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Ann Arbor Yesterdays ~ New City Hall On Old Block

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Ann Arbor Yesterdays -- New City Hall On Old Block

ON SITE OF NEW CITY HALL: The section of this home at right-center is called one of the oldest homes in Ann Arbor in Lela Duff’s “Ann Arbor Yesterdays” column today. The old section fronts on N. Fifth Ave. It is one of the houses that will be razed to permit construction of Ann Arbor’s new city hall.

By Lela Duff

Before the winter settles in, some of our readers may like to take another of those popular walks, calling up an image of old Ann Arbor. What more appropriate then, than that we should stroll around the block which before long will be the setting of our spectacular new city hall?

It is a beautiful piece of land, sloping gently toward Fifth Avenue and still rounded by fine big trees. The first entry of all the abstracts of title which the city must acquire will bear the testimony, "Government of the United States to John Allen,” for this is a part of the original village and on Allen's side of Huron St. As platted, the block was divided into 16 large lots 64 feet wide and 150 feet deep, eight of them fronting on Huron and eight on Ann. In the course of time, however, the owners were selling a bit here and adding a bit there until at present there seems to be only two properties on the block bearing the original dimensions.

Let us begin at the corner of Fifth Ave. and Ann St., with a house that may be the oldest still standing in Ann Arbor. It also bears the distinction of having been the property all these years of the same family connection. The central portion, facing on Fifth Ave, was bought in 1832 by E. W. Morgan, a young attorney who was to continue his practice and real estate business here for 60 years. He was one of the five who donated a campus to the University in 1837. Since they had no children, he and his wife were content to live in these small quarters for 25 years, when they built a more pretentious brick residence on the Huron St. corner of the block, which has long since been supplanted.

The kitchen of the old Fifth Avenue house was in the basement, where Mrs. Morgan did her cooking on an open fireplace and in a brick oven which we may be able to get a glimpse of when the house is being torn down. There were two rooms on the first floor and three small bedrooms up under the low roof.

After a time Mrs. Morgan persuaded one of her nieces, 16-year-old Lucy Stow, to come out from Connecticut to live with them. Though young Lucy had already been teaching school in the East, she was glad to enter Ann Arbor High School and to become one of its early graduates. There she met hen future husband, Franklin L. Parker. In due course they were married and settled in this little house, which Mr. Morgan had been renting since their move to the other corner. In 1866, the Parkers bought the property of Lucy’s uncle and as the needs of their family of five children increased, they added the larger portion on Ann St. and the little office at the south for Mr. Parker’s real estate business. It has been a Parker home ever since, the present occupant, John M. Parker, being the youngest son. A number of the descendants of his older brother, Franklin, still live in Ann Arbor.

Any of my readers of a romantic turn of mind will be interested to learn that it was in one of those front parlors that the earlier Parkers’ lovely daughter Lucy was courted by the afterward internationally famous member of the Medical School faculty, Dr. G. Carl Huber.

The only house in the block now facing on Fifth Ave. was built in fairly recent times . the site of a much earlier small :, bought in 1867 by the Vandawarker family. One of the boys, George, was to be.-come the first manager of the city water department.

Most of the houses now crowding each other for frontage in Huron St. were built much later. One notes on the tract index that one of them built by J. Arthur Brown, whose daughter Nellie was a prominent city organist. At the back of the building until recently occupied by the Rentschlers, fattier and son, for their photographic business, is a bulky older section. Centered on four of the Allen-drawn lots, it used to be a part of the fine home of Charles Thayer, another of the five donors of the U-M campus. Thayer St. perpetuates his name.

The last house on Huron in the property the city is about to purchase, the square white one with the encircling veranda, now the gleaming home of offices, would soon have been 100 years old. It was built by Densmore Cramer, who became mayor of Ann Arbor in 1877, and as a young man had been a delegate to the convention that nominated Lincoln. He was a soldier in the Civil War, and his grandson, Seward Cramer, jr., was destined to become a Gold Star in the service flags of World War II.

As we round the block on Division St., we shall come to a similar square house on the corner of Ann, built nearly a century ago by Moses Rogers, brother of Randolph, the Ann Arbor boy who became a famous sculptor. Moses’ daughter Katie was locally well known as a portrait painter, and the books say that Moses could have painted pretty well himself if he’d had the time!

Strolling back down Ann St., we see among the closely built houses only two that approach the century mark. To the one with its porch on the side a young widow, Mrs. Root, brought her three infants from Connecticut in 1871 to be near her stepdaughter, Mrs. Alonzo Palmer, who lived in the brick mansion across the street. Just beyond is a house built in 1870 by a Mrs. Blood, but much later known for the big barn in the back yard that was Mullison’s livery stable— until livery stables were no more.

In the middle of the sidewalk somewhere along here there used to be—until not so long ago—an enormous oak tree, which had probably sprouted there long before John Allen bought the land in 1824.