First Presbyterian's move to Washtenaw

Grace Shackman

Gothic Revival in the "picnic grove"

"When the Session [the church governing body] decided to tear it down and build a church way out there, there was a lot of criticism," remembered First Presbyterian Church member Paul Lowry in a 2001 interview. In 1926, "way out there" was the site of the old Demmon house at 1432 Washtenaw— just east of the University of Michigan campus.

"People were set in their ways," explains church archivist Pearl Summers. "They had been in the old church in the center of town. None of the churches had been that far over on the Ypsilanti-Ann Arbor Road."

The block of Washtenaw between South University and Hill was developed in the late nineteenth century with family homes on spacious lots—so spacious that, Summers says, the Demmon property was known as "the picnic grove." Most of its first residents were U-M faculty members, but by the 1920s fraternities and sororities had taken over much of the block. Merle Andersen, First Presbyterian's pastor when the congregation bought the land in 1926, recalled in a later reminiscence that the building committee had noted "the fine grove which was the old Demmon home" while looking at another property across the street. Told that Emma Demmon was refusing to sell, he paid her a formal call. She explained that she had turned down all offers for the property because she knew that her late husband, U-M English professor Isaac Newton Demmon, would not have wanted apartments on the site. When Anderson made his plea, she paused a minute and then said, "I think he would liked to have a church there."

It's hard to imagine that Demmon wouldn't have loved the Gothic Revival church that was built on the property twelve years after Anderson's visit, the long wait due to the Great Depression. The church, with its buttresses, lancet windows filled with stained glass, and steep slate roof, looks like it could have come out of an English novel.

The First Presbyterian Church was organized in 1826, just two years after Ann Arbor was founded, and is celebrating its 185th anniversary this year. The original seventeen members included Ann Arbor co-founder John Allen's wife and parents. In the first three years the group met wherever they could find space—in a log schoolhouse, in two different taverns, in an unfinished room in Cook's hotel, and in a frame schoolhouse.

In 1829 they built their own modest frame building at Huron and Division–Michigan's first Protestant church west of Detroit. In 1837 they moved into a bigger church down the street. In 1859 they repurchased their original site and started work on a more permanent red brick church. Finished in 1862, it was used for almost seventy-five years.

Historic as it was, that building fell short of the twentieth century's rising expectations—Andersen disparaged it as "a great barn of a place without facilities for any adequate program of church activities." It was cold and hard to heat, pigeons roosted between the roof and false ceiling in the nave, and there was only a tiny patch of lawn, leaving no room for outdoor events. Members who drove to church had to park on the street.

After rejecting several other options, including fixing up the old church and re-merging with the Congregationalists (originally one church, they had divided in 1847), First Presbyterian appointed a building committee. Their first act was to recommend buying the Demmon property, "beautifully wooded and excellent in topography." In 1927 First Presbyterian merged with the U-M Presbyterian student group, sold the student group's property at State and Huron to the First Methodist Church, and converted the Demmon house to a student center.

They were off to a good start, but when the Depression hit a few years later, pledge payments dwindled or stopped. In 1934 the church became reenergized when a new pastor, William Lemon, replaced Anderson. "The place was packed, people came from all over," recalled Lowry. Still they couldn't proceed with the new building until they sold their old one, and there were few buyers during the Depression. Finally, in 1935, the Ann Arbor Daily News offered them $32,500—half what the congregation had paid for the Dem- mon house just nine years before. On May 29, 1935, the congregation held a special commemoration service before leaving their downtown church. They met for the next two and a half years at the Masonic Temple on South Fourth Avenue (torn down in the 1970s to make way for the Federal Building) until the new church was ready.

New York City architects Mayers, Murray & Phillip were hired to design the new church. The firm was the successor to one led by Bertram Goodhue, who was known for using modern methods to create buildings in medieval styles. When Goodhue died in 1924, three of his staff kept the firm going, renaming it for themselves. They designed Christ Church Cranbrook in 1928 and Christ Church Grosse Pointe in 1930. For Ann Arbor, the firm designed an L-shaped building, with a sanctuary facing Washtenaw and a wing on the east side for student use. Lowry recalled that Harlan Whittemore, a U-M professor of landscape architecture, was responsible for saving the mature trees on the property: "He kept the site as wild as possible."

They brought two bells from the old church and some of the pews that are still in the balcony. "They creak very nicely," says Pearl Summers, who shares archivist duties with her husband, Larry. They also saved two brightly colored lancet windows, which were installed in the back wall of the chancel.

They didn't have enough money for new stained glass, so they filled the windows "with a creamy colored, opaque glass," as described in a 1983 report by Marcy Westerman. In the 1960s the windows were replaced with stained glass from England. Mary Hathaway, who loved the "restrained quality" of the original glass, later had a panel that she found in the basement reinstalled as a memorial to her parents, A.K. and Angelyn Stevens.

The Presbyterians held their first service in the new building on January 23, 1938. Before the move, the congregation numbered 348. Within a year it had gone up to 685 and continued upward. Increased membership meant a growing Sunday school population, which soon outgrew the basement quarters. They also needed more parking. The most unobtrusive place for an addition was behind the sanctuary, but that land belonged to their backyard neighbor, Sigma Delta Tau sorority, which, the building committee reported, "was not disposed to sell on any basis." Church member Robert McNamara (later to be Secretary of Defense during the Vietnam War) finally convinced the sorority to sell. The addition, finished in 1956. was designed by Colvin and Robinson and named for Henry Kuizenga, minister from 1952 to 1961.

In 1998 the church added a second addition behind the student wing. Designed by Dan Jacobs, it's named Montieth Hall, after Michigan's first Protestant minister, and used to hold smaller services.

Today the church membership fluctuates in the 2,000 range, while the sanctuary has room for only about 500. "We can squeeze in 600 at high-attendance services like Christmas and Easter," explains Summers, "but it is not very comfortable." To accommodate everyone, the church now holds four Sunday services, two in the sanctuary and two in Montieth Hall.

[Photo caption from original print edition]: Demolition of the 1862 Presbyterian church at Huron and Division.

[Photo caption from original print edition]: The present church, shown under construction in the 1930s, replaced the Washtenaw Ave. home of English prof Isaac Newton Demmon.

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Freedom Township's Zion Lutheran Church

Grace Shackman

A cosmopolitan congregation cherishes its rural German roots

Once a small, all-German country church, Zion Lutheran at Rogers Corners in Freedom Township has become a large, modern, diverse congregation. The original 1867 historic church still sits on the northwest comer of Waters and Fletcher, across the street from the current church, built in 1974.

Zion was founded in 1865 by a group that broke off from St. Thomas, a German church that still stands at Ellsworth and Haab. Zion's bylaws mandated that services and religious teachings be conducted in German. The congregation, with thirty-four men as charter members, at first met in a nearby public school. In 1867 Zion finished building a neo-Gothic brick structure, similar to churches in Germany, and topped with a bell tower. The interior was used solely for worship space—religious instruction and meetings continued to be held at the schoolhouse until 1876, when members bought another unused school building and moved it to the church site.

Zion shared a minister with Bethel Church for two years and shared another with St. Thomas for six more. By 1873 it was large enough to support its own pastor and hired Johannes Baumann. The congregation occasionally had trouble paying the pastor's salary on time but always made sure he was at least well sheltered and fed. The church bought Frederick Emminger's house, north of the church on the east side of Fletcher, for a parsonage, and members maintained and improved it. They rented Emminger's fields to farmers, who gave the minister some of the crops. When parishioners slaughtered an animal or made sausage, they would give some of it to the pastor.

In 1889 the congregation built a new parsonage for pastor Heinrich Lemster in a vernacular Gothic Revival style that matched the church. It still stands at 2905 South Fletcher. One of the two front doors opened directly into the minister's study, allowing parishioners to visit him without bothering the family.

A group split from Zion in 1890 over the question of bread or wafers for communion. Zion had a new bread oven, but Lemster preferred wafers. The breakaway group founded St. John's Church nearby on Waters Road, now affiliated with the United Church of Christ.

In 1903 Zion built a new school. It was used mainly as a general meeting place for the congregation and for confirmation classes, held each fall and spring. "We'd raise Cain when the pastor went home for lunch," recalls Norman Wenk, a lifelong member of Zion, "tease the girls, chase them around the woodshed, that sort of thing."

In 1910 a new pastor from Germany, Ernst Thieme, and his wife, Sybial, moved into the parsonage. Wenk remembers Sybial as "a jokester" and "a happy-go-lucky lady"—with a stern husband. Wenk says he was "a strict disciplinarian, who didn't allow any whispering in church. I remember him pounding on the pulpit when kids were naughty."

In 1917 the church prepared to celebrate its golden anniversary, even buying a new organ for the occasion. But less than a month before the anniversary, on June 6, at 2 p.m., a tornado struck. "It was a sad sight to see our small church without a roof and tower, and the front wall only standing in part," Thieme wrote in the church history. "The back part of the church with the altar and the pulpit remained standing... The schoolhouse was torn off its foundation and scattered all over. On the parsonage, the roof was torn off and the building could not be occupied." Miraculously, the organ and the bell tower were spared.

Starting the very day of the tornado, parishioners began to rebuild the parsonage and school exactly as they had been but altered the church by moving the tower toward the front, giving it a more elegant look. They held their delayed anniversary celebration on September 16.

The response to the tornado was typical of the hands-on congregation. Members called special meetings to decide things like lighting for the church (in 1923 they bought a Delco generator) or putting a bathroom in the parsonage (in 1936). Wenk recalls they had work "bees" to collect firewood for the minister, and the minutes refer to cemetery bees to clean up the graveyard.

Although the congregation was fond of Thieme, his lack of English was a problem for younger members who wanted occasional English sermons. In 1926 he returned to Germany. His successor, Moritz Brueckner, was bilingual. Like many of his parishioners, Brueckner had been born in America to German parents. After his arrival the congregation changed the bylaws to allow children's religious classes to be taught in English. In 1930 Brueckner began preaching one English sermon a month. By the time he retired in 1954, the ratio had reversed, and he was down to just one German sermon a month.

Until 1931 men sat on the pulpit side of the church and women on the organ side. Martha and Harold Eiseman changed all that by sitting together the first Sunday after their honeymoon. "Three weeks later another couple sat together, then another. Soon they were all sitting together," Martha Eiseman recalls.

In 1940 Zion decided to build a parish hall, but World War II put the project on hold. As the congregation had done in World War I, members sent food and supplies to German civilians, including Jell-0 to the Thiemes. Ernst Thieme later wrote that he didn't know how he would have survived without this help.

After the war the church bought the Beuerle property on Waters Road directly across the street. The members finished the parish hall in 1949 and added a new parsonage in 1954. Brueckner stayed in the old parsonage until he retired in 1955; afterward the congregation gave him the old school, which he moved north of the parsonage and converted into a house, where he lived the rest of his life. The house still stands.

In 1974 the congregation built a new church next to the parish hall. Pastor Theodore Brueckner, son of Moritz Brueckner, was guest preacher at the last service in the old church. Zion still uses the old church for weddings and funerals and one service every summer. In 1979 it was entered on the State Register of Historic Places. A board that includes some people who are not Zion members, such as Angie and Jack Lewis, who live in the old parsonage, now oversees the old church.

Zion has grown to more than 400 members. Current pastor David Hendricks notes that the congregation now includes people of Scandinavian, Japanese, and Hispanic descent as well as a good number of Germans, and that members are coming from Chelsea, Manchester, Dexter, Ann Arbor, and Grass Lake. Instead of serving only local farming families, Zion now counts many professionals among its members. But the same closeness survives. Lifelong membership is common. It is not unusual at funerals for the pastor to cite the deceased's confirmation verse.

New members are attracted by this connectedness. Susan Wiley, the church secretary, recalls being impressed with the church's "feeling of history and ties to the community." Martha Eiseman, who joined in 1931 as a young bride, recently moved to the Chelsea Retirement Communities but still attends Zion. "My daughter comes and picks me up," she explains. "It's always nice. I see so many people I know."

—Grace Shackman

Photo Caption: The original Zion was destroyed by a tornado in 1917, shortly after the photo at right was taken. The rebuilt church has its steeple at the front.

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Dexter Area Museum

Grace Shackman

Local artifacts in a century-old church building

Samuel Dexter's bed, clock, and rocking chair; Dr. William Wiley's tum-of-the-century medical instruments; a host of other historic Dexter artifacts—what better place to display them than an equally historic church?

Serendipitously, just as the Dexter Area Historical Society was organizing in the early 1970s and looking for a permanent location, St. Andrew's United Church of Christ decided to leave its 1883 edifice and build a new church. Now both have what they want: St. Andrew's has its modern church on Ann Arbor Street, while the historical society has its museum in the old church, which was moved to the back of the St. Andrew's parking lot, facing Inverness.

In the nineteenth century, many Germans immigrated to western Washtenaw County, mainly from the area around Stuttgart. Twenty-two of those families organized St. Andrew's in 1875 so they could hear the gospel preached in their own language. They held their first services at George Sill Hall, above Sill Hardware (now Hackney Ace Hardware).

After eight years, they built their first church, a simple wooden structure painted white both inside and out, with a tower and green shutters. Germans from congregations in Chelsea, Ann Arbor, and Manchester came to the dedication. They met at Sill Hall, formed a line, and proceeded to the new church, where they held a service, and then returned to the hall for a banquet.

The church added a wooden parish hall in 1927, and a brick one in 1959. A rough basement was dug in 1933 for a new furnace. But by 1971, the congregation was running out of room, and one comer of the church was sagging.

Meanwhile, Norma McAllister, a Dexter native and village history enthusiast, became concerned that a lot of local historical material was being lost. Together with Dexter High School teacher Frank Wilhelme and one of his students, Tom Morcom, she organized the first meeting of the Dexter Area Historical Society—the first local Historical society in Michigan—in July 1971.

"We didn't know how many would come. But they poured in. We had to keep getting more chairs," recalls McAllister. By the end of the evening, seventy-five people had signed up.

The society's main objective was to set up a museum for donated historic artifacts. St. Andrew's agreed to contribute its original church building and the 1927 parish hall. The historical society signed a seventy-five-year lease on the new site for the old church, and then raised money for the move. McAllister recalls that some members lent money to the society and were paid back with some of the profits from Dexter's 1974 sesquicentennial celebration.

St. Andrew's moved the church bell and altar into its new building but left everything else, including stained glass windows added in 1908 in memory of loved ones. The historical society maintains the old church's ambience. The onetime sanctuary now holds permanent and rotating exhibits about the Dexter area. There are historic photos of people, stores, churches, and houses in the vestibule, while the basement is used for farm tools and an electric railroad. The old parish hall is used for a gift shop and meeting space (the historical society meets on the first Thursday of the month). A small room off the larger area, originally a kitchen, is the genealogy room, run by Nancy Van Blaricum, who collects Dexter records—newspapers, census reports, church records, family histories.

"I'm glad the museum lasted," says McAllister. "It's important to keep this stuff."

—Grace Shackman

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122 West Main Street

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

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The Calico Cat

Grace Shackman

From Methodist church to Saline gift shop

A gift shop and a place of worship may seem to be totally opposite functions for a building. Yet the Calico Cat, located in Saline's former Methodist church, manages to an amazing extent to incorporate the church's atmosphere into a retail establishment. Light streams in through the stained glass windows, the original woodwork and sconces are found throughout, display shelves are made from the wood of old pocket doors and railings, and owner Marcia Duncan's office is in the mezzanine that once held the organ pipes.

The Calico Cat building was actually the fourth church built by the Saline Methodists, who trace their roots back to 1833. Their first two churches did not fare well. The original log structure on the corner of Henry and Lewis, built on land donated by Saline's founder, Orange Risdon, was hit by lightning during a service. Two parishioners were killed, and the church burned to the ground. The second church was built with ill-fired bricks that crumbled so badly it was called the "old mud church." After nine years, the members decided it was unsafe and had it torn down. Finally, in 1858, local carpenter Edwin Ford, who also built churches in Mooreville and Dixboro, built the Methodists a church on Ann Arbor Street just south of Michigan Avenue. This church, a white New England-style edifice with a tall spire, served the congregation until they outgrew it at the end of the century.

On June 13,1899, the Methodists laid the cornerstone for their fourth church on the same site. The congregation met in the opera house next door while the new building, designed by dark and Munger of Bay City, was under construction. The church was completed in November. Not even standing room remained for the first service.

William Davenport, the Saline banker who headed the building committee, lured organist Fannie Unterkircher from the Presbyterian church by offering to buy a new organ. The two went into Detroit, where Davenport bought a Vocalion for $1,200. Unterkircher served as the church's organist and choir director for the next thirty-four years.

Hollis Carr, in a paper presented to the church in 1988, remembered the organ, which had to be pumped by hand: "There was a large screen to the right of the organ behind which the man sat who did the pumping. During his idle moments he would peek around the edge of the screen, and other children and I in the pews would squirm to the outer end of the pews to get a glimpse of him." In 1929 the organ was replaced with a more modem, electric-powered one.

Carr's wife, Virginia, who joined the church in 1938 as a young bride and later became the church secretary, fondly remembered the study group she and Hollis were in with other young married couples. The group held monthly potlucks, she recalled in the paper, and one time there were six pots of baked beans and one cake. "We always closed the gathering by forming a circle, joining hands and singing 'Blest Be the Tie That Binds,'" she wrote. "To this day whenever I hear the hymn, I can close my eyes and see the group standing in a circle, most of whom are no longer with us except in memory."

When Virginia Carr joined the congregation, the church "was less than forty years old, but it appeared like an old church to me, and quite small." The congregation fought the space problem for the next fifty-some years, digging out more of the basement in 1949 and adding an education-fellowship hall in 1975. In the mid-1980s, the space crisis was again debated. Although some argued that the old church could be modernized and the overcrowding problem solved by holding two worship services, the majority opted to move. In 1990 the congregation took the church's 1,500-pound bell and two of the stained glass windows—the most religious ones, which wouldn't be appropriate in a building with a secular use—to a new building on the corner of Ann Arbor Street and Woodland Drive.

The city of Saline purchased the old church, planning to use it as a court facility. But the voters turned down a bond issue, and the city had to sell the building. Marcia Duncan, who had been in the gift shop business for fifteen years, saw the possibilities in the building and moved the Calico Cat there from its previous location on Michigan Avenue. Her family teases her about saying in the beginning that the place "just needs a little touch-up." Instead, renovation took nine months: solving a water problem in the basement, bracing the walls, tuck-pointing the brick, putting new floors in the basement and first level (where the floor slanted down to the altar), and installing new furnaces, wiring, air conditioning, and drywall.

"She kept the best parts," church historian Jack Livingstone says. "Someone familiar with the old church can walk in and recognize it."

—Grace Shackman

Photo Caption: The 1899 church served Saline's Methodists well for ninety-one years.

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Memories of St. Mary's

Grace Shackman

The old parish school thrives as Chelsea’s arts center

A stairway to the sidewalk on Chelsea’s Congdon Street is all that’s left of old St. Mary Catholic Church. The church rectory and convent are now private homes. The parochial school building, however, still resonates with art and music, as it did in the days when Dominican sisters ran the place: it’s now the home of the Chelsea Center for the Arts.

St. Mary School was a center of activity from 1907 to 1972. Passersby at recess time could see children climbing on playground equipment, playing baseball in an empty field behind the church and rectory, and enjoying marbles and other games in an area blocked off by sawhorses on the street.

Ann Arbor’s Koch Brothers constructed the two-story brick school. Its first students were mostly descendants of Irish immigrants who had fled the potato famine and of Germans from Alsace-Lorraine who had come to avoid serving in Napoleon III’s army. Father William Considine, who started the school, was a good friend of Frank Glazier, Chelsea’s leading citizen. At Considine’s behest, Glazier, a Methodist, spoke at the school’s opening in January 1907.

The school had four classrooms on the first floor and an auditorium on the second. Originally it housed only grades 1 through 8, but in 1909 a two-year commercial course was added, which turned into a four-year high school in 1916. Six women enrolled in the first commercial course, and two students made up the first high school graduation class. During World War I classes were moved into the convent because there was not enough coal to heat the school.

The school’s auditorium included a stage, an orchestra area, and dressing rooms. The school regularly produced concerts, recitals, and plays. A 1917–1918 St. Mary’s musicale program listed thirty-two student numbers; the instruments included violins, cornet, bells, drums, and piano. Several times a year students put on plays or pageants, and not always on religious themes. The hall was also used for church and community functions and as a gym.

John Keusch, a 1927 graduate, recalls shooting baskets at recess, after school, and at night. Some parishioners complained about the cost of lighting the gym at night, but the parish priest at that time, Father Henry Van Dyke, was an ardent supporter of athletics. A former student remembers him watching a baseball game out his window. “The bell rang and they started to come in, but he called out that they should finish the game,” she recalls.

Keeping the gym open at night paid off. In 1923 a team composed mostly of St. Mary’s students won a state basketball championship. In 1925 an official St. Mary’s team won the class D title. The next year the team, with an added member from Chelsea High School, won a three-state tournament sponsored by the Ann Arbor YMCA. St. Mary’s also had an excellent girls’ basketball team that often accompanied the boys to out-of-town games and played against girls from the competing school.

These victories, especially the 1925 championship, were remembered and celebrated for decades. When Rich Wood attended St. Mary’s in the 1950s, the winning teams’ pictures were still hanging prominently on the wall, and students knew which classmates’ fathers had participated.

The 1925 basketball triumph was especially memorable, since it came on the heels of a fire that destroyed the school on February 6. Keusch recalls, “I had been there that evening practicing basketball until nine or ten. I was woken up at one when the fire whistle blew.” He rushed over from his house. “The volunteer fire department all came out, but they couldn’t save the building,” he remembers. All that was left was the foundation and some walls.

After the fire, classes moved to the church, with groups gathering in separate corners. The younger students sat on the kneelers and used the seats of the pews as desks. The basketball team practiced and played games in the Glazier Stove Company Welfare Building’s unheated second-floor gym.

Within two days of the fire, farmers came with teams of horses, pushed down the walls, and cleaned up the debris. Detroit architect William DesRosiers designed a new building, which was constructed by Detroit builder George Talbot, who had a summer place at Cavanaugh Lake. Keusch, then fifteen, worked as a mason’s assistant that summer. By November the building was ready for use.

The new school was built on the same foundation but had only one floor. An auditorium was added to the side of the building. It was named after one of St. Mary’s first graduates, Herbert McKune, who was killed in World War I. (McKune also gave his name to Chelsea’s American Legion post.)

The basement served the social functions of the hall. It had a full kitchen where food was prepared for Altar Society dinners, fish fries in Lent, and other events. At Thanksgiving “feather parties,” parishioners played keno to win live turkeys and chickens.

In 1934, in the midst of the Depression, the high school closed. Four seniors graduated that June, and the next year the rest went to the public high school. A student recalls that the move was traumatic: “We couldn’t remember not to stand up when the teacher called on us. We were trained to stand up and say ‘No, Sister,’ ‘Yes, Sister.’ The kids made fun of us and did things like put gum on our seats.”

Pat Dietz, who went to elementary school at St. Mary’s in the late 1930s, recalls that she was petrified attending the public high school. “It was a whole new challenge,” she says. “St. Mary’s was so much smaller.” But she found the sisters had prepared her well, especially in math, penmanship, and grammar. A generation later, in the late 1960s, her son Todd Ortbring also found he was ahead academically, especially in subjects that were conducive to rote learning, but public school was “a major cultural shock. The girls wore miniskirts and the boys bell-bottoms, and they all talked about music, drugs, and sex.”

In the 1960s, as nuns became scarcer, lay teachers were increasingly employed at St. Mary’s School. In 1968 seventh and eighth grades were discontinued, and in 1972 the school closed. One sister stayed on to teach religious education, and the hall continued to be used for functions such as wakes.

In 1998 Jeff and Kathleen Daniels bought the school to use the hall as rehearsal space for the Purple Rose Theater. Since they didn’t need the rest of the building, they sold it to the Chelsea Center for the Arts for $1. The center, founded in 1994, offers adults’ and children’s art and music classes as well as revolving art shows. A nonprofit group, it raises most of its funds at an annual autumn jubilee.

“It was one of my life’s blessings that I was able to attend the school under the Dominican sisters,” says Keusch, adding, “They would be proud of the present use of the school building.”

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Gardens of Stone

Grace Shackman

Old graveyards unlock the secrets of forgotten communities.

Washtenaw County is dotted with small rural nineteenth-century graveyards, often of startling beauty. Their stone markers, sometimes in rows but often clustered around trees or bushes, record the passage from birth to death; the more elaborate stones are also decorated with symbolic images such as weeping willows or open Bibles.

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David Byrd Chapel

Grace Shackman

The stone which the builders rejected

When architect David Byrd was building the chapel that bears his name, he put a quotation from Psalm 118:22 over the front entrance: "The stone which the builders rejected." Joe Summers, vicar of the Episcopal Church of the Incarnation, which now occupies the building, finds the message very apt, since the church was built from discarded construction materials and by people who were in danger of being passed over because of their race. "It's a metaphor for all the outcasts that society rejected," explains Summers.

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Old West Side Story

Grace Shackman

The Germans in Ann Arbor

A century ago, German immigrants and their descendants were Ann Arbor's biggest eth­nic group. Starting in 1829, and continuing for 100 years, Germans immigrated to the area in waves, fleeing political and eco­nomic troubles in their homeland.

Most came from small villages surrounding Stuttgart in the kingdom of Wurttemberg. They called themselves "Swabians" after the country that encompassed Wurttem­berg in the Middle Ages. "The name stuck although the country didn't," explains Art French, president of Ann Ar­bor's Schwaben Verein.

Rights Held By: 
Grace Shackman

St. Andrew's Episcopal Church

Grace Shackman

A venerable building, an activist congregation

With its steep slate roof, stone walls, and pointed stained-glass windows, St. Andrew’s Episcopal was designed to look like a church out of the Middle Ages--you could almost picture Martin Luther nailing his theses to its heavy wooden doors. Standing at the northeast corner of Division and Catherine, it’s the city’s oldest operating church and its finest jewel of Gothic Revival architecture.

St. Andrew’s Parish was organized in 1827, just three years after Ann Arbor was founded. Its first meeting place was the home of Hannah Gibbs Clark, a widow who lived on the northwest corner of Ashley and Liberty. In 1839 the congregation dedicated its first building, at Division and Lawrence (then called “Bowery”). Nestled among original burr oak trees, it was a simple wooden church, painted white.

That building survived two near catastrophes in its first year--confiscation by the sheriff for nonpayment of bills (two members quickly made up the arrears) and a fire--and St. Andrew’s continued to grow. After the Civil War, members decided to build a larger church on land they owned to the south, the present location.

To design it they hired Gordon Lloyd, Michigan’s premier Gothic Revival architect. Lloyd was born in England in 1832, moved with his family to Quebec, and returned home at age sixteen to apprentice under his uncle, Ewan Christian (1814–
1895), an eminent English architect who specialized in designing and restoring churches. Gothic Revival, sometimes called Neo-Gothic, was at its peak in England at that time, and Lloyd was steeped in it during his ten years there.

Photograph St. Andrew's Episcopal Church at 306 N Division St

St. Andrew's Episcopal Church, begun in 1868, is Ann Arbor's oldest church.

Setting up his own architectural practice in Detroit, Lloyd designed churches and other buildings all over the Midwest, primarily in the Gothic Revival style. “I don’t know through whose influence the vestry of that day was led to employ Mr. Lloyd; but to that person, whoever he or she may have been, St. Andrew’s Parish and the city of Ann Arbor owe an everlasting debt of gratitude,” wrote Henry Tatlock, the church’s rector from 1889 to 1922.

Despite the eminence of the architect, however, the congregation’s fund-raising campaign came up short. Deciding to start with just the nave, the main section of the church that contained the pews and altar, they laid the cornerstone in 1868. Silas Douglass, a professor in the U-M medical school who had overseen construction of several university buildings, did the same job for the church. The contractor was church member James Morwick, who also built the Lloyd-designed entrance to Forest Hill Cemetery.

The walls were made of local stone, mainly granite, with stained-glass windows in geometric designs made by Friedrick of Brooklyn, New York. Inside, the pews were made of butternut and walnut. Those original pews are still in use, complete with the dividers that once separated one family’s rented section from another’s.

The nave was finished in 1869; the rest of the present church complex was built as money allowed over the next eighty years. The old wooden church was used for a chapel and Sunday school until 1880, when the congregation built a new chapel east of the nave and a new rectory on the site of the old church. The bell tower rose in 1903, paid for by a bequest from member Love Root Palmer. “Mrs. Palmer told me that she intended to bequeath to the parish a sufficient sum of money to build the tower after [her] death,” Tatlock wrote, “regretting that she was not able to do without the income of the amount involved, so as to have the tower built while she was still alive. It was suggested to her that it was highly desirable that the tower should be designed by Mr. Lloyd, who at that time was still active in his profession.” Palmer commissioned Lloyd to design the tower while she was still living--a fortunate decision, since the architect died only a year after she did.

The last major change came in 1950, when the rectory was torn down to make room for a parish hall. Finances precluded building in the same style as the church, so the congregation decided on a more modern building. U-M architecture professors Ralph Hammett and Frederick O’Dell, using stones from the rectory, designed a building that blends well with the church. They also designed very modern-looking stained glass for the parish hall chapel.

Over the years, much of the original geometric stained glass in the nave has been replaced by representational memorial windows. Eleven of these are the work of Willett Stained Glass Studio of Philadelphia, a company founded in 1898 and still in business. “Willett’s does an excellent job of personalizing stained glass,” says Barbara Krueger, an expert on Michigan stained glass. Most of the new windows portray religious figures; four windows depict composers, honoring a choirmaster and other parishioners who had special connections to music. The bottom sections are filled with personal images: a schoolteacher is shown reading to children, and an athlete’s memorial features a baseball mitt and golf clubs. Carolers sing out on one window in remembrance of the organizer of the church’s Christmas sing, and no fewer than five dogs help memorialize their masters.

The most intriguing window in the collection is a lovely angel that may be a genuine Tiffany. Although it is not found in Tiffany records, Mark Hildebrandt, author of The Windows of St. Andrew’s, which is being published in celebration of the congregation’s 175th anniversary, says it may have been transferred from another site. But Krueger cautions, “There were more than a dozen East Coast studios doing that kind of work.”

Besides gracing Ann Arbor with a beautiful building, St. Andrew’s has fed the aesthetic appetites of the community with music and plays. Reuben Kempf, of Kempf House fame, was organist and choir director from 1895 to 1928. He organized a famous boys’ choir, recruiting talent citywide. Veteran local radio host Ted Heusel, a church member who recognizes a good theater space when he sees one, has produced A Man for All Seasons and Murder in the Cathedral in the nave, as well as a rendering of the stations of the cross in which readings were interspersed with dance. One of the dancers in the late 1970s was U-M student Madonna Ciccone.

St. Andrew’s has also developed a reputation for community activism. Many of Ann Arbor’s mayors have been St. Andrew’s members, including Silas Douglass and Ebenezer Wells in the nineteenth century and Cecil Creal and Sam Eldersveld in the twentieth. Henry Lewis, minister from 1922 to 1961, was leading picketers around City Hall to urge city council to enact a fair housing ordinance at the same time that Mayor Creal was senior churchwarden. “They’d have pitched battles during the week but come together on Sunday,” recalls longtime member Barbara Becker.

St. Andrew’s was the first local church to react to the growing problem of homelessness caused by releasing people from mental hospitals. In 1982 the congregation began a breakfast program that is still in operation. “It started as a Monday-through-Friday program until we realized most people eat breakfast seven days a week,” recalls church member Pat Lang. The church’s efforts to also provide homeless people with a place to sleep helped lead to the organization of Ann Arbor’s Shelter Association.

In 2000 St. Andrew’s became the first church in the area to have a staff person dedicated to welcoming and affirming the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender communities. The Oasis Ministry, as it is called, originated in New Jersey, where rector John Nieman served before coming to Ann Arbor in 1997. “We all are created in the image of God,” says Oasis coordinator Kate Runyon. “We all have gifts to share with one another.”

As part of the congregation’s 175th anniversary celebration, St. Andrew’s and the Washtenaw County Historical Society will jointly sponsor tours of the church and surrounding historic neighborhood from 2 to 4 p.m. on Sunday, April 27. See Events for details.

Rights Held By: 
Grace Shackman
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