Posts of interest to local history buffs, written by local history buffs!

Ann Arbor Blues in Black & White

Lightnin' Hopkins, Buddy Guy, John Lee Hooker, B. B. King, Albert King, Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters, T-Bone Walker, Big Joe Turner, Junior Wells--that's the short list. The Ann Arbor blues festivals of 1969 and 1970 saw one of the most astonishing lineups of musical artists of any genre at any time (including the more famed Woodstock festival of 1969).

"Were you there?" was the question many blues fans were asking each another in 1969. But they didn't mean Woodstock, they meant Ann Arbor.

Michael and Stanley and thousands of others were here in Ann Arbor to witness and facilitate the spread of electric city blues as it made its way from the small Chitlin' Circuit to an enthusiastic larger audience hungry for this new, powerful roots-inspired American "folk" music.

Join us Thursday, August 19, 7-9 p.m. as Michael Erlewine, chronicler of popular music and founder of the largest music review database in the world, All-Music Guide, discusses Blues in Black & White: The Landmark Ann Arbor Blues Festivals, with stunning photographs by Stanley Livingston. A book signing, with books for sale, will follow the talk.

Dexter, Chelsea, Manchester and Saline: Then & Now

Dexter villageDexter village

Thanks to local historian Grace Shackman, we've recently added to Ann Arbor Observer: Then & Now dozens of past articles from the Community Observer tracking the histories of our neighboring communities Dexter, Chelsea, Manchester and Saline. Some articles, including one about the origins of area libraries, another on the county's one-room schoolhouses, and a third detailing Christmases past cover the history of the subject in all four locations. You can also read many feature-length articles about the architectural landmarks, businesses and people that characterize the towns, from the Chelsea Private Hospital and the Dexter Underpass to the Manchester Mill and Saline Valley Farms. Grace has also written about the smaller villages of Dixboro and Delhi.

Visit the Underground Railroad in Michigan

Underground RailroadUnderground Railroad

A new book, The Underground Railroad in Michigan, by Ann Arbor's Carol Mull, is a comprehensive exploration of abolitionism and the network of escape from slavery in our state. The book includes both an overview of national events and vivid first-person accounts taken from The Signal of Liberty, an 1840s-era abolitionist newspaper published in Ann Arbor, to explore Michigan's role in the antislavery movement. The Signal of Liberty is available for full-text searching and browsing at: http://signalofliberty.aadl.org/.

For an overview of Ann Arbor's role in the Underground Railroad, you can listen to our podcast with Carol from last year or read Grace Shackman's article from the Ann Arbor Observer. You can also take your own walking tour: Start with this plaque on the Broadway Bridge, then make your way to lower Broadway to the former site where the Signal of Liberty was published (across the street from the Anson Brown Building, which today houses the St. Vincent de Paul store), followed by a brief stroll to 1425 Pontiac Trail for a glimpse of Reverend Guy Beckley's home.

The Art Fairs are Coming: Feels like the (Fifty) First Time

Scene from the first Ann Arbor Street Art FairScene from the first Ann Arbor Street Art Fair

In case you hadn't noticed, the Ann Arbor Art Fairs are about to start. This annual event takes over much of downtown Ann Arbor and the University of Michigan campus in late July and covers them with arts, crafts, activities, refreshments, and music. But the art fairs weren't always the juggernaut that they are today; once upon a time even Ann Arbor's biggest event was just a small one.

With the art fairs on my mind, I started combing through the Ann Arbor News files and came up with this: a front page story about the first art fair back in 1960, published 51 years ago today. The article notes that the fair (which was simply an adjunct to the Ann Arbor merchants' Summer Bargain Days) featured work from 100 artists. This year's fairs will feature nearly 1100 artists. We can only hope to draw "large crowds" this year as well, although the last several years have seen over 500,000 attend, so that should fit the bill.

Click read more to see the full article from the Ann Arbor News. To learn more about the beginnings of the art fair and to see photos of the early fairs, take a look at our online exhibit 50 Years of Originality: A History of the Ann Arbor Street Art Fair.

Beginning Genealogy

Ever wondered about your family history? Find out about the many genealogical resources available and how to use them this Thursday, May 12, at the Genealogy for Beginners class. This class will be held at the Pittsfield Branch of AADL, from 7:00 to 8:30 p.m. Our staff will show how to use several genealogy databases and databases, including Ancestry and HeritageQuest, provide tips for getting started, and answer your beginning genealogy questions. If you have never conducted genealogical research before and want to know how to get started, then this is the class for you.

Anybody Lose a Cow: Ann Arbor Classifieds Then and Now

lost cow

The classified ads are a window into what's going on in a community. For instance, even though most of the ads on Ann Arbor Craig's List are about lost pets and used things for sale, a post like this gives us hints to the exciting night life that our town has to offer:

Two dimes and a nickle - found (A2)
Date: 2010-04-16, 1:27PM EDT

I found two dimes and a nickle on the sidewalk in front of the Arena last night. If you
lost two dimes and a nickle please contact me, I would be delighted to return
them to you. Please be prepared to identify said coins.

Well, things were no less different in Ann Arbor in the mid-nineteenth century. Do you know about The Signal of Liberty, Ann Arbor's historic abolitionist newspaper. We have the Signal on our website, and it's a great resource for learning about the history of anti-slavery in this area.

BUT, it also includes many classified ads that offer an intriguing look into what Ann Arborites were up to in the 1840's.

Here's one from the September 22, 1841 issue from Michael Puttel.
eliza
Let's hope that Michael and Eliza patched things up.

These two from July 7th and August 4th seem to be 1841's version of a lost pet ad.
lost cows
Lost mares
How does one lost a cow... or multiple horses? These two ads also contain the recurring offer for a free Signal subscription in return for Wood! Wood! Wood!

This ad, also from July 7th but recurring throughout the paper's run, is here simply to beg one question: What is a "smut machine"?
Threshing machine ad

Dig these historical gardens

Botanical GardensBotanical Gardens

Over the years local historian Grace Shackman has written about the history of gardens and gardening in Ann Arbor. In May 2001, she covered the history of UM's botanical gardens. She also wrote about the history of garden shows in Ann Arbor from 1926-1941; antique plant specialist, Scott Kunst; and Carl Weinberg's famous Peony Garden.

This weekend Matthaei Botanical Gardens holds their 30th Annual Spring Plant Sale and Fundraiser and next weekend, the Dexter Garden Club will offer plants for sale at the gazebo in Dexter's Monument Park.

Videos of local history now online at the Bentley Historical Library

Your Home Town

The Bentley Historical Library has recently digitized over 1,000 individual films and videotapes as part of their Video Preservation Project, some of which are available as streaming files and can be viewed online. Film subjects include student protest and teach-ins, homecoming and pep rallies, science and medicine. Among them is "Your Home Town, Ann Arbor Michigan", which includes footage of UM football team and coaches, Ann Arbor businesses and their employees, a children's pet parade, and patrons leaving the Michigan Theater. "Michigan on the March" includes scenes of war-related activities on campus during WWII, and another documents the First Vietnam Teach-In in 1965.

"Back Page: A Super Colossal Production" from the Ann Arbor News

In 1936, the Ann Arbor News produced this 16-mm silent film titled "Back Page: A Super Colossal Production." Inspired by The Front Page (1931), this tongue-in-cheek feature chronicles a day in the life of the Display Advertising Department staff as they go about securing an ad from a local business in time for the paper's daily run. 1936 marks the year the Ann Arbor News acquired its new printing press and completed the News building at 340 E. Huron--both of which feature prominently in the film. You'll even catch a glimpse of the Bell Tower under construction and also completed that year.

You may have read that the Library received the Ann Arbor News archive after the News closed last year. Although we have a lot of work to do before this material becomes available, we couldn't resist sharing this film with you right away. You can view the film above or download it here.

University School of Music Building, 325 Maynard St.

School of Music building, 325 MaynardSchool of Music building, 325 Maynard

"In 1893, about two hundred citizens of Ann Arbor formed a School of Music Building Association, buying shares of stock in the total amount of $25,000, to erect a building at 325 Maynard Street. In 1916, the original building was reconfigured and heavily remodeled, to appear as it does in this photograph. The west end of the Nickels Arcade then went up next door, abutting the Music School on the south. Brick on the new facade was laid in alternating courses of stringers and headers, with half-timbering above -- Tudor-style ornament that closely matched the woodwork on the the home of Albert Lockwood, at 700 Oxford Road, which was built in 1910. In 1925, ownership of the School of Music Building was transferred to the University Musical Society. This building was torn down in 1965, after the school had moved to its present location on North Campus. At left is the old Ann Arbor Press Building, which was demolished soon after, clearing the site for construction of an addition to Jacobson's department store (now Borders) and the parking structure above. The Nickels Arcade remains, but an alleyway -- "Ant Alley" -- now runs along its north wall." ~Wystan Stevens

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