The Botanical Gardens on Iroquois

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

Author: Grace Shackman

Primroses, Chinese chestnuts, and pinochle in the boiler room

Since 1960, the U-M Botanical Gardens have been on Dixboro Road straddling Superior and Ann Arbor townships. But for forty-five years before that, they were in the heart of what is now Ann Arbor’s south side. The fifty-two-acre gardens off Iroquois, now Woodbury Gardens apartments, played an important part in university life from 1916 to 1961.

“It was not landscaped for beauty but for [growing] specific plants,” recalls Chuck Cares, who later landscaped the present gardens. “There were pretty plants, of course, but no aesthetic principle was involved.”

“Plants were grown for research, university classes, and decorations for university functions,” explains Dorothy Blanchard, whose mother, Frieda Blanchard, was assistant director from 1919 to 1956. Though “it was not a place for the general public,” Blanchard says, “visitors did occasionally come out and were shown around by Mother.”

Photograph of botanical gardens with old
library in the background

The original botanical gardens were right on campus in front of the old library, about where the Graduate Library now sits.

The university’s first botanical garden was planted on the Diag in 1897, near what is today the Graduate Library. In 1906 it moved to the newly acquired Arboretum. In 1913, finding the Arb’s hilly terrain not conducive to growing plants in controlled conditions, the university bought the Iroquois site.

Harry Gleason, the new garden’s first director, wrote that it was “located immediately beyond the city limits south of Ann Arbor, near the Packard street road, and comprises twenty acres of level fertile land.” As surrounding parcels were purchased, the gardens grew to 51.72 acres.

Harley H. Bartlett replaced Gleason in 1919. “The chief thing that attracted me to the University of Michigan before I knew what a generally delightful place Ann Arbor was, was the new botanical gardens, which would provide perhaps the best facility in the country for work in genetics and plant breeding,” Bartlett wrote in his 1923 Harvard alumni report.

Bartlett was born in Montana in 1886, graduated from Harvard with a chemistry degree, and then worked as a chemical biologist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. While in Washington he became interested in the work of Dutch botanist Hugo DeVries on evolution and began to research the genetics of genus Oenothera, an evening primrose. He accepted an assistant professorship at the U-M in 1915 and, as soon as he could, planted rows of Oenothera at the new botanical gardens to continue his research.

“The development of the garden has been my chief interest since coming to Michigan,” Bartlett claimed in the alumni report--an impressive claim, considering his many competing interests. “A Renaissance man, he [Bartlett] knew a little about everything,” recalls Ed Voss, emeritus professor of botany. “If you asked a question, he’d give you a reference off the top of his head.” In addition to directing the gardens, Bartlett chaired the botany department, taught classes, frequently traveled to Asia and Latin America to collect rare plants, published prolifically, and was much in demand as a consultant to federal agencies.

Bartlett’s secret was that he had accepted the gardens’ directorship on the condition that graduate student Frieda Cobb be appointed the assistant director. While Bartlett dealt with the public and with the university administration, Cobb managed the gardens’ day-to-day operations, taking over completely during Bartlett’s frequent absences. “She kept things at an even keel,” recalls Voss.
Frieda Cobb had come to the U-M at Bartlett’s suggestion and was working on her Ph.D., continuing his Oenothera research. They had met through her brother, Victor Cobb, a classmate of Bartlett’s at Harvard. She arrived in Ann Arbor in 1916 and in 1920 was the first of Bartlett’s students to earn her doctorate. Two years later she married Frank Blanchard, a herpetologist whom she had met in graduate school.

The actual work of growing the plants was done by a series of excellent gardeners, the last of whom, from 1935 on, was Walter Kleinschmidt, who was promoted to superintendent. Part of his job was tending the rare plants brought back from various expeditions. “He was good at growing plants--discovering what was needed. For instance, he figured out how to grow ferns from spores,” recalls Dorothy Blanchard. Kleinschmidt lived with his wife and daughter in a house on the grounds. He supervised about four other gardeners, who took responsibility for specific greenhouses. “The workers, Walter and his group, played pinochle in the boiler room every noon,” recalls Peter Kaufman, who was hired as curator of the gardens in 1956.

The gardens closest to the greenhouse were arranged in a big oval and were dubbed “the graveyard,” according to Kaufman, “because of their arrangement in horizontal beds divided by family and genus.” The land beyond the graveyard was used for specific research projects, such as Eileen Erlanson’s wild roses, Kenneth Jones’s ragweed, and Stanley Cain’s delphinium. Dow Baxter, a forest pathologist from the forestry department, grew Chinese chestnuts, trying to come up with a disease-resistant strain to replace the American chestnut.

Felix Gustafson’s tomato plants loom large in everyone’s memory, because he gave his extras to staff members. “I’d take them and eat them off the vine. They were marvelous,” recalls local pediatrician Mark Hildebrandt, who worked at the gardens as a teenager. Blanchard, who rode her bike to work before getting a car, learned to ride no-handed so she could eat tomatoes on the way home.

The greenhouses provided a year-round source of plants for botany classes and faculty research. Flowers were also grown there for special university occasions, such as commencements or honors convocations or visits from dignitaries like Haile Selassie and the queen of the Netherlands.

The nucleus of the gardens’ collection of cacti and other succulents was assembled by Elzada Clover, a botany professor who had done work in the Southwest and Central America. In January 1938 Bartlett recorded in his diary that “Elzada Clover has a wild plan for a trip through the can[y]on of the Colorado. She assures me it will be a truly scientific venture.” Clover and a friend, Mary Lois Jotter, completed their “wild plan,” earning the distinction of being the first women to make the trip by boat. In 1952 Clover added another first: being the first person to develop and teach an entire class at the botanical gardens. It was a very popular undergraduate course, and according to a history put out by the botanical gardens, “through it many students were led to concentrate in botany.”

In 1955 Bartlett reached retirement age and was succeeded by A. Geoffrey Norman. Five years later the gardens moved to their present site on Dixboro. “We moved as many trees as we could,” recalls Peter Kaufman. “Some spreading junipers didn’t take, but most of what we moved did. We took all the rare stuff that we had collected.” The new gardens were named after regent Fred Matthaei Sr., who donated the land.

The 350-acre Matthaei gardens are seven times as large as the Iroquois site and have more than twice as much greenhouse space--44,000 square feet. The other main difference is that at the present gardens there is much more public involvement, with hiking trails, adult education classes, meeting space, and an active friends group.

The Iroquois site remained empty for most of the 1960s. Helen Corey, who lived on Iroquois in a house backing up to the gardens, used to walk her dogs on the deserted site which she remembers as “an oasis in the middle of the city.” Although the gardens were in ruins and the buildings falling apart, she recalls, there were still “nice trees, some fruit-bearing.”

In 1969 the first stage of the Woodbury Gardens apartments was built. In honor of the former use, the developers named the streets Aster and Wisteria. Residents still enjoy at least nine kinds of trees originally planted in the botanical gardens, including Dow’s Chinese chestnuts.


[Photo caption from book]: The original botanical gardens were right on campus in front of the old library, about where the Graduate Library now sits. “Courtesy Bentley Historical Library”

[Photo caption from book]: Dorothy Blanchard’s kindergarten class looking at the giant chrysanthemums in one of the Iroquois site greenhouses, 1930s. Although not generally open to the public, Blanchard obviously had pull since her mother was the assistant director. “Courtesy Dorothy Blanchard”

The Detroit Observatory

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

Author: Grace Shackman

It launched the U-M on the path to greatness

“How can we truly be called a nation, if we cannot possess within ourselves the sources of a literary, scientific, and artistic life?” asked Henry Philip Tappan, the first president of the University of Michigan, at his inaugural address in 1852. Henry N. Walker, a prominent Detroit lawyer in the audience, was inspired by Tappan’s vision and asked what he could do to help. Tappan suggested he raise money to build an astronomical observatory.

Born into a prominent New York family, Tappan had astonished his friends by agreeing, at age forty-seven, to head what was then an obscure frontier college. The attraction for Tappan, who previously had been a minister, professor, and writer, was the chance Michigan offered to put his educational philosophy into practice—“to change the wilderness into fruitful fields,” as he put it in his inaugural address.

An adherent of the Prussian model of education, Tappan believed that universities should expand their curriculum beyond the classics to teach science and encourage research. An observatory would embody the new approach perfectly—and Walker was ideally positioned to make it a reality.

Walker was a former state attorney general who often handled railroad cases. Well connected to both intellectuals and business people in Detroit, he attracted contributors who desired to advance scientific knowledge, as well as those who were interested in astronomy’s practical uses, particularly in establishing accurate time.

Photograph of Detroit Observatory,
surrounded by open fields

The earliest known picture of the Observatory, circa 1858. The man is probably first director Franz Brunnow with his father-in-law’s dog, Leo.

Because Walker raised most of its $22,000 cost from Detroiters, the building was named the “Detroit Observatory.” Tappan originally planned to have just one telescope, a refractor, suitable for research and instruction. But Walker offered to pay for a meridian-circle telescope as well. It would be better suited for measuring the transit of the stars and thus for establishing more accurate time—a matter of vital importance to railroads, which needed to run on schedule.

The regents sited the observatory on a four-acre lot, high on a hill outside the city limits. Although only half a mile east of Central Campus, it was then considered way out in the country. In the early days it could be reached only by a footpath, and astronomers complained of the long walk.

Tappan said later that he took credit for everything about the observatory except its location, which he would have preferred be on the main campus. “It has proved an inconvenient location, and has caused much fatigue to the astronomer,” he wrote. However, the remote site probably saved it: nearly every building of its age on Central Campus has long since been torn down.

In 1853, Tappan and Walker traveled to New York to order the refracting telescope from Henry Fitz, the country’s leading telescope maker. With an objective lens twelve and five-eighths inches across, it would be the largest refractor yet built in the United States, and the third largest telescope in the world, after instruments in Pulkovo, Russia, and at Harvard.

Meridian-circle telescopes were not manufactured in the United States, so Tappan went to Europe. On the advice of Johann Encke, director of the Prussian Royal Observatory in Berlin, he ordered a brass meridian-circle telescope from Pistor and Martins, a Berlin firm.

Tappan asked several American astronomers to head the new observatory, but they all turned him down. At that point he thought of Franz Brunnow, Encke’s assistant, who had been very enthusiastic about the project. Some objected to hiring a foreigner as astronomer, but Tappan prevailed. And certainly Brunnow was eminently qualified--he was the first Ph.D. on the U-M faculty. Under his direction, Ann Arbor soon became “the place to study astronomy,” according to Patricia Whitesell, the observatory director, curator, and author of A Creation of His Own: Tappan’s Detroit Observatory. Brunnow socialized with the Tappans and in 1857 married Tappan’s daughter Rebecca.

Tappan launched many other initiatives to turn the U-M into a first-rate university. He moved the students out of the two classroom buildings, letting them board in town, to make more space for academic uses--classrooms, natural history and art museums, and library. He encouraged the growth of the medical school, started the law school, and built the first chemistry laboratory in the country to be used exclusively for research and teaching. Under his leadership, the U-M granted its first bachelor of science degrees in 1855, its first graduate degrees in 1859, and its first civil engineering degrees in 1860.

But Tappan also made enemies--people who found his changes too precipitous or his manner too haughty. In 1863, Tappan was fired in a surprise vote by a lame-duck board of regents. Tappan moved his family to Europe, never to return; he died in Switzerland in 1881. Fortunately, his successors continued on the course he’d set, securing the U-M’s reputation as one of the nation’s leading universities.

Brunnow resigned after Tappan was fired; his star student, James Craig Watson, succeeded him. During Watson’s tenure, a director’s house was built west of the observatory.

Photograph of Detroit Observatory &
director's house

The Observatory with the director’s house on the west side. While Brunnow was able to live in the president’s house, Watson, the next director, needed a home, so one was built that connected to his office in the Observatory.

In 1908 an addition was built to the east to hold a thirty-seven-inch reflector telescope. But as the campus grew out to the observatory, lights from the power plant (1914) and from the Ann Street hospital and Couzens Hall (both 1925) interfered with viewing. Over the decades that followed, the astronomy department transferred its serious research to a series of increasingly remote locations (currently Arizona and Chile). But the old observatory continued to be used for educational purposes until 1963, when the Dennison physics and astronomy building was completed.

In the tight-budget 1970s, there was talk of bulldozing the observatory. After World War II, the director’s house had been torn down to make room for an expansion of Couzens Hall, and the 1908 addition was razed in 1976, when the university decided it was too run down to maintain. But the original observatory was saved—though the rescue took a three-part campaign lasting close to thirty years.

Step one took place in the early 1970s, when a group of local preservationists led by John Hathaway, then chair of the Historic District Commission, and Dr. Hazel Losh, legendary U-M astronomy professor, convinced the university to give it a stay of execution.

Next, enter history professors Nick and Peg Steneck, who were called in by Al Hiltner, then chair of the astronomy department, and Orren Mohler, the former chair. Peg Steneck remembers that on her first tour of the building, “squatters were gaining access by climbing the chestnut tree out front and entering through the trapdoor in the roof. Evidence of occupancy, such as mattresses and Kentucky Fried Chicken boxes, littered the dome room, and a mural was painted around the wall of the dome.”

Nick Steneck tried to keep the building in use, setting up his office there, teaching classes, and using the upper level for the Collegiate Institute for Values in Science. Peg Steneck started research on the observatory’s history, which grew into a course she still teaches on the history of the university. Under the Stenecks’ prodding, the university took steps to stop the deterioration, fixing the roof, masonry foundation, and stucco.

Step three took place in 1994, when the university history and traditions committee asked vice president for research Homer Neal to restore the observatory. Neal assigned Whitesell, who was working in his office, to write a proposal, which she happily did, starting with Peg Steneck’s research.

Whitesell had a Ph.D. in higher education, was interested in both historic preservation and the history of science, and had long admired the observatory. Her new assignment, she says, “was a dream come true.” Neal agreed to the restoration and appointed Whitesell project manager.

Like the original construction, the million-dollar project, spearheaded enthusiastically by Anne and Jim Duderstadt, was paid for by gifts from private donors. The work began in June 1997 and was completed a year and a half later.
The university’s first total restoration project, the observatory has a lot of “first” and “only” distinctions. It is the oldest unaltered observatory in America that has its original instruments intact, in their original mounts, and operational. The meridian-circle telescope is the oldest in its original mount in the entire world. The building is the second oldest on campus (next to the president’s house) and the oldest unaltered one.

Restored, the observatory serves both as a museum of astronomical history and as a location for many academic events.

The 1838 jail

Published In:
Ann Arbor Observer, May 2000,
May 2000

Author: Grace Shackman

Jailbreaks were a constant danger

Even in the good old days there were criminals. Ann Arbor was smaller and more neighborly in the nineteenth century, but there were still very serious crimes, including robbery and murder. Thus, there was a need for jails. For half the century, from 1838 to 1887, local wrongdoers were imprisoned in a Greek Revival building on North Main, where the Ann Arbor Community Center now stands.

When John Allen and Elisha Rumsey founded Ann Arbor in 1824, Rumsey gave the land bounded by Fourth and Fifth avenues and Liberty and William streets (now containing the downtown post office, the Blake Transit Center, and the YMCA) to the community as a site for a jail. Allen contributed the block at Main and Huron still used for the county courthouse.

The county’s first jail was built on Rumsey’s square in 1829. The project was organized in a socialist fashion. “The citizens of Ann Arbor and vicinity contributed, each according to his ability, some timber, lumber, work or other materials necessary for the construction of a building that would answer for a county prison,” wrote a local historian in the Charles C. Chapman 1881 History of Washtenaw County. The wooden building included quarters for the jailer’s family as well as one room for prisoners.

The first jail was notoriously insecure. According to O. W. Stevenson’s Ann Arbor: The First Hundred Years, “No one could be sure that a prisoner who had been placed within its confines on any particular night would be found there the next morning.” Less than seven years after it was built, a grand jury concluded that a new jail was needed. The county bought the land on North Main, four blocks from the courthouse, and the next year the Davison brothers began construction of a two-and-a-half-story red brick building.

The work evidently took several years to finish; local newspapers published numerous letters asking why it wasn’t done yet, and explanations for the slowness of getting the necessary funds. Meanwhile, large numbers of prisoners continued to escape from the old jail--five when the door was opened for delivery of some dishes, and seven others who managed to cut a hole through the floor.

Photograph of Ann Arbor Tire Supply,
formerly the jail

After the jail moved to downtown Ann Arbor, the old jail building on North Main was converted first to a private home and then to a gas station.

“When erected [the Main Street jail] was considered a handsome building, in which the citizens felt a just pride,” Chapman’s historian wrote. William Spaulding, son of sheriff Ephraim Spaulding (who served from 1847 to 1852), had a less cheerful description in his memoirs, written in the 1920s. Spaulding remembered how “the family lived in a wing of the big gloomy jail, with its barred windows, in the lower part of town. ‘When we lived in the jail’ was a very common reference in our family, and there was no stigma attached.”

Spaulding’s entire family was involved in keeping the jail. “My brother James was old enough to act as ‘turnkey,’ which involved locking and unlocking cells at stated times,” Spaulding recalled. “Imagine a boy serving in such capacity in one of our modern prisons.”

The sheriff’s wife, Jane McCormick Spaulding, cooked for the prisoners in her own kitchen. “Father and mother made due allowance for the fact that the jail was a place of enforced restraint. But, when these stern requirements were satisfied, every effort was made to treat the prisoners with consideration and kindness. . . . This policy not only contributed to the discipline and good order of the institution, but it actually gained the confidence and good will of many of the prisoners,” Spaulding wrote. He went on to say that his parents often helped the families of prisoners, and that after they were released, they often came by to “give good account of themselves and testify their appreciation. In testimony of this Mother treasured various keep-sakes of hand-craft which had been presented to her on such occasions.”

Ann Arbor’s citizens had reason to worry about their safety even after the new jail opened. Criminals held there included horse thieves and bank robbers. Murderers were sent to the state penitentiary (as they still are today), but even they stayed in the county jail while they awaited trial. And despite the new jail’s brick construction, jailbreaks in Ann Arbor were still rife. On June 1, 1842, the State Journal recorded that “Henry Andrews, indicted for larceny, made his escape from our jail on Sunday last by digging through the outer wall. He was not confined in a cell. He has acquitted himself without the assistance of judge or jury, and avoided his trial which was to have taken place today.”

Chapman’s history tells of two men convicted in 1857 for the murder of Simon Holden and sentenced to the state penitentiary for life. About a year after the sentence, the court ordered a new trial. “They were returned to Ann Arbor jail, but before court next convened they escaped from jail and were never re-captured.”

Allen K. Donahue, who lived across the street from the jail, reminisced about it toward the end of his life in a 1943 Ann Arbor News interview. Many of his stories concerned escapees such as Charles Chorr, who was sentenced to hang for murder in 1843 but escaped and was never caught. Donahue recalled a pair of prisoners who got out through the jail’s chimney in the middle of winter but were glad to be caught again because they were so cold. Two other prisoners tried to escape through the underground drainage pipe but couldn’t get beyond a heavy grate and were dead by the time they were found. Another escapee, a horse thief, was shot and killed while trying to get to the stables.

There were escape attempts even during Spaulding’s benign reign. “One story which my father told was of pursuing and capturing a number of prisoners who had escaped. There was a rough-and-tumble bout between the officers and the fugitives. Revolvers hadn’t been invented, and shooting was not such a ready resort. Father grabbed one of the escapees, wrestled him down, and was sitting astride him, when he chanced to glimpse something out of one corner of his eye which caused him to dodge with the free part of his body. It was just in time to avoid a large rock which the fellow hurled at him: the missile whizzed by and split open the head of the prisoner beneath.”

If Spaulding couldn’t stop all escapes, his methods allowed him to stop one. “Once, when a gang of tough customers had just been incarcerated, they managed to secure from outside confederates, tools to saw their way out, and arms. They had nearly brought matters to a climax, and were prepared to murder the guard or anyone who opposed them, when a warning word was passed by one of the inmates to the sheriff. At least that was a substantial return for the humanitarian policy toward prisoners.”

There were also quiet times in the jail. Donahue recalled that he had seen the jail “swamped with inmates and devoid of any life at all.” An 1843 newspaper article noted little activity. “There is but one person in our jail and he is committed for want of bail to keep the peace. It is supposed that the man is partially deranged or he never should have been there.” Unfortunately, the incarceration of mentally ill people is still an issue.

As the county grew, especially in the years after the Civil War, the Main Street jail became too small. After a new courthouse was finished in 1878, civic leaders began discussing building a new jail. They lost a ballot issue in 1884, but by selling the old jail they managed to raise enough money to buy land at Ashley and Ann. The jail stayed on that site, in two different buildings, until 1970, when it moved to its present location at Hogback and Washtenaw in Pittsfield Township.
John J. Robison, who had served as state senator, county clerk, and mayor of Ann Arbor, bought the Main Street jail in 1887 and made it into his family home. He took off the cell block in back and used the bricks to build two houses to the south, one of which was turned into a store.

In 1917 Morris Kraizman bought the old jail and used it for a tire company, gas station, and scrap metal and junk store. Later it became the Pentecostal Church of God, then apartments. In 1951 it was severely damaged by fire. In 1958 what was left of the building was torn down. The Ann Arbor Community Center was built on the site two years later.

The Farmers’ Market Bounces Back

Published In:
Ann Arbor Observer, July 1998,
July 1998

Author: Grace Shackman

The city-owned market turns eighty next year. Its future looked bleak a decade ago, but today the biggest problem is competition for space.

“I have been to markets all over the world,” says Al Kierczak, a farmer who’s been coming to the Farmers’ Market since 1927, “and Ann Arbor is the nicest. It has the most variety.” His wife, Florence, confirms that wherever they travel, Kierczak spends part of their vacation taking a busman’s holiday, checking out the local markets in Europe, South America, and Japan.

Kierczak started coming to the Ann Arbor market with his parents when he was eight years old, riding in from their farm near Milan in an open Model T pickup. In those days the market was held around the old courthouse at Main and Huron, which had sweeping lawns on all four sides. Kierczak’s dad and the other farmers would back their trucks up to the sidewalk and set up tables to display their produce. If it was a hot day, they’d put up umbrellas.

The curb market, as it was originally called, was started in May 1919 by the Community Federation, composed of representatives from several women’s organizations. The group believed it could cut food costs by eliminating the middleman. In fact, several grocers, fearing the competition, went to the common council to object to the plan. They were overruled, and the council and the board of public works approved the federation’s request to let the farmers sell from the streets adjacent to the courthouse.

Photograph of farmers' trucks backed
up to the sidewalk to make a market along the sidewalk on North Fourth Ave

The Curb Market on North Fourth Ave.

The original market began with ten farmers on the Main Street side of the courthouse. According to Rudy Weiner, each farmer sold something different: Adolph Weiner, Rudy’s father, sold flowers (he had emigrated from Austria where he was head gardener for Emperor Franz Joseph); Flora Osborne sold celery, Chinese cabbage, and onions; and the Riecherts of Chelsea sold fruit. Many of the farmers came in horse-drawn wagons. They’d leave their wagons at the curb and stable the horses in the dairy barn on the corner of Miller Avenue and First Street. If they had any produce left at the end of the day, they’d hitch up the horses and peddle it around town.

The city’s growth has long since overrun some of the early growers’ farms. The Weiners’ farm was on Packard, near where the Darlington Lutheran Church is now. The Osborne place was near today’s city airport, and the Dickinsons, another early market family, had a farm on Broadway. The market organizers talked of limiting the market to only Washtenaw County farmers, but since one of the early participants was from outside the county, they decided against it. But another rule they made at the time is still rigorously enforced: everything sold at the market must be produced by the vendors themselves.

The early vendors sold everything their farms produced--not just vegetables, fruit, and flowers, but also honey, eggs, dairy products, baked goods, and poultry--chickens were the most common, but turkeys, ducks, and geese also could be found at the market. Esther Kapp remembers that her family sold beef and pork that her father butchered. Several people even remember seeing dressed muskrat for sale.

With so many things for sale, it’s obvious why some of the local merchants were worried about the competition. But, bowing to the inevitable, some began buying market produce--such as seasonal strawberries, or Flora Osborne’s onions--by the crate or bushel to resell in their stores. Not wanting to sell out and disappoint their regular clientele, some of the farmers set aside a certain amount for wholesale or brought in an extra buggy-load for the stores.

As the number of farmers increased, people objected to clogging up Main Street, so the market moved to the Fourth Avenue side of the courthouse, then eventually wrapped around onto Ann Street. The market never used the Huron Street side, since it was too busy a street to block off. (Before expressways, Huron/Washtenaw was the main highway through town.) During the peak of the growing season, there were so many farmers that the market expanded to the far side of Fourth Avenue, in front of what was then the YMCA and is now the county annex. To limit traffic congestion, the farmers who used that space had to move their trucks out of the way after they unloaded. The market was such a success that in 1921 the common council decided to take it over. It has been a city market managed by a council-appointed commission ever since.

Anna Biederman was the city’s first market master. Born in Germany, she moved to Ann Arbor with her husband, John, and raised nine children. “She knew all about growing,” says Warren Staebler, who remembers her as the director of the victory garden he was involved in as a child during World War I, on land between Seventh and Eighth streets. Biederman did the same in World War II, and between the wars directed the children at Bach Elementary School in gardening on their own plots on what is today the school’s playground.

Biederman traveled to other markets around the state and became an authority on how to organize a community market. “Throughout the trying early years and the development into the present large market Mrs. Biederman has been the ruling spirit,” claimed a 1934 Ann Arbor News article. Her grandson, John Biederman, remembers her as “a little, short, chubby woman, very outspoken. When she ran the market, she ran the market.”

John remembers that his family benefited from one of the perks of Biederman’s position. “On market days we would get a call from grandma saying, ‘I’ve got a whole bunch of cabbages, or carrots, or beets. Come get them.’ The farmers would give them to her, and there would be too much for two people to eat.”

As the amount of traffic and the number of sellers increased in the 1920s, the courthouse square became a less satisfactory location for the market. In 1931, Gottlob Luick, a former mayor (1899–1901), solved the problem by donating land for a permanent site between Fourth Avenue and Detroit Street, which had been used by his lumber company. Adolph Weiner worked with Luick to design the market.

It was the midst of the Depression, so the city didn’t have money to develop the site, but the farmers made do, selling their produce from the sidewalk that fronted Detroit Street. They used wooden sheds from the old lumberyard for protection in rain and to keep warm in the winter. They created more space by adding a boardwalk along the northern edge of the property, creating an L-shaped layout. The wooden walkway protected people from the mud and also helped level a sloping piece of land. “It was three feet at the highest and then tapered down,” recalls fruit grower Alex Nemeth, who, like Al Kierczak, started coming to the market with his parents when he was a child. “I’d crawl under it with the other kids, looking for coins that dropped through.”

Photograph of Allen's Creek passing
Dean and Company warehouse

WPA Construction of the Farmers' Market in Kerrytown.

From 1938 to 1940, the present 124-stall market was built by the federal Works Progress Administration, a Depression-era jobs program. WPA workers roofed and paved the market and added another short wing extending west from Detroit Street. A market headquarters, a small tan brick building, was built in the middle, where the parking dynameter is today. Market managers used the back room for an office, while farmers used the lounge in front to get warm and to eat sack lunches.

Shortly after the market was finished, Charles McCalla built a cinder-block building just north of the market for his Washtenaw Farm Bureau store. He used the new building as a store and feed mill, and the old lumber warehouse on the corner of Fifth and Kingsley for storage and parts. (Both buildings are now part of Kerrytown.)

McCalla ground grain into livestock feed and sold prepared feeds, seeds, pet supplies, and penny candy. With such a convenient location, many market farmers bought supplies there. In 1962, McCalla’s son and daughter-in-law, Ray and Shirley McCalla, took over the business and renamed it Washtenaw Farm and Garden Center. In 1969, they sold the buildings to Kerrytown’s developers and moved their operation to Dexter.

Another nearby business that catered to the farmers was a small eatery run by Bill Biederman, Anna’s son. At the time the WPA market was built, there were still four houses along Fourth Avenue west of the market. Bill Biederman lived in one of the houses and ran a modest restaurant in his kitchen, serving breakfasts and light lunches--hamburgers, chili, soup. John Biederman worked as a dishwasher and cook for his uncle when he was a teenager. He remembers there were about nine stools and some little armchairs. When Anna Biederman retired, Bill took over as market manager.

During the food shortages of World War II, the market was busier than ever. Mildred Parker remembers customers lining up five or six stalls back to buy her chickens. “Finally,” she remembers, “I counted how many were left and then came out and said I’d sell one to each and the rest should go home.”

From its inception through the 1960s, market stalls were in great demand. “Quite a few [growers] would stay all night the night before to get a preferred spot,” Alex Nemeth remembers. Bob Dieterle, who still works the family farm near Saline, remembers that his mother used to go at 2 a.m. and park across from the armory to make sure she’d get a stall.

Once they had secured a spot, many stayed up all night, or close to it, getting ready for the market. Dieterle’s wife, Luella, used to spend the night picking flowers, a flashlight under her arm. Esther Kapp remembers harvesting until 1:30 a.m. and then rising again at 4 a.m. for the trip to town. Her three brothers stayed behind on the farm on Northfield Church Road to continue picking; while Kapp and her mother sold, her dad would drive back and forth all day to pick up fresh produce.

Winter was an even more trying time. Bob Dieterle didn’t miss a Saturday for fifty-seven years. “People depended on us to bring eggs,” he says. “Once when there was a big snowstorm, when we still had horses, I knew my dad’s ’34 Ford couldn’t reach the corner [to the main road], so I had the horses pull it there. I met him there with the horses when he returned at three.” Mildred Parker remembers selling eggs on a day when it was nineteen degrees below zero. “I had just the empty containers on the table. When I made a sale, I’d go to the truck, but every carton had at least one cracked egg. I could see they were frozen, so I just went home.” The farmers dressed warmly and rigged up homemade stoves, called “salamanders,” to keep warm.

Over the years, fewer and fewer people were willing to endure such hardships. For one thing, health regulations kept limiting what the farmers could bring to the market. In the 1950s, stricter standards stopped the sale of unrefrigerated dairy products: butter, milk, cottage cheese, buttermilk. Next, the state barred the farmers from selling meat. Kapp recalls, “We always had the meat in ice. It was a Lansing problem, not the meat inspector’s. We went up to Lansing to complain, but they had made up their mind.” In 1977 baked goods were banned unless they were prepared in a separate, licensed commercial kitchen.

The market went through a low point in the 1970s and 1980s. With farmers finding it harder to stay in business and local retailers luring shoppers away with more and better produce, the number of vendors plunged 40 percent between 1976 and 1988. That year, the Observer published an article asking, “Will the market survive to the year 2000?”

To keep the market going, the commission implemented two important changes. Some veteran growers were allowed to spread out, renting three or even four stalls. And for the first time, a dozen booths were permanently rented to craftspeople--woodworker Coleman Jewett’s Adirondack chairs, for instance, are now a fixture at the market’s north end.

Today the market is again full. According to Maxine Rosasco, market manager since 1987, there is even a waiting list: the `54 produce vendors and 144 craftspeople, who currently rent daily as space permits, want to be assigned permanent stalls.

While the turnaround is good news for the market, it also means that the two stopgap changes in the 1980s have become a problem. Pointing to their numbers, the craftspeople are lobbying for more space. “We set up Sunday for an artisans’ market, but they’d rather come on Saturday,” says Rosasco. And there is also friction among the growers themselves.

The waiting list for produce vendors is surprising--after all, farming has only gotten tougher in the last decade, and farms around the city have continued to be gobbled up by new subdivisions. But those losses have been more than made up for by growers coming from farther afield, as far away as Allen and Coldwater. And despite increased competition from supermarkets and produce markets, shoppers have continued to flock to the market for specialties, like Ken King’s organic produce and George Merkle’s Chinese vegetables.

“Buyers are more sophisticated,” says Florence Kierczak. “Years ago we didn’t sell kohlrabi, people didn’t know what it was. Now they do.” The Nemeth family has expanded its variety of fruit, offering customers different tastes, and also gaining a longer harvest. And many growers have responded to shoppers’ demands for bedding plants, especially perennials, as well as for cut flowers and herbs. The downside of the market’s resurgence is growing tension between longtime vendors and newcomers who’d like to get into the market. Some of the growers on the waiting list think that the vendors with four stalls should be made to give one up.

That, of course, isn’t going over well with the veteran growers. Says Mildred Parker, “They think they should get a stall right way. Some of us waited four or five years, or even ten, to get where we wanted.” The growers with multiple stalls say they need the space because they have to sell more now to make up for rising costs--for instance, new state health rules require that farmers making apple cider to have a separate press building with a cement floor. “One stall was adequate for each farm in the early days,” says Alex Nemeth. “Now you need two or three to make a living.”

Physically the market’s layout hasn’t changed much since the WPA finished its work, except for gradual expansions as houses on Fourth Avenue were acquired and demolished or moved. In 1980, city voters turned down a bond proposal to rebuild and winterize the market, apparently feeling the changes would make it too glitzy (although most of the farmers would have appreciated the warmth!). But by saving up vendors’ fees, the market commission was able to replace the roofs and gutters and build a new office at the market’s south end.

Crowds at the market remain strong, especially in midsummer when foot traffic gets so thick shoppers sometimes find it hard to move. The farmers for their part have warm feelings for the market beyond just making a living. Many have been involved for several generations and have become close friends, almost family, with their fellow farmers. Parker first brought her daughter in a playpen. In later years, her daughter became such good friends with the Kapps’ daughter that people didn’t know which kid belonged with which stall. The farmers have also made friends with their customers over the years. Says Olive Conant, “They’d talk to you, tell you things they wouldn’t tell others—they think farmers have a more down-to-earth life.”

Red Howard, small-town cop

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

Author: Grace Shackman

Tough and outgoing, he embodied the AAPD for forty years

Sam Schlecht still remembers a run-in he had with Ann Arbor policeman Red Howard in the 1920s. On a Halloween night, when Schlecht was about ten, he and a buddy played a prank on a neighbor. “We took a couple of big garbage cans and dumped them on the porch,” Schlecht recalls. This act was evidently witnessed, because they had run only a couple of blocks before they were overtaken by Howard, driving the Police Department’s red Buick touring car.

The boys confessed to the crime. “I wasn’t going to lie, because if it got back to my grandmother I would really be up a creek,” Schlecht recalls. Howard told them he was taking them in. After driving toward the police station long enough to make them thoroughly frightened, Howard turned back to the scene of the crime, where he set them to work cleaning up the porch. Schlecht, of course, never performed that act of vandalism again.

When Red Howard joined the police in 1907, Ann Arbor was a town of about 14,000 people. Though the city grew several fold during his forty years on the force, he always remained a small-town cop. He handled wrongdoers more like a strict parent than a legal functionary. “The word was that Red never arrested anyone, but he did more good than anyone else,” recalls Warren Staebler. “A good licking down did more good than fining.”

A big man, six feet two inches and of impressive girth, Howard kept order more by his commanding presence than by his billy club or gun. Although he never advanced beyond the rank of sergeant, he embodied the department to Ann Arborites of his era. People still remember him vividly fifty years after his death.

To Howard, what we now call “community policing” was second nature. He “would walk up and talk to anyone,” recalls Bob Kuhn, who lived on Catherine Street. “He was super to kids,” remembers Mary Schlecht. “Everyone liked him,” agrees Jim Crawford, former head of the Black Elks. On good terms with the Main Street merchants, he was equally comfortable in the rougher bar areas. “No one scared him,” says his daughter, Roseanna Ingram.

As Sam Schlecht found, Howard often acted as judge and jury as well as policeman. When Dick Tasch was a U-M freshman, he and some classmates printed up broadsides taunting the sophomore class and pasted them surreptitiously on State Street buildings. “One night, about one a.m., we put a whole bunch at Goldman Cleaners and Quarry Drugs,” Tasch remembers, “and were going around the corner when there was Red Howard standing. We took off running.”

A local boy, Tasch was able to duck out of sight and escape, but the others were caught. Tasch drove by later and found his classmates carrying pails and scrub brushes, cleaning up. “You didn’t go to court,” Tasch recalls. “He’d punish you on the job.”

Though overweight and a heavy smoker, Howard could outrun most criminals. He kept his strength up his whole career. Duane Bauer, who joined the force the year before Howard retired, remembers an incident at Michigan Stadium when two drunks were creating a disturbance down by the field. “Red took both by the neck and took them up seventy-two steps. He was a powerful man.”

Before and after football games, Howard also directed traffic at the corner of State and Packard. When people asked if he wasn’t scared of being run over, he’d reply, “If they hit me, they’ll get a big grease spot.” Not surprisingly, he made a big impression on out-of-towners. Bauer, who took over that intersection after Howard retired, recalls, “More people wanted to know what happened to big old Red.”

Howard’s real first name was Marland; he got the nickname Red as a schoolboy because of the color of his hair. He was born in 1878 in Saline, the son of an Irish produce merchant, and grew up on Hiscock Street in Ann Arbor.

At the time, half the town was of German descent. Howard learned to speak the language from other kids in the neighborhood. (“He could rattle off German like anything,” his daughter remembers.) He was often called the German-Irish cop, because he always lived in German neighborhoods and enjoyed German beer and German food.

Howard quit school when he was eleven and worked at a grocery store and then at Godfrey Moving (he was a relative of owner Dana Creal) before joining the police. He married Rose Galligan of Northfield Township in 1903, and they lived at 410 West Washington, where the Y now stands. Along with their own four children, the Howards usually had other relatives living with them.

Howard’s personal life mirrored his police style. He was warm and loving, but also strict. He told his sons, “If you get arrested and go to jail, don’t call me.” He kept a careful eye on his girls. “I couldn’t do anything that wouldn’t get back to him,” recalls Ingram. His granddaughter Joan Dwyer Hume, who also lived in the house, recalls that Howard checked out all her boyfriends to make sure they didn’t have police records. But Hume also has wonderful memories of walking home from St. Thomas School when Howard was walking his beat on Huron Street. He’d watch for her so that he could take Hume and her friends to Candy Land for ice cream.

In 1937, after thirty years of service and completion of a training course on new police methods, Howard was promoted to sergeant. “Even after he was a sergeant, he’d still go out on the beat because he loved it,” recalls Ingram. “He went down to Main Street, where everyone knew him and thought he was the greatest. He didn’t give two hoots for an office.”

Howard’s personality and seniority won the respect of his fellow officers (there were eight when he started, more than forty by the time he retired). “He was the only policeman who could bring a bottle of beer with his lunch,” Bauer remembers. John Walter, who joined the police the same year as Bauer, recalls that they called Howard “Pappy” because he was the oldest man on the force. “He was a joyful guy,” says Walter. “We kidded him an awful lot. He took it and gave it back.”

Howard didn’t retire until he was sixty-nine. “All I ever wanted to do was police work,” he told Ingram. “I loved every minute.” His family held a huge retirement party in his honor. Afterward, Howard spent more time at his cottage on Crooked Lake. He loved to fish, and had a boat that was specially built to hold his weight.
In declining health, he also spent time in the hospital. Ingram and Hume remember coming to visit him and finding three clergymen sitting at his bedside: the ministers from Zion and Bethlehem, and Father Carey from St. Thomas. They were discussing fishing.

Howard died of lung cancer in 1948, just a year after he retired. His funeral was held at St. Thomas with police chief Casper Enkemann and judge Jay Paine among the pallbearers. “When he passed, we learned a lot,” his daughter recalls. “It was such a big funeral. Police came from out of town, firemen, and people he helped. He made an impression. He had more friends than he ever knew.”


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Ann Arbor's Carnegie Library

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

Author: Grace Shackman

The steel magnate's gift was grafted onto the public high school

Look closely at the north side of the U-M's Frieze Building on Huron opposite North Thayer, and you'll see that part of it is actually a distinct structure, set closer to Huron Street and built of stone blocks rather than brick. The main brick building was built in 1907 as Ann Arbor High School. The smaller stone one was built the same year, as one of America's 1,679 Carnegie libraries.

Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919) was a Scottish immigrant who made his fortune in steel (he replaced many wooden bridges with steel ones) and railroads (he introduced the first sleeping cars). After he sold Carnegie Steel to financier J. P. Morgan in 1901, he devoted his energies to giving away his vast fortune for social and educational advancement.

Carnegie believed that great wealth was a public trust that should be shared. But he did not believe in straight alms-giving. (This was, after all, the Carnegie who broke the 1886 strike at his steel plant in Homestead, Pennsylvania, with 200 Pinkerton detectives. It took the state militia to put down the riots that resulted.) Building libraries to encourage self-improvement was consistent with Carnegie's philosophy of helping people help themselves. He paid for the buildings but required the community to provide the site and to pay for books and maintenance in perpetuity.

At the time it was built, Ann Arbor's Carnegie Library was believed to be the only one in the country attached to another building. But it was a natural pairing in a town where the library and the high school had already been associated for nearly fifty years. The contents of the high school's library, which started operating in 1858, were the city's first publicly owned books. In 1883, the collection was given its own quarters on the second floor of the school, and Nellie Loving was hired to be the first librarian. At this time, or soon after, the general public also was allowed to use the library, thus setting the precedent, continued to this day, of the school board taking responsibility for the public library.

Photograph of Carnegie Library

Post card view of Ann Arbor's Carnegie Library. It was said to be the only one in the country attached to another building.

Another source of books for nineteenth-century readers was the Ladies Library Association. It was organized in 1866 by thirty-five women as a subscription library, based on a model started by Benjamin Franklin. By 1885, members had raised enough money — through Easter and Christmas fairs, lectures, cantatas, and strawberry festivals — to build their own library on Huron Street between Division and Fifth, in a building since torn down to make room for Michigan Bell.

In 1902, Anna Botsford Bach, then president of the Ladies Library Association, suggested applying for a Carnegie grant to build a city library. The city's application was supported by the school board, the city council, and the Ladies Library Association. But after Carnegie granted $20,000 for the project in 1903, the applicants could not agree among themselves on a site. (The school board wanted the new library to be near the high school so the students could continue using it. The Ladies Library Association thought an entirely separate location would better serve the general public.) The deadlock was resolved only after the application was resubmitted in 1904 without the participation of the Ladies Library Association. This time, the city and school board were awarded $30,000.

The Carnegie grant came just in time: on the night of December 31, 1904, the high school burned down. Luckily, school officials and students who rushed to the scene were able to save most of the library's 8,000 books before the building was destroyed.

A few months later, voters approved a bond issue to build a new school. The school and the library went up simultaneously; both were designed by architects Malcomson and Higginbottom of Detroit, and built by M. Campbell of Findlay, Ohio. (The interior finishing work was done by the Lewis Company of Bay City, which later began building kit homes.) Despite its unusual connection to the high school, the library looked much like other Carnegie libraries: large pillars on the front, big windows, high ceilings, and a massive center staircase. The board of education, pleased with the result, called the new building "beautiful and commodious."

In 1932, the high school library moved into separate quarters on the library's third floor, but students continued to use the lower floors after school. Gene Wilson, retired director of the public library, remembers that when he began working there in 1951, the busiest time of day was right after school, when the students would flock over to do their homework. By the time Wilson came to the library, the once spacious building was, in his words, "obscured by shelving on top of shelving. It was a rabbit warren of a building, typical of libraries at the end of their life, with six times as many books as planned for with stacks all over."

Since the late 1940's, citizens' groups had been talking about the need for a new library. The school board took action in 1953, selling the high school and library building to the U-M for $1.4 million. (By then the new Ann Arbor High — now Pioneer — was under construction at the corner of West Stadium and South Main.) The board used the proceeds of the sale to buy the Beal property at the corner of Fifth and William as the site for a new library, ending nearly a century of close association between the high school and the public library.

The library remained in the old Carnegie building for a few years after the high school moved out. It left in 1957, when the new public library on Fifth Avenue was ready for occupancy.

The university remodeled and enlarged the old library and high school building and renamed it the Henry S. Frieze Building, after a professor of classics who also had served as acting president. In 2004 the university announced plans to build a dormitory on the site.


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The Private Hospital Era

Published In:
Ann Arbor Observer, March 1994,
March 1994

Author: Grace Shackman

Between 1875 and 1945, the city was home to seventeen proprietary hospitals. Ann Arborites could go to Dr. Cowie for a difficult diagnosis, study nursing with Dr. Peterson, get cuts stitched by Dr. Gates, and have their babies in Nurse Grove’s home.

When Dr. Carl Malcolm Jr. started practicing in Ann Arbor in the 1930's, many patients still expected him to treat them at home. When he urged them to go to the hospital, Malcolm recalls, "they thought it was the end of things."

Malcolm's older patients had been born in a time when anything a doctor could do to help he could do in their homes. As recently as the mid-1800s, hospitals were charity institutions for those who had no home to be sick in—"refuges mainly for the homeless poor and insane," according to Paul Starr's The Social Transformation of American Medicine.

Photograph of Dr. David Cowie in a hospital
ward

Dr. David Cowie is best remembered today as the instigator of adding iodine to salt to prevent goiters.

Starr's fascinating medical history explains how, "in a matter of decades, roughly between 1870 and 1910, hospitals moved from the periphery to the center of medical education and medical practice." A string of breakthroughs, including antisepsis, anesthesia, and X-rays, transformed surgery from a desperate last resort into a routine medical tool. At first, doctors performed surgery in people's homes--Elsa Goetz Ordway remembers the family physician operating on her mother on the dining room table in 1914. But as medical standards rose, more and more doctors preferred to work in hospitals, which gradually evolved from shelters for the poor and the dying into, in Starr's words, "doctors' workshops for all types and classes of patients."

Today, Ann Arbor's three huge hospitals--the U-M, St. Joe's, and the VA--together handle more than a million patient visits every year. But it took a long time to get there. Both the University of Michigan Hospital (1869) and St. Joseph Mercy Hospital (1911) started out serving mere handfuls of patients in converted homes. For two generations, they shared the town with numerous small hospitals owned by individual practitioners.

Between 1875 and 1945, Ann Arbor had at least seventeen "proprietary" hospitals. All were located in converted houses. Otherwise, they were as different as the personalities and medical specialties of their owners.

The hospitals' owners included some of the most distinguished physicians in the city. Dr. David Murray Cowie founded the U-M pediatrics department, cared for patients at the U-M Hospital, and engaged in extensive research while also running his own hospital in a former mansion on South Division Street. His colleague Dr. Reuben Peterson, U-M professor of "women's and children's diseases," established a private medical complex that eventually filled ten buildings on Forest, Church, and South University. At the other end of the spectrum, nurse Josephine Grove took patients into her own home on Huron near Revena, caring for them around the clock. And Neil Gates, a down-to-earth general practitioner, attempted to treat almost every kind of medical ailment, whether in a patient's home, in his downtown office, or in his hospital on South Fifth Avenue.

Dr. Cowie's exclusive clientele

Dr. David Cowie's sprawling brick mansion at 320 South Division is by far the most impressive surviving former hospital. In its day, it was also the most prestigious.
Cowie was born in Canada in 1872 to Scottish parents (his obituary called him "as Scotch as MacGregor"). He came to Michigan in 1892 to attend Battle Creek College but soon transferred to the U-M, where he graduated from the medical school and was hired as an assistant in internal medicine in 1896. He earned a second medical degree at the University of Heidelberg in 1908, the year he married Anna Marion Cook, who was also a doctor, although there is no evidence that she ever practiced medicine.

When Cowie returned from Germany, he was asked by medical dean George Dock to start a pediatrics department at the U-M Hospital. He opened his private diagnostic hospital a few years later, starting out with four rooms on the second floor at 122 North Fourth Avenue.

In 1918, Cowie tripled the number of patients he could serve by buying the home at 320 South Division built in the mid-1880s for Adelbert Noble, proprietor of the Star Clothing House. Cowie added on an institutional dining room and kitchen to the back of the house and built a third floor for additional patient rooms. Set up to provide complete medical and surgical services, the hospital boasted an automatic elevator, and every room had running water. The nurses wore pink uniforms.

Edith Staebler Kempf, whose in-laws lived next door in what is now the Kempf House Center for Local History, remembered Cowie Private Hospital as "a hospital for rich women." But according to the Medical History of Michigan, published in 1930 by the Michigan State Medical Society, some exceptions were made. The authors wrote of Cowie's "ministration to semi-indigent gentlefolk" as "a pleasant feature" of the hospital.

Retired surgeon Thurston Thieme sometimes assisted with operations at Cowie's as a U-M intern. He agrees with Kempf about the high-toned clientele. He remembers setting out the sterilized instruments for Dr. Frederick Coller, the distinguished chairman of surgery at the U-M, while Coller complained that the patient should have come to the U-M Hospital for the operation. But according to Thieme,"Cowie had the best families as patients. He got the necessary doctors to come in."

Cowie attracted patients from all around the state. Dr. Allen Saunders, a local pediatrician who grew up in Coldwater, remembers that a number of relatives and family friends chose to come to Cowie's in Ann Arbor rather than be treated locally.

Cowie's prominent patients included Francis Kelsey, U-M professor of Latin and director of Near East research. Kelsey, for whom the Kelsey Museum was named, was a friend and admirer of Cowie's. In a 1924 letter to philanthropist Horace Rackham, who underwrote his archaeological work, Kelsey wrote that his wife, Isabelle was sick but was receiving expert care from Cowie: "I have a friend who is a scientific physician in charge of a private hospital where obscure cases of her sort are investigated. She is there now and her case is being studied with the help of the X-ray and other means of diagnosis." It is not known what Cowie found, but Isabelle Kelsey lived another twenty years, to the age of eighty-two.

Francis Kelsey was not so lucky. In 1927, he returned from a dig in Egypt in failing health and immediately checked into Cowie's hospital. Too weak to give the paper on his findings that he had come home expressly to deliver, he got out of his sick bed to go to the meeting and hear someone else read it for him. He came back to the hospital and died a few weeks later.

Photograph of the Cowie Private Hospital
building taken in 2006

Dr. David Cowie took care of patients in his private hospital at 320 S. Division, now an apartment building.

Though his hospital was exclusive, Cowie's research ended up benefiting children throughout the state and the nation. At the time, many children in the Great Lakes region suffered from goiters--swollen thyroid glands in the neck—due to a lack of iodine in the soil. At Cowie's suggestion, a state commission was appointed in 1922 to study the problem. Cowie chaired the group, which first considered adding the iodine to drinking water. When that proved too expensive, they switched to the idea of adding it to table salt. At their urging, iodized salt was marketed in Michigan starting in 1924. Before Cowie began his crusade, 35 percent of Detroit school¬children suffered from goiters. With the introduction of iodized salt, the incidence was reduced to 1.4 percent. The use of iodized salt spread throughout the country and is commonplace today.

Cowie died on January 27, 1940. He became sick while on the way to his cottage in the Irish Hills, returned to Ann Arbor, and entered his own hospital, where he died of a coronary thrombosis. "Dr. Cowie's interests extended far beyond the limits of his profession," the Ann Arbor News wrote. "He was widely read, of broad human sympathies, quiet in demeanor, yet forceful. Literally hundreds of children owed their lives to his professional knowledge and unusual sympathetic insight." After Cowie's death, his hospital was divided into apartments, a use it still retains.

Dr. Peterson's medical empire

Like Cowie, Reuben Peterson served people who were willing to pay for better service than was available in the public hospitals of the time. Thurston Thieme remembers Dr. Peterson's Private Hospital as "a fine hospital, greatly respected and well known." His patients were all women and children, some of whom came from other towns and even other states.

For most of its early years, Peterson's hospital was located in a former fraternity house at 620 South Forest. He was so successful that he expanded into surrounding buildings, until he had the capacity to treat forty patients and train sixteen nurses. His private medical empire eventually included an annex at 614 Forest; a maternity hospital at 610 Forest; five residences for employees and nursing students on Forest, Church, and South University; and two hospitals, run for him by other doctors, at 1216 and 1218 South University.

Peterson was born in Boston in 1862; he received both undergraduate and medical degrees from Harvard, graduating in 1889. He set up the nurse's training program at St. Mark's Hospital in Grand Rapids and taught gynecology at Rush Medical School in Chicago before accepting an appointment to the U-M medical school in 1901. He started his hospital the next year. "The University of Michigan Hospital contains 225 beds," he wrote to explain the move. "It is full to overflowing the year around and many patients are compelled to board outside and wait for beds."

Peterson's hospital opened in June 1902 in an old house at 1215 South University. Peterson's partners, Fantine Pemberton, an early graduate of the new U-M nursing school, and her widowed mother, Laura Pemberton, rented and furnished the hospital building. Besides serving for many years as Peterson's superintendent of nursing and matron respectively, the two women also provided household goods, equipment, and tableware of their own for use in the hospital. A few months later, the hospital moved to the larger house at 620 Forest.

Peterson ran his own nurse's training program at his hospital. He awarded the first degrees in 1907, the same year he incorporated the school and bought out the Pembertons' interest. (Both women continued to work for him.) By 1909, he had six nurses in training. In 1912 Peterson set up the hospital annex and the next year the maternity hospital.

Peterson did not strictly separate his private life from the hospital. In 1910, he installed a "laundry appliance and mangle" in the basement of the hospital and hired Mary Simons and her husband for laundry work, with the understanding that they also would do his wife's laundry. (He had married the former Josephine Davis of Elk Rapids in 1890.) When he used 614 Forest as a home for nurses, he and Mrs. Peterson furnished it with a piano from their home.

In 1920 Peterson decided to discontinue the nurse's training school, "because of the difficulties in maintaining a high standard of training under present conditions." Nursing historian Linda Strodtman explains that "as nursing standards developed, it was not sufficient to just offer women's care." After 1920, Peterson confined his work to one building, keeping 620 Forest as the hospital and the house next door at 614 for a nurses' home, and selling or renting the rest of his property. Shortly after, in 1922, he was promoted to head the ob-gyn department at the U-M medical school.

Clara Schnierle worked at Peterson's hospital from 1928 to 1932 as a cook's helper. She remembers Peterson as a good man and a good doctor--reserved, but still someone you felt comfortable around. "He was strict, like everyone in those days," Schnierle recalls. "You did your duties as he wanted; if you didn't like it, you moved on." Schnierle lived on the third floor of the hospital, which also contained the operating room. On the second floor there were eight private rooms and a nursery where the newborns slept in little baskets.

As a boy, book manufacturer Joe Edwards had his tonsils out at Peterson's. Many women were there for childbirth, but some came with illnesses. According to Schnierle, the patients generally chose Peterson's so they could have a private room and avoid the medical students at University Hospital. Maternity patients stayed two weeks, sitting up only after ten days. If they had twins, they stayed three weeks. Some of the patients hired their own personal nurses. Schnierle remembers a preemie, born three months early, who was tended by two nurses in twelve-hour shifts. The mother was cared for by two other private nurses. After three months in the hospital, the baby and mother went home, accompanied by all four nurses.

Schnierle recalls that Dr. Peterson came by every day, usually in the afternoon, after attending to his work at the university. He spent every summer, when the university was in recess, at his summer home in Duxbury, Massachusetts, arranging with other doctors to take care of emergencies and putting off elective surgery until he returned in the fall.

In 1931, Peterson retired from the university. When Schnierle left to get married in 1932, she was not replaced because Peterson's hospital was shrinking again. It closed for good the next year and Peterson moved permanently to Duxbury, where he died on November 25, 1942, at age eighty. His hospital became a rooming house and later was torn down to make room for the Forest Avenue parking structure.

Nurse Grove's home hospital

Most proprietary hospitals were owned by doctors. But the Grove Cottage Hospital, 1422 West Huron at Revena, was owned and operated by nurse Josephine Grove and her husband, Otto, who was listed in the city directory as a traveling salesman.
The Groves turned their home into a hospital in the mid-1920s and ran it until Otto's death in 1934. Upstairs were two bedrooms for patients (they kept the third bedroom for themselves). Downstairs another bedroom was available for overflow patients. The upstairs bathroom served visiting doctors as an operating room. Mrs. Grove herself cared for her patients around the clock.

Most of Grove's patients were referred by a neighbor, Dr. John Gates, who lived at 201 South Revena. Many were women giving birth. Helen Wolf Curtis remembers that her brother was born at the Grove Cottage Hospital in 1927. Her family lived at 110 South Revena, so when her mother, Lucy Wolf, went into labor, she just walked down the street. After Dr. Peterson's hospital closed, his former employee, Clara Schnierle, chose to have her first child at Grove's. She explains that in those days people differed on whether to have their babies at home or in the hospital. Schnierle and her husband decided they would rather have the first one in a hospital, so their physician, John Gates, recommended the Grove Cottage Hospital. Schnierle remembers Mrs. Grove as "very pleasant, very serious-minded.”

Sophie Walker, who lived nearby at 330 South Seventh, had her baby at Grove's hospital in 1928, not with Dr. Gates, but with another doctor, whom she chose because he spoke German. She had come from Germany just two years before. She liked Grove's hospital because it was like a private home, but she has a sad memory of the patient in the other room crying after giving birth: she wasn't married and was giving up her baby for adoption.

Maternity was not the only service offered. When Helen Wolf Curtis was a girl, she fell off the front stoop and broke her arm, and Dr. John Gates set it. Eleven years later, in 1929, she had the plate taken out at Grove's hospital, and while she was there she also had her tonsils and adenoids out. She remembers the hospital as "a wonderful place, not very plush but neat and clean."

Dr. John Gates's elder brother, Neil, was also a doctor, a well-loved general practitioner. But according to his grandson Jeff Rentschler, he struggled financially until he bought his own hospital.

Gates's hospital at 314 South Fifth Avenue (now the parking lot of the Federal Building) exemplified a general practitioner's proprietary hospital. Neil Gates was the classic GP--he made house calls even in the worst weather, never took vacations (another grandson, David Gates, remembers him saying, "I'll take a vacation on the day nobody gets sick"), and was rarely allowed to sleep through the night. He smoked cigars constantly; people said they didn't recognize him without one. His niece Janet Ivory remembers him coming to her house when she was sick as a little girl. "When I smelled the cigar smoke, I felt better because I knew he was there. I knew I would get better."

Gates was born in Ann Arbor in 1873, the son of contractor John Gates and Dora McCormick Gates. He graduated from the U-M medical school in 1897 and started his career in Dexter. In about 1900 he built the Gates Block there as an office and infirmary (it is now occupied by insurance and real estate offices). Ten years later he moved to Ann Arbor and opened an office at 117 East Liberty, but he still kept up his large rural practice.

In the early days, Gates made house calls in a horse and buggy. In later years, his daughter, Lois Gates Rentschler, would drive him, often taking her son, Jeff, along. Jeff and his mother would usually stay in the car or walk around outside, but he has one memory of going inside the house of an elderly women in Dexter and eating homemade graham crackers with butter in front of her wood-burning stove.
During the flu epidemic of 1918, Gates ministered heroically to his rural patients. The epidemic hit Ann Arbor in the fall, but didn't get out into the country until the winter. Gates usually made winter visits in a one-horse sleigh that he drove himself, but during the epidemic he hired a two-horse wagon and a driver so that he could sleep between visits. During the terrible epidemic, which claimed 548,000 lives nationwide, it was the only rest he got.

Gates made a lot of his own medicine using natural materials--plants, weeds, bark, fungus-—that he mashed with a pestle. For refined ingredients, he dealt exclusively with Fischer's Pharmacy. David Gates remembers that his grandfather carried three or four bags filled with all sorts of medicines, including some sugar pills he gave to people with imagined illnesses.

The Ann Arbor Railroad tracks ran right behind Gates's house at 440 South Main. When he was at home, his wife would put a scarf on the pole of the bird-house in the backyard, so the train crews could stop if they had a medical problem. They would toot their whistle and Gates would come out to take a cinder out of an eye, treat a burn, set a broken arm, or help a passenger with motion sickness.

Despite all his business, Gates for many years didn't make much money. David Gates remembers that his grandparents had a monster icebox and a big pantry, usually filled with eggs, chickens, and whatever produce was in season, contributed by patients who couldn't afford to pay in cash. But Jeff Rentschler says their grandfather did much better after he started his own hospital in 1924.

The hospital Gates bought was an old Queen Anne house on South Fifth Avenue, built about 1895, complete with tower and wraparound front porch. In 1906, U-M medical professor Cyrenus Darling had converted it into a hospital with its own operating room and eight private patient rooms. In 1911, Darling became one of eight founding staff doctors at St. Joe's, which started out in a former rooming house on the corner of State and Kingsley. For a few years Darling worked at both hospitals, but in 1916 he decided to concentrate on St. Joe's. The hospital was run by James and Muriel McLaren as "Maplehurst" until Dr. Gates bought it 1924.

Gates modernized the hospital by adding an X-ray facility, a second operating room (used mainly for delivering babies), and two wards, raising its capacity to twenty-eight patients. In his book Historic Michigan, George Fuller called Gates's hospital "one of the most complete and up-to-date of the many privately owned institutions of its kind in the United States."

As in his office and rural practice, Gates continued to treat whatever needs his patients had, although he had a reputation for being particularly good at stitching. W. H. Priestkorn went there as a boy to have his appendix out. Nate Weinberg's mother was operated on for pleurisy. Sam Schlect remembers someone he knew being stitched up by Dr. Gates after a Fourth of July explosion slashed his cheek.

Gates had a lot of maternity business. Mary Schlect, Sam's wife, gave birth to their daughter there in 1943. Sam was in the army, so she came with her neighbor, Gladys Water, who also was pregnant, and stayed in a three-bed ward. She remembers that the fee was $110, reduced to $100 if paid in cash. Election worker Bev Kirsht, who was born in Gates's hospital, reports that her father, George Lirette, was in the delivery room both for her birth and that of her sister. Years later, the Lamaze Association would have to fight local hospitals for this privilege, but Gates was ahead of his time on the issue. He routinely told the men, "Go out and take off your tie and jacket and come back in. It's your baby, too." David Gates believes there was a large influx of babies named "Neil" from the Gates's hospital—he says that when his grandfather delivered a boy he would hold him up and say, "If you don't know what to name him, name him 'Neil.' "

Gates never retired. During World War II he was able to continue his usual rural calls, thanks to a special permit that enabled him to buy gasoline and hard-to-obtain tires, both rationed. He was also issued extra ration coupons to buy food for the patients in his hospital.

Dr. Gates died July 16, 1945. By then, his was the last surviving private hospital in the city. The rest had slowly died out, unable to compete with St. Joe's, which had built a big hospital on Ingalls in 1913, and the U-M, which had built a large modern hospital in 1925.

Of all hospitals, Paul Starr writes, the proprietary hospitals' "rate of institutional survival was the lowest. In this regard they were typical of small businesses; they opened and closed with the vicissitudes of personal fortune." Ann Arbor's experience bears this out. None of the hospitals survived their owners. After Gates's death, his hospital was converted to a rooming house. The turreted building was torn down in 1973 to make room for the Federal Building.

Proprietary Hospitals

The following list of proprietary hospitals and the doctors who owned them was compiled from the City Directory and from people's memories.

Ann Arbor Sanitarium and Private Hospital, Dr. James Lynds, 403 S. Fourth Ave. (now Muehlig's Funeral Chapel)
Ann Arbor Private Hospital, Mrs. Margaret Kelly, proprietor, Huron near First, then 1129 Washtenaw Ave.
Bethel Faith Home, Mrs. Augusta Whitlark, matron, 126 Observatory
Dr. William Blair, 311 S. Division St.
Burrett-Smith, Dr. Cyrus Burrett and Dr. Dean T. Smith, first at 721 E. Washington, then at 416 S. Fifth Ave.
Classen Private Hospital, Dr. Carrie Classen, osteopath, 429 Hamilton Place
Cowie Private Hospital, Dr. David M. Cowie, 320 S. Division St.
Curtrest Maternity Home and Hospital, Mrs. Severine C. Curtiss, 1100 E. Huron St.
Dr. Neil Gates, 314 S. Fifth Ave.
Grove Cottage Hospital, Josephine and Otto Grove, 1422 W. Huron St.
Herdman's Private Hospital, Dr. William James Herdman, 709 W. Huron St.
Institute of Ozonotherapy, R. M. Leggett, manager, 120 N. Fourth Ave.
Maplehurst, James and Muriel McLaren, first at 314 S. Fifth Ave., then at 822 Arch
Dr. Katherine Martin, 120 N. Fourth Ave.
Dr. Peterson's Private Hospital, Dr., Reuben Peterson, 620 S. Forest Ave.
Washtenaw Private Hospital, also known as Dr. Cummings's Private Hospital, Dr. Howard Cummings, 216 N. State St.
Vreeland Maternity Home, Mrs.Velva C. Vreeland, 315 W. Mosley


[Photo caption from book]: Dr. Rueben Peterson, standing by his wife’s roses, ran a hospital for women and children that also served as a nurse’s training school.

[Photo caption from book]: Dr. Neil Gates ran the city's last private hospital at 314 S. Fifth. Unable to keep up with advances at public hospitals, it closed after his death in 1945 and was torn down in 1973.


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