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439 Fifth Street: From Drinking Spot to Play Yard

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.

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Grace Shackman