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Remembrance of Things Past

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Author
Foster L. Fletcher
Rights Held By
Ypsilanti Historical Society
OCR Text

I have been accused of remembering incidents, events and scenes before I was born in 1897.

I do remember an uncle, William Scotney, bringing souvenirs in 1901 from the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York. It was September 6th of that year that President McKinley was shot-shot by a harmless-looking little man with an arm in a sling and a bandaged hand as though injured. The few Security Guards in those days-you may remember, President Lincoln had only one guard the night he was shot-and McKinley's guards gave their attention to a men who looked suspicious and a trouble maker. So they passed the little man with his arm in a sling with hardly a glance. Leon Czolgosz, the unsuspected assasin, had no trouble coming face to face with the President. As the President put out his hand, the assasin moved his bandaged hand forward and shot the President in the stomach, or as Dr. Ray Yoder liked to say, in the level of the umbilicus.

After that World shaking event, we spent hours, not tracking down the assasin, but searching through the Sears-Roebuck Catalogue to find the picture of a pistol small enough to fit in the palm of a man's hand. The pistol was there alright and many others.

In the winter of 1910, two robbers broke into Brabb Jewelry Store at 110 W. Congress which is the location of the Moray Jewelers today. The two robbers, on foot of course, wuth their loot went over to the Depot to catch an early train to Detroit. In those days, there were fourteen passenger trains that stopped in Ypsilanti. The Station Master in the Depot was Henry C. Minor, telegrapher, dispatcher, ticket seller, a very able and industrious man. Minor knew there was something wrong with this pair and had them stand in a corner while he made a phone call to the Police. Milo Gage was the Marshall and naver had more than two men to help him. As Minor went to the phone he turned his back to the robbers and they immediately shot him and ran from the station. Minor, although fatality wounded managed to get over to East Cross Street, brace himself against a telephone and shot at the fleeing robbers. He hit one, wounded him severly, but they managed to get away and Minor simply slumped to the ground and bled to death. Later, the robbers were caught in Detroit largely because the wounded one had to have surgical attention.

In the station on that early morning was Thomas O'Brian, a thirteen year old boy there to pick up his morning papers as they were thrown off the Blind Baggage. But with the shooting, Tom got down under the passenger benches never having been in such a situation. He recounted the episode many times during the rest of his life.

Charles Edward King, Sr. was born September 12 1823 in London, England. The son of George R. and Maria Howell King and came with his parents to Ypsilanti in 1837 where his father opened a Grocery Store on E. Congress as it was called. In 1842, George R. King built the three story brick building at the SW corner of Congress Street and S. Huron. He established his grocery there which continued as an unusual grocery for the next one hundred years under the ownership of the King's son, the grandson, plus the addition of John Lamb, and succeeded by his son, Charles King Lamb.

Let us go on up Congress Street. Next door was the Smith Brothers Drug Store and then the Joseph King Shoe Store-no relation to Charles King-and every summer that shoe store, with every shoe sale, gave a shoebox of fire-works. Even though I was a barefoot boy with cheek all summer except on Sundays, in a family of four boys, somebody always needed a pair of shoes.

Further west was the Witmire Saloon and then the Clark Bakery, 107-109 W. Congress Street. James Clark was born December 23 1869 on Prince Edward Island-came to Ypsilanti about 1900 as a Baker.

In 1911, his wife stricken with a terminal illness, required constant nursing care. The nurse planned on be coming the second Mrs. Clark when the demise occured in 1912 but Clark had other ideas which did not include the nurse.

Soon wives and husbands of prominent people began receiving anonymous letters saying: “Did you know your husband, or wife, was in Recreation Park last night with so and so…?' Only the letters were much more lurid, in detail.

Soon an Ex-Mayor, a high ranking Educator, a well known Industralist and other prominent men left town…It was always men, never any of the women involved. Use of the mails was a Federal Offense, and some way or other, the Nurse was accused of writing those letters. One of the strangest bonbs that ever fell on Ypsilanti.

One successful shoe merchant named in the case, later said it all helped his business…women came to buy shoes and many women came just to look at him…The case was heard in Federal Court in Detroit and the morning interurban had defendants sitting on one side of the car and the outraged spouses on the other. It was front page news with pictures for the Detroit papers. Barely mentioned in the local paper. Handwriting experts could not agree and there never was a conviction.

But let us continue on Congress Street. The First National Bank was where the Willoughby Shoe store is at 121 Congress, with Asa Dow the first President. Asa Dow was the man who built the brick mansion where the Ypsilanti Historical Museum is located at 220 N. Huron Street. In 1905 the Bank moved to 133 Congress, the corner of S. Washington and Congress. It was a large three story brick building occupied in the 1890s by Harris Brothers & Co. Grocers with meats and baked goods-also manufacturers of Grape Leaf Baking Powder.

George Harris moved to Detroit in 1899 and D.L.Davis moved into the building with a Grocery and Crockery Store. When the First National Bank bought the building in 1905, Don Louis Davis moved to 200 W. Michigan on the corner with Herb Hopkins as partner.

I do not remember the entrance to any of the places I have mentioned, except one, and it had fascinating swinging doors. I thought it the entrance to the Bank…It was several years later I learned it was the Witmire Saloon. As you crossed Washington Street, there on the corner is the big three story brick building built in the 1840s by the Larzeleres and housing the Ament Saloon.

Later the Saloon was owned by the Max Brothers. Matt Max and brother Fred were tending bar at the time Jack Johnson, heavyweight Champion 1908–1915, with his automobile caval-cade stopped at the Bar for a drink on their way to Detroit. The road from Detroit to the East edge of Washtenaw County was paved in 1911 and one of the longest paved roads in the Middle We.

Before 1915, there were several shortorder restaurants and five full scale restaurants. The Hawkins House had begun to decline. There were Boarding Houses such as Patrick Doyles in the middle of the block on South Adams Street, and Oscar Westfall's-unrelated to Jim-on North Huron Street where the Masonic Temple was built in 1909. There were several Boarding Houses nearer the Normal College which had an enrollment of less than 1000 students and no dorms. I have heard from unreliable sources that most of the saloons had free lunches.

There were at least seven Drug Stores. The Frank Smith Drug Store was where the Greene Jewelry is located-or for those of you who may remember, it was next door to Davis & Kishlar Dry Goods.

Frank Smith was an enterprising young man. A graduate of Dartmouth College in 1857 and persuaded to come to Ypsilanti by Dr. F. K. Rexford. The Smiths lived at 7 N. Normal which later became the home of the P.R. Clearys.

On North Huron Street it was Rogers, Weinman & Mathews Drugs & Soda Fountain. Duane Spalsbury Drugs was at 112 Congress and Erastus Samson had a store as early at 1842 in a wooden frame building at 118 where he sold Drugs, Whiskey and Gin. That store was burned out in the great fire of 1851 but rebuilt with brick that same year. Samson was in business in that building until well into the 1890s and then sold to C.W. Rogers who operated a Drug-bookstore at 118 Congress and it became the second location for Rogers, Weinman & Mathews in 1901.

From a clever combination of those three names came the ‘Rowima' store on West Cross Street. A favorite spot for Normal Students.

The R.N. Kilians lived on North River Street and had an early Drug Store at 37 East Cross Street for many years. The Weber Drug Store in that location has been owned and operated by Don Wallaker since 1958.

And now if you are still awake and not as H. Allen Smith liked to say: ‘Lost in the Horse Latitudes', I would like to have you bring the Union Block into focus in your minds. It is the big three story brick structure on the NW corner of Michigan Ave. and N. Washington Street.

Joseph Sanders was the promoter of this tremendous brick structure. It extends for seven store fronts from 200 W. Michigan through 212. Anne And Gordon Wallace are to be commended for what they are doing in the building at 210 W. Michigan.

Joseph T. Sanders came to Ypsilanti in 1857 from New York State. He worked in a Grocery Store for several years and then in 1868 he jcined Clark S.Wortley in buying out S. Hesslein, Clothier.

Their store was on the North side of Congress, and perhaps that business was in the building at 110 Congress which was owned by C.S. Wortley and his heirs for many years. It was in 1873 that Sanders withdrew from the partnership. He became interested in real estate. C.S. Wortley moved the business to 124 W. Michigan.

In 1879 Sanders with others planned and executed the building of the Union Block, the largest structure ever built in downtown Ypsilanti. Three stories high and divided into seven store fronts with Sanders keeping the first two at the Washington Street corner.

He had a men's clothing store there for a decade and then set some kind of record on February 22 1890 by dropping dead in front of his store. In 1888, he built what was known as the pride of south Huron Street at 114 Huron. He did not live long to enjoy this fine home but it was Mrs. Sanders' home until her death in 1933.

When the Union Block was built in 1879, the Greek Revival frame structure known as the Hawkins Tavern was located on that corner and a very fine Tavern it was. Rooms for travelers and stables for the horses. That old handsome building was moved west and in back of the new brick Hawkins House Hotel which was west of the Union Block. The Greek Revival frame building was used as a storehouse and also to stable horses belonging to guests at the new Hawkins House. Sumptuous meals were served in thst hotel's elegant dining room. It was the one bright spot on the rough road from Detroit to Chicago. The old ninety nine year old Hawkins House is being remodelled into apartments by Andy Smith and Walter Patchak.

As you may remember, the survey for the Detroit to Chicago Road was begun by the United States Government in 1825 and intended as a military road. The road itself was built largely by each Township and County. No cannon or cavalry ever passed on that road. However, the Glideon Tour of Automobiles in 1909 from Detroit to Denver, came through Ypsilanti, turned on Ballard Street and over to Cross Street and then west instead of following the old Sauk Trail through the Irish Hills.

The last time a horse drawn vehicle came from Detroit to Ypsilanti on that road, was during our Centennial Celebration in 1923. It was a stagecoach with horses driven by Joe Warner Passengers were Mary Fowler Nissly, Mary Hover, City Nurse and Mrs. R. Clyde Ford.

West beyond the Hawkins House, in 1880 Daniel Lace Quirk headed a group that included F. P. Bogardus and Henry Curtis, they built the beautiful Opera House where many famous people performed. The old poet, James Whitcomb Riley (1849–1916) of ‘The Frost is On the Pumpkin' fame read his poetry. James O'Neal (1847–1920), father of Eugene O'Neal, performed on that stage. The accoustics were perfect.

The front part of the building with the domed tower was destroyed by the cyclone in 1893. The tower was not replaced but the building and theatre was restored.

Stephen Dodge, with a jewelry store in 110 Congress was always interested in plays and theatre and promoted and directed many plays prior to 1914 with local people in the casts. Then the pig plays from New York which used to stop at the Opera House in Ypsilanti began going to the Whitney Theatre in Ann Arbor and our Opera House became a place for vaudeville and then moving pictures…with the famous screen vamp-Theda Bara-some of the old timers insisted Theda Bara was born in Ypsilanti, the daughter of a shoe cobbler-but Theda Bara was claimed by many small towns.

Emery Beal's Drug Store was at 224 Congress Street in the front part of the building that housed the beautiful Opera House which lost out to a parking lot. Emery Beal came to Ypsilanti in 1893 after graduating from the University of Michigan. He was succeeded in 1918 by Bruce Haig who moved the business to the corner of Washington Street in the Union Block.

I think two hardware stores had big freight elevators-Lefurge on North Huron Street and Carpenter on Congress-Lefurge was killed when he fell in his elevator shaft-and as the Insurance Companies might ask: “Did he slip or was he pushed?” Perhaps some of you who may have lately been in the Adult Book Store can tell me whether the big old creaking elevator is still there from the days of Wallace & Clarke Furniture and Undertaker and then Clarke & Augustus Furniture.

On North Huron Street in the first block, the Bert Readers opened the Vaudette Theatre with movies. Their son Russell was in school with this relict. He knew how to operate the projector while his parents went down near the screen and Mrs. Reader played the piano while Bert sang about “The Morning Glories twine around the same old door' as still color pictures were shown on the screen. Son Russell used to let us in in the afternoon after school to see the show. You sat in straight wooden kitchen chairs in a room like an empty store. A ticket cost 5¢ which none of us had. I was never in the movie across the street from the Vaudette and can't recapture the name. The Bijou was on old Congress Street and near the First National Bank. Al Rennie was an early manager of the Opera House and put in a big movie screen and also vaudeville. As late as 1920, movies are listed for the Martha Washington Theatre and in a place with movies and vaudeville-the Wuerth Theatre.

In those old days nearly every house had a barn for a horse and a manure pile from the horse…Several of the old brick barns survive. Back of 160 N. Washington and also one back of Mackraft Shop next door. An interesting one back of 120 N. Adams Street that was probably built by Joseph Kitchen, an early well to do merchant. At 106 S. Huron there is a brick barn on each side of the alley. When Ward Swarts was here, he used to visit about the unusual number of brick barns in Ypsilanti and thought they ought to be catalogued. In the 1890s, Ypsilanti had 15 groceries-13 on Congress Street between Huron and Adams, 11 saloons, 5 cigar makers, 4 blacksmith shops and 4 milliners. Today there are no cigar makers, cigar makers, blacksmiths or milliners. No meat markets or grocery stores in the downtown except perhaps the Bazley market in the old Dunlap Grocery location.

The tremendous Brooks Market, established not too far by Daniel Brooks in 1937. Expanded and successful, it has been carried on by Dan's two sons, Wilfred and Thomas. Thomas Brooks was brutely murdered on the morning of April 27th as the store opened for business. Wilfred Brooks continues going on with the business.

The last blacksmith in Ypsilanti did not have a shop. He was in the Golde Patent factory on South River Street and his name was Max Heesch. Milliners disappeared about 1930 along with the demise of the Electric Interurban and the Cigar Store Indian.

Wood was the source of heat in those old days. In 1888 there were 2 coal and wood dealers listed and 5 just out and out wood dealers-everybody had a woodshed and outhouse. The old baseburner coal stove came in the 1890s and there was one in nearly every living room. In 1901 there were at least 7 coal dealers and no wood dealers. Perhaps you can tell me where I can order a ton of coal today… A $50 cord of wood, yes, but I don't remember how many sticks in a cord.

O.E.Thompson & Sons sold lots of coal as one of their many business enterprises. The story is told, and I am certain it must have been a competitor who told it-that one day when the Thompsons were scolding one of their drivers for his mistakes. They said: ‘John, you are so dumb and stupid. why you haven't learned one thing since you came to work here six years ago.' John was used to scoldings and said: ‘Oh, yes I have. I've learned there is 1400 1bs in a ton of coal.'

And now what type business survives? Not the Groceries, the marvelous Meat Markets which were almost as numerous as Groceries. Nor the Drug Stores, or the Shoe Stores…It is the Saloon in spite of 14 years of Prohibition.

As you can see, I have been fumbling with those forgotten days and forgotten names in the years from the end of the Century and the beginning of the 20th. The Spanish American War in 1898 had little effect on life in general. It generated great Patriotiam and songs such as: ‘When Uncle Sam Finds Out About the Maine, Ther'll Be War Between Us And Spain.’ The horse, the bicycle and the interurban and the railroad took care of transportation-and everybody walked. The Church and the School were the centers of social life. But in September 1914, as we returned to high school, there was talk in the halls of something that had happened in far off Europe and War was beginning, all so far away. World War I began slowly with subtle changes; Woman's Sufferage, Durant had formed General Motors, the Ford Motel T was everywhere, Dodge Brothers began manufacturing of their auto-mobile, a Mexican bandit was a serious menace…then as the War ended, the great change was in evidence: Women openly smoking, Bobbed Hair and invading Barber Shops and Saloons. The popular song stated the problem clearly; “How You Gonna Keep Them Down On The Farm. After They've Seen Paree?”.