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The Story of the Walker Livery and Taxi Business

Author
Laurence R. Baker
Year
2021

 

Foreward

Ann Arbor Taxicab & Transfer Co.
From an envelope of the Ann Arbor Taxicab & Transfer Company 

In June, 2021, my cousin Martha Stockinger (1958 - ) alerted me to a carefully preserved trove of old family photographs and documents that she had discovered while doing sorting at her parents’ home. Martha’s father Douglas Walker (1931-98) and my mother Barbara Lee Walker (1927-69 ) were siblings and this family collection contained innumerable documents, correspondence, and photos from preceding generations of their family. Many of the artifacts were from the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. We were startled to find beautiful portraits of ancestors who were not known to either of us. The documents and my past digging at Ancestry helped greatly in constructing relationships and sketching out life histories. 

One particular family subject captured my imagination—the family livery and taxi business in Ann Arbor that existed from 1897-1942. I was taken to visit the old Walker’s Livery building before it was torn down in 1960. [1] Since that time I learned more about the business in Ann Arbor written histories. But the trove that Martha found was incredibly rich in sources related to the early history of the business. Going through all of them and then tapping into additional historical sources [2] online, I have been able to piece together this detailed narrative. I hope that it gets passed down through the family and that others interested in the early history of Ann Arbor might find it and enjoy it. 

Adelbert Benjamin Walker
A. B. Walker as a young man in Moline, Illinois, c. 1890.

This story focuses primarily on Adelbert Benjamin Walker (1863-1928) who owned transportation businesses in central Ann Arbor, Michigan and passed the taxi business down to his wife and children. I discovered that he was a creative investor in his primary business, but was also a creative and too-trusting investor in some get-rich ventures. Appendices at the end of this document provide details of some of my digressions.

I dedicate this story to my grand-aunt Florence Walker Higginson (1896-1985), my aunt Barbara Walker Walker (1932 - ), and my cousin Martha Walker. If they had not preserved so much family history in the Walker trove, I would have been denied the joy of writing and researching this project.

Life before the Livery

My great-grandfather Adelbert Benjamin Walker was born October 16,1863, in Salem Township, Michigan where he and several of my ancestors are buried. Salem is about twelve miles northeast of Ann Arbor, Michigan by way of Pontiac Trail Road. [3] Correspondence shows that most of his life, family, and friends called him “A.B.,” which is how he also signed informal correspondence. I will refer to him thus in the rest of this story. His mother Hester Sober Walker (1832-82) was born and died in Salem Township. A.B.’s father Charles Walker (1835-90) was a farmer there. Charles was regarded as an owner and breeder of very fine horses. A history of the county praises him as a local horse expert. As a boy, A.B. was reared to farm life and no doubt became well acquainted with horses. 

A. B. Walker in Moline Illinois
A photo taken of A. B. Walker in Moline, Illinois. He is third from left in the fourth row looking very much the young machinist. An inscription on the original photo identifies his brother Wilber as the first man from the left in that row, c. 1895.

A.B. received his schooling in Salem, but by age seventeen he was “working on the farm.” [4] Evidently, he did not want to become a farmer, because when he was about twenty-five he relocated in Moline, Illinois, to work at becoming a machinist. An 1888 letter [5] from his father Charles implies that A.B. had already been working in a “shop” before leaving Michigan. Charles mentions a friend’s concern that this shop will not hold A.B.’s place until he returns. It is unlikely they did so since his young adult son stayed in Moline five years.

A.B. appears in a photo portrait taken in Moline with his 

A. B. Walkerin Moline Illinois
A. B. Walker stands center back with other young men he met in Moline, Illinois, c. 1895.

younger brother Wilber S. Walker (1867-1956) and other young tradesmen. [6] Moline was a promising city for training and work with machinery. Located both on the Mississippi River and a train stop for the first continental railroad, Moline quickly became an industrial city. John Deere --the inventor of the self-scouring steel plow relocated [7] his company operations there in 1848. Deere aggressively expanded operations, building a variety farming equipment. Factories serving Deere as well as other Moline-based companies [8] became known around the country for their products, giving aspiring machinists many opportunities. A newspaper story indicates that A.B. did not take up residence again in Salem Township until 1893.

Carrie Hamilton Walker
Undated photo of Carrie Hamilton Walker

The next few years were momentous in A.B.’s life— He married and bought a business. He was devoted to his company and his family the rest of his life. On September 9, 1895, A.B. became husband to Carrie Hamilton (1866-1952) in Salem Township. She too was a Salem resident, the daughter of Caroline Mead Hamilton (1827-1902) and Charles W. Hamilton (1822-1902). The newlyweds initially lived in Salem where their first child (my grand-aunt), Florence [9] (1896-1985) was born ten months after the marriage. Five years later in 1901 my grandfather Berle Hamilton Walker (1901-76) was born in Ann Arbor.

The Columbian Livery

About two years after marrying Carrie, A.B. purchased a livery and transport business. This seems a natural choice since he was an expert on horses and such machinery as carriages and wagons. A 1942 newspaper account says he bought the McMaster Livery of Ann Arbor in 1893. However, a deed in my possession contradicts this, indicating that the company was transferred to A.B. at 5:10 p.m. on June 1,1887. It indicates that he paid $2,301 for the livery. An 1897 newspaper supports the later date for this acquisition. Also April 23 of that year an advertisement for the sale of the McMaster property 

The Columbian Livery and Stables
The Columbian Livery and Stables on E. Jefferson St. owned by my great-grandfather, A. B. Walker. His father was an excellent horse man. A. B. quickly expanded his business and after he moved to Liberty St. he maintained the Jefferson location as a barn for boarding horses. c. 1897.

appeared in the Ann Arbor Argus. The notice indicates that McMaster was deceased [10] and that the property would be sold on May 31. Possibly A.B. went to work at a livery following his return to the area in 1893, saved up, and bought McMaster’s place in 1897. The Chicago Worlds Fair of that period was known widely as “The World’s Columbian Exposition.” Playing off interest in this great event, A.B. named his new business, The Columbian Livery and Stables. 

The Columbian Livery had a great location. It was one block from the central campus of The University of Michigan, west of State Street on 528 East Jefferson Street. [11] The livery greatly benefited by being adjacent to campus. [12] A 1906 county history notes some general remarks A.B. and his business:

[Mr. Walker] runs twelve hacks, and has a large and fine line of carriages and other vehicles, and has a very liberal patronage from students of the university, as well as the general public. . . . Mr. Walker takes no active interest in politics being independent of party ties. He gives close and unremitting attention to the conduct and development of his business and his well

The Columbian Livery and Stables
The Columbian Livery and Stables on E. Jefferson St. in Ann Arbor, half a block from university campus, c. 1897. This is the first livery owned by A. B. Walker.

directed labors are bringing to him a gratifying measure of prosperity.

The twentieth century marked a burst of property investment and entrepreneurship by A.B. In 1901 he bought equipment from Craig’s Livery. It appears that around 1902 he came in possession of the deed and discharged mortgage to lots in “Ann Arbor Village.” More likely it relates to some farm property that he then leased in Ann Arbor Township. A leasing agreement to farm a plot of Ann Arbor Township land was found in some of his financial documents. [13]

Walker’s Livery

In 1909 A.B. made a major and long-lasting business move: He bought out the Alfred H. Holmes Livery on 515 E. Liberty Street in Ann Arbor. He also decided to relocate this business on the property two blocks south of the Columbian Livery building but still only 450 feet from State Street and less than half a mile from the University’s campus. He

Walker's Livery advertisement
This is a large card advertising A.B.'s services at 515 E. Liberty Street. One can see that he continues to offer horse boarding at 528 Jefferson Street.

acquired an impressive brick three-story building. It had been constructed in 1898 for about $7,000 and was designed “as a model livery barn.” [14] It had electric lights and an elevator. It also had a “covered incline on the outside of the building that connected the first and second floor” so that the horses could be stalled on the second floor. The third floor was designed for granaries with a chute to the second. Berle Walker recalled [15] that for some students the second floor was a sanctuary: “After the J-Hops, it was customary for some of the guys to go after the dance chairmen and haze them. I remember lots of times when they would be hiding in our hayloft.” On the ground floor was a “prosperous” looking office on the north side. Adjoining the ground floor was a harness room. The rest of the ground floor was cement, holding cabs, buggies, and carts. 

Walker's Livery office, 515 E. Liberty St.
Undated photo in "prosperous office" of A. B. Walker's at 515 E. Liberty St. Front: Mildred Kerlin. Back, left to right: Wilber Walker, Harry Graves, A. B. Walker

A chattel mortgage around the time of his building purchase indicates that besides acquiring real estate, A.B. greatly expanded the business, as the mortgage lists thirty-five horses, twenty-two hacks and coupes, twenty-five cutters (light sleighs), and more. [16] He also proudly re-named his firm, Walker’s Livery. For a period of time he maintained his former building on Jefferson Street as a boarding stables.

"We had about 30 horses and all types of buggies, hacks, sleighs and wagons, including a couple of hearses that we’d rent to funeral homes and two teams of pure white Arabians to pull them . . . . A lot of people had horses and buggies back in the early 1900s Walker observed. “It was quite a status symbol, but often they couldn’t really afford them. One of the big problems Dad had was collecting from people he let have a buggy on credit . . . . We charged about $1.50 an hour for a horse and buggy. A hack (taxi) would cost 25 cents for a one-way ride, but that would take you wherever you wanted to go. We had a special rate for students going to dances: two dollars round-trip, door to door." Berle Walker, 1966

Walker Livery, from Bentley Image Bank
This is a 1910 photograph of Walker's livery. To the right, a pair of Arabian horses draw a large pall-bearers coach. Another paid stand at the left. Carriages are parked to the right. The sign on the awning says, "Hacks and baggage." (Bentley Historical Library's Image Bank)

The 1900 Federal Census finds that the Walker family had moved from Salem Township to Ann Arbor and were living on 416 Maynard Street, [17] half a block from the family business. However, by the 1910 Census they had moved to a large house on 509 E. Liberty right next to Walker’s Livery. [18] The 1940 Census notes that Carrie was still living there at age 73 and it stayed family property until 1960.

By all accounts, A.B.’s business thrived in the first decade of the new century as it expanded to meet the transportation needs of a growing university town. One sign of his prosperity was his enthusiasm for exploring and making a number of daring investments during the period of 1909 to 1920.

From Horses to Automobiles

A. B., Florence, and Carrie sitting on porch at Maynard Street, c. 1900
This restored photo shows A. B., Florence, and Carrie sitting on the porch of the house at Maynard Street. c. 1900

In 1914 A.B. made a radical decision regarding his core business. Though business was good, he anticipated the disruptive impact of the automobile on his company. He auctioned off all of his equipment. Advertisements were posted throughout the city indicating that come rain or come shine, “Thirty head of extra good horses”, “some high class trotting stock” and over 70 wagons, buggies, hacks, sleighs, coaches, hearses, butters, runabouts, and surries..— and twenty hacks, as well several buggies, surreys and wagons would be sold. A.B.’s son later recalled, “Dad was kind of sad to see the horses go, but I was about 16 then, and interested in newer things-- cars.”

Before meters were installed, the company would charge 35 cents for a car ride to a passenger’s doorstep and Berle remembered that “driving an automobile to a nearby town could take all day" with an automobile: "A few breakdowns and flat tires might keep you on the roads for hours."

Ann Arbor Taxi Company, 1916
By 1916 when this photograph was taken, Walker's Livery had legally become Ann Arbor Taxi Company. Automobiles had replaced horses and carriages. Here a group of mechanics and other employees pose out front. The sign on the awning now says "Taxis & Baggage." A Man and woman stand in front of the office. (From the Bentley Historical Library's Image Bank.)

Undaunted, A.B. attacked the car transport business aggressively. He entered a partnership with the owners of the Ann Arbor Garage on Main St who were also agents for Grant and Buick automobiles. Together they renamed the taxi business, the Ann Arbor Taxicab Company. A 1914 copy of the Michiganensian [19] contains a half-page ad that touts the new company’s baggage and taxi/limousine services operating out of 515 E. Liberty Street. Only his co-owners George and Herman Mayer and Walter Lind are named in the notice. They likely converted a planned ad for their garage. The company started with ten cabs and three trucks. But a chattel mortgage written in 1915 indicates that they quickly expanded their fleet. In a promissory note [20] for $10,000, Ann Arbor Taxi put up fifteen cars and six horses as collateral. With the note they purchased:

  • 14 horses
  • 2 mules
  • 11 automobiles, eleven of which were Fords.
  • 6 hacks
  • 7 drays
  • 1 “buss”
  • Assorted blankets, whips, robes, cutters, buggies

In January of 1916 the partnership of Ann Arbor Taxicab Company still seemed to be enjoying their honeymoon period. The owners hosted its “Second Annual Banquet” [21] inviting thirty men to join in the festivities.

The banquet program is written tongue-in-cheek and contains many amusements such as “Trapese Act on the Ground”, a “Wrestling Match,” and a satire on “Woman Suffrage.” Various musical and poetical recitals are also proposed— all presented by the attendees at the banquet. A.B., Walter Lind, and the Mayer brothers are all on the program, though A.B. suffers the indignity of having his name listed as “Albert” among the thirty attendees. The Roast Turkey dinner is accompanied by potatoes, pies, ice cream and cake, cigars and wine. 

However, rather mysteriously later that year the partnership dissolved with A.B. taking over the taxicab company and his three former partners staying in the garage business. 

Speculative Investments

 

A. B. Walker's property in Saskatchewan Canada
A.B. inspects his property. In several photos he poses near buildings along with two dogs. In all, the surroundings look quite desolate.

In 1909 A.B. and Carrie Walker invested some very serious money in property about one hundred miles west of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada, pretty much out in the middle of nowhere. [22] They purchased 640 acres of farmland near Scott, Saskatchewan. The Walkers also purchased six lots in the village of Scott itself. What could have inspired the Walkers to spend over $15,000 [23] on property so far from Ann Arbor? 

The key to the purchase was likely the transcontinental Grand Trunk Pacific Railway. When A.B. invested it had recently been laid through the region with an adjoining station that essentially founded Scott. In fact the town was named after a railroad officer. Additionally the government established an experimental farm [24] near Scott for the purpose of assisting farmers grow crops in the region. Likely the Walkers thought they could buy cheap land and buildings before the area boomed. The wheat harvests could also pay yearly dividends. When they made their purchases, the population of Scott was about 400. But alas, that was its peak and today only 98 people live there.

Downtown Scott, SK Canada
This appears to be downtown Scott, SK, c. 1910. An unidentified family stands in front of a plow store. A. B. Walker bought buildings in Scott and tried to lease them. An inscription on the original photo implies the building on the left is the WAlker's "house in Scott."

Photographic evidence [25] proves that A.B., visited the property in Canada. [26] Whether he visited to admire their new holdings or discuss difficulties with property leasing is not clear. But the documents from that period testify to a number of troubling issues. A house was purchased, but it remained vacant for quite some time with little prospect of attracting a renter. The machinist who occupied Walker-owned buildings in Scott was several months behind his rent at one time. Wartime labor issues made farming the land difficult. Ultimately A.B. adopted a share cropping model. Several years after A.B.’s death, his son Berle made an effort to sell the property for essentially the same price per acre that A.B. had purchased it originally.

Wheat farm in Scott, SK, Canada
This photo in the Walker collection is inscribed, "Wheat farm Scott, Sask., Canada." Farming implements were horse-drawn on these vast plains when A. B. bought his farmland.

A far more speculative investment took place around 1916. A.B took the first steps toward becoming a subscription stock investor with the Wyoming Asbestos Production Company a mining operation of some sort with which claimed rights to a “sheet” of asbestos worth “millions” of dollars. A.B. held on to correspondence from Fred Patee, the owner of the company. Patee complains that he really needs a payment from A.B. that is due, as evidently A.B. only sent $200 to him rather than a greater amount that Patee needs. Pattee declares that the British War Department will be placing an order for one million dollars of asbestos any day now. I am guessing that A.B. backed out of this too-good-to-be-true [27] scheme as there is no other evidence that he continued to invest.

Correspondence among interested parties, shows that A.B. also explored an investment in telephone technology in 1920. It suggests that he attended a presentation by a broker and visited the production facility of a firm in Ohio raising capitol as The International Telephone Company. A set of letters indicate that he was exploring this with Carrie’s

A. B. visiting Scott, SK
A.B. visited Scott, SK at least once to look over his 640 acres of land and buildings. It is not clear when this occurred, but there are several snapshots from the visit in the Walker collection.

cousin, Joel W. Hamilton [28] (1858-1933) of Indiana. Joel backed out of the deal, stating that sources have told him that the president of this telephone company was a “crook” whose indictment by a grand jury was imminent. In his letter to Joel, A.B. expresses deep disappointment and believes that Joel has been duped. Joel responds in a kinder tone, indicating his deep concern that they are being ripped off. He mentions spending $150 for his legal investigation of the dubious “broker” who is trying to reel them in. Despite his enthusiasm for the project there is no evidence that A.B. ultimately continued to spend money in this venture.

The Taxi Company Enters the Roaring Twenties.

At a time when gasoline cost only 55 cents for ten gallons, a cabby reported that University of Michigan football days were a bonanza for Ann Arbor Taxi Company. In the 1920s, a driver of one of Walker's Red Top cabs could pack three riders in the back seat, two more in the front, and two on each running board. But there are also signs in the 1920s that the company had acquired too much aging equipment and needed to adopt new business practices.

In 1923, A.B. directed his “operating engineer,” George V. McCune to write a detailed analysis of the taxi company’s business operations, complete with recommendations. [29] McCune indicates that the company is operating at a monthly loss, despite high demand for services and nominal competition. The main problem he identifies is a large inventory of old or unused equipment. Though the Walkers owned some twenty-five vehicles, only four taxi cabs were in top running condition. The other vehicles cost time and money in repairs. He recommended liquidating the old cars and ambulances and buying some new cabs. 

McCune lists twenty-one employees. [30] In addition to A.B. who is chairman / general manager and McCune, Berle Walker is identified as treasurer, though it is noted that he (then age twenty-two) is mainly a driver. Other employees include mechanics, dispatchers, and a cab washer. Most are drivers. Interestingly, the drivers are paid on salary. McCune suggests moving to a commission system. He continually remarks that the employees lack “discipline.” He faults A.B. for being soft-hearted, but also notes that he is respected and well-liked in the community.

The report is a wonderful snapshot of taxi operations at that time. Lacking two-way radios, cabs are dispatched through call-boxes throughout the city These gave drivers a direct line to the dispatcher.  McCune also implies that much of the taxi trade comes from the two [31] railroad depots of that time and contemplates setting up a call box at the University Union. A city ordinance sets the standard fare of the time as fifty cents for a ride anywhere in the city with a surcharge of thirty-five cents for each extra passenger.

Documents [32] from December, 1927, suggest that A.B. continued to be open to changes in the transportation market. He made one prescient investment closely related to his core business. It appears that for a period of time the taxi garage hosted a Drivurself Station. This was a rent-a-car system that had begun in Chicago in 1918, then purchased by John D. Hertz who expanded the brand. It appears that A.B. invested in the company or a franchise. Unfortunately, in 1926 General Motors bought the company. The surviving documents connote that A.B. lost his franchise in exchange for stock that was to be traded for discounted automobiles of equal value. The dates on the documents correlate perfectly with GM’s purchase of Hertz’s nascent rent-a-car business. Hertz bought back the company from GM in 1953 and grew it into a major corporation. Through no fault of A.B.’s he missed out on that very profitable portion of Hertz’s history. 

No more recent family documents related to the taxi company are in my possession. 

All in the Family

Berle Walker
Undated photo of Berle Walker as a young adult

A.B. Walker died March 15,1928. He was only 64 years old. The cause of death was “Acute dilatation of the heart,” a common form of heart disease. Contributing factors noted were arteriosclerosis and “thyroid.” After his death Berle, Carrie, and Florence formed a legal partnership to become owners of the taxi company. Florence had graduated from the University of Michigan School of Music. She and Cassie were not directly involved in the business, but her husband assisted Berle with legal matters related to Walker family holdings. On June 28, 1922, she married John Francis Higginson (1896-1970). John became a lawyer at a top Detroit firm. [33] After their marriage Florence and Jack lived in Detroit the rest of their lives. Though they themselves never had children, their 1950s correspondence with Berle showed that they were very interested in visiting with and staying abreast of their nieces and nephews.

Advertisement for well water
I found this clipping in the family collection. It seems that Berle, like his father, was not afraid to try new ventures.

Berle, only 27 years old, became the manager of the company. Berle had married Bessie E. Hadden on July 19, 1923. She died two months later. To my knowledge no living family members know more about her. The circumstances of her death were certainly tragic. The recorded cause of death appears to be preeclampsia, a condition that effects pregnant women. It can cause high blood pressure, convulsions, and sometimes heart failure. A secondary contributor of her death was albuminuria, a kidney condition caused by eclampsia. She was only 21 years old. Bessie had grown up in Bruce Township, Macomb Co, Michigan. She is buried close-by in Romeo Cemetery, Macomb Co.

On June 16, 1925, the young widower remarried. His bride was Rosabel Vail Lee (1903-1980), my grandmother. To this marriage, from 1927-31, three children were born in rapid succession beginning with my mother, Barbara Walker Baker.

I have unearthed very little information about the taxi company under Berle’s management. I do know this: The taxi business fought to stay in business and keep their workers during

Rosabel Lee Walker
University of Michigan graduate Rosabel Lee Walker, c. 1924

the Great Depression, but with the advent of World War II, many of Berle’s employees,  went to work in Ypsilanti at the bomber plant and I had no one left to help run the business.” The taxi cab company was sold in October of 1942, to Marion and Jeannette Smith. The Smiths had been actively invested in the local taxi scene. The sale included eight cabs and three trucks, a greatly reduced inventory from A.B.’s bloated inventory of 1923. Very, very wisely, the Walkers did not sell the three-story building that originally housed Walker’s Livery.

After the Sale of the Company

Fortunately, my Grand-Aunt Florence kept a sheaf of letters from her brother Berle that often mention the challenges of leasing the old livery building. It appears that they quickly converted it to storage purposes. Most of these many letters are written from 1955-57 [34] and nearly all [35] reference cashiers checks or money orders for rental income. Berle made every effort to be transparent and often enlisted Jack Higginson’s help in reviewing contracts and other matters. Berle and Florence established a separate “Walker Building Account” to pay for insurance, repairs, and taxes. Being a landlord was clearly stressful and the letters indicate that Berle, like A.B., was soft-hearted. In one letter he mentions his need for money that is due, but he is reluctant to foreclose. He talks about

Florence Higginson Walker
Undated photo of Florence Higginson Walker as a young adult.

the possibility of upping tenants' rent but he is concerned about their inability to pay. They seem to have four main tenants during this period: the “Evans Contract,” the University of Michigan, The Edmund Brothers, and “Van Egmond.” The Edmund Brothers and the University paid the highest amounts, but their occupancies did not overlap. Needed repairs are mentioned such as a painting and a new roof. (One tenant had threatened to leave over leaks.)

After their mother’s death in 1952, the house at 509 E. Liberty St. became an issue as well. [36] Berle mentions clearing out its basement during his vacation in 1955. That same year a house rental prospect fell through at the last minute. However, in early 1956 he is hopeful that a doctoral candidate and his family will take the house. [37]

The Canadian property was also yielding revenue as late as 1957 when Berle encloses Florence’s after-tax share of a $946.89 wheat crop. A letter to Jack implies Berle’s interest in selling the property for $20/acre. This was perhaps another headache. At this time Berle was working as an equipment manager for the university’s sports teams. [38] Unfortunately, not long after his letters were written he suffered a stroke, leaving him blind in one eye and weaker. The Michigan athletic director, Fritz Crisler, found him a job in the University’s Thayer St. Parking Garage as an attendant.

As early as 1956 a commercial real estate agent had been engaged to sell the building or find a long-term-lessee. A hotel/apartment developer is mentioned at this time, and Berle hopes to arrange a meeting that includes the Walker siblings and their spouses. A purchase or 99 year lease is being offered. Campus Bike Shop offers $5000/year for 99 years. Berle would prefer to lease the building for $500/month. Obviously they never came to terms.

Since the letters end in 1957, the next fact we know is that in 1960 both the livery building and the house had been sold. A newspaper article reports that those properties and two other houses were to be demolished by Ann Arbor Bank which put up a new big branch with a drive-thru that had entrances on both Liberty and Washington Streets. 

From Liveries to Taxis panel
The historical marker across Liberty Street from where the Walker's Livery once stood. (From the Downtown Ann Arbor Historical Street Exhibit)

I feel so fortunate to have visited the old building before the wrecking ball hit. I wish I could remember Grandpa Walker’s manner when we visited. While he was alive I wish I had asked many more questions. My fondest memory about the livery building sale was that Berle bought a big new Cadillac with some of the money. Once I drove with my grandma to pick him up at the Thayer Street Parking garage where he worked. Even then I was thinking most parking lot attendants probably did not have such a nice ride.

The sale of the Ann Arbor properties allowed my grandparents to retire to California where they both died and are buried. Aunt Florence outlived her husband Jack and stayed in her big home in Detroit. I saw her a few times [39] before she died but did not ever think to ask her about Salem Township, Walkers Livery, or family life on Liberty Street. I suppose this is so for many of us when we are young—the past seems less relevant. But not all are as lucky as I to come across so much written and photographic history. I have enjoyed every moment of presenting it.

- Laurence R. Baker
August 1, 2021

 

Appendix 1
The Invitation to the 1916 Ann Arbor Taxi Cab Company Banquet

 

Appendix 2
A.B. and Carrie Walker’s Properties in Scott, Saskatewan

C.B. Smith's Outfit Harvesting Near Scott, SK, Canada
This classic photo was in the Walkers' collection. It is titled, "C.B. Smith's Outfit Harvesting Near Scott, Sask." Clyde Smith sold 160 acres of wheat land to A.B. Walker. Perhaps this picture inspired A.B. to invest.

My cousin Martha Walker Stockinger and I were quite puzzled to stumble across several photos from Scott, Saskatchewan mixed into family photos from 50-140 years ago. After reviewing twenty-one of A.B.’s legal documents and correspondences related to business in Canada, I came to realize that he made a major financial investment in land and property in 1910-1912. These investments constituted one square mile of farmland outside of Scott and six lots of property with buildings in Scott. Considerable evidence suggests that A.B. believed he was investing in a potential boom but became enmeshed in the challenging difficulty of being a long-distant landlord in a different country.

We will probably never know how the idea of investing in Canadian farmland occurred to A.B. But there are some historical clues as to why he might have considered this a great investment. The townsite of Scott developed when the transcontinental Grand Trunk Pacific Railway was built through the area. In 1910, Scott [40] was established as a town and by 1911 recorded a population of 410.

Another development that may have enthused A.B. was the establishment of a government experimental farm station at Scott, serving western Saskatchewan as well as a portion of Alberta. This was a new agricultural program in Canada. [41] The motto of the station was “Service to the Canadian Farmer.” At Scott, the initial focus of the station was helping Euro-Canadian settlers (some of which were new to farming) adapt best practices to the soil and the climate. The Scott Experimental Farm still serves farmers today. A.B. no doubt felt that the new railroad and farm would help the region to prosper and grow. Instead this happened to neighboring towns rather than Scott. The population of Scott declined after 1911 and by 2006 the Canadian census recorded the population as only 91.

Starting in 1910, the Walkers quickly became the owners of 640 acres of farm land near Scott, a house and lots in town that included some buildings. He attempted to rent the house and buildings. He also attempted to farm through management as well as share-cropping arrangements. Photographic evidence proves that he visited his holdings at least once. It seems that he did so with Carrie and Florence. Using the 21 documents I have laid out chronology of the Walkers’ investment activities.

  • 1909 A.B Walker files a caveat [42] with Saskatchewan Land Titles Office against title held by John W. Jameson of Manitoba. This is for the west half of section 13 in Township 39, range 21 west of the third principal meridian in the province. 322 acres of land are being sold to the Walkers for $6118 ($19/acre).
     
  • 1910 A.B. and Carrie Walker agree to pay $6,100 for 328 acres of land. They purchased the land from Thomas P. James. This land is adjacent to the previous purchase: It is the east half of section in Township 39, range 21 west of the third principal meridian in the province.
     
  • 1910 A.B. agrees to pay Clyde Smith $3,000 for 160 acres of land in the northwest corner of section #36, township #39, range 22 west of the third principal meridian.
     
  • 1911 The Lands Titles Office sends A.B. a record of the Grand Trunk Railroad’s 6.45 acre right of way on his property. No doubt he was aware as the rail road was likely the key factor in his decision to purchase land.
     
  • 1912 A.B. arranges a property swap with Edward Showalter. He trades the 160 acres of land he acquired from Clyde Smith for six property lots in block six of Scott. This includes some buildings.
     
  • 1913 A.B. leases lots 1 and 2 in town to John Thompson of Scott, who is a dealer in farm machinery. This includes an office, a machine warehouse and a stable. Thompson is to pay $200/ month beginning March 1. The agreement is for two years.
     
  • 1914 A.B. receives two correspondences a month apart from Joseph Catherwood in Tramping Springs, Saskatchewan. [43] The letters imply that Catherwood is managing the rentals of the lots/buildings in Scott. The first letter on March 14, indicates that James Sobolik vacated “the house.” [44] More concerning, he says that Thompson occupies an office building and machine shed, but he is three months behind in his rent. He muses that he has another prospective renter for the buildings, but is pessimistic about the house: “Times have been very hard and other houses are empty in Scott.”

    The second letter dated April, 11 implies that A.B. replied to the first letter from Catherwood and was worried about Thompson occupying his buildings and not paying rent. This time Catherwood presses A.B. to give them more time to catch up on their payments, as they want to continue the lease another full year. (I am confident that A.B. did not find this reassuring). He also delicately mentioned that A.B. himself was in arrears on one mortgage payments by $164.
     

  • 1919 In Toronto, Helen Ann Jameson signs transfer of title. Evidently A.B. has finished making payments. Detailed receipts support this. 
     
  • 1919 A.B. receives two letters [45] from O.S. Richards in Scott filled with fragments and run on sentences. He appears to have a role in attending to A.B.’s fields and getting them farmed. The letters are quirky and eccentric. The first is simply dated March 5, but it expresses a need for a response. The second one is dated April 9, 1919 and it implies that A.B. replied in the interim so I am guessing Richards’s letters were a month apart.

The first letter implies that the Walkers visited without Berle. O.S. inquires about Florence and wonders, “Is Bryan [sic?] is home yet?” He relates that the house or buildings are vacant: “I don’t know if your place will be rented or not. I can’t see any chance for it.” The main subject concerns a road that “the council” has put through four acres of the northern section of A.B.’s field, leaving him with just 640 acres to farm. O.S. claims to have battled the council heroically, going to them three times and threatening an injunction. He claims he got A.B. $35/acre compensation when the locals settled for $20 or $25 because they wanted the road. He closes by forlornly describing his tough personal financial position and the challenging economics of the region:

I am badly bent this year you can bet times are dreadful hard here and the Gov. dont furnish any seed this year.

The April letter from O.S. indicates that he received a reply from A.B. to his March letter. He mentions that he has $140 for A.B., presumably compensation for the road right of way. O.S says that he can get A.B.’s land “plowed, disc [sic], and harrowed for $5.00 an acre that is cheap now.” He says “we will be seeding on the 20th.” It is not clear if A.B. has signed off on having O.S. do this, as the letter requests that, “Write me by return mail if you want it [plowing, etc.] done.” Most of the letter details at length the challenges of farming in Scott. First, O.S. complains about how hard it is to arrange for the farming of A.B.’s land. Here are his exact words with run-on sentences:

Feed is so high men high priced [46] and no good Walker this labor question is fierce the returned [47] Canadian soldier thinks every one should give them their farms stock and all because they went over there to fight and while they are working for you they want short hours and a day off when ever they feel it.

O.S. also seems to be in financial jeopardy. He concludes, noting that he lost $3,000 the preceding year and the bank is trying to force him to sell his company. In the two letters he comes across as quite a character!

  • 1919 It appears that A.B. did not go forward with O.S Richards in regard to having him manage the cultivation of his fields. A.B. enters a share cropping agreement for two seasons with Clarence A. Bishop of Scott. Agreement stipulates which sections will be cultivated and which fallow. He pays $3/acre for costs and receives one-third yield for crops.
     
  • 1922 A.B. receives an itemized bill from a barrister in Saskatchewan for costs ($45.12) related to title search and numerous correspondences. Evidently this is related to the Jameson transaction (see below).
     
  • 1923 A letter from the registrar of land titles in Saskatoon apologizes for the great delay in A.B. receiving the actual title to the Jameson lands. The blame is placed on the executor of the Jameson estate. This letter and one from A.B.’s lawyers in Jackson, Michigan, imply that this has been an expensive and frustrating process for him but that A.B. is finally in possession of the title.
     
  • 1925 George Pickard signs a lease for farming the full 640 acres [48] of A.B.’s farm land holdings. A.B. is legally entitled to one third of the yield. This share cropping agreement also stipulates lands that are to remain fallow, though Pickard may farm some at a cost of $5 per acre.

Appendix 3
George McCune’s Report on the Taxi Company

A document exists in the Walker collection written in December of 1923, by George V. McCune, “Operating Engineer.” The Ann Arbor Directory of that time lists him as manager of Ann Arbor Taxi & Transfer Co. on E. 515 Liberty St., Ann Arbor, MI. This document is a detailed analysis and critique of company operations. It implicitly appears as something that was also done the year before, both times at the request of A.B. Walker, owner and president. I have an eight page , single spaced carbon copy of this analysis in my possession and below I have presented some of the interesting highlights.

The Building

The garage was a three story, brick building of 12,000 square feet with storage for about 40 cars.

Employees

Adlebert B. Walker, Chairman and General Manager

Berle H. Walker, Secretary, but primarily a driver

George V. McCune, Operating Engineer (This is implied by his authorship and signature)

One “First Class” mechanic

One “second man” mechanic

One cab washer

Two dispatchers

Fourteen men, including “extras” [49]

A.B. was not taking a regular salary and Berle received a “moderate” one. Each driver was paid a straight salary of $25 or $30 (presumably per week). One of the dispatchers— J. William Phelan— worked for the company from 1909 to 1942.

"Red Top" taxi cabs and drivers
This 1920 photo shows A.B. Walker's fleet of "Red Top" taxi cabs and drivers. The three story building that he owned stands in back with a sign out front that indicates the four-digit phone number ot call for a cab. He also had phone stations at the nearby train station and the Michigan Union. Additionally, the company owned trucks and limousines. Later they advertised "opera buses" for group outings. One of his trucks is parked to the rear-left. Operating engineer, John McCune noted in his December, 1923, report plans for the electric sign that can be seen in front of the building. (From the Bentley Historical Library's Image Bank.)

Equipment

The taxi company owned 29 vehicles

4 1923 Red Top [50] cabs— A2 Model 

6  1917-21 Red Top Dodge Cabs

3 1920-1 Ford cabs

1 “used” Cadillac Ambulance

1 1921 Dodge ambulance

1 “old and used” Hudson ambulance

2 1916, 1918 Republic trucks

1 1918 Buick Touring car

1 1916 Reo Touring car

1 “new” Buick town car

1 “used” Hudson town car

1 1923 Hudson sedan

McCune notes that only the four newest Red Top cars are in top condition and that demand exists for three times that number of new vehicles. He faults  A.B. for holding onto and “repairing obsolete equipment.” He also notes that vehicles like the ambulances are not being used by the company anymore. He suggests selling off some of the inventory. Evidently A.B. is also mulling over the possibility of moving some unused cars to a location Ypsilanti. McCune thinks the business could grow at that location starting with current unused cars. He remarks that the area is not presently served with taxis.

Operations

Three cab stands were referenced—-one at each the two [51] railroad stations and one at the garage. Cabs were dispatched via call boxes which were direct trunk lines between dispatchers and drivers. At the time of the report the company only had four call-in stations throughout the city, including the railroad stations. The report mentions that A.B. and George had recently scouted out locations for more call-in locations since the company had provisions for more lines. The places being considered were the Michigan Union and “downtown.” The cabs did not yet use meters. A ride anywhere in the city cost 50 cents for one passenger and 35 cents more per each additional passenger. George expresses the concern of no capacity for tracking mileage without metering, not accounting for cab “dead time.” He suggests that the drivers work on commission since there was so little pick-up trade.

The business seemed to be struggling from what we would call “branding” issues. Some drivers wore red caps, but others chose not too. Dispatchers had only recently been answering calls with, “Red Top!” Instead of “taxi.” George recommends requiring full uniforms for drivers.

McCune reports that there is not a work ticket system in the garage and that the business is not insured.

McCune urges that A.B. begin newspaper advertising with more regularity and applauds him for ordering an “electric sign” for the headquarters. (This sign can be seen plainly in a later photograph).

McCune twice cites a lack of “discipline” with the employees and suggests that greater productivity could be achieved from the employees.

Finances

A.B. took $3,244 in “personal expenses” for the year but had not paid himself a salary or even taken rent for the building that he owns. While cash flow is positive, if taking into account depreciation and rent, the business loses about $579 per month on $4,571 of revenue. The balance sheet shows $30,000 of assets - equipment, cabs, cash and receivable and $30,000 of liabilities, $15,968 to AB Walker. The latter could possibly be a loan or his equity in the business. McCune notes that conventional accounting and operational practices are not in use.

General Management/Ownership

“Mr. Walker lets his heart get the better of him and does not discipline the men, so as to get the best out of them. Mr. Walker is well-acquainted in the city and is respected by the best people in town. His acquaintance extends to town officials.”

Footnotes

[1]. My dad (Russell Ray Baker [1927- 2012]) and I grabbed a couple of old license plates as souvenirs. I believe my sister Jennifer Ann Baker (1974) has one of those mounted in her house.

[2]. See Bibliography below.

[3]. This road is evident on nineteenth century maps. That section of the road remains virtually unchanged today. Incidentally, the famous poet Robert Frost lived on Pontiac Trail Road when he resided in Ann Arbor, 1925-6.

[4]. This notation appears on the 1880 United States Census.

[5]. Charles's letter which begins, "Dear Son," was written on October 21, 1888. It is addressed to "A. B. Walker, Elm Hill, Moline, Ill." and was send from Armada, Michigan, where Charles then lived as a widower. It is in response to a letter by A. B. in which he let his father know he had arrived safely. Charles expresses relief as there have been so many reports of railroad accidents. He mentions that A. B. had been accompanied as far as Chicago with a friend. The letter is chatty about the weather and the doings of mutual acquaintances, including some who were sorry they missed seeing A.B. on his recent visit to his dad. Charles would die two years and one month later and would be buried back in Salem Township, Michigan next to his wife and my second great-grandmother Hester Sober Walker.

[6]. Census records indicate that Wilber stayed and married in Illinois. By 1900 we find him in Washington state where he resided the rest of his life. He is buried there.

[7]. Deere had businesses first in Grand Detour and then in Rock Island, Illinois.

[8]. These included Dimcock, Gould, and Co., Moline Pipe Organ Co., and Moline Furniture Works.

[9]. We may credit Florence for keeping so many of her parents' letters, documents and photos. This narrative would be impossible without them. Many no doubt passed from her mother to her.

[10]. The November 20, 1896 obituary for James D McMaster indicates that he died of heart disease, aged 80, was interred in the Geddes burying ground. An Ann Arbor Township cemetery reference to a James B. McMaster substantiates this.

[11]. The deed to the property measures its dimensions in rods (1 rod = 16.5 feet). “Commencing at a point on the south line of Jefferson street sixteen rods west of the west line of State street, thence running south parallel with State street seven rods, thence west four rods, thence north parallel with State street aforesaid seven rods to the south line of Jefferson street, thence east four rods to the place of beginning, with use of a right of way over a piece of land one rod wide east and west adjoining said land on the east line of lot. Also commencing at the south-east corner of the above described land, running thence south on a line parallel with State Street eight rods, thence west four rods. thence north eight rods, thence east to beginning with upset right of way over a piece of land one rod wide east and west adjoining said land on the east line of lot.”

[12]. Today this is University of Michigan property with the central administration building in the general location.

[13]. I vaguely recall that when his son and my grandfather sold the livery building he also sold another property on the outskirts of town in a country setting. I think went out to look at it.

[14]. This and other details about the building are from an article in the Ann Arbor Democrat, January 21,1898.

[15]. Berle's quotes about the livery come from a 1966 Ann Arbor News feature article.

[16]. Also included were eleven surreys, one “tally ho” (four in hand coach), two 3-seated carriages, two traps, nine single top buggies, two traps, twenty-five harnesses, and other items which are illegible.

[17]. This too is now University of Michigan property.

[18]. In 2021, this block serves retail businesses.

[19]. The University of Michigan senior Yearbook.

[20]. The purchase was contracted with William H. Stark (1876-1934). Stark too was in the livery business as he owned Pohemus Transfer Line (He was married to Mary Jane Polhemus [1868-1948]). However, the specific property purchased represented inventory from Holmes Livery company from whom A.B. bought the 515 E. Liberty building. This suggests when Holmes sold his building in 1909 and Stark purchased some of the chattel.

[21]. The entire banquet program can be seen here.

[22]. Twenty-one documents from 1909-1925 provide very interesting details about this investment history. I have provided a detailed account in Appendix 2.

[23]. According to U.S Bureau Labor Statistics, $15,000 in 1913 (as far back as they go) would be worth $415,861.22 in 2021. I believe the records show the Walkers paying in American American currency.

[24]. It's still there.

[25]. My cousin Martha and I puzzled over several family photos of the visit to Scott which brought the whole matter to our attention for the first time.

[26]. A letter implies that Carrie and Florence may have accompanied him.

[27]. I also found a letter in A.B.’s documents that appears to be a testimony to the quality of Patee’s asbestos. It is written by a Contractor for Public Works, etc. in Chicago. He raves about the asbestos samples that Patee sent to him through the mail [yikes!]. He says the materials would likely be very profitable in the manufacture of shingles.

[28]. Joel was the son of Joseph Warren Hamilton (1816-77), Carrie Hamilton Walker’s uncle and her father’s brother.

[29]. The report is eight pages long. I have provided a thorough summary in Appendix 3.

[30]. An unspecified number of part-time drivers.

[31]. I was fascinated to learn that in the early twentieth century Ann Arbor was served by major north-south and east-west lines. This too is described in greater detail within Appendix 3.

[32]. The documents include a transaction letter and a stock certification for 50 preferred shares and 200 common shares of stock that would immediately be traded for automobiles of equivalent value. AB. Is instructed to line up the values as closely as possible.

[33]. Butzel Long of Detroit.

[34]. These are written after Carrie's death in 1952.

[35]. There are some 30 letters. For me they are fascinating as the focus is on Berle’s children, their spouses and his grandchildren. They also mention the performance of the Michigan sports teams. They are 2-4 pages with beautiful hand-writing. I now remember that my step-mother Rosemary Madill Baker (1938-2015) often praised his cursive.

[36]. Berle had raised his family on Sheehan St. In Ann Arbor. In 1955 he and Rosabel moved to Kirtland St. near Ann Arbor High School and the university football stadium.

[37]. He mentions that the mayor of Grand Rapids has written a reference.

[38]. He first went to work at the intramural building, but then was stationed at Yost Field House, renovated long after as Yost Ice Arena.

[39]. She liked to meet at the Stouffer's near Northland Shopping Center.

[40]. Scott was actually named after the railway company treasurer, Frank Scott.

[41]. In 1886, the Experimental Farm Stations Act was passed to establish five experimental farms in Canada. Between 1906 and 1911 six more experimental stations were established, including the one at Scott.

[42]. A letter from James’s lawyers explains that caveats are used in Saskatchewan to secure the interests of the buyer purchaser. It essentially registers the agreement for the transfer and legally binds the title.

[43]. Scott is within this rural municipality.

[44]. A house is featured in several of the photographs from A.B.'s trip to visit Scott.

[45]. One letter envelope survives, simply addressed to "A. B. Walker, Ann Arbor, Michigan."

[46]. I have included the grammatical errors in O.S.'s writing.

[47]. This clearly references soldiers who served in WW I, which would have been over for about a year.

[48]. Interestingly, Clarence Bishop who signed a share-cropping lease with A.B. in 1919 is also mentioned in the Pickard lease. It notes that a share of pastured is reserved for Bishop’s livestock.

[49]. This count does not include Berle Walker.

[50]. Two months after the report, A.B. officially changed the company name to “Ann Arbor Taxicab and Transfer Company, operating Red Top and Yellow Top Cabs.”

[51]. The Michigan Central ran east-west connecting Ann Arbor to the worlds of Chicago and New York. The depot still exists on Depot Street in Ann Arbor as the Gandy Dancer restaurant. However, the Ann Arbor Railroad had a station on Ashley Street, named after “Big Jim Ashley” who financed the building of a north-south railroad from Toledo to Ann Arbor to compete with the Michigan Central. He extended the line haphazardly but it eventually ran north to Frankfort and as far south as Florida. See https://aadl.org/aaobserver/15414 for interesting details about this line. Doughty Montessori School now stands on the site of the station.

Bibliography

Ancestry. ancestry.com

Beakes, Samuel. Past and Present of Washtenaw County, Michigan— together with biographical sketches of many of its prominent and leading citizens and illustrious dead. The S.J. Clarke publishing co., 1906.

Bentley Historical Library / Sam Sturgis Photograph Collection. Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Blatt, Steve. ‘Clip Clop Becomes ‘Rush-Rush’. The Ann Arbor News, July 7, 1966. Section four, p. 33.

CPI Inflation Calculator. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. https://www.bls.gov/

The Death of James D. McMaster. ” The Ann Arbor Argus. November 20, 1896. AADL. 

“East Liberty Site Set for Construction.” The Ann Arbor News. January 2, 1960.

McLennan, David. “Scott.” The Encyclopedia of Saskatchewan. https://esask.uregina.ca/entry/scott.jsp

Michiganensian, volume 18. The University of Michigan, 1914. Google Books. https://www.google.com/books/edition/Michiganensian/D1pKAAAAMAAJ?hl=en&gbpv=1&dq=1914+michigan+ann+arbor+garage+Walter+lind&pg=PR18&printsec=frontcover  

Model Livery Barn.” The Ann Arbor Democrat. January 21, 1898. AADL.

Ogle, Geo. A & Co. Standard atlas of Washtenaw County, Michigan. Chicago : Geo. A. Ogle & Co., c1895.Library of Congress. https://www.loc.gov/resource/g4113wm.gla00053/?sp=5&r=0.027,0.164,1.355,0.958,0
or
https://quod.lib.umich.edu/m/micounty/3928065.0001.001?view=toc

“Real Estate for Sale.” The Ann Arbor Argus. April 23, 1897.

Scott Research Farm 1910- 2010. Online publication by Government of Canada Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. https://www.agwest.sk.ca/ckfinder/userfiles/files/2010_Book_Scott100yrsHistory_E_WEB.pdf

Walker family collection— innumerable photos, letters, and documents.

Walker Family Retires from Cab Business.” Ann Arbor News. October 5, 1942. AADL. 

Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. wikipedia.org