Manchester Mill

Published In:
Community Observer, Date Unknown,
Unknown

Author: Grace Shackman

The landmark that shaped the village

Perched on the edge of the bridge in the center of Manchester, the Manchester Mill visually defines the town. Historically, the mill is the reason for the village's existence.

In 1826, John Gilbert bought the land that would later become Manchester. He contracted with Emanuel Case and Harry Gilbert to build a mill on the River Raisin in 1832. Since then, there has always been a mill on that site—although the building has burned down twice and the dam has been rebuilt twice.

According to Chapman's 1881 History of Washtenaw County, Case built a gristmill and a sawmill. Those mills, plus one on the east side of town (now the site of a Johnson Controls factory), furnished the power that made Manchester a leading nineteenth-century industrial town, served by two railroad lines. Case also built the first hotel in Manchester and was the village's first justice of the peace, office in his hotel.

Out of the three mills, the grist the only one that has survived—and it has had to be rebuilt repeated mill burned for the first time in 1853.

Though an exact cause was never determined, fires were common in mills because of the high flammability of grain dust. With wooden buildings and low-tech volunteer fire departments, they would spread quickly. The 1853 fire swept half of the downtown, destroying fourteen businesses and one dwelling before being brought under control.

In 1875 and again in 1908. the River Raisin flooded and washed out the dam. After the second flood, a temporary dam washed out again just two months later. It was replaced with sixty-foot-wide poured-cement structure, which has lasted to this day. Don Limpert, present owner of the Manchester Mill, believes the dam one of the oldest poured-cement structures in the state.

The mill burned for the second time in
By the time the night watchman
red the fire and sounded the alarm,
were shooting through the sides of
ding. The mill was rebuilt again,
it opened for business in January of 1926, it no longer ground flour, just feed for livestock.

Although Henry Ford bought most of the mills in the area, including the one on the east side of town and mills in Saline and Dexter, he decided the Manchester Mill, at a price of $6,000, cost too much. The high price probably reflected the fact that the mill was still in use, unlike the abandoned mills he usually purchased.

E. G. Mann and his two sons, Willard and Earl, bought the mill in 1940. E. G. had been in the mill business since 1927, when he bought a feed mill in Bridgewater, which is still run by his descendants. In 1976, Willard's son, Ron Mann, who had been working at the Manchester Mill, took over. Ron remembers that in the 1960s, the mill was open from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and that the workers were grinding all day. But by the time he became the owner, grinding was only about five percent of the business, and more of a service than a moneymaker. The surrounding farmland was being steadily sold off until there were hardly any livestock farmers left. (Today there is only one full-time livestock farmer in Manchester Township.)

In 1981, Mann decided to end the milling part of his business; at the time, it was the oldest operating mill in continuous use on me same site in the entire state. By then, he had expanded into lawn and garden supplies and premixed animal food. He moved this part of the business to the west side of town, where it is still running, under a new owner.

After Don Limpert bought the old building from Mann, he removed the mill equipment, some of which had to be taken out through the roof by a crane. Limpert, who has restored numerous other buildings in Manchester, divided the mill into smaller spaces, starting with an apartment at the top that he calls "Manchester's high-rise." (Bill Farmer, a former member of the Raisin Pickers string band, lives there.) The remainder of the space is rented by stores and businesses. One of the turbines is still in place and could be used to generate electricity if ever needed.

A feeling of the old use still pervades the mill. One of the turbines is used for a coffee table in the Red Mill Cafe, and an original corn-shucking bin empties into the office of the Manchester Chronicle, where editor Kathy Kueffner looks out at the River Raisin while she writes her copy.

—Grace Shackman

Photo Caption: Through fire and flood, Manchester's mill ground grain from 1832 to 1981.

Weighing the Price of Progress in Chelsea

Published In:
Community Observer, Spring 2001,
Spring 2001

Author: Grace Shackman

Pressure to meet modern needs endangers three historic landmarks.

Demand for housing and retail and industrial sites in the Chelsea area has exploded in recent years—so a lot more people are mailing letters, checking out library books, and wanting to park their cars downtown. But even as residents put the heat on village leaders to meet these needs, they are also concerned about not just paving over Chelsea's past.

Take the McKune Public Library, for example. Built in 1860, the building has immeasurable historical value as the home of Elisha Congdon, who, with his brother James, founded Chelsea. As a library, on the other hand, it's becoming very cramped and outmoded. But when the board raised the option of tearing it down to build a new, larger library, there was a public outcry. Most villagers also resisted the idea of locating a new library anyplace but downtown, according to Lynn Fox, library board president. "It's [on] a wonderful site, especially if the city moves their offices across the street."

Fox was referring to efforts by Chelsea developer Rene Papo to build and lease a government center on the Palmer Ford lot there. If Papo's successful, his new office center would solve one of Chelsea's long-standing problems. For three years, municipal offices have been temporarily housed in a bank next to the library.

Papo's plan might also solve another problem: the need for a larger post office. Last year the Postal Service declared that Chelsea's current post office is too small and lacks adequate truck access. While villagers have no control over this decision, they are demanding that the postal authorities keep any new post office downtown. Meanwhile the fate of the old building also remains uncertain, and it, too, contains an invaluable piece of Chelsea's history. In 1936 the federal Works Progress Administration (WPA) commissioned artist George H. Fisher to paint a mural on its north wall. Villagers treasure the mural, The Way of Life (right), as an important example of original Depression-era art and as a significant part of Chelsea's past.

If and when a new post office is built, the old structure—and its mural—will be offered to other governmental units by rank. If federal, state, or county officials decide they want the building, villagers will have no formal input over the fate of it or the mural.

Meanwhile, the Downtown Development Authority is building a new parking lot on the Staffan-Mitchell Funeral Home property in response to villagers' demands for more downtown parking. But that location puts a circa-1880 home, most recently home to Serendipity Books, in the way of the bulldozers (see Marketplace Changes, p. 59).

Sensitive to the historic value of the building, the DDA has announced that it will sell the house for a nominal sum if the buyer is willing to move it. "We're not trying to make money," says DDA director Ann Feeney.

It's obvious to many people that these three landmarks—the McKune house, the post office's WPA mural, and Serendipity House—are "priceless." But saving them will come at a price, and someone will have to pay it.

So far, no one has stepped forward to save Serendipity House. The library plans to approach outside sources for contributions before going to the voters for approval of a bond issue to pay for planned additions and renovations on the McKune house. At press time, the board had no figures on the estimated cost.

The fate of the WPA mural will probably take the longest to determine. Anyone who tries to remove it, however, will face a lot of angry villagers. "They'd never destroy it," says Feeney. "People would go bananas if that happened."

—Grace Shackman

Turning the clock ahead in Dexter

Published In:
Community Observer, Fall 2000,
Fall 2000

Author: Grace Shackman

From car showroom to coffee shop

Before car salesrooms and gas stations were relegated to the outskirts of town, Ralph Kingsbury's Ford dealership stood on the corner of Main and Broad streets in Dexter. Today the building is the Clock Works Coffee house.

"It's as different as you can get in the same space," says Elizabeth Kingsbury Davenport, Kingsbury's daughter. The Clock Works, although located in the former dealership's post-Civil War Commercial Italianate building, manages to look very modem and airy with exposed brick walls, scenic watercolors, and generously spaced tables and chairs.

In Davenport's time, when her father's business included the main storefront, a garage on the east, and gas pumps on the west, this same site was anything but open: a single Ford floor model took up most of the showroom, surrounded by vats of car parts, barrels of freebies for the gas station, and cane-bottom chairs for people to sit on while they waited for their cars to be repaired.

Harvey Blanchard opened Dexter's first Ford dealership in 1911. Ten years later he started a bus line between Ann Arbor and Dexter using Fords. In 1926, in the last years of the Model T, Blanchard gave up the car business and Kingsbury took over.

"He always loved cars," recalls Davenport of her father. "He drove a Studebaker, but the Dexter Ford dealership was open and his mother bought it for him."

Kingsbury had graduated in 1912 from the U-M's railroad accounting program, the precursor of today's business school. He had been working for the Pere Marquette Railroad in Detroit when the opportunity arose. He moved to Dexter with his wife, Marian, who became the local piano teacher; their three young children, Elizabeth, Doris, and Stewart; his mother, Loretta Kingsbury; and his mother-in-law, Jennie David. They were later joined by his brother-in-law, William David—"Uncle Will," as Davenport knew him.

The new ownership was celebrated with a grand opening. The building was decorated with red and white flags furnished by the Ford Motor Company, and salami, liverwurst, cheese and crackers, and pop were served inside. According to Davenport, the fanfare was probably a bit "too much" for local residents. "They were used to a quieter approach," she explains. "It was a farming community. There were some prosperous farmers, but it was not a rich community. People lived simply. They played cards on Saturday night; they went to weekly dances or church suppers."

If the opening sparked any resistance among members of the community, it didn't affect the business, which grew big enough to employ three mechanics, two salesmen, and a bookkeeper. Davenport remembers her dad sitting at his Mission-style desk in the back of the store wearing a green visor and cooling himself with a palm-leaf fan. In front of him stood the dark green metal counter. With an old-fashioned cash register and a Philco beehive radio. Uncle Will, a short man who always wore a hat—either a fedora or, in summer, a straw boater—managed the two gas pumps (regular and ethyl), although "whoever was around did the gas. They didn't exactly line up for service," Davenport says. To keep customers coming, premiums were given for buying certain amounts of gas. Davenport remembers Depression Glass dessert plates, cups and saucers, creamers, sugars bowls, and salad plates, later replaced by lacy pressed glass that was a yellow-amber color, a light green, or pink.

The store itself was decorated in "Ford Motor olive drab," recalls Davenport. The company had a standard look for its showrooms and sent out posters of cars, large cardboard cutouts of cars, ad materials, and flyers, things that all Ford dealers were expected to use. The repair area (now a video store) was connected to the salesroom by a side door; it had roll-up garage doors on the street, an oil-change pit (hoists were rare in those days), and a back door large enough for cars to exit to the alley.

In the early days of the dealership, Kingsbury sold one car at a time—after a customer bought the floor model, he would order another. Occasionally a Fordson tractor or an additional car or two would be on display outside near the gas pumps.

Later Ford switched to a quota system, sending a car hauler with Kingsbury's assigned delivery. New models were celebrated at the dealership with blue and white triangular banners, while yellow banners were used for special sales. Davenport still remembers the day in 1927 when the Model A was introduced: "I went to the candy store and told them it went sixty miles an hour. They didn't believe me."

Once a month the Ford road man came and inspected the books, an event that Davenport recalls as "always stressful." Henry Ford's visits were even worse. He and his henchman, Harry Bennett, would park in front and "sit and watch," she remembers. "It was like God watching. We were paralyzed with fear and not allowed anywhere near them."

When the Great Depression hit, it was harder to sell cars. "Dad sold a lot of cars to U-M faculty and to his frat brothers or their friends. The repair work was for Dexter folks," recalls Davenport. Area farmers needed to keep their old trucks and tractors running and would sometimes bring them into the dealership "literally held together with baling wire. Dad had a soft heart and knew you couldn't farm without gas. Some people paid their bills with in-kind goods instead of money, a practice frowned on by Mr. Ford, but we ate very well," she says.

During the depression the car dealership was also the repository for surplus food, which was lined up against the west wall. People came in and signed for the food they took. "I was embarrassed that people had to come in and pick up food. I'd always make myself scarce when I could," recalls Davenport.

Kingsbury moved the dealership twice, each time to bigger quarters—first to the top of Monument Park in the building now home to Cottage Inn pizza, and then to the top of the hill, now an AAA office. In 1941 he sold the business to Al Gross, who had been a salesman with him from the beginning. Kingsbury took a job as bookkeeper at the Buhr Tool Company in Ann Arbor, where he worked until he retired. He died in 1976.

After Kingsbury moved out of the Blanchard building, it stood empty until 1944, when Art Lovell moved his appliance store into it from across the street. Lovell, an excellent mechanic, kept the garage as a car repair place and continued to run the gas station, although he changed it to a Dixie Gas station, supplied by the Staebler Oil Company of Ann Arbor. He used the storefront to sell Frigidaire appliances. As engines improved and cars needed fewer overhauls, he segued into doing more appliance repair.

Kate and Mike Bostic opened the Clock Works Coffee Shop in the building in 1997. They survived the first two years despite heavy construction going on around them. "Fortunately we're serving an addicted population," laughs Kate. In addition to coffee the Bostics serve morning snacks and light lunches. They are obviously filling a community need; people come in on the way to work, parents stop in after dropping their children off at school, and local merchants come in for lunch. In warm weather, people can drink their coffee at tables on the side of the building where the gas pumps once stood.

In one respect the present operation is not as divergent from the car dealership as it seems. Davenport recalls that when her father ran the place people came in throughout the day, some waiting for their cars to be fixed, others stopping in if they were buying gas or just passing by. Although the dealership didn't serve coffee (as many do now), "there were newspapers to read," says Davenport. Or, she adds, people would simply drop by, coming in to "sit and talk"—just as they do at the Clock Works today.

—Grace Shackman

Industry on the Raisin

Published In:
Community Observer, Date Unknown,
Unknown

Author: Grace Shackman

When water-power was king

Manchester, Michigan, like its purported name-sake in England, was an early industrial center. Its first small factories were located on the Raisin River, so named because of the wild grapes that used to grow on its banks.

By 1870, dams on the Raisin were powering three flour mills, a sawmill, a woolen factory, a paper mill, a basket factory, a foundry, and a machine shop. Other early Manchester industries included a boat factory, several wagon manufacturers, a planing mill, and two breweries. Two train lines, the Detroit, Hillsdale, and Indiana and the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railroad, ran through town, each with its own depot. In the early 1900's, trains came or left every half hour.

Three dams, all built in the 1830's when Manchester was first settled, furnished the waterpower. The westernmost dam was built in 1832 by Emanuel Case in what would become Manchester's downtown. John Gilbert of Ypsilanti platted it and sold the area on the condition that a mill be built there. The middle dam furnished power for a foundry, while the easternmost one was built in 1833 by James Soules, who developed the surrounding area, naming it in his own honor. (Soulesville was annexed to Manchester in the mid-nineteenth century.)

In addition to a flour mill and a grist mill, Emanuel Case built Manchester's hotel. In 1838, Barnabas Case opened a cabinet shop and distillery across from the foundry. When criticized by prohibitionists, he answered, as quoted in Chapman's 1881 History of Washtenaw County, "I am doing more for the cause of temperance than he who advocates total abstinence. I sell the pure article; it will hurt no one. Manufactured as it is on the banks of the pure water of the Raisin, it is as pure as the water you drink. No one need fear of being injured by it."

As industry developed, so did housing. Manchester's Nob Hill, a row of elegant Italianate homes along Ann Arbor Street, was built between 1853 and 1860. Manchester historian Howard Parr explains, "They were built by prestigious businessmen and doctors—Dr. Root, Dr. Conklin. They backed onto the river, and at night [their owners] would go on gondola rides, or whatever the Victorian equivalent was."

The present-day brick downtown streetscape was built after the Civil War; earlier wooden storefronts had burned in several serious fires. The brick was made locally, in three brick factories that had opened to take advantage of pockets of good clay along the Raisin. "They had no grants, no master plan," says Parr of the builders. "They were just a bunch of merchants trying to outdo each other." Today, downtown Manchester is one of Michigan's most intact Italianate commercial districts.

Manchester stopped growing in the twentieth century as mass production made its small factories impractical. It remained a center for farmers, with stores and services catering to their needs. In the middle of a major sheep-raising area, Manchester had holding pens by the railroads and barns for communal sheep shearing.

Glen Lehr, eighty-nine, grew up in Manchester. He recalls that on Wednesday and Saturday nights, downtown stores would stay open late to serve farmers who had to work during the day. As an added attraction, in the 1920's, downtown merchants showed silent movies on Wednesday nights; the pictures were projected on a screen set up on the bridge over the Raisin. After Prohibition ended in Michigan, Lehr remembers, thirteen saloons opened to serve the farmers and other customers from as far away as Ohio. (Ohio stayed dry longer than Michigan.)

Today, no railroads stop in Manchester, and both train stations have been torn down. The village remains attractive to industry—most recently for SGF America—but it's been a long time since any factory relied on the Raisin for power. The two eastern mills were purchased by Henry Ford, who built a small-parts factory where the Soulesville mill had been. Today it is part of Johnson Controls. The mill in the center of town, twice burned down and twice rebuilt, still visually defines the downtown. (Today it houses a collection of shops.) On the other side of the river is a Dairy Queen, which, perched as it is over the dam, must be the world's prettiest.

—Grace Shackman

Schuyler's Mill

Published In:
Community Observer, Winter 1998,
Winter 1998

Author: Grace Shackman

Weller's guests dine where Henry Ford once dabbled

"When I was working the midnight shift, many times Henry Ford would visit unannounced," recalls Kenny Rogers, who was employed at the Ford Soybean Mill in Saline in the 1940s, when he was a teenager. During Ford's last years, the auto tycoon bought up old mills all over southeast Michigan and used them to pursue his sometimes eccentric personal interests. At the Saline mill, workers extracted oil from soybeans, oil that Ford used to make enamel paint and plastic for automotive steering wheels, switches, and knobs.

When Ford bought the Saline mill in 1935, it was already ninety years old. Schuyler Haywood had built the gristmill in 1845, and it soon became the center of an independent town as Haywood's relatives and other businesses settled nearby. Haywood named the town Barnegat, after his hometown in New Jersey. "Barnegat was a booming town and Saline a bedroom community," explains Saline historian Alberta Rogers. "They had barrel making, a slaughterhouse, even a house of ill repute." Barnegat was annexed to the village of Saline in 1848.

Barnegat and downtown Saline, about a half mile apart, were separated by a big hill, as high as the hill where the American Legion sits now. Ford flattened the hill when he bought Schuyler's Mill. He also moved the mill building farther from the road and built a factory behind it, in a Greek Revival style compatible with the mill.

A farm boy who became the world's most famous industrialist. Ford was intrigued by the notion of making car parts from crops. He provided soybean seeds to many area farmers, who delivered their harvests to the old mill building. A chute dropped the beans from their third-floor storage bin to a conveyor belt, which carried them to the new factory. There, oil was extracted from the beans with steam and a solvent. The oil was stored in a tank in the adjoining pump house until it could be trucked to Ford's River Rouge plant, where it was used to make plastics and paints. The leftover soybean meal was dried, toasted, and sold as animal feed. A water-powered generator in the mill produced most of the operation's electricity. Soy-based paints were tested in a lab on the second floor.

The plant operated around the clock except on Sunday. Only five or six people worked on each shift, since it was mostly automated. Rogers remembers they spent a lot of time cleaning in anticipation of Ford's surprise visits.

"We kept it immaculate; we'd polish the brass valves, wax the floors," Rogers recalls. Ford usually came accompanied by friends. "They'd be all dressed up in suits and ties as if they'd been out to dinner, and Ford said, 'I'll take you out and show you.' The mills were his toys."

After Ford's death, the mill was sold to a soybean processing company, but the machinery soon became obsolete. Barbara Hamel, daughter of the new owner, re-named Ford's factory the "carriage house" and started a summer theater there (the actors slept in the mill building next door). WAAM radio host Ted Heusel remembers directing plays there. One of Heusel's apprentices at the playhouse was Martha Henry; now one of Canada's most prominent actresses, she recently starred in Much Ado about Nothing at the Stratford Festival.

In 1964, Carl and Micki Weller purchased the buildings and grounds, and they have steadily worked at restoring and landscaping them ever since. Once an antique shop, then a cafe, the buildings now house a banquet facility, run by Carl and Micki's daughter, Wendy Weller. There's room for three events at the same time—in the carriage house and on two floors of the mill. The old pump house is now Weller's office.

Traces of the old operation add flavor to events at Weller's. Pathways are paved with old firebricks, and the old steam boiler is now used as a bar. The carriage house although not air-conditioned, is surprisingly cool in the heat of summer, thanks to windows and vents designed to draw out air from the factory. Carl Weller, who has come to understand the soybean extraction operation well after years of renovation work, explains, "The steam made it so hot [that] even in winter, they could work in their undershirts."

—Grace Shackman

Bridge to the 19th Century

Published In:
Community Observer, Spring 2009,
Spring 2009

Author: Grace Shackman

Bridge to the Nineteenth Century: Can Bell Road's span be saved?

The Bell Road Bridge in Dex­ter Township is on the Na­tional Register of Historic Places. The plaque so designating it, however, is sitting in neighbor Bill Klinke's garage—because for twelve years the nineteenth-century "iron through-truss bridge" has been rust­ing away on the banks of the Huron River. As the Bell Road Bridge lies there, overgrown with brush and poison ivy, it seems impossible that it could ever rise up out of the muck again. Yet citizen efforts have already saved two similar bridges downstream.

In the last quarter of the nineteenth century, the Huron River was spanned with iron bridges at ev­ery mill town—including Dexter, Scio (at Zeeb Road), Osborne Mill (at Tubbs Road), and Geddesburg (near present-day Washtenaw Community Col­lege)—as well as in Ann Arbor and Yp-silanti. Another iron bridge crossed the River Raisin in Manchester.

The bridges came in kits, like giant Erector sets, the pieces sent by rail. Locals assembled them and rolled them on logs down to the river to place on abutments made by local stonemasons. They were a lot better than wooden bridges that needed continual upkeep.

Iron truss bridges, patented by broth­ers Thomas and Caleb Pratt in 1844, are supported by a series of iron triangles held together with iron pins. A "through-truss" bridge has a top section that helps hold up the sides. "These old bridges supported more weight than you would think," says Richard Cook, who helped save the Delhi Bridge downstream of Dexter. "They car­ried not just horses and wagons but heavy steam-powered agricultural equipment."

In 1832 Samuel Dexter, the founder of Dexter, and Isaac Pomeroy built a sawmill a mile below Portage Lake. A later owner added a gristmill, and the hamlet of Do­ver grew up around it. At its peak it had a church, a hotel, a store, a blacksmith shop, several dozen houses, and a post office. A drawing in the 1874 County Atlas shows a wooden bridge across the Huron there. But by the time an iron bridge was installed in 1891, the village was waning; Dover's post office was torn down the next year. The bridge was named after John Bell, whose farm was across the river. By 1915 Dover no longer appeared on maps.

The other surviving bridges also served mill towns. Samuel Foster, a miller from Massachusetts, answered Dexter's invita­tion to work at his mill in Dexter. Eventual­ly Foster started his own mill downstream, where Zeeb Road crosses the Huron; the village of Scio grew around it. Foster later built a second mill downstream at Maple Road. The settlement there, originally named Newport, became Foster's Station but was never very big. There was an iron bridge there as early as 1876.

Another iron bridge was built in 1888 at Delhi. At its peak this village, founded in 1831, was a railroad stop with five mills, a school, and a post office. The last mill was dismantled in 1906, and the stones from the mills spilled into the river, forming the rapids that are now the main attraction at Delhi Metropark.

During the twentieth century, the iron bridges disappeared one by one from the Huron, until only three were left— Bell Road Bridge, the Del­hi Bridge, and the bridge at old Foster's Station, now known as the Maple/Foster Bridge.

In 1992 the Bell Road Bridge closed for awhile after a drunk driver ran into a post. It reopened with a load limit of four tons, which made it impassable for garbage trucks, school buses, delivery vehicles, and fire engines. Its abutments were crum­bling, and in 1995 the Washtenaw County Road Commission put the replacement of the Bell Road Bridge on its wish list for the state's Critical Bridge Fund. Admin­istered by the Michigan Department of Transportation, the fund covers almost all the cost of repairing or replacing failing bridges. In a typical CBF project, the local government pays just 5 percent of the bill; 15 percent comes from the state and 80 percent from the federal government.

The road commission wanted to re­place the narrow iron bridge with a two-lane concrete span. Neighbors pushed in­stead to repair the old bridge, arguing that it was good enough for a small rural road, and that emergency vehicles could cross the river on North Territorial Road a mile south. They attended road commission, township, and county meetings, gathered hundreds of petition signatures, and got the National Register designation.

Eventually the road commission agreed not to replace the bridge. But in 1997 the bridge was taken down; its abutments were so weak that it was feared a spring flood might wash it away. It's been sitting on the riverbank ever since.

Three years later the same is­sues arose downriver, when the road commission decid­ed the Maple/Foster Bridge was unsafe and needed to be replaced with a bigger, stroriger span that could carry emergency vehicles and school buses. Again, neighbors ral­lied. They formed the Citizens for Foster Bridge Conservancy and raised more than $40,000 to hire an engineering firm. It re­ported that repairing the bridge was feasi­ble, though costly. Barton Hills, northeast of the bridge, offered to put in $250,000 from an escrow fund built up over years of refunds from state road repair money. (Barton Hills is a private village, and it pays for its own street repairs).

In 2003 the road commission spent five months repairing the bridge—replac­ing the timber deck, improving guardrails, and installing cable to strengthen the sides. Roy Townsend, the road commission's di­rector of engineering, estimates the total cost was about $800,000, so the road com­mission paid about $550,000.

Two years later, the Delhi Bridge was closed by the road commission as unsafe. Because the abutments needed much work, the cost of renovating the bridge would be even greater than for Maple/Foster—and there were fewer neighbors with deep pockets like the residents of Barton Hills. Still, a citizens group, the East Delhi Road Conservancy, raised $50,000 from the Kellogg Foundation and $10,000 from in­dividual donations and sales of lemonade and T-shirts.

An engineering study, paid for jointly by the road commission, Scio Township, and the conservancy, showed that the bridge was in good enough shape to reha­bilitate—if money could be found to do so. Then the conservancy discovered that Critical Bridge Fund money could legally be used to restore historic bridges. Al­though MOOT agreed, the road commis­sion was leery, joining the effort only after state representative Pam Byrnes convened a meeting with all the stakeholders.

In September 2005, when the Delhi Bridge was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the way was paved for repairing it with CBF money. With 95 per­cent of the cost covered by the federal and state government, the road commission agreed to put up half of the local contribu­tion; the other half was split between the Delhi Road Conservancy and Scio Town­ship. When the cost of the projected repair ballooned to $1.2 million, Huron-Clinton Metroparks chipped in $15,000.

The last hurdle, paying for the upkeep, was cleared when the bridge activists gath­ered enough signatures to ask the township to form an assessment district. About 120 nearby properties will pay around $30 a year to help maintain the bridge.

For further protection, the group got the county to establish an East Delhi Bridge Historic District, encompassing just the bridge itself. This designation ensures that the bridge may not be changed or moved without permission of the county's historic district commission.

"It was a grind," admits Cook. "It took a couple of years, endless meetings, and beat­ing our heads against the wall." But he adds, "Very few get saved. We're very happy."

In fact, according to Townsend, this was the first bridge in Michigan to utilize CBF money for a historic rehabilitation. Because it was historic, the state waived the requirement that the bridge have two lanes. Instead, a traffic light will be put up, perhaps on side poles to make it less ob­trusive. The bridge is scheduled to reopen in June.

Only five Pratt through-truss bridges survive in Michi­gan, and three of them are in Washtenaw County. The restored bridges at Foster and Delhi are the only two still in use in their original locations. The fate of the third, the Bell Road Bridge, remains uncertain.

The cost of saving the bridge hasn't been calculated, but it won't be cheap— Townsend says the abutments would have to be replaced. If it ended up costing $1 million—halfway between what was spent at Foster and at Delhi—then the lo­cal 5 percent match would be $50,000.

Cathy VanVoorhis, one of the leaders of the Bell Road group, is still hopeful. She says that the bridge isn't in bad shape-that most of the rust is on the parts attached to move it, and that it's easier to work with on the ground. "It's not abandoned," she says. "It's a project sitting there waiting for funding."

Dexter Township supervisor Pat Kelly says she wants the bridge saved, but "it's not likely to be rehabilitated anytime soon. In these economic times, there is no way." Meanwhile, Bill Klinke is keeping the bridge's historic plaque safe and dry. "It was the least I could do," he says. "I was hoping someday someone would call and say, 'Let's put it up.'"


[Photo caption from the original print edition]: A 1936 photo of the Delhi Bridge in its prime; in contrast, the Bell Road Bridge sits unused and rusting, and its historic plaque is in a neighbor's garage.

[Photo caption from the original print edition]: A $250,000 contribution by Barton Hills helped save the Maple-Foster bridge, an important route into the village.

Willow Run's Glory Days

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

Author: Don Sherman and Grace Shackman

During World War II, the Ypsilanti factory became a worldwide symbol of American industrial might. To get it built, Charlie Sorensen had to overcome red tape from Washington, skepticism from the aircraft industry, and his own quixotic boss, Henry Ford.

Location is Everything

Author: Grace Shackman

Mills, roads, and trains shaped Washtenaw’s towns

In 1824 thirty-eight-year-old Orange Risdon and thirty-two-year-old Samuel Dexter spent four months on horseback exploring mostly uninhabited land in southeast Michigan. At the end of the 2,000-mile trip, they settled within a few miles of each other.

Personal Connections

Author: Grace Shackman

When switchboard operators ran the show

In the days when telephones had human connections, the most feared person in Dexter was Min Daley. As the village’s switchboard operator, she had the goods on everyone. From her perch on the second floor of the Gates Building, Daley kept an eye on everything in town, and she could listen in on anyone’s phone calls. She even slept in a small room behind the switchboard office, and if there was a blaze, she roused the volunteer firefighters.

Economy Baler

Published In:
Ann Arbor Observer, September 1996,
September 1996

Author: Grace Shackman

A fortune built on waste paper

In 1911, George Langford took out a second mortgage on his house in order to start Economy Baler. The company, headquartered on North Main Street, grew to be the largest business of its kind in the world. In a 1943 Ann Arbor News article, Langford claimed that its success was "a direct result of the old system of free enterprise which not only permitted but encouraged the plowing of profits back into the business."

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