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Ann Arbor Yesterdays ~ That Puzzling Name - Ann Arbor

Ann Arbor Yesterdays ~ That Puzzling Name - Ann Arbor image
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By Lela Duff
Our town has a name unduplicated among the place names of the world. The story goes that a letter once arrived from farthest Russia with the mere superscription, “ Mr. John Doe, Ann Arbor.” Globe trotters from Ann Arbor are often forced to explain that the name is not Ann Harbor, the assumption being, I suppose, that the town is a lake port and was settled by Cockneys.

Fantastic explanations have arisen from time to time as to ‘‘the real” source of the name. About 1900 one David Hackett, aged 92, is reported to have returned to these parts after spending 70 years in Texas. He stoutly declared that a beautiful young woman, frail, with heavy black hair and blue eyes, had been guiding people through the wilderness hereabouts long before the arrival of Allen and Rumsey; that she mysteriously called herself Ann d’ Arbeur; and that the settlers had honored her by inscribing her name on a rock in the middle of the Huron River. On his return he found the rock—but 70 years of exposure had erased the name!

The Michigan Argonaut, an old-time campus weekly, on March 27, 1886, presented another theory: that the Indian name for the locality was “Anaba,” claiming to have the record of a pre-Allen fur trader, Col. D. W. H. Howard, who interpreted the name to mean “Good Youth.” We discount this story as a bit of typical student spoofing.

As for Indian names, what a blessing we are not saddled with “Kaw-goosh-kaw-nick,” the Pottawatomies’ imitation of the sound of John Allen’s sash mill.

It is accepted as a well authenticated fact that John Allen and Elisha Walker Rumsey, our founding fathers, named the village in honor of their two wives. But there has always been considerable bickering about the arbor. Some old settlers insisted that the two men built an arbor, or even two arbors, one apiece; some say as a temporary shelter, others as an adornment just to pretty up the place. I doubt the latter idea especially. If they had any spare time between 1 February, 1824, when they first tramped about this lovely region, and May 25, when the plat was recorded in Detroit, surely they could have found more important things to do than building an arbor for mere decoration, There were chopping down trees and fashioning them into dwellings, breaking the ground and planting vegetables, following the surveyor up and down the proposed streets, all this in a background of the time-consuming mechanics of mere existence in the wilds.
We lean toward the other theory, held by equally trust-worthy pioneers, that the arbor was a natural one, where wild grape vines had crowded gaily over wild plum trees; that it remained for many years near the southwest corner of W. Huron and First Sts.; that Mary Ann Rumsey had enjoyed doing her work there, or just sitting there, as the warm spring days advanced (for Ann Allen did not arrive until October); that the name was hit upon spontaneously one day by herself and John Allen,