How a Lower Town family's modest home solved the century-old search for a county historical museum
On Sunday, June 10, an early-morning jogger along the Huron River looked up in astonishment as he ran along the boardwalk beneath the Broadway bridge. There on the bridge, blotting out Detroit Edison's Argo substation beyond, loomed a white frame house. It was mounted on wheels and being pulled along by a snorting dump truck. More than 150 years after it was built, 1015 Wall Street was on the move.
Escorted fore and aft by police cars to handle traffic, and half a dozen utility trucks to remove overhead wires, the house was soon across the river. Progress slowed on Beakes Street: tree branches that couldn't be dodged or shouldered aside by a worker riding the house's roof had to be trimmed away by workers in bucket trucks wielding buzzing chain saws. Still, by late afternoon, the building had traveled nearly a mile from its starting point and was ready to take its new spot at the corner of Main and Beakes.
Named the Kellogg-Warden house after the families that built it in about 1837, the house passed its century and a half on Wall Street as an unassuming residence in a backwater neighborhood. In its new spot, now officially designated as 500 North Main Street, it is scheduled to be rehabilitated, landscaped, and opened to the public as a museum of the Washtenaw County Historical Society.
A long process of fund-raising and construction lies ahead before the tentatively titled "Museum on Main Street" (MOMS) is ready. But the completion of the move itself brought a sigh of relief to society members. For over a year beforehand, the project was hanging by a thread.
The U-M, which owned the house, was eager to turn the site into badly needed parking for its Turner Clinic. The university was willing to donate the house to the city, but the city had neither a use for it, nor the money to finance a move. And even after the historical society stepped forward and won the U-M's agreement to donate the house and the city's agreement to lease the new site, problems kept cropping up.
First, the long-abandoned gas station at Main and Beakes had to be demolished and its underground fuel tanks removed.Then came further delays: to remove soil contaminated by the leaking tanks, to scramble for more funds for cleanup, and finally to negotiate with the state Department of Natural Resources for a clean bill of health for the site.
While the university patiently delayed demolition, state Senator Lana Pollack and Representative Perry Bullard helped the society work out an agreement with the DNR that allowed the move to proceed. Even after it was scheduled for the first Sunday in June, there was one more delay: a windstorm on June 2 knocked down power lines across southeast Michigan, tying up Detroit Edison crews needed for the move. Fortunately, the weather the weekend of June 10 was fine.
The goal of all these efforts is to properly showcase a collection of documents and artifacts dating back to the society's founding in 1857. Despite the fact that the Washtenaw County Historical Society is the oldest local group of its kind in the state, the acquisition of the house marks the first time in its history that the society has owned property.
As a result, the society's collections have led a gypsy existence. They have been moved in and out of the county courthouse three times over sixty-one years, were kept in various U-M quarters for thirty-three years, were stored in the old city Water Department twice, and reposed in the Cole-Pool barn for sixteen years. They are currently scattered among the Kempf House, Cobblestone Farm, |Clements Library, Bentley Library, and Dexter Historical Museum. Now, thanks to the generosity and patience of the U-M and the city, the society can begin to create a museum in which its collection will be reunited, coaxed at last into telling the coherent history of Washtenaw County.
Boom and Bust in Lower Town
The area just north of the Huron on Broadway was platted in 1832 as part of Brown and Fuller's Addition to the village of Ann Arbor. Although Anson Brown and Edmund L. Fuller called it "Ann Arbour on the Huron," it is better known in local histories as Lower Town.
The lot where 1015 Wall Street stood was one of a group sold in 1835 by Desire Brown, Anson's widow, to Thomas Peatt. The price—$124.27—sounds suspiciously like an auction for back taxes. The lots were resold repeatedly over the next four years at swiftly rising prices. The prices probably reflect the construction of the 1015 Wall Street house and several neighboring houses, as well as the wild land speculation in Ann Arbor at the time.
In 1837, 1015 Wall was one of five lots Peatt sold to Dan W. Kellogg. Kellogg, in turn, resold them the following year to Ethan A. Warden (who I believe was his business partner and brother-in-law). By 1839 Warden sold two of the lots, including 1015, to Charles Kellogg (his father-in-law, I suspect) for $1,800. But that was the end of easy, profitable sales in Lower Town. Although Charles died in 1842, it was not until 1853 that the executors of his estate were able to sell this property. In that year, Samuel Ruthruff purchased 1015 and a neighboring lot for only $600. The Land Panic of 1837 and the general depression of the 1840's had taken their toll: land values were substantially reduced and did not begin to recover until after the Civil War.
Based on sales prices and details of the house itself, I believe the house at 1015 Wall was built sometime in the period 1835-1837. It still isn't clear whether Peatt, Kellogg, or Warden was responsible. Since Peatt doesn't appear in any city records or newspapers, though, I'm betting on Dan Kellogg as the builder.
The Kellogg and Warden families were actively involved in the development of Lower Town. They were millers, and ads for their products appeared in local newspapers until the 1840's. The Kellogg brothers, Dwight, Dan W., and Dorr (sometimes spelled Dor), are mentioned in passing in several histories of Lower Town, but most of the family except Dorr had died or returned to New York by the time Washtenaw County's first history was written in 1881.
Fortunately, in the Bentley Library I uncovered a cache of over 100 letters sent between family members in Ann Arbor and their loved ones back east in Auburn, Moravia, and Kelloggsville, New York, between 1835 and 1842, along with large folders stuffed with invoices, deeds, and other paper ephemera from the same period. They provide details about one family's move into the Michigan Territory and of their motivations, successes, and failures. They give us a new perspective on the history of Ann Arbor, too.
For example, we know from local histories that Anson Brown's sudden death in 1834 proved traumatic to the development of Lower Town. But here is Dwight Kellogg writing to Ethan Warder in Auburn, New York, in September of 1835, still fairly bursting with a boomer's optimism:
Well! On the first day of this month Mrs. Brown and E. L. Fuller made me a written offer that if I would pay them $32,500 by or before the 1st of November next they would convey to me by a good warranty deed all their interest in the property of Brown and Fuller and Brown and Co. The time is nearly half out now and I don't know as I shall raise it or as any other will for me—Dan took the statement of the affair and of the property to the east with him. I however have not yet heard from him. I have no hesitationin saying the property is at this moment worth not less than $12,000 more than they ask for it. ...
Kellogg goes on to offer Warden a piece of the action if he's interested, noting that their goods were selling well and they'd sold $30,000 worth since last October and could have sold $70,000 worth.
It appears that Dwight Kellogg was successful in luring family members to Ann Arbor to take advantage of this opportunity, for we find Ethan Warden in Ann Arbor by 1836. Dan W. Kellogg appears to have arrived earlier, in 1835. Dorr Kellogg, according to the 1881 History of Washtenaw County, spent several weeks in Ann Arbor in 1825 and bought land, then returned in 1836 and built a mill on the Huron River with Dwight. Two years later, they were joined by their father, the Hon. Charles Kellogg.
Already in his sixties, Charles Kellogg had served as a judge of the county court of Cayuga, as a member of the New York legislature, and as a member of the U.S. Congress, in addition to being the proprietor of a mill in Kelloggsville, New York. It is astonishing to think that a man his age would willingly pioneer in the Michigan wilderness, but that's precisely what he did. The former congressman set up a meager little hardware store in the Huron Block at the comer of Wall Street and Broadway (demolished about 1961), selling nails, sperm candles, files, shirting, and window glass.
Ethan Warden set up a grocery and dry goods store in the Huron Block, in partnership with Dan W. Kellogg. The Warden and Kellogg partnership did not last long, but Ethan maintained the business by himself until 1839.
In the 1840's it appears that things were starting to unravel. Dorr dissolved his partnership in the mill with Dwight in 1841. Dan's wife Esther Almira died in 1842. Charles died that same year, and his widow Mary Ann died in 1844. Dan returned to New York, where he beam a successful businessman. The fate of Ethan Warden and Dwight Kellogg remains unknown.
Dorr Kellogg maintained a residence at 510 Lawrence from about 1866 to 1884, where he lived with Ethan Warden's widow and his sister. The letters now at the Bentley were found in the 1960's in the attic of this house by student tenants, who brought them to Russell Bidlack, dean of the School of Library Science. It was Bidlack who donated them to the Bentley
Library. All Kellogg family members who died in Ann Arbor are buried together in a single plot at Fairview Cemetery.
A Quiet Century
The house at 1015 Wall took its present form during the ownership of Samuel Ruthruff, the man who bought it from Charles Kellogg's estate in 1853. The 1860 city directory lists the tenant as Ruthrop, res Lower Town, with no profession given. In the 1868 Directory he is listed as Saml Ruthrauf, res 29 Wall; in 1872 lie's Ruthruff, and in 1874 he's Ruthrauff!
Maps of Ann Arbor from 1853 and 1854 show only the front portion of the house. By 1869, however, a surveyor's map indicates the presence of both rear additions, one of them 1 and 1/1 stories and the other a single story. The latter of the two additions has a roof that slopes below the roof of the primary addition, forming part of what is commonly referred to as a "hens and chicks" arrangement.
The fact that this house is in such good condition and has had so few alterations reveals the conservative stewardship that followed Ruthruff s tenancy. The exterior, with the beautiful door frames and lines of the Classic Revival period, remains almost unchanged. Inside, a federal-style staircase with curved newel post and spindles and a bone "amity button" in the center remains intact. So do the interior wood trim, the double fluted pilasters surrounding the fireplaces, the paneled aprons below the windows, and several original doors. Several doors upstairs that were painted to look like expensive hardwood are also in remarkably good condition.
The house's excellent preservation reflects both the long tenure of subsequent owners and their limited means. By the 1890's, Charles G. Greiner, a gardener, was living in the house with members of his family. The inside of the door leading to the attic has penciled on it: "Louise Greiner, Lillie, Mabel, Laura, Frieda, Ella, Pa G., Ma G., wrote this June 7, 1901." It appears that the house remained in the care of the Greiner children for most of the next century. Laura Marz, who I believe was this family's last surviving member, died in 1988 at the age of ninety-two.
For nearly forty years, from about 1915 to 1955, Laura and her husband, John Marz, shared the house shared the house with Ann and Fred Bauer. Laura worked as a bookkeeper at various companies around Ann Arbor and as a saleswoman at a local clothing shop. John was a bus driver, Anna a laundress, and Fred a machinist. The Bauers disappear from city directory listings after 1955, but the Marzes remained for several more decades; John Marz died between 1970 and 1975.
Laura and the Bauer family, too, were also musicians, and they were recorded on tape by longtime neighbor Thelma Graves. This family, or families, were typical of people living in the Lower Town area in the twentieth century. Struggling to make ends meet with fairly low-paying jobs, they managed to survive and even have time for musical pursuits.
The Society's Frustrating Search
Though the Bauers and Marzes preserved their modest home well, they would probably be startled to learn of its new life as a museum. So would many of the early members of the Washtenaw County Historical Society. For most of this century, they held out for something considerably grander.
Delays and disappointments have plagued the society's search for a home. Founded in 1857, the society was reorganized in 1873 as the Pioneer Society of Washtenaw County and began in earnest to accept donations and to search for a suitable home. From 1879 to 1929 a room was provided in the county courthouse. Some materials were also kept in a log cabin at Burns Park (which eventually dissolved into rot due to termite and water damage). Membership in the society initially was restricted to twenty-year residents of the county; later, the rules required that a member must also be at least forty years old.
The first president of the society was Alpheus Felch, former governor of Michigan and justice of the state supreme court. Other officers were a veritable Who's Who of Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, and surrounding townships. Their aims, according to a society document, were "to cultivate social relations, collect and preserve biographic sketches and historical facts and reminiscences, and transmit the same to future generations." Their first venture along these lines was to commission and help produce the voluminous (almost 1,500 pages) 1881 History of Washtenaw County.
Thanks to the ill-advised ban on younger members, the Pioneer Society gradually dwindled away, and no meetings were held after 1925. In 1929, stimulated by U-M president Alexander G. Ruthven, the group was rejuvenated, renamed the Washtenaw Historical Society (it became the Washtenaw County Historical Society in the early 1970's), and opened to anyone who wished to join. New goals were incorporated into a new constitution, which stated the group's aim to "foster interest in the history of Washtenaw County and to assemble and preserve in permanent collections all materials relating to that history." The renewed society resumed the search for a permanent home for its collections.
Hopes were high in 1942 when the Douglas home at 502 East Huron (now offices for the First Baptist Church) was willed to the university for use by the society as a home. Though promoted by Emil Lorch, dean of the School of Architecture, the plan was rejected by the regents because the society had no endowment with which to restore and maintain the property. In 1955, a fund drive for $40,000 to acquire what is now Cobblestone Farm fell short of success. The next year, when a small space being used by the society at the Fritz School was no longer available, President Katherine Groomes wrote that the society was "hunting for sorely needed space." In 1967, Ann Arbor News editor and society president Arthur Gallagher stated that "time is running out" and "action is urged to create a historical museum." A year later, custodian of possessions Harry M. Cole cited the "desperate need" for a permanent home.
The society attempted unsuccessfully to convince the city to buy the historic Danforth house at 303 East Ann Street (sincedemolished). Efforts to obtain the Tuomy house, now the Home of the Historical Society of Michigan, were equally unsuccessful. The old fire station, now the Hands-On Museum, was considered in the early 1970's but thought unsuitable due to lack of parking! The Parker Mill was also considered, but thought too expensive!
Things seemed to take a more positive turn in the later 1970's with the renewed interest in local history generated by the city's sesquicentennial in 1974 and the U.S. Bicentennial in 1976. A major grant of $20,000 in the late 1960's by Katherine Dexter McCormick, a descendant of Judge Samuel Dexter (after whom the city of Dexter is named), was the beginning of a building fund.
In 1977, the society acquired lease rights for the Barton Dam and powerhouse with the intention of creating an historical museum and garden. Elaborate plans were drawn up, but only$60,000 was collected toward the project, far short of the goal of $750,000. Problems of access, water, and money grew, and eventually the city decided to reclaim the powerhouse to generate electricity. Past president Patricia A. Austin laments that "it was the wrong time at the wrong place."
In 1986, then-president Galen Wilson, a curator at the Clements Library, declared the "biggest push ever" to find a permanent home and showcase for the collections. He cited documents from the 1820's, a torch from Abraham Lincoln's Washtenaw County campaign, early American paintings of the Dexter family and by local artist Katie Rogers, an 1860's watch worth $10,000, and an eighteenth-century chair worth $5,200. A committee was established to study space needs, but again, nothing suitable was found.
1015 Wall Fills the Vacuum
The house at 1015 Wall fell into this vacuum in 1988 largely by chance. I was the one who learned of its historic importance and its threatened demolition, but it was Karen O'Neal who did more than anyone to save it.
In 1987, 1 was trying to find houses that were standing in Ann Arbor when Michigan became a state 150 years earlier. I was struck by 1015 Wall Street's unusual formal simplicity and odd positioning on the street, and after further research I discovered that, indeed, it had probably been constructed between 1835 and 1837.1 also soon learned that not only was it one of a mere fifteen or so houses surviving from the time Michigan became a state, but it was in danger of being demolished to create a parking lot.
I immediately wrote to the university's head planner, Fred Mayer, telling him of the antiquity of the house and asking if the university would consider moving it to preserve it. Remarkably, within a few weeks I received a reply that the university was very concerned about preserving the house and was offering it to the city of Ann Arbor. I was ecstatic.
But then enthusiasm waned when six months after accepting the house the city decided they had no use for it. At that point, Thelma Graves, a WCHS member who grew up on Wall Street across the street from this house, approached the society's president, Karen O'Neal, about attempting to acquire the house. Through O'Neal's determined leadership, the society managed within weeks to receive the house from the university as a gift (along with $5,000 they were going to use for demolition) and to gain a promise of the site at Main and Beakes from the city of Ann Arbor. The house fit perfectly on the site, the neighbors were enthusiastic about the possibility of a museum nearby, and the society would have a Main Street address. "Things seem to be falling right into place," O'Neal noted in September1989.
But it would not be so easy. Month after month went by with little activity on the part of the various actors in this drama. Eventually a large hole did appear at Beakes and Main where the gas station and tanks had been. Things seemed to be progressing when the bad news arrived: the DNR said the dirt was still contaminated. But eventually, with the help of Lana Pollack and Perry Bullard, an agreement was worked out. The university got its parking lot, and the society got its new home.
Why did this attempt to create a museum succeed where so many previous attempts had failed? Board members, including Elizabeth Dusseau, Alice Zeigler, Dave Pollock, Esther Warzynski, Louisa Pieper, and Rosemarion Blake, agree that it was a fortunate combination of circumstances—particularly the willingness of both the university and the city to help. There also was our realization that we were never going to be given a beautiful mansion needing no repairs and sitting on a large beautifully landscaped lot in central Ann Arbor. There just aren't enough of them, and the cost of real estate in Ann Arbor is just too high.
Board members also cited the energy, efficiency, and determination of Karen O'Neal. By training a civil engineer, O'Neal was able to understand the complicated aspects of preparing a site for such a project, saving money that would otherwise go to a consulting engineer. Once she was assured of the enthusiastic support by the board and the membership at large, O'Neal worked with officials from the U-M's Planning Department; the city Parks and Planning departments, and members of city council; and members of the state legislature and the Department of Natural Resources. When things got tight in the schedule, O'Neal's husband, Joe, and O'Neal Construction often rescued us, providing expertise and help in compacting the soil at the site and storing the original foundation bricks. "We could not have swung this without Karen and O'Neal Construction," says Elizabeth Dusseau.' They were indispensable.'',
Making a Museum
Now that the house has been moved, the serious work of its restoration and adaptation will begin. A fund-raising committee, chaired by Dave Pollock and Cliff Sheldon, has set a goal of $400,000 and will begin its work in September and October.
A second committee, the museum planning committee, is working on how best to use a small structure to display and interpret the history of Washtenaw County. Members have already established a collections policy, visited other area museums, and salvaged vintage plants from the site on Wall Street. The house needs a climate-controlled basement where materials can be stored and processed. The interior must be altered to provide handicapped access and restrooms and to comply with the Fire Code. New security measures, new electrical wiring, and a new furnace are also "musts." A new roof may be necessary.
Once these basics have been accomplished, the next major task will be the enormous job of sorting and cataloging the thousands of artifacts now in storage and developing a computerized accessions system. Once we have a handle on the number and types of artifacts in the collection, we will be able to develop distinctive exhibits dealing with various aspects of life in Washtenaw County over the years, beginning with the Indian occupation.
The first exhibit may, however, be the letters written by the Kellogg family between Ann Arbor and upstate New York that are now housed at the Bentley. While their letters deal in detail with the hopes of these immigrants and of life on the frontier, their house is the physical expression of their aspirations. Display of the Kellogg letters would fittingly mark the end of the house's life on Wall Street and the beginning of its new one on Main Street as a center of county history.
[Photo caption from original print edition]: The Kellogg-Warden House at 1015 Wall Street (above) and at 500 North Main Street. One of Ann Arbor's oldest houses, it was in danger of being demolished until the historical society, helped by the U-M and the city, moved it across the river to a new life as a county historical museum.
[Photo caption from original print edition]: By the 1890's gardener Charles Greiner's family lived in the house. Penciled inside the door leading to the attic are the words: "Louise Greiner, Lillie, Mabel, Laura, Frieda, Ella, Pa G., Ma G., wrote this June 7. 1901."
[Photo caption from original print edition]: Thelma Graves (left), who grew up across the street from 1015 Wall, had the inspiration that the house could be moved to become the museum the society had always wanted. Society president Karen O'Neal was vital in making it happen.