Rescued from the Scrap Heap

Grace Shackman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—Grace Shackman

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

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Goetz Meat Market

Grace Shackman

When home was upstairs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—Grace Shackman

Photo Captions:

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

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

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Industry on the Raisin

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

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The Legacy of Judge Dexter

Grace Shackman

The village's broad avenues reflect his ambitious vision

Samuel William Dexter arrived in Michigan from New York in 1824. A Harvard graduate and a practicing lawyer, Dexter came from a prominent eastern family (his father was a U.S. senator, secretary of war under Adams, and secretary of treasury under Jefferson). He chose to settle on the Michigan frontier. Dexter wrote to a cousin, "to get rid of the blue devils, or to speak more politely of the ennui which like a demon pursues those who have nothing to do."

Dexter spent the first four months exploring southern Michigan, traveling 2,000 miles on horseback with Orange Risdon, a surveyor and the founder of Saline (see p. 60). He finally chose the spot where Mill Creek runs into the Huron River. After buying a large amount of land in the area that would become Dexter Village, Dexter dammed Mill Creek and built a sawmill on one side of the creek and a grist mill on the other. He was appointed the village's first postmaster, and in 1826, when Washtenaw was formally organized as a county, he was chosen its first chief justice. From then on, he was known as "Judge Dexter."

Dexter Streetscape

"Dexter, Michigan, 1930/1940 (ca.)

The earliest houses in the village were clustered along the river; it was not until 1830 that Dexter laid out the town's streets. Years later, John Doane, who assisted in the project, wrote that Ann Arbor and Central streets were both laid out without instruments: Dexter simply pointed out which trees should be taken down for the center of the street, then had Doane pace out three rods on each side. Soon, both sides of the street were filled with stores; but being constructed of wood, with wooden sidewalks in front, all were eventually destroyed by fire. In the mid- to late-nineteenth century, the original stores were replaced by the brick storefronts that still form Dexter's main shopping area.

In 1839, Judge Dexter donated land for a Baptist church. Soon afterward, he also donated land to the fledgling Michigan Central Railroad. The railroad reached town in 1841 amid great rejoicing. The trains not only made it easier for the agricultural products of the surrounding area to reach market, but they also brought hordes of prospective immigrants, often more than there were seats on the train. The first train depot, on the north side of the tracks, was replaced in 1886 by one on the south side. It is still there, now owned by the Huron Valley Railroad Historical Society.

When he first arrived, Dexter shared a log cabin with another family, but soon he had a large house built on what is now Huron Street. After the railroad cut through that property, he built a mansion just west of town, which he named Gordon Hall, after his mother's family. It still stands today, now divided into apartments. (The Huron Street house was torn down in 1939 despite efforts of historic-minded citizens to save it.) Another elegant early house, the present-day American Legion, was built in 1840 by Henry Vinkler, the village's first cabinetmaker and undertaker. Vinkler reportedly napped regularly in one of his caskets, and when he died he was buried in it.

Dexter peaked in the nineteenth century. According to Dexter historian Bruce Waggoner, the town was "really more of a farming community in the twentieth century." Today, he says, "Dexter is developing into a bedroom community. Around a thousand new residents, in apartments, condos, and private homes, have been annexed into the village." But although only nine miles from Ann Arbor, Dexter has kept its separate identity. Its downtown is still filled with stores providing necessities to residents, including Hackney Hardware, Dexter Pharmacy, and the Dexter Bakery. And the village still has a strong core of active citizens concerned about its future, 250 of whom recently contributed to install an antique-style clock at the comer of Main and Broad streets.

—Grace Shackman

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The Village Tap

Grace Shackman

A local hangout for decades

Eighty years ago you couldn't buy a beer at the Village Tap—then known as Mary's Saloon—because of Prohibition. But in all other respects, the establishment was a bar and a village hangout. Customers would enter through a set of swinging doors, and after passing the candy, tobacco, and ice cream counters in front, they'd find a stand-up bar with a foot rail, surrounded by tables and chairs.

Mary's was named for its owner, Mary Singer. Customers "would sit around kibitzing, smoking a pipe, or chewing tobacco. They'd talk about farming or about old times," recalls Glenn Lehr, who worked there in the 1920s, when he was a teenager. He recalls interesting characters such as Dyke Lehman, who lived three doors north of the bar and hung out there most of the day, going home only to eat meals. Lehman used to tell of the gold rush (Lehr thinks it was probably the one in South Dakota), when he got rich by rolling drunks. "He'd help himself to any cash they had, gold nuggets or coins," says Lehr.

Customers entertained themselves with chugging contests, seeing who could swallow a near beer or a bottle of pop the fastest. (Lehr says he usually won because he had more practice.) They'd play euchre and other card games such as Five Hundred or Pedro. In the winter, people would come in after sledding or ice skating to warm up around the potbellied stove.

The saloon served two brands of near beer, a special brew allowed to ferment only to about 1.3 percent alcohol content; ginger ale, cream soda, and root beer; and soda pop in several flavors like lemon, strawberry, and cherry. Lehr recalls that orange, the most popular flavor, sold more than the rest put together.

Singer sold cheese sandwiches for a nickel and ham or pickled tongue for a dime. Lehr made the last himself, buying tongue from the butcher two doors up, mixing it with wine vinegar, sugar, and onions, and cooking it for four or five hours.

Kids came in after school to buy penny candy and ice cream. Since there were no freezers, the ice cream was delivered in ten-gallon steel containers packed in big wooden buckets filled with ice and salt. It came in three flavors: vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry. Lehr made ice cream bars using skewers borrowed from the butcher. He'd stick a paper cap from a milk bottle on the skewer, add the ice cream, and dip it in chocolate.

Wednesday and Saturday nights, when the farmers came to town, were the busiest times. Lehr was supposed to close the saloon at nine o'clock but usually didn't lock up until closer to eleven. The farmers bought a lot of tobacco. "All the farmers chewed," recalls Lehr. "They would buy ten or more packages at a time. Beech Nut was the favorite." Mary's also sold snuff, sweet tobacco, cigarettes, cigars, and pipe tobacco.

The Village Tap has been owned by the Stein family for the last twenty-five years. Today, brothers Chris and Jack manage it while their mother, Jeanette, enjoys semiretirement. Chris grew up in the bar, learning pool and euchre from customers. He's been there long enough to see people who were brought in by their fathers bringing in their own kids.

The menu has expanded greatly since Mary Singer's day. It now includes a roster of daily specials: soups, goulash, knockwurst, and the burgers for which the place is famous. But just as it was eighty years ago, the Village Tap is a local hangout.

Chris Stein says people often come in after softball, bowling, or golf. Lately, he's been organizing special events, such as the recent Oktoberfest held in the parking lot. "Now that Manchester is a bedroom community, people like a chance to meet," he explains. "Times change, but people are the same."

—Grace Shackman

Photo Caption: Chris Stein and Glenn Lehr.

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The Community Christmas sing

Grace Shackman

It united town and gown

Ann Arbor has always been split between those who are affiliated with the U-M and the rest of the city. But starting in 1913, town and gown came together each year for a community wide Christmas sing at Hill Auditorium.

The sing began the year Hill was completed. From the start, the 5,000-capacity hall was filled—an impressive turnout, considering that the 1910 census counted fewer than 15,000 Ann Arborites (excluding students, most of whom were at home by then).

The 1913 sing, which took place on Christmas Day, was a joint project of the U-M School of Music and the Ann Arbor Civic Association. The program included performances by two boys' choirs and special soloists, and an organ recital by music professor Albert Stanley. On stage were five trees adorned with electric decorations—a novelty then being promoted by the Eastern Michigan Edison Company.

A special guest star was native daughter Helene Allmendinger, who came back to town from Cleveland, where she was pursuing what became a successful international opera career. A contralto, she sang "The Star of the Orient," and "He shall feed his flock" from Handel's Messiah.

Group singing was always the highlight of the evening; the audience followed along with words projected on a screen. The first year, the organizers placed trained voices throughout the audience to keep the singing in unison. In later decades, tenor Harold Haugh, a voice professor at the School of Music, directed the singing from the stage. "I merely waved my arms," he recalls. "A committee put the program together."

Interrupted only by the two world wars, the sing continued for over sixty years. "It was open to the public; that was the important thing," recalls Anne Haugh, Harold's wife.

"If you couldn't sing on key, you'd come anyway," recalls lawyer and longtime resident Jim Crippen.

Sometimes the songs were illustrated with tableaux. John Hathaway recalls that when he was a boy in the 1930s, he appeared as an angel for "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing," wearing wings borrowed from St. Andrew's Church.

Leonard Chase, who worked in personnel at King-Seeley (now GT Products), was responsible for keeping the program going after World War II. He kept in contact with all the choirs in the city, both school and church, and arranged for them to appear. When Chase retired in the mid-1960s, Judy Dow Rumelhart and the Exchange Club took over.

Rumelhart decreased the number of choirs, replacing them with dancing by the Civic Ballet and the performance of an operetta. She also enlisted the music school's Willis Patterson as soloist to sing such favorites as "Ave Maria," "The Lord's Prayer," and "We Three Kings." Rumelhart directed the "The Littlest Angel" by having pajama-clad children sit at the edge of the stage and listen while Mary Firestone read it. Then adults acted out the play on stage.

Rumelhart stopped organizing the Hill Auditorium sing in 1974. "The city was smaller [when it started]," she says. "It outgrew itself. And I was exhausted." But it was succeeded by a smaller event that continues to this day. The twenty-fifth annual Christmas sing, a project of the Western Kiwanis Club, is expected to attract 500 people to the Michigan Theater on November 28 for a family-oriented sing-along of favorite Christmas carols.

—Grace Shackman

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Jeff Schaffer

Grace Shackman

Building Manchester

Jeff Schaffer was still in his twenties in 1976 when Manchester's village president, David Little, recruited him to join the village council.

"He knew a lot about construction," recalls Little. "He was a young guy, but so was I."

At the time, Manchester was building two bridges and overhauling its sewer and water systems. Schaffer worked at Wolverine Pipe Line, a company that pipes gas from Texas, and Little wanted the benefit of his experience.

At the next election. Little stepped down as village president. Schaffer succeeded him, staying two terms. During Schaffer's time in Manchester government, the village separated its storm and sanitary sewers, upgraded its sewage treatment plant, built a water tower, and added new fire hydrants.

Last March Schaffer was again elected village president, twenty years after his first stint. Today Manchester's main issue is growth—another good project for a man who takes pride, as Little puts it, in "physical acheivements."

Schaffer has lived in the Manchester area all his life, except for a brief stay in Ypsilanti while he attended Cleary College. His grandfather owned a dairy farm west of town at Austin and Sharon Hollow roads, and also co-owned a lumber yard where the Manchester Township Hall now stands. Schaffer says he grew up to value community service after seeing how his grandfather was always willing to help his neighbors.

"He'd say to someone who lost a barn and couldn't afford a new one, 'Don't worry, we'll give you the lumber,'" Schaffer recalls.

In the years between his two stints as village president, Schaffer served on Manchester's school board, and he and his wife, Connie, raised two children, Dawn and William. After twenty-seven years at Wolverine Pipe Line, he is now in charge of above-ground maintenance on Wolverine's systems from Kalamazoo to Detroit to Toledo.

Although Schaffer is a grandfather, he's still slender and still blond. He wears jeans, a T-shirt, and cowboy boots to work and treats colleagues and customers with small-town politeness—he addresses people as "ma'am" and "sir." His style, both as a boss and as a village leader, is to work as part of a team. "I encourage people on council to talk," he says.

In the last twenty years, Manchester has changed in many ways. There is no longer any active farming within the village limits. A few new industries have moved in. A village manager, Jeff Wallace, now runs day-to-day operations.

But Manchester is still a small town, and Schaffer says he appreciates the values that come with that—"the closeness, the willingness to be a good neighbor."

Still, he says, growth is a fact of life. Two housing projects are being built in the village, the homes and condos of Manchester Woods and the River Ridge apartments. Several other housing and light industry projects are in the discussion stage. "I'm not adverse to growth," explains Schaffer, "but we need to control growth, shape it so it's a good deal."

Appropriately, Schaffer uses a construction metaphor to describe his work as village president. "I keep laying the bricks in the foundation," he says. "It'll be here when we're long gone."

—Grace Shackman

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Chelsea Retirement Community

Grace Shackman

The Heritage Room recalls a time when the residents worked for their keep

The Chelsea Retirement Community is one of the oldest retirement centers in the state. It was founded by the Detroit Annual Council of Methodists as a home for "aged saints of the church" in 1906.

"They wanted a decent place for people who didn't have family to care for them," explains administrator Connie Amick. 'The only alternative was the poor farm."

The organizing committee looked at several sites in the Detroit area, but decided on Chelsea after Frank Glazier, a local banker and stove manufacturer, donated the land and a generous amount of money. When Glazier ran into financial troubles a few years later, the Old People's Home (as it was originally called) took in his mother, Emily Glazier. Today two of his granddaughters live there.

In 1907, after a year in a single-family home, the community moved into a new building large enough for thirty-six. There were only ten residents at the time of the move, and it took six years to fill the new building, because the idea of living in a retirement home was so new. Most residents could afford only low fees, so donations from churches and individuals supplemented the cost.

The first administrator. Rev. Seth Reed, had started his career as a Methodist circuit rider. Tall and of seemingly poor health, he was nicknamed "death on stilts" - a rubric he defied by living to be 100 years old. While Reed raised money for the home, his wife, Henrietta, handled day-to-day operation.

The way of life in the home's early years and the look of some of the rooms have been reconstructed by the organizers of the Heritage Room, a museum at the retirement home. Exhibits include a reconstruction of an early bedroom, with a water pitcher, washbowl, and bedpan; a dining room table set for a meal; and a fourteen-foot wagon once pulled by Fred, the home's sole horse. Fred did the heavy work during the years when the home's residents raised much of their own food.

Many of the items in the exhibit were donated by residents. Antiques appraiser Gary Kuehnle dated and authenticated the items, while Dana Buck of the U-M's Kelsey Museum created the design. "He broke up a narrow room to utilize the space," explains head docent Polly Monroe.

During the community's early years, residents helped with the chores if they were able: men in the gardens and on the farm, women in the kitchen and laundry. "All the help had to live in, and work for their room and board," recalled Lelah Knickerbocker in a 1996 interview with Kathy dark of the Chelsea Standard. Knickerbocker, who started working at the retirement home in 1923, recalled, "Each girl had a floor to live on and take care of. The home had one floating nurse who also lived in. When someone got sick, they stayed right in their own room. Sometimes when the nurse got awful tired and needed a rest, she'd call on me to sit up at night with the patients."

The biggest difference between the early years and today is "the attitude change," says Amick. "It used to be very paternalistic. Now the residents run it. We have a strong resident council." There is no longer any religious qualification, and the community has grown to include about 360 residents, with a 120-room addition planned for residents suffering from memory loss. The Heritage Room, which has won several prestigious awards, can be toured by appointment.

—Grace Shackman

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A tale of two funeral homes

Grace Shackman

Spite spurred a rivalry that still benefits Chelsea

Chelsea is fortunate that an undertaker's twenty-one-year-old son beat Frank Glazier in the 1893 vote for village president. Otherwise, the town wouldn't have its two respected family-owned funeral homes, Cole and Staffan-Mitchell. Glazier, who later become Michigan state treasurer and Chelsea's most famous business and civic leader, was so enraged at losing to George P. Staffan that he convinced Samuel Mapes, a relative, to give up a successful steam laundry and start an undertaking firm to compete with the Staffan family's.

In the nineteenth century, caskets were made by local carpenters—a number of whom, including Frank Staffan, ended up in the funeral business. Staffan arrived in Michigan in 1847 at age fifteen from Alsace-Lorraine and built many of Chelsea's important buildings, including the township hall, two churches, and many of the downtown shops, using skilled stonemasons from the Eisele and Eder families, whom he had summoned from his native land.

Staffan and his wife, Lena, and their six children lived at 705 South Main and ran their contracting and funeral businesses from their home, as was the custom in those days. Their house still stands, although the stables, a storage building for the carriages and hearses, and the workshop are long gone.

A Democrat, Staffan served on the village council and the township highway and drain commissions. His political involvement, successful businesses, and relationship by marriage to prominent local families such as the McKunes and Keusches made him and his family a threat to Glazier, a Republican businessman with lofty political ambitions. By 1898, at Glazier's urging, Mapes had set up his rival undertaking business right behind Glazier's drugstore at the northwest corner of Main and Middle.

In 1906, however. Glazier undermined his own desire to drive the Staffans out of business when he donated land and money for a Methodist old age home. From that time on, there was plenty of business for both funeral homes, and their rivalry was gradually replaced by mutual respect.

When Frank Staffan died in 1915, the business passed to his son, George P. Staffan—the man who'd beaten Frank Glazier for village president more than twenty years earlier. George P. moved the funeral business to a second-floor spot above a tavern on Main Street, using the space to display caskets and to store equipment for funerals. He made his own embalming fluid, which he sold to other undertakers.

George P.'s son, George L. Staffan, is still active in community affairs at ninety-two. George L. remembers the days when funerals were held in the deceased's home. People usually hung a wreath, called a "door badge," to let people know there was a death in the family. His father would bring a folding couch to the home to embalm the body. The family would pick out a casket, and the Staffans would deliver it to the home. Mourners often put potted palms and a screen around the casket. The Staffans would bring a portable organ and folding chairs for the funeral service.

In the early 1920s the Staffan family moved to a big house at 124 Park that had belonged to a doctor. The former examining room on the side of the house was turned into the funeral office. In 1930 the office was torn down and replaced with a chapel, since by then many people wanted funerals outside the home.

For a time the Staffans also ran an ambulance service, using a converted sedan and their hearses. They often had runs out to the three-lane highway between Jackson and Ann Arbor, where the shared passing lane caused frequent accidents.

George L. Staffan took over the business in 1950 after his father's death. In 1981 he sold it to John and Gloria Mitchell, who had run funeral homes in East Lansing and Rochester. Staffan offered to buy it back if the new owners didn't click with Chelsea, but his generosity proved unnecessary—Gloria Mitchell became so involved in local service projects that she was named the village's citizen of the year in 1997.

The funeral business Frank Glazier instigated also flourished. In 1906 the Mapeses moved to a house at 214 East Middle, using the downstairs for offices and the upstairs for living quarters. A succession of owners sold the funeral business to younger partners—Bruce Plankell, Martin Miller, and Lou Burghardt. In 1977 Burghardt sold it to Don Cole. Cole's son, Alan, and Alan's wife, Wendy, have operated the Cole Funeral Home since 1999. They still run the business out of the house on Middle, although they don't live upstairs.

Recently the Mitchells agreed to a village request that their place be torn down for parking. Gloria Mitchell says the decision was hard, "but now we look back and wonder why the struggle." The new Staffan-Mitchell Funeral Home, less than a mile north of town, has all the latest conveniences, including sound and video systems and a children's play area. Like the founders of the business, the Mitchells live in an attached apartment. Many artifacts from earlier days were moved to the new location. A display cabinet contains such accoutrements of mourning as a vial used to catch a widow's tears, black-bordered handkerchiefs and calling cards, dull black mourning jewelry, and bottles that held George P. Staffan's embalming fluid. And in the garage is an old Staffan horse-drawn hearse. It's occasionally pressed into service, with rented horses, when customers request it.

—Grace Shackman


Caption:The Mitchells (above) still have a horse-drawn hearse that can be used for burials, if families request. At one point the Staffan Funeral Home was in a storefront above a tavern on Main Street.

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Grace Shackman

Manchester Township Library

Grace Shackman

The state's oldest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Rights Held By: 
Grace Shackman
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