family still has the blueprints, which are written on linen and include the instruction that "only finest materials available will be used."

Scott designed the house in the Second Empire style (named for the reign of the French emperor Napoleon III), with a tower and a mansard roof. It was one of the first homes in the city with indoor plumbing. Quality wood—walnut, maple, tulipwood, and butternut—was used throughout, and Davenport furnished the house with pieces purchased at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition, an international trade fair held the year it was built. Outside he built a matching carriage house and stable, and he landscaped the grounds with rare trees.

Davenport had earned his fortune as the owner of Saline's largest general store, which segued into a bank. His father died young, and Davenport began working when he was twelve, starting as a clerk in Caleb Van Husen's store in Saline. He was just twenty-five when he opened his own store in partnership with H. J. Miller, whom he bought out two years later. The business thrived, selling everything from sewing supplies to food to wool, and in 1863 Davenport built a new three-story store on the northwest corner of Michigan Avenue and Ann Arbor Street.

Since Saline's only safe was at the new store, people often asked Davenport to store their cash and other valuables. As the town thrived, especially after the arrival of the train in 1870, Davenport's financial transactions increased. In 1885 he formally organized the bank, which he initially operated out of a comer of his store. Davenport and his wife, Zilpha, were civic leaders. She helped organize the Saline library. He organized the volunteer fire brigade and donated much of its equipment, personally traveling to New York to purchase a hand-pumped fire engine that drew water from cisterns dug under the streets. Davenport "has been prominently identified with all Christian, moral and benevolent movements," a local historian wrote effusively in Charles Chapman's 1881 county history, "and is well noted for his kindness and generosity."

Davenport's son Beveriy (1852-1930) graduated from Detroit Commercial College and succeeded him as bank president after his death in 1909. In 1917, Beverly Davenport remodeled the bank's interior, hiring a New York architect who specialized in financial institutions.

Beverly Davenport died without an heir (his only son, Edward, predeceased him). But luckily there was an employee, Carl Curtiss, who was more than capable of taking over. Curtiss was born in 1883 in Camden, a small town southwest of Hillsdale; he started working at the bank as a teller in 1908, shortly after graduating from Hillsdale College. When William Davenport died, Curtiss was promoted first to assistant cashier and then to secretary of the board and cashier—the posts formerly held by Beverly Davenport. After Beverly's death, Curtiss succeeded him as president of the bank and inherited the Davenport mansion.

When Curtiss moved in, the house had been unoccupied for quite a while and still contained all of its original furnishings. (Beverly had had his own house on Henry Street, just behind his father's.) Curtiss admitted in a 1952 Ann Arbor News interview that he had been tempted to tear the mansion down when he first glimpsed the interior. It was over fifty years old by then, and the plaster was cracked, the fixtures old, and the rooms drab and dirty.

Curtiss's friend Henry Ford convinced him that the house was worth saving, and sent experts from Greenfield Village to help him figure out how to restore the building and furnishings. Curtiss didn't take all of Ford's advice, however—for example, he refused to keep the walnut bathtubs with their copper linings, preferring the convenience of a modem bathroom.

Ford also sent over some of his men to plow up the yard for gardens. In the Curtiss era the house became known for its rows of peonies, hundreds of rose bushes, and thousands of tulips. Curtiss's granddaughter, Mary Curtiss Richards, remembers that the gardeners used to dig up the tulip bulbs every year and dry them on screens for replanting.

While meticulously restoring his house, Curtiss was also earning the respect and gratitude of the community by the way he was running the bank. Though he took over at the beginning of the Great Depression, he dealt with people in a humane way, which also turned out to be good for Saline's future economy. Mary Richards tells how he survived the 1933 bank "holiday," when a panicked run on assets caused many banks to close. "He stood on the steps of the bank, cash in hand, and handed it out," says Richards. "After a few [depositors got their money], they stopped asking to take it out and started putting it back." Some area farmers remember to this day that Curtiss lent them money when their crops failed, and according to Richards, he never foreclosed on any property.

After World War II, loans from Curtiss helped start new businesses, most notably Universal Die Casting, which became Johnson Controls. Curtiss also continued the Davenport tradition of civic involvement. He served on the city council and school board and, during World War II, on the draft board. He donated to countless local projects, including the Saline Community Hospital and the Saline Methodist Church. He paid for high school band uniforms and for much of the land for Curtiss Park. He was a charter member of the Saline Rotary Club.

Curtiss and his wife, Vera, participated in the social life one would expect from a big banker. Richards remembers that they were regular attendees at the musical May Festival in Ann Arbor. "Grandma would get a new dress and dress to the nines," she recalls. "Sometimes she'd get a new piece of jewelry for that, too."

Asked whether it was hard being the granddaughter of the big banker in town, Richards laughs and says, "No, not at all. We were proud of him. We never heard anything bad about him."

Curtiss served on the National Bank Board, and when he went into Detroit for meetings, he and Vera would often take in a play afterward. They sometimes entertained in their house, often in connection with some philanthropic project. Being strict Methodists, they didn't serve anything stronger than ginger ale.

At the time, Richards lived with her parents, Bliss and Vera (her mother had the same name as her grandmother), and her brother Carl in a house her grandparents had built when they first came to Saline. But Richards says she was invited to the Davenport-Curtiss mansion "all the time." Most of her memories of the house are of family events, such as watching movies in the basement (Curtiss had his own projection room, and Richards's family still has some of his movies), or eating her grandmother's waffles on the maid's night out.

Curtiss never retired from the bank; he continued working until his death in 1967 at age eighty-four (Vera had died ten years earlier). In 1964, he oversaw the replacement of William Davenport's original bank building with a new Citizens Bank facility. While in the hospital for his last illness, he was worried that he would spoil his perfect Rotary attendance, so his fellow Rotarians offered to meet in his hospital room. He. died before the time of meeting, leaving his record intact.

Richards's parents moved into the mansion after Carl Curtiss died. A few months later she married, and her parents hosted the reception on the grounds. "It was the last big event [held there]. There was a band, a tent. They went the whole nine yards," says Richards. Her mother kept the house immaculately clean, and even though they regularly hired cleaning help, she insisted on cleaning the Czechoslovakian crystal chandelier herself, still climbing on a stool to do it until she was well into her nineties.

Bliss and Vera Curtiss opened the house to one homes tour in the 1970s. But since then the family has maintained strict privacy, except for letting Saline fourth-grade teacher Audrey Barkel bring students through on tours. "It's a once-in-a-lifetime experience for those kids to be in there," says Barkel, who has been taking kids through for about twenty-four years.

This spring Bliss and Vera's son Carl, with his sister Mary's help, will open the house to the public again for a very special event: a garden party to benefit Arbor Hospice, which took care of Vera so that she was able to die at home in 1998 (Bliss had died in 1977). The fund-raiser will be held May 21 from 1 to 4 p.m. Docents will explain the history of the home and garden, and refreshments and a booklet about the house will be available. Tickets, limited to 250, will cost $50, and will be available at Arbor Hospice and various Saline merchants, including the Calico Cat. For more information, see Events, p. 53.

—Grace Shackman

Rights Held By: 
Grace Shackman

A Piece of Henry Ford's Dream

Author: 
Grace Shackman

Phoenix Packaging has revamped his one-room Saline schoolhouse.

Henry Ford knew how to run a car company, and he thought he knew how to run the country. In his view, the rural values of his childhood, including education in a one-room schoolhouse, represented America at its best.

In 1935 Ford turned Saline's Schuyler Mill, on Michigan Avenue, into a soybean processing plant. Soon after, he moved a dilapidated old school from Macon Road to a site directly across the street. He intended it for the children of the men who were producing plastics and paints at the restored mill (today Wellers' banquet facility).

Ford spared no expense to restore the school, complete with cloakroom, potbellied stove, and two-person desks. He even installed two outhouses (modernized with real plumbing and heating). On September 7, 1943, Ford attended the opening of the school.

Many of the thirty-five students, who ranged from kindergarten through eighth grade, had tenuous connections to Ford, or none at all. Allen Rentschler's father was farmer, although his uncle, Carl Bredernitz, worked at the soybean factory. Bob Cook's father was a Chevrolet dealer. Thelma Wahl Stremler's dad worked at Bridgewater Lumber.

Like the physical structure, school ac- tivities were a mix of modern and old-fashioned. "We had the latest books, the latest teaching methods," recalls Cook. The older children often served as teacher aides. "I helped the younger ones read, but I felt I was just having fun," remembers Stremler.

Each day started with a chapel service that included recitations by students and hymns led by Stremler on the piano. At recess children of all ages joined in games such as kickball and softball. Ford furnished the school with looms of various sizes.

For students and parents, one attraction of the school was free medical and dental care. Both Rentschler and Stremler got their first eyeglasses thanks to Ford.

The Saline school was one of several Ford built near his small plants. Don Currie, the first teacher, moved on after a year to become principal of Ford High School in Macon. Clare Collins, later a shop teacher at Saline High School, took over from Currie.

The one-room school didn't last long. In 1946, Ford, in failing health, decreed that all his schools would close at the end of the semester. The students returned to public schools; they had little trouble adjusting. Ford died a year later at age eighty-three.

The Saline public schools were not interested in the building, so it was sold to Elizabeth and Bruce Parsons. The Parsonses moved the entrance to the side, added a two-story wing with four bedrooms, and divided the schoolroom into a kitchen, dining room, and living room.

By 2002, when Patricia and Chris Molloy bought the building, a series of owners had let it deteriorate. The Molloys wanted to turn it into an office for their company, Phoenix Packaging. After some negotiations with the city, the Molloys agreed on a historic-preservation easement in exchange for business zoning. In the future, the exteriors of the buildings may not be altered without the city's permission.

The Molloys carefully preserved and restored what was left of the original school, including the hardwood doors, floors, and wainscoting. The first floor is their office; they rent the upstairs to attorney Russell Brown and a separate shed to architect Dan Kohler.

The Molloys have a collection of Ford School pictures on the wall. They acquired an old potbellied stove but then learned that the Saline Area Historical Society has the school's actual stove. The Molloys have agreed to a swap. Now they are keeping their eyes out for one of the old two-seater desks.

—Grace Shackman

Rights Held By: 
Grace Shackman

Dexter's Vinkle-Steinbach House

Author: 
Grace Shackman

The American Legion Hall was originally the home of an eccentric cabinetmaker

Henry Vinkle, original owner of the historic Vinkle-Steinbach House, is said to have built his own casket, and napped in it every day until he died and was buried in it. His house, built in 1840, is now the headquarters of Dexter's American Legion.

Vinkle, a trained cabinetmaker, set up business sometime before 1832 on the west side of the millpond, near Dexter's two mills and the main shopping area. For his shop, he used a barn that town founder Samuel William Dexter had built in 1826. Like other nineteenth-century cabinetmakers, Vinkle not only made coffins, he also doubled as an undertaker. Prior to the Civil War, funerals were held in homes, and the undertaker's job was to take the casket to the family and lay out the body. Soon Vinkle was handling funerals for miles around Dexter.

By 1840, Vinkle's business was prospering and he built an elegant Greek Revival home. "The house was built back in the time when there were very few nails," said Leon Agan, son-in-law of one of the home's later owners. The builders used "big logs," Agan said, and did the foundation and flooring by hand.

According to Agan, the three pillars in front of the house—which he always found "rather pretentious"—were "the outstanding edifice as far as the people going by were concerned." The year after Vinkle built his house. Judge Dexter built a very similar house not far away—with six pillars.

From the time the Vinkle family lived in the house until the time the American Legion occupied it, the home had only three other owners, all related: first Henry Jones; then his sister Helen Laney and her husband, Zerah Burr; and lastly Helen's daughter Mary Laney and her husband, Henry Steinbach. (Agan was married to the Steinbachs' daughter Frances.) Two weddings took place in the mansion: Adeline Vinkle to William Boston in 1869 and Mary Laney to Henry Steinbach in 1902.

Zerah Burr farmed on land that ran south of the property. His son-in-law, Henry Steinbach, worked as a traveling salesman, selling leather belting and leather supplies, mainly to steel mills in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia. Steinbach always traveled by train because he hated car travel. Although the train tracks went right by his house, he had to board the train at the station, four blocks away. (Once, though, the train stopped in front of his house because of an obstruction, and he just got off there.)

The Steinbachs built a swimming pool between the house and Mill Creek. Their children, Frances, Charles, and Burr, all enjoyed it, as did their friends, including the children of the Bates family, who lived just up the road. Harry Bates (now a member of the American Legion) and his sisters, Dorothy Bates and Jeanette Bates Turner, remember Mary Steinbach giving them cookies and milk after school.

The Bateses remember that Henry Steinbach, a small man, "a bantam rooster," liked to relax with a cigar in his leather reclining chair in a nook in the living room. Mary Steinbach and her mother hosted many Methodist church functions, including quilting bees. It was a large enough home to set up the quilting frame and to lay out a potluck lunch inside.

Dexter war veterans organized a chapter of the American Legion in 1948 and bought the Vinkle-Steinbach house for their headquarters the next year. They filled in the pool and tore down the barn, replacing it with a picnic pavilion. Two additions to the house were built: a meeting room to the east in 1957, and an enlargement of the lounge on the west in 1984. The additions are placed far enough from the front house line so as not to obscure the pillars nor alter the majestic look of the house. The inside, however, has been totally remodeled with an open room plan, wood paneling, a new fireplace, a bar, ceiling fans, and three televisions.

Today 290 members enjoy the house, relaxing in the lounge, attending meetings in the hall, and working on a wide variety of service projects for the community and for other veterans. "We're proud of what such a small community can do," says Legion adjutant Larry Stalker. The old Vinkle-Steinbach House not only serves all their needs, but is much more homey and cozy than a new building would be. According to Legion member Harry Bates, "This is about as good as Dexter has to offer."

—Grace Shackman

Photo Caption: Henry Vinkle's colonnaded home aroused the envy of Judge Dexter himself.

Rights Held By: 
Grace Shackman

The View from the Hill

Author: 
Grace Shackman

Dexter residents want to save Gordon Hall—and its vista.

The University of Michigan plans to sell both historic Gordon Hall and its surrounding seventy-acre estate, which offers a prized and unobstructed view of the village. Built in 1841, the colonnaded mansion on a hill northwest of town is the only surviving residence of village founder Samuel Dexter. Now local residents are banding together to try to save not only the home but its grounds as well. Future generations of Dexter residents "should be able to get the view from the top of the hill that Judge Dexter could see," contends Paul Cousins, former village council member and founder of Cousins Heritage Inn.

The U-M, which announced its decision to sell Gordon Hall last November, has asked the Washtenaw County Historic District Commission to give the mansion a historical designation before the house goes on the market. However, the request applies only to the building itself and a rectangular area around the house extending 250 feet in front, 100 feet in back, and 75 feet on either side - not to the full acreage of the original property. So while the historic home would be legally protected, its prime view of Dexter would not.

Cousins and other community leaders, including former village president Paul Bishop and Dexter Historical Society president Gil Campbell, hope to raise the funds needed to buy the house and its "viewscape" from the U-M, which has owned the building and its surrounding property since 1950. Their goal is to purchase the mansion and the original property, restore the house, and furnish it as it would have been during Judge Dexter's occupancy, gathering back artifacts dispersed to the Dexter Area Historical Museum and the Washtenaw County Historical Society. In addition to its great educational value, the organizers believe, the house could lure history-minded visitors to Dexter. "It could outshine the bakery as a reason to come here," jokes Bishop.

Gordon Hall, named in honor of Samuel Dexter's mother, Catherine Gordon Dexter, is a magnificent example of Greek Revival architecture. "In the eighteen forties it was one of the places to see in Michigan," Campbell says. Moreover, it was almost certainly a stop on the Underground Railroad—Dexter has been identified as a "conductor," and there is a place in the basement where fugitive slaves may have hidden.

The home was sold after Dexter's widow died in 1899, and it fell into disrepair. In the 1930s U-M architecture dean Emil Lorch and U.S. senator Royal Copeland - a Dexter native - persuaded Dexter's granddaughter, Katharine Dexter McCormick, to buy it back (Community Observer, spring 2000). McCormick paid Lorch to repair and restore the mansion, hoping that the Dexter Women's Study Clubs, which used it for meetings, could take it over. But the clubs could not afford the upkeep, so in 1950 McCormick gave it to the university. Much to Lorch's dismay, the university demolished part of the building and divided the rest into apartments—stripping away much of the elegant interior detail in the process.

According to Bishop, "It would be nice if the U of M would give it back to us; we could use the money [raised for the purchase] to undo what they did." But the village's hope that the house might be sold for a minimal amount will apparently go unfulfilled. The university plans to sell Gordon Hall in the usual bid process. "We have a fiduciary responsibility to the public taxpayer," says Jim Kosteva, U-M director of community relations. "We don't have the ability to offer special deals."

This isn't the first time that the village has mobilized to try to save one of its founder's residences. Dexter built his first home in the village on Huron Street in 1826 and moved to another house on Huron when the railroad was built nearby in the 1830s. In 1939, when his second house was about to be torn down, three Dexter women tried to raise $1,000 to save it but failed. Bishop, Campbell, and Cousins - who face a far greater financial challenge - are hoping the same fate won't overtake what Lorch called "in many ways the most important of all Michigan homes."

—Grace Shackman

Rights Held By: 
Grace Shackman

The Aura Inn

Author: 
Grace Shackman

The heart of Fredonia

"I'm surprised at how many people say, 'I met my husband at a dance at your dad's place,' or 'I met my wife at a dance there,'" says Billie Sodt Mann, whose father owned the Pleasant Lake House from 1925 to 1943. A bar and restaurant now known as the Aura Inn, the Pleasant Lake House was the center of Fredonia, a hamlet that in the nineteenth century was large enough to have its own post office. Many people in the area have happy memories of swimming, fishing, picnicking, and dancing there.

Situated on Pleasant Lake, in the middle of Freedom Township, the inn began in a two-story house that was built about 1880 by German immigrant Jacob Lutz. Since Fredonia was a pleasant stopping point between Ann Arbor and Jackson, and the lake an enjoyable place to relax, Lutz turned the front part of his house into a saloon and grocery store and rented upstairs rooms to travelers.

The next owner, David Schneider, added a dance hall upstairs. In the early 1920s, when guests began arriving by automobile, he dismantled the barn and used the wood to build a bigger dance hall, with a high, beamed ceiling, down by the lake. The hall boasted a hardwood floor, a loft where bands played, tall windows to let in light, and two wood stoves in opposite corners for heat.

Manny Sodt bought the inn in 1925 and moved the dance hall next to the house (it took a whole summer, with relatives and volunteers helping) and added electricity and central heating. The spot by the lake became a campground and boat rental; abandoned waiting rooms for the interurban trains, which had recently been discontinued, were moved to the site and made into vacation cabins. A former policeman (he was Ann Arbor's first motorcycle cop), Sodt enforced rules of good conduct. "No one did anything bad. You'd quiet down or you knew where you were going: to jail," recalls Mann.

On weekends the grounds were used for all-day picnics, weddings, or family reunions, with dances in the evenings. "Friday was old-timers' night. They did square dances and waltzes," remembers Mann. "On Saturday it was more modern. The bands didn't have a name; it was 'this guy and that guy.'" The Friday night crowd tended to live nearby; Saturday night dances attracted younger people from farther away. Mann sold tickets while her older sister, Ginnie, helped their mother sell hot dogs and coffee during intermission.

In failing health from a weak heart, her father sold his place in 1943. He died the day the papers were signed. The new owner, Ray Hoener, installed an antique bar—which is still there—in the dance hall. Rich Diamond, the present owner, took over from Vicky and John Weber, who owned the place from 1965 to 1978.

County commissioner Mike DuRussel worked for the last two owners. "I learned my diplomacy cracking heads and pouring drinks," he jokes. The Webers were deeply rooted in the community, and they attracted a crowd of locals with lunch specials and weekly euchre and pool tournaments. They also sponsored a Pleasant Lake Inn baseball team—most of the players drove beer trucks for a living—that won several championships in the Manchester league.

Rich Diamond and three of his friends bought the bar in 1978 and renamed it the Aura Inn ("Aura," he says, is short for "An Unusual Roadside Attraction"). They dispensed with lunch, opened at 4 p.m., and hired loud rock bands. In the early 1980s, DuRussel recalls, the inn was very popular—"There'd be people five deep at the bar"—and too noisy for him to hear customers' orders. "We had to read lips," he says.

With an increased awareness that drinking and driving don't mix, the partygoers have tapered off, and the bar is now more the neighborhood place it once was. The kitchen was closed a lot while Diamond was negotiating a possible sale of the inn. But the deal fell through in May, and Diamond is now reopening the inn as a full restaurant.

—Grace Shackman

Rights Held By: 
Grace Shackman

Rescued from the Scrap Heap

Author: 
Grace Shackman

New owners are restoring the digs of Chelsea's most notorious figure—and villagers are pitching in.

For almost a century after Frank Glazier left Chelsea in 1910 to serve a term in Jackson State Prison, his huge house at 208 South Street went downhill. Despite Glazier's notoriety in local history, Chelsea residents did nothing to save it beyond occasional complaining.

Last January Todd and Janice Ortbring bought the twenty-one-room mansion, complete with tower, despite an eleven-page inspection report that mentioned termites, foundation cracks, and faulty wiring, among other problems. "We're probably crazy for doing it," says Todd Ortbring. "But we saw the opportunity to save a house that needed saving pretty darn quick." A lifelong resident of Chelsea, Ortbring appreciated Glazier's importance. His great-grandfather played in Glazier's band, and his grandfather owned the drugstore that Glazier had inherited from his father.

Glazier is without doubt the most important person in Chelsea's history after the founding Congdon brothers. In 1895 he started a company that manufactured cooking and heating stoves, and he was soon selling stoves worldwide. A civic leader, Glazier benefited Chelsea in countless ways—bringing electricity and water to town, providing jobs, and erecting landmark buildings that still define Chelsea, including the Clock Tower, the Welfare Building, the Methodist church, and a bank that is now 14A District Court. He was also a leader in state and local politics; in 1906 he was elected state treasurer and was being mentioned as a possible governor.

But at this peak of his prominence, his financial shenanigans were exposed: putting state money in his own bank, and taking out separate loans from banks all over the state using identical collateral from his stove company. Forced to resign as treasurer, Glazier spent two years in Jackson Prison before his sentence was reduce for good behavior. He spent the last ten years of his life at his cottage on Cavanaugh Lake.

Even today, reactions to Glazier are mixed. Some condemn him. Others excuse him by saying that what he did was common practice in those days and that he was being squeezed by the nationwide financial panic of 1907.

Glazier's house was divided into four apartments. For a long time it still looked beautiful from the outside; in the 1970s, however, an owner put up an ugly concrete-block addition for a fifth apartment, totally obscuring the elegant wraparound porch held up by fluted pillars.

The Ortbrings aim to make the house a single-family home again. Years of use as apartments obscured its original functions; it now appears that the house is actually two houses pushed together. The Ortbrings found a treasure trove of elements in a basement room—front porch columns, wooden doors with metal hardware, leaded glass windows, banisters, wooden benches, and two boxes of wooden pieces for the disassembled parquet floor—that are all elements of the puzzle.

Exactly when Glazier built his house is not clear. In 1895 a photo of it as a smaller house without a tower appeared in the Chelsea Headlight, a publication of the Michigan Central Railroad. Graffiti in the tower, written by Glazier's daughter Dorothy, are dated 1899. Ortbring believes the front was added to the back, but others say the back, the tower, and the front porch might have been the additions.

The Ortbrings have assembled a group of experts to help them, such as builder Bob Chizek and Chelsea architect Scott McElrath. Their strategy is to first replace the roof and paint the exterior. They plan to attack the inside apartment by apartment. The Ortbrings are living in the second-floor rear apartment and renting out three units while working on the apartment below them, which contains the original dining room. Taking off paneling and dropped ceilings, they found pocket doors, parquet floors, ceiling moldings, and a fireplace.

Restoring a house is almost like living with an original tenant. Todd Ortbring pictures the dining room as it was in Glazier's time. "Glazier was a man who liked to eat," he says. "The dining room would have been the most important room in the house, the site of many parties." Ortbring also imagines many meetings of civic and business leaders there. "They'd close the doors, smoke cigars, eat, and plot."

The Ortbrings hope to be done with their restoration by the time their sons, eight-year-old Blake and seven-year-old Grant, graduate from high school. They haven't ruled out someday turning it into a bed-and-breakfast or renting out a part of it.

Lots of Chelsea residents have offered to help in various ways, with information, labor, and even money. Recently the Ortbrings hosted a community open house. The huge turnout on a rainy day suggests that the people of Chelsea are prepared to forgive, or at least forget, Frank Glazier's misdeeds and celebrate all that he brought to the village.

—Grace Shackman

Photo Caption: Todd and Janice Ortbring, with builder Bob Chizek (right), are restoring the Glazier home, which has changed a lot since 1895.

Rights Held By: 
Grace Shackman

Goetz Meat Market

Author: 
Grace Shackman

When home was upstairs

In December, the DDA Citizens Advisory Committee hosted a loft tour to get people interested in living upstairs over downtown stores. When Elsa Goetz Ordway was a girl, it was common. From 1905 to 1913, when the Goetz family ran a meat market at 118 West Liberty (now the Bella Ciao restaurant), they were just one of many families who lived downtown where they worked.

Ordway's parents, George and Mathilda Goetz, were born in Wurttemberg, Germany, and came to the United States in 1899. After five years working for a relative who owned a hotel in Niagara Falls, New York, they moved to Detroit, where George Goetz worked as a butcher. A year later they came to Ann Arbor with their sons, Willie and George. They opened the Goetz Meat Market on the street level of the Liberty Street building and moved into the top two stories. Daughter Elsa was born there a year later, with a Dr. Belser in attendance.

The Goetz's family life was intertwined with the store. Mathilda Goetz prepared the family's meals in the workroom behind the shop where her husband made bologna and other meat products. The family's dining room was on the first floor, too, so that they could take care of customers who came in while they were eating. The Goetzes worked long hours—until almost midnight on Saturdays. In those days before refrigeration, people shopped on Saturday night for Sunday dinner. On Sundays the shop was closed, but it was not unusual for a customer to phone and say they were having unexpected company and could they please come over and get some meat?

Ordway's brother Willie, who eventually took over the business, helped his dad make the products then considered standard fare for butcher shops—lard, breakfast sausage, bologna, knockwurst, and frankfurters. Ordway remembers, "My dad would slice the bologna and look at it to see whether it was done right—like a person at a fair looking at cake texture." He made his frankfurters with natural casings, "just so," and was upset when people overcooked them and they burst.

Brother George, in delicate health because of a congenital heart defect (he died at twenty-two), was a photographer. He took pictures of excellent quality despite the slow film and glass negatives then in use. Many of his photos are reproduced today in local histories. He was also knowledgeable about electricity; the family had the first electrically lighted Christmas tree in Ann Arbor. To help his dad, who often carried heavy things up and down the cellar stairs, he wired the cellar lighting to switch on and off when someone stepped on the upper stair tread. When the light began to be on when it should have been off, and vice versa, they finally discovered the culprit: the family cat.

Ordway was too young to work in the store, but she kept busy. She played on the roof of the back room, which was reached from the second-floor living quarters. Her friends in the neighborhood included Bernice Staebler, who lived in her parents' hotel, the American House, now the Earle building, around the corner (Then & Now, May 1993). Riding her tricycle up and down Liberty, Ordway got to know all the store owners, buying penny candy at the grocery store or a ribbon to put around her cat's neck at Mack and Company. She recalls that "an employee of Mack and Company made me a set of large wooden dolls, one of the Ehnises gave me a hand-tooled leather strap for my doll buggy, and Miss Gundert, the principal of Bach School, taught me how to make outline drawings of people and animals when she came to buy meat.

Store owners even knew their customers' pets. Dogs were given free bones, and in those days before leash laws, some came in by themselves to pick them up. Ordway's cat was well known, too - fortunately. As she explains, "One afternoon a customer who worked for the Ann Arbor Railroad came into the store after work and said, 'I see your cat is back.' We hadn't known she'd been away. He told us that he had seen my cat in a boxcar in Toledo and - as that train had been headed for a very distant place - he had carried her over to a boxcar headed [back to] Ann Arbor."

The Goetz family took good care of their customers, too. The meat was never prepackaged, but hung in quarter sections, to be cut to customers' exact specifications. Children who came in with their parents were usually given a slice of bologna. In those days before cars were common, many customers phoned in their orders, which were delivered by the horse-drawn wagons of Merchants Delivery, a company that served the smaller stores that didn't have their own delivery services.

In 1913, wanting a break from the store, the Goetz family moved to a house they had built at 549 South First Street and rented the store out, first to Weinmann Geusendorfer, then to Robert Seeger. They rented the upstairs living quarters to relatives. George Goetz kept a hand in the meat business, filling in at other butcher shops and helping out their owners by making bologna. He also supplied veal to meat markers, traveling around in a horse and buggy to buy the calves from farmers. He died in 1929. Willie, called Bill as an adult, took over the store about 1923. He renamed it Liberty Market and ran it until he retired in 1952. Since then the building has housed restaurants—first Leo Ping's, then Leopold Bloom's, Trattoria Bongiovanni, and now Bella Ciao. The former living quarters are now used as a banquet room (second floor), offices, and storage (third floor).

A return to the practice of living above one's own business will probably not happen in these days of chains, franchises, and large corporations. But the upstairs lofts over downtown businesses can still be made into very desirable apartments. Proponents point out that using downtown's upper stories in this way can keep the area both more vibrant and safer (with more people out and about around the clock). And downtown residents have the advantage of being within easy walking distance of shops, restaurants, and entertainment. Children's author Joan Blos, a member of the DDA advisory council and herself a downtown resident, says of downtown lofts, "Their somewhat eccentric charm appeals to many persons of quite different lifestyles and requirements. Renovated lofts have the potential to provide a useful socioeconomic bridge between the upscale housing of newer buildings and the affordable housing often associated with the downtown area."

—Grace Shackman

Photo Captions:

About 1923, Bill Goetz (far left, next to partner Frank Livernois) took over the former family store and renamed it Liberty Market. He ran it until he retired in 1952; after passin through many uses, the building today is the Bella Ciao restaurant.

Elsa Goetz (later Ordway) about 1910. Born upstairs from the family meat market, she grew up with Liberty Street as her playground. She bought penny candy and ribbons from nearby stores and one of the Ehnises contributed a leather strap for her doll's buggy.

Rights Held By: 
Grace Shackman

122 West Main Street

Author: 
Grace Shackman

From healing souls to healing bodies

When Manchester physician Evelyn Eccles and her husband Tom Ellis bought the former Methodist church on Main Street in 1985, the building hadn't been used for thirteen years. Everything was still in place—the pews, the stained glass windows, and even the organ, still in working order, with bellows in the basement.

"It looked like they finished a service, then locked the door and left," recalls Eccles.

Today the building, built in 1837 and 1838, houses Eccles's family medical practice. She's kept the original stained glass, high ceilings, lights, and wainscoting. Some of the old pews are used as waiting benches. Eccles achieved this miracle of reuse by creating what she calls "a building within a building" All the offices were built away from the outside walls, so that the light from the stained glass pours in unimpeded.

"It's an old-time frame with joists into beams," explains Bob Lowery, who built an addition to the church in 1958. "It's made with oak timber, probably cut at the local sawmill." Emanuel Case's sawmill on the River Raisin, built in 1832, helped draw settlers to what is today the village of Manchester.

The church was originally built by the Presbyterians; Manchester's original settlers were of British descent, and the Presbyterian Church was the first religious group to organize in the village. Seventeen people attended the congregation's first meeting in December 1835 at the home of Dr. William Root. They began work or the church two years later.

The church played an important part in village life in the nineteenth century. A school occupied the building's basement, and the congregation sponsored speakers, such as a controversial antislavery lecturer. But membership dwindled as more churches were organized—Lutheran, Baptist, Universalist, and Roman Catholic. In 1893 the Presbyterians disbanded and sold the building to the Methodists, who had founded their local congregation in 1839. The few remaining members placed a memorial window in the front of the church. (It is still there, partially hidden by a display of medical pamphlets.)

The building served the Methodists well in the first half of the twentieth century. In 1904 they built a parsonage next door, and in 1928 they installed the organ and remodeled the rostrum, pulpit, and communion rail. But after wona War II, the congregation outgrew the building. In 1958 the Methodists built a two-story addition that linked the church and parsonage, and in 1965 they converted the parsonage into Sunday school rooms, moving the pastor to a new parsonage on Ann Arbor Hill. Still, soon after, the congregation decided they needed a new church.

"There was no parking," explains Lowery, especially on Sunday, when the Methodists had to compete with the congregations of nearby St. Mary's Catholic Church and Emanuel United Church of Christ. "The church needed work. It was cheaper to build a new one." Ground was broken on M-52 in 1971, and the first service was held there in 1972.

While the old church stood empty, the new addition was converted to offices and the old parsonage into apartments. Dr. Howard Parr bought the old organ but left it in the church until Eccles and Ellis bought the building. Before moving the organ (which is still in storage awaiting an interested buyer). Parr organized a meeting of the Manchester Area Historical Society in the old church so that people could get a last chance to hear it. Parr himself played hymns, and Historical Society members sang along.

—Grace Shackman

Rights Held By: 
Grace Shackman

Manchester Township Library

Author: 
Grace Shackman

The state's oldest

Manchester has the oldest township library in continuous use in the state of Michigan. Established in 1838, just two years after the township was organized, it has been located for the last sixty-four years in an 1860s-era house on the village square.

During the first years of the library, township clerk Marcus Carter Jr. kept the collection at his house. On Saturdays, from 2 to 4 p.m., people could borrow books stored in a case that sat on a black walnut table. (The library still has the table, now used as a computer stand.) The library continued under the care of succeeding township clerks for the rest of the century.

Manchester thrived as a commercial center in the nineteenth century, assuring a living standard that gave women time to organize literary societies. By the turn of the century, they included the History, Saturday, Shakespeare, and 20th Century clubs. (The last two still meet.) The club ladies—whom Manchester historian Howard Parr describes as "a combo of high caliber, literary, educated-minded people"—decided Manchester should have an independent library with a trained librarian; they began organizing to make it happen.

In 1906 the first librarian was hired: a Miss B. M. Brighton. In 1909 the library moved to the second floor of the Conklin building, near the comer of M-52 and Main Street. It later moved downstairs in the same building, and then to the Mahrle building (now the Whistle Stop restaurant), on Adrian Street. "I remember that library," recalls ninety-one-year-old Glenn Lehr. "I'd read every book in it by the time I was fourteen. It was a long building and dark inside. There was a pot-bellied stove in the back."

When the rent on the Mahrle building was raised in 1934, the ladies of the literary societies decided it was time to buy permanent quarters. They bought the Lynch house, a handsome cube-style Italianate in a perfect location on the town square. It had been built around 1867 for James Lynch, doctor and druggist, by his father-in-law Junius Short. Descendants of the family sold the house for the reasonable price of $1,200 because they believed the library was a worthwhile project. The $15 monthly mortgage payments were less than the rent the library had been paying.

The whole community pitched in to clean, paint, build shelves, and put in a chimney so central heat could be added. The federal Works Progress Administration paid for some of the materials and labor, the Boy Scouts moved the books to the new location, and local churches put on a benefit play.

Shortly after the move, Jane Palmer, who had been librarian from 1909 to 1918, returned to her old job. She stayed on until she retired in 1958 at the age of seventy-eight. "She was gingham as well as satin," says Parr. "She was a farm woman, helped with the threshing, but was practical and erudite." Palmer converted the upstairs of the library into an apartment and moved in. Many of the perennial flowers she planted on the grounds still bloom today.

When the library opened, only the west side of the downstairs was used. Today the whole building is filled with the library's 14,000 books, plus magazines and videos. Palmer's old kitchen upstairs is now the office of the library director, Dorothy Davies. "It's reached the point," says Davies, "that every time we get something new, we have to get rid of something." Eventually, citizens will have to decide whether to add onto the building or erect a new one.


Hey, were you looking for the Summer Game code? You found it! Enter CHECKOUTMANCHESTER on your play.aadl.org player page.

Rights Held By: 
Grace Shackman

McKune Memorial Library

Author: 
Grace Shackman

Elisha Congdon's mansion has been at the center of life in Chelsea for 137 years

McKune Memorial Library isn't as famous as Chelsea's clock tower, but historically it may be even more significant. Built in 1860 in a commanding position atop a hill on the town's main thoroughfare, the Italianate mansion was the last home of Chelsea's founder, Elisha Congdon. Congdon served as Chelsea's first postmaster, as village president, and as its representative in the state legislature.

Congdon came to the area in 1832 and purchased 160 acres on the east side of what would become Chelsea's Main Street. His brother, James Congdon, bought 300 acres on the west side of the street. Elisha Congdon built a log house for his family, which his daughter Emily Congdon Ames later remembered as "just a shanty." When it burned down in 1849, he built a larger frame house on the site.

In 1850, Congdon offered the Michigan Central Railroad free land to build a railroad station on his property. The railroad accepted his offer, and soon farmers and tradesmen from the surrounding areas started coming to Chelsea to make deliveries, pick up purchases, and get their mail at Congdon's post office. The Congdon brothers platted their farmland into village lots, and before long, businesses in the nearby settlements moved to Chelsea.

McKune Hotel

Elisha Congdon died just seven years after building his mansion. By the time this drawing was made in 1874, Timothy McKune had turned it into a hotel.

With that stroke, Elisha Congdon assured Chelsea's future—and his own. In 1860, he moved the frame house to make way for his mansion. Unnerved by the fire that had destroyed his first home, he said that this brick house should be as "strong as a fortress and immune to devastation."

Said to be a copy of the Martha Washington house in Ann Arbor, Congdon's new home featured all the fancy accoutrements one would expect in an elegant house of that era: a parlor with a fireplace, carved woodwork, and a back staircase for servants. Congdon lived there until he died in 1867 at the age of sixty-seven.

In 1870, Timothy McKune, an Irish immigrant, farmer, and businessman, bought the Congdon house and converted it to a fashionable inn called the McKune House. Just two blocks from the railroad station, it served train passengers as well as stagecoach travelers.

When McKune died in 1909, his son, Edward, took over the inn. But the business had passed its peak by then: with the growing popularity of automobiles, people could travel farther in a day and still make it home by evening. The hotel served fewer overnight guests and became something closer to a rooming house. Carol Kempf remembers passing by the McKune House in the 1930s and seeing men who looked like bums hanging out on the long front porch that the McKunes had added.

Meanwhile, in 1932, the Chelsea Child Study Club had founded a village library, starting off with 22 donated books and 100 borrowed from the state library. Originally run by volunteers, the library hired staff after the passage of a 1938 millage, but it still lacked a permanent home. In its first fifteen years, the library moved four times—from one donated space downtown to another—ending up in 1946 on the second floor of the municipal building.

When the Friends of the Chelsea Library were organized in 1949, one of their first objectives was to find a better location. Their search ended in 1956, when Edward McKune's widow, Katherine Staffan McKune, offered to bequeath the house to the organization in memory of her family. Childless and with strong ties to Chelsea (her family founded the Staffan Funeral Parlor), she wanted to leave the house for the village's use.

The house was run-down when the organization received it in 1958—some said it needed more work than it was worth. But with various organizations and hundreds of people donating money, materials, and labor, the house was ready for occupancy by 1959.

Other than the east wing, which was added in 1961, the exterior looks much like it did during Congdon's occupancy. The McKunes' long porch has been removed and replaced by a porch more like the original. Inside, the basic room layout remains the same, although shelves and tables have replaced the nineteenth-century family furniture.

In addition to Chelsea, the McKune Library serves residents of Dexter and Sylvan townships, and the library district may expand to include Lima and Lyndon townships. New challenges include making the library handicapped accessible, increasing parking, and creating more space, either by adding to the building or constructing a new one. Those concerned about retaining Chelsea's heritage hope that any additions do not obscure the original house—and that an equally suitable use can be found for the building if the library moves elsewhere.


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Rights Held By: 
Grace Shackman
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