The Underground Railroad in Ann Arbor

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

Author: Grace Shackman

In the years before the Civil War, a handful of local abolitionists helped fugitive slaves make their way to freedom in Canada.

A few days since we had the rare pleasure, in connection with many of our friends in this place, of bestowing our hospitalities upon six of our brethren, who tarried with us some sixteen hours to refresh themselves, on their journey to a land of freedom.
--Signal of Liberty, May 12, 1841

The Signal of Liberty was the weekly newspaper of the Anti-Slavery Party of Michigan. "This place" was Ann Arbor, where editor Guy Beckley produced the paper from an office on Broadway. The Signal of Liberty was one of a series of Michigan papers that in the years before the Civil War called for the abolition of slavery in the United States. On May 12, 1841, it also provided a rare glimpse into Ann Arborites' practical efforts on behalf of escaped slaves: an article by Beckley and Theodore Foster recording an escape on the Underground Railroad.

An issue of the Signal of Liberty

An issue of the Signal of Liberty, Ann Arbor's abolitionist newspaper.

"Believing as we do that it is morally wrong to continue our fellow beings in involuntary servitude, it is with the utmost pleasure that we aid and assist them in their flight from southern kidnappers," Beckley and Foster wrote. They described the fugitives as "from twenty-one to thirty years of age--in good health and spirits and apparently much delighted with the prospect of a new home, where the sound of the whip and clanking of chains will no longer grate upon their ears and mangle and gall their limbs."

According to a follow-up story on May 19, the escaped slaves successfully completed the final leg of their journey to freedom in Canada. "We take great pleasure in announcing to our readers that they have all landed, as we intended they should, safe on British soil," Beckley and Foster wrote. Today's Canada was still a group of British possessions then, and slavery had been abolished in all British territories eight years earlier, in 1833. In Michigan, slavery was illegal, but slaveholders still had the right to apprehend escapees; in what is now Ontario, however, the attorney general had ruled that any person on Canadian soil was automatically free.

That promise made Canada the destination of choice for blacks who escaped slavery in the South. The Underground Railroad was a network of sympathetic northerners who helped the fugitives on their way once they reached the free states. There are several stories about the origin of the Underground Railroad's name, but all point to situations in which slave hunters had been hot on the trail of fugitives, only to have the prey disappear as completely as if they had gone underground. Extending the metaphor, the escapees were referred to as "passengers" or sometimes "baggage," while the helpers along the way were "conductors" and the stopping points "stations."

Susan Hussey, the daughter of Battle Creek conductor Erastus Hussey, explained in a 1912 interview, "Passengers over the Underground Railroad were of one class--fugitive slaves. They traveled in one direction--toward Canada. There was no demand for return trip tickets."

Two of the railroad's "lines" crossed in Ann Arbor, and from the Signal of Liberty article and other sources we know that fugitives passed through here on their way to Canada. But beyond that, there is much we do not know and probably never will.

Of the millions of slaves held in the southern states, only a tiny fraction escaped to freedom. There is no record of how many reached Canada; the generally accepted figure is about 40,000. Yet this comparative handful of people played a critical role in bringing the tensions between North and South to a head. It was one thing for northerners to know in an abstract way that southerners kept slaves. It was quite another to be compelled by federal law to send fellow human beings back into servitude.

"Worse than horse thieves"

A very early act of the U.S. Congress, in 1793, set down procedures for identifying escaped slaves and returning them to their “owners". As the abolitionist movement gained strength in the North, a number of states passed laws intended to hinder enforcement of the federal "fugitive slave" law. Nonetheless, helping a slave escape remained a federal crime until 1864.

Presumably for that reason, Beckley and Foster were vague about where the "six brethren" stayed and exactly who assisted them. Had the helpers been caught, they would have faced fines or jail sentences. The fugitives would have been returned to slavery in the South, where they would probably have been severely beaten in a warning to other slaves.

Beckley and Foster also knew that their neighbors in Ann Arbor were divided over abolition. An Anti-Slavery Society was formed in 1836, and some religious groups, particularly Quakers and Wesleyan Methodists, were devoted to the cause. Ann Arbor's First Congregational Church was founded in 1847 by former members of First Presbyterian, who broke away in part because they wanted to take a stronger stand against slavery. But there was also a significant number who were not supporters of the cause.

"Our neighbors accuse us of being 'worse than horse thieves,' because we have given to the colored man a helping hand in his perilous journey," Beckley and Foster wrote. "We are also held up as transgressors of the law and having no regard for the civil authority."

As late as 1861, a speech by Parker Pillsbury, a noted abolitionist, was broken up by a mob. Speaking at a church at 410 North State Street (still standing, the building is now a private residence), Pillsbury had to escape out a back window, followed by his audience. The attack so unnerved other area churches that most of them closed their doors to another anti-slavery speaker, Wendell Phillips, when he came to town later that year. (The Congregationalists agreed to let him speak, but only after a special vote of the trustees.)

Despite those mixed feelings, no record has been found that Ann Arbor residents ever returned a fugitive slave. Slaves were in more danger from their former owners, and from bounty hunters, who sought to collect large rewards for their capture. The situation worsened after 1850, when a new Fugitive Slave Act was passed. It swept away all due process for blacks accused of being runaway slaves, increased penalties for helping escapees, and made it a crime for local law enforcers not to return slaves.

Even free blacks, of whom there were 231 in Washtenaw County in 1850, were not safe from the slave hunters. Laura Haviland, an abolitionist from Adrian, wrote about one such case in her 1881 memoir, A Woman's Life. In the 1840s, Haviland writes, she helped a fugitive couple named Elsie and William Hamilton. The Hamiltons left Adrian after their former owner appeared and tried to recapture them, moving to several other places, including "a farm near Ypsilanti for a few years." According to Haviland, the Hamiltons had left Ypsilanti by 1850, but their former owner, believing they were still there, sent his son north to capture them. The son didn't find the Hamiltons, but he did find a family of free blacks, the David Gordons, who came close to the description he had of the Hamilton family. Claiming the Gordons were the Hamiltons, the slave owner's son demanded their arrest. Antislavery activists helped the Gordons confirm their freedom.

Paths to freedom

Most of the fugitives who passed through Michigan came from states directly to the south. (Slaves escaping from the more easterly southern states could go through Pennsylvania and New York, or on a ship along the coast.) "The fugitives came from various localities in the slave states, but most of those who passed on this line were from Kentucky, some were from Missouri and occasionally from the far south," reminisced Nathan Thomas, the conductor from Schoolcraft, south of Kalamazoo, in a letter he wrote in 1882. In another 1841 article, Foster and Beckley mention a fugitive "from the lead mines of Missouri."

The line Thomas was referring to went east and west across the state, roughly along the route of today's 1-94. Fugitives usually came north from Quaker settlements in Indiana to Cassopolis, near Niles, where there was another Quaker settlement. They then traveled east through Battle Creek, Jackson, and Ann Arbor. A north-south route came from Toledo (where James Ashley, founder of the Ann Arbor Railroad, was an active member) to Adrian, an important hub where Haviland and a group of fellow Quakers ran a school, the Raisin Institute, for students of all colors. Refugees traveled from Adrian to Clinton and thence through Saline to Ann Arbor or Ypsilanti. From Washtenaw County, fugitives went on to Detroit, where they would cross the Detroit River at night in rowboats. Later, when the Detroit River was too closely watched, the route shifted northward to cross the St. Clair River.

By the time the fugitives hooked up with the Underground Railroad, they would have done the hardest part by themselves: getting out of the South. "Their travel with some rare exceptions was entirely by night and generally on foot until they passed from the slave to the free state," wrote Thomas. "[They] generally received friendly aid to only a limited extent from persons residing in the slave states. But success depended mainly upon their own efforts. They obtained food at night from the Negro quarters during their passage through the south."

Once fugitives arrived in free states, help was easier to get, although they still had to avoid bounty hunters. "They did not bring much property with them; and their clothing was generally barely sufficient to cover them from suffering. The most destitute cases were relieved by their friends after their arrival in the free states," Thomas recalled. Stations were at intervals that could be covered on foot in one night, usually every fifteen or sixteen miles. There conductors could hide the refugees or arrange for others to do so, feed them, and see to their passage to the next station.

Slaves had been escaping during all of their captivity, but the number rose after the War of 1812, when returning soldiers spread the word about how close Canada was. According to Thomas, the line he worked on did not help its first fugitive until 1836. "The second [fugitive] in the fall of 1838 came from the far south through the Quaker settlements in Indiana," Thomas wrote. "He spent the winter with old father Gillet [Amasa Gillet of Sharon Township] in Washtenaw Co. and went to Canada the following spring. Others followed and the underground railroad was gradually established through the state." According to Thomas the line had no overall president, but the management was entrusted to one person in each area. He went on to list them, including Guy Beckley in Ann Arbor.

Erastus Hussey of Battle Creek, interviewed in 1885, explained that he was recruited as a conductor in 1840. He named the other major conductors on his line, including those in Washtenaw: "At Dexter we had Samuel W. Dexter and his sons. At Scio was a prominent man, Theodore Foster, father of Seymour Foster of Lansing. At Ann Arbor was Guy Beckley, editor of the Signal of Liberty, the organ of the Liberty party [an antislavery party that ran candidates in 1840 and 1844], who published the paper in connection with Theodore Foster. At Geddes, was John Geddes, after whom the town was named and who built a large flouring mill there."

Photograph of Samuel Dexter's mansion

Among the places slaves might have hid is Samuel Dexter’s mansion just outside the village of that name.

Turning to secondary sources, we can add more names to the list of participants. Starting in 1892, Wilbur Siebert, a professor of history at Ohio State, interviewed as many survivors of the Underground Railroad as he could find. His 1898 book, The Underground Railroad from Slavery to Freedom, includes a list of stationmasters by county. For Washtenaw he lists, besides those already mentioned, Moses Bartlett, Ira Camp, Joseph Fowler, Jotham Goodell, Harwood, John Lowy (probably the afore¬mentioned John Lowry), and Ray. Chapman's 1881 History of Washtenaw County adds more: Asher Aray, Richard Glasier, James Morwick, Sylvester Noble, Russell Preston, and Eber White. Research by Carol Mull, underground railroad historian, has revealed that Rray” and “Asher Aray” were the same person.

Twentieth-century sources in newspapers, articles, and oral traditions include still more names and places, but many of these are not verified--and people's very fascination with the railroad is largely to blame. Its history combines the drama of life-and-death pursuit with reassuring images of interracial cooperation and white resistance to slavery. Because the idea of the Underground Railroad is so compelling, many stories have been told about it that appear to rest on little more than imaginative speculation.

History and myth

In Ann Arbor's one-time black neighborhood north of Kerrytown, it's common to hear that the Brewery Apartments at the corner of North Fifth Avenue and Summit Street were a stop on the Underground Railroad. Twenty-five years ago, there was even an unsuccessful campaign to locate a museum there. Yet, no nineteenth-century evidence links the building to the railroad. The story appears to have arisen when neighbors noted the cellars extending from the building in the direction of the Michigan Central tracks, and speculated that they might have been dug to smuggle fleeing slaves to and from passing trains. Though escaped slaves occasionally traveled by train, the extensive cellars were built for a much more mundane purpose: storing beer.

There are many similar stories, in which a family tradition or a physical quirk in a building is cited as evidence of participation in the Underground Railroad. Most are probably groundless. When it comes to the Underground Railway, "unfortunately it seems very clear that there's a lot more mythical belief than reality," EMU historian Mark Higbee told the Ann Arbor News in 1996.

"The Underground Railroad is the sort of thing that in the 1880s and 1890s people liked to say they were involved in, or their parents were involved," adds another historian, John Quist. "It's just hard to find contemporary verification and there's a lot of embellishment going on."

The Underground Railroad did exist. Clearly, escaped slaves passed through Washtenaw County, and some were helped by people here. However, it is impossible to go much farther with definite details of when they came, who they were, where they went, how many there were, or where they ended up. Reconstructing the local Underground Railroad is like putting together a jigsaw puzzle when some pieces are missing and the remaining pieces can be put together in several different ways.

In evaluating the historical evidence, first-person accounts written at the time are assumed to be the most accurate source of information. Unfortunately, because of the railroad's clandestine nature, few records were kept. In rare cases, conductors kept notes and hid them, but none have been found in Washtenaw County except for some references in the Signal of Liberty, which are intentionally obscure.

Next in value are accounts written by participants after the fact, including those of Hussey, Thomas, and Haviland. Written many years after the events described, these tales may have been embellished in retelling, but there's nothing to suggest that they were made up out of whole cloth. It adds credibility that the three memoirs do not contradict one another.

Last in the order of reliability are stories passed on by word of mouth and deductions based on physical evidence. But while such stories in themselves prove nothing, they should not automatically be assumed false, either. Like Bible stories used to prompt archaeological digs, they can help direct research in useful ways, even if the original tale is not confirmed.

With specifics so cloudy, trying to assess the size of the Underground Railroad locally is largely guesswork. No nineteenth-century source tried to estimate how many fugitives were helped in Washtenaw County. The nearest number comes from Erastus Hussey, who claims in his memoir to have helped about 1,000 fugitives who reached Battle Creek.

Some of the people Hussey assisted presumably stayed in the free black communities of mid-Michigan. Most, however, would have continued east through Washtenaw County on their way to Canada. Since an unknown additional number arrived by the southern route, it seems reasonable to take 1,000 as a working figure for Washtenaw County as well.

The movement was at its peak from the mid-1830s to the mid-1850s. Dividing the 1,000 figure evenly over that twenty-year period suggests that an average of fifty escaped slaves a year may have passed through Ann Arbor with the aid of the Underground Railroad. But who helped them, and where did they stay?

Conductors on the railway

He was considered by many to be at least a very eccentric character, but as history has shown since, it was the entire American nation that was more eccentric than good, old John Lowry.
—Judge Noah Cheever. describing a Saline farmer active in the Underground Railroad

After the Civil War, many people wanted to claim connections with the Underground Railroad. When the railroad was active, however, only individuals with strong convictions and considerable courage were prepared to aid escaped slaves in defiance of both social convention and federal law. So it's wise to view the lists of local participants compiled after the fact by Siebert and the county history with some caution. Whether from boasting, forgetfulness, or confusion, some names on the lists may be inaccurate. At a minimum, though, they provide a picture of the people who were believed in the late nineteenth century to have been part of the Underground Railroad.

Dr. Charles Lindquist, director of the Lenawee County Museum, has done a lot of research on his county's role in the Underground Railroad. He suggests the best strategy to identify participants is to "find corroborating evidence--if they lived in places supposedly involved, if they were Quakers, if they subscribed to the Signal of Liberty, if they were active in the Anti-Slavery Society.

"It was definitely illegal, so they were very secretive," Lindquist adds. "It was impossible for there to be just one place [for fugitives to stay in each town]. They'd have to have different places, not a pattern, or they'd get caught." Lindquist also notes that it would have been easier to hide in the country than in town.

The list below is an educated guess about the local participants in the two Underground Railroad lines that passed through Washtenaw County, compiled through use of the Siebert and county history lists and Lindquist's rules of thumb.

The East-West Route

Amasa Gillet: When fugitives entered Washtenaw County from the west, Gillet's farm in southern Sharon Township may have been their first stopping point. Nathan says that Gillet sheltered the second person to pass down this line of the railroad. The 1881 county history calls him "an anti-slavery man" and concurs that "his house was known as a station on the 'Underground rail way.'" Gillet was active in the Anti-Slavery Society and was an important member of the local Methodist church.

Samuel Dexter: The founder and namesake of Dexter village is identified as a conductor by Erastus Hussey. Local Quakers enjoyed the irony that the Dexters could entertain visitors on the porch of their southern-style mansion while hiding fugitives inside. The Dexter house, known as Gordon Hall, still stands on Dexter-Pinckney Road just outside the village.

Theodore Foster: Foster's antislavery work is well documented. A schoolmaster and store owner in the hamlet of Scio, where Zeeb Road crosses the Huron River, Foster was an active member of the Anti-Slavery Society, was editor with Guy Beckley of the Signal of Liberty, and was named as a conductor by Hussey. In the 1950s. Foster's grandson, also named Theodore, set down a story he had heard from his father, Seymour, about a game of hide-and-seek when Seymour was a boy. "Some youngsters ran into the basement and attempted to tip over an oversize barrel or hogshead," Foster recounted. "Upon doing so, they were much surprised and frightened to discover a colored man squatting there. The frightened children ran to their mother with tales of their discovery and Mr. Foster's children became aware of the meaning of their father's night rides and calls by strangers at the back door. They often heard someone knock at the door after dark and their father would hitch up the horse and be gone most of the night." The Foster home is no longer there.

Eber White: A farmer and one of the founders of Ann Arbor's First Methodist Church, White lived on what was then the western edge of the city. According to the county history, "in slavery days [he] was a prime mover in the underground railroad, and many a slave after reaching Canada has thanked God for the help given him by Eber White and his trustworthy friends." White's house at 405 Eberwhite (on the corner of Liberty) has been replaced by a modem house; the land he farmed is now the neighborhood around Eberwhite School.

Sylvester Noble: The county history says that Noble was a member of the Underground Railroad, as does his obituary, which states that "during the days of slavery his sympathies were strongly engaged on the side of the oppressed and his house was frequently made a station on the underground railroad." His home at 220 West Huron is no longer standing.

James Morwick: "During slavery days he was a prime mover in the famous Underground Railroad," according to the county history. An architect, Morwick lived at 604 East Washington, in a house that is now a student rental.

Robert Glazier: Glazier (sometimes spelled Glasier) "was considered one of the best 'conductors' on the route," according to the county history. "He has assisted in passing many a slave into Canada where they would be safe from their cruel master. His 'route' lay from Ann Arbor [east] to Farmington and on one occasion he made a trip to Adrian with William Lloyd Garrison." Supporting evidence is that Glazier was a member of the Michigan Anti-Slavery Society and a devout Quaker. Glazier's house, which began as a log cabin, still stands at 3175 Glazier Way.

John Geddes: Hussey names Geddes as a conductor. His role was challenged almost as soon as Hussey's 1885 interview appeared, however, when an Ypsilanti newspaper article asserted that Geddes "never had anything to do with it [the Underground Railroad]." Historian Quist, whose U-M doctoral dissertation looked at antislavery efforts in Washtenaw County, found no record that Geddes was an active abolitionist.

Besides Hussey’s mention, the main other evidence is that Francis Monaghan, who worked for Geddes as a farmhand and bought the property in 1885, passed on to his descendants stories he heard from Geddes about his involvement in the Underground Railroad. But in recent years, both Geddes’ letters and diary have come to light and people who have read them say they contain no references to the underground railroad or abolitionism or slavery or even radical politics.

Photograph of the Huron Block on Broadway

Guy Beckley published the Signal of Liberty above his brother Josiah’s store in the Huron Block on Broadway.

Guy Beckley: Beckley published the Signal of Liberty from an office above the store of his brother, Josiah Beckely, on Broadway, across the street from the Anson Brown Building on Broadway (which today houses the St. Vincent de Paul store). His home, just a few blocks away at 1425 Pontiac Trail, is the Ann Arbor structure most identified with the antislavery cause; it's where school buses stop on historical field trips. A specific spot for hiding fugitives has never been found in his house, although a back part has been torn down. It's possible that because Beckley was so publicly identified with the Underground Railroad, fugitives were hidden elsewhere if a danger was perceived. An ordained minister, Beckley moved to Ann Arbor in 1839, remaining active in the abolitionist cause until his death in 1847.

Josiah Beckley: A farmer and brick maker, he was supposed to have played a less active role in the anti-slavery movement than his brother, helping mostly with funding. His two Ann Arbor houses are strong possibilities for Underground Railroad sites:

* 1317 Pontiac: Former owner Fran Wright says her deed research established that Josiah Beckley bought the land in 1835 and probably built the house the next year. Present owner Jack Kenny says that there is a hiding place at the back of a downstairs closet big enough for three or four people. Jerry Cantor, who grew up on the north side, said that when he was a boy he was told that fugitive slaves hid in the barn on this property.

* 1709 Pontiac: Former owner Deborah Oakley says that her deed research established that Josiah Beckley bought the land in 1827, the year he came to Ann Arbor, and built the house sometime between 1831 and 1843. Josiah probably built the house in the late 1830s, moving there from 1317 Pontiac. We know he resided there when he died in 1843. Present owner Martha Wallace says there is a false wall in the basement "made with brick the same generation as the house--old and crumbly" that may have concealed a hiding place for fugitive slaves.

The Southern Route

Prince Bennett of Augusta Township is not mentioned in any of the nineteenth-century accounts of the Underground Railroad, but a strong oral tradition suggests that he was a conductor. Barbara McKenzie, Bennett's great-granddaughter, says that she was told that "Underneath his front porch there was a trapdoor that led to a room where you could put runaway slaves." Bennett, whose home on Tuttle Road no longer stands, certainly was an abolitionist: a founder of Augusta's Evangelical Friends Church, he was active in the Anti-Slavery Association, and his obituary describes him as "a prominent anti-slavery man of olden times."

John Lowry: In 1899, Judge Noah Cheever, who had been in Ann Arbor since 1859, published a book called Pleasant Walks and Drives about Ann Arbor. Cheever recommended stopping at the farm of John Lowry [probably the John Lowy listed in Siebert], explaining that "Mr. Lowry's house was one of the stations to the underground railroad and he assisted a great many slaves on their way to Canada. ... Mr. Sellick Wood, lately deceased of our city, told me that when he was a young man he drove a number of loads of fleeing negro slaves from Mr. Lowry's home to the Detroit River and saw that they were safely carried across to Canada." Lowry's house, now gone, stood on the west side of Ann Arbor-Saline Road, near Brassow.

The route to Canada

From Ann Arbor, the next stop to the east was Ypsilanti. A. P. Marshall's Unconquered Souls: The History of the African American in Ypsilanti, includes a discussion of the city's involvement in the Underground Railroad. Marshall says that George McCoy transported fugitives in wagons with false bottoms and gave them shelter in his barn, while Helen McAndrew hid them in either her octagon house or her barn. Both of these homes have been torn down. "The only house we can absolutely verify is the Norris house," Marshall says. Mark Norris lived at 213 North River Street and was a prominent early settler whose role in the Underground Railroad is documented in letters retained by his family. Others have suggested that fugitives were hidden in Ypsilanti's black church, but Marshall is doubtful. "The church was in an old livery stable and didn't have a basement. It's the first place [slave hunters] would look."

Going north out of Ann Arbor, up Pontiac Trail from the Beckley houses, or straight north from the Geddes and Glazier houses, fugitives would pass the hamlet of Salem. While no contemporary evidence has been found that Salem residents aided the fugitives, The History of Salem Township, published in 1976, lists seven possible Underground Railroad sites, based on older documents and stories told by local residents. The hamlet's support for abolition is indisputable: in the 1840 election it led the county in voting for the antislavery Liberty party, giving the abolitionists sixty-three votes, compared with fifty in Ann Arbor and twenty in Ypsilanti.

Photograph of Guy Beckley's home at 1425
Pontiac Trail

Guy Beckley's home at 1425 Pontiac Trail.

From Ypsilanti, the former slaves originally traveled east through Plymouth, River Rouge, and Swartzburg to Detroit. When that route became too closely watched, the line shifted northward, passing through a string of towns--Northville, Farmington, Birmingham, Pontiac, Rochester, Utica, Romeo, Richmond, and New Haven--on the way to the St. Clair River. Finally, the fugitives were smuggled across to Canada by boat.

Living legacies

It is estimated that 40,000 former slaves and their families were living in Canada at the time of the Civil War. About half of them eventually moved back to the United States. They came over a period of decades to rejoin family, to return to a warmer climate, or to pursue jobs or education. In her memoir, Laura Haviland mentions a former slave named John White who after emancipation "removed to Ann Arbor, Michigan to educate his children."

Many Ann Arbor families trace their descent to these black Canadians. The local black Elks Lodge, according to member William Hampton, "was formed by a group mostly from Canada." Several well-known historic figures, including Charles Baker, co-owner of the Ann Arbor Foundry, and Claude Brown, who ran a secondhand store in the Main Street building that now houses Laky's Salon, came to Ann Arbor from Canada.

At least three Ann Arbor families have connections with North Buxton, a remarkable settlement in the middle of southwestern Ontario, near Chatham. North Buxton was founded in 1849 by William King, a minister who married the daughter of a southern plantation owner. When King's wife inherited her family's fifteen slaves, King freed them, buying land in Canada for them to resettle. They became the nucleus of a black community whose residents grew a wide range of crops, owned and operated businesses, ran hotels, organized churches, and published a newspaper. Their schools were so good that white people from neighboring communities sent their children there. And they claimed a number of firsts, including the first black Canadian elected to public office.

Ann Arborite Ruth Spann's great-aunt came from North Buxton, and Lydia Morton's great-grandfather lived in nearby Fletcher. Viola Henderson's great-aunt, Mary Ann Shadd Gary, ran a school in Windsor for black refugees. After the passage of the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act made life more dangerous near the border, she moved inland to North Buxton, where in 1853 she became the first black woman in North America to edit a weekly newspaper. After the war, she returned to the United States, where she was the first black woman to graduate from Howard University Law School.

Dwight Walls, pastor of the Greater Shiloh Church of God in Christ in Ypsilanti, is descended from John Freeman Walls, a former slave from North Carolina, and Jane Walls, the white widow of his original master. The Wallses escaped the South, reached Canada by boat from Toledo, and settled in Puce, Ontario. Dwight Walls's grandfather moved to Detroit to work after World War II, but his family still has many Canadian connections. He reports that a number of black Ypsilantians have Canadian roots, including the Bass, Perry, and Kersey families, as well as the Grayer family of his mother.

Descendants of the original settlers still live in North Buxton, although only two families still farm and the children go into Chatham for school. Artifacts from the original settlement, including King's bed and many photographs, can be viewed in the Raleigh Township Centennial Museum. In Puce, Walls's cousins run the John Freeman Historic Site and Underground Railroad Museum, which includes the log cabin his ancestors lived in and the graveyard where they are buried.

Amherstburg, where many fugitives arrived by rowboat, honors their place in black history with the North American Black Historical Museum and Cultural Centre. These and several other sites--including the homestead of Josiah Henson, the man believed to be the model for Uncle Tom in Harriet Beecher Stowe's novel Uncle Tom's Cabin--form the African-Canadian Heritage Tour.

Sites in Michigan are harder to find. In Battle Creek, the store where Erastus Hussey once hid runaway slaves is gone, its place noted by a historical marker. Another marker tells the story of the Merritts, a Quaker family who hid slaves. In nearby Schoolcraft, Nathan Thomas's house still stands. Privately owned, it is periodically opened to the public. In Cassopolis, there's a historical marker on the former site of the Quaker meetinghouse, once a key center for fugitives entering from Indiana.

Researchers A. P. Marshall and Charles Lindquist, and Mary Butler, archivist for the Historical Society of Battle Creek, all speak of the frustration of working with such ephemeral evidence. But more information may come to light through a U.S. Parks Service project to identify and mark Underground Railroad sites on which the Guy Beckley home has been listed. The larger than expected attendance at the National Underground Freedom Center, which opened in Cincinnati in 2004, also shows that there is an increasing interest.

The period of slavery is an enormous blot on American history. The Underground Railroad was a heartening exception, in which people of all races worked together to help slaves to freedom. Retelling the story, we celebrate the courage and ingenuity of those who escaped, the kindness of both blacks and whites who helped them on their journey, and the ability of the fugitives to start life over in Canada--and, for many, yet again in the United States.

The Roy Hoyer Dance Studio

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

Author: Grace Shackman

A taste of Broadway in Ann Arbor

Performers tap dancing on drums or flying out over the audience on swings, women in fancy gowns and plumes floating onto the stage to the strains of "A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody." A Busby Berkeley musical on Broadway? No, it was right here in Ann Arbor at the Lydia Mendelssohn theater: "Juniors on Parade," a Ziegfeld-style production created by Broadway veteran Roy Hoyer to showcase the talents of his dance students and to raise money for worthy causes.

Otto's Band

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

Author: Grace Shackman

Playing “The Victors” in manuscript and sending soldiers off to war, they gave the city its sound track for half a century

In a temporary stage illuminated by gasoline lamps, Otto’s Band gave summer concerts on the County Courthouse lawn in the early decades of the twentieth century. The audience, who in the days before radio and record players had few opportunities to hear music, was very appreciative of all the pieces, but the highlight was always “The Holy City.” Everyone was quiet as bandleader Louis Otto rose and played the sentimental religious solo on his cornet. When Otto finished, he was answered by Ray Haight, playing his trumpet from the Allenel Hotel across Huron Street. “It was the most beautiful thing I ever heard,” the late Ralph Lutz, who played in the band, recalled in a 1974 interview. “I’ll never forget it.”

Otto’s Band, under slightly varying names, entertained townsfolk and commemorated important events for almost fifty years. Henry Otto Sr. started the band in 1875, and his son Louis took over in 1895. The musicians, numbering about twenty, marched in parades, provided music for dances, gave concerts, and sent soldiers off to the Spanish-American War and World War I. Under Louis’s leadership they became a professional band, the first local members of the musicians’ union. Among their many accomplishments is the honor of being the first to play the U-M fight song, “The Victors.”

Photograph of Henry Otto's Band posing in
front of the courthouse

Henry Otto's Band

Music was a vital part of German American culture. Marion Otto McCallum, niece of Louis Otto and daughter of band member Henry Otto Jr., recalls that “a good share of the population” came out to see the band whenever it played. “There were other little bands, but Otto’s was the band as far as I can see,” McCallum explains. “It was a good part of our living at that young age.”

According to family stories, Henry Otto Sr. left Germany because he was tired of fighting for the king. He first came to North America during the Civil War era and lived in New Hamburg, Ontario, near Stratford. In 1870 Henry moved to Ann Arbor with his brothers, Valentine and Jonas. He returned to Canada in 1872 but came back here for good in 1875 after receiving an offer to join Jacob Gwinner’s band.

Henry and his wife Margaret--also a German immigrant who’d initially settled in Canada--built a house at 558 South Fifth Avenue. Today, Fingerle Lumber takes up most of the neighborhood, but at the time it was still pasture and swamp. When he wasn’t playing music, Henry Otto was a blacksmith who specialized in shoeing horses. He carried on his trade at 215 South Ashley, now site of the Schwaben Halle, with his sons Jonas and George.

Otto played many different instruments, but the violin was his favorite. He taught all of his six children to play instruments and formed his four sons into a youth marching band. After Jacob Gwinner died, Otto formed his own group with son Jonas, then fifteen, as one of the players. He led the “Ann Arbor City Band” for twenty years before passing the baton to another son, Louis. Henry Sr., who by then was fifty-five years old, was probably quite willing to give up marching, and Jonas, thirty-five, was also willing to leave it to younger members of the family. Louis, who was just sixteen years old when he took over, played the cornet and trombone; another brother, Henry Otto Jr., played the tuba in the new group.

When Louis Otto took over, the band was a small group that played primarily for fun. Under his leadership it grew into a highly skilled, professional organization.

The younger Otto initially named his group “The Washtenaw Times Band,” presumably after a newspaper sponsor. In 1901 he found a long-term sponsor--the Masonic lodge to which most of the players belonged--and renamed the group “Otto’s Knights Templar Band.”

Both Louis and Henry Jr. lived near their father and could easily consult him on music matters. Louis lived at 402 Benjamin Street; he had a day job as a painter at the Walker carriage factory on Liberty. Henry Jr. lived at 818 Brown and worked at Sauer Lumber Company, just west of his parents’ house on Fifth, doing finish carpentry, such as trim work on doors. The Sauers must have been understanding bosses: McCallum remembers that her dad had no trouble getting off work to play engagements.

McCallum’s family had one of the first telephones in the neighborhood, because her dad had to know about practice sessions and performance dates. “He practiced a couple nights a week,” she recalls. “He’d come home from work and get dressed for practice and walk into town.” If a concert was scheduled, “he’d leave the house with perfectly pressed pants [and] shined shoes. He’d be dusty or snowy when he returned, but when he left, he was perfect.” In rain or freezing cold, Otto’s musicians always met their commitments. “All that walking, carrying all those heavy instruments--how did they ever get around without collapsing in the heat or cold?” she wonders today.

After a performance, band members sometimes gathered in Henry Jr.’s living room to continue playing. “My brother Nelson and I would sit on the staircase,” McCallum recalls. “We didn’t dare bother them. It was very serious, professional playing.”

Townsfolk celebrated most holidays with the help of Otto’s Band. On Memorial Day the band paraded to and from Forest Hill Cemetery to honor soldiers of past wars. Louis Otto played taps, which another musician echoed from farther away. A 1914 picture shows the band returning from the cemetery, marching down North University toward State, with a boy riding a bike alongside. The rider is Henry Jr.’s son Jonas--who later got in trouble with his dad for riding so close.

Photograph of Louis Otto's Band, marching
on Memorial Day

Louis Otto’s band marching down North University, returning from playing at a Forest Hills Memorial Day program. Note Jonas Otto, son of one of the band members, riding near the band. He was later reprimanded.

On the Fourth of July the band played at Island Park. It was credited with making the island a popular picnic spot. Once, when band member Julius Weinberg was preparing to set off fireworks, a prankster beat him to it, causing much consternation among the band members, some of whom had to hide behind trees to escape injury. On Labor Day they marched from downtown to the Schwaben Park at Madison and Fifth for the annual picnic of labor union members. In between were the summer courthouse municipal concerts, which sometimes included group singing led by the band. After automobiles became popular, some attendees listened from cars parked around the courthouse and added to the applause by honking their horns.

During the winter the band played indoors at weddings and at the Masons’ ball, held yearly at the armory. A smaller group, about half the band, also played for the skaters at Fred Weinberg’s ice rink at Fifth and Hill (Weinberg was married to Henry Otto Sr.’s daughter Mary; Julius was his son). The players sat in a little hut in the middle of the ice, closing the windows periodically so they could get warm.

Otto’s band was composed of townsfolk, and all were Germans or of German ancestry. At that time, town and gown generally kept to themselves--but they would come together to make music. Thanks to such a collaboration in 1898, Otto’s Band was the first to play “The Victors,” composed by U-M music major Louis Elbel.

Elbel and Louis Otto were friends. “I remember my father telling of Louis Elbel writing ‘The Victors’ and coming down to our [house] and playing it for father’s comments,” Louis’s son Ferdinand recalled in a written reminiscence. Working from Elbel’s manuscript, Otto’s Band played “The Victors” at the very next U-M football game, and the song became part of the band’s concert repertoire.

Otto’s Band played frequently at early U-M football games, either on its own or supplementing the U-M band when there were not enough student players. “In nineteen two, three, four, townspeople made up about a quarter of the band,” says Bob MacGregor, who has done extensive research on the history of the U-M band. In 1905 Otto’s Band and the U-M band both went to Chicago for a game. A section of the stands collapsed, and the musicians ended up helping with first aid more than playing music.

In 1914 Ann Arbor musicians organized a branch of the American Federation of Musicians, Local 625. Otto’s became the first union band in the city, and Louis Otto was elected the union’s first president.
Three years later the United States declared war on Germany and entered World War I. If the German American band members felt any misgivings, they gave no public sign. Otto’s Band played a prominent role in Ann Arbor’s public commemorations of the war. On August 15, 1917, the Ann Arbor News reported that an estimated 10,000 people gathered to say good-bye to a group of recruits leaving for training at Camp Grayling. “Hundreds walked to the station alongside the marching troops,” the paper wrote, “headed by Otto’s band, and keeping step to martial music.”

When the war ended in 1918, Otto’s Band was again out in full force. After parading through Ann Arbor, the band was asked to come to Chelsea to help the village celebrate.

Otto’s Band is believed to have played for the last time on June 30, 1922, at the laying of the cornerstone for the Masonic Temple on Fourth Avenue (replaced in the late 1970s by the federal building parking lot). Though only in his forties, Louis Otto died two years later, in 1924.

No recording was ever made of Otto’s Band, but people who played in or heard the band remembered it and talked of it the rest of their lives. Robert Steeb recalls how his father-in-law, band member Ernest Bethke, used to chuckle about a mistake he once made when marching south on Main. The band turned smartly onto Packard--all except for Bethke, who missed the turn and, to his chagrin, found himself marching alone down Main Street.

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 West Side Dairy

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

Author: Grace Shackman

From creamery to music

Two connected buildings at 722-726 Brooks, nestled at the back of a driveway in a residential neighborhood, are puzzling to people passing by unless they know it was once a family-run dairy. The front part was constructed in 1919 and the large part in back in 1940. Brothers-in-law Adolph Helber and Alfred Weber owned and operated the West Side Dairy for thirty-four years, delivering fresh dairy products to city residents until 1953.

Adolph Helber, born in 1886, grew up in a large family on a farm on Dexter Road in Scio Township. He left school in the seventh grade, not uncommon at the time, and worked as a hired farmhand until 1904, when he went to work delivering milk for Jake Wurster, a brother-in-law. Wurster's dairy was on the corner of Catherine and North Fifth Avenue.

When Helber started in the dairy business, milk was still sold "raw," or untreated, fresh from the cow. (Although pasteurization equipment, developed to kill milk-borne infections, was available in the 1890s, it hadn't yet been universally adopted.) The raw milk was stored in a big tank at the front of the horse-drawn delivery wagon and scooped out into a pitcher or milk can supplied by each customer on the route.

In 1912 Helber married Alma Weber, the sister of a fellow driver, Alfred Weber. The Weber family house was at 809 Brooks, then the last residential street off Miller. Alma and Alfred's father, Jacob, owned much of the land in the area. In 1914 the Helbers moved to 720 Brooks, and in 1919 Helber and Alfred Weber opened a dairy out of a small one-story cement-block building they built in the Helbers' backyard. Milk was supplied by Helber's brother Carl, who had stayed on the family farm, and also by the Seyfried and Hanselman farms.

Helber and Weber started their days at 4 a.m., feeding and harnessing the horses. They delivered milk in the morning and in the afternoon pasteurized and bottled it for the next day. Because neither the farmers nor the customers had good storage, the partners accepted and delivered milk seven days a week. Their only time off was Sunday afternoon. Their wives, Alma Helber and Rose Weber, ran the office, did the bookkeeping, handled over-the-counter sales, and helped with production.

In the days before cholesterol worries, dairies competed for the richest milk the farmer had. Before homogenization, customers could see at a glance how rich the milk was by the thickness of the cream on top. (Narrow-necked milk bottles were developed to exaggerate the visible cream.) The West Side Dairy made skim milk (or buttermilk) only as a by-product of butter making, selling it back to the farmers for a penny a gallon as feed for their pigs and chickens.

Photograph of West Side Dairy buildings

The West Side Dairy buildings in 1994.

As the number of their customers grew, Helber and Weber were able to hire help, giving priority to relatives. The delivery men included Eddie Weber, Alfred's brother, whose route included what is now known as the Old West Side; Leon Jedele, Rose Weber's brother; and Henry Grau, who was married to Alma's sister Clara. After relatives, neighbors were hired. The employee who probably lived the farthest away was Fred Yaeger, who walked to work every morning from his home on Pauline.

The family employees built houses in the neighborhood near their work. Alfred Weber's neighbor, Will Nimke of 827 Brooks, built him a house at 730 Brooks. Eddie Weber lived at 727 Gott, where he grew wonderful dahlias. When the Helbers' sons grew up, they lived in the neighborhood, too, Erwin at 706 Brooks and Ray at 725 Gott. Jacob Weber owned and rented other houses, one at the corner of Brooks and Summit and three others on Gott Street, right behind the dairy. Weber and Helber owned the house between their two houses and rented it to the Moon family. The Weber property also included a big field west of the house, where the horses sometimes grazed.

Making deliveries, the milkmen would walk along the sidewalk as the horses plodded alongside them in the street. Sam Schlecht, who helped out on the routes as a teenager, recalls that the horses "knew more about the route than the human beings." If milk was delivered on a dead-end street, the horses would turn around while the men delivered to the last houses. If the milkmen cut through a backyard to deliver milk on the next street over, the horses knew to meet them there. Schlecht remembers that at the end of the route, as they went down Chapin toward Miller, the horses would pick up their pace, eager to get home for their oats and hay. When Helber and Weber switched to trucks in 1934, the milkmen found them a mixed blessing. They no longer had to feed and harness the horses each morning, but their routes took them longer without the horses' help.

Deliveries were made every single day except Christmas and Thanksgiving. On the day before those holidays, the milkmen would go around twice, in case a customer had forgotten anything that morning. Henry Michelfelder, a relative of Leon Jedele's, remembered that if his family ran out of something during the day, they could call the dairy and it would be brought over.

The milk and cream delivered for sale by retail stores was very fresh, since every day the milkmen would take back any that wasn't sold. The day-old products were used to moisten the cottage cheese the dairy made. In the 1940's, when refrigeration had become common, the dairy scaled back to three deliveries a week. Marian Helber, Ray's wife, remembers that "people had a fit. They thought they needed fresh milk every day for their coffee or cereal."

Erwin and Ray Helber grew up working in the dairy part-time and summers. After graduating from Michigan State Normal College (now EMU), Ray worked bottling and also delivering. During World War II he left to work at King Seeley (he learned of the job opening because the plant was on his route) and ended up staying there until 1975, when he retired. Erwin stayed at the dairy, gradually taking over more of the responsibility from his father and uncle. In 1953, when the brothers-in-law retired and sold their business to United Dairies (later Sealtest), Erwin stayed with the new owners, eventually moving to Flint with Sealtest.

Today the buildings looks similar from the outside but have totally new uses inside, mostly related to music. Four Davids (Orlin, Sutherland, Collins, Peramble) between them teach or repair guitar, violin, pianoforte, and piano. The neighborhood is also filled with evidence of the dairy for people who know where to look: a four-car garage (used for delivery trucks) at the corner of Summit and Brooks, a barn at 809 Brooks (later used for a construction business), and a big lot at 827 (now a big private garden). After the dairy moved out, tenants included a sugar packing manufacturer and a bookbinding operation. In 1964, Robert Noehren, a U-M organist and a pioneer in the organ revival movement, rented it for a pipe organ factory, presaging its present use. The field behind the Weber house is now the site of the Second Baptist Church.

[Photo caption from book]: The West Side Dairy in the mid-1930s. Left to right: Henry Grau, Alfred Weber, Eddie Weber, Adolph Helber, and Leon Jedele. All are related by blood or marriage. The dairy had just switched from horse-drawn milk wagons to trucks and was experimenting with various models-three different makes are visible.
“Courtesy Paul Helber”

The Artificial Ice Co.

Published In:
Ann Arbor Observer, February 1990,
February 1990

Author: Grace Shackman

Delivering coolness door to door

Before the days of electric refrigerators, people kept perishable foods in ice chests cooled by blocks of ice. For most of Ann Arbor's early history, the ice was harvested from frozen lakes and rivers. But after 1909, natural ice was supplemented, and then totally replaced by, artificial ice, so named because it was manufactured rather than gathered.

439 Fifth Street: From Drinking Spot to Play Yard

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

Author: Grace Shackman

Bach School's new playground was once a West Side bar

Children playing on the Bach School playground probably have no idea that it was once the location of adult recreation. From 1901 to 1919, a beer distributorship and popular West Side drinking spot was located behind Jacob Dupper's home at what was then 439 Fifth Street, now the north end of the playground. In those pre-zoning days, he ran several businesses from out-buildings on the property. His barn was the Ann Arbor distributorship for Buckeye and Green Seal beers, both made by a Toledo brewery. And a small structure usually called "the shop" was the neighborhood bar.

Photograph of Dupper children in front of
house and barn

The Dupper family lived at 439 Fifth Street, now the north end of the Bach School playground, and ran a beer distributorship from their barn.

The shop stood across the driveway from Dupper's house and farther back from the street. Neighborhood men came in the evening to share a companionable drink, to chat, and to play cards. Dupper's grandson, Henry Velker, from whom most of this information was obtained, remembers that the clientele came from all over the Old West Side, then still known as the city's Second Ward.

The building (also sometimes called "the caboose") was furnished with tables and a short bar. It had room for about thirty or forty people, who could buy beer, wine, or whiskey. Velker remembers that customers came in all seasons, although in the summer they usually came later in the evening after their chores were finished. In the winter, when darkness descended sooner, they came earlier and stayed longer.

The customers were all men. Erna Steinke Jahnke, who grew up on nearby Jefferson Street in the years that Dupper's business was in operation, says that she never heard of any women going there. Parents also discouraged their children from hanging around the neighborhood bar.

Photograph of George Voelker posing with
his horse and delivery cart

George Voelker delivered beer with the aid of a horse named Sam.

Jacob Dupper was born in 1860 in Bondorf, a small town thirty miles south of Stuttgart. According to Velker, Dupper learned the brewery and distributing business while still in Germany. When he moved to Ann Arbor in his twenties, his first job was working for the Northern Brewery on the north side of town.

In 1901, Dupper obtained the Ann Arbor franchise for Buckeye and Green Seal beers. Although there were two local breweries, many local residents disloyally claimed that the Toledo brands tasted better. Dupper kept them supplied, delivering the beer to stores, restaurants, fraternities, and private parties.

As a sideline, he also delivered ice. He had his own icehouse on the property, stocked with ice cut and shipped in from Whitmore Lake. The barn served as his beer warehouse and also housed the horses and wagons he used for deliveries.

The beer was shipped from Toledo, in both bottles and kegs, via the Ann Arbor Railroad and was unloaded at the Ashley Street station on a First Street spur of the tracks. From there it was taken by horse and wagon the five blocks to the Dupper house.

Photograph of Fred Dupper posing with
bottles and brewing vats

Fred Dupper behind the counter of his shop.

When Dupper died in 1907, his son, Fred Dupper, took over the business with his wife, Minnie. Fred Dupper's brother-in-law, George Voelker, who lived across the street, worked as a driver for the company. (George Voelker was Henry Velker's father. Velker changed the spelling of the name to more closely match the pronunciation.)

Though the shop and the distributorship closed with the beginning of Prohibition in 1919, the Duppers continued to live in the house for many years. Sam Schlecht, who lived on Fifth Street in the 1920's, remembers the painted ads for Buckeye Beer on the sides of Dupper's barn long after the beer itself had disappeared.

Fred Dupper died in the early 1940s. The house was used as a residence for about twenty more years, until it was torn down to make room for an expansion of the Bach School playground.

The Athens Press on Main Street

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

Author: Grace Shackman

From hand-set type to desktop publishing in five generations

In 1933, when Adam Goetz moved Athens Press to 308 North Main Street, the technology he used was not much different than it had been in Gutenberg’s day. The simple brick-fronted building was essentially one big room. The printing press was in front, while in the back, Goetz stood at a desk setting lead type by hand, one letter at a time.

By then, Goetz had already been a printer for fifty years. Although he’d been a part-owner in the business since 1900 and sole proprietor since 1907, the 308 North Main shop was the first plant built specifically for his company. It would not be the last. Now known as Goetzcraft, Ann Arbor’s oldest job printer currently employs eighteen people at its 12,000-square-foot plant on the south side.

Born in Germany in 1866, Goetz came to the United States with his family at age five. At fifteen he began working in the print trade, no doubt learning on the job. He started at the Washtenaw Post, a German-language newspaper, then worked at the Register Publishing Company and the Inland Press before joining with three fellow workers to form Athens Press. The name came from their location, a room on the second floor of the Athens Theater on North Main.

The Athens Press took all sorts of small assignments. An early scrapbook passed down to Larry Goetz, Adam’s great-grandson, includes letterhead and business cards, party invitations, political literature, and jobs for the university. Those items are still familiar to job printers today, though many of the clients memorialized in the scrapbook, such as the Germania Club and the Ann Arbor Boat Company, are no longer in existence. There’s also not much demand anymore for such once-popular items as commemorative ribbons, restaurant meal tickets (bought in advance for a certain number of meals, they were often used by single men or immigrants here without their families), and advertising blotters (a common freebie when people wrote with pens dipped in ink).

Photograph of Adam and Pauline Goetz
standing in front of Athens Press at 208 North Main

The Athens Press second home was a storefront at 208 North Main.

In 1906, the press had to move because the theater was being remodeled and expanded (a process that included a name change to the Whitney). They ended up across the street and one block north, in a now-gone storefront at 208 North Main.

Larry Goetz was told by his great-aunt Hermina, that her father was often razzed by his partners for working too hard and earning all of the money. Athens Press’s original account book bears out her story. There are countless references to Goetz getting extra pay for working nights or on Sundays. Not surprisingly, soon after the move, Goetz was able to buy out his two remaining partners, Clyde Kerr and Alfred Schairer. Both men opened their own printing companies; Schairer teamed up with Oswald Mayer to form Mayer-Schairer office supply store (they got out of printing in the 1950s).

Adam and Pauline Goetz’s children, Herbert and Hermina, helped in the shop from an early age, pulling their red metal wagon down Main to make deliveries. Adam was happiest working in the back setting type, so when Herbert got old enough to work full-time, he took over the business end, talking to customers and doing the books.

After 1938 the shop sent out big typesetting jobs to Ben Burkhart, who had one of the city’s only Linotype machines in his shop on the other side of the alley in what had been the City Garage. The Linotype, named for its ability to set a full line of type at a time, was very expensive and hard to operate, but Burkhart had taught himself to use it by fooling around with one while a student at Ann Arbor High. Much like computer companies do today, in the 1920s, manufacturers would sell typesetting machines to schools at very reasonable prices so that students could learn how to operate them. Burkhart, who is still in business today, thinks he is now the last working Linotype operator in the Midwest.

Herbert Goetz was interested in modernizing the business, but his dad refused to retire. As he always had, Adam Goetz continued to set type by hand, chewing tobacco as he worked (he sent his grandson, John, to buy it for him at the cigar store on Huron). Finally, in 1943, Herbert threatened to enlist in the army unless his dad let him buy the business. It was an empty threat (Herbert had a health condition that made him ineligible), but his father finally agreed to sell. Adam Goetz never retired, however, continuing to work until two months before he died at age seventy-seven. According to his obituary, he had been the oldest living member of the typographical union, which he’d joined in 1885.

In 1944 Herbert Goetz changed the name of the Athens Press to Goetzcraft, since by then it had been thirty-six years since the business had been in the Athens Theater. Five years later he built a new, larger building across the street, at 307 North Main, adding new machinery and doubling the staff to about ten people. While his father never changed his way of working, Herbert kept up with the evolving industry. In the 1950s, the company bought its own Linotype machine and, when they came out, photo offset printing presses.

Like his father and grandfather, John Goetz started working at the press at a young age, coming in after school when he was a student at Slauson Junior High. He started out sweeping, feeding hand-fed presses, and baling. As soon as he got his driver’s license he was sent on deliveries, and he came to work full-time when he graduated from high school.

Since his dad had a firm control on the business end, John concentrated more on the machinery, learning how to run and repair the presses, bindery, and--especially challenging--the Linotype. Herbert retired more gracefully than his father had, moving to Florida in 1962, and leaving John in charge. A workaholic like the rest of the family, Herbert opened a liquor store there, where he worked the rest of his life.

John’s son Larry, like the previous three generations of Goetz men, started working at a young age, riding his bike to the shop after school to help out. Although he studied printing at Ferris, he says he really learned on the job. He joined the company full-time in 1971, in time for the next printing revolution: computer typesetting. His father, guessing this was the way to go, invited his foreman and wife to dinner, and over a good meal that his wife, Evelyn, had cooked, suggested that Evelyn and the foreman’s wife work together to find out whether photo composition (a then-new technique for setting type on film) could replace the Linotype. “It drove us nuts, but we mastered it,” Evelyn recalls. Goetzcraft was the first printer in Ann Arbor to offer the new technology.

Five times faster than the Linotype, photo composition “was the hottest thing in town,” John recalls. “Other machines became obsolete while people still owed money on them.” By the mid-1980s, Goetzcraft sold its Linotype to a man in Charlevoix for $3,000. According to John, “It was a fraction of what we paid, but we were lucky to get that.” By then, Goetzcraft was already moving into desktop publishing.

Since 1979, Goetzcraft has been located in the Ann Arbor Industrial Park at 975 Phoenix Drive. They do fancier work than Adam Goetz could have ever imagined: brochures, catalogs, and posters, printed in an array of colors. But one thing hasn’t changed. The family continues to make up about half of the workforce. Larry Goetz, now president, is assisted either full- or part-time by ten family members: his father and mother, John and Evelyn Goetz; his wife, Paulette; his sisters, Julie Trevino and Lee Ann Haynes; his brothers-in-law, Jeff Haynes and Jeff Swanson; and his three children, Britton, Bryan, and Brooke.

The original plant that Adam Goetz built at 308 North Main became a dry-cleaning business after Goetzcraft left. Eureka Cleaners is now owned by Steve Hur, who also owns College Cleaners on North University. Like Adam Goetz, Steve Hur is an immigrant, and his craft, too, runs in the family: He bought the business from his sister, who originally had bought it from their brother.

[Photo caption from book]: The Athens Press was named for its original location upstairs in the Athens Theater.

[Photo caption from book]: In 1933 the press finally got a building of its own at 308 N. Main, now Eureka Cleaners

[Photo caption from book]: The press moved across the street, to 307 N. Main, in 1949. “Courtesy Larry and Paulette Goetz”

Henry Krause’s tannery

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

Author: Grace Shackman

It was the forerunner of Hush Puppies shoes

In the late nineteenth century, Henry Krause was one of the city’s biggest taxpayers. The leather-making factory he built on Second Street stood into the 21st century and his name lives on in Krause Street nearby. But his real claim to fame is that his Ann Arbor tannery was the forerunner of Hush Puppies shoes.

Krause was born in Treffurth, Prussia, in 1820, to a family who had been tanners for two centuries. He learned the trade from his father and traveled over the greater part of Germany on foot as a Handwerkebursche—a journeyman—before immigrating to America at age twenty-four. Krause worked briefly in New York and in Liverpool, Ohio, before coming to Ann Arbor in 1845. With its large German population and several tanneries, Ann Arbor was a natural choice for an immigrant with his skills.

Krause’s first Ann Arbor job was with Emanuel Mann, who also had been born in Germany and learned tanning from his father. The next year Krause went to work for another German tanner, C. Kusterer, whom he soon bought out. In 1850 he moved the business to Second Street between Liberty and William, where he built a wood frame tannery next to a tributary of Allen Creek.

A source of water was essential for a tannery. Tanners soaked hides in water to clean them, then in a solution of water and lime to loosen the hair, and finally in water and tannin to preserve and soften the leather. The tannin came from oak bark, and in addition to water for soaking, early tanneries used water to power the mills that ground the bark.

Krause prospered, and in 1868 replaced his wooden tannery with a brick one, 30 by 120 feet. A separate storehouse held 225 cords of oak bark, and a third building housed a steam engine for grinding it. By now, Krause was selling leather throughout the state, principally for harnesses. His factory used 7,000 hides a year and its annual sales were about $45,000.

Three other nearby tanneries competed with Krause. The Weil Brothers’ tannery was on the southwest corner of First and Huron, on land that was once the home of Elisha Rumsey, Ann Arbor’s co-founder. The five Weil brothers, Jacob, Solomon, Moses, Leopold, and Marcus, were the nucleus of Ann Arbor’s earliest Jewish community, but they moved on to bigger cities in the 1870’s. Jacob Heinzmann, another German immigrant, set up a tannery in 1851 on the corner of William and Third, on the same Allen Creek tributary as Krause’s. (Its site is now a parking lot for the Argus Building.) On the other side of the tributary, also on Third but closer to Liberty, Christian Duttenhofer, a former Weil Brothers’ employee, started his own tannery in the 1860’s. Duttenhofer’s was probably a smaller operation, since the address was also his home.

Krause also built up a retail operation. In 1849 he built the first brick building on the block of Main Street south of Washington, adding to it in 1861. (In the nineteenth century, most businesses were still clustered around the courthouse to the north.) Besides selling his leather there, he made shoes and boots.

Photograph of Henry Krause's Tannery

Tannery building shortly before it was torn down.

Krause married Catherine Hirth in 1846, just a year after he arrived in Ann Arbor. As his business prospered, they were able to move to a seventeen-room house on the corner of Third and Liberty, now the location of St. Paul’s. (They used the house as a parsonage and school before razing it in 1929 to make room for the church.) The Krause property ran well north of their home down to Washington and west to what is today a U-M parking lot.

In 1881 the Krause tannery was incorporated with $40,000 in capital and was subsequently outfitted with new equipment. But by then, Krause and Heinzmann were the only tanners left in town. Local tanners were probably beginning to feel the competition of large industrial tanners with lower prices and national distribution. Wildlife in Michigan was also becoming scarce, and both Krause and Heinzmann included in their ads offers to buy pelts. Krause’s ad claimed that he paid “more for hides and pelts, furs and tallow than any other man in the state.” He also began selling other brands besides his own custom-made shoes.

Krause was a respected tanner. In 1850, early in his career, he won a first place at the Michigan State Fair. The Ann Arbor Register Weekly said of Krause at the time of his death in 1893, “As a tanner of superior leather he had a wide reputation,” adding, “Although meeting with financial reverses in later years his integrity was unquestioned.”

The City Directory hints at the rest of the story. Krause seems to have given up control of the company in the 1881 incorporation, apparently the price he paid for the capital to finance the tannery’s final renovation. Beginning that year, others are named as the company’s officers, while Krause is identified only as the plant superintendent. The Krause tannery disappears entirely from the directory in 1888. In the 1890 directory, Henry Krause is listed as a clerk for Samuel Krause, his son, at the Main Street store.

The store closed a few years later, ending the Krause family’s fifty years in the leather business in Ann Arbor. But by then, another of Henry and Catherine’s sons (they had seven children) was flourishing in western Michigan. In 1883, G. Adolph Krause, known as G. A., had bought a leather shop in Grand Rapids in partnership with his mother’s brother, Fred Hirth, also a tanner. In 1901 the Hirth-Krause Company, as it was then known, moved to Rockford, a small community close to Grand Rapids, and expanded their tanning and manufacturing. G. A.’s sons, Victor and Otto, and his grandson Adolph continued in the firm. Today the company is Wolverine World Wide, Inc., the world’s largest tanner of pigskin and the makers of Hush Puppies, the shoes with the sad-eyed basset hound trademark. Henry Krause’s 1850 award from the Michigan State Fair is prominently reproduced in the company’s official history.

Meanwhile, the Krause tannery building in Ann Arbor continued to be used as a factory, first to manufacture brass goods, then car accessories, vapor lamps, and windshields. In 1925 the newly formed King Seeley Company moved in to begin manufacture of gas gauges, using the tannery building but adding a modern factory in front of it. Purchased by Chrysler in 1968, it became GT products in 1982, manufacturer of diesel governors and fuel vapor valves, and ended its life as Eaton Corporation. The tannery building was razed in 2005 to make room for an adaptive reuse condo project in the newer factory building.

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.

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