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Ypsilanti: Its Past, Present and Future (1874)

Ypsilanti: Its Past, Present and Future (1874) image Ypsilanti: Its Past, Present and Future (1874) image Ypsilanti: Its Past, Present and Future (1874) image Ypsilanti: Its Past, Present and Future (1874) image Ypsilanti: Its Past, Present and Future (1874) image Ypsilanti: Its Past, Present and Future (1874) image Ypsilanti: Its Past, Present and Future (1874) image Ypsilanti: Its Past, Present and Future (1874) image Ypsilanti: Its Past, Present and Future (1874) image Ypsilanti: Its Past, Present and Future (1874) image Ypsilanti: Its Past, Present and Future (1874) image Ypsilanti: Its Past, Present and Future (1874) image
Charles Rich Pattison
Rights Held By
Ypsilanti Historical Society
OCR Text

(from Ypsilanti Commercial, May 23, 1874)

Our object in writing the present article is not to give a detailed history of the settlement and growth of Ypsilanti, but rather to show what advantages have been secured, and what still remain for the enterprising capitalist to come and develop. There is no question but that our city and vicinity afford us desirable, and in some respects better inducements, as any place in the State. But in order that what we have done may be known it has been thought best to briefly outline the settlement of the city, that thus a comparison may be made of its present condition with what it was but a few years since. The hope is also entertained that the little we shall have to say upon this subject may not prove uninteresting to the general reader.


For more than a century Detroit had been occupied as a point of much importance on the chain of Great Lakes, before any settlement had been made here. This however, seems to have been a point of considerable interest to the native, for they had here an extensive burying ground; and a trail leading from Detroit to the West and upper lakes ran through this place, nearly on a line with the old Chicago Road. All the Indians occupying the extensive tract of land lying between lakes St. Clair and Erie, and those of the territory lying along the lake south and west, when going to the upper lakes, often passed through here. As they roamed through the forests they frequently made this a chief camping ground; and there is no doubt but the banks of the Huron have often witnessed all the varied rites of the social life of the red man. Who can scarcely believe that three score and ten years have not yet gone by since Tecumseh passed through here endeavoring to incite the Indians to make a grand rally, and thus drive the whites to the east of the Alleghanies. Yet such is the case.

The first white men to settle here were Gabriel Godfrey, and his two companion Pepin and Le Shambre. These men in 1809 established a trading post for the purpose of barter with the Indians, near where the Arcade Block now stands (Arcade Block was 36 North Huron). For a long time the place was known as “Godfrey's on the Pottawattomic's trail”. We state this fact for the special benefit of those people who have invented over forty ways of spelling Ypsilanti, in order to show them what they have escaped by the change in three names.

In 1811 these three men secured a patent from the Government for twenty-five hundred acres of land, which is known in the early surveys, and maps, as “The French Claim”. For several years this venture of the traders proved profitable, but when the treaty was made by which the Indians were moved further west, their trade was lost, and the “post” declined in value until in 1820 it was wholly abandoned for trading purposes; the land, however, being retained.

During the year 1823 several families came up the Huron and settled about one mile southeast of the city, calling their settlement Woodruff's Grove, after the name of Major Woodruff who was one of the party. Captain Stitts, another member of the party, for two or three years ran a flat boat on the river for the benefit of the little settlement. The voyage down was easily made as the swift current provided all the motor required, but the poling-up was slow and tedious, still such commodities as were too heavy to be “packed” over the trail were brought in this way.

On the night of the 23rd of October, 1823, but little more than fifty years ago, Mr. John Bryan gave his oxen to drink, for the first time, of the waters of the Huron. This was the first team ever driven through from Detroit; Mr. Bryan occupied four days in the passage, having been obliged to “cut his way”. He was accompanied by his wife, who eight weeks after reaching here, gave birth to the first boy born* in this county.
*The child born was Alva Washtenaw Bryan. A daughter was born to the Stitts a few hous later that night.

In an account she wrote more than thirty years after, of the place as she found it, she says:

“It was amusing the first fall and winter to hear the corn-mills in operation every morning before daylight. There were two in the settlement. They were made as follows: A hole was burned in the top of a sound oak stump; after scraping this clean from coal, a stick about six feet long and eight inches in diameter, was rounded at one end and suspended by a spring-pole directly over the stump; a hole was bored through this pestle for handles, and the mill was done. A man would pound a peck of corn in half an hour so that half of it would pass through a sieve.”

For nearly two years corn bread was almost the only bread used. The first mill ever erected here was built of logs, by Major Woodruff. Detroit at this time was the nearest point where grinding could be done, and the mills there were wind-mills.

In 1824, July 4th was, for the first time in the country observed as a gala day. The entire population of the county was present: the adults numbered about thirty souls. On ox was roasted, and “whiskey” was free to all who cared for it, and we are told that nearly all the men smiled several times during the day, yet no evidence can be brought today to prove that anyone, not even the chief, Blue Jacket, took a drop too much. Judge Robert Fleming presided at the table, and patriotic speeches were in order. We could make a goodly volume out of the incidents we have gathered concerning those days, from gray-headed men and women who were then the beaux and belles of the settlement. There are men now living with us who, as youngsters watched, or with their sinewy arms helped to work the “solid oak field-piece” which, on that first celebration of the National Independence did as well as metal cannon could have done, the honors devolving upon it.

“In the summer of 1825, Judge Woodward of Detroit, John Steward, and Wm. W. Howard brought the claim of Godfrey and his partners, and laid out a village on the west side of the river, and called it Ypsilanti. The reason for giving it this name may be stated in a few words. In 1821 the Greeks rebelled against Turkish rule, and chose Alexander, son of Constantine of the ancient family of the Ypsilanti as leader. In June of 1821 he was defeated, his army routed, and himself thrown into an Austrian prison. His brother, Demetrius, was now chosen as a military leader, who, as a semi-guerrilla warrior, displayed remarkable skill and bravery, holding in check with a handful of men, a large army under the command of Ibrahim Pasha, while the powers of Christian Europe, allied to put a stop to the cruel butcheries so constantly perpetrated by the Turks, were vanquishing the Turkish forces on the sea.

Such was the state of affairs, when in 1823 Henry Clay was re-elected to the House of Representatives, and warmly seconded the efforts of Daniel Webster, to secure the recognition on the part of our Government, of the Greeks as an independent nation. During this session of Congress Henry Clay made one of his soul-stirring speeches, which painted in vivid colors the cruelties sustained by the Greeks and the brave deeds wrought by Ypsilanti and his heroic followers, and this name, which had already flown on the wings of fame over mountains and seas, by the aid of Clay's ringing tones, penetrated the wilderness, and when the little band of pioneers whose cheeks were still flushed with the victory we had so recently wrung from a would-be tyrant, had platted their village on the banks of the beautiful Huron, they showed their love and sympathy for these far away fellow patriots by giving it the name of the man who of all their number was best known to them; and to this day old men's eyes kindle with youthful fire whenever they recount the brutal murders perpetrated by the Turks and the brave deeds of the Greeks, with nearly the same vividness as when they tell of the days of 1812–13. They rehearse the stand made at the mills of Lerna almost as enthusiastically as they do the day when Perry struck so vigorous a blow for our nation's honor; and Ypsilanti is to them what it ought to be to all, a name fraught with historical interest. and to us who are citizens of this city it should be ever a bond of union.

Ypsilanti town was first attached to Wayne County, the officers and magistrates receiving their appointment from the Territorial Governor. In 1825, the Detroit and Chicago road was surveyed to this place and was “a hard road to travel,” especially in the wet season of the year, for a long time.

“The first town meeting was held in the spring of 1827, fifty-nine votes were cast. Fr. Abel Millington was elected supervisor, and Asa Reading, Clerk. In 1828 a bounty was offered for the scalps of wolves and bears.” In 1829 the good people concluded that there was a little too much drinking of whiskey for the good of the town and it was concluded to have less of the business done, but there seemed no need to waste the stock on hand, and it is said that the whole town turned out for a “jollification” prior to closing it out. This effort seems to have proved abortive, for in the winter of the same year we find a missionary here reading Dr. Beecher's sermons on the “Use of Intoxicating Drinks,” and organizing a temperance society, the first in the county. The first death, that of David Beverly was in 1824. The community does not appear to have been “over-righteous”. The first public prayer in the county was made by Deacon Ezra Maynard in 1824, while he was passing through, on his way to settle near Ann Arbor. Sundays were prolific of evil rather than good. From 1830 and thereafter there were with more or less regularity religious services of some sort on the Sabbath. The first School was taught by Miss Hope Johnson at Woodruff's Grove in 1826–27. The first school house was a 16 × 16 feet log building. The second one was the brick building now forming a part of the malt-house on Forest Avenue east. The first Sabbath school was held in July 1828. Fourteen children and five adults were present. No one could pray. Mr. E.M. Skinner read a chapter from the New Testament and the school “being divided into two classes, Mrs. Mark Norris took one and Mrs. Doolittle the other.”

In 1830, Rev. I.M. Weed, a man noted among the early settlers, and who was for seventeen years the faithful pastor of the Presbyterian church made his home in this city.

During the spring of 1838 the Michigan Central Railroad ran the first train of cars that ever left Detroit from that place here. Gov. Mason, the governor of the newly created State, Hon. John D. Pierce who has so long resided here and who was then Superintendent of Public Instruction, Commissioner Wells and the other State officers together with the members of the Legislature then in session were invited by the officers of the road to make the trip. An ambitious Quaker of Battle Creek was eager to run the train as engineer, and being permitted brought the party out in good shape, but on the return burned out the flues of his engine, thereby compelling the entire party to make the last two miles of the homeward trip on foot, and causing the company an expense of five hundred dollars for repairs. What a wonderful change between that first “run” of a passenger train through the dense forest then standing between here and Detroit, and the hundreds of trains which today rush in all directions from Detroit through the State and Canada! And yet the world is scarcely thirty-seven years older than it then was.

In 1838 Benjamin Follett a man of large enterprise and who did more than any other one man to build up the city came to Ypsilanti.

In early days the frontier settlements were often made places of resort by the worst class of people, who, having committed a crime in one locality, would move to a more distant settlement. For the punishment of such characters, the law seems to have been wholly inadequate, and the people were obliged to unite for self-protection, hence it was that in 1838 the “Ypsilanti Vigilance Society” was organized. Several citizens still living here were among its members. It was confidently expected that the best citizens had in every case been selected for the work to be done by the society, but when the various committees had been appointed after the organization of the society, it was found that some of the worst rogues in the community had been chosen to ferret themselves out. That need for such an organization existed is proved from the fact that during the first year of its existence over one hundred criminals were arrested, and many hundreds of dollars worth of stolen property recovered. Thus much may we say of the history of our city—-more would be foreign to our subject.


The citizen points with pride to our churches. Few cities of our population can boast of a larger attendance upon Divine worship.

Methodist-—In point of age, the Methodist Society stands first. The present building was erected in 1844, but was enlarged and greatly improved in 1868. The property of the church is located at the corner of Washington and Ellis Streets, and is worth about $20,000. Rev. J.M. Fuller is pastor, and the present membership is three hundred.

The African M.E. Church Society has a commodious house of worship on Adams Street. It is in a flourishing condition, having about eighty members. Rev. A.T. Hall, pastor.

Presbyterian—The Presbyterian is the second church society in regard to age. The present church building, situated on Washington Street, was dedicated in ′57. It is of brick, and is 55 × 96 feet, with a lecture room in the rear 23 × 50 feet. The spire is one hundred sixty-two feet high. The property belonging to the society is worth $30,000. Rex. Geo. P. Tindall is pastor having been called to the position in 1863. The present church membership is four hundred fifty.

Episcopal—The third church organization in the place was the Episcopal. The building which the society now occupies was built in 1857. It is a fine brick structure, situated on Huron Street—Rev. John A. Wilson, the present pastor has faithfully served his people since 1847, over a quarter of a century. The property, including parsonage, is worth $30,000.

Baptist—The Baptist Society was organized in 1836. The present building was erected in 1850, and was enlarged and improved in 1865. It is 40 × 80 feet with a large basement used for prayer and lecture room. The property, situated on the corner of Cross and Washington Streets, is worth $15,000. The society recently resolved to build a brick edifice, the initiatory cost to be $30,000. Rev. J.S. Boyden is pastor, and the number of members is three hundred forty-seven.

The Colored Baptist Society occupies a Chapel on High Street, belonging to the First Baptist Church. Rev. Caleb A. Lamb is pastor, and the society is in a thriving condition.

Catholic—The church and other property of the Catholic Society is situated on Cross Street, and is worth about $23,000. The buildings, save one, are of brick. The church was erected in 1856 and is 36 × 100 feet. Father Murray is pastor. The congregation numbers about one thousand. The school numbers one hundred fifty pupils.

Lutheran—This society occupies a church of its own on Congress Street. Rev. Mr. Matschert is pastor, and the membership is about one hundred eighty.


One of the most interesting portions of the history of Ypsilanti is that of its schools. In very early times, the place was noted for its excellence in this direction and as early as 1842–3 people desiring good teachers came here to find them. The men and women who did the labor necessary to produce this state of affairs are for the most part living among us. Some of our younger readers may be surprised to learn that as early as 1837, Chauncey Joslin commenced to “hew out his fortune” by teaching in the district school of the village. Mr. C. Woodruff, now editor of the Sentinel also taught Greek and Latin in Mr. Landreth's Classical School, to which the young men whom the broken-up branches of the University had let loose, came for instruction. Afterward he conducted the school on his own account. The large brick hotel erected where the Seminary now stands, (NW corner of Cross and Washington) the terminus of a railroad projected from this city to Adrian, was purchased by Rex. J.H. Moore, who established a seminary under the principalship of Prof. Eaton, a fine scholar and teacher (now deceased), but whose name and virtues are enshrined in the hearts of many of our citizens, at that time his pupils. Rev. Mr. Tindall was for a time an efficient assistant. Time was when Mrs. Mark Norris felt that the children of the place must have better instruction than could be got from the meager facilities afforded them and opened a “select school” in her own house. We could name others who are not recognized as teachers now who have taught—and that successfully—in our schools. E.J. Mills, A.C. Blodget, C.R. Pattison, Mrs. Estabrook, Mrs. Buck, Mrs. Blackman, and Mrs. Webb, are among the number. In 1849 the present public schools were organized under a special act of the Legislature authorizing the Board to “adopt any system of schools it saw fit which would not conflict with the school laws of the State. Then was the intelligence of our citizens manifested. The seminary building was bought of Mr. Moore and the pioneer Union School of Michigan was established. Prof. Estabrook was secured for principal in 1853, and remained for nearly fifteen years. The good this school did for other towns prior to a more general establishing of similar schools is too well known to need repetition here. It has graduates far and near who can speak for it. At present there are employed by the Board, at an annual expense of about $10,000 eighteen teachers. The high school building was erected in 1857 and is 46 × 95 feet, with two wings each 37 × 69 feet. The building is three stories and basement, the first story being twenty feet high, the second and third each fifteen feet high. It is equaled but by one school building in the State. The building in the Fifth Ward is two stories and basement, and is built of brick, and is large and commodious. In addition, there is a school for colored children which differs from the other schools in naught save color. The building is of brick; the same course of study is followed as in the other school and just as efficient teachers are employed.

Many of our citizens have come here for no other purpose than that of educating their children, but owing to the peculiar advantages the place affords for beautiful and yet not expensive residences, have remained permanently, and others are following the example of these.

Tuition to residents is free, and non-residents are required to pay only a small fee for incidental expenses.

Normal School—On the west side of the river, at the head of Cross Street, are the buildings of the State Normal School. The central building was erected in 1851–2, in accordance with an act of the Legislature passed in 1849. The citizens of Ypsilanti and vicinity, besides the ground gave $13,000 toward its erection. It is of brick, 58 × 100 feet, and three stories above basement. It was dedicated to its peculiar uses October 5th, 1852. The building at the left was erected in 1865, and is used as a Model School. It is built of brick and is three stories high. The school employs a corps of twelve professors and instructors, besides the aid it derives from its pupil-teachers, by whom the work in the Model School is largely done. Prof. Daniel Putnam superintends this department.

A. S. Welch, President of the Iowas Agricultural College, was Principal of the school during the first thirteen years of its existence. He was followed by Prof. D.P. Mayhew, at present a member of the State Board of Education. In 1871, Mr. Mayhew retired from the position, and Prof. J. Estabrook, who now fills the position, was elected to the Principalship.

The school has graduated more than four hundred trained teachers. In addition to its graduates, it has sent forth an army of young men and women who have instilled into the primary schools of this and neighboring States the intelligent enthusiasm and love of a higher education which they received while here.

Tuition is free, a small fee for incidental expenses only being charged.

Thus it will be seen that Ypsilanti still offers, as it did in earlier days, when it stood forth as the pioneer school town of Michigan, the most favorable opportunity for acquiring a thorough and liberal education.

NOTE—For instruction in both vocal and instrumental music, Ypsilanti offers the best of opportunities. It has long been known as the home of some of the best musical talent to be found, and its teachers in both departments cannot well be surpassed. Vocal music is taught as a branch of study both in the State Normal and in the public schools. Instruction in instrumental music can be had upon reasonable terms and from the best masters.

Since 1868 there has been constantly growing in our midst a love for oil painting which has developed into a good degree of excellence. Able teachers have given such valuable instruction, and have found such apt pupils as to already furnish regular instructors to those seeking aid in this direction.

This fascinating early history of Ypsilanti will be continued, due to its length, in the next Gleanings.

Author Note— Charles Rich Pattison, who authored the genial history of Ypsilanti reprinted in part in this issue, was Editor-publisher of the Ypsilanti Commercial 1864–87. Mr. Pattison came to Washtenaw County on May 3, 1845, a graduate of Newton Theological Seminary and an ordained Baptist Minister.

He taught in district school 2 miles west of Ypsilanti on Chicago Road in the winter of 1846–47 and graduated from the University of Michigan in 1850.

Mrs. Pattison was Ellen Fry before her marriage, sister of Mrs. Lizzie Samson of Ypsilanti. Nine children were born to the Pattisons.

Mr. Pattison retired to Eustis, Florida in 1887 and died at Delant, Florida on February 1, 1908.