Long ago our city was a forest. A beautiful river wound among the trees, inviting the deer, wolves and small animals to drink the clean water. The only sounds were the songs of the birds, the rustle and swaying of the wind blown trees, and the speech of the animals.
There came a day when Indians began camping on the river bank. They were walking to a clearing called Detroit. Here they could trade furs for beads and other things they had never seen before.
The Indian tribe called the Hurons, made their homes, from time to time, along the river bank. They were Iroquois who had been driven from Canada. The Potawatomi tribe were Algonquins and since they were friendly with the Huron, they camped nearby. A trial called the Potawatomi Trial reached to Detroit from the place where the Michigan Avenue bridge is today.
The Indians used only things they found in the woods to help with their survival. Their clothing was made from skins and furs. Tools and dishes were made from wood, stone, and bone. They were very good carpenters and, with their stone hatchets, made huts, boats, paddles, bows, arrows, bark baskets bowls and traps. They built lodges by bending young trees together and covering them with bark. Fires were built in the center and the smoke escaped through a hole at the top.
Food was uncertain since they depended upon hunting and fishing and had only crude ways to be successful. The men did the hunting but women and children were kept busy gathering berries and digging up wild roots. Later the women learned that seeds could be planted and corn would grow and could be used for good. Crude tools for planting and harvesting were left and found later in the earth on the south side of the river near where our city is now. This proves that an Indian camp became a village where they stayed for some time.
In 1809 it was a great distance to walk single file to Detroit so the Indians were pleased when a Frenchman named Godfroy built a trading post on the river bank. Indians brought their furs here to trade and the Godfroys sent them across the ocean. One day the trading post burned to the ground.
In 1820 the second post was built. This one was also destroyed by fire but not before the Godfroys and two other Frenchman had bought 2000 acres of land west of our river. The Indians could not understand about land ownership and were surprised when they were asked to move. They had believed that they would continue to live as usual and share the land with the new owners.
In 1823, one spring day some men from Ohio came up the river on flat boats. They were looking for a place to build new homes. These men were brave men who were willing to live in a wilderness without even a path in order to make a clearing and build a log house they could call their own.
Many hugh houses were built near the college site. They added elegance to the area.
A setback occured in 1851. A fire broke out and most of the business places on Michigan Avenue burned. They were soon replaced by better buildings and an iron bridge took the place of the old wooden one across the river. All of this prompted the first fire engine called the Tea Kettle. Fireman pumped the water from cisterns behind each house.
By 1850 there were newspapers and people were traveling from north to south by train. The states in the north learned what was happening in the south. The news stated that black people were called slaves because they were owned by the people for whom they worked. If these slaves could run away and get into Canada they were free. Some people in Ypsilanti sympathized with them and helped to free them.
Many came to Ypsilanti in the night and were hidden and fed until they could be taken further under cover of darkness.
One man took them to the river in a covered wagon with two floors. The top floor was stacked with boxes of cigars which he made for sale, but between the two floors lay the people seeking freedom. When they got to the Detroit River a boat would be waiting to take them to Canada
In 1861 the states in the south decided to leave the Union. President Lincoln called for help to keep the United States together and the men from Ypsilanti were some of the first in the state to offer themselves for service. When this Civil War ended the black men were free and many came to Ypsilanti because the city was anti-slavery.
The East side of the town was unhappy with the West side and decided to leave the town and form one of its own. After many meetings the two sides decided that they needed each other so they united and found that together they could form a city. They elected Mr. Chauncey Joslin the first mayor.
The city bloomed like a garden during the next twenty years. The first Prospect School was built and the cemetery was moved and a park took its place. The ladies club planted trees and bushes and added a pond. A cannon was sent from Maine.
In 1893 a Business School called Cleary College brought many people to the city.
The bicycle had made its appearance so people were meeting more. A streetcar called the Ypsi-Ann was pulled by horses between Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor.
Electricity came in the next ten years and the street-car used it instead of horses to make the wheels turn.
The first electric light was on the porch of the mill on Cross Street.
Beautiful gardens were planted at the depot and small bouquets were presented to the passengers on the train when it stopped in Ypsilanti.
A stone has been marked where Prospect Street and Grove Road meet to show us where Woodruff's Grove was located.
The new road was built by cutting logs and placing them side by side across the trail. The thin logs were placed on high ground and thick ones went on the low wet spots. It was called a corduroy road. A cart or wagon could be heard rattling over the logs for a mile coming or going.
The new road had brought enough people to join the villagers, to form a town. There was a store, a mill, a small school house and a church.
People began buying land for one dollar twenty-five cents an acre. Many homes were built. The materials were nicer and were replacing logs and bark. The Norris family built a large home on the east bank of the river. They drove the first two wheeled carriage in town. A stage coach began carrying people from town to town. Other settlements like Plymouth, and Ann Arbor and Dearbornville had sprung up.
A name for the town was necessary. Judge Woodward from Detroit was asked for advice. The news from across the ocean told about a brave Greek General who won a battle for his country. His name was Demetrius Ypsilanti. The people decided to name the town for him so it has been called Ypsilanti to this day. A statue of the general may be seen where Cross street and Washtenaw Avenue meet.
In 1837 Michigan became large enough to be made a state and to get a star in the flag. Soon after Governor Mason visted Ypsilanti.
The first steam engine was coming to town on the railroad track which had joined us to Detroit.
Wood from the trees had played another important role. Very little iron was used in building the track but first blocks, stringers, ties, sills and wedges, all made from wood, formed the bed for the track. Wood would be used in the engine furnaces to make the steam to drive the wheels.
Nearly all the people had gathered at the track to wait for the first iron horse to come in. History tells us that the Governor walked into town because the engine broke down but surely the monster must have followed, snorting fire and smoke and breathing hard.
There was very little talked about around Ypsilanti, except the “cars”. Everyone knew that a new era had begun for Ypsilanti and Michigan.
A depot was built to receive the passengers from the train. This brought a hotel and some stores to the Cross Street area.
The city cemetery was placed where Prospect Park is now. High School pupils were traveling from the outside and staying at school during the week. A hotel where the Cross Street High School now stands was made into a seminary for these pupils. The sleeping rooms were on the third floor.
In 1849 Ypsilanti was chosed as a site for a State Normal School. This was a great honor for the town. Teachers would be trained here. The students would come from all over the country and would need “rooming houses”.
They found just the right place near our river. They began wearing out the axes they had brought with them. New sounds were made in the stillness, by the heavy blows of these axes as many trees were falling. The ground shook with the force of their fall and the birds and animals fled deeper into the forest.
As soon as the homes were built the men went back to Ohio for their families, furniture and stock. One of the men was Mr. Woodruff.
When the families, especially the wives were introduced to their log homes they were quite unhappy. They found the ground wet and swampy, the homes crude and cold and the forest lonely and scarey. They were also brave and unselfish and began thinking of making the best of their fortune. Detroit was the nearest postoffice. The settlement was named Woodruff's Grove.
This same year (1823) in the fall, Mr. John Bryan and his family came all the way from New York in an ox cart. The last four days of their journey was spent hacking a road through to this area. The BRyans stayed with the people in woodruff's Grove until they finished their log cabin in December. In February a baby boy was born to them. They called him Alpha Washtenaw which meant First in the County.
The next spring these few families planted seeds they had brought with them and soon were enjoying potatoes, squash, beans, and corn from their gardens. The men rode their horses to Detroit and bought a few things like molasses and raisins, Mr. Woodruff would bring their mail home in his hat. Honey from the bees provided sweets, game from the forest and fish from the river furnished their meat. The next year 1824 more people came and brought good seed, currant bushes, rose bushes and small apple trees.
The Woodruff's were kind to the new neighbors who were tired and homesick. Mr. Woodruff decided that everyone who had survived the move to this part of Michigan should meet and celebrate. He planned a picnic for July Fourth, when Independence Day is celebrated.
This time, he took the flat boat to Detroit and brought back barrels of food. The ladies cooked over fires in the yard.
Thirty-eight people were living in Washtenaw County and they were all invited. It have been something like the first Thanksgiving.
Ond day in June in 1825 an exciting thing happened. Some men came to measure land. They were trying to find the best place to make a road between Detroit and places west of it. Many people wanted to come to Michigan to build homes and the soldiers needed roads to protect the people.
The surveyors knew about the old trail and they decided to build the new road over it.
The people at Woodruff's Grove were very happy about the road but they were sorry it did not go through their village. Soon they joined the people who were planning a new village where the trail crossed the river.
In 1893 Ypsilanti had another set back. A cyclone either damaged or destroyed most of the business places. Luckily not one was killed. The buildings had to be rebuilt and by 1900 the city looked much like it does today except for the horses and carriages that drove up and down every street and were tied in front of the shops while the owners were inside.
1900 brought the invention of the first automobile. Miss Woodward drove one of the first cars in Ypsilanti. It was a Covert Motorette. The horses snorted, reared, and ran out of control whenever they met one of the contraptions.
The car demanded a change from rough roads. Cross street was the first paved street. Michigan Avenue was bricked so the dirt road was only on the side streets and in the country.
By 1904 Ypsilanti had its first Beyer Hospital, a daily newspaper, 126 street lights, 10 churches, 15 shops and 3 parks. 7587 people lived here and 993 students came to college.
In 1905 a three day reunion was held and 1000 people came back to visit. There were ballon ascensions, parties, band concerts and parades.
The United States had entered a World War in 1914 but by 1920 it was over. An American Legion Post was formed in Ypsilanti. Its members were men who had fought in the war. Another Club called the Chamber of Commerce was working to make Ypsilanti a successful business place.
These organizations united to furnish the best of parades and carnivals. People came from all over the state to see the American Legion Parade on the Fourth of July.
Almost every family had some sort of an automobile and the horse and carriage was disappearing on the streets.
The airplane had been invented and used during the war but one was seldom seen over Ypsilanti.
The Normal was educating teachers from the entire country. A six weeks summer course plus a teacher's examination made a high school graduate into a teacher. A two year course made one a teacher for life. Since graduates wore a cap and gown, Ypsilanti adopted a Town and Gown slogan.
Twenty years of peace then another world war in 1941 found us joining up. Airplanes were quite a common thing by this time and were used to do the greatest damage in battles because they dropped bombs on targets.
A mammoth building and airfield were added just outside of Ypsilanti and bombers were built there.
It seemed like the whole United States moved to Ypsilanti. The big houses were divided into apartments. A whole village called Willow Village was built near the Bomber Plant and homes were built in groups called subdivisions.
New Schools, churches, eating places and Business were added to care for the new neighbors.
When the war ended and the Bomber plant closed the people stayed because the airway became Willow Run Airport and our sky was filled with passenger planes. Kaiser Fraser made automobiles in the factory and later General Motors made auto parts. Ypsilanti had become industrial so the slogan became Where Commerce and Education Meet.
The Normal had grown from a College to Eastern Michigan University.
So much has happened since this metropolis was a dense forest with a winding river we tend to forget the early days.
To prevent this, The Ypsilanti Historical Society has been formed in Ypsilanti.
Interested citizens have furnished a Museum near where the first settlements stood.
When you visit this Museum each picture, early furnishing, articles of clothing or other objects from a former era should remind you of a story in these pages.
The memories of the days gone by should be remembered and told to our children, grandchildren and our great grandchildren so they will be aware of the changes that have taken place and what will take place in years to come.