Ann Arbor Observed
Selections from Then and Now
Publication Year: 2010
Published by: University of Michigan Press
Title Page and Copyright
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Iowe thanks to so many, those who helped during the more than twenty years that I was writing these articles for the Ann Arbor Observer, plus the people who assisted as this book was being prepared, that there is no way I can list them all here. But by making an attempt, I can at least show how much backup there was in the community for this project. To begin, I have to thank Mary and Don Hunt, not just for publishing...
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This book is a selection of historical articles that I wrote over a twenty-five-year period for the Ann Arbor Observer, documenting the history of Ann Arbor. Most were short “Then and Now” pieces, although a few were feature-length articles. I was amazed as I started sorting through my files at how many I had written. The large number of articles meant that I had to make some tough choices. ...
Public Buildings and Institutions
The 1838 Jail
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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. ...
The County Poorhouse
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People choose to go to the Meri Lou Murray Recreation Center and the County Farm Park, on the south side of Washtenaw between Platt and Medford, but in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries it was the site of the county poorhouse, a place for homeless people of both sexes and all ages who had no other place of refuge. The poorhouse sheltered a diverse group of unfortunates: the insane...
The Private Hospital Era
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When Dr. Carl Malcolm Jr. started practicing in Ann Arbor in the 1930s, 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...
Ann Arbor’s Carnegie Library
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People who looked at the old Frieze Building on Huron opposite North Thayer couldn’t tell that part of it was 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. ...
Red Howard, Small-Town Cop
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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...
The Farmers’ Market
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"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...
The University of Michigan
The Detroit Observatory
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"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. ...
The Remarkable Legacy of Francis Kelsey
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Who can imagine Barbie dolls as educational tools? The Kelsey Museum of Archaeology can, and did. On family days, held regularly to teach area children about ancient Egypt, kids get to mummify Barbie. The young students “disembowel” the previously prepared dolls, extracting walnut lungs, gummy worm intestines, raisin livers, and jelly bean stomachs. These “entrails” go into “canopic jars” made from empty...
The Botanical Gardens
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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,” ...
When Football Players Danced the Cancan
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In 1949 U-M junior Jimmie Lobaugh landed a starring role in the Michigan Union Opera. He dressed up as a pregnant woman and belted out a showstopper entitled “I Want a Pickle.” The show was Froggy Bottom, a parody of the efforts of World War II veterans and their families to cope with the red tape of the GI Bill. “It was dreadful, horrible,” Lobaugh laughs, “but we had a heck of a lot of fun.” A U-M tradition from 1908 to 1955, the Michigan Union Opera was...
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If the walls of Lane Hall could talk, they might recall discussions on ethical, religious, and international topics and distinguished visitors such as Bertrand Russell, Reinhold Niebuhr, and the Dalai Lama. The elegantly understated Georgian colonial revival building on the southwest corner of State and Washington has been an intellectual center for student discussions since it was built. From 1917 to 1956 all varieties of...
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At one time or another early in this century, all six children of Detroit physician Richard Inglis lived in Ann Arbor. An interesting bunch, they included Agnes, the first curator of the U-M’s Labadie collection of social protest literature; Frank, a Detroit pharmacist; David, a pioneer neurologist; Will, a Detroit businessman; and Kate, who owned a fruit and chicken farm that stretched all the way from Geddes Avenue...
Orange Risdon’s 1825 Map
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The U-M’s Clements Library was delighted to receive in 1999 the gift of a very rare 1825 map: one of the few remaining copies of Orange Risdon’s map of southeast Michigan. “It is the first map of Michigan that shows serious surveying and settlement,” explains Brian Leigh Dunnigan, the library’s curator of maps. Risdon, best known in this area as the founder of Saline, is also famous in Michigan history as the chief...
The Michigan Central Depot
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The elegant 1886 Michigan Central Railroad Station at 401 Depot Street, now the Gandy Dancer restaurant, testifies to the importance of train travel a hundred years ago. No expense was spared to make this massive two-towered stone building what the Ann Arbor Register called “the finest station on the line between Buffalo and Chicago.” Access to a railroad line could mean the difference between life and death for a struggling young town in the mid-nineteenth century. Before...
Ann Arbor’s “Other” Railroad
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Acentury ago, railroads were Ann Arbor’s lifeline. Just about everyone who came to the city, and virtually everything they needed to live here, arrived by train. Though most of those passengers and goods were carried by the Michigan Central Railroad, the route more closely identified with the city elsewhere in the state was its namesake, the little Ann Arbor Railroad. ...
Ann Arbor’s Streetcars
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Streetcars and interurbans appear in many photos of old Ann Arbor, moving along tracks down the middle of major streets and powered by overhead wires. The smaller streetcars, called “dinkies” or “Toonerville Trolleys” (after a comic strip), were used within the city limits. The beefier interurbans used streetcar-type tracks to carry passengers and freight between towns. ...
109 Catherine—Car Age Services
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Many buildings are changed as new uses are found for them, but the building at 109 Catherine has gone through a more dramatic transformation than most. The simple tile block structure was built around 1918 and in its first four years was used as an auto livery, a junk store, an agricultural implement store, and a harness factory. In 1922 it became the City Garage, and for the next forty years, it bore the stamp...
The Ann Arbor Cooperative Society
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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 Cooperative 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...
The Rise and Fall of Allen’s Creek
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Allen’s Creek, the site of the city’s first settlement, still runs through Ann Arbor’s west side. Named for Ann Arbor’s cofounder John Allen, it has a romantic sound to it, bringing to mind pictures of Potawatomi following its course, settlers camping and picnicking on the banks, livestock drinking from it, and children playing in it. That idyllic picture has some truth in it, but Sam Schlecht, who knew it well in...
Henry Krause’s Tannery
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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 twenty-first 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...
The Athens Press on Main Street
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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...
439 Fifth Street: From Drinking Spot to Play Yard
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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 outbuildings on the property. His barn was the...
The Artificial Ice Company
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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. The main sources of natural ice were the dams on the Huron River...
The West Side Dairy
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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. Brothersin- law Adolph Helber and Alfred Weber owned and operated the West Side Dairy for thirty-four years, delivering fresh dairy products to city...
Downtown Ann Arbor
L. W. Cole and the Michigan Argus
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The oldest known Ann Arbor photograph is a daguerreotype that 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...
John Haarer Photography Studio
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John Haarer, one of Ann Arbor’s early photographers, showed that his artistry went beyond photography when he built an elegant brick storefront studio and home at 113West Liberty. After surviving an attempt to tear it down for parking in the 1960s, the 1888 building is today home to the West Side Book Shop, with the upper stories a wonderful urban apartment. Haarer was born in 1840 in Öschelbronn, in the German state of...
Hoelzle’s Butcher Shop and Metzger’s Restaurant
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One German American family followed in the footsteps of another when Metzger’s German restaurant expanded into 201 East Washington in 1991. The brick building with the eye-catching turret that overlooks the corner of Washington Street and Fourth Avenue was built in 1883 by butcher J. Fred Hoelzle. Hoelzle (1859–1943) came to Ann Arbor when he was seventeen and went to work for butcher John C. Gall at his store at 217 East Washington...
Prochnow’s Dairy Lunch
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Back in the days when Courthouse Square was the center of town, Prochnow’s Dairy Lunch, at 104 East Huron, was strategically placed as a casual eatery for the many workingmen in the area. “Everyone in town ate there,” according to Derwood Prochnow, second cousin of Theodore Prochnow, the owner of the restaurant from 1902 to 1929 and 1937 to 1940. The county’s Victorian courthouse (1887–1955) sat in the middle of...
Justin Trubey and the Ice Cream Trade
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In the days before home refrigeration, ice cream was a rare delicacy. Available at only a few places in town, it was usually consumed right where it was made, either at an ice cream parlor or at summertime ice cream socials. “We didn’t have ice cream much,” recalls senior citizen Florence Haas. “It was a treat for us when we were kids.” When Ann Arbor’s senior citizens were children, an important purveyor of this treat was Justin Trubey. He was proprietor of Trubey’s...
Recreation and Culture
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On 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...
Ann Arbor’s Municipal Beach
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"It was a lot, a lot, of fun,” says Barbara Hepner Preston, remembering the summers she hung out at Ann Arbor’s municipal beach in the late 1930s and early 1940s. Now the boat launch at Argo Park, the beach was on the banks of the Huron River, just north of the canoe livery. Preston and her sister, Gerry Hepner True, lived on Pontiac Trail and would go to the beach every day in the summer. “We’d walk down in...
The Roy Hoyer Dance Studio
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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...
The Broadway Bridge Parks
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The Broadway Bridge, connecting the central part of Ann Arbor with the north, spans the Huron River at a historically busy spot. Potawatomi trails converged to ford the river there. When John Allen and Elisha Rumsey came west from Detroit in 1824, looking for a place to found a town, they, too, crossed the river at this spot. The first bridge was built just four years later. Replaced and widened several times since...
Cinema’s First Century
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The first movie shown in Ann Arbor was The Great Train Robbery. Filmed a century ago, in 1903, the twelve-minute adventure didn’t make it to town until the following year. On September 26, 1904, it appeared as the last item on a sold-out seven-part program at the Light Armory at Ashley and West Huron. Handcuff king Fred Gay led a bill that included minstrels, jugglers, and a boy tenor. Films may have started as an afterthought, but they soon became a...
Social Fabric and Communities
The Underground Railroad in Ann Arbor
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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...
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Dixboro, a small village on Plymouth Road just a few miles northeast of Ann Arbor, probably owes its survival to its location. Serving travelers between Ann Arbor and Detroit gave the crossroads settlement an economic basis that sustained it while other nearby towns, such as Brookville and Geddesburg, dwindled to mere names on old maps. Dixboro’s founder, Captain John Dix, was only twenty-eight years...
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On summer weekends, many Ann Arborites escape to Delhi Metropark, five miles west of town on the Huron River. Picnicking on the riverbank or jumping from rock to rock in the river, few realize that the rapids that make the park so impressive contain the foundation stones of five nineteenth-century mills or that the small settlement nestled southwest of the park was once a thriving village. When Michigan was settled, water was the main source of energy...
The Story of the Schwaben Halle
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The Schwaben Halle at 215 South Ashley was sold several years ago, but the Schwaebischer Unterstuetzungs Verein (Swabian Support Association), the group that built it, is still alive and kicking. Better known simply as the “Schwaben Verein,” the club was founded in 1888 by recent German immigrants. Although the local German community is by now pretty well assimilated, the Verein survives, in large part because...
A Tale of Two Lakes
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People once came from all over southeastern Michigan to play golf, dance, swim, and fish at two resorts on neighboring lakes north of Chelsea. But the guests rarely mingled, because one group was white and the other was black. Both resorts were established in the 1920s—Inverness, on North Lake, by a white former Detroit business owner and Wild Goose Lake, a short hop away, by three black families from Ann Arbor. The latter was...
Cobblestone Houses in Washtenaw County
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Cobblestone Farm on Packard Road is one of at least seven cobblestone houses in Washtenaw County. Highly distinctive but incredibly laborious to build, they’re examples of a folk art that flourished between the completion of the Erie Canal in 1825 and the Civil War. Cobblestone houses first appeared in western New York State immediately after the canal was completed. Their creation was due to a fortunate combination of circumstances: a labor force of skilled masons...
The Remarkable History of the Kempf House
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The Kempf House, at 312 South Division, a nationally recognized gem of Greek Revival architecture, is now a city-owned center for local history. It is named for Pauline and Reuben Kempf, the husbandand- wife music teachers who lived in it from 1890 until 1953. The Kempfs were guiding lights in the local music community who often loaned the Steinway in their front parlor—Ann Arbor’s first grand...
Ann Arbor’s Oldest Apartments
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Ann Arbor’s oldest surviving apartment houses, built between 1923 and 1930, were glamorous affairs designed by the area’s leading architects. Many included such amenities as doormen, on-site maids, cafes, and beauty parlors. Even so, they drew mixed reactions: some Ann Arborites welcomed them as elegant and cosmopolitan additions to the city, while others deplored their size and their effect on existing neighborhoods. ...
Alden Dow’s Ann Arbor
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Judy Dow Rumelhart was walking down Fifth Avenue one day recently when it started to rain. Looking around for shelter, she spotted the Ann Arbor District Library, a building originally designed by her uncle, Alden Dow. “And I thought how lovely it is,” Rumelhart says. “The library is one of my favorites.” “The library and city hall are two of the ugliest buildings in Ann Arbor, and ISR [the U-M Institute for Social Research] is right up there,”...
Frank Lloyd Wright in Ann Arbor
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On a Saturday morning in 2001, a group that included prominent local architect Larry Brink; Doug Kelbaugh, dean of the U-M’s Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning; builder Bruce Niethammer; and George Colone, a heating specialist from Hutzel Plumbing & Heating, met to discuss a failing radiant heat system beneath the concrete floor of a fifty-year-old house. If it had been just any house, the solution would have been obvious: jackhammer the concrete...
Page Count: 280
Publication Year: 2010