Ypsilanti is a small town of 4.2 square miles in Southeastern Michigan about 30 miles West of Detroit. Largely because of its proximity to Detroit Ypsilanti has had a very interesting history. I think you’d be hard pressed to find a city of equal size that can match Ypsilanti in its contributions to the world.
The City of Ypsilanti’s history begins with the Native Americans. Although no tribes stayed in the area or claimed it for themselves the Huron River was used for transit and the banks and clearings (Water Street and Riverside Park) were favored by the Native Americans as resting, burial and hunting spots. This area was also an area where many Indian trails intersected the largest being the Pottawatomi Trail that extended West to Illinois and beyond. Our present day US-12 is based on the route of the Pottawatomi.
Along with the Pattawatomies there were Chippewas, Ottawas and Wyandots or Hruons. It is important to realize that even before being removed there were very few Indians in the whole of Michigan. The best estimate in 1764 was a population less than 5000 in the whole of Michigan. It is also important to note that the 4 tribes of this area were friends of the French and hostile to the English.
Although Detroit was first settled in 1701 there wasn’t a white building West of that community until 1809. At this early time it was the French that populated Detroit and the French traders were opposed to settlements. The French relied on the woodland creatures and the Native Americans for there livelihood and knew progressive settlements would drive both from the area. The other issue for settlement was the turbulent times of the area. Detroit was passing hands between the British and the French and eventually the Americans. When you add native American claims and allegiances and a heavily forested frontier to the mix you can understand why settlers didn’t venture far from Detroit.
French Explorer Robert Cavalier De LaSalle Canoed from Portage Lake down the Huron River to Lake Erie
The Wyandot people were struck by Smallpox
With the signing of multiple treaties and American advancement to the West the turn of the century found an area primed for expansion outside the boundaries of Detroit. The Michigan territory was established in 1805 with Detroit its capital and this started the post-Indian history of Ypsilanti. Probably the most notable event in the history of Ypsilanti was the appointment of Augustus B. Woodward as Chief Justice for the Michigan Territory.
Gabriel Godfroy, Francois Pepin and Romaine LaChambre opened a trading post along the pottawatomie trail. It was in the vicinity of where Michigan ave. crosses the Huron River. If you are in Riverside park the trading post would have been positioned where you see the electrical transformers today.
Gabriel Godfroy, Francois Pepin and Romaine LaChambre were deeded the ‘French Claims’ from President Madison. The French Claims totaled 2359acres surrounding their trading post. The Claims were divided into 4 parts the extra division going to Godfroy’s children. The trading post was a fairly crude structure and often had Indians gathered around. It is important to note that Godfroy was a very rich and politically powerful man in the Michigan territory. Godfroy, Pepin and LaChambre never took up permanent residence of the Trading Post. I speculate that Godfroy, Pepin and LaChambre set up the trading post in agreement with Augustus Woodward of Detroit as part of a land speculation deal.
The War of 1812 — Detroit taken under British Control.
Survey taken of Michigan to give soldiers land for their service in the war of 1812. The Surveyor incorrectly survived Michigan as full of swamp land and disease. It is thought that the surveyor just didn’t do his job.
LaChambre sells his claim to Godfroy
The Trading Post burned and was rebuilt in a temporary fashion. By this time most Indians had been driven out of Washtenaw County that the prosperity of the business ceased.
Treaty at Saginaw — The land that would become Washtenaw County forever passed out of Indian hands
The Trading post burned again and was abandoned
Eli Kellogg makes a land claim on the East Side of the River — The first in Washtenaw County since the French Claims
Benjamin Woodruff comes to the area with some of his friends and families from Ohio. Woodruff came with the intention of starting a settlement and profiting from it. The settlement was named Woodruffs Grove. Woodruffs Grove was not the original name for Ypsilanti. Woodruff’s Grove was a separate settlement to the South of the French Claims. For a time Woodruffs Grove and Ypsilanti were two communities that existed side by side. The City of Ypsilanti is based on the land from the French Claims.
Oct: John Byron, his wife Sara and 5 children set out for Woodruffs Grown via an Ox cart from Detroit. The trip took 4 days, they were the first to arrive by cart.
Alpha Washtenaw Byron was born — The 1st white born in Washtenaw county
Wild Animals were still very prevalent in the area including Howling Wolves
Indians would pass through on their way to Malden Ontario to collect pay for there service to the British in the war of 1812.
Godfroy sells the LaChambre claim to Hunt who sells to John Stewart.
Stewart begins to Plot a city
Father Gabriel Richard urged the building of a federal highway from Detroit to Chicago.
Walter Oakman 1st to die — Oakman was a rich Irishman all his land was given to John Phillips by the family. His body is now at Highland cemetery.
Malaria came to Ypsilanti in August, Mrs. Woodruff made porridge to be given to the sick.
Trading Whiskey to Indians was common.
Woodruff’s 1st 4th of July celebration with chief “Blue Jacket” and all the residents
Woodruff builds first mill
Fall and Winter were tough, the community (Woodruffs Grove) was poor, 1 oven in Woodruff’s backyard and 2 ‘mills’ which were made out of stumps to grind corn.
The first house built at the future center of the City of Ypsilanti was a shanty constructed of poles and erected by Stewart on the west bank of the Huron and just North of the ‘Great Road’ which eventually was to become Michigan Avenue.
Joseph Peck buys 85 acres of land on the North side of the French Claims. This is the land which has now become part of the Prospect Park Neighborhood Association.
William H. Harwood — Purchased the land of Eli Kellogg on the East side of the River
Augustus Woodward buys Godfroy’s Claim and joins Stewart and Harwood to plot the city.
Congress commissioned a survey of a road from Detroit to Chicago which would pass through Ypsilanti.
Erie Canal Opened allowing emigrants to reach Michigan by water from Albany, NY.
John P. Kelly starts first blacksmithing shop
Woodruffs Grove became busy as incoming settlers multiplied.
Woodruff built a grist mill on the river. no dam needed because the current was strong
First Distillery built (closed in 1849 because of the Temperance Movement)
500 Indians passed through during the Independence Day celebration on their way to Malden Ontario to get paid for their efforts in the war of 1812. They stayed for 6 days and put on a ‘show’ for the citizens who were scared of them.
John Byron built a saw mill
N/W Corner of Michigan Ave and Harris Byron had a 12 Room House / Tavern
Money appropriated for “Michigan Avenue” but road was in terrible condition.
Bounty put on Bears and Wolves
First Sawmill built
Ypsilanti was a land of drunkards
Temperance society formed by Reverend William Jones
Temperance society allowed light alcohol because total prohibition would have been impossible
Pepin’s claim sold at auction to Andrew McKinstry for $684.00
Godfroy’s Children’s claim had been split between his 9 children and begins to be sold. None of Godfroy’s children every settled in Ypsilanti.
Stagecoach travel from Detroit started
Silas C. Freeman — a missionary who came to lead the fallen (he eventually ended up a drunk)
First brick house built at the corner of Huron and Woodward by Judge Larzelere after he bought Judge Woodwards claims
The Michigan Settlement Rush started with 2000 people arriving in Detroit each week with the purpose of purchasing land and settling in Michigan.
3 Stagecoach lines served Ypsilanti — Cost of 5 cents a mile
Legislation passed to make the settlement into a village
“Cholera War” — Captain Josiah Burton established a quarantine to keep people from Detroit out of Ypsilanti. Governor Stevens T. Mason decided to violate the quarantine and was arrested.
John Stewart wants to name town Waterville, Harwood wanted to name town Palmyra
Name of Ypsilanti chosen by Woodward
A flat bottom boat was built to test the possibility of commercial hauling on the Huron from Ypsilanti to Detroit. The expected cargo was 30-40 tons. The venture failed after a year
2 Sluices cut from the River. 1 for Mark Norris’ lumber Mill in the center of Frog Island and 1 fro the Flour Mill (Me and My Sisters spot on Cross st.
Single Men lived in rooms above the Oliver House (Aubree’s Saloon)
The Chicago Road was opened
Shares for a railroad between Ypsilanti and Detroit began being sold
Bank started in Ypsilanti by railroad shareholders
Charles Woodruff starts training teachers
First Green House and Nursery farm — Ezra and ZK Lay
James Hutchinson built a house on River St. (Grandfather of Shelly Hutchinson — S&H founder)
Michigan State Constitution adopted
Congress passes a bill that will admit Michigan as a State if it accepted the provision that the Northern Boundary line of Ohio would be that fixed by Congress — Michigan would get the Upper Peninsula in exchange.
Michigan holds a convention in September and rejects the proposal to become a state. Michigan then holds another convention in December and fails to invite delegates from Monroe county (the effected county in the border dispute) and accepts the provision to become a state.
One Wagon left Detroit every 5 minutes (most passing through Ypsilanti) during the 12 hours of daylight. As many as 2400 arrivers in Detroit from boats on a single day in May.
Ypsilanti has 120 homes and a population of around 1000
Michigan Becomes a State on Jan 26 — The 26th state
Benjamin Woodruff dies — he had moved to a house on Michigan Avenue
Railroad reaches Ypsilanti from Detroit (small wood depot) $1.50 – 2 trips daily, trip took 1 hour 45 minutes. Railroad was strap and rail.
First Newspaper formed — The Ypsilanti Republican
Ypsilanti Vigilance Society formed for the detection and punishment of crime (Secret Private group arrested 100 in it’s first year)
President Martin Van Buren came to visity McKinstry
‘Old Black Sam’ — 1st colored man in the city, he didn’t want any other blacks in the city and fought with them when they tried.
Ypsilanti becomes a place where loggers would come in the Summers after logging season ended. The Follett house offers entertainment like Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show and Jenny Lynd.
Rail opened to Ann Arbor
Bar opened in what is now “The Tap Room”
No Bridge on Cross street only on Forest and Michigan ave.
East side had the railroad and a very busy business center. The West side only had the post office.
Act of legislature declares “Village of Ypsilanti”
First Black family to settle in Ypsilanti. Ypsilanti was known to harbor escaped slaves
First telegraph dispatch sent from Detroit it went to Ypsilanti
Michigan State Normal School Founded
Still took 2 days to get from Detroit on the Chicago Road
“Michigan Ave” opened from Detroit to Saline as a paved toll road 2cents a mile.
Charles Woodruff revives “The Sentinel” which becomes a very well repected paper.
Great fire at 1am engulfed the entire North side of Michigan Ave from Washington st. to the river.
Local boys became very enthusiastic over the Indian burial ground on the West bank of the Huron River between Catherine and Pearl streets and dug up artifacts. It was said that all homes in the village became museums of Indian artifacts.
Underground railroad run by George McCoy Father of Elijah – McCoy used covered wagons with false floors to take the escapees to Wyandotte for boat passage to Canada. Other families involved were Leonard Chase (house on the summit of the Cross st. hill), Mrs. Eurotas Morton, The Norris Family, and the Prescott family.
“East Ypsilanti” formed because of arguments between the two business districts and jealousy about where tax dollars were spent. West side needed a fire station and the East side didn’t want to pay taxes to supply it.
Official Ypsilanti charter was approved combining the two sides again. The first four ordinances were: Prevention of animals running at large, proper observance of the Sabbath, taxing of dogs and building sidewalks.
Population at the time 5000
Mark Norris Tor down the Great Western Hotel and Built the ‘Thompson Block.’
17th Michigan Volunteer Infantry, mostly from the Normal College, fought in Middleton Maryland with Gen Ambrose Burnside and pushed the confederates back
Depot Town Completed
Highland Cemetery opened
“Normal Regiment” fought in the war
“Thompson Block” housed soldiers and Gilbert Park was used as a training ground
The Ypsilanti newspaper “The Commercial” started
Check out my notes from the Ypsilanti Commercial for the Year 1865
Acts of Legislature officially incorporate Ypsilanti — Within the incorporation are a lot of laws against vagrants and drunks.
Celebration for the ending of the war — April 10: Some citizen commandeered a cannon on the city square and fired it blast after blast until it exploded.
City Mourns Lincolns death –April 15: 5 days after the war celebration the city of Ypsilanti went into mourning at the news of Lincolns death. Services were held on April 19th
The Pottawatomi of the Huron, now numbering less than 100, moved to Athens, South of Battle Creek. After this, except for isolated members, no Indians were left in the watershed
President Johnson, Farragut and Grant visit Ypsilanti.
Ulysses S Grant speaks at the Railroad Depot
Elijah McCoy begins work on teh Michigan Central Railroad as a ‘Fireman’
Rail line from Detroit through Ypsilanti and Saline to Indianapolis started.
Elijah McCoy gets first patent for a lubricating device that starts the term “The Real McCoy”
City has very involved bands and operas
The Sentinel paper evolved into “The Ypsilantian” bought from W.T. Woodruff by a Father, Mother, and Daughter and run out fo the basement office of a Downtown Bank.
Charles Guiteau — President Garfields assassin was thrown off the train in Ypsilanti and found his way from Ypsilanti to Washington to assassinate the President.
Elijah McCoy Moves to Detroit
The Ypsilanti Paper Company drilled a well to find Natural Gas and pure water for it’s production. Instead they found a mineral water stream at 740ft. –3 wells and 2 Sanatoriums eventually built to make use of the Ypsilanti Mineral Water which shipped as far as Chicago and the East.
Cleary College Founded (2 students at Cleary’s School of Penmanship)
The use of water to produce electricity begun, a practice that continues today and limits the flow of the Huron
the Sanitarium on North Huron between MI ave and Pearl
The Occidental House Opens next door to the Sanitarium
Ypsilanti was known to have the finest flagstone sidewalks
Ypsilanti had city water, telephone and electricity
Water Tower erected
The ‘Inter-Urban’ railroad line between Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor begun. Early success was due to the large number of boys at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and large number of girls at the Michigan State Normal School in Ypsilanti.
“Knick Knack Saloon” started — what is now Sidetrack
1892Park Improvement Society formed and Prospect park created
Cemetery moved from Prospect Park to Highland
Ypsilanti Cyclone hits
Temperance Law enforcement battle — William Deubel elected President of the Law and Order League
‘The Hermit of Ypsilanti’ dies — Charles Jarvis died in his unfinished circular house on Huron and Forest (where the DPW yard is now). It was said he suffered from a bowel disorder that forced him to stop working on the house and caused him to isolate himself, he was occasionally seen outside. He died on the same property which he was born.
Dr. Charles Chester Yemans came to Ypsilanti to remodel the Occidental House and make it a first class sanitarium. — “South of the Sunbath” is the hospital department, one of the best in the state and supplied with everything needed for modern antiseptic surgery. Yeman supervised heath at the Sanitarium. Yemans had no authority over management of the Occidental house which admitted guests with the DTs which caused Yemans to resign (Sanitarium closed for good in 1919)
Michigan State Normal School changed to Michigan State Normal College
Street Paving Begun
Sheds (wooden awnings) torn down from stores on Michgan ave.
The James Brothers Henry and Joseph of Windsor Ontario rent a room in the Shad Block of Congress (now E. Michigan Ave.) and Park St. and set up a gambling parlor called the “Ypsilanti Stock Exchange). 60 or 70 patrons would arrive daily on special inter-urban cars from Detroit. They were run out of town after a few days by Mayor Allen.
Michigan Ladder Company Opens
Mark Jefferson – Arrived as head of the Department of Geography at the Normal College and personally oversaw the making of over 1200 maps. The Normal College became known as the “Nursery of American Geographers.” Jefferson died in 1949
Lewis opens the “Ypsilanti Horse Exchange”at 54 East Cross in Depot Town. Once again patrons would come from Detroit and bet on Horse Races. The business brought patrons into Depot Town and didn’t cause trouble so it was allowed to stay open. On the floor above the ‘Horse Exchange’ was ‘Ma Bush and her girls of Negotiable Affection.’ Eventually the Governor got involved in 1911 to shut down the Horse Exchange.
Beyer Hospital started, money donated in the will of Augustus Beyer
Apex Ace Car produced in Ypsilanti
‘The Players Playhouse’ started
Dedication of bust of Demetrius Ypsilanti — 7000 citizens went to witness the presentation. 3500 visiting Ahepans paraded for 2 miles.
Ypsilanti to Ann Arbor inter-urban service ended
Henry Ford begins manufacturing in Ypsilanti
Train runs into ‘Sidetrack’ building
Ford builds Willow Run with help from Charles Lindbergh
Ford Freeway established to bring workers to Willow Run plant (8000 bombers built during the war)
The ‘Tap Room’ is opened — Phyllis Dillers Ypsilanti Hang out
Carl McIntire, an Ypsilanti native, forms the ‘American Coucil of Christian Churches’
Phyllis Diller and Husband lived on Oakwood in Ypsilanti
Willow Run employed more than 42,000 people. Over half lived in trailers. There were 16 private trailer camps in Ypsilanti area
Iggy Pop Born
Douglas McArther Speaks at old city hall and given the key to the city
Michigan State Normal College renamed Eastern Michigan College
Eastern Michigan College renamed Eastern Michigan University
The First Dominoes Pizza opens, it is in Ypsilanti under the name DomiNick’s.
~ “The God’s Children Motorcycle Group” takes over a spot in Depot Town.
Iggy Pop plays with the Iguanas and the Prime Movers
DomiNick’s renamed Dominoes Pizza
Ypsilanti Greek Theater Opens at the EMU Baseball field
First of John Norman Collins victims (The Michigan Murderer) found, it was Mary Fleszar she was 19
Iggy and the Stooges Formed
City of Ypsilanti sues Little League Baseball to force the admission of a girl, Carolyn King, to Little League.
The World Football League is started and the ‘Detroit Wheels’ play at Rynerson Stadium. Sadly, they went bankrupt half way through the season.
EMU changes Mascot from Huron to Eagle
Bill Clinton visits Ypsilanti and eats at Abes Coney Island.