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"New" U of M Boat Livery on Argo Pond

by amy

Old Livery
Submitted by Wystan Stevens

Click image for larger view.

Removed from an old photo album, the card sold for $40 in an eBay auction on July 16, 2008. The new owner is an Ann Arbor collector who uses the eBay alias "cheer."

The U. of M. Boat House had a name that implied congeniality toward student patronage, but it was a private enterprise. Erected in 1898 (when he was 41) by Paul G. Tessmer, whose big house (now the Elks Pratt Lodge) later loomed above it, the Boat House was located on the North Main Street edge of Argo Pond. A short biographical sketch of Tessmer in Beakes' Past and Present of Washtenaw County, Michigan (1906) discloses that Tessmer had 160 canoes for rent -- all of them built by himself. He had forty rowboats, too.

Here's Tessmer's boat house, on the west side of Argo Pond.

Later the operation was moved across the pond to the location shown here, where the building was remodeled and enlarged. The 1916 city directory lists William J. Saunders as the proprietor, but I don't know when Saunders took over. It seems likely that Saunders engineered the move. The address was given as Cedar, west of the AARR bridge. Cedar is now known as Longshore Drive.

Saunders continued as owner through the 1920s, 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. The casino inside was famous for its collection of coin-operated orchestrions, melodeons, and other antique mechanical music boxes. Around 1960 (or maybe a year or two earlier) the business became Wirth's Canoe Livery, and Jack Wirth kept the musical collection intact. Once the Ann Arbor News reported Wirth's rescue, from near-drowning, of a youth who had swum too near the dam near the livery, where the boy had been caught by the undertow.

The post card photograph was taken by someone standing on the trestle right-of-way of the Ann Arbor Railroad, from which teenagers sometimes made illegal and unsafe dives. The photographer's signature appears in the lower right-hand corner, but in this reproduction, taken from the eBay listing, it is barely scrutable. The card is numbered "14" in a series -- an incentive for all of us to search diligently for numbers 1 through 13, and perhaps others as well.

The building was acquired in the later 1960s by the Ann Arbor parks department, which replaced it with the utilitarian Argo Park Canoe Livery, a bit upstream from this site. That livery too has since been rebuilt.

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