Growing up in the American Hotel

Published In:
Ann Arbor Observer, May 1993,
May 1993

Author: Grace Shackman

Warren Staebler's boyhood neighbors were traveling salesmen and May Festival musicians

In the early years of this century, traveling salesmen would set up shop for a week at a time in the "sample rooms" of the American Hotel at Ashley and Washington. Downtown merchants would come by to order everything from liquor to dry goods for their stores. Composer Victor Herbert, one of many famous musicians who stayed at the American during the annual May Festival, claimed its dining room served the best sauerkraut between New York and Chicago. But to Warren Staebler, the hotel was home.

Staebler's grandfather, Michael Staebler, built the brick hotel (now best known as the home of the Earle restaurant) in 1885. He called it the Germania, after the Germania Society. Like the Schwaben Verein and the Greater Beneficial Union, the Germania Society sold mutual insurance to members, and it also served as a social center. The hotel's top-floor ballroom housed the society's meetings, lectures, physical drills, and concerts.

The society did not prosper, but the hotel did. In 1895, two years after Warren Staebler's father, Albert, began working there, the family divided the ballroom into additional guest rooms, added a fourth story with still more rooms, and changed the name from the Germania to the American. In 1905, the year Albert Staebler married Dora Tice, Michael Staebler retired and Albert and Dora took over the business. Warren was born in 1910.

The family had a four-room apartment on the second floor, but Warren lived in the whole hotel. As a young boy, he rode his tricycle around the terrazzo-floored lobby, sometimes detouring through the adjoining saloon. He and his sister, Bernice, ate their meals in the hotel kitchen, served by the pastry chef. The only meal the family ate together was Sunday dinner, in the hotel dining room.

Warren remembers sitting in front of the lobby fireplace talking with guests, many of them regulars whom he and his family got to know well. Most were salesmen, who arrived by train, usually on a Monday, and stayed the entire week. Many May Festival musicians returned annually for as many as twenty-five years, and the American also welcomed theater troupes performing at the Majestic Theater on Maynard.

After a big storm, gangs of repairmen from Detroit Edison and the telephone company would stay at the hotel while working to restore service. Other guests came for special events or to visit relatives—in an age when even many employed adults lived in boarding houses, they had little space to put up their visiting families.

From the beginning, the hotel also was home to a flock of Staebler family businesses. From the storefront on the building's east side, Michael Staebler sold, at various times, farm implements, fuel, sewing machines, athletic equipment, and various modes of transportation—bicycles, motorcycles, cars. The Staeblers ran Ann Arbor's first car dealership there, selling Toledo Steamers, then Reos, Oaklands, Franklins, and finally Pontiacs.

As his sons came of age, Michael Staebler turned the various businesses over to them. Albert, the fourth of six sons, was given the hotel business.

Warren Staebler recalls that his father supervised a staff of four desk clerks (often university students), two bartenders, a janitor, and a man who drove the horse and wagon to the railroad station to pick up guests. His mother supervised the chambermaids—one per floor—and had most of the hands-on responsibility for the dining room.

Located right behind the lobby, the dining room was very formal, with linen tablecloths and napkins and waitresses in starched uniforms. The food was good enough that people from town came for dinner there, especially on Sundays.

The hotel saloon also served local customers. When Prohibition was enacted, it switched to serving soft drinks, sandwiches, and light refreshments. But business dwindled, so the space was turned over to the family's car dealership (which had expanded on Ashley).

By then, the heyday of downtown hotels was over. The traveling salesmen had all shifted from trains to cars, which gave them the freedom to go directly from customer to customer, bringing their samples with them. In 1927 the American's dining room closed; its space became the Staeblers' Pontiac showroom.

In 1929, Michael Staebler died, and Albert's family moved into his duplex on Liberty and Third streets. The next year, Albert retired. For a while. Warren's uncles, Walter and Herman, who operated the car dealership, also ran the hotel, but they soon leased it to a company who ran it as the Griswold. In 1954 the Milner chain took over, renaming it the Earle after company owner Earl Milner, who had grown up in Ann Arbor. In 1971, the hotel closed for good.

In 1973, four partners, Ernie Harburg, Rick Burgess, David Rock, and Dennis Webster, bought the building, opened the Earle restaurant in the basement, and began restoring the rest of the building. In 1982 they sold the building to Tom Gaithwaite and Marvin Carlson, who gutted the upper floors, which were still divided into sixty-one small hotel rooms, and made the space into elegant offices, today occupied mainly by lawyers. The eastern storefront, until recently 16 Hands, is currently vacant. The western storefront—the original hotel dining room and lobby—is undergoing conversion to the Sweetwaters Cafe (see Changes, March).

When he grew up. Warren Staebler operated the Hi-Speed gas station at the corner of Packard and Arch (today a park). Now retired, he still keeps several souvenirs of his unusual boyhood in the hotel his grandfather built: a set of chairs from the dining room and spittoons from the lobby and saloon. Asked about growing up in a hotel, he recalls, "My friends envied me because I had no grass to cut. And I envied them because they had grass to cut." —Grace Shackman

Photo Captions

(Left) The exterior and lobby of the American Hotel. Also called the American House, it was originally named the Germania in honor of the Germania Society, which met in its third-floor ballroom. (Note the very tall windows there; the lower-ceilinged fourth floor was an 1895 addition.)

Founder Michael Staebler is the bearded man behind the counter; standing next to him is his son, Albert, Warren Staebler's father.

(Above) The Earle Building today.

The Lost Street Names of Ann Arbor

Published In:
Ann Arbor Observer, July 2002,
July 2002

Author: Don Callard

The phantom subdivision on North Main, the fate of Thirteenth Street, and how Hanover Square became a triangle

(Click here for a complete list of current street names and their former names.)

Every morning residents of Ann Arbor leave their homes on Mann Street and Israel Avenue, drive to work along Chubb Road or Grove Street, and look for a place to park on Bowery or Twelfth (there's no parking on Thirteenth). University students bike to class on Orleans or Denton, while recycling trucks pick up newspapers and wine bottles on Buchanan and Lulu's Court. Don't reach for a map! We're talking about the lost street names of Ann Arbor.

It happens in every town. Through the years old names lose their charm, newer developers and officials are rewarded, and various city services complain about confusing addresses. Small streets are swallowed up by bigger ones, names disappear only to reappear across town, and some "streets" linger on maps for years before finally being revealed to have been no more than gleams in a would-be developer's eye.

Thirteenth Street?
Numbered streets have led a confused life here. John Allen started us off right in his 1824 plat, showing north-south streets neatly numbered from First on the west to Fifth on the east, with Main Street an alternate name for Third. But when William S. Maynard platted what is today the Old West Side in the 1840s, he created a dizzying mirror image. Starting from Allen's First Street, Maynard numbered his north-south streets from east to west. Old maps and directories show these were usually called West Second, and so on, but First belonged to east and west alike. According to 0. W. Stephenson's 1927 history Ann Arbor: The First Hundred Years, Maynard later asked that the original Fourth and Fifth streets be redesignated as avenues, and so they remain today.

Among the west side's numbered streets, Seventh stands out for both its length (more than two miles, from Miller to Scio Church and beyond)and the startling jog it takes as it crosses Huron. Both reflect its growth in the years following Maynard's original plat. Originally the stretch from West Liberty to West Huron was named Jewett Street, while the dogleg continuing north to Miller was Mann Street, named for the family of Jonathan Henry Mann, the patriarch of the Old West Side's German community. Jewett and Mann were both absorbed into Seventh after being connected up with the original portion south of Liberty in 1891.

In other towns "streets" and "avenues" run perpendicular to one another. Ann Arbor has never accepted that distinction. For a while Huron Street had a south-side parallel named Huron Avenue. Generations of visitors have had cause to be grateful that its name was changed in the 1870s to honor multifaceted local entrepreneur George D. Hill.

Some streets have lost their numbers over the years. In 1889 Allen's Second Street was renamed Ashley, in honor of the Ohio congressman and Montana Territory governor whose Toledo and Ann Arbor Railway Depot was on that street. Ashley had sent his son to the U-M and liked this town so well he moved here himself, building the railroad to circumvent travel through Detroit (and, ultimately, to link Appalachian coal mines with the iron and copper smelters of Lake Superior).

Mulholland Avenue made its debut in the 1928 city directory as "formerly a part of Sixth." The recent creation of the Bach School playground, according to local historian Grace Shackman, had prevented the north and south parts of Sixth Street from connecting, and evidently made the shared name seem dispensable.

The numbering story doesn't end there, however. Developers north of the U-M Central Campus thought it would be a good idea to continue eastward with numbered streets. From Fifth they counted past six streets (including Division and State) and began with Twelfth!

Perhaps the two-digit numbers just seemed too ambitious for a small nineteenth-century town. In any case, not one survived. Twelfth eventually turned into Fletcher, while Thirteenth (which had previously been named Pitcher) is now known as Glen Avenue. Parts of Fourteenth, meanwhile, have subsequently been known by five different names. It was renamed North Forest, then Grant, and then Washte-naw, after that street--which at the time doubled as US-23--was reconfigured to bypass Central Campus.

North of Huron a two-block stub of Fourteenth survived as Washtenaw Place. It was recently renamed Zina Pitcher Place--honoring the same early U-M medical professor for whom Thirteenth had been named in the first place.

North, South, and Middle Ypsilanti
Washtenaw Avenue didn't exist on Allen's original map. The first hint of it appears on an 1836 (precampus) plat that shows Washington Street bending southeastward at its eastern tip. According to Lela Duff's 1962 collection Ann Arbor Yesterdays, a street that we today would recognize as Washtenaw appears on an 1859 map as "Middle Ypsilanti Road."

In the 1860-1861 directory, a number of people are to be found on Ypsilanti Street. This must have been today's North University, which also connected--by way of Geddes Road--to our eastern neighbor. Later directories refer to both Ypsilanti Road and North Ypsilanti Road.

The middle route to Ypsilanti eventually became Washtenaw Avenue. For many years the growing thoroughfare shared its name with Washtenaw Street, a modest two-block affair north of the river near Pontiac Trail. Washtenaw Street was renamed Wright Street in 1889.

There is also a reference in Charles C. Chapman & Company's 1881 History of Washtenaw County, Michigan, to a Manual Labor School "on the south Ypsilanti road" at "what is known as the Eberbach place." The driveway to Christian Eberbach's still-standing Italianate jewel has become Woodlawn Avenue--off the street we know today as Packard.

Initially Packard was just three blocks long: it began at South Main and ended at Hanover Square. South Ypsilanti Road headed southeast from the square. The square was eventually truncated to ease traffic, leaving only a slight bend to mark its earlier history. (Hanover Square's name survives to designate what is now a grassy triangular park at the intersection of Packard and Division; the folded-metal Book sculpture came to rest there.) South Ypsilanti Road was renamed Grove Street before finally yielding to the logic of continuity. It's now Packard all the way to Ypsilanti--where it becomes Cross Street.

The names of other arteries also advanced outward as the city grew. The section of Main Street north of Depot was known as Plank Road for much of the nineteenth century. Built with split logs and planed lumber, plank roads were promoted by local merchants to bring supplies through the mud of Michigan's undrained southern plateau. South of Madison, Main was known at different times as South Plank and Saline Road. Fees were collected at a tollgate for maintaining the route to Saline.

For Pontiac Trail that process worked in reverse. Originally Pontiac came all the way in to Main Street, but in 1889 the part south of the river was renamed Beakes to honor Samuel Beakes, the Ann Arbor Argus publisher, who became our youngest mayor at age twenty-seven. At Main Beakes converges with Kingsley, named for the city's most tireless nineteenth-century promoter. Kingsley was originally North Street, so named because it was the northernmost street in John Allen and Elisha Rumsey's original plat.

Campus and beyond
Nothing expands like a university. Clark, Hickory, and Oak streets have been swallowed up by the Medical Center. Haven Avenue, Belser Street, and College Street are now walkways at best.

Two large purchases east of the original village were made by the Ann Arbor Land Company in the 1830s. The company gave forty acres to lure the young U-M here from Detroit, counting on its presence to increase the value of the company's remaining holdings. One can deduce the success of that strategy by observing that a list of the company's trustees (Thompson, Maynard, Ingalls, Thayer, and so on) is a virtual directory of campus-area streets. Much has happened to these names over the years, though.

In 1856 South Thayer connected the campus to today's Hill Street. It eventually was absorbed by Oakland Street (now Oakland Avenue) and lost its first block when the Law Quad was built in the late 1920s.

Today's Tappan started out as Denton (named after a medical professor and legislator), was then called South Ingalls, and was finally given its current name, the newer part below Hill having already been so designated to honor the dynamic university president who fell afoul of his regents.

In 1892 Thayer, Ingalls, and East University all made surprise appearances south of Packard, ending around a square known as Hamilton Park (later Ferry Park, now carved into house lots). Those segments today are known as White Street, Sheehan Avenue, and Golden Avenue. The park's north boundary, North Park Place, has since become part of Granger Avenue. Rose Avenue, the south boundary, has kept its name, but Oakwood Place, later cut across the park, was changed in 1956 to Sycamore Place by someone obviously hoping to discourage squirrels.

Thayer survived north of campus, but even there it lost a block when the Carnegie Library (the Ann Arbor District Library's predecessor) was appended to the back of Ann Arbor High School in the early twentieth century. (After what is now Pioneer High was built in the 1950s, the U-M bought the old school and renamed it the Frieze Building.) Similarly, when the Rackham Building was constructed in the 1930s, it cut off a block of Ingalls. The isolated block of Thayer between Washington and North University survives, but the southward extension of Ingalls was transformed in the 1980s into a handsome pedestrian mall of flowers and fountains enjoyed by concertgoers and by university staff eating lunch.

Church Street south of Hill was known as Wood in 1888. The north block had been the site of Benjamin Church's "mill stick" shop. North University Court off Observatory was once part of Volland Street, which angled over to Washtenaw. For a while Observatory south of Volland was called Forest Hill Avenue, and the first blocks of Geddes leading up to it were Cemetery Street.

Chauncey Millen, dry goods merchant and tax collector, built a "spectacular" home, later replaced by an equally impressive fraternity/sorority house, on the corner of Hill and Washtenaw. The stand of trees behind it brought about the name Forest Avenue, whose extension south of Hill was called White Street (and even White Forest Street!) until 1898.

Cambridge Road had three other names. The curving part between Forest and Lincoln (Millen) was called Israel Avenue, named along with the present Olivia Street for the area's landowners and plat makers, Israel and Olivia Hall. The straight east-west part of Cambridge Road was Hubbard Street in the 1880s and 1890s, while the part north of Washtenaw was known as New Jersey Avenue.

The Halls laid Israel Avenue across the old county fairgrounds, which had been shifted a few blocks away to Burns Park. Ever widening city limits then forced the grounds to move to Vets Park (occasioning the nearby street name Fairview) and finally to Ann Arbor-Saline Road.

South University east of campus was originally Orleans Street--not a bad name for a street famed for art fairs and annual streaks!

Chubb Road and Lulu's Court
Beginning in the 1820s, Harvey Chubb traveled from his farm into town along the ridge of Buttercup Hill. His route soon began to be called Chubb Road (and, briefly, Hiscock's Road and Osborne Road). Later Chubb was inspired to seek office, becoming Ann Arbor Township supervisor in 1831 and then a representative in the 1846 and 1847 state legislatures. You'd think his public service would have kept the name going, but in 1927 it was changed to Sunset Road. (At least it's on the sunset side of town, which is more than you can say for Sunrise Court; located off Miller on the northwest side, it was called Dawn on the 1931 Sanborn fire insurance map.) Chubb Road descended treacherously to Main, but that section was discontinued when the Toledo and Ann Arbor Railroad was built along the escarpment.

Running southward from Chubb Road was one of Ann Arbor's two Grove streets. Later, because of its approximate alignment, it was called North First. Finally, in 1918, it was renamed Daniel Street, after the same farmer and supervisor whose surname, Hiscock, remains with us in a nearby street of that name.

Between Daniel and Spring was Walnut Street, changed after four years in 1940 to Pardon Street, that name lasting until 1974 without a resident. It lies buried now under the grass and trees of lower Hunt Park.

Tiny Lulu's Court off West Summit was gentrified to Hillcrest in 1946. West Summit itself had been High Street until the 1880s, when the downtown part was connected across the tracks and up the hill. (High Street's name subsequently reappeared between State and Division, claiming two blocks that originally had been the western tip of Fuller.)

South of Summit, Miller Avenue reached outward toward Dexter. As it passed nearby farms, side streets were created. Foster Road headed north to the river, where Samuel W. Foster of Dexter had built a mill. The village of Foster (called Foster's Station when it became the railroad's first stop out of town) was later renamed Newport, so in 1926 the rolling lane was changed to Newport Road. A short block's worth leading down to the river from Maple and Newport was left behind to remind us of Foster's enterprise.

Lower Town, Upper Town
There have been alterations to the face of Lower Town, but it is possible, by comparing maps and directories, to guess which old streets in the neighborhood just north of the Broadway Bridge have become our modern ones. Moore was Brown Street, named for Anson Brown, the speculator who assigned New York financial district names (Wall Street, Maiden Lane, Canal Street, Broadway) as talismans against the impending Panic of 1837. His Broadway structure, now the St. Vincent de Paul store, is the oldest surviving commercial building in Ann Arbor.

From 1925 to 1933 Longshore Drive between Swift and Barton Drive was called North Boulevard. Its first blocks, east of the right-angle turn, existed as Cedar Street until 1937. Also in 1937. Jones Drive went from a short, stubby street to a longer, winding one when it absorbed Mill Street, named for at least one mill on Traver Creek. A second Mill Street in Lower Town had been changed in 1892 to Swift, possibly in honor of Franklin Swift or his son John, both mill owners.

California Avenue existed from 1917 until 1927. After three years in limbo at rural delivery route 1, its residents found their addresses changed to the more impressive-sounding Barton Shore Drive.

Bowery Street may have been a bit of New York outside Lower Town, or oak-bowered as hinted at by Lela Duff in Ann Arbor Yesterdays, or named for Bowers, the original plat owner. It lasted under that name until 1887, when it surrendered to its own eastern extension, Lawrence. Judge Edwin Lawrence owned a home on Kingsley and other surrounding property. His wife, Sybil (Fuller), and children Mary, Edwin, and John all had streets of their own south of Packard, thanks to son John, an attorney who had bought and platted the addition. (Edwin Street later became part of Hoover; the others survive.) Fuller Road was given that name by John in honor of his mother's family.

A Page Street conundrum exists in this part of town, originally purchased by Caleb Ormsby and David Page. Early maps and bird's-eye views show a street running north from North Street (Kingsley) across Fuller (High) down to the railroad terminal. At first both blocks were called Page, but later that name applied only to the north part, which was all that was described in the directories.

Ninety years later, in the 1940s and 1950s, the Kingsley-to-High section was called Paige Street. It remains as an alley, but the original north part has vanished from its improbable terrain.

The area across the tracks from the Amtrak station that is now a parking lot and Michigan Consolidated Gas property was once a plat of streets where workers lived. Railroad and River streets, and the riverside extensions of Fourth and Fifth avenues, were condemned by the city because they had become an illegal dumping ground, according to Stephenson's Ann Arbor: The First Hundred Years.

West Side, Old and New
When William S. Maynard platted a west-side addition in 1846, its northern boundary was Eber White Road, named for the farmer whose residence it passed. But that road happened to be an extension of Liberty Street, so it became West Liberty. (The 1860-1861 directory shows that White himself called it South Liberty, the bend at the tracks probably marking the West-South change.) The old man's name resurfaced in Eber White (later Eberwhite) Boulevard.

The southern fork of West Huron, now called Jackson Road, was Territorial Road when pastor Frederick Schmid's first German-language Lutheran service was held there in 1833.

Crest south of Liberty was Buchanan Avenue until 1940, but only to Elder Boulevard, which made a south turn, curving west past Soule. Crest has since claimed the first block of that turn, and Lutz has gotten the rest, leaving Elder Boulevard as a single paved block and a few hundred unpaved feet east of Eberwhite. Hazel and Laurel Drives wriggled their way south of West Liberty between Ridgemor and Soule before World War II but disappeared when Zion Lutheran's construction began. Ridgemor itself has shifted to the other side of the church as a private drive.

In the 1940s the Mount Pleasant branch of Eberwhite Boulevard was magically skipped southward across Stadium Boulevard, where it reached to Valley Street. That block is now Woodland Drive, and Valley is part of Glen Leven Road. Kirtland Drive was going to be called Mount Vernon, but that name didn't get past the planning stage. South of Glen Leven is Normandy Road, previously called Norlar Avenue. And Pauline Boulevard, now named after west-side worthy Pauline Allmendinger, was originally West Street.

In 1927 Arbor Drive was changed to Allen Drive, finally memorializing our co-founder. Arbana Drive spent its first four years as Urbana Drive, changing in 1931.

Just west of the former county fairgrounds (now Veterans Park) was Arbor Glen Drive, continued northward by Outer Drive. The former became Maple Road in 1935, and that name overtook the latter a few years later. Beyond Outer Drive was Calvin Street, still there, but beyond it were Warren Avenue and Woodrow Street, both victims of M-14 and its ramp off Miller.

Lakewood Subdivision off Jackson Road between Bethlehem Cemetery and the Sister lakes has undergone name changes calculated to reinforce its watery image. Park Avenue has become Parklake, Grace Avenue is now Gralake, and Highland Avenue is Highlake. Andrea Court was Dolph, which mysteriously slipped south as a connection between Central and Sunnywood, which was earlier called Sunset Drive.

Lost forever?
The 1860-1861 directory records that Charles Besimer, a cooper who worked in Israel Mowry's shop opposite the Michigan Central Depot, resided in Shin Bone Alley, a street appearing on no map and in no other directory. Unless it lives in a local memory or can someday be excavated from a newspaper or diary, this colorful name may be lost forever.

Northfield Road must still exist in Lower Town, but where? Sarah Ann Raub advertised her skills as a fortune-teller there in 1856, next door to "Squire Chase," according to Stephenson's history. Its sole resident in 1860 was constable William H. Mclntyre.

An entire phantom subdivision appeared on maps from 1864 and in directories during the 1880s and 1890s. Center, Summer, Oak, South, Lincoln, and Hamlin streets were laid out east of St. Thomas Cemetery on Chubb Road (now Sunset). The entrance to the black Elks lodge may have been Lincoln Street, continuing as a parking lot behind the lodge. Three of the streets supposedly ran east down the bluff to North Main--highly improbable, given the steep topography.

No residents were ever listed on any of the streets, and the whole enterprise faded away. It was last shown on maps in 1915, and the entire area is now part of the city's Bluffs Park. If any doubt still lingered, it now may be said definitively that Summer, Oak, and Hamlin streets will never be built.

So many different forces brought about all these changes that it seems unlikely the evolution will stop. Undoubtedly some future Ann Arborite will bring up an old 2002 map or city directory on a screen and marvel at the unfamiliar, ever growing lost street names of Ann Arbor.

[Photo caption from original print edition]: (Top of page) A nineteenth-century view of Ann Arbor from Chubb Road—today's Sunset Road. (Map, center) Jewett once linked Liberty and Huron; like Mann, which continued north from Huron to Miller, it was eventually subsumed into Seventh. (Above) Glen Avenue, previously known as Thirteenth Street.

[Photo caption from original print edition]: A century ago, the interurban railroad cut diagonally across Hanover Square on its way to Ypsilanti (above). The area south of Packard became Perry School. The other triangle is now the city's Hanover Square Park.

[Photo caption from original print edition]: Never built, this phantom subdivision between St. Thomas Cemetery and N. Main survived on local maps for more than fifty years. Today the area is part of the city's Bluffs Park.

Flower Power in Bloom

Author: Grace Shackman

From casual beginnings, the Art Fairs have put Ann Arbor on the national visual arts map

The first Ann Arbor Art Fair was a casual, two-block event in 1960. It was initiated by South University Avenue merchants to draw attention to their summer bargain days. They teamed up with the Ann Arbor Art Association, which saw the event as a way to further its goal of art education for townsfolk.

"We did it to draw attention that there was such a thing as art," recalls Milt Kemnitz, a participant in that first fair. "We tied clotheslines between parking meters to hang pictures. When it rained we would take them down and take them into a store close by and wait for the rain to stop."

The organizers included the chamber of commerce, the potters' and hand weavers' guilds, and the public schools' adult education program. They put out a general call for artists to display their wares in an "arts and crafts market." For the first few years, the only requirement was that all art had to be original and sold directly by the artist. By 1965, though, there were so many artists seeking to participate that the organizers switched to a jury system to ensure quality and variety. That same year they renamed their event the Ann Arbor Street Art Fair.

"It was run by wonderful ladies who poured their heart into it," recalls Dick Brunvand, who was the fair's only paid staffer from 1971 to 1985. The women from the art association were supported by the South U merchants, who helped with costs, materials, and publicity. The merchants assembled the fair's first booths in parking lots behind their stores. "Everyone helped--the merchants, the merchants' children," recalls Paul Schlanderer, a South University jewelry store owner.

Carol Furtado, who participated in the Street Art Fair for seventeen years, usually was placed in front of the Village Apothecary. "The owner was very helpful," she recalls. "He would let me and others with booths nearby bring our stuff in at night."

The fair did so well that soon other artists and other retail areas wanted to create their own fairs. The State Street Area Art Fair started in 1968. It was a juried fair from the beginning, and run directly by the merchants' association. "You see more of the merchants. They are right on the street," explains Kathy Krick, the fair's director. In fact, the merchants take up all the available space on State Street itself, leaving display space for the artists on nearby blocks of Liberty, Maynard, and William.

The Summer Art Fair's origins date to 1970. The counterculture was in full swing, and some younger people were calling the established fairs elitist. "I remember a meeting in the basement of the bank at South U and East U when a young man came and asked that they let students in," Brunvand recalls. "The little old ladies answered, 'This is our art fair, and we're not going to let students in.' "

The students responded by starting their own alternative fair on the Diag. Called the Free Fair, it was a very laid-back affair with no space assignments. Furtado, who displayed in the Free Fair before joining the Street Art Fair, recalls, "We'd just set up our paintings against the trees. Once a dog peed on one of them."

The university soon decided it didn't want anything sold on the Diag, and the fair moved to South University between State and East University. But the participants' attitudes didn't change. "We'd sit on the grass and talk," Furtado recalls. "If anyone looked interested [in our art], we'd glare at them. Later in the day, one of us would watch about six booths and the rest would go to Dominick's for the afternoon."

Gradually the Free Fair became more organized. In 1973 the fair's sponsors organized into the University Artists and Craftsmen Guild, opening an office on the fourth floor of the Michigan Union. In the early 1980s the Guild left the U-M to become the nonprofit Michigan Guild of Artists and Artisans. The fair moved around the corner to State Street in front of the Michigan Union, and a downtown section was added after the Main Street merchants invited Guild members to display there as well.

As soon as the fairs began drawing big crowds, political activists and street performers began showing up. They added to the ambience but also to the space crunch, and eventually were limited to certain locations. The university helped by letting nonprofit groups use the space in front of the Engineering Arch. "Every cause was there, sometimes opposing ones right next to each other," laughs Brunvand. In 1989 the nonprofits moved to the block of Liberty between Division and Fifth, linking all three fairs in a continuous pathway.

A little farther north on East U (which today is a mall), the Graceful Arch tent in front of the Physics and Astronomy Building provided a dramatic setting for a performance stage. Designed by Kent Hubbell's U-M architecture class, the arch sheltered such popular local talent as the Chenille Sisters and the Cadillac Cowboys.

"The Art Fairs were supportive, but they were also always afraid the music would overwhelm the Art Fairs," recalls local music impresario Joe Tiboni. "But it's part of the Art Fair, an oasis, a hangout, a place to recuperate."

In 2001 a fourth fair, Art Fair Village, was set up on Church Street. It was sponsored by South University merchants, who for several years had been engaged in a financial and philosophical spat with the Street Art Fair. This year the new fair, now called Ann Arbor's South University Art Fair, will take over the South University area, while the original Street Art Fair will take over Ingalls Mall and surrounding streets, circling Burton Memorial Tower on Washington, Thayer, and North University.

Most visitors don't realize that what appears to be one seamless fair is actually four separate ones, each with its own history and flavor. Despite disagreements along the way, the organizers have kept the same hours and operate in adjacent (and even overlapping) locations. They've also agreed on keeping high artistic standards. "We walked a tightrope to satisfy what was wanted, to not be too restrictive, but to say no when necessary to keep the sense of it," Brunvand recalls.

The result is a unique, popular, and prestigious event. It attracts more than 1,000 artists from around the nation and hordes of visitors from all over the Midwest. The fairs are consistently ranked among the best in North America. "This is a small town to provide an event like this," says Shary Brown, longtime director of the Street Art Fair.

It may have started out as a lark, but Ann Arbor's July arts gathering has become a juggernaut.

[Photo caption from original print edition]: In the early years, it was a radical concept to put art on the streets. Like many fruits of the 1960s, the fairs soon became commercialized.

Hey, were you looking for the Summer Game code? You found it! Enter ARTSCOOL on your player page for your badge.


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

Author: Grace Shackman

Dixboro, a small village on Plymouth Road just a few miles northeast of Ann Arbor, probably owes its survival to its location. Serving travelers between Ann Arbor and Detroit gave the crossroads settlement an economic basis that sustained it while other nearby towns, such as Brookville and Geddesburg, dwindled to mere names on old maps.

Dixboro’s founder, Captain John Dix, was only twenty-eight years old when he came to the Michigan Territory, but he had already led a remarkable life. Born in Massachusetts in 1796, Dix had gone to sea at age sixteen, fought in the War of 1812, and been shipwrecked in New Zealand. He bought the site that would become Dixboro in 1824, the same year that John Allen and Elisha Rumsy founded Ann Arbor.

Dix laid out his new town on both sides of a Potawatomi Indian trail that was being used by settlers moving west from Detroit. He set aside a village square with sixty-four lots around it and built himself a house just east of there, about where Durbin Builders is today. His house doubled as Dixboro’s post office and general store. As soon as he was settled, Dix dammed Fleming Creek to power a sawmill and a gristmill.

After nine years, Dix left, resettling in Texas. Dixboro continued to function but never rivaled Ann Arbor. Some believe this was because Dix’s departure deprived the town of strong leadership; others point to the fact that the railroad followed the Huron River instead of coming through Dixboro. Dix sold most of his holdings to brothers John and William Clements. They continued to run the store, the post office, and a tavern. Rival stores and taverns started up as well, along with a few other small businesses—two blacksmiths, a cider mill, a cooper shop, and a steam-powered sawmill.

Photograph of Dixboro Methodist Church,
surrounded by fields

The Dixboro Methodist Church, c. 1916, was built in 1858 and has been the center of town life ever since.

Dixboro never incorporated as a city. It has always been governed as part of Superior Township. But for more than a century the village had its own one-room schoolhouse on the public square. The first school, built sometime between 1828 and 1832, was replaced in 1888 with the red brick building that still stands. In 1858, a church, now the Dixboro United Methodist, was built behind the school. The two institutions served as the center of village life. “Everyone took part in the [church] functions, even if they didn’t go to church every Sunday,” recalls Richard Leslie, who grew up in Dixboro between the two world wars. “The church really ran the town.”

Dixboro was surrounded by farmland, and many of the town’s residents were farmers. Lifetime resident Tom Freeman compares Dixboro to a European town where people live in the center and go out to their farms during the day. His mother, Carol Willits Freeman, who wrote the village history, Of Dixboro: Lest We Forget, grew up in a house in the center of town, on Plymouth Road between Dixboro and Cherry Hill roads. Yet her family had three cows, a horse, a few pigs, and some chickens and grew crops to the south of their house.

The Leslie family, who lived on the same street as the church, farmed in many of the fields to the north and kept eight or ten cows. One of Richard Leslie’s jobs as a boy was to take his family’s cows across Plymouth Road to their grazing land behind Oak Grove Cemetery. In the days before automobiles were ubiquitous, only occasionally would a passing car slow their progress.

In 1924, Plymouth Road was paved. The project took two years: one summer to widen and grade the narrow dirt road, and one to pour the cement. Gravel for the project was taken from the Cadillac Sand and Gravel Pit, near today’s Humane Society headquarters, and was transported by a little train, called a “dinky,” that moved on a temporary track. Dixboro men got jobs helping with the road, while their wives earned extra money serving meals to the workers.

Photograph looking east up Plymouth Road
when it was still dirt

Plymouth Road looking east, c. 1916, eight years before it was paved.

Much of the paving was done by convict labor. Carol Freeman, interviewed for a video made by Dale Leslie, the son of Richard Leslie, laughingly recalled, “They all told us they were in for bootlegging.” Dale Leslie himself recalls a story told by his great aunt: when she asked one of the convicts why he didn’t work faster she was told, “Lady, I’ve got twenty years to build this road.”

The paved road gave Dixboro an economic boost. The Dixboro General Store, which was built sometime before 1840, was sold in 1924 to Emmett Gibb. Counting on increased business from the improved road, Gibb modernized the store and put on an addition to the east. The extension created a big room on the second level, which was an excellent place for community dances. “We’d shake Mr. Gibb’s groceries off his shelves,” recalls Harvey Sanderson, who played banjo in the Parker Orchestra. It played for the dances from 1924 to 1930; the Parker family supplied most of the orchestra’s members (Sanderson’s wife was a Parker). The Parkers owned the old Parker mill on Geddes Road, today a county park.

Several other businesses opened in response to the increased traffic on Plymouth Road. The gas station (now Gibbons Antiques) sold Dixie Gas and became an evening hangout for men in the neighborhood. As late as the 1950’s, recalls Gavin Smith, now Superior Township Fire Chief, “it was a fun place to go and get the gossip.” The Farm Cupboard restaurant opened in 1928 in what had been the Frank Bush home. After a fire destroyed the house in 1935, the Bushes’ barn was moved onto the site and converted into a restaurant; it survives today as the Lord Fox. Other road-oriented businesses followed in later years--the Prop Restaurant (now a chiropractor’s office), a second gas station on the corner of Ford and Plymouth (now an empty lot), and the Red Arrow Motel, which is still there, but not used for that purpose. On football Saturdays, traffic was so heavy that residents couldn’t cross the road, and even the church got in on the action. From 1926 to 1961, church women raised money by selling chicken dinners to the passing throngs of U-M sports fans.

For more than a century after the village was founded, most of the houses built were for children or grandchildren of long-term residents. Carol Freeman and her husband, Glen, had a house on Church Street that included five acres of land. Later they rented out the house and built a newer one next door. Their children built houses on the remaining land and have recently been joined by a married grandchild. The Leslies did the same thing with three of their children building homes next to the cemetery on family land.

Photograph of men sitting outside Dixboro
Store, with signs advertising Staroline Gasoline & Firestone Tire Service

An economic boom created by paving Plymouth caused several area businesses to expand, such as the Dixboro Store.

Dixboro’s first major expansion came in 1951, when the Dixboro Heights subdivision was built in what had been a cornfield farmed by the Leslies. Dixboro Heights was filled with veterans starting families and the community soon outgrew its one-room school. A two-room school was built in 1953, and then in 1958 Dixboro joined the Ann Arbor school system. In 1974, after a large addition was completed, the school was renamed the Glen A. Freeman School, after Carol Freeman’s husband. Today Dixboro children are bused into Ann Arbor, and the former Freeman School is used by Little Tigers day care and Go Like the Wind Montessori school.

Traffic on Plymouth Road decreased in 1964, when the first phase of M-14 was finished. While it hurt some of the businesses (the first casualty was the gas station at Ford and Plymouth), it did no harm to Dixboro’s residential attractiveness. Since Dixboro Heights, three other subdivisions--Ford Estates, Autumn Hills, and Tanglewood--have been built, and houses have filled in a few empty lots in the older part of the village. The new Fleming Creek subdivision adjoins the village to the southwest.

The church is still the center of Dixboro life--residents meet there, for instance, to discuss the effect of new developments on the area. And although the population is large enough that people no longer know everyone else, there is still great community spirit. Every winter, townspeople set up an ice rink in the former village green. “There’s no committee,” Tom Freeman says. “Each fall it just happens.” For years, the merry-go-round on the school playground--like the upkeep of the cemetery--was a Boy Scout project. One year Ron Smith, now a township firefighter, repaired it as part of an Eagle Scout project. He has continued taking care of it ever since.

L. W. Cole and the Michigan Argus

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

Author: Grace Shackman

Ann Arbor’s oldest photo opens a window onto the city’s turbulent early journalistic scene

The oldest known Ann Arbor photograph, this daguerreotype shows the staff of the Michigan Argus, the city’s Democratic weekly newspaper, circa 1850. Editor and publisher L. W. Cole (he was always referred to by his initials, even in his obituary) is in the center of the picture in black suit and top hat, surrounded by his youthful staff in rolled-up shirtsleeves.

When Cole came to Ann Arbor in 1838, he got his first job at the Michigan Argus. By the time this photo was taken, he was the paper’s co-owner and had already survived several politically motivated takeover bids.

Photograph of staff of the Argus, with L.W.
Cole in the center

Argus staff still in their work clothes. Only the editor, L.W. Cole, dressed for the photo putting on his suit and tall hat, circa 1850.

In the nineteenth century, newspapers existed to support a party or position, and both ownership and readership could change quickly with the political winds. It was largely by chance that this particular moment from the city’s journalistic history happened to be immortalized by an itinerant photographer.

“Most daguerreotypes were pictures of a single person,” says Cynthia Read-Miller of the Henry Ford Museum, where the Argus photo was part of an exhibit of early photography. “This one is rare because it shows a group of people and even rarer because it shows an occupation.

“Practical photography began with the daguerreotype, a process that formed a single image rather than the negatives and prints that are familiar to us today,” explains Read-Miller. Invented by Frenchman Louis Daguerre in 1839, the daguerreotype was popular from that date through the 1850s, when it was displaced by the glass-negative ambrotype.

Ann Arborites could have daguerreotype photos taken as early as 1842, when Charles Rood set up a studio for a few days in the Bank of Washtenaw building, which now houses the Wooden Spoon bookstore, at the corner of Fourth Avenue and Ann. (Unfortunately, none of Rood’s photos appear to have survived.) The Cole photo very likely was taken by another itinerant daguerreotypist, A. M. Noble. An advertisement for Noble’s curiously named “Not London Daguerrean Gallery” appeared prominently on the top left-hand corner of the front page of the Argus on June 4 and June 18, 1851. Possibly the picture was part, or all, of the payment for the ad.

If Noble had chosen instead to advertise in the State Journal, an entirely different scene might have come down to us. While the Argus supported Democratic politicians, the State Journal backed the Whigs, the other major party at the time.

The State Journal was the descendant of Ann Arbor’s first paper, the Western Emigrant. Started by Thomas Simpson in 1829, just five years after Ann Arbor was founded, the Emigrant tried to be fair and evenhanded. Simpson wrote that “it shall be the constant aim of the Editor . . . to exhibit impartial information relative to the merit and qualifications of candidates for important public offices.” He also vowed that “the columns of the Emigrant shall, so long as under my direction, be open to a full investigation of Free Masonry and Anti-Masonry.” This last statement was too much for John Allen, cofounder of Ann Arbor (with Elisha Rumsey), and Samuel Dexter, founder of Dexter Village, and after five issues they purchased the paper and ran it with an editorial policy of anti-Masonry (they objected to the group’s secrecy) and endorsement of temperance. After several changes in name and ownership, the Emigrant became in December 1834 the Michigan Whig and in September 1835 the State Journal.

Two months after the Michigan Whig debuted, in February 1835, Earl P. Gardiner founded the Michigan Argus to give local Democrats a voice. Gardiner, who was born in Connecticut in 1807, settled in Michigan after serving in the army at Fort Gratiot, now Port Huron. Gardiner’s office was in Lower Town on the north side of the Broadway Bridge, above G. and J. Beckley’s dry goods and boot store (today St. Vincent de Paul).

Cole joined Gardiner three years later. Born in Palmyra, New York, in 1812, Cole was only twenty-six when he arrived in Ann Arbor. The 1881 History of Washtenaw County, Michigan says that Cole “learned the printing trade at an early age,” which must mean he had gone through an apprenticeship in New York. Samuel B. McCracken, editor of the State Journal from 1845 to 1855, described in an 1891 paper in the Michigan Pioneer and Historical Collections how these early apprenticeships worked:
“The printer’s apprentice usually boarded with his master and slept in a bunk in the office. He was required to do the office chores, to cut and carry the wood for the use of the office, and to carry the papers in town, and in many cases he was required to cut the wood and do other chores at the house also. If in addition to this he did what was expected of him in the way of legitimate office work, he underwent a discipline not without its results in the formation of character. The mental discipline necessarily connected with his calling, the opportunities for reading, if improved, were supposed to fit him for the editor’s chair.”

Damaged photograph down Main Street, ca.
1861, with Argus Printing Rooms visible

Main Street, circa 1861. Note the Argus Printing Press sign on the roof of the building on the corner of Main and Huron.

The next year, 1839, the Argus temporarily stopped publishing, and the Democratic Herald became the party’s mouthpiece. In 1843 the Argus resumed publication under the ownership of E. R. Powell and Orrin Arnold, with Gardiner again as editor. But internecine warfare between the left and right wings of the party kept the paper’s management in a state of flux for the next three years. McCracken, writing a short history of the press in the Local News and Advertiser, a paper he started in 1857, explained, “Powell and Arnold got on very well for a few months, but being but boys, they had a flare-up and Powell quit. The office passed through various hands, alternating between Cole and Arnold, Cole and Bennett, changing so often that it’s doubtful whether a process issued after banking hours on one day would have been good against the existing firm on the next.”

McCracken continued, “The original diversion of the Argus from the true faith was not relished by many of the influential members of the Democratic party . . . who went by the common name of ‘old hunkers.’ ”

The “old hunkers” did eventually win out. On January 28, 1846, Gardiner returned to power, this time with Cole, who had bought shares in the paper, as a partner. They wrote in their premiere issue: “In defiance of numerous obstacles we have been enabled to revive the Michigan Argus and with that name for our caption we again unfurl the Democratic banner.” They went on to state that they supported “measures of Reform which we may deem advantageous to the people,” but “oppose measures which may be ostensibly brought forward under the specious garb of Reform, but are really designed only for hobbies [hobby horses], upon which unprincipled demagogues may ride into popular favor and ultimately into power.”

Cole and Gardiner located the new incarnation of the Argus in the upper village, “a few rods north of the Exchange.” Early Ann Arbor pictures show the Argus in an upstairs office on the corner of Huron and Main. Subscriptions to the four-page weekly were “$1.50 per annum, if paid in advance, $2.00 if not paid within six months, $2.50 if not paid at the expiration of the year.”

The fortunes of the Argus rose and fell with the political tides. The big issue dividing Michigan Democrats at the time was the structure of the court system and the selection of judges. Supporters of change locally included not only young people but notables such as state senators John Allen (who had set aside his anti-Masonic views to join the Democratic Party in 1839) and Samuel Denton, an abolitionist physician active in local affairs. The Argus and most local circuit judges, including William Fletcher (1836–1842), George Miles (1846–1850), and Edward Mundy (1848–1851), opposed the shift. Only Alpheus Felch, a circuit court judge from 1842 to 1845 and then governor from 1846 to 1847, supported it.

Looking back on this period in a letter quoted in the 1881 county history, Cole wrote, “The new series of the Argus began at the time with judicial reform, when the present circuit court system was completely set aside. I called it a ‘Judicial Revolution,’ which it was; and the Argus from the first issue, fought it until it was wiped out and dead. I suffered some for the course I pursued, but I was amply rewarded for my firmness afterward. The thing that was established was no ‘reform’; it was a senseless revolution. It took some nerve, I confess, to stand the pressure brought to bear upon me, and for several months my subscription list only numbered about 50. To see about 80 of my own party marching to the polls under the banner of ‘reform,’ instigated by Dr. Denton and John Allen, and vote against Judge Felch and the Democratic ticket, gave me serious thoughts of the course I was about to take . . . but good counsel, such as Judges Mundy, Miles, Fletcher, Wilson and others, and my own sense of what should be done, determined me to go ahead, and I did, to the end of the foolish thing.”

The judicial dispute was largely resolved by the new state constitution of 1850, and the Democratic rift was mended--much to the benefit of the erstwhile outcasts. By 1854 Argus subscriptions had risen from a low of fifty to a robust 1,800.

Cole and Gardiner stayed with their middle-of-the-road Democratic politics, even opposing what were then seen as “radical” efforts to abolish slavery nationally. For “the stability of our happy Union,” they urged “the North to avoid all action and language in reference to slavery which will unnecessarily irritate the South.”

Slavery may seem an unusual subject for a small-town paper, but in fact most of the Argus was devoted to state and federal politics. Even foreign news was given more coverage than local events, which were barely noted; at that time, because the town was so small (population 4,500 in 1850), it was assumed that everyone knew what was happening locally.

Front page of the September 17, 1858 issue
of the Weekly Michigan Argus

Weekly Michigan Argus, September 17, 1858.

After putting out the paper for eight and a half years, Cole and Gardiner sold it to Elihu Pond, best known today as the father of Irving and Allen Pond, the architects of the Michigan Union and Michigan League. Cole and Gardiner said little about the reasons for the change. Their parting editorial on June 29, 1854, said only, “Circumstances that need not be enumerated now indicate that the connection between ourselves and our patrons must be terminated.” They departed as they had arrived, as diehard Democrats: “Wishing prosperity to the party whose principles we have endeavored in a feeble manner to sustain and health and happiness to our numerous friends, we close this last set of public duties.”

Gardiner finished his career as a printer for the Ann Arbor Journal. He died in 1866. In the county history, Cole praised the partner “whose memory I shall always cherish with the kindliest feelings. . . He was the first to sign the Martha Washington [temperance] pledge in Ann Arbor, and so far as I know, he never in the least deviated from it. He died as he lived--an honest man, a Christian, and one of the best temperance men.”

Cole moved to Albion and established the Albion Mirror, which he published for the rest of his life, remaining a staunch Democrat. McCracken described Cole in 1891 as “one of the oldest newspaper men in the state actively engaged in the business.” Cole died three years later, in 1894, at age eighty-one, working until the end. According to his obituary, “his last editorial work [was] a few days before his last and fatal illness.”

The Rise and Fall of Allen’s Creek

Published In:
Ann Arbor Observer, June 1993,
June 1993

Author: Grace Shackman

The stream that flows through Ann Arbor’s Old West Side hasn’t been seen above ground since 1926, but you can still see its influence everywhere.

Allen’s Creek, the site of the city’s first settlement, still runs through Ann Arbor’s west side. Named for Ann Arbor’s co-founder John Allen, it has a romantic sound to it, bringing to mind pictures of Potawatomi Indans following its course, settlers camping and picnicking on the banks, livestock drinking from it, and children playing in it. That idyllic picture has some truth in it, but Sam Schlecht, who knew it well in the years before it was put in a pipe below ground in 1926, says the creek was by then more like a “ditch in the road.” Historically, its value to Ann Arbor had more to do with urban development than natural beauty.

The main branch of Allen’s Creek runs northward roughly parallel to the Ann Arbor Railroad tracks, starting at Pioneer High and spilling into the Huron River just below Argo Dam. Three tributaries flow east into it from the Old West Side. Eber White starts on Lutz, crosses Seventh Street, and flows into the main stream at William; Murray-Washington rises at Virginia Park, crosses Slauson Middle School playground, and joins the creek near West Park; and West Park-Miller drains the ravine between MilIer and Huron.

Ann Arborites who were born after 1926 or who came to town after the creek was interred would probably not even know it exists except that it surfaces periodically as a political issue. In 1983, the voters approved a bond issue to repair it. And in recent years it has been part of an ongoing discussion about a possible Greenway that may include opening it up again.

Allen's Creek must have been named immediately after John Allen and Elisha Rumsey founded Ann Arbor in 1824. It is referred to by that name in all the early accounts and shows up on the map of "Ann-Arbour" that they registered in Detroit in May 1824.

Allen and Rumsey arrived here in February, looking for government land to buy as a town site. After returning to Detroit to pay for one square mile of property, they came back and set up camp on what is today the corner of First and Huron, with the creek right behind them as a water source. Rumsey and his wife, Mary Ann, later built a house on the site.

Photograph of Allen's Creek passing Dean
and Company warehouse

Allen’s Creek going by the Dean and Company warehouse near the Ann Arbor Railroad tracks between Liberty and Washington.

As Ann Arbor developed in the 1850s and 1860s, many businesses located along the creek. The creek apparently did not have a current strong enough to furnish real water power—the only industry that used it in that way was the Ward Flour Mill, at the mouth where the creek joined the Huron—but many businesses used its water for processing. Four tanneries on or near the creek used its water to soak cowhides and pelts of wild animals trapped in the surrounding forests. A foundry, Tripp, Ailes, and Price, on Huron Street where the Y is today, used the creek's water for its sand casting. And two breweries, the Western, later called the Michigan Union, on Fourth Street (today Math Reviews) and the City Brewery on First Street (today the Cavern Club), used the creek water to cool their beer.

In 1878, when the Ann Arbor Railroad reached town on its way between Toledo, Ohio, and Michigan's north, its developers chose the land beside Allen Creek to lay their track. Not only was it flat, but it was already the location of many of the industries they wanted to serve. Putting the tracks there guaranteed that the area would remain industrial even after water supply was no longer crucial.

As industry grew, so did the population. In 1846 William Maynard laid out the first section of the Old West Side, from First to Fourth streets. He added more streets in 1858 and 1861. But unlike today's subdivisions, with houses built one after another down each street, the area took shape slowly, with the higher land being built on first. The most desirable streets were Liberty, Huron, and Miller because they were high and dry. The three streets were laid out in a fan shape, rather than parallel, to avoid crossing the creek tributaries that ran between them.

Cross streets going down into the valleys between those main arteries weren't developed until years later. Murray and Mulholland streets, which cross the creek, were not laid out until 1911 and 1916. And some of the lowest parts of the creek bed were never built on at all--today they are West Park, Slauson playground, and the second Bach School playground.

A few west side homeowners took advantage of having the water nearby. David Allmendinger, owner of the downtown organ factory, built a house in 1890 at 719 West Washington, just in front of the creek. He dammed the creek to create a series of ponds, incorporating natural springs that were found on the property. He brought in soil to plant a rose garden and added a rustic bridge across the pond and a gazebo for family gatherings (he had thirteen children).

Allmendinger planted water lilies and stocked the pond with carp, one of which, according to family legend, answered to the name of Billy. But the carp were endangered when the city water pump station next door began drawing more water from the springs: the pond level fell so low that the family cat could catch fish by just reaching in.

Some westsiders used the creek more practically--to water their livestock. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the line between city and country wasn't as sharply drawn as it is now. Many people kept chickens, or even a horse or a cow, on their city lots. (There are still a number of barns around the Old West Side, used today as garages.) Sam Schlecht remembered his grandparents telling him of cows drinking from the creek near their Seventh Street house. Marty Schlenker's family told him that their livestock used to drink from the creek at First Street behind their Liberty Street hardware store.

Although the creek influenced the location of industry, houses, and the railroad, its importance had shrunk to almost nil by the early 1900s. Water was piped indoors after 1885, when the Ann Arbor Water Works Company was set up, so the creek was not necessary for industry, and homes and the railroad tracks had already been established. The only use for the creek was for recreation.

A stream running through a residential neighborhood can be a beauty spot and a play area, as the Allmendingers proved. But people around today who were children before the creek disappeared say that was the exception. Many interviewed said they didn't remember playing in the creek at all, while others remembered it as simply not important.

On hot days, Geraldine Seeback and her sister used to wade in the branch of the creek that ran by the east side of their parents' fluff rug factory on Huron, which replaced the foundry where the Y is today. Asked if her parents worried about her safety, Seeback laughs and says, "It wasn't dangerous." She remembers the water as about four feet wide but only ankle-deep.

Photograph of 1902 Allen's Creek Flood

Allen’s Creek flood in 1902 as it crosses Washington Street.

Karl Horning, who grew up on Third Street around the same time, has similar memories of the creek. He says, "It was nothing of significance; it didn't add anything to the city." He remembers that he and his friends could see the creek running under the Ann Arbor Railroad freight house on William and Ashley. The freight house was built right over the creek: evidently the creek was so small that builders just ignored it. Marty Schlenker remembered that the Feiner glass warehouse across the street from the freight house was also built over the creek.

Perhaps the person still around who is most familiar with the creek back then is Sam Schlecht, an inveterate explorer who lived in several different Old West Side houses as a boy and saw the creek from different vantage points. Between Seventh and Eighth streets, near Slauson Middle School (now Waterworks Park), the creek widened into a little pond. Schlecht and his friends made a burlap swing and attached it to a tree so they could swing out over the pond. If they fell in, they were in no danger of drowning--only of getting very dirty. Schlecht describes the pond as "slop water covered with algae," not deep enough for swimming.

Although the creek was low most of the time, it could overflow in the spring when the snow melted. Horning remembers that it would back up into gardens on First Street. That was a problem, since the water was polluted from outhouses and years of industrial use. In 1921, the city pumping station on Washington Street, which drew water from the springs that fed the Murray-Washington branch of Allen's Creek, was closed because of contamination from surface water.

In 1923, eighty-seven of the 100 property owners along the main branch of the creek petitioned city council to make it into a storm sewer. At a joint meeting that July, the city council and the Ann Arbor Township board agreed to the request. Alderman Herbert Slauson (for whom the school is named) said, "We do hereby determine that said proposed drain is necessary and conductive to the public health, convenience, and welfare."

It took three years to do the engineering and to enclose the main creek in underground cement pipes. The pipes taper from eleven feet in diameter at the mouth to four feet at the head waters near Pioneer High. In 1925, property owners along the West Park-Miller branch petitioned to have it put into a storm drain, and in 1927, residents along the Murray-Washington and Eber White branches followed. The tributary pipes range from four feet to about eighteen inches in diameter. In 1969 the creek and its tributaries were consolidated into the same drain district.

Sam Schlecht remembers when the creek was being put underground. The section near Keppler Court was on the path he followed to walk downtown, and he often stopped to watch the workmen. He remembers that although they had a primitive backhoe, a lot of their work was done by hand. When he got too close, the workmen would shoo him away. At the time, he remembers, Mulholland Street ended at the creek, with a cement wall to stop cars from going farther. After the creek was put into the pipe, Mulholland was extended across and turned north to end at Seventh Street. Later it was moved east to end at Washington.

The main section of the drain was finished in 1926, just after the city celebrated its hundredth anniversary. The Ann Arbor News wrote: "Planned as a part of the city's permanent sewerage to take care of the drainage from the creek's watershed for all time to come, it is probable that the concrete house for John Allen's creek once it is completed, will remain intact on the two hundredth anniversary of the founding of Ann Arbor."

Photograph of junction of Allen's Creek
& Huron River

Invisible for most of its course, Allen's Creek emerges to join the Huron below Argo Dam.

That was optimistic-—it was more like fifty years later that Allen's Creek again needed attention. The Allen Creek drain, as it is now known, flooded in 1947 and 1968. Putting a creek in a drain was no guarantee it would stay there-—the pipes, of course, hold a finite amount of water--and as Ann Arbor continued developing to the west, filling in more land with buildings, houses, and parking lots, the amount of runoff channeled into the drain kept increasing. By the mid-1970's, it became obvious that the Allen’s Creek drain needed a fresh appraisal.

A study commissioned by the city in the early 1980s offered a choice of several solutions. The most effective options--replacing the pipes with larger ones or building a second drain parallel to the first--were rejected as too expensive. Instead it was decided to repair the present system to make it as efficient as possible. Ann Arbor voters approved a $1.1 million bond issue, and in 1983 the city set to work repairing deteriorated culverts, relocating other utilities' pipes that crossed the drain, and resurfacing bottom areas that had eroded.

The bond money covered the most critical work. Since then, the Washtenaw County drain office and the city's engineering department have continued to work together on drain maintenance. The county is responsible for routine upkeep of the main line of the drain, while the city takes care of the tributaries going into neighborhoods. Major projects are financed using the county's full faith and credit and with the city’s storm water utility fees.

In 1993 the last two sections identified as needing work--an area near the Salvation Army headquarters on Arbana and another on Seventh Street near West Park--were completed. Both the city and county agree that Allen Creek drain is, at least for now, in good shape, even if undersized to serve its drainage area. Drain commissioner Janis Bobrin says there are "no visible areas of concern," but that the county "will continue to evaluate and maintain the drain."

Periodically people talk about opening up portions of the drain and returning it to a natural creek. Current discussion is focusing on the potential of creating a Greenway along the creek corridor. Whether Allen's Creek stays underground or not, its importance to the city has, if anything, continued to grow over the years. For instance, when Michigan Stadium was returned to natural turf in 1991, a tributary of the drain that ran right under the fifty-yard line was directed around the field and large pumps were installed to permanently lower the water table. The pumps allowed the U-M to lower the playing field itself by more than three feet--below the level at which it otherwise would have been covered with water. Without Allen’s Creek, Michigan Stadium would be a lake.

[Photo caption from book]: Map of Allen’s Creek. “Courtesy Washtenaw County Drain Commissioner”

The Ann Arbor Co-operative Society

Published In:
Ann Arbor Observer, August 1992,
August 1992

Author: Grace Shackman

Argiero's restaurant was once one of the Midwest's busiest co-ops

Argiero's, the cozy Italian restaurant on the corner of Detroit and Catherine streets, was from 1936 to 1939 the site of a social experiment: a co-op gas station and grocery store. They were run by the Ann Arbor Co-operative Society, a group that organized during the Depression to seek alternatives to capitalism to distribute the necessities of life.

The co-op was started by a small group meeting in the Hill Street living room of Harold Gray, the millionaire idealist who started the Utopian Saline Valley Farms. Their first project, in 1933, was to purchase coal in bulk, thus eliminating the middleman. At the time, coal was a necessity of life, since it was used to heat most homes. Neil Staebler, who with his father, Edward, ran the Staebler and Son Oil Company, was very sympathetic to their cause. (He later became chair of the Michigan Democratic Party and served a term in Congress.) Staebler helped arrange for the co-op to buy coal by the train carload. One of the founding members, William Kemnitz, an attorney who had lost his job at a Detroit bank during the infamous bank holiday, served as the co-op staff person, calling all the members and taking their coal orders by phone. At about the same time, the group also began buying food in bulk.

In 1936, the co-op expanded into a full-time enterprise. Neil Staebler rented the group his Detroit Street gas station, as well as the brick barn behind it on Fifth Avenue. Bill Kemnitz became general manager, with his office in the gas station. Kemnitz's three sons, Bill Jr., Milt, and Walt, all worked there as gas station attendants at various times. Walt, then in high school, remembers his salary was 29 cents an hour. Milt, now an artist well known for his pictures of local scenes, painted the sign, the first in a long career.

The co-op grocery store was set up next door in the old barn, which dated to 1887. An extensive remodeling included installing indoor plumbing and adding plate glass show windows to the Fifth Avenue side. The goal of the grocery store, according to manager Abe Rosenkrantz, was "honest consumer value." Rosenkrantz, who had worked in retail as manager of an office supply business before coming to EMU as a student, walked a tightrope, trying to offer the best products available, such as oranges without coloring, while keeping prices competitive with the chain stores, which could afford a low profit margin.

Employees outside the Ann Arbor
Co-Operative Society Gas Station

Employees posed proudly outside the Ann Arbor Co-Operative Society's gas station in the late 1930. (I. to r.) Milt Kemnitz, Zilpha Olson, Bill Kemnitz Jr., Bill Kemnitz Sr., and Winifred Proctor.

Charter co-op member Helen McCluskey chaired the board of directors' store committee, leading tasting sessions where prospective store items, such as canned peas, were opened and sampled, with the group voting on which brand they thought best.

Rosenkrantz says that to the casual consumer "the store looked like other supermarkets of the day except for labels they wouldn't recognize." He says in some ways the store was like a Meijer, in that it also offered nonfood products such as aspirin (Consumers Union had recently reported that Bayer was no better than off-brand aspirins) and some appliances. In 1937, the group also started a credit union.

Members felt they had a personal stake in the co-op. Says Bill Kemnitz Jr., "Everyone who bought owned the place. There were not many dissatisfied customers. If there were, we would work it out to everyone's satisfaction." Mary Hathaway, daughter of members A. K. and Angelyn Stevens, remembers, "It was our store. We felt very proprietary. Even as a small child you sense where your parents feel connected."

The Ann Arbor co-op soon became the second largest in the Midwest, with Chicago's the only bigger one. In 1939, pressed by a shortage of parking, needing more room, and wanting its own building, the organization moved to 637 South Main Street. It stayed there until 1955, when a Kroger opened across the street and put the co-op out of business.

The Detroit Street gas station reverted to a for-profit station during World War II. In the late 1940's and 1950's, it and the store buildings housed a used-car dealership. In 1965 Tony Argiero bought both buildings; he rented the gas station to a fish market and the store to an air-conditioning shop. In 1977, Argiero decided to use the buildings himself for an Italian restaurant he would run with his wife, Rosa. Tony had met Rosa in 1960, on a visit to his mother's village, Castelsilano, in the southern Italian province of Calabria. Rosa, obviously an authentic Italian cook, got her professional start cooking at Perry Nursery School.

Tony and Rosa enclosed the overhanging drive-in part of the gas station and built an addition on the back. They later put an addition on the west side. In 1985, they sold the restaurant to their four children. Amelia dropped out after two years, but today sons Sam, Carmin, and Michael still run it.

The Ann Arbor Co-operative Society still exists. Though it no longer has a gas station or a grocery store, its credit union is still thriving as part of the Huron River Area Credit Union, located on West Stadium. Member number 2 on the membership list is Helen McCluskey.

Ann Arbor's streetcars

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

Author: Grace Shackman

Linking town and campus at the turn of the century

Streetcars and interurbans appear in many photos of old Ann Arbor, moving along tracks down the middle of major streets and powered by overhead wires. The smaller streetcars, called "dinkies" or "Toonerville Trolleys" (after a comic strip) were used within the city limits. The beefier interurbans used streetcar-type tracks to carry passengers and freight between towns.

Ann Arbor's first streetcar track was laid in the summer of 1890. The system was originally designed to be horse-powered, but just a few months before opening it, the developers switched it to electric power. (The first successful electric-powered streetcar system had opened only two years earlier, in Richmond, Virginia.) A year later, in 1891, the state's first interurban began operating, running down Packard between Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti.

Ann Arbor had two streetcar routes. The Depot Line ran from the Michigan Central Railroad station (now the Gandy Dancer) to downtown, then east on William to State Street. There the line divided to encircle the U-M campus. The north branch went up North University to Washtenaw to Hill, then to the car barn on Lincoln Avenue near Burns Park. The south branch went on Monroe to East University to Hill, then to the car barn. The second route, the Packard-Huron Line, ran from what is today Vets Park to downtown, then southeast on Packard to the city limits (then Brooklyn Street) near Burns Park.

Dr. Karl Malcolm recalled that when he lived at the corner of Cambridge and Martin Place, he could catch either the north or south branch of the Depot Line on Lincoln Avenue when he was headed downtown, since either one would get him there. Malcolm remembers the streetcars being heavily used: when he went shopping with his mother, the cars would often be full, with people standing, especially near five o'clock or in bad weather.

Bertha Welker sometimes took the streetcar to Forest Hill Cemetery, where her family had a burial plot. Elsa Goetz Ordway usually walked from her home on First Street to the high school on State Street (now the Frieze Building), but would catch the streetcar on William in really bad weather. Morrie Dalitz generally relied on his bike for transportation but sometimes caught a streetcar at Hill and Washtenaw, near his home on Vinewood.

The trolley cars were the same on both ends; front and back were defined by the direction they were going. At the end of the line, the motorman would get out and reverse the trolley attached to the overhead wires, then remove the control wrench from the accelerating switch at one end of the car and connect it to the switch at the opposite end. The detachable headlight was moved from one end of the car to the other. Inside, the conductor would walk down the central aisle flipping the seat backs down so they faced the other way. In summer, the trolley companies switched from closed cars to open ones with running boards, which the conductor used to collect fares since there were no aisles on the summer cars.

Photograph of summer trolley car at Main
& Washington, Ann Arbor

An open summer trolley car pauses to pick up a passenger at the corner of Main and Washington early in the century. (The old courthouse tower is in the background.) The large white sign on the front of the car advertises a 10 cent round-trip fare to a baseball game at the county fairgrounds (now Burns Park).

Except in rainy weather, the open cars were more enjoyable. On hot summer nights, the lines offered special 3 cent runs (the usual price was 5 cents) that people would take just to cool off. Malcolm says they were a great treat. "We would beg our parents to take us," he recalls. The special rides also provided a pleasant, inexpensive date.

The first car barn was on Detroit Street between Division and Kingsley. After a fire in 1894 destroyed the building and five of the six cars, the barn was rebuilt at the edge of town, on the corner of Wells and Lincoln across from the county fairgrounds (now Burns Park). The new barn faced Lincoln but ran along Wells, with an empty lot in back where the summer cars were stored. Malcolm remembers the car barn as "just an old shed sort of thing, wooden, open most of the time, with a couple of tracks running into it." The car barn was managed by Theodore Libolt, who lived across the street.

Two of the most famous streetcar employees also lived in the neighborhood: motorman James Love lived on Wells and conductor Marion Darling on Olivia. Milo Ryan, in View of a Universe, wrote, "Everyone enjoyed the joke of [their names], even they. When the car was ready to start up, leaving a switch or whatever, the motorman would sometimes call out, 'Ready, Darling?'
"'Yes, Love.'
"It alone was worth the nickel. But it startled newcomers fresh off the train in this college town."

Carol Spicer remembers Love as a very friendly driver. When his streetcar was forced to wait while another passed in the opposite direction, he would announce a "rest stop" and pass the time entertaining the riders with stories. He was willing to pick up people between official stops or to let them off right in front of their houses as he passed by.

The system reached its full extent by 1900, with six and a half miles of track and ten cars--two on each route and four spares--and covered most of the town that then existed. The depot line was cut back slightly in 1902, when the brakes on one trolley failed going down Detroit Street and it ran into the train station. From then on, the trolleys stopped at High Street, and train passengers had to walk down the hill to the station carrying their luggage. In 1913, to cut costs, the conductors were eliminated. The company bought new cars with only one entrance and a fare box near the driver.

Male U-M students seem to have considered the streetcars fair game. Stories abound about their neglecting to pay, or riding the fenders, or starting fires, or derailing the trolleys by jumping up and down or by lifting them off the tracks. But motormen got their revenge after the trolleys were finally equipped with air brakes: they could stop the car fast enough to send a rider sprawling off.

In early January 1925, a fire destroyed the Lincoln-Wells car barn. Although the trolleys were saved, the fire hastened a civic discussion already in progress about switching to buses. The city was growing, and as more townsfolk acquired cars, streetcar ridership was falling off. Margaret Sias, who lived on a farm on Traver Road, remembers that on the last day the streetcars ran, her mother took her for a ride from downtown to her aunt's house on Hill Street. On January 30, 1925, the streetcars, displaying banners that proclaimed, "Good-bye folks! The scrap heap for me," led a parade that included twelve new buses. In the first bus, a band played funeral dirges.

The interurban stopped running in 1929, but for many years the tracks that the trolleys and the interurbans shared remained. Finally, toward the end of the depression, WPA work crews began removing them. But every now and then, when road work is being done, remnants of the track will be found and puzzle younger workers who don’t know that Ann Arbor ever had a trolley system.

Ann Arbor’s “Other” Railroad

Published In:
Ann Arbor Observer, December 1997,
December 1997

Author: Grace Shackman

Though it was overshadowed locally by the Michigan Central, the little Ann Arbor Railroad once carried the city’s name all across lower Michigan

A century ago, railroads were Ann Arbor’s lifeline. Just about everyone who came to the city, and virtually everything they needed to live here, arrived by train. Though most of those passengers and goods were carried by the Michigan Central Railroad, the route more closely identified with the city elsewhere in the state was its namesake, the little Ann Arbor Railroad.

The Michigan Central ran east-west, linking Ann Arbor to the big-city worlds of New York and Chicago. Known affectionately as “the Annie,” the Ann Arbor Railroad ran south to Toledo and northwest to Frankfort, Michigan, stopping along the way at small towns such as Whitmore Lake and Owosso.

Photograph of Ashley Street Station in

Horse-drawn carriages met trains coming in to the station in this 1896 view. The Old West Side, discernable in the background, was still sparsely settled.

Ann Arbor’s two train stations, built just three years apart, testified to the Annie’s junior status. In 1886, the Michigan Central spent $33,000 to build a grand station on Depot Street. As the Gandy Dancer restaurant, the elaborate stone building remains an Ann Arbor landmark to this day. By comparison, the Ann Arbor Railroad spent only $4,400 to build its new station in 1889. Today, few people even realize that the Doughty-Law Montessori School at 416 South Ashley Street was once one of the gateways to the city.

Though modest, the Ashley Street station possessed a simple elegance. The waiting room had a fireplace, detailed woodwork, and pew-like wooden benches on wrought-iron frames. A telegraph operator and a stationmaster, both wearing green eyeshades, sat in a bay window overlooking the tracks, where they could see trains coming and going. Originally, a baggage shed stood to the south of the station, across an open stretch of platform; the two buildings were connected in the 1920s.

Until the station was built, Ashley Street was known as East Second Street. Even today many people are puzzled that Ann Arbor has Fourth and Fifth streets, on the Old West Side, and Fourth and Fifth avenues, downtown. But the original names were even more bewildering: the avenues were also called streets, and the only way to tell them apart was to specify “east” or “west.” The new name eliminated the confusion with West Second Street, just two blocks away, while simultaneously recognizing the Ann Arbor Railroad’s builder, “Big Jim” Ashley.

Born in 1822, Jim Ashley was a flamboyant character with strong opinions. He was described by Henry Riggs, a chief engineer of the Annie who went on to become dean of the U-M’s Engineering School, as “a very large man, probably six feet tall and very heavy. His abundant white hair was worn long, down nearly to his coat collar in the style affected by Henry Ward Beecher." Like Beecher, Ashley was a passionate abolitionist. He was elected to Congress from his home state of Ohio in 1858 and helped to guide the 13th Amendment, abolishing slavery, through Congress in 1865.

After serving five terms, Ashley was defeated for reelection because he had supported the attempt to impeach president Andrew Johnson. Fortunately, he had ties to Ulysses Grant, who was elected president the same year. Grant appointed Ashley governor of the Montana Territory. He was known as “Governor Ashley” for the rest of his life, long after he retired from politics and returned to Toledo to invest in the burgeoning railroad industry.

Ashley’s inspiration to build a railroad north into Michigan came after he discovered that the only way he could visit his sons attending the U-M was to travel via Detroit. Even before the Civil War, some people in Ann Arbor had tried to create a north-south railroad that would compete with the Michigan Central, but the attempt had folded before any track was laid. Ashley bought up the stock in the defunct company, gaining control of the right-of-way it had acquired to the city. Then he turned around and resold stock to Ann Arbor business leaders to raise funds for construction.

The new railroad reached Ann Arbor at noon on May 16, 1878. After the workmen laid the track across South State Street, they were escorted by a band and a procession of citizens to Hill’s Opera House, where the Reform Club served them a temperance supper--Ashley, a deeply religious man, strongly opposed drinking. (During his tenure as president of the railroad, he also insisted that no trains run on Sundays.)

The railroad passed west of downtown along Allen’s Creek. Chosen because it was relatively flat, the route also turned out to be a good source of freight traffic because many factories had located along the creek to take advantage of its water. The tracks crossed the Michigan Central near Main Street, then spanned the Huron River on a wooden bridge (replaced twice since) and continued north toward Whitmore Lake.

Photograph of Ann Arbor Railroad crossing
the Huron River

The Ann Arbor Railroad crosses the Huron River at Argo Dam.

Over the next decade, Ashley gradually kept building northwest, town by town. For all of his show of religious piety, Ashley was no more scrupulous than other capitalists of the freewheeling Gilded Age. He once hijacked a shipment of rails being transported on the Annie for his own use and was briefly jailed before he paid for them. Other lawsuits filed against his business to collect unpaid bills were fought out in the courts clear into the twentieth century. And he sometimes resorted to quasi-legal shenanigans to secure right-of-ways. In one case, when a property owner refused to sell, Ashley sent him a notice to appear in court in another city--then built the tracks while he was out of town.

In a talk given to the Washtenaw Historical Society, Dan McClary, who has done extensive research on the railroad, commented that “except for Ann Arbor, [Ashley] missed every major city in the state. The reason he did was Toledo was a major port. They shipped a lot of commodities down there and he was tapping into Michigan’s products, especially grain, produce, livestock and timber.”

Finally, in 1892, at the age of seventy, Ashley purchased a small local line that connected the Ann Arbor Railroad to Lake Michigan at Frankfort. Such a move wasn’t the dead end it seemed. The resourceful Ashley had picked Frankfort for its excellent harbor, and he had already cut deals with railroads across the lake in Wisconsin and in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. He launched the world’s first open-water rail ferry service, hauling loaded freight cars back and forth across the lake. To attract even more traffic to Frankfort, he built a large tourist hotel, the Royal Frontenac, which drew vacationers from as far away as southern Ohio and Chicago.

Closer to home, Ann Arborites often took the Annie to Whitmore Lake to spend the day at the beach, or to attend dances at the town’s two major hotels. Families who owned summer places in the area could get off at Whitmore Lake or Lakeland (near Zukey Lake, which connects to the Huron River chain of lakes) and transfer to a commercial launch that would take them right to their cottages. Vacation traffic was so heavy that in the summer, the railroad scheduled eight trains a day between Ann Arbor and Whitmore Lake, dubbing the run the “Ping-Pong Special.”

Passengers also rode the train south to Ohio. George Koch remembers as a boy taking the train to Toledo, back when “you really were traveling when you’d go fifty or sixty miles from home.” People often came by train when they were referred to University Hospital for complex medical problems--it was fairly common to see patients taken off the train on a stretcher. And as Ashley had hoped, U-M students from Ohio used the Annie to get to school. Football Saturdays were an especially busy time for the railroad; when Michigan played Ohio State, the line carried fans from all over the Midwest.

Football fans--and everybody else--began to drive their own cars in the 1910s and 1920s. But while passenger traffic on the railroad gradually declined, freight service took up the slack. In Ann Arbor, the track was lined with businesses that relied on it for deliveries of coal (from West Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee), lumber (from up north), or block ice (from the same lakes where people vacationed). Other firms used the railroad to ship their finished products, including organs, furniture, and flour.

The busiest shippers had their own rail sidings, where freight cars could be parked off the main track for loading and unloading. Cars bound for these sidings would be delivered to the railroad’s roundhouse behind Ferry Field, then delivered by a small switch engine the next day. All other cars were dropped at the freight house at William and First streets (now a parking lot) to be unloaded.

To get the best price on shipping, George Koch remembers that several construction companies would order building supplies together. Paul Lohr recalls that farm implement companies would send a single shipment destined for retail outlets in several towns; the owners would all go down together and help one another load their trucks. The late Frank Braatz recalled that he once ordered a Sears kit house that was delivered to the freight house on several cars; he went down with a horse-drawn wagon to pick it up.

One of Ashley’s original goals had been to make Toledo more of a rival to Detroit, and to some extent, he succeeded. Enough Ann Arborites were interested in what was happening in Toledo to provide a customer base for the Toledo Blade. In the late 1920s, Sam Schlecht used to meet the train from Toledo to pick up bundles of the paper, which he then delivered to the Ann Arbor drugstores and cigar stores that sold them. Before Prohibition, the Annie also delivered two Toledo-brewed beers, Buckeye and Green Seal. Distributor Fred Dupper would go down to the freight house with his horse and wagon to pick up the beer, along with the ice to keep it cold.
In the 1940s, the Annie carried oranges from Florida. A group of local investors owned an orange grove there and would sell their crop from a boxcar parked near the Ann Arbor Implement Company on First Street. They built a little orange-painted shed near the tracks to store leftover fruit for later sale.

The railroad also had spin-off effects on the local economy. For instance, train engineers provided jeweler John Eibler with extra business by coming in at regular intervals to have their watches cleaned and calibrated. Eibler’s grandson, also John Eibler, worked at the store and remembers the watches as “big, heavy things.” He explains, “By law they had to be cleaned regularly, whether they needed it or not, like airplanes today.”

Photograph of Ashley Street Station in 1997
as the Doughty-Law Montessori School

The station in 1997 as the Doughty-Law Montessori School.

Passenger service enjoyed a reprieve during World War II, when railroads were used extensively to transport troops. The Annie’s last passenger train ran in 1950. Freight traffic also declined after the war, as more and more shippers switched to trucks.

America’s railroads went through a wave of bankruptcies and reorganizations in the 1960s and 1970s. The former Michigan Central eventually emerged as part of Conrail, the government-backed freight line; Amtrak also uses the east-west track to carry six daily passenger trains between Detroit and Chicago.

The Ann Arbor Railroad ended up in the hands of the state government. The state still owns the northern section, which now runs only as far as Yuma, near Cadillac. In the 1980s, however, a private company bought the track from Ann Arbor to Toledo. The reconstituted Ann Arbor Railroad currently runs two daily freight trains carrying auto parts, finished autos, sand, cement, grain, lumber, produce, and agricultural products. By 1997, the only Ann Arbor stops were at Fingerle Lumber and Burt Forest Products, on Felch Street.

When passenger service ended, the Ashley Street station stood empty for a few years, then was used for short periods by various businesses: a beer distributor, a teenage nightclub, a counter shop. None lasted very long. In 1984, teacher Lyn Law bought the building for her Montessori school. Law did a sensitive remodeling, keeping the best parts of the waiting room and also restoring the original bay window. The school is now owned by Sherry Doughty, who operates under the name Doughty-Law. Doughty has done more work on the building, carefully preserving the original look.

Not all of the Annie stations fared as well. Don Wilson, of the Ann Arbor Technical and Historical Association, says at one time every town along the route had a station, but that today there are only a handful left. A few others also have found new uses: the one at Shepherd is now a museum, while Mount Pleasant’s is a microbrewery and restaurant. The advantages of saving an old building are apparent at the Doughty-Law Montessori School, where the children enjoy the railroad motif inside, while outside they climb on a slide made from an old caboose.

The Michigan Central depot

Published In:
Ann Arbor Observer, May 1991,
May 1991

Author: Grace Shackman

When the railroad was the city's lifeline, it was Ann Arbor's grand entrance

The elegant 1886 Michigan Central Railroad Station at 401 Depot Street, now the Gandy Dancer restaurant, testifies to the importance of train travel a hundred years ago. No expense was spared to make this massive two-towered stone building what the Ann Arbor Register called "the finest station on the line between Buffalo and Chicago."

Access to a railroad line could mean the difference between life and death for a struggling young town in the mid-nineteenth century. Before the Michigan Central reached Ann Arbor in 1839, a trip to Detroit was a difficult all-day affair on horseback. On the train, it could be done comfortably in two and a half hours. The movement of freight improved even more dramatically. The depot swiftly became the funnel through which virtually all traffic in and out of the city passed.

The Michigan Central was putting up new depots all along its route when the Ann Arbor station was built, but each had its own unique design. Ann Arbor's was designed by Detroit architect Frederick Spier (who also designed the Kelsey Museum and St. Thomas Catholic Church) in the then-popular Richardson Romanesque style. It was built by Gearing and Sons of Detroit of glacial stones quarried from Four Mile Lake between Chelsea and Dexter and cut at Foster's Station on Huron River Drive near Maple Road.

The inside was elegant, with stained-glass windows, red oak ceilings and trim, and French tile floors, and even separate waiting areas for men and women. Ivy grew up the side of the building, petunias and carnations were planted around it, and a fountain spurted at the point of a triangular garden just east of the baggage shed, where the Gandy Dancer's valet parking lot is now. In the 1880's, gardens were considered an important element in railroad station design--after all, the station was the first impression visitors received of the town.

Freight operations were handled out of a smaller stone building to the west of the main station. In those days, before trucks, trains carried goods of every description, from food (for instance, bread from the Ann Arbor Home Bakery was delivered to the western part of the state) to kit houses. Whole train cars were devoted to mail, which was sorted as the train moved and then thrown out onto station platforms as the train whizzed by. Mail service was often faster than it is today: a letter mailed at the Ann Arbor station in the morning could be delivered in Chicago that afternoon.

Postcard of Michigan Central Depot

No amount of fine detailing—stained-glass windows, French tile floors, and even its own garden and fountain—could mask the depot's location in what was then a gritty industrial district. The dark mass looming on the left in this early postcard was the huge illuminating gas plant on Broadway.

Even after the automobile came into general use, people took the train for most long trips. In 1915, there were thirteen Detroit to Chicago passenger trains a day, plus other, shorter runs. Many Ann Arborites commuted daily to jobs along the route. Others used the train for excursions. Kathryn Leidy recalls day outings with friends to Hudson's in downtown Detroit. And of course the beginnings and endings of university semesters found the train station crowded with students, the more adventurous of whom had slid down State Street on their trunks.

Celebrities and artists arrived by train and were met at the station by committees of dignitaries. Alva Sink, whose husband, Charles Sink, was head of the University Musical Society, greeted countless musicians, including Ignace Paderewski, who arrived in 1933 in his own sleeping car. Former U-M bands director William Revelli often provided the escort as they left; among those he saw off at the depot were Victor Borge, Meredith Willson, Gene Krupa, Benny Goodman, and Pablo Casals.

As late as World War II, when rationing of gas and tires made car travel difficult, the depot hummed. Betty Gillan Seward, who worked as the station's accountant during the war, remembers it as a very busy time. In addition to the regular trains, there were extras for troop transport. Art Gallagher, retired editor of the Ann Arbor News, remembers traveling to Kalamazoo during the war to visit his father and often having to stand the whole way because the train was so crowded with soldiers and civilians.

The depot's last hurrah came in 1960, when both John Kennedy and Richard Nixon addressed rallies from their campaign trains. They were the last in a long line of politicians to make whistle-stops in Ann Arbor, running back to William Howard Taft, Teddy Roosevelt, Grover Cleveland, and William Jennings Bryan.

In 1970, the depot was sold to Chuck Muer, a restaurateur with an interest in historic restoration. By then the trickle of passenger traffic that remained was easily accommodated in the former freight building to the west and later in a small station built by Amtrak west of the Broadway Bridge. Muir, who later did similar remodeling of an historic fire station in Cincinnati and a railroad station in Pittsburgh, kept the building intact. The original stone walls, slate roof, stained-glass windows, red oak ceilings, fireplace, and baggage scale are still there. He added a kitchen in the open area between the baggage building and waiting room, windowed in the platform area, and changed the color of the outside trim, from green to dark mauve. Muer named his restaurant the Gandy Dancer, after the laborers who once maintained the tracks.

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