Ehnis and Son

Author: 
Grace Shackman

From harness making to work clothes

Soon after Herman Ehnis opened his harness shop at 116 West Liberty, he realized he had gone into a dying field. But by adroitly shifting his focus from horses to the workmen who cared for them, Ehnis created a business that is still here eighty-two years later.

Rights Held By: 
Grace Shackman

Ann Arbor's First Skyscraper

Author: 
Grace Shackman

The Glazier Building was a monument to its builder's financial chicanery

When State Treasurer Frank Glazier started the Glazier Building at the corner of Main and Huron in 1906, he was forty-four years old and at the height of his power. He was the most important man in Chelsea, where he owned the Chelsea Savings Bank and the Glazier Stove Company, and had held every local political office from school board member to state senator. Now he was intent on making a similar impact on Ann Arbor.

Glazier spared no expense to secure Ann Arbor's most important corner for his edifice. According to the February 2, 1906, Argus-Democrat, he paid $26,500 just to buy the three buildings then on the site, making it "the biggest real estate transaction in the history of the city," before a single brick was laid. "Some of the interested parties didn't want to sell," the paper explained. "The price was finally set at such a figure that all objections were overcome."

His site obtained, Glazier set about planning the tallest building the city had yet seen. Glazier "had a passion for building," says local historian Lou Doll. His neoclassical Chelsea bank and sprawling red brick stove factory, with its signature clock tower, remain village landmarks to this day. Glazier modeled his Ann Arbor building on Detroit's fourteen-story Majestic, which when built in 1896 was that city's tallest building. Like the Majestic, at Michigan and Woodward, the Glazier Building had ornate bottom and top sections with a simpler brick area in between. Glazier's newspaper, the Ann Arbor News, proudly called it "Ann Arbor's First Sky Scraper." (Glazier's News was just one of several local progenitors of today's Ann Arbor News.)

By the time the Glazier Building was completed in 1908, its namesake had declared bankruptcy and been forced to resign his state office.

In the 1906 campaign for state treasurer, Glazier's opponent had tried to make an issue of Glazier's habit of depositing state money in his own bank in Chelsea. At the time, Glazier responded that he deposited treasury funds in 144 banks all over the state. But in fact, Glazier was guilty of massive fiscal chicanery.

Glazier's rise and fall is documented in detail in Lou Doll's recently published history, Less Than Immortal: The Rise and Fall of Frank Porter Glazier of Chelsea, Michigan. (The book is currently available at the Village Shoppe in Chelsea, and Doll hopes soon to have it in stores in Ann Arbor as well.) During the Panic of 1907 (an economic recession), he ran out of funds to pay his debts--including debts to his own bank that had been financed from state deposits. Glazier's 1910 trial for misusing state funds, Doll writes, revealed "a story of three-way bank, Stove Company, and state fund juggling that is amazing."

Glazier had not only been depositing state funds in his own bank; he had been borrowing huge amounts through what amounted to a shell game. He had used the same stove company stock as collateral for loans from eight different banks, including his own. The total exceeded $1 million, far more than the stove company was worth.

How was Glazier able to dupe both the state and his fellow bankers on so grand a scale? "A possible explanation is that he was Frank P. Glazier, wealthy manufacturer, state treasurer with the power of depositing or withholding state funds from banks, and possible future governor of the state, and they did not want to offend him," Doll writes. But once the extent of the debt became clear, Glazier was declared bankrupt in 1908.

Both the stove company and the bank went into receivership; though the bank survived under new ownership, the stove company, its products outdated by changing technology, soon closed permanently.

The money Glazier borrowed from the state was recovered. His other creditors were not so lucky. Most of his assets, including the Glazier Building, were sold at fire sale prices. According to Doll, Glazier had already sunk $130,000 of his own money into it, plus another $80,000 borrowed from the Chelsea Savings Bank. It sold for just $77,000 to the Goodspeed brothers of Grand Rapids, formerly of Ann Arbor.

Glazier himself was sentenced to five to ten years in Jackson State Prison. He was pardoned two years later and spent much of his time living quietly at his home on Cavanaugh Lake. He died January 1,1922.

The Goodspeed brothers rented the street front to the First National Bank. The office space not needed by the bank was rented to various businesses, mostly lawyers who appreciated the location near the courthouse and other banks.

In 1928 the First National moved into its own skyscraper--the eleven-story First National Building, one block south on Main Street. The Ann Arbor Trust Company took its place at Main and Huron, where it has continued (with several changes in ownership and identity) to this day.

The trust company was started in 1925 by Russell Dobson and purchased in 1928 by Earl Cress and future Ann Arbor mayor Bill Brown. The investment partners had been in business together since 1921, with offices on the top floor of the Glazier Building. By the time they took over the lease on the whole building in 1928, their businesses included securities, real estate, mortgage loans, insurance, and property management. In 1939 the two men divided the businesses, with Brown taking the insurance and Cress the trust company.

In 1973, the Goodspeed heirs finally agreed to sell the building to Ann Arbor Trust. The next year, the trust company changed to a full-service bank. After a series of mergers and acquisitions, it is now part of Cleveland-based Society Bank; George Cress, Earl's son, continues to run it, along with Society's other Michigan branches.

After more than eighty years, the exterior of the building looks much as it did in 1908, except for two changes made during a 1969 remodeling: the top cornices were removed because they were in danger of falling off, and a small addition was built on the back because the fire marshall said a second stairway was needed.


Rights Held By: 
Grace Shackman

The Kelsey's Stone Castle

Author: 
Grace Shackman

Was it a case of religious one-upmanship?

Newberry Hall, the miniature stone castle at 434 South State, is a fitting home for the U-M's Kelsey Museum of Archaeology. But the sumptuous structure wasn't built as a museum, or even by the university. It was completed in 1891 as the headquarters of the U-M Student Christian Association.

Rights Held By: 
Grace Shackman

From Wooden Ladders to Computer Software

Author: 
Grace Shackman

The Associated Spring building recaps the city's economic history

The Associated Spring building, at 401 E. Stadium near Crisler Arena, has witnessed firsthand Ann Arbor's amazing economic evolution during the twentieth century. From 1910 to 1919, it housed a company that made wooden ladders. From 1919 to 1988, its workers produced metal springs for Detroit's carmakers. Subsequently renovated for office use, it's now the home of C-Text software, a national player in the fast-growing computer typesetting business.

Rights Held By: 
Grace Shackman

Main Street's Last Shoe Store

Author: 
Grace Shackman

When Walter Mast went into business for himself in 1942, there were nine shoe stores on the street. Today, Mast's is the sole survivor.

When Walter Mast opened his shoe store on Main Street in 1942, friends warned him he would never make a go of it. Not only were there eight other shoe stores nearby, but he sold only one line. Now, forty-nine years later, Mast's is the last shoe store on Main Street.

Rights Held By: 
Grace Shackman

The Colored Welfare League

Author: 
Grace Shackman

North Fourth Avenue building was the meeting ground of Ann Arbor's black community

Rights Held By: 
Grace Shackman

The Tuomy Farm

Author: 
Grace Shackman

How Cornelius Tuomy's farm became his children's subdivision

The Italianate house at 2117 Washtenaw, an anachronism of an old farmhouse on a busy thoroughfare, is now the headquarters of the Historical Society of Michigan. The Tuomy family lived there for nearly a hundred years, from 1874 to 1966.

Rights Held By: 
Grace Shackman

Books and Learning at the Corner of Fifth and William

Author: 
Grace Shackman

The Beal mansion had a lot in common with the public library

For about a hundred years, a fifteen-room Italianate house stood on the corner of William and Fifth Avenue, where the Ann Arbor Public Library is now. The house, described in Samuel Beakes's 1906 Past and Present of Washtenaw County as "the center of true social life and hospitality," was home to the prominent Beal family. Rice Beal took over Dr. Chase's publishing ventures in 1869, and his son, Junius, was the longest-serving U-M regent. Though the mansion was torn down in 1957, the same ambience prevails at the public library that replaced it: the love of books and the encouragement of education in a place where all segments of society meet.

The Ann Arbor School Board bought the house in 1953 from Loretta Beal Jacobs, daughter of Junius and Ella Beal, who had inherited the house in 1944 after her mother died. (Her father had died two years earlier.) Mrs. Jacobs and her family lived in the house only part-time, usually summers; her husband, Albert, had a distinguished academic career, ending up as president of Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut. Bob Warner, now dean of the U-M School of Information and Library Studies, lived nearby on William as a graduate student. He remembers the Beal house as "decorated with Victorian furniture and filled with papers and books." Mrs. Jacobs, he says, was "an intelligent lady who liked to talk."

From 1948 to 1950, U-M student Joe Roberts lived in the house during the months the Jacobses were away. (He now works at the library.) His upstairs bedroom, furnished with a cherry-wood four-poster bed, a marble fireplace, and a marble basin, looked out onto the garden's magnolia tree. When it bloomed in the spring, he says, it "made it almost impossible to study." Although the garden was pretty overgrown during Roberts's occupancy, Junius Beal's granddaughter, Loretta Edwards, remembers that in its prime it contained a wildflower area near the carriage house, a rock garden, and many unusual plantings, including an Osage orange tree and an elm grown from a scion of a tree planted by George Washington on the Capitol grounds.

The Beal house was built in the 1860's by W. H. Mallory. Rice Beal moved into it in 1865, planning to enjoy retirement in Ann Arbor after earning his fortune in a number of business enterprises in Dexter. Born in 1823, the child of immigrants from New York State, he was raised on a farm in Livingston County and received only a basic education (elementary school and one year at Albion Academy in New York). He taught school for a year, then used his savings to buy a stock of notions and fancy goods, which he traveled around selling until he had enough money to set up a store, first in Pinckney, then Howell and Plainfield. He ended up in Dexter, then an important station on the Michigan Central line, where his many enterprises included a general store, four mills, a lumberyard, and a bank.

Rice Beal's "retirement" in Ann Arbor lasted less than four years. In 1869, he could not resist the opportunity to buy Dr. Chase's printing business at the corner of Main and Miller, which included the publication of Dr. Chase's book of home remedies and a weekly newspaper, the Peninsular Courier and Family Visitant. Beal enjoyed using the paper's editorial page to explain his outspoken positions in numerous controversies, including a long-running quarrel with Dr. Chase after the former owner broke a pledge not to return to the publishing business. A Republican since the Civil War, Beal was active in the party, serving as a delegate to the conventions that nominated U. S. Grant and Rutherford Hayes. In 1880 he came close to being nominated as his party's candidate for governor.

When Rice's son, Junius, graduated from the U-M in 1882, Rice decided to give retirement another try. He turned over the publishing business to his son, and started out on a trip around the country with his wife, Phoebe. He died just a year later, in 1883, while visiting Iowa Falls, Iowa.

Junius Beal, born in 1860 in Port Huron, was actually Rice's nephew, but had been adopted by Rice at eleven months of age, when his mother died. Thanks to his father's extensive holdings, Junius could afford to spend much of his time with civic concerns, concentrating on education and on promoting modern infrastructure. He was one of the founders of the interurban streetcar line, lobbied for better roads, and owned the first telephone in town. An active Republican like his father, he served a term in the state house (1904), twenty years on the Ann Arbor School Board (1884-1904), and thirty-two years as a U-M regent (1907-1939), the longest anyone has ever served. He took part in the selection of four presidents, insisted that Hill Auditorium be built large enough to hold 5,000, and defended the building of the huge Michigan Stadium, arguing that the profit could help other students.

When Beal's friend and fellow regent, William Clements, set up the Clements library in 1923 to house his collection of early American historical material, Beal donated some of his own collection of 2,000 rare antique books. More of his books were donated by his heirs, as was the Beal house's book-shaped carriage step, which now sits on the front lawn of the Clements.

Because of Junius Beal's many connections with both the university and the town, the Beal house was a natural place for the two to meet. Loretta Edwards remembers that her grandparents entertained a variety of people, ranging from the Methodist minister (who came every Wednesday morning), business acquaintances, university benefactors such as William Cook and Charles Baird, and dignitaries who were receiving honorary degrees from the university.

The Beal house was in limbo for three years after its sale in 1953, while the city and the school system tussled over whether the site should be used for a library or a new city hall. During the interim, in 1954, the newly formed Friends of the Library held their first sale in the remains of the Beal garden, selling books, records, picture frames, baked goods, and flowers. As an added attraction, they displayed the old electric car that many older residents remembered Mrs. Ella Beal driving around town. It had for many years been stored on blocks in the carriage house.

The new library was designed by Alden Dow (also the architect of City Hall and the home of his sister and brother-in-law, Margaret and Harry Towsley) and opened for business on October 24, 1957. An addition was built in 1974. A second addition, which will add 43,000 square feet, and a renovation of the existing 53,000 square feet are in progress and will be done about Labor Day, 1991.


[Photo caption from original print edition]: (Left) Ella and Junius Beal posed in their carriage with son Travis and their coachman. (Top) Junius Beal in 1938. (Above) The same corner today.


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

Rights Held By: 
Grace Shackman

512 South Main

Author: 
Grace Shackman

From simple farmhouse to elegant urban hair salon

For more than a century, 512 South Main has mirrored downtown's changes. Originally a small brick house in a residential neighborhood, it was absorbed into the growing Main Street business district as Claude Brown's secondhand store and pawn shop in the 1930's. It's since grown and evolved - under a succession of owners - into a printing firm in the 1950's, an antiques shop in the 1970's, and an elegant hair salon today.

Rights Held By: 
Grace Shackman

The Three Courthouses of Washtenaw County

Author: 
Grace Shackman

Conclusive proof that newer isn't always better

Rights Held By: 
Grace Shackman
Syndicate content