One of the things that makes Ann Arbor the city it is are the numerous and diverse parks within its boundaries. West Park is a crown jewel of that parks system, having been for decades a home to recreation of all kinds for the citizens of Ann Arbor. West Park's popularity with people of all types has also brought clashes and the park's history is not without it's dark stories.
For nearly two centuries, volunteers and professionals have connected local readers to a wider world.
From its earliest days Ann Arbor has been a reading town with enthusiastic library supporters. Its first library was launched in 1827, just threeyears after the ci!J was founded. Even so, the history of our libraries is not a straight line from then to now. Different threads, professional and volunteer, paid and free, have woven back and forth ever since.
Today those strands are woven tightly together: we now have the professional Ann Arbor District Library and two independent volunteer groups that work closely with it. The Friends of the Library turns sixty-three this year, and the Ladies Library Association celebrates its sesquicentennial this month -- jointly with the AADL, which is marking its own twentieth year of independence (see Events, October 1).
We know about the 1827 library because in 1830, George Corselius ran an article lamenting its deficiencies. The editor of the Western Emigrant sought "twenty or thirty individuals" able to pay $3 each to expand that small collection into a more robust "circulating library." For that fee, readers could read Fanny Trollope's Domestic Manners of the Americans or the Encyclopedia Americana. Other private libraries followed, as well as reading clubs whose members bought books to share.
It wasn't until 1856 that the city had its first free, publicly accessible library. When the Union High School opened that year at the comer of State and Huron, citizens could use the library in the superintendent's office.
In 1866 the Ladies Library Association was formed as a subscription library. According to the group's history, the thirty-five founders -- "a determined group of socially prominent local women" -- paid $3 to join and $1 a year in dues for the privilege of borrowing books from its collection. They also sponsored lectures, concerts, art shows, and readings.
After renting various places, in 1885 the LLA bought a lot at 324 E. Huron. The club hired Chicago architects Allen and Irving Pond -- whose mother, Mary, was a member of the LLA -- to design the city's first freestanding library there.
Four years later, in 1889, the school board moved the high school library into its own room, and hired twenty-three-year-old typist Nellie Loving as the district's first librarian. She stayed for thirty-nine years and was an energetic advocate. "She even went to the firemen at the station," recalled Elizabeth Stack, a founder of the Friends of the Library. "They were just sitting around. 'Why don't you read something?' she asked." She followed up by bringing them books, which they later returned asking for something "livelier."
Loving's response is not on record, but the ladies of the LLA didn't just want to entertain readers-they saw themselves as "a force for intellectual and moral improvement." The minutes of the group's 1872 annual meeting observe that though the demand for fiction exceeded the supply, "we are happy to state that a large proportion of the books purchased during the year are of a character to stimulate earnest thought and fully meet the needs of the intellectual mind."
From its start, the LLA women wanted a free public library -- but they couldn't get the city to fund it. Finally, in 1902, LLA president and school board member Anna Botsford Bach suggested that the two groups apply jointly for a $20,000 grant from Andrew Carnegie, the steel magnate who was building libraries all across America. However, they deadlocked over the location: the school board insisted that the library be in or near the high school, while the LLA wanted a separate site.
The problem was solved two years later, but at a high cost: in 1904, the high school burned down. Luckily students rescued most of the 8,000 books in the middle of the night; they were stored across the street in the Methodist Church's parlor.
The school board applied for and won a new $30,000 Carnegie grant. The library was built alongside and connected to the new high school, but the school faced State St. and had a skin of brick, while the library faced Huron and was finished in stone.
In 1916, on its fiftieth anniversary, the LLA gave its collection of several thousand books to the public library, and its building to the school board. The building was used by the Red Cross in World War I, and later by the Boy Scouts. It was tom down in 1945; its site is now occupied by the fortress-like Michigan Bell building.
In 1928, Nellie Loving's successor, Frances Hannum, separated the school and public collections. She moved the schoolbooks to the third floor and made the bottom two floors a public library, with the lower level the children's room.
In 1953, the city sold the high school to the U-M, using the money to start work on what is now Pioneer High. The university renamed the old school the Frieze Building, after a beloved classics professor. When it was tom down in 2007 to make way for North Quad, the library's Huron St. face was incorporated into the wall of the quad-what preservationists call a facadectomy.
The school's move again brought up the question of where the public library belonged. The Friends of the Library was organized in 1953 to lobby for a downtown site: the comer of Fifth and William, where the old Beal house was for sale. Elizabeth Stack organized the Friends' first fundraising book sale on the grounds of the house. Friends member Bob Iglehart recalled in
The Ladies Library Association built its own "circulating library" on Huron in 1885. a 1995 remembrance that "it was a rather pitiful affair, not a whole lot of books, but there were also homemade cookies, potted plants, and the general aspect of a ladies church affair." And it raised enough money to rent a bookmobile to take books to playgrounds that summer.
The schools did buy the site, and the new library, designed by Midland modernist Alden Dow, was dedicated on October 13, 1957. Clements Library director Howard Peckham said that the shared civic space "added an extra room to each of our houses." The Friends moved their growing collection of donated books out of Stack's garage and into the library's basement, and their sales to its sheltered front porch.
The new library was still run by the school system, so the Friends lobbied for a citizens' committee to advise the school board on the library's needs. Fred Mayer, a committee member in the 1960s, recalls that they dealt with such issues as fees for nonresidents, problem patrons, new programs, and summer reading.
Finances got easier after 1973, when the school board put a separate 1.3-mill tax for the library on the ballot. It got more votes than the schools millage, and in 1974, the library added a 20,000-square foot addition. Designed by architect and book lover Don Van Curler, its high wells of windows and enclosed garden fit with the original Dow design. In 1991 Osler/ Milling designed a second addition, adding two floors to the Van Curler addition, renovating the older part, and updating mechanical systems.
In 1980 the Friends expanded their annual sales into a bookshop in the library's basement. Elizabeth Ong, who organized it, is still an active volunteer. The shop was managed for many years by volunteer Mary Parsons, who stressed in her final report that "the sales should always be considered a community service first." But in addition to getting books into the hands of new readers, the sales also raised a lot of money. The Friends used to sponsor the "Booked for Lunch" speaker series and many other services and amenities such as literacy programs, staff workshops and scholarships, and taking books to hospitals and senior residences. They also advocated for the new branches and led millage campaigns.
In 1994, when the state's Proposal A took away school boards' authority to levy taxes for public libraries, the schools and city council sponsored creation of a new district library. An interim board was created, with Mayer as president, to divide the buildings and land, and reconfigure services that had been provided by the schools.
On June 10, 1996, voters in the Ann Arbor School District overwhelmingly approved a two-mill district library tax, and elected the first library board. Of the original seven members, only Ed Surovell remains today. Twenty years later, he says, "We're dramatically better, with higher attendance and a higher number of programs." He points to advances such as more foreign language books, the incorporation of the county library for the blind, and the construction of three new branches, Malletts Creek, Pittsfield, and Traverwood, plus the expansion of the Westgate branch.
As for the Internet, Josie Parker, director of the library since 2002, says, "We decided, instead of fighting it, to use it as a tool." Parker points out that "the public can now use the library's catalogue 2417 wherever they may be." Reserving or renewing books and getting books from other libraries are also much easier. The online Summer Game attracts 7,000-9,000 players, from children to adults.
Although Ann Arbor voters have a history of supporting library funding, in 2012 they turned down a millage to build a new downtown library. Since then, the AADL has been figuring out how to best use the present building, make necessary repairs, and, in Parker's words, "match the collection with the space." Fiction has been moved to the second floor and magazines and local history materials to the third floor. The first floor still has art prints, DVDs, and new and Zoom Lends books (high-demand volumes that rent for $1 a week), along with art, science and music tools. These are stored on wheeled carts, so a large area can be cleared for special events such as the Maker Faire and a comic book convention. A library board slate running in November (seep. 35) says they'll make a new millage vote a priority.
Like the library itself, the Friends now make greater use of the Internet. In Parsons' time, when they spotted valuable books or documents, they worked at either finding a place to donate them, perhaps to the Bentley or Clements, or sold them. The Internet has made this process much easier. (It helps that many of their sorters are retired librarians or specialists who are good at identifying books of interest.)
When the elevators failed during a routine inspection in 2014, the Friends bookstore moved up to the first floor. Business was so good there that they stayed. The group now annually gives the library $100,000 or more; the money is used mostly for children's activities, including library visits for every second grader in the district. The Friends' former basement space is now the AADL's "Secret Lab," where children can work on messier projects such as cooking or art.
The Ladies Library Association also is still active. One of its earlier members, Alice Wethey, "was a terrific treasurer," says Joan Innes, a member for sixty-three years. "She was a tremendous investor and put our money into blue chip stocks." The LLA's twenty-woman board, which includes both Innes and her artist daughter, Sarah, uses the income to support the library's purchase of art books, framed fine art reproductions that patrons can borrow, and art-themed games for the children's department. As the new branches opened, the LLA also bought original works by local artists to display there.
The library has just hired its own volunteer coordinator, Shoshana Hurand, formerly with the Arts Alliance. "It's a real breakthrough and will offer volunteers a wider variety of opportunities," says library board member Margaret Leary. Parker explains that until now library volunteers have been handled by whoever answered the phone for the specific project. Now one person will see where volunteers might fit-maybe with kids' sewing or art projects, or online help, or in many other ways. The Friends will stay totally separate, although both entities will probably send people to each other.
On October 1 (see Events), the Ann Arbor District Library and the Ladies Library Association will celebrate their twentieth and !50th anniversaries, respectively. The event will feature a talk by Francis Blouin, U-M professor of history and information and retired head of the Bentley Historical Library, entitled "Connecting the City."
"We talk a lot these days about 'connectivity' that now means being plugged into the Internet and all the information it provides," Blouin explains. "But being connected certainly predates the arrival of the smartphone. Ann Arbor in the nineteenth century, though a small town, also wanted to be connected to the wider world." Thanks to generations of avid readers and hardworking library supporters, those connections now are stronger than ever.
[Caption 1]: Founded in 1866 as a subscription library, the Ladies Library Association continues to support library purchases. Artist-member Sarah Innes envisioned an early meeting (left) and painted a group portrait today (below).
[Caption 2]: A $30,000 grant from Andrew Carnegie paid for the city's first dedicated public library. Only its facade survives, on North Quad.
[Caption 3]: The Ladies Library Association built its own "circulating library" on Huron in 1885.
Fifty years of low-budget goodwill
When President Obama announced in December that he would normalize relations with Cuba, photographer Jack Kenny and retired attorney Kurt Berggren got to thinking about an official visit with Ann Arbor's newest sister city. In 2003, they'd persuaded city council to adopt Remedios, a town of 46,000 in central Cuba. Though both men have since visited, U.S. travel restrictions have prevented the cities from exchanging official delegations.
Most Ann Arborites don't know we have a Cuban sister city, because council didn't want to spend $1,000 to add Remedios to the signs that list Ann Arbor's six other sister cities. Though exchanges over the years have led to close personal and business relationships, the city no longer provides staff support or funding, so it's strictly been volunteer efforts of late.
Contact with Juigalpa, Nicaragua died out in the 1990s. The connection to Dakar, Senegal, began and ended with a single visit in 1997. There hasn't been an official visit with Belize City since their mayor checked out our recycling program in 1999, and the last youth sports exchange with Peterborough, Ontario, was in 2003.
But two relationships, with Tübingen, Germany, and Hikone, Japan, remain strong. It's no coincidence that both countries were America's enemies in WWII.
Sister cities originated in the People to People program, an outgrowth of a 1956 White House conference that promoted friendship between former enemies. Ann Arbor's involvement started in 1965. Georg Melchers, a Tübingen city councilmember, visited that December and was serenaded by Ann Arbor High School students singing Christmas carols in German.
Many Ann Arborites trace their heritage to southern Germany, and from the start, local Germans were active in the relationship, hosting events and visitors. City councilmembers were also drafted into the effort. Mary Hathaway, the widow of attorney and councilmember John Hathaway, was dealing with a colicky baby when her husband announced they would be hosting Hugo and Bertl Raiser. The couple didn't speak English, so "I had to reach down deep for the little bit of German I had inside me," she recalls, but the families have been friends ever since.
In 1969 Carolyn Murphy, a young teacher of German at Pioneer High, visited Tübingen as part of a delegation. Georg Melchers took her under his wing and introduced her to his son, Christoph. They fell in love, married, and still live in Tübingen, where Carolyn remains very active in the sister city program. In
1980 Tübingen invited Ann Arbor to take part in its music festival. Mayor Lou Belcher recalls that city manager Sylvester Murray was given palatial quarters on the top floor of a hotel, with balconies on all four sides and a fully stocked bar, while Belcher had a cubbyhole on a lower floor with just a bed and a desk. It turned out that the Germans, who have several levels of mayors starting with the Oberburgermeister or lord mayor, had assumed that the city manager was more important than the plain mayor. When they discovered their mistake they were very apologetic, but Belcher told them to leave things as they were since Murray was getting such a kick out of the mistake.
On the relationship's fortieth anniversary in 2005, Tübingen's delegation was led by the city's first female lord mayor, Brigitte Russ-Scherer. Mayor John Hieftje led the return visit with his wife, pianist Kathryn Goodson, who gave a concert at a nearby monastery. As they have every year since 1982, Tübingen high school students also came to Ann Arbor during their spring break, and Ann Arbor students returned the visit after school got out for the summer.
Most of the participants in the 2011 and 2012 exchanges were architects or people involved in city planning. In Ann Arbor, activities included walking tours, visits to landmark buildings, and explanations of our green initiatives. In Tübingen, Carolyn Melchers enlisted a group of architects including her husband- to organize a tour of their architectural treasures, from the Middle Ages to the modem.
Tübingen will send two groups this year. This month, twelve adults with developmental disabilities, plus eight helpers, are coming to Ann Arbor and staying in North Quad. They will be hosted by the Ann Arbor Center for Independent Living. An Ann Arbor delegation will return the visit this fall. And on June 1, the Ann Arbor City Council plans to reenact the proclamation they passed fifty years earlier. In the audience will be the latest official delegation from Tübingen. Councilmembers Steve Kunselman and Graydon Krapohl will lead a return visit in July, and members of the public are welcome.
In 1968, Michigan adopted the Prefecture of Shiga as its sister state. The following year, Ann Arbor partnered with Hikone, a city in Shiga on the eastern shore of Lake Biwa.
The first visit was a big one: a contingent of high school teachers and students and 100 members of the Musical Youth International Band and Choir. But it wasn't until 1982 that an official delegation made the trip. Mayor Belcher led a nine-member group including Hitoshi Uchida, owner of the Karnakura Japanese restaurant, who served as translator.
The highlight of the trip for Belcher was a visit to Toyota headquarters to encourage officials to expand the company's small Ann Arbor emissions lab. He expected to take the train and to talk to one of the company's economic development people. "I was surprised when a limo showed up at my hotel and drove me the 120 miles to Toyota's headquarters," Belcher recalls. "When we arrived 1 was escorted to [chairman Eiji] Toyoda's office. He dismissed the staff and closed the door and then said, 'So tell me, how are my Wolverines?' " It turned out he was a U-M alum, and he barraged Belcher with questions about U-M sports and various bars. When Belcher brought up the local lab, Toyota answered, "Well, I think we can do sometgubg about that." Toyota subsequently built a major facility in Ann Arbor Township and then an even bigger one in York Township.
Yearly junior high/middle school exchanges began in 1985, organized by Clague teacher Rusty Schumacher. Ann Arbor students visit Japan every other year, and Hikone students come in the opposite years
Larry Dishman, who organizes the exchanges through the Rec & Ed department, says that Hikone has a city employee in charge of sister cities. Though visitors stay with families, the city gives them rail passes and money for travel and lodging when they travel to Hiroshima and other cities. "On our end, we have the JGds pay $2,000," Dishman says, "and then raise more money patchwork style."
Like Hikone, Tübingen has a staffer who keeps track of their partnerships. The German city also provides funding for cultural events and a travel budget that will pay the way for their mayor and two councilmembers to this year's fiftieth anniversary celebration.
In contrast, Ann Arbor eliminated all regular funding during budget cuts ten years ago. This year, its only financial contribution to the Germans' visit will be some bag lunches, and everyone making the return trip will pay their own way.
Relying entirely on the volunteers means that relationships ebb and flow depending on people's changing interests and commitments-especially if the sister city also has limited resources.
That's what happened with Belize City. The relationship was approved in 1967 at the urging of the local People to People chapter. Former mayor Louis Belcher recalls that the late councilperson Jerry Bell, a fan of Belize steel bands, also championed the connection.
A group of Boy Scouts from Belize City subsequently stopped by while in the United States for an international scout jamboree. But a suggested return visit to Belize by a young people's choir and orchestra was politely discouraged in a letter explaining that the city lacked the resources to host such a large group.
In 1968 five Ann Arborites, including then-state senator Gilbert Bursley, visited. Return visits included their national director of libraries in 1969 and a steel band in 1973. In 1975, the relationship was memorialized with the creation of Belize Park at the corner of Fountain and Summit. But there appear to have been no visits since 1999. As former mayor Ingrid Sheldon explains, "It's really people to people-it takes people to keep things going."
The 1983 partnership with Peterborough was inspired by Doug Walker, then head of the Ann Arbor Recreation Department, who suggested the cities set up a Junior Olympics-type exchange. At its height, the Arborough Games brought six or seven busloads of middle school students to Ontario to compete in soccer, baseball, track, volleyball, and basketball, followed by a return delegation from Peterborough the following year. Participants stayed in the homes of the opposing team and enjoyed a big party after the games.
"It was the gem of the recreation department," remembers Larry Dishman. "When it first started, so many kids wanted to participate that we had to have tryouts." But as more opportunities to play sports opened up in Ann Arbor, interest waned. Toward the end "we were so frustrated we would practically hustle kids off the streets of Ann Arbor and tell them they didn't have to pay, just come," Dishman recalls.
The partnership with Dakar, Senegal, was suggested by Richard Ross, who got the idea while visiting a niece who worked for an ambassador in the west African country. City council approved it in 1997.
That October an official delegation visited Ann Arbor including Dakar's mayor, Mamadou Diop. Mary Hall-Thiam, a member of the hospitality committee and the wife of a Senegalese, recalls that the local Senegalese community sponsored a reception in the group's honor. While in Ann Arbor, the delegation observed Ann Arbor's educational systems, economic development, and environmental protection.
An attempt to organize a return visit foundered when Ross couldn't raise enough money. But the connection is not totally dead. Hall-Thiam says the local Senegalese community is planning to organize a twenty-year reunion in 2017.
The partnership with Juigalpa started with a ballot proposal. Activists concerned about American foreign policy in Central America, collected signatures for a proposal to create a sister city in Central America. In April 1987 it won by a two-to-one margin, and council appointed a task force to select a sister city. Several members had been to Nicaragua and had contacts there, so they consulted with the Sandinista government, which suggested Juigalpa.
In November Ann Arbor sent a seventeen-member delegation, including mayor Ed Pierce and state rep Perry Bullard. The group brought twenty-five boxes of gifts, mostly medical or educational supplies. When asked what else the city would like, the mayor suggested a small garbage truck.
After much research, the committee found a company that made the right kind of truck in Alberta. Initiative organizer Gregory Fox picked it up there and drove it to Ann Arbor, where three other members of the original delegation, Kurt Berggren, Tom Rieke, and Kip Eckroad, took over for the two-week trip to Nicaragua. The volunteers took turns with two in the cab, driving and navigating, and one holed up in the back, able to communicate using a walkie-talkie that Eckroad borrowed from his kids.
There were a few later delegations to Juigalpa, but interest died out. "In the '90s, Juigalpa's citizens voted to replace the Sandinista group in city hall," Rieke recalls by email. "People in Ann Arbor did not know the new leaders, who probably thought that we were just Sandinista puppets." However, the garbage truck "was used for about ten years around the clock," says Berggren. "This was in spite of the fact that parts were hard or impossible to get, so they had to somehow figure out ways to make repairs. Finally it ended up as a flatbed truck used for other things."
Berggren got involved in Remedios after seeing Jack Kenny's work on Cuba. Kenny fell in love with the island after visiting with friends in 1996 and returned frequently to photograph its vintage automobiles, crumbling architecture, and people. The book he published in 2005, Cuba: Photographs by Jack Kenny, shows Cubans, although clearly not rich, enjoying life-playing chess, getting their hair cut, riding bikes, or just hanging out.
"Remedios is an untouched, well preserved colonial city," explains Kenny. It's in the middle of the island, about a six- or seven-hour drive from Havana. When Berggren visited, he played chess with their mayor- Remedios has the main chess school on the island.
Since the thaw in diplomatic relations, Kenny and Berggren have been working to confirm that officials in Remedios support the partnership to clear the way for an official visit.
"If we put a group together we could do it," says Kenny, "but first we have to make sure we are recognized in Cuba. This is the time to see Cuba, before it gets overrun."
Photo caption 1: (Left) in 1987 Ann Arborites voted to adopt a sister city in Central America, and raised funds to donate a garbage truck to Juigalpa, Nicaragua. But interest faded in the 1990s. (Right) Ann Arbor mayor Ingrid Sheldon and Dakar mayor Mamadou Di?P in 1997.
Photo caption 2: Ann Arbor visitors enjoy a trip on the River Neckar in 2012. Thanks to strong institutional and volunteer support, relationship with Tubingen, Germany, and Hikone, Japan, continue to thrive.
Pressure to meet modern needs endangers three historic landmarks.
Demand for housing and retail and industrial sites in the Chelsea area has exploded in recent years—so a lot more people are mailing letters, checking out library books, and wanting to park their cars downtown. But even as residents put the heat on village leaders to meet these needs, they are also concerned about not just paving over Chelsea's past.
Take the McKune Public Library, for example. Built in 1860, the building has immeasurable historical value as the home of Elisha Congdon, who, with his brother James, founded Chelsea. As a library, on the other hand, it's becoming very cramped and outmoded. But when the board raised the option of tearing it down to build a new, larger library, there was a public outcry. Most villagers also resisted the idea of locating a new library anyplace but downtown, according to Lynn Fox, library board president. "It's [on] a wonderful site, especially if the city moves their offices across the street."
Fox was referring to efforts by Chelsea developer Rene Papo to build and lease a government center on the Palmer Ford lot there. If Papo's successful, his new office center would solve one of Chelsea's long-standing problems. For three years, municipal offices have been temporarily housed in a bank next to the library.
Papo's plan might also solve another problem: the need for a larger post office. Last year the Postal Service declared that Chelsea's current post office is too small and lacks adequate truck access. While villagers have no control over this decision, they are demanding that the postal authorities keep any new post office downtown. Meanwhile the fate of the old building also remains uncertain, and it, too, contains an invaluable piece of Chelsea's history. In 1936 the federal Works Progress Administration (WPA) commissioned artist George H. Fisher to paint a mural on its north wall. Villagers treasure the mural, The Way of Life (right), as an important example of original Depression-era art and as a significant part of Chelsea's past.
If and when a new post office is built, the old structure—and its mural—will be offered to other governmental units by rank. If federal, state, or county officials decide they want the building, villagers will have no formal input over the fate of it or the mural.
Meanwhile, the Downtown Development Authority is building a new parking lot on the Staffan-Mitchell Funeral Home property in response to villagers' demands for more downtown parking. But that location puts a circa-1880 home, most recently home to Serendipity Books, in the way of the bulldozers (see Marketplace Changes, p. 59).
Sensitive to the historic value of the building, the DDA has announced that it will sell the house for a nominal sum if the buyer is willing to move it. "We're not trying to make money," says DDA director Ann Feeney.
It's obvious to many people that these three landmarks—the McKune house, the post office's WPA mural, and Serendipity House—are "priceless." But saving them will come at a price, and someone will have to pay it.
So far, no one has stepped forward to save Serendipity House. The library plans to approach outside sources for contributions before going to the voters for approval of a bond issue to pay for planned additions and renovations on the McKune house. At press time, the board had no figures on the estimated cost.
The fate of the WPA mural will probably take the longest to determine. Anyone who tries to remove it, however, will face a lot of angry villagers. "They'd never destroy it," says Feeney. "People would go bananas if that happened."
The recent decision to remove Dexter's Mill Creek Dam promises an ecological and recreational payoff.
The Dexter Village Council voted in mid-February to accept the recommendation of the Mill Creek Dam Task Force to remove the 175-year-old dam. Still unresolved, however, are two large questions: who owns the dam and who will ultimately pay for its removal.
But even with money at issue and no official timetable established, one thing is certain: the removal of the dam, which has not been used as a power source for more than eighty years, promises a flood of ecological and recreational advantages. Not only will the creek run faster and cleaner without the dam, thus allowing for a healthier and more varied aquatic life, the water will return to its original narrower channel, leaving more dry land at its edge for nature study and recreation.
The first dam on the site, just west of downtown, was built in 1825 .by village founder Samuel Dexter. Dexter had selected the site for his town a year earlier specifically because it was on a creek, just off the Huron River, that could be dammed for power. He harnessed that power to build a sawmill on the west side of the stream, about where Mill Creek Sporting Goods is now. Next he built a gristmill on the opposite side, where the village offices and fire department now stand. The sawmill business did not last long, but the gristmill continued to operate for nearly a century, run by a variety of owners before it closed in 1917.
In 1920 Henry Ford, who was buying up mills all over southeast Michigan to encourage the development of small village industries, bought the gristmill and water rights. He rebuilt the Mill Creek Dam and began work on the mill building, but died before it could be completed. The village-industry project died with Ford, and in 1957 Ford Motor Company sold the old mill and the land to the village.
In 1995 the Fisheries Division of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources issued a report, the Huron River Assessment, that recommended the removal of retired hydroelectric dams. The DNR's arguments for cleaner water and recreational opportunities intrigued the Dexter Village Council. The timing was also right: the replacement of the bridge over the dam is on the Washtenaw County Road Commission's project list, and if the dam is removed, the bridge will span less water and be cheaper to replace.
Part of the delay in removing the dam until now has been determining who owns what part of it. According to John Coy, village president and chair of the task force, the research so far indicates that the village owns the land on the east side of the dam, the county owns the land on the west, and the Ford Motor Company owns the spillway. However, he says, "who owns and who pays" for removal may be two different issues. Since the village can not afford such a big project, it will be applying for grants from sympathetic groups such as fisheries organizations, parks commissions, and state and federal environmental groups.
Huron-Clinton Metroparks officials have recently announced plans that should add to the attractiveness of the project. They plan to build a five-mile bike and hiking trail that would run all the way from Mill Creek to Huron Mills Metropark.
A hiking trail turns old tracks to good use
In the nineteenth century, the area around the railroad depot was the noisiest, busiest spot in Saline. Steam engines puffed in six times a day to drop off and pick up people and freight. Nearby were a busy grain elevator, two barns, a blacksmith shop, and a lumberyard.
Today the tracks are gone, replaced by a quiet walking trail. On September 24 a ribbon-cutting ceremony marked the official opening of the path that runs along the old railroad bed from Ann Arbor Street to Harris Street past the former depot, now a museum operated by the Saline Area Historical Society. Though the path is less than a quarter mile long, there's hope that it will be the fast leg of a much longer trail.
Saline's first train arrived in 1870 on the Detroit, Hillsdale, and Indiana line (DHI). "Detroit" and "Indiana" were both wishful thinking: the line ran only from Ypsilanti to Bankers, a little town west of Hillsdale. But it connected with the Michigan Central Railroad in Ypsilanti, the Ann Arbor Railroad at Pittsfield Junction south of Ann Arbor, and the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern in Hillsdale.
Although not a major line, the DHI was important to Saline, allowing local farmers to ship wheat, oats, apples, wool, and livestock to larger markets. Saline was the state's busiest shipping point for animals during the nineteenth century, says Saline historian Bob Lane. Livestock were herded down unpaved Bennett Street and held in pens on the south side of the depot. In 1875 the Saline Standard Windmill Company began making windmills and pumps, and the railroad made it a nationwide business.
The barn closer to the station is listed on maps as a hay and fertilizer warehouse. The other was operated by Gay Harris and Willis Fowler, who would buy wool from local sheep raisers and store it until they had enough to send a train car load to wool mills. In mediate nineteenth century Washtenaw County was the nation's leading producer of wool.
A windmill between the station and the first barn pumped water into an underground tank, and from there to a water tower across the tracks. Steam engines filled their tanks from this tower. Around 1900, an electric pump replaced the windmill.
E. W. Ford's lumberyard was west of the station, occupying most of the land from there to the intersection of Ann Arbor and Bennett streets. South of the tracks, Hy Liesemer's grain elevator faced Ann Arbor Street According to an 1888 map, it could hold 10,000 bushels. North of the tracks was Feuerbacher's blacksmith and welding shop, run by John Feuerbacher, who came from Germany in 1870, and his son Edward. The Feuerbachers also bought and sold scrap iron behind the shop, shipping it out by train.
During the twentieth century, rail service declined. The depot saw its last passenger train in 1931; shortly after that, the passenger lobby was removed. Freight operations continued, but in 1961 the depot was closed completely.
Today all that survives is two-thirds of the depot. The wool barn burned down in the 1940s. The hay and fertilizer building has also disappeared, as have the windmill, water tower, lumberyard, grain elevator, and blacksmith shop. There's a small commercial area where the lumberyard stood, and an auto parts store at the blacksmith shop location.
In 1980, after a few years of intermittent use by a couple of businesses, the old, dilapidated depot was given to the Saline Area Historical Society. It looked like a shack, but the society lovingly restored it and made it into a museum.
Today the entrance is through a door that was once the interior entrance to the station agent's office. The bigger room beyond the office, originally the baggage area, is used for displays and meeting space.
The historical society brought in a real caboose, which schoolchildren love. A ten-foot windmill, similar to one that was there originally, was installed as an Eagle Scout project. Across the tracks you can still see traces of the water tower foundation. The society's president. Wayne Clements, would like to move another water tower there or reconstruct one.
Where the hay and fertilizer barn once stood, the historical society has moved a livery barn from 101 North Lewis Street, where Orange Risdon. the founder of Saline, once lived. A real Saline Standard windmill is stored inside.
The idea of a walking path along the old rail bed percolated for years, but it took a while for the society to reach agreement with the Ann Arbor Railroad, which owns the tracks. In November 2005 the society signed a lease with the railroad, and the project quickly gained support; its backers include the health promotion group Pick Up the Pace, Saline!
To cut costs, the organizers abandoned plans for lighting and paving the trail and used some volunteer labor. Washtenaw County Public Health contributed $18,170 from a state grant. Saline CARES (a millage that provides funding for recreational programs) awarded $8,000, while the City of Saline agreed to help cover interim costs.
Heritage Lawn Care, a landscaping firm on Wagner Road, offered a discounted price for installation. The company created a walking trail alongside the tracks by clearing out trees and other obstacles, leveling the ground, installing a landscape fabric, and laying six inches of limestone on top. The finished path is suitable not only for hikers but also for bicycles and wheelchairs.
The area between the rails was also cleared and filled with larger stones. "We thought delineating the tracks would make it more attractive," says David Rhoads, who led the volunteer effort. Hikers can see the challenge the work crews faced by looking at how much vegetation has overgrown the remaining sets of tracks to the north.
The clearing also made it possible to ride the depot's one-person handcar, which train employees used to check the tracks. Rhoads and Clements plan to work on repairing the switch at the Harris Street end of the trail so that the handcar can make a round trip from the depot.
Future plans include adding benches and trash receptacles along the trail. The Saline Garden Club is preparing to plant a perennial garden made up mainly of native plants in a clearing next to the tracks. Other ideas in the talking stage include installing art along the path and putting in bike racks that look like steam engines.
The organizers hope to extend the trail east to the Saline District Library on Maple Road and west to Mill Creek Park. The western end would run near Brecon Village Retirement Community and pass a gorgeous trestle now hidden in the woods. Some neighbors along the route have objected, though, so the plan's future is uncertain.
Architectural one-upmanship in Manchester
The Fountain-Bessac house, the majestic residence just west of Manchester's main shopping block at 102 West Main, is a monument to the rivalry between two of the town's earliest leaders.
According to Annetta English, a chronicler of Manchester from the 1930s, rich mill owner Jabez Fountain (1819-1901) built the home's Greek Revival first floor about 1842. Fountain's ambition, English wrote, was to outshine the nearby residence of John Kief, Manchester's first banker.
Kief's home was behind Fountain's, across the street on Madison. "It stands on a rise of ground, with ample grounds around it, and fine old trees, and an exquisite view is afforded to the west and to the north," wrote English. At the time English wrote, the house was still occupied by a Kief descendant and filled with fine old furniture.
The Fountain house was built, and no doubt also designed, by William Carr, who constructed many of Manchester's early houses and commercial buildings. Carr probably used Asher Benjamin's 1830 pattern book The Architect, or Practical House Carpenter. Katherine McKibben, present owner of the house, has noticed in a reprint of Benjamin's book that two of her fireplaces exactly match Benjamin's suggested designs. Although originally just one story high, the Greek Revival design still must have looked impressive, standing back on a deep lot with six Ionic columns across the front. Old photos show a majestic horse chestnut on the front lawn and vines growing up the columns.
In 1850 Fountain sold the house to Dr. William Bessac and moved to an even grander home on the comer of City Road and Furnace. Bessac (1809-1885) added a smaller second floor topped by a third- floor cupola, both designed in the then fashionable Italianate style. The pyramidal outline he created led some to compare the home to a wedding cake or Chinese lantern. Bessac's family moved upstairs, while the first floor became his medical examining rooms and drug dispensary.
According to Bessac's obituary, "He prided himself in mastering not only the principles of science but the minute details of the practice, and a faithfulness in remembering names and faces followed him to his latest days." But his medical practice evidently was insufficient to support his family, because Bessac also ran a general store on the south side of the commercial block, selling drugs, groceries, and dry goods.
The house was threatened but not destroyed by a fire in 1853 that leveled much of downtown Manchester. The fire began at the mill and was spread by the wind to the north side of the main shopping block, where it burned all the wooden buildings in its path until it reached the hotel across the street from the Fountain-Bessac house. The hotel's barn burned, but the people fighting the fire were able to bring it under control before it went farther.
Interestingly, Bessac himself was not home at the time, because he was on a shopping trip with his neighbor—Fountain's old rival, John Kief. An account of the fire reported that "Doctor Bessac and John D. Kief were in the East, purchasing new goods for their stores."
After Bessac's death, the home passed to his daughter, Mary, and her husband, George Haeussler. A pharmacist, George bought the Van Dyne and Calhoun drugstore in 1876. The Haeusslers had one son, Raynor, who followed his father into the business. (After passing through several subsequent owners, their store is now the Manchester Pharmacy.) Raynor married Marjorie Kingsley, and the young couple built a Colonial Revival home behind his parents' house. Mary Haeussler continued to live in the big house after her husband's death, but when climbing stairs became difficult, Raynor and Marjorie added a first-floor bedroom to her house and brought meals over to her every day.
In 1947, after Mary Haeussler had died and the house had been either vacant or rented for some years, Raynor Haeussler sold it to Mary and Tom Walton. A young couple recently married, they had moved to Manchester to be near the onion and potato farm that Tom's family owned. Tom worked on the farm but lived in town. They rented an apartment until, as Mary remembers it, "One day I went in the drugstore, and someone said, 'Why don't you buy the place on the corner? It's run down and no one's living in it.'" The house was over 100 years old and was falling apart when the Waltons moved in. "There was old plumbing, an old steam furnace," recalls Mary Walton. "It was rough."
To restore the house, the Waltons were fortunate to have the help of Emit Lorch, retired dean of the University of Michigan architecture school. Lorch had become acquainted with the house in the 1930s when he headed the Historic American Building Survey Project in Michigan; at that time, the house had been entered in the secretary of the interior's list of important historic structures. The Waltons met Lorch when he asked to include the house in a tour for the Washtenaw County Historical Society.
The Waltons worked with Lorch and an architecture student to create a plan to modernize the house while keeping all the historic features. The Waltons lived in a trailer in the street for the first year of the three-year project. "We were young and could do those things," recalls Mary Walton. They removed the tacked-on first floor bedroom and the back kitchen wing, which they replaced with a breezeway and two-car garage. Inside, they opened up the downstairs—still divided into tiny rooms from Dr. Bessac's time—and relocated the staircase to the center of the house. Outside, they replaced the front columns, which were falling apart, with exact copies. As Lorch explained in a letter to the Waltons, the columns "are the chief features of the front and like our Sunday clothes need to be 'according to Hoyle,' as they say."
The Waltons lived in the house forty-seven years, raising two children and playing an active role in the community, especially in their church and the historical society. Tom served on the village council. Their large, beautifully landscaped front lawn, located so near downtown, was a convenient as well as gracious place to hold community events. By 1988 the home was listed on both the state and national registers of historic places.
Katherine McKibben bought the house from the Waltons in 1990. She has made changes but has been careful, as the Waltons were, to keep its historic character intact. She divided the living room in two and opened up the kitchen to include the space where the Waltons had an office. A portrait of Dr. Bessac hangs in a place of honor in the dining room. The painting had belonged to Raynor Haeussler, Bessac's grandson. Raynor and Marjorie had no children; after they died, their heirs gave the picture to the Waltons. They in turn gave it to McKibben, feeling that it should stay in the house.
In the "contest" that inspired the house, Fountain wins hands down—at least if one considers the test of time. Kief's house, while still standing, had its top floor removed in 1950, and most of its old features are now hidden; one can hardly guess its age or former elegance. Meanwhile, the Fountain-Bessac house is the one that everyone who comes to town notices and admires.
Dexter residents want to save Gordon Hall—and its vista.
The University of Michigan plans to sell both historic Gordon Hall and its surrounding seventy-acre estate, which offers a prized and unobstructed view of the village. Built in 1841, the colonnaded mansion on a hill northwest of town is the only surviving residence of village founder Samuel Dexter. Now local residents are banding together to try to save not only the home but its grounds as well. Future generations of Dexter residents "should be able to get the view from the top of the hill that Judge Dexter could see," contends Paul Cousins, former village council member and founder of Cousins Heritage Inn.
The U-M, which announced its decision to sell Gordon Hall last November, has asked the Washtenaw County Historic District Commission to give the mansion a historical designation before the house goes on the market. However, the request applies only to the building itself and a rectangular area around the house extending 250 feet in front, 100 feet in back, and 75 feet on either side - not to the full acreage of the original property. So while the historic home would be legally protected, its prime view of Dexter would not.
Cousins and other community leaders, including former village president Paul Bishop and Dexter Historical Society president Gil Campbell, hope to raise the funds needed to buy the house and its "viewscape" from the U-M, which has owned the building and its surrounding property since 1950. Their goal is to purchase the mansion and the original property, restore the house, and furnish it as it would have been during Judge Dexter's occupancy, gathering back artifacts dispersed to the Dexter Area Historical Museum and the Washtenaw County Historical Society. In addition to its great educational value, the organizers believe, the house could lure history-minded visitors to Dexter. "It could outshine the bakery as a reason to come here," jokes Bishop.
Gordon Hall, named in honor of Samuel Dexter's mother, Catherine Gordon Dexter, is a magnificent example of Greek Revival architecture. "In the eighteen forties it was one of the places to see in Michigan," Campbell says. Moreover, it was almost certainly a stop on the Underground Railroad—Dexter has been identified as a "conductor," and there is a place in the basement where fugitive slaves may have hidden.
The home was sold after Dexter's widow died in 1899, and it fell into disrepair. In the 1930s U-M architecture dean Emil Lorch and U.S. senator Royal Copeland - a Dexter native - persuaded Dexter's granddaughter, Katharine Dexter McCormick, to buy it back (Community Observer, spring 2000). McCormick paid Lorch to repair and restore the mansion, hoping that the Dexter Women's Study Clubs, which used it for meetings, could take it over. But the clubs could not afford the upkeep, so in 1950 McCormick gave it to the university. Much to Lorch's dismay, the university demolished part of the building and divided the rest into apartments—stripping away much of the elegant interior detail in the process.
According to Bishop, "It would be nice if the U of M would give it back to us; we could use the money [raised for the purchase] to undo what they did." But the village's hope that the house might be sold for a minimal amount will apparently go unfulfilled. The university plans to sell Gordon Hall in the usual bid process. "We have a fiduciary responsibility to the public taxpayer," says Jim Kosteva, U-M director of community relations. "We don't have the ability to offer special deals."
This isn't the first time that the village has mobilized to try to save one of its founder's residences. Dexter built his first home in the village on Huron Street in 1826 and moved to another house on Huron when the railroad was built nearby in the 1830s. In 1939, when his second house was about to be torn down, three Dexter women tried to raise $1,000 to save it but failed. Bishop, Campbell, and Cousins - who face a far greater financial challenge - are hoping the same fate won't overtake what Lorch called "in many ways the most important of all Michigan homes."