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Chelsea Retirement Community

The Heritage Room recalls a time when the residents worked for their keep

The Chelsea Retirement Community is one of the oldest retirement centers in the state. It was founded by the Detroit Annual Council of Methodists as a home for "aged saints of the church" in 1906.

"They wanted a decent place for people who didn't have family to care for them," explains administrator Connie Amick. 'The only alternative was the poor farm."

The organizing committee looked at several sites in the Detroit area, but decided on Chelsea after Frank Glazier, a local banker and stove manufacturer, donated the land and a generous amount of money. When Glazier ran into financial troubles a few years later, the Old People's Home (as it was originally called) took in his mother, Emily Glazier. Today two of his granddaughters live there.

In 1907, after a year in a single-family home, the community moved into a new building large enough for thirty-six. There were only ten residents at the time of the move, and it took six years to fill the new building, because the idea of living in a retirement home was so new. Most residents could afford only low fees, so donations from churches and individuals supplemented the cost.

The first administrator. Rev. Seth Reed, had started his career as a Methodist circuit rider. Tall and of seemingly poor health, he was nicknamed "death on stilts" - a rubric he defied by living to be 100 years old. While Reed raised money for the home, his wife, Henrietta, handled day-to-day operation.

The way of life in the home's early years and the look of some of the rooms have been reconstructed by the organizers of the Heritage Room, a museum at the retirement home. Exhibits include a reconstruction of an early bedroom, with a water pitcher, washbowl, and bedpan; a dining room table set for a meal; and a fourteen-foot wagon once pulled by Fred, the home's sole horse. Fred did the heavy work during the years when the home's residents raised much of their own food.

Many of the items in the exhibit were donated by residents. Antiques appraiser Gary Kuehnle dated and authenticated the items, while Dana Buck of the U-M's Kelsey Museum created the design. "He broke up a narrow room to utilize the space," explains head docent Polly Monroe.

During the community's early years, residents helped with the chores if they were able: men in the gardens and on the farm, women in the kitchen and laundry. "All the help had to live in, and work for their room and board," recalled Lelah Knickerbocker in a 1996 interview with Kathy dark of the Chelsea Standard. Knickerbocker, who started working at the retirement home in 1923, recalled, "Each girl had a floor to live on and take care of. The home had one floating nurse who also lived in. When someone got sick, they stayed right in their own room. Sometimes when the nurse got awful tired and needed a rest, she'd call on me to sit up at night with the patients."

The biggest difference between the early years and today is "the attitude change," says Amick. "It used to be very paternalistic. Now the residents run it. We have a strong resident council." There is no longer any religious qualification, and the community has grown to include about 360 residents, with a 120-room addition planned for residents suffering from memory loss. The Heritage Room, which has won several prestigious awards, can be toured by appointment.

—Grace Shackman

Manchester Township Library

The state's oldest

Manchester has the oldest township library in continuous use in the state of Michigan. Established in 1838, just two years after the township was organized, it has been located for the last sixty-four years in an 1860s-era house on the village square.

During the first years of the library, township clerk Marcus Carter Jr. kept the collection at his house. On Saturdays, from 2 to 4 p.m., people could borrow books stored in a case that sat on a black walnut table. (The library still has the table, now used as a computer stand.) The library continued under the care of succeeding township clerks for the rest of the century.

Manchester thrived as a commercial center in the nineteenth century, assuring a living standard that gave women time to organize literary societies. By the turn of the century, they included the History, Saturday, Shakespeare, and 20th Century clubs. (The last two still meet.) The club ladies—whom Manchester historian Howard Parr describes as "a combo of high caliber, literary, educated-minded people"—decided Manchester should have an independent library with a trained librarian; they began organizing to make it happen.

In 1906 the first librarian was hired: a Miss B. M. Brighton. In 1909 the library moved to the second floor of the Conklin building, near the comer of M-52 and Main Street. It later moved downstairs in the same building, and then to the Mahrle building (now the Whistle Stop restaurant), on Adrian Street. "I remember that library," recalls ninety-one-year-old Glenn Lehr. "I'd read every book in it by the time I was fourteen. It was a long building and dark inside. There was a pot-bellied stove in the back."

When the rent on the Mahrle building was raised in 1934, the ladies of the literary societies decided it was time to buy permanent quarters. They bought the Lynch house, a handsome cube-style Italianate in a perfect location on the town square. It had been built around 1867 for James Lynch, doctor and druggist, by his father-in-law Junius Short. Descendants of the family sold the house for the reasonable price of $1,200 because they believed the library was a worthwhile project. The $15 monthly mortgage payments were less than the rent the library had been paying.

The whole community pitched in to clean, paint, build shelves, and put in a chimney so central heat could be added. The federal Works Progress Administration paid for some of the materials and labor, the Boy Scouts moved the books to the new location, and local churches put on a benefit play.

Shortly after the move, Jane Palmer, who had been librarian from 1909 to 1918, returned to her old job. She stayed on until she retired in 1958 at the age of seventy-eight. "She was gingham as well as satin," says Parr. "She was a farm woman, helped with the threshing, but was practical and erudite." Palmer converted the upstairs of the library into an apartment and moved in. Many of the perennial flowers she planted on the grounds still bloom today.

When the library opened, only the west side of the downstairs was used. Today the whole building is filled with the library's 14,000 books, plus magazines and videos. Palmer's old kitchen upstairs is now the office of the library director, Dorothy Davies. "It's reached the point," says Davies, "that every time we get something new, we have to get rid of something." Eventually, citizens will have to decide whether to add onto the building or erect a new one.

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