Gothic Revival in the "picnic grove"
"When the Session [the church governing body] decided to tear it down and build a church way out there, there was a lot of criticism," remembered First Presbyterian Church member Paul Lowry in a 2001 interview. In 1926, "way out there" was the site of the old Demmon house at 1432 Washtenaw— just east of the University of Michigan campus.
"People were set in their ways," explains church archivist Pearl Summers. "They had been in the old church in the center of town. None of the churches had been that far over on the Ypsilanti-Ann Arbor Road."
The block of Washtenaw between South University and Hill was developed in the late nineteenth century with family homes on spacious lots—so spacious that, Summers says, the Demmon property was known as "the picnic grove." Most of its first residents were U-M faculty members, but by the 1920s fraternities and sororities had taken over much of the block. Merle Andersen, First Presbyterian's pastor when the congregation bought the land in 1926, recalled in a later reminiscence that the building committee had noted "the fine grove which was the old Demmon home" while looking at another property across the street. Told that Emma Demmon was refusing to sell, he paid her a formal call. She explained that she had turned down all offers for the property because she knew that her late husband, U-M English professor Isaac Newton Demmon, would not have wanted apartments on the site. When Anderson made his plea, she paused a minute and then said, "I think he would liked to have a church there."
It's hard to imagine that Demmon wouldn't have loved the Gothic Revival church that was built on the property twelve years after Anderson's visit, the long wait due to the Great Depression. The church, with its buttresses, lancet windows filled with stained glass, and steep slate roof, looks like it could have come out of an English novel.
The First Presbyterian Church was organized in 1826, just two years after Ann Arbor was founded, and is celebrating its 185th anniversary this year. The original seventeen members included Ann Arbor co-founder John Allen's wife and parents. In the first three years the group met wherever they could find space—in a log schoolhouse, in two different taverns, in an unfinished room in Cook's hotel, and in a frame schoolhouse.
In 1829 they built their own modest frame building at Huron and Division–Michigan's first Protestant church west of Detroit. In 1837 they moved into a bigger church down the street. In 1859 they repurchased their original site and started work on a more permanent red brick church. Finished in 1862, it was used for almost seventy-five years.
Historic as it was, that building fell short of the twentieth century's rising expectations—Andersen disparaged it as "a great barn of a place without facilities for any adequate program of church activities." It was cold and hard to heat, pigeons roosted between the roof and false ceiling in the nave, and there was only a tiny patch of lawn, leaving no room for outdoor events. Members who drove to church had to park on the street.
After rejecting several other options, including fixing up the old church and re-merging with the Congregationalists (originally one church, they had divided in 1847), First Presbyterian appointed a building committee. Their first act was to recommend buying the Demmon property, "beautifully wooded and excellent in topography." In 1927 First Presbyterian merged with the U-M Presbyterian student group, sold the student group's property at State and Huron to the First Methodist Church, and converted the Demmon house to a student center.
They were off to a good start, but when the Depression hit a few years later, pledge payments dwindled or stopped. In 1934 the church became reenergized when a new pastor, William Lemon, replaced Anderson. "The place was packed, people came from all over," recalled Lowry. Still they couldn't proceed with the new building until they sold their old one, and there were few buyers during the Depression. Finally, in 1935, the Ann Arbor Daily News offered them $32,500—half what the congregation had paid for the Dem- mon house just nine years before. On May 29, 1935, the congregation held a special commemoration service before leaving their downtown church. They met for the next two and a half years at the Masonic Temple on South Fourth Avenue (torn down in the 1970s to make way for the Federal Building) until the new church was ready.
New York City architects Mayers, Murray & Phillip were hired to design the new church. The firm was the successor to one led by Bertram Goodhue, who was known for using modern methods to create buildings in medieval styles. When Goodhue died in 1924, three of his staff kept the firm going, renaming it for themselves. They designed Christ Church Cranbrook in 1928 and Christ Church Grosse Pointe in 1930. For Ann Arbor, the firm designed an L-shaped building, with a sanctuary facing Washtenaw and a wing on the east side for student use. Lowry recalled that Harlan Whittemore, a U-M professor of landscape architecture, was responsible for saving the mature trees on the property: "He kept the site as wild as possible."
They brought two bells from the old church and some of the pews that are still in the balcony. "They creak very nicely," says Pearl Summers, who shares archivist duties with her husband, Larry. They also saved two brightly colored lancet windows, which were installed in the back wall of the chancel.
They didn't have enough money for new stained glass, so they filled the windows "with a creamy colored, opaque glass," as described in a 1983 report by Marcy Westerman. In the 1960s the windows were replaced with stained glass from England. Mary Hathaway, who loved the "restrained quality" of the original glass, later had a panel that she found in the basement reinstalled as a memorial to her parents, A.K. and Angelyn Stevens.
The Presbyterians held their first service in the new building on January 23, 1938. Before the move, the congregation numbered 348. Within a year it had gone up to 685 and continued upward. Increased membership meant a growing Sunday school population, which soon outgrew the basement quarters. They also needed more parking. The most unobtrusive place for an addition was behind the sanctuary, but that land belonged to their backyard neighbor, Sigma Delta Tau sorority, which, the building committee reported, "was not disposed to sell on any basis." Church member Robert McNamara (later to be Secretary of Defense during the Vietnam War) finally convinced the sorority to sell. The addition, finished in 1956. was designed by Colvin and Robinson and named for Henry Kuizenga, minister from 1952 to 1961.
In 1998 the church added a second addition behind the student wing. Designed by Dan Jacobs, it's named Montieth Hall, after Michigan's first Protestant minister, and used to hold smaller services.
Today the church membership fluctuates in the 2,000 range, while the sanctuary has room for only about 500. "We can squeeze in 600 at high-attendance services like Christmas and Easter," explains Summers, "but it is not very comfortable." To accommodate everyone, the church now holds four Sunday services, two in the sanctuary and two in Montieth Hall.
[Photo caption from original print edition]: Demolition of the 1862 Presbyterian church at Huron and Division.
[Photo caption from original print edition]: The present church, shown under construction in the 1930s, replaced the Washtenaw Ave. home of English prof Isaac Newton Demmon.
In the 1960s, U-M Profs sometimes waited years for architect Bob Metcalf to design their homes. Now his mid-century designs are back in fashion.
Bob Metcalf, at age eighty-seven, is adding a two-car garage to his house on 1052 Arlington. He already has a one-car garage and isn't currently driving, but he's building it now because he can't bear the thought of a later owner doing it badly. "I figure they would wreck the house by putting the garage right out in front," he explains.
The house is very special to Metcalf‹he and his late wife, Bettie, built it themselves in 1953. Using it as a showcase, he went on to design sixty-eight houses in Ann Arbor. All are in the style now known as "mid-century modem," and, after a period of being ignored, are treasured by a growing community of admirers.
Metcalf's new garage is a little south of the existing home so it doesn't interfere with the entrance. The original one-car garage on the other side of the house was the first thing that the Metcalfs built in order to have a place to store their tools during construction.
Bettie Metcalf found a large lot in the then-unsettled Ann Arbor Hills, just outside the eastern city limits. (The subdivision was laid out in 1927, but very few houses were built during the Depression and World War II.) Bob Metcalf spent a year drawing up the house plans. They started work in April 1952 and moved in just over a year later.
At the time, the U-M architecture grad was working as a draftsman for George Brigham, one of the first architects in the area to odern-style houses. Metcalf would work for Brigham from 6 a.m. until 2 p.m. and then head over to the construction site. Bettie would join him at 4 p.m. after getting off from her nursing job at the University of Michigan Health Service. She would bring the supper that she had made the night before, which they would eat sitting in the car.
They did all the labor themselves except the work required by law to be done by specialists, such as electricity and plumbing. Design decisions were based on aesthetics, their skills, and what they could.afford. Metcalf didn't know how to plaster, so he made the interior walls out of cedar (relatively cheap then). He got the idea of putting in a brick floor from a friend who had done that for a project with Alden Dow in Midland‹according to Metcalf's construction journal, he paid five cents a brick.
Homes that George Brigham designed were filled with light coming in from large south-facing windows. Metcalf made his windows even larger and angled them more to the southeast‹an orientation, he says, that lets in "less sun in summer but [more] heat gain in winter." Like most mid-century modem designs, the house has a flat roof. Rainwater drained into the backyard through an interior pipe, in effect creating a rain garden long before they be- came popular.
The couple's work paid off. Before the house was even finished, Metcalf had received five commissions, all from U-M faculty members‹vindicating his belief that Ann Arbor would appreciate the type of house he wanted to build.
Metcalf was born in 1923 in the small town of Nashville, Ohio. His dad. dis- appeared when he was young, and his mother moved to nearby Canton, where she worked as a maid and later remarried. When Metcalf was six or seven, a visiting uncle saw the way he was playing with objects on the floor and told him "you ought to be an architect."
He enrolled in the U-M architecture school in 1941 but was drafted to serve in WWII. He and Bettie had dated after high school, and just before Memorial Day in 1943, he called and asked her to come down to Louisiana, where he was stationed, for the holiday. When she asked why, he replied, "Because we're going to get married." And so a three-day engagement led to a sixty-five year marriage. Metcalf returned to the U-M after the war, and graduated with a bachelor's degree in 1950. As graduation grew closer, Metcalf asked Brigham, a professor he thought highly of, if he could work for him. He liked the way Brigham took into account "the impact of the environment on a building," he recalls, and was also impressed that Brigham was the only member of the architecture faculty who invited students to his house. Brigham hired him as a draftsman at $1 an hour.
After four years with Brigham, Metcalf began his own business. His first commission was from physics professor Richard Crane and his wife, Florence, who wanted a house in which they could be separated from the noise and clutter of their teenage children. Metcalf obliged by designing their home at 830 Avon with an entrance on the side that led from the left into the living room and master bedroom and from the right into a kitchen and family room, with the children's rooms on the other end.
In addition to his architectural practice, Metcalf taught at the U-M. Within two years, he had so many jobs he asked two young U-M colleagues, Tivador Balogh and William Werner, to join him. "We worked in his own house, but it wasn't satisfactory and after a month we moved into his one-car garage," recalls Wemer. With only a space heater for warmth, he says, "it was so bad, it was wonderful."
Metcalf eventually moved into an office at 444 South Main, renting the first floor from builder Zeke Jabbour. Balogh did freehand drawings to give clients an idea of what their house would look like, while Wemer did many of the calculations and detailed working drawings. When Balogh left in 1960, he was replaced by Gordie Rogers, who had studied under him. Bettie Metcalf didn't work in the office but was always an important part of the operation, keeping the books, typing letters, and ordering furniture.
Some clients knew just what they wanted. The woman for whom he designed 2576 Devonshire, Metcalf recalls, wanted lots of white walls to display her art collection (he remembers her bragging that she had an original Kandinsky hanging above her washing machine‹and that she'd paid $25 for it in Paris). A home at 1329 Glendaloch has a center courtyard, because its first owner had seen that in South America. But Metcalf says most clients weren't so definite, so he would interview them for several hours to get an idea of their needs: "I'd ask them how they use a house‹if they had meetings where people talked together, if they played cards, what activities they did when they had company, if they read."
Metcalf designed houses starting from the inside. He'd block out how the rooms should be arranged, including where furniture should go. He'd figure out the best view from inside as well as how to bring in the most natural light. He often used grilles he designed to serve as room dividers. The exteriors were usually a series of boxes arranged in interesting ways, sometimes on different levels so they snuggled into the landscape. John Holland, one of the few original owners who still lives in his Metcalf house, recalls how before starting work in 1964, the architect "walked all around [the site] and thought [about] what fit naturally."
The Holland house at 3800 W. Huron River Drive sits high on a knoll with a view of the river below. Because the knoll was flat, Metcalf stepped a bedroom up half a story to give the roof a more interesting look. The house includes many of his signature features, including a big window angled southeast, lots of built-ins including a buffet, desk, and bookcases, and careful use of wood throughout cedar outside and vertical grain fir inside. "There's not a day I haven't been happy to be in this house," says Holland.
By then, the firm was so busy that another client, aerospace engineering prof Elmer Gilbert, waited several years for the architect to be available. Gilbert was single at the time; he later married Lois Verbrugge, and they still live in the house at 2659 Heather Way.
The home is more vertical than many of Metcalf's designs: taking advantage of the sloping site, it is two stories in front, three in back. Because the street side faces south, Metcalf placed his requisite big windows on the north side, but did so in a spectacular way: they're three stories high, and the top floor is a mezzanine that stops before reaching the windows, so light spills down to the first floor.
The siding is cedar, and the inside trim mahogany. The house is still filled with original top-line mid-century modem furniture‹Saarinen, Eames, Bertoia--which Bettie Metcalf ordered so Gilbert could get the 40 percent architect's discount.
Metcalf varied materials and size depending on the means of his clients but never abandoned his basic principles. For instance, in 1957 he designed an inexpensive house at 2466 Newport for anthropologist Marshall Sahlins, then a low-paid assistant professor with two kids. The siding is cement block and plywood, and the inside is finished in inexpensive materials such as tile and Masonite, but Metcalf still did amazing things with siting and light. The house sits on the western edge of the property with big windows facing east giving a view of the rest of the wooded lot.
Present owners Judy and Bob Marans, who bought the house in 1974 when it was pretty run-down, have made many improvements over the years, including enclosing the foyer, adding a garage, and modernizing the kitchen and bathrooms, but they still have kept the basic structure, which they love. Judy Marans remembers thinking when they moved into the house, "When will I get used to the beauty of this? The answer is never."
Metcalf began teaching at Michigan as a visiting lecturer shortly after he graduated. In 1958 he became an assistant professor, promoted to associate in 1963. When he was hired, he recalls, he proposed that he teach "a construction class that every student had to take. It sounds logical, but no one was doing it."
Architects Norm and llene Tyier, who took Metcalf's classes in the 1960s, recall that their most important assignment was to find an active construction site and visit it every day, jotting down observations in a journal. llene watched the building of the U-M's Oxford Houses, while Norm followed an apartment being built near the Blue Front on South State. "It was one of the best things I did as a student," he re- calls. "There was no greater respecter of Mies van der Rone's statement that 'God is in the details' than Metcalf."
In 1968 Metcalf was made a full professor and chair of the architecture department, and in 1974 he became the first dean of the newly named College of Architecture and Urban Planning. The promotions greatly reduced the time he could devote to his private architecture practice.
From 1953 to 1968, Metcalf worked on 100 jobs‹not only houses, but offices, sororities, churches (his Church of the Good Shepherd won several awards), and park shelters. Over the next twenty-three years, when he was absorbed in the work of running the architecture school, he did only twenty private commissions. "He realized he couldn't do both at once," explains Werner.
When Metcalf retired in 1991, he returned to his architectural practice. Werner rejoined him after he retired seven years later "It took the sting out of retirement," he says. But while they were busy in academia, the popularity of the mid-century modem style had waned.
The simple, uncluttered look that seemed so revolutionary to their parents struck many Baby Boomers as cold and sterile. Often built on modest budgets and with a minimalist aesthetic, many homes seemed small by contemporary standards. And there was a feeling that modern houses, with their large windows, flat roofs, and easy flow from indoors to outdoors, fit better in California's climate, where they originated, than in the Midwest.
Meanwhile, postmodernism, with its return to ornamentation, and historic preservation, which celebrated premodern styles, both grew in popularity. Though Metcalf has done thirty commissions since he retired, only three of them have been for new homes.
In the past twenty years, most of his work has involved modifying his own past designs. Holland contracted with him to build a bigger living room and later to add a bedroom and bathroom in the space between the garage and house. When Gilbert married Verbrugge, he asked Metcalf to figure out how to add a study for her on the ground floor as well as making other improvements.
Since the 1950s, home buyers have grown accustomed to more space, more bathrooms, and bigger kitchens. Over the years, many owners have remodeled their Metcalf houses. His admirers often show up at open houses when they go on the market, as does Metcalf himself. Sometimes he finds that there are no changes, but in most cases they have been modified and are often, in his words, "worse as far as I'm concerned." When people ask, he is always willing to show them the original plans and help to do new additions or undo old ones.
Nancy and David Deromedi asked him to help with their house at 819 Avon, a 1950 Brigham design that Metcalf had worked on. The house, built for famous anthropologist Leslie White and his wife, Mary, had been modified by later owners with a snout-nosed garage extension that stuck out toward the street with a porch sitting awkwardly on top of it. When David drove up to attend an open house, he didn't even want to stop, but Nancy convinced him it was worth looking inside.
They bought the house in 2005 and asked Metcalf to figure out how to undo the damage. He solved the garage problem by simply returning it to the original dimension. A second problem, dating to the original design, was a long outdoor entrance staircase, especially treacherous in the winter. Metcalf moved the inside entry outward, creating a well-lit foyer that covered about half the stairs.
Beyond keeping the respect of his clients, Metcalf also became friends with many of them. Holland often stopped in at his office to say hello, while Gilbert and Verbrugge periodically invite him to dinner. At Bettie's memorial service in 2008, the room was filled with people who felt a connection with Metcalf because they lived in one of his houses.
And he's lived long enough to see his designs appreciated by a new generation. Lois Kane, who lived in a Brigham house in Barton Hills, sees young people returning to an appreciation of the environmental and social pluses of living simply, of the "less is more" philosophy. When she and her husband, Gordie, sold their house four years ago, she says, they realized "it would appeal to people who read Dwell [a magazine celebrating modern style and simple living], not Better Homes and Gardens."
When Monica Ponce de Leon was appointed dean of the school of Architecture and Urban Planning, she and her husband, Greg Saldana, bought a Metcalf house at 715 Spring Valley in Barton Hills. Metcalf designed it for Millard Pryor in 1958. Ponce de Leon, who had been on the faculty of Harvard, knew of Metcalf's work and specifically hunted for one of his houses when moving to Ann Arbor.
When Metcalf heard of the purchase, he showed up at the couple's hotel room with his original drawings. Saldana, an architect whose specialty is architectural conservation, used the drawings to restore the house.
Saldana says they constantly get compliments on their Metcalf. "Very recently we hosted a highly accomplished artist who did not know of Bob Metcalf," Saldana emails, "and upon entering our home said, 'what a beautiful home--who designed it?'"
[Photo caption from original print edition]: Metcalf's first home design ws the house he and his lte wife, Bettie, built on Arlington in 1953, They did all the work themselves, inclduing laying the brick floor -- an idea borrowed from an Alden Dow project in Midland. The couple's work paid off. Before the house was even finished, Metcalf had five commissions, all from U-M faculty members.
[Photo caption from original print edition]: After a long wait for Metcalf to get to his house on Heather Way, aerospace engineering prof Elmer Gilbert was rewarded with this unusual vertical design.
Ann Arbor today would be just another small Michigan town- no bigger, perhaps, than Saline or Chelsea- had it not been for one crucial event: in 1837, just thirteen years after its founding, it was designated the site for the University of Michigan.
The initial campus, situated on forty acres donated by the Ann Arbor Land Company, was a tiny affair, consisting of one combination classroom building and dormitory along with four professors' houses. The president's house on South University is the lone survivor from that first generation of campus buildings. Though still used as a residence, it has been vastly altered over the intervening 160 years.
The "Diag" took its name from the diagonal walk that crossed what was then largely an open field. But the campus grew quickly, particularly under dynamic presidents Henry Phillip Tappan (1852-1863) and James Burrill Angell (1871-1909).
Except for Tappan's observatory and Angell's Catherine Street hospitals, almost all of the nineteenth century construction took place on the Diag. By the turn of the century, campus was thick with structures, most built of a red brick in a weighty Romanesque style.
Almost all were swept away as the U-M's growth accelerated in the twentieth century. The Diag was completely rebuilt, and surrounding properties were acquired to extend the university's presence far beyond the original campus borders. Today only tiny Tappan Hall, hidden away between the art museum and the president's house, survives as a reminder of the red-brick campus of 1900
When James Burrill Angell arrived as president in 1871, the U-M had nine buildings. He oversaw the addition of fifty more before stepping down in 1909. The elegant oval shape of Angell's 1883 University Library had been truncated by the turn of the century with the addition of new book storage "stacks" at the rear of the building (left), but a gracefully curved reading room still looked out on the center of the Diag. Though the older portions of the building were torn down in 1918, the stacks were incorporated into the present Graduate Library, completed in 1920.
The Waterman and Barbour gymnasiums, at the comer of North University and East University, were the longest-lived of Angell's great red brick buildings. Their demolition was also a turning point in campus interest in historic preservation. In 1976, when the university announced its intentions to tear down the historic complex, a group called the Committee for Reuse of the Barbour-Waterman Buildings was established and lobbied hard for the university to take another look at alternative uses for the structures, which dated to the 1890s. Petitions were circulated and signed by thousands, citizens wore buttons saying "Recycle Barbour-Waterman," and many spoke before the regents to urge reconsideration.
The regents were not swayed, and the buildings were demolished in 1977 (their site is now part of the chemistry building). But the university has since shown greater sensitivity to historic buildings. And one unexpected result of the regents' intransigence on Barbour-Waterman was the listing of the entire original Central Campus, and other significant buildings such as Rackham and the Law Quad, on the National Register of Historic Places.
President Tappan's Law Building stood at the corner of State and North University. It was completed in 1863, the same year that the U-M's visionary founding president was fired by the regents (see "President Tappan Fired" in "The Top Ten Ann Arbor Stories of the Millennium," p. 31).
The formidable turret was added in a remodeling in 1893 but didn't quite make it to 1900—it was removed during another expansion in 1898. After completion of the Law Quad in the 1920s, the building was renamed Haven Hall and used for LS&A faculty offices. In 1950, a disgruntled student determined to obliterate a bad grade burned it down.
The modern Haven Hall is closer to the center of the Diag. The place where Tappan's Law Building stood is now a lovely, tree-shaded lawn.
When it opened in 1881, the U-M's natural science museum was the first owned by a public university. Designed by architecture prof William LeBaron Jenney—later
famous as the "father of the skyscraper"—the museum had a collection ranging from stuffed animals to Asian manuscripts.
The exhibits moved to the present Ruthven Museums Building in 1928. Jenney's building housed the Romance language departments for three decades before being demolished in 1958.
Exceot for the crowning dome, this long, massive building parallel to State Street bears an uncanny resemblance to Angell Hall. University Hall, completed in 1871, was the U-M's first great classroom building. The impressive dome shown here was actually the building's second- the first was deemed structurally unsound and replaced in 1896. Hidden from State Street when Angell Hall was built directly in front of it in 1924, University Hall lingered on for another twenty-six years before being torn down in 1950.
Stretching the tum-of-the-century date slightly, this multipanel postcard shows the U-M's hospitals as they stood following completion of the Palmer children's ward in 1904. One of the two hospitals flanking the Palmer ward had been built for the U-M's medical doctors, the other for its homeopathic physicians. By 1900, however, the homeopaths had moved out to a new hospital on North University.
The low, many-windowed "pavilion" hospitals reflected the emerging medical thinking of the nineteenth century before the role of germs was understood, disease was thought to be spread by "morbid" air exhaled by sick patients. It wasn't a bad guess, since it led to the division of hospitals into isolated, well-ventilated wards—steps that did help reduce the rate of hospital-induced infections.
By the turn of the century, the germ theory and antiseptic surgery were fueling great strides in health care. The homeopaths soon faded, while the M.D.'s moved into a succession of huge new hospitals—on Ann Street in the 1920s, and overlooking Fuller Road in the 1980s. The site of the old pavilion hospitals is now occupied by the Victor Vaughan Building, Med Sci II, and the Taubman Medical Library.
An impressive testimonial to the growing importance of the physical sciences, the 1885 Engineering Laboratory bore a striking resemblance in both style and scale to the University Library just to the north. It was designed by Gordon Lloyd, the celebrated Gothic architect best known locally for his work on two prominent churches, St. Andrew's and First Congregational.
The engineers expanded into larger quarters bordering the southeast comer of the Diag (home of the famous "Engin Arch"), then leapfrogged East University, and finally relocated en masse to a still-growing complex on North Campus. By then the 1885 laboratory was long gone—it was torn down in 1956.
As the university expanded in the early twentieth century, it acquired and demolished many of the buildings that had bordered the original campus. Between 1909 and 1920, the university gained title to some 114 separate parcels of land, including the Arboretum, the Botanical Gardens off Packard Road, and the site of the power plant on Huron Street. But perhaps its most dramatic acquisition was professor Alexander Winchell's spectac-ular octagon house on North University.
Winchell served at various times as professor of geology, zoology, botany, physics, and engineering. The strong-minded Winchell was one of president Tappan's most vociferous opponents but also a powerful advocate of opening the university to women, and perhaps America's most influential supporter of Charles Darwin's then-novel theory of evolution. His unusual octagon home, built according to the tenets of Orson Fuller, a well-known phrenologist and prolific writer on health, happiness, and sex, was surrounded by extensive gardens that complemented his collections of flora and fauna, some of which are now at the Smithsonian.
After Winchell left the university in the mid-1870s, his home was rented by various fraternities. Acquired by the university in 1909, it was demolished shortly afterward to make way for Hill Auditorium.
The original professors' residences from the 1840s found new uses as the campus grew. This one facing South University housed the Dental College from 1877 to 1891, adding a wing (right) in the process. The engineering department took over in 1892 and stayed until 1922. when the building was demolished to make way for the Clements Library.
The U-M Law Quad has a timeless feel, but in fact it is of comparatively recent construction. Two entire blocks of residences were demolished in the 1920s to make room for it. One of the more spectacular of the buildings lost was the 1880 Psi Upsilon fraternity house, which faced South University at the comer of State. A newspaper account from June 30, 1923, noted that "since the beginning of the second semester men have been tearing down the former fraternity houses on State Street, which occupied the land needed for the new [Lawyers] Club. Practically all of the work of the demolishing of the Psi Upsilon house has been completed and the steam shovel will clear away the remainder of the ruins. . . . Practically all of the homes in this block are now being torn down."
Until recently, it seemed that the same fate might befall the row of four nineteenth century houses the U-M owns on Huron across from the Power Center.But after years of designating the location as a future building site, the university is now renovating and rehabbing the houses—an encouraging sign that it has finally begun to develop a preservation ethic.
The vanished city of 1900
Thanks to the presence of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor consistently enjoys the lowest unemployment rates in the state and has produced an artistic, intellectual, and political environment out of all proportion to its size. But the city has paid a price for its growth and prosperity over the past century, it has lost a great deal of its architectural heritage.
If an Ann Arborite from 1900 could see the city at the turn of the millennium, she would be impressed by its growth—the vast shopping centers along the south side, the office parks lining Plymouth Road, even the tree-lined streets of Bums Park and Ann Arbor Hills would all be new to her. But she surely would be shocked as well to discover how many of downtown's most prominent and beloved landmarks have been demolished.
The city's growth was driven by the university's and nowhere was the destruction greater than on Central Campus (a future article will describe the changes there). The U-M. however, was not the culprit in the demolition of architecturally significant buildings downtown. Many losses reflected the onslaught of the automobile, and the changing patterns of housing, transportation, and work it produced. And of course the normal forces of "progress" also were at work, as brick structures replaced wooden ones, municipal facilities were torn down to make way for larger ones, and "modem" buildings replaced "old-fashioned" ones.
Here's a look at the Lost Ann Arbor of 1900: The local landmarks swept up by the onslaught of the twentieth century.
The 1878 Courthouse
Every city has at least one historic building whose loss is universally regarded as a tragedy. In Ann Arbor, that unhappy distinction surely belongs to the 1878 Washtenaw County Courthouse, shown here on a winter's day in 1916. Foursquare and formidable, capped by a limestone cupola and a soaring clock tower, the courthouse, at the northeast comer of Huron and Main, was downtown's centerpiece. The surrounding Courthouse square, with its grassy lawn and shade trees, served as Ann Arbor's town common. Though its legal functions were taken over by the present modem-style building almost half a century ago, nothing has ever replaced it as the heart of downtown.
The county's first courthouse, an unassuming brick structure built in 1834, played a pivotal role in Michigan history as the site of the "Frostbitten Convention" of 1836, which paved the way for Michigan's admission to the union. But it was outgrown during Ann Arbor's growth spurt after the Civil War, and in October 1877 workmen laid the cornerstone for a courthouse as ostentatious as its predecessor had been modest.
Designed by G. W. Bunting, the courthouse was completed the following year for a total cost of $88,000. The regal structure would preside over downtown for three-quarters of a century. Unfortunately, as architectural fashions changed and the county's legal business grew, it was gradually allowed to deteriorate by civic leaders who considered it outmoded and inadequate.
First, cars were permitted to park on what had been its marvelous lawn. Next came the removal of the clock tower—a hazard, said the building inspector. After World War II, a series of articles in the Ann Arbor News, deploring the horrific working conditions in the building, led to its destruction. In a final indignity, the new courthouse was constructed around old one, filling in three sides of the old courthouse square. In1954, the move complete, the old courthouse was demolished for a parking lot.
A Mayor's Mansion
Already an anachronism by 1900, the Maynard mansion on the northwest comer of Main and William nonetheless survived most of the twentieth century. Built in 1842 by developer and future mayor William S. Maynard, the stately home was once famous for its broad sweep of lawn and beautiful flower garden, which ran down the hill to Allen Creek (the creek now runs underground near the Ann Arbor Railroad tracks). The strutting peacocks on the grounds were a source of wonder and amusement to the townspeople.
Maynard developed most of Ann Arbor's west side and had large landholdings all over town. His memory is perpetuated today by both William and Maynard streets. By the time this postcard was made early in the century, his home had been sold to the Elks Fraternal Order, who used it as their lodge for many years. Remodeled beyond recognition by the Elks and its last owner, the Ann Arbor Civic Theater, the mansion was finally torn down in 1989; today, its site is occupied by the 350 South Main commercial and office block. The only surviving remnants of Maynard's home are the cornice brackets, which were salvaged to restore the cornice at 111 West Liberty.
Grandeur at Fourth and Huron
At the turn of the century, two substantial structures faced each other across the intersection of Huron and Fourth Avenue. The Allenel Hotel, on the southwest comer, was important enough to rate a tinted photographic postcard (undated, but mailed in 1914). Built in 1871 to replace an earlier hotel, the Allenel was remodeled after a 1910 fire and lasted until 1964, when it was replaced by a modem eleven-story building. After decades of intermittent financial trouble, the Ann Arbor Inn closed in 1990; its building is now the Courthouse Square apartments for seniors.
Kitty-comer across the intersection was the Comwell Block. It was built in 1882 by Charles Manley and Joel Hamilton, who had visions of selling it to the federal government as a post office but lost out to a rival site at Main and Ann (see p. 36). By the time this photo was taken in 1910, it was the headquarters of the Comwell Coal Company; signs also reveal the presence of a basement bowling alley and an Odd Fellows lodge. In the 1920s and 1930s, the building was also the last home of Joe Parker's Cafe, a favorite hangout of U-M students and alumni.
The Cornwell Block, like many other ninteenth-century buildings on Huron, fell victim to the automobile: it was demolished in 1936 to be replaced by a gas station. More than sixty years later, the station itself has become an object of historic interest. After the city rejected a recent proposal to tear it down for a parking lot, it's now rented to Vault of Midnight Comix.
The Lost Blocks
Ann Arbor's first "blocks," or groups of storefronts built as a unit by one investor, appeared on Main Street in the 1830s. Fire quickly proved wooden blocks to be impractical, so beginning around the time of the Civil War, they were rapidly replaced with more durable brick buildings. Happily, many of these blocks are still standing—but many are not.
Perhaps the most dramatic loss occurred on North Main directly across from the courthouse (below). Starting at right in this 1892 streetscape, the lineup began with a true architectural gem. Hill's Opera House on the comer of Ann. Constructed in 1871 by G. D. Hill, a local entrepreneur who, among other things, gave his name to Hill Street, it was the center of the city's cultural life in 1900. Renamed the AthensTheater in 1901 and the Whitney Theater and Hotel in 1908, it managed to survive until 1955, despite serious fire code violations that eventually resulted in its demolition. Today this once impressive comer is a surface parking lot.
At the south end of the block, a triangular pediment tops another imposing structure: the Masonic Block, formerly the Gregory House hotel. Later known as the Municipal Building, in the 1950s it was wrapped in blue and white enamel paneling that had already begun to look outdated by the time the building burned in 1972. Most of the block was demolished after the fire. The rest—that last remnant of this once proud lineup—was removed in the mid-1980s to make way for the One North Main office building
A Magnificent Post Office
The lavishly detailed post office on the northeast comer of Main and Ann was a busy social hub when it was built in 1882. At the time, mail still had to be picked up in person—a daily ritual that annoyed many university students but also made the building a respectable meeting spot for the sexes.
In 1886, however, home mail delivery was introduced in Ann Arbor. By the time this photo was taken, around 1892, the post office was no longer such an important meeting place. Replaced after the turn of the century by a new building just to the north (today the Washtenaw County administration building), the 1882 post office and the neighboring Ann Arbor Daily News printing plant were demolished in 1940 to make way for a Kroger supermarket. Subsequently abandoned as Kroger continued its migration to the fringes of town, the new building was a Salvation Army Red Shield store before being bought by the county and demolished in 1989. A five-story county office building is now under construction on thesite—a handsome postmodern design that promises a presence worthy of its Victorian predecessor.
From Church to Newspaper Office
A number of historic downtown churches are still standing, including St. Andrew's, First Baptist, and the First Unitarian Church (now the offices of the architectural firm Hobbs & Black). But others have been lost over the years to growth pressures within downtown, or to the growing needs of their own congregations.
Among the casualties was First Presbyterian, which occupied the southwest corner of Huron and Division for more than a century. In 1829, the congregation built the first church in Ann Arbor on the comer, replacing it in 1860 with this fine red-brick edifice (shown in an undated postcard). But in 1935, as parking became more of an issue and more congregants moved to new residential neighborhoods east of campus, the Presbyterians moved out to their present location on Washtenaw. The Huron Street church was sold to the Ann Arbor News, which tore it down to build an office and printing plant designed by the celebrated Detroit architect Albert Kahn.
A Private Library
At the turn of the century, this homey Romanesque building at 324 East Huron was a privately operated library. It was designed by Irving and Allen Pond, the Ann Arbor-bom architects who would later plan the Michigan Union and Michigan League, and was operated by the Ladies Library Association, which made its collection available to members by subscription.
Ann Arbor's first public library was built in 1906. Financed by a donation from steel magnate Andrew Carnegie, it was on Huron next to the new Ann Arbor High School on State (today the U-M Frieze Building). The ladies held out for a decade before donating their collection to the public library in 1916. Their building served as the local headquarters for the Boy Scouts in the 1930s, but was demolished in 1945 to make way for a Michigan Bell Telephone building and associated parking. A newer Ameritech building occupies the site today.
Perils of Modernity
Two major buildings at the corner of Main and Washington succumbed to the pressures of modernization, but in different ways. The high-ceilinged three-story building on the southwest corner—Hangsterfer's confectionery when the top photo at left was taken in 1869—had by 1900 been acquired by the Kresge national dime store chain. In 1912, both Hangsterfer's and the building next door were demolished to make way for a new, two-story Kresge store (today BD's Mongolian Barbeque and Cafe Felix).
Few living Ann Arborites will recognize the building with the candy-stripe awnings (middle photo), even those who see it every day. Home of the State Savings Bank when this photo was taken in 1910, it later became the local branch of the National Bank of Detroit (now Bank One). The original building is still there, buried under several generations of remodeling.
The Last Homes on Main
A century ago, much of what we now consider the central business district was still a residential area. Streets such as South Fourth and South Fifth avenues and Liberty, Washington, and Maynard streets were filled with houses, many of them quite stylish and boasting large lots with extensive gardens. There were even a few home owners on Main Street.
Two of the last holdouts were the Muehlig houses (bottom photo), which stood side by side at 311 and 315 South Main. An old Ann Arbor business family (Muehlig funeral parlor, B. E. Muehlig dry goods), the Muehligs had homesteaded on the site. They were apparently not sentimental about the property, however—in 1928, they demolished the home on the left to build a brick business block.
Bertha Muehlig's namesake dry goods store occupied the northwest corner of Washington and Main (now the Hooper Hathaway law office) for most of this century. Muehlig walked to work from her Greek Revival home until her death in 1955. In 1962, the house was sold and demolished for a Glidden paint store (the building now shared by M Den, Au Courant opticians, and Collected Works).
Miss Muehlig's generosity to local schoolchildren had made her a popular figure, and the Christmas creche on her lawn was a favorite seasonal landmark. The loss of her home prompted a public outcry. "The whole town grieved, not only at the passing of a beautiful and historic landmark, but at the loss of a visible reminder of the noble and gracious woman who had lived there all her long life," local historian Leia Duff wrote in her 1965 book Ann Arbor Yesterdays.
The loss of the Muehlig home led to creation of the first local historical commission. In 1973, city council took advantage of a new state preservation law to designate Ann Arbor's first historic district, preserving nine scattered buildings from destruction or inappropriate exterior alteration.
Today, most citizens recognize the value of historic buildings and appreciate the character, charm, and sense of historical continuity they provide. Ann Arbor now has fourteen different historic districts, protecting a total of more than 1,600 structures.
[Photo caption from original print edition]: The Cornwell Block in 1910
[Photo caption from original print edition]: North Main between Ann and Huron, 1892.
[Photo caption from original print edition]: Hangsterfer's Hall (above, in 1869) and the State Savings Bank (left, in 1910) sat kitty-corner from one another at the intersection of Main and Washington. One was demolished, the other remodeled beyond recognition. The loss of Bertha Muehlig's Main Street home (right, reflow) helped launch the historical preservation movement).
It Symbolized an Immigrant's Success
This time of year, travelers on Division Street can once again see the large, elegant Queen Anne house at the corner of Lawrence and Division, which is shrouded in summer by the foliage of a substantial gingko tree. The intricately detailed house was built in 1890, when Division Street was still considered a very fashionable address. It was intended as an emblem of both the prosperity and the good taste of its owner, immigrant grocer David Rinsey.
Rinsey was a true American success story. Born in Baden, Germany, in 1838, he apprenticed to a baker in Switzerland before immigrating in 1854. As a sixteen-year-old indentured servant, he worked for seven years as a farmhand, earning only $50 his first year. He later clerked for a local grocery store and in 1867 was able to set himself up in the grocery and bakery business in partnership with 'another immigrant from Baden, Moses Seabolt. Rinsey & Seabolt—located on Washington Street where the Washington Street Station restaurant is today—was the largest grocery in town for over forty years. Rinsey also married, fathered six children, and became a director and stockholder of the Ann Arbor Savings Bank and a prominent member of the Ann Arbor Fruit and Vinegar Company.
In 1890, at the age of fifty-two, Rinsey purchased the estate of the venerable James Kingsley. He proceeded to move Judge Kingsley's house to the north end of the property (now 412 North Division) so that he could construct a new house at the highly visible corner of Lawrence.
The Rinseys, like many of Ann Arbor's German Catholics, preferred to live near St. Thomas Church two blocks away. But the new house was meant to be not only a convenient place to live but a statement that the Rinseys had arrived.
Most early American homes weren't really designed at all. Carpenters knew a few traditional layouts and chose one appropriate to the means of the owner. But in the mid-nineteenth century, as the nation grew richer and building materials more abundant and adaptable, building a home became an important personal statement. "Pattern books," showing many different designs, sold well all over the country. Many of these books began to exhort men of means to exhibit their noblest characteristics through their homes:
"A man's dwelling is not only an index of his wealth, but also of his character," asserted Sloan's Victorian Buildings in 1852. "The moment he begins to build, his tact for arrangement, his private feelings, the refinement of his tastes and the peculiarities of his judgment are all laid bare for public inspection and criticism. And the public makes free use of this prerogative."
The increasing distribution and diversity of these pattern books in subsequent decades raised the architectural pressures on newly wealthy men like Rinsey. At the same time, improvements in machinery allowing the mass production of building elements gave them more to work with. The ultimate result was the Queen Anne house: lavished with fancy wood trim inside and out, replete with gables, dormers, bay windows, and elaborate porches, all arrayed for the most picturesque effect.
Rinsey's version of this style was on the conservative end of the spectrum, more balanced than asymmetrical. His flashiest effects were fairly elaborate porch railings, a cutaway corner on the second floor—and the letter R proudly displayed in a special dormer facing Division Street.
The house had the desired effect. The 1891 Portrait and Biographical Atlas of Washtenaw County described it as "the latest style of architecture . . . of elegant construction ... the most perfect taste [having been] brought to bear in the finishing and furnishing." It added that "the success which has attended our subject is the more flattering as when coming to Ann Arbor he had but $5 in money."
Rinsey died in 1914. His wife, Jennett, lived in the house with her two unmarried daughters until her death in 1938. In 1915, her son, George, built his own house next door (406 North Division) in the much more restrained bungalow style. Today, the two houses provide an interesting comparison of the tastes of the 1890's with those of the World War I era.
After Jennett Rinsey's death, her two daughters converted the house into apartments, while continuing to live there themselves. The elaborate gingerbread porch was replaced by a porch with simpler lines, and the entrance was changed to the Lawrence Street side. The cutaway corner upstairs disappeared, and so did the R at some point. But a 1938 Ann Arbor News articlementions the retention of a cherry mantle from the Kingsley house and the preservation of oak woodwork that had been the first of its type used in Ann Arbor. Cherry and maple parquet floors, oak-paneled ceilings, wainscoting, and the lincrustra wall coverings (linoleum-like coverings designed to simulate embossed leather) in the hallways were all preserved, according to the article, along with delicately tiled fireplaces.
Today the house is owned by Ray Detter, whose mother, Helen Hooley, lives in an apartment that contains much of the fancy woodwork and the fireplaces. In 1990, the two were recognized by the Ann Arbor Historic District Commission for their preservation of the house and its interior details. That summer, Detter and Hooley celebrated the hundredth birthday of the house by throwing a birthday partv. They invited the neighborhood and celebrated with a cake baked in the shape of the house!
[Photo caption from original print edition]: The David Rinsey residence, c. 1910 and today. Wealthy Victorians were urged to make their homes personal statements: "A man's dwelling is not only an index of his wealth, but also of his character," Sloan's Victorian Buildings warned in 1852. More balanced than asymmetrical, Rinsey's design was actually toward the conservative end of the ornate Queen Anne spectrum.
As Herman Krapf's Planing Mill, it Made Fancy Trim for 19th-Century Builders
The Treasure Mart resale shop is a ritual stop for many Ann Arbor-ites, one that's been drawing people to Detroit Street since long before there was a Zingerman's—or a Kerrytown, for that matter. It is housed in a very old building with an interesting history of its own. It was built as a wood planing mill, specializing in "sash, doors, blinds [shutters], moulding and scroll work." An engraving of the mill and the miller's house (still standing next door at 521 Detroit Street) appears in the 1874 Atlas of Washtenaw County. It was constructed in 1869, after an earlier mill on the site burned down.
Detroit Street hummed with industrial activity in the mid-nineteenth century. Connecting the railroad depot to the county courthouse, it was the main gateway to the center of town. Other industries on the street included two buggy factories (one where Auto-Strasse is now, another on the site of the Old Brick) and Luick's Planing Mill, now the old part of the Kerrytown complex.
American woodworking underwent an industrial revolution in the last half of the nineteenth century. Steam planing mills—of which the Treasure Mart and the Luick Building are Ann Arbor's remaining examples—freed woodworking from its historic dependence on waterpower. The newer mills could be located in industrial districts close to their raw materials, and they utilized elaborate labor-saving machinery. This allowed them to produce economical finished products for the home building industry, which boomed after the Civil War.
Mills like these specialized in details—fancy brackets, cut shingles, doors, moldings, and the ornate ornamentation known as "gingerbread." A distinct American architecture, lavished with such wood detailing, climaxed at the end of the century. With a paucity of labor and an abundance of raw product, America gained world prominence in the design and production of woodworking machinery. A British team visiting the U.S. in 1854 was astonished at the specialized machinery for mortising and tenoning, boring, slotting, edging, and grooving.
John G. Miller operated the original mill (at first with a partner, John Reyer), beginning in the early 1850's. He rebuilt it after the 1869 fire, and finally sold it in 1878 to Herman Krapf, who operated it as the Detroit Planing Mill.
According to O. W. Stevenson's history of Ann Arbor, Krapf's mill was one of three that for many years supplied a good share of the lumber and interior materials used in constructing the growing city. Krapf was an Ann Arbor native, born five years after his father immigrated from Germany in 1836. He fought in the Civil War and married a local girl—which may explain why he became a Presbyterian, highly unusual among Ann Arbor's overwhelmingly Catholic and Lutheran nineteenth-century Germans. He served as an officer of the Old Fourth Ward from 1895 to1900.
Krapf remained in business until 1905, when he closed the mill and retired. By then, Michigan's lumber was almost gone. Without cheap local wood supplies, small mills like Krapf's found it hard to compete with trim produced by bigger operations in prime lumber areas, like the American South. The building was used as a machine shop in 1910, but by 1920 the City Directory listed it as vacant. The Barnard Toy Company occupied it for a short while, but by 1930 it was again listed as vacant. By 1940 it was the Warehouse Furniture Store, and in the 1950's it was the home of Ann Arbor Fruit and Produce, which moved in 1960 and rented the building to Mrs. Demaris Cash. Her Treasure Mart has been there ever since.
The idea of a retail consignment shop came to Mrs. Cash as she groped for ways to cope with a series of family troubles, including a daughter diagnosed with muscular dystrophy, a mother with a broken back, and a husband with a heart condition. Several "miracles" followed: the idea of a resale shop was suggested by a friend; Mrs. Cash was able to buy display cases and open the store on the same day; she prayed for and found a business partner, Mrs. Grace Bigby; and her first customer—who bought a crystal chandelier—appeared after she prayed for one.
Mrs. Cash bought the onetime mill, and the Miller's house next door, in 1983. Now finishing her thirtieth year of business, she is an active eighty-something. Her store, which some call resale shop and she calls a "junk shop,"is on many visitors' lists of places to see and is an addiction for many of its regular customers. (I allow myself to go only once a week.) The Treasure Mart is still a family enterprise, with Mrs. Cash's daughter, Elaine Johns, as its manager.
[Photo caption from original print edition]: Detroit Street was a bustling industrial district when this engraving appeared in the 1874 Atlas of Washtenaw County. Moribund for much of the century, the street began a comeback when Demaris Cash rented the one-time mill as a resale shop in 1960. Above: the Treasure Mart today.
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.