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

Beta Theta Pi fraternity house, University of Michigan, c. 1902

Beta Theta Pi house

(Click on image for larger view.)

Beta Theta Pi house, State Street at Monroe (SW corner).

Submitted by Wystan Stevens

A Journey through Ann Arbor, in 1835

Submitted by Wystan Stevens:

An amazing fact: they check your guns when you arrive in Ann Arbor!

The following report, which I have transcribed in its entirety, is a letter from a traveler in Michigan, first published in 1835 in a tabloid: the New-York Mirror, A Weekly Journal, Devoted to Literature and the Fine Arts. Vol. XIII, No. 4, Saturday, July 25, 1835.

[My copy was purchased on eBay, in September, 2007.]


IT is a marvelous country, this western world, and it is the only land under the sun that has not been too extravagantly spoken of by travellers. Yes, it keeps pace even with travellers' tales, and that is no small merit.

Mr. Hoffman's delightful volumes, and Washington Irving's "Tour," displayed to us a new world; the former spread before us a land shrouded in the mantle of winter, while the latter portrayed the "sere and yellow leaf" of autumn. But the spring and the summer are the boast of prairie land, and he that fails to see those seasons, loses half the pleasure of a trip to the west.

It was on a clear evening in "the leafy month of June," that I set forth from Detroit, late the outpost of civilization, but now called at the place whence I write, "down east." I had come from Buffalo to that city in company with a crowd of grave personages on a disinterested pilgrimage to Chicago, in search of the Golden Fleece, and was glad to take leave of these modern Jasons, and wish them a safe voyage on this new Argonautick expedition. For my own part, I found the steamboat intolerable, especially as a vehement sea-sickness prevented me from "getting my money's-worth" out of the worthy proprietors. I therefore provided myself with a little French pony, and resolved to set forth across the country in quest of adventures and pleasure. After riding nearly all the ponies in Detroit within an ace of their lives, by way of trying, (to the great perturbation of the several owners,) I finally pitched upon a little fellow that racked and paced and cantered to a charm. Having accoutered myself with a broad-brimmed straw hat, a pair of saddle-bags and a blanket, and slung my double-barrelled fowling-piece athwart my back, my pony soon ambled with me out of the busy town. How gloriously independent does a man feel at such a moment! In what supreme contempt does he hold the artificial life of a city, the cares, the bustle and the money-making of life! No matter who he be -- be he as poor as Job, ay, and as friendless too, his soul soars above the little world, he feels his value as a man, he recognises his personal sovereignty, his self-dependence, his native dignity, and with the poet he can feel that,

"Lord of himself, but not of lands,
He having nothing, yet hath all."

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1854 Bank of Washtenaw Five Dollar Note

1854 Five Dollar Bill
(Click image for larger view.)

Other images of early Washtenaw County bank notes are available here

submitted by Wystan Stevens

Angell Hall, U-M campus, featured in September, 1941, Ford News

Angell Hall
(Click on image for larger view.)

The University of Michigan was featured in the September, 1941, issue of Ford News, a magazine which was sent to dealers and buyers of Ford automobiles. The striking cover photo, in color, shows several U-M scholars on the front steps of Angell Hall, where they appear dwarfed by the massive neoclassical columns.

Submitted by Wystan Stevens

1955 Magazine Advertisement

John-Bean fog truck

Ann Arbor Fire Department's John-Bean fog truck illustrated in 1955 magazine advertisement. Also shown is the ivy-covered dining hall of the University of Michigan Law Quadrangle.

(Click on image for larger view.)

Submitted by Wystan Stevens

Advertisement from Threshermen's Review

Threshermen image

An advertisement from the August, 1912, issue of Threshermen's Review
(Click on image for larger view.)

submitted by Wystan Stevens

Argo Mill a Total Loss

Ann Arbor Milling
image from the Downtown Historical Street Exhibits Program online.

from the Ann Arbor Daily Argus, Tuesday, January 5, 1904

"The Fire Yesterday Could Not be Subdued"


Property Insured in Six Companies for $32,000 -- Origin of the Fire a Mystery

The Argo mill, which caught fire at 3 o'clock yesterday afternoon, burned to the ground, causing a loss of nearly $50,000. Insurance to the amount of $32,000 is carried in six milling companies, but this amount includes the grist mill and 9,000-bushel elevator, valued at about $4,500, which were saved.

The fire broke out in the roller room and was discovered by head Miller Sherk and his assistant, H. F. Wolf, who had been in the room only a few moments before, when everything was all right. An alarm was turned in at once, but the flames spread with almost incomprehensible rapidity and by the time the fire department arrived the entire interior of the building was a raging furnace.

It was very evident that the building was doomed and the department devoted their energies to saving the grist mill and elevator and three cars of grain that stood on a siding.

Click READ MORE, below, to view the rest of the article.

Argo Flour Mills Destroyed By Fire

Huron River
image from the Making of Ann Arbor Postcard collection.

Text from the Ann Arbor Daily Argus, vol. 6, no. 26, Monday, January 4, 1904

"As we go to press the Argo Mills situated on the foot of Broadway street are on fire and the mill proper will undoubtedly be a total loss.

The fire appears to have originated in the room in which is located the roller machine used for grinding and was discovered shortly after three o'clock, by Head Miller Church and his assistant, H. F. Wolfe. Mr. Wolfe was in the room just before three o'clock [p.m.] and there were no signs of fire, but when he returned to the room at 3:05 it was all ablaze. The alarm was given and the department responded promptly, but it was soon discovered that the mill was doomed and the efforts of the firemen were directed to saving the elevator which adjoins the mill."

Take a closer look at the image above, a postcard of the mill prior to the fire, in the Making of Ann Arbor Postcard collection.

submitted by Wystan Stevens

Antiques Shows in Ann Arbor

I don't think we should assume a connection between the Art Fair Antique Show on North U and the one that began at the Farmer's Market on Sundays, but quickly got too big (and caused neighbors of the market to complain about the lack of parking) and moved to the Saline Farm Council Grounds, where it became a phenomenon. The Farmers' Market-cum- Saline show was begun by Margaret Brusher, who had got her start as the impresario of the Good Samaritans' Antique Show, an annual nonprofit event, staged by Catholic women to fund Catholic Social Services and other charities. The Good Sams show was a fancy event with ritzy dealers from New York, Florida and California, which set up in the ballroom of a hotel on the south end of Ann Arbor.

submitted by Wystan Stevens

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The Ugliest Building in Ann Arbor?

Federal BuildingFederal Building

"Dear Wystan, since I know you will eventually stumble upon this photograph can I just go ahead and preemptively ask for information about the Masonic Temple? Thanks!" (photo and quote by Phil Dokas)

Phil, I am touched by your faith in my proclivity for stumbling . . . . I also stumbled across this page from Jim Rees, who concurs with your aesthetic assessment of the Federal Building.

Even as the Federal Building was taking shape, witnesses realized that it was not going to turn out well. Its insipid obtrusiveness compounded the felony that had been committed already in removing the Masonic Temple and several inoffensive houses, merely so that several dozen USPS trucks could be parked on a barren lot behind. The building's greatest sin was that it was not special enough for the site. As a structure, it was obviously unworthy of the sacrifice that had been made in the loss of the Temple.

Notwithstanding the negative impact that the new building made on the public mood, and on the downtown streetscape, within a few months of its completion it received awards from the Michigan chapter of the American Institute of Architects, and from some kind of academy of masonry contractors. Coincidentally, these outfits appear to have represented the only people anywhere who actually profited from its existence. I read stories about their awards in the newspaper, and snickered. Everyone could see that the emperor had no clothes.

In a memorable sally, Ann Arbor News columnist Jane Myers referred to the glassed-in staircase bay out in front as "King Kong's shower stall." (DeLaurentiis' 1976 version of the King Kong movie was still fresh in memory.)

John Baird supplies this photo of the Frehsee "Corner House" Building, on State Street at Washington, another worthy contender for your "ugliest" honors.

submitted by Wystan Stevens

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