Library Threads

Published In:
Ann Arbor Observer, October 2016,
October 2016

Author: Grace Shackman

For nearly two centuries, volunteers and professionals have connected local readers to a wider world.

From its earliest days Ann Arbor has been a reading town with enthusiastic library supporters. Its first library was launched in 1827, just threeyears after the ci!J was founded. Even so, the history of our libraries is not a straight line from then to now. Different threads, professional and volunteer, paid and free, have woven back and forth ever since.

Today those strands are woven tightly together: we now have the professional Ann Arbor District Library and two independent volunteer groups that work closely with it. The Friends of the Library turns sixty-three this year, and the Ladies Library Association celebrates its sesquicentennial this month -- jointly with the AADL, which is marking its own twentieth year of independence (see Events, October 1).

We know about the 1827 library because in 1830, George Corselius ran an article lamenting its deficiencies. The editor of the Western Emigrant sought "twenty or thirty individuals" able to pay $3 each to expand that small collection into a more robust "circulating library." For that fee, readers could read Fanny Trollope's Domestic Manners of the Americans or the Encyclopedia Americana. Other private libraries followed, as well as reading clubs whose members bought books to share.

It wasn't until 1856 that the city had its first free, publicly accessible library. When the Union High School opened that year at the comer of State and Huron, citizens could use the library in the superintendent's office.

In 1866 the Ladies Library Association was formed as a subscription library. According to the group's history, the thirty-five founders -- "a determined group of socially prominent local women" -- paid $3 to join and $1 a year in dues for the privilege of borrowing books from its collection. They also sponsored lectures, concerts, art shows, and readings.

After renting various places, in 1885 the LLA bought a lot at 324 E. Huron. The club hired Chicago architects Allen and Irving Pond -- whose mother, Mary, was a member of the LLA -- to design the city's first freestanding library there.

Four years later, in 1889, the school board moved the high school library into its own room, and hired twenty-three-year-old typist Nellie Loving as the district's first librarian. She stayed for thirty-nine years and was an energetic advocate. "She even went to the firemen at the station," recalled Elizabeth Stack, a founder of the Friends of the Library. "They were just sitting around. 'Why don't you read something?' she asked." She followed up by bringing them books, which they later returned asking for something "livelier."

Loving's response is not on record, but the ladies of the LLA didn't just want to entertain readers-they saw themselves as "a force for intellectual and moral improvement." The minutes of the group's 1872 annual meeting observe that though the demand for fiction exceeded the supply, "we are happy to state that a large proportion of the books purchased during the year are of a character to stimulate earnest thought and fully meet the needs of the intellectual mind."

From its start, the LLA women wanted a free public library -- but they couldn't get the city to fund it. Finally, in 1902, LLA president and school board member Anna Botsford Bach suggested that the two groups apply jointly for a $20,000 grant from Andrew Carnegie, the steel magnate who was building libraries all across America. However, they deadlocked over the location: the school board insisted that the library be in or near the high school, while the LLA wanted a separate site.

The problem was solved two years later, but at a high cost: in 1904, the high school burned down. Luckily students rescued most of the 8,000 books in the middle of the night; they were stored across the street in the Methodist Church's parlor.

The school board applied for and won a new $30,000 Carnegie grant. The library was built alongside and connected to the new high school, but the school faced State St. and had a skin of brick, while the library faced Huron and was finished in stone.

In 1916, on its fiftieth anniversary, the LLA gave its collection of several thousand books to the public library, and its building to the school board. The building was used by the Red Cross in World War I, and later by the Boy Scouts. It was tom down in 1945; its site is now occupied by the fortress-like Michigan Bell building.

In 1928, Nellie Loving's successor, Frances Hannum, separated the school and public collections. She moved the schoolbooks to the third floor and made the bottom two floors a public library, with the lower level the children's room.

In 1953, the city sold the high school to the U-M, using the money to start work on what is now Pioneer High. The university renamed the old school the Frieze Building, after a beloved classics professor. When it was tom down in 2007 to make way for North Quad, the library's Huron St. face was incorporated into the wall of the quad-what preservationists call a facadectomy.

The school's move again brought up the question of where the public library belonged. The Friends of the Library was organized in 1953 to lobby for a downtown site: the comer of Fifth and William, where the old Beal house was for sale. Elizabeth Stack organized the Friends' first fundraising book sale on the grounds of the house. Friends member Bob Iglehart recalled in

The Ladies Library Association built its own "circulating library" on Huron in 1885. a 1995 remembrance that "it was a rather pitiful affair, not a whole lot of books, but there were also homemade cookies, potted plants, and the general aspect of a ladies church affair." And it raised enough money to rent a bookmobile to take books to playgrounds that summer.

The schools did buy the site, and the new library, designed by Midland modernist Alden Dow, was dedicated on October 13, 1957. Clements Library director Howard Peckham said that the shared civic space "added an extra room to each of our houses." The Friends moved their growing collection of donated books out of Stack's garage and into the library's basement, and their sales to its sheltered front porch.

The new library was still run by the school system, so the Friends lobbied for a citizens' committee to advise the school board on the library's needs. Fred Mayer, a committee member in the 1960s, recalls that they dealt with such issues as fees for nonresidents, problem patrons, new programs, and summer reading.

Finances got easier after 1973, when the school board put a separate 1.3-mill tax for the library on the ballot. It got more votes than the schools millage, and in 1974, the library added a 20,000-square foot addition. Designed by architect and book lover Don Van Curler, its high wells of windows and enclosed garden fit with the original Dow design. In 1991 Osler/ Milling designed a second addition, adding two floors to the Van Curler addition, renovating the older part, and updating mechanical systems.

In 1980 the Friends expanded their annual sales into a bookshop in the library's basement. Elizabeth Ong, who organized it, is still an active volunteer. The shop was managed for many years by volunteer Mary Parsons, who stressed in her final report that "the sales should always be considered a community service first." But in addition to getting books into the hands of new readers, the sales also raised a lot of money. The Friends used to sponsor the "Booked for Lunch" speaker series and many other services and amenities such as literacy programs, staff workshops and scholarships, and taking books to hospitals and senior residences. They also advocated for the new branches and led millage campaigns.

In 1994, when the state's Proposal A took away school boards' authority to levy taxes for public libraries, the schools and city council sponsored creation of a new district library. An interim board was created, with Mayer as president, to divide the buildings and land, and reconfigure services that had been provided by the schools.

On June 10, 1996, voters in the Ann Arbor School District overwhelmingly approved a two-mill district library tax, and elected the first library board. Of the original seven members, only Ed Surovell remains today. Twenty years later, he says, "We're dramatically better, with higher attendance and a higher number of programs." He points to advances such as more foreign language books, the incorporation of the county library for the blind, and the construction of three new branches, Malletts Creek, Pittsfield, and Traverwood, plus the expansion of the Westgate branch.

As for the Internet, Josie Parker, director of the library since 2002, says, "We decided, instead of fighting it, to use it as a tool." Parker points out that "the public can now use the library's catalogue 2417 wherever they may be." Reserving or renewing books and getting books from other libraries are also much easier. The online Summer Game attracts 7,000-9,000 players, from children to adults.

Although Ann Arbor voters have a history of supporting library funding, in 2012 they turned down a millage to build a new downtown library. Since then, the AADL has been figuring out how to best use the present building, make necessary repairs, and, in Parker's words, "match the collection with the space." Fiction has been moved to the second floor and magazines and local history materials to the third floor. The first floor still has art prints, DVDs, and new and Zoom Lends books (high-demand volumes that rent for $1 a week), along with art, science and music tools. These are stored on wheeled carts, so a large area can be cleared for special events such as the Maker Faire and a comic book convention. A library board slate running in November (seep. 35) says they'll make a new millage vote a priority.

Like the library itself, the Friends now make greater use of the Internet. In Parsons' time, when they spotted valuable books or documents, they worked at either finding a place to donate them, perhaps to the Bentley or Clements, or sold them. The Internet has made this process much easier. (It helps that many of their sorters are retired librarians or specialists who are good at identifying books of interest.)

When the elevators failed during a routine inspection in 2014, the Friends bookstore moved up to the first floor. Business was so good there that they stayed. The group now annually gives the library $100,000 or more; the money is used mostly for children's activities, including library visits for every second grader in the district. The Friends' former basement space is now the AADL's "Secret Lab," where children can work on messier projects such as cooking or art.

The Ladies Library Association also is still active. One of its earlier members, Alice Wethey, "was a terrific treasurer," says Joan Innes, a member for sixty-three years. "She was a tremendous investor and put our money into blue chip stocks." The LLA's twenty-woman board, which includes both Innes and her artist daughter, Sarah, uses the income to support the library's purchase of art books, framed fine art reproductions that patrons can borrow, and art-themed games for the children's department. As the new branches opened, the LLA also bought original works by local artists to display there.

The library has just hired its own volunteer coordinator, Shoshana Hurand, formerly with the Arts Alliance. "It's a real breakthrough and will offer volunteers a wider variety of opportunities," says library board member Margaret Leary. Parker explains that until now library volunteers have been handled by whoever answered the phone for the specific project. Now one person will see where volunteers might fit-maybe with kids' sewing or art projects, or online help, or in many other ways. The Friends will stay totally separate, although both entities will probably send people to each other.

On October 1 (see Events), the Ann Arbor District Library and the Ladies Library Association will celebrate their twentieth and !50th anniversaries, respectively. The event will feature a talk by Francis Blouin, U-M professor of history and information and retired head of the Bentley Historical Library, entitled "Connecting the City."

"We talk a lot these days about 'connectivity' that now means being plugged into the Internet and all the information it provides," Blouin explains. "But being connected certainly predates the arrival of the smartphone. Ann Arbor in the nineteenth century, though a small town, also wanted to be connected to the wider world." Thanks to generations of avid readers and hardworking library supporters, those connections now are stronger than ever.


[Caption 1]: Founded in 1866 as a subscription library, the Ladies Library Association continues to support library purchases. Artist-member Sarah Innes envisioned an early meeting (left) and painted a group portrait today (below).

[Caption 2]: A $30,000 grant from Andrew Carnegie paid for the city's first dedicated public library. Only its facade survives, on North Quad.

[Caption 3]: The Ladies Library Association built its own "circulating library" on Huron in 1885.

Traveling the Chain of Lakes: When Trains and Water Taxis Ruled

Published In:
Community Observer, Spring 2013,
Spring 2013

Author: Grace Shackman

Publisher: Ann Arbor Observer Company

Date: Spring 2013

At rush hour the railroad underpass in Dexter turns into a bottleneck, as people who live north of the village come and go on their daily commute. Many of them live in lake homes, either converted cottages or new houses, on the Huron River’s Chain of Lakes. In contrast to today’s solo road warriors, a century ago families took a slower but more leisurely trip by train and water taxi to reach lakeside cottages and hotels.

The six lakes in the chain—starting at Zukey, through Strawberry, Gallagher, Whitewood, Base Line, and ending at Portage—are all fed by the Huron River. The Huron starts north of Milford, flowing west until it reaches Portage Lake, where it turns east and south and eventually spills into Lake Erie. The Chain of Lakes is at the end of the western-flowing stretch and comprises larger bodies of water connected by narrower ones. “The change of scenery from lake to river and river to lake was beautiful beyond description to a lover of nature,” wrote Eli Moore in 1907, recalling an 1877 rowboat trip he took from Portage, where he was camping, to Zukey.
The lakes at each end of the chain, Zukey and Portage, are off to the north side of the river, but are connected to it—by Devil’s Basin at Zukey and by a canal at Portage that was deepened and widened in 1928. Scott Strane, who’s at work on a book tentatively titled What Is a Zukey?, thinks that the name comes from the Chinese words for the crescent moon, though he admits uncertainty about how a Chinese name would have arrived in nineteenth-century Michigan. Rick Glazer, co-owner of the Zukey Lake Tavern, believes that the name is of Native American origin.
Early French explorers gave Portage its name. It was here that they left the eastward-flowing Huron River watershed, carrying their canoes overland to connect to the westward-flowing Grand River. “An English explorer named Hugh Heward did the trip in the early eighteenth century that some folks re-created a couple of years ago, eventually traveling all the way to Chicago along the [Lake] Michigan shoreline,” explains land protection consultant Barry Lonik.

The river connections spurred the lakes’ development as a recreation area, giving people vacationing on any one of them a wider choice of places to explore and enjoy than if they were limited to a single lake. As early as 1836, an actor named Gardner Lillibridge dreamed of developing a “Saratoga of the West” on Portage Lake, modeled on New York’s Saratoga Springs resort. Key to his plan was a steamboat for pleasure parties that would make a round trip from Portage, Base Line, and Strawberry lakes through what the 1881 History of Washtenaw County described as “the most romantic and delightful scenery ever seen in this or any other country.” Lillibridge’s ambitious plan included a lookout on what is today known as Peach Mountain (site of the ­U-M’s radio telescope), so visitors could see the grand view of the lakes below. He platted a quarter section of land into 125 lots, giving his streets names such as Dryden, Byron, Shakespeare, Haydn, and Mozart. If none of those streets is familiar, it’s because Lillibridge managed to sell only half of one lot.

Unlike Lillibridge, most of the area’s early settlers did not consider having a lake on their properties an advantage. They were farmers, and neither the lakes nor their marshy shores could be planted.

The pioneers who did end up with lakefront acreage made the best of the situation, sometimes cutting wild marsh hay for feed before they had time to put in a better crop, and in winter cutting and storing lake ice. Occasionally passersby would pay them for permission to take a swim or to camp on the lakeshore, but at that time roads were just Indian trails or at best wagon trails, so access was difficult. “Very few, if any, cottages, were to be seen along the banks as I remember, but now and then a ‘tent,’” wrote Moore of what he saw on his 1877 boat trip.

This changed after 1878, when the Ann Arbor Railroad reached Whitmore Lake and Lakeland (the village on the north end of Zukey Lake), opening up these two communities for vacationers from the Ann Arbor and Toledo areas and beyond. Train passengers could stay at hotels or cottages or come just for the day. Daily traffic got so busy that during the interurban railroad bubble at the turn of the twentieth century, there was talk of laying interurban tracks from Lakeland to Ann Arbor—a competitive threat the Ann Arbor Railroad blocked by running a gasoline-powered McKeen motor car on its own tracks. Nicknamed “the ping-pong,” it ran back and forth between Ann Arbor and Lakeland eight times a day from 1911 until 1924.

Once people got to Zukey Lake, they could access the rest of the chain by boat. Steam-powered passenger boats began running in 1897. The first steamer was named the Prudence Potts, after the daughter of its owner, J. W. Potts. In the 1920s Potts advertised that he also had camping sites available on three of the lakes.

Once internal combustion engines became reliable enough, people quickly switched to them, because they didn’t blow up like steam boilers could. For instance, Karl Guthe, U-M professor of physics, and his wife, Belle, used a “motor launch” to bring visitors to their cottage on Strawberry Lake; a 1917 photo shows one such guest, their niece Dora Ware (mother of Ann Arbor physician and historian Mark Hildebrandt). They also used the boat to pick up groceries at the store at Lakeland.
If motor launches were the lakes’ equivalent of limousines, then rowboats were the taxis and rental cars. Rowboat owners met all the trains and could take people directly to their cottages. Some of those arriving would be met by friends who had their own boats, while others rented them for the duration of their vacations. A 1922 promotional book, Valley of a Thousand Lakes, is full of boat ads—for sale and for rent. The Waters’ Pavilion resort in Lakeland promised “Motor boats, row boats and canoes for all,” while Fred Imus, also of Lakeland, offered motor boat livery service as well as boats for sale, explaining that “with twenty miles of navigable waterways open to you a motor boat is a constant source of enjoyment.”

Families who bought lake lots in that era didn’t always build a cottage right away, but often first camped out. Later, after their savings recovered, they built a modest structure, and later a more substantial one. Most cottagers, even if they didn’t own boats, had docks facing the lake so people could come and go on the water.

Base Line Lake also was named for its location—the east-west base line surveyors established for laying out the state runs through it. What is believed to have been the first cottage on its south side was built in the early 1880s by George Wahr, who owned two bookstores in Ann Arbor, and his brother-in-law, Charles Staebler, another Ann Arbor merchant.

The original cottage was one big room, which made staying there not much different from camping—though it did have a pump in the kitchen and a privy out back. The brothers-in-law enjoyed getting away with a group of friends, also Ann Arbor businessmen—the Haarers owned a pharmacy, the Arnolds a jewelry store, and Heinzman had an ice business—to play poker and fish. They later divided the cottage into two rooms so two families could stay together in semi-privacy.

Serious development at Portage Lake started in 1902, when a group of Ypsilanti businessmen formed the Portage Lake Land Company and set up a subdivision on former farmland on the lake’s eastern shore. The next year Pinckney resident Clarence Baugh created Baugh’s Bluff on the other side of the lake. Most of the buyers came from Pinckney, only three miles away. In those days, though, moving out for a summer season was quite a trip by horse and buggy.

As automobiles made travel easier, buyers began to come from farther away. In the 1920s the Chain of Lakes experienced its biggest real estate boom. Valley of a Thousand Lakes is filled with ads for lots, cottages, and resorts that painted lake living in glowing terms. An ad for lots on the eastern shore of Strawberry—“the Queen of Lakes”—assured prospective buyers that a “broad ribbon of hard white beach flanked by a forest of spreading elms and maples, a hard bathing beach suited for the kiddies, the novice and the expert swimmer washed clean by the incoming current of the Huron, all fanned by cool lake breezes, lend charm to this location.”
People who owned cottages often remained all summer—at least the mother and children did, with the father commuting evenings or weekends. During the 1950s, Charlotte Sallade and her four children enjoyed summers at Base Line Lake while her husband, George Wahr Sallade (grandson of George Wahr), continued his law practice in town but drove up every evening. Families who didn’t own a cottage could rent one and follow the same pattern for part of the summer.

Commercial developments, such as hotels and grocery stores, were found at each end of the chain—Portage and Zukey lakes. In 1931 Newkirk Birkett, owner of land on Portage Lake where Lillibridge had once dreamed of a resort, brought in 1,500 tons of sand to develop the Newport Beach Club.

Owned by Tom Ehman since 1966, and now called the Portage Yacht Club, it offers its members a wide variety of activities, including boating, swimming, and dining. When Ehman took over, sailing was the big activity, but today he notes that about two-thirds of the club’s members prefer pontoons or motorboats. Also at Portage Lake is Klave’s Marina, the only place on the Chain of Lakes to buy gasoline. It has been there since the end of World War II and is still run by the same family.
Lakeland’s biggest attraction was, and still is, the Zukey Lake Tavern, which opened when Prohibition ended. The original owners, the Girald brothers, used to take their motorboat down the Chain of Lakes, picking up passengers to bring them back to the tavern. Many customers still come by boat, and it’s a wonderful start or stop on any trip on the Chain of Lakes.

After World War II, construction of I-94 and US-23 made it easier to live on the lakes while commuting to work in Ann Arbor or beyond. Owners began winterizing their summer cottages or totally replacing them. Another big step toward year-round living came in the 1980s, when sewage systems began to be installed. In 2000 the Sallade cottage was totally rebuilt, so that Charlotte Sallade and her children and grandchildren can now enjoy it in any season.

Today almost all the rustic cottages on the Chain of Lakes have been improved or replaced. About half the residents commute to work—Ann Arbor is just a half-hour away, Lansing or Southfield an hour. Scott Strane, a thirty-year resident of Strawberry Lake, used to commute to a sports medicine job in Birmingham; he says he never minded, because “when we drive home every day, we are driving to heaven.” The people who don’t commute are mostly retirees who often spend the winters in warmer climates.

For people who want to relive the early days of the Chain of Lakes, Strane offers a three-hour tour on his pontoon boat. “Captain Scotty” models his itinerary on the original steam launch routes and narrates the history and natural wonders of the Chain of Lakes. He’s also willing to develop tours for special occasions. One cruise took members of a bachelorette party through the lakes, ending the tour, of course, with a meal at Zukey Lake Tavern.


Photo captions:

(Left) Dora Ware and other guests cruise the lakes in the Guthes' motor launch, 1917. (Below) visitors got to Lakeland on Zukey Lake via the Ann Arbor Railroad, then took to the water.

Ann Arbor businessmen and their families played poker and fished at the cottage built by brothers-in-law George Wahr and Charles Staebler on Base Line Lake.

Updating the City Club

Published In:
Ann Arbor Observer, January 2012,
January 2012

Author: Grace Shackman

An erstwhile women's group adapts for the twenty-first century.

The Ann Arbor Women's City Club was founded in 1951 out of necessity: the crush of students at the U-M after World War II had made it difficult for women's groups to find meeting space at the university. "There wasn't a place where women could go, where they could connect with each other and forge happy friendships," recalls Mollie Dobson, a member from the beginning.

To meet the need, a group of energetic women raised the money to buy a large house at 1830 Washtenaw. It's still the clubhouse sixty years later—but as the role of women in the world has changed, so has the club.

The founders were well-connected women, wives of professors, professionals, and businessmen. "At first everyone wanted to join," recalls Dobson. New members had to have two sponsors and pay an initiation fee on top of yearly dues.

In the 1970s, as more women worked outside the home, it became harder to recruit new members. Not only were women too busy, but many were no longer content to be defined as wives of someone important. At the time, many women's clubs across the country folded, but Ann Arbor had what Dobson calls "a hard core of members who would do anything for the City Club."

Club leaders encouraged working women to think of the club as a place that they could bring their clients and business associates. That didn't take off, but president Millie Empedocles says professional members did begin to use the facility for events. About ten years ago, the club dropped the sponsorship requirement and initiation fees and welcomed male members by changing its name to 'Ann Arbor City Club." Today, seventy of the 425 individual members are men.

The club has worked at recruiting younger women. Empedocles, then in her mid-fifties, joined after an elderly friend told her she would win a free dessert if she brought her to the club. Kathy Sample, now fifty, joined at the urging of her mother-in-law, a longtime member. She's currently on the board, working on a marketing plan and running two popular etiquette classes for children.

Last April the club hired a new general manager. Greg Fleming, fifty-four, spent fifteen years as the director of the U-M's Camp Michigania. "We wanted someone to take us to the next level," explains Empedocles. "We've had good ideas that never went anywhere. We want to maintain what works while seeing what we can become."

To bring in new people, the club has organized a series of dinner programs with speakers (see Events, Jan. 25). A new chef, Todd Stapnowski, is updating the menu. And the club is looking into doing more volunteer work, either partnering with another nonprofit or organizing its own projects.

But with all these changes, Empedocles says "the social is still the huge thing. People make real friendships here. I find that ten years after joining, all my friends are people that I know here."


[Photo caption from original print edition]: President Millie Empedocles says the City Club hired Greg Fleming "to take us to the next level."

The Aura Inn

Published In:
Community Observer, Summer 1999,
Summer 1999

Author: Grace Shackman

The heart of Fredonia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—Grace Shackman

A Tale of Two Lakes

Published In:
Community Observer,
2004-current

Author: Grace Shackman

Side by side, separate resorts catered to blacks and whites.

People once came from all over southeastern Michigan to play golf, dance, swim, and fish at two resorts on neighboring lakes north of Chelsea. But the guests rarely mingled, because one group was white and the other was black.

A Tale of Two Lakes

Author: Grace Shackman

A Tale of Two Lakes
Side by side, separate resorts catered to blacks and whites

People once came from all over southeastern Michigan to play golf, dance, swim, and fish at two resorts on neighboring lakes north of Chelsea. But the guests rarely mingled, because one group was white and the other was black.

Both resorts were established in the 1920s—Inverness, on North Lake, by a white former Detroit business owner, and Wild Goose Lake, a short hop away, by three black families from Ann Arbor. The latter was born in controversy. When word first got out that some farmers were considering selling their land to blacks, neighbors circulated a petition urging them not to do so. When grocer Perry Noah refused to sign—he reportedly told the petitioners, “My father died in the Civil War to free these people”—his store was briefly boycotted.

The sellers, descendants of the area’s original settlers, refused to be intimidated. And that is how dual resorts, each with its own country club and a beach, grew up almost side by side.

Old West Side Story

Published In:
Ann Arbor Observer, August 2001,
August 2001

Author: 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.

When the Salvation Army Marched Downtown

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

Author: Grace Shackman

Its headquarters on Fifth Ave. attracted hoboes and passersby alike

Saturday night was once the busiest time of the week for Ann Arbor merchants, because that was when farmers would drive to town to do their weekly errands. As families milled about, shopping and catching up with the news, the Salvation Army brass band would march from the army's headquarters at Fifth and Washington up to Main Street, playing hymns and summoning the crowds to open-air services.

Variations on a Theme

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

Author: Grace Shackman

When book groups click, participants gain deeper insights into literature and sometimes, into themselves.

Ann Arbor is a place where people like to read -- a town of "read-a-holics," in the words of Cindy Osborne of Little Professor. "A lot of our customers are big readers," agrees Dallas Moore of Borders. "Some we see in here almost every day."

The Michigan League

Published In:
Ann Arbor Observer, September 1999,
September 1999

Author: Grace Shackman

A living monument to feminism’s first wave

“It is estimated that over 5,000 men pass through the doors of the Union every day. They meet around the cafeteria tables, they read together in the lounging rooms, the Pendleton Library, and swim together in the swimming pool.” In striking contrast, “the girls have a little corner of the upper hall of Barbour Gymnasium partitioned off for the League offices where only a small committee may gather at a time.”

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