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Panel Information: A Book Lover’s Town

Ann Arborites have always bought books, borrowed books, and had private libraries. In 1832 George Corselius, editor of the Western Emigrant, the town’s first newspaper, advertised a shipment of books for sale at his office. Soon bookstores clustered around the courthouse at Main and Huron streets. After the University of Michigan opened in 1841, students and faculty made their way to Main Street bookstores, which also sold wallpaper and even sporting goods.

On State Street, Sheehan & Co. (above left, circled) was operating by 1874 to take advantage of the university trade. George Wahr opened a branch of his popular Main Street store in 1892. By 1906 there were four bookstores on State Street.

Solicited by UM’s first president Henry Tappan in 1852, Ann Arbor citizens donated $1,500 for 1,200 books, bringing the library’s total to nearly 6,000. After 1863 the books were housed in the new Law Building (interior above). They were moved to the new General Library in 1883. After the Civil War, townsfolk could pay to borrow books from the Ladies’ Library. By 1883 they could borrow books for free at Ann Arbor High School on State Street. The city’s first public library, donated by Andrew Carnegie, was built in 1907.

State Street bookstores have come and gone: Slater’s, Follett’s, Marshall’s, Shaman Drum, and others. When Wahr’s closed in 1972, Tom and Louis Borders moved their used-book store to that location. Selling new books, Borders became a leading national chain. Expanded worldwide by later owners, it was finally overwhelmed by internet competition. Borders closed in 2011.