Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Careful on the Forest Avenue Bridge

In May of 1905, the bridge at Forest Avenue was a new one--and yet it was falling apart. Townspeople were so suspicious that someone painted graffiti on the abutments suggesting that the city had been ripped off.

Conditions at the new Forest Avenue Bridge are getting worse all the time, and now some joker has printed in big letters on one of the abutments "Graft," "Boodle," which was the cause of considerable comment yesterday.

"The break in the southwest abutment has widened so much that were it not for the anchor it would topple over. The strain has been sufficient to crack the corner on which rests one of the main girders of the bridge. As far as the Daily Press knows no engineer has yet examined the structure, but to a layman it looks as if the anchor was not sufficient to hold the side wall together much longer.

"On the east side a crack has also appeared in the same part of the abutment as on the west side. Little can be done at present by the bridge company, as the water is too high, but persons using the bridge would like to see the approaches fixed up so that it would be a little more pleasant to drive over it. If the members of the bridge company could have heard the comments made by dozens of people that looked over the structure yesterday, they would not have been particularly elated."

--May 15, 1905 Ypsilanti Daily Press

Friday, April 6, 2012

A Cow for the Ages



"She was quiet and stocky, yet viewed as beautiful. She had numerous relatives at the insane asylum at Pontiac, which in her case was regarded as a prestigious lineage."

Latest story in the Chronicle.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Sarah Jane Norton Diaries: An Emigrant's Life in Ypsilanti

In the spring of 1864, 24-year-old Sarah Jane Norton, her 28-year-old husband Austin, and the couple's infant son Charlie emigrated from Sharon Springs, New York, to Ypsilanti. Sarah kept a diary over the next 43 years until her death in November of 1906. Her 1864 diary will be serialized here during 2012. To see all entries to date, see the "Sarah Jane Norton" tag at bottom.

At left she is pictured in 1888 at age 49. Introduction to the Norton family.


3/18/1864: Ironed today

3/19/1864: Father, Mother, Charlie and I were over to Mr. Millingtons today visiting Aut would not go I had a very good visit Charlie stuck close to me all day. It was very cold

3/20/1864: Father and I went to Church Ma and Aut stayed home and took care of Charlie

3/21/1864: Washed. Had some calls

3/22/1864: Down to the store and traded some. I have plenty of sewing geting Aut ready for summer Nelly Davis and her man called he is going of tomorrow to join his regiment

3/23/1864: Charlie's arm is working nicely. he is breaking out with the chicken pox

3/24/1864: We had not been to bed but a little while last night when Charlie was taken very sick I was up with him all night. he did not sleep more then fifteen minutes at a time all night his neck is swelling it looks like the mumps

These diaries were written by Sarah Jane Norton and are the property of the Norton Family. They may be used and reproduced for genealogical and historical purposes only. No commercial use is allowed without the express, written permission of Dennis Norton and no charge may be made for, nor income derived from their use.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Sparrow Heads, Cyclorama, Sugar Social: Tidbits from the March 18, 1887 Ypsilanti Commercial

"Now that English sparrows have a price set upon their heads*, what is to prevent some industrious, able-bodied fellow from raising them for the bounty?"

"The Washtenaw agricultural association will hold a cattle fair on the fair ground at Ann Arbor this spring. Sheep shearing prizes will be offered."

"At Fred Davis' drug store may be seen an orange brought home by Capt. Wallace from California, which is over thirteen inches in circumference and weighs nearly fifteen ounces."

"The Young People's Society of the M. E. church will give a maple sugar social in the chapel of the church next Tuesday evening. Hot biscuit and sugar will be served."

"Take Advantage of it While You Can. The Michigan Central Railroad, in appreciation of the liberal patronage to their cheap excursion given last summer now invites you all to go and see the greatest painting ever produced, and known as the 'Battle of Atlanta,' now on exhibition at Detroit, and will make the fare for the trip almost equal to a free excursion. A special train of ten coaches will leave Ypsilanti at 8:50 a.m.; returning will leave Detroit at 5 p.m. Room for all guaranteed. Rates for the round trip, 80 cents for adults; children 12 years of age, 40 cents. Grasp your opportunity and remember the date, Saturday, March 19."**

*For a time a bounty was placed on English sparrows, calculated by the numbers of severed you brought in to some lucky clerk in City Hall. The non-native birds were viewed as pests to farmers.
**Yes, people took a train trip to see a single painting--but this was no ordinary painting. William Wehner's enormous 1886 work 'The Cyclorama of the Battle of Atlanta' covers over 15,000 square feet and weighs over 10,000 pounds. It is the largest oil painting in the world and still exists, on display in Atlanta.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Coldwater State Public School: An Obscured Story

The forgotten story of the Coldwater state public school for dependent children is one I'm telling in an ongoing series of stories. I'm fascinated by this complicated story that mingles tragedy, heartbreak, happiness, and hope, with two major scandals thrown in. At any rate, some of the teachers that served there were from Ypsi's Normal School. Here's a look at some of them. Thanks to the Courier.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Sarah Jane Norton Diaries: Arrived in Ypsilanti

In the spring of 1864, 24-year-old Sarah Jane Norton, her 28-year-old husband Austin, and the couple's infant son Charlie emigrated from Sharon Springs, New York, to Ypsilanti. Sarah kept a diary over the next 43 years until her death in November of 1906. Her 1864 diary will be serialized here during 2012. To see all entries to date, see the "Sarah Jane Norton" tag at bottom.

At left she is pictured in 1888 at age 49. Introduction to the Norton family.


3/11/1864: Ma is not very well she has pain in her head a great deal she has grown some fleashey since she left Sharon

3/12/1864: Ypsilanti is a very pleasand palce our nicely situated our folks are very nicely situated

3/13/1864: Aut took care of Charlie and the rest of us went to Church We did not any of us go this evning

3/14/1864: Washed. Ma took care of Chalie

3/15/1864: I am making Aut some blue shirts to work in he thinks he cannot get work here. We were vaxinated to day. there is a good many cases of the smallpox

3/16/1864: [no entry]

3/17/1864: Father Aut and I went to Aunt Lucindas this forenoon we did not intend to stay long but they would have us stay untill after dinner Charlie and ma stayed home

These diaries were written by Sarah Jane Norton and are the property of the Norton Family. They may be used and reproduced for genealogical and historical purposes only. No commercial use is allowed without the express, written permission of Dennis Norton and no charge may be made for, nor income derived from their use.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Gyrating Bicycle; Circuses; Arrested for Truancy: Tidbits from the March 11, 1887 Ypsilanti Commercial

"Jane Simmons was taken to Adrian* Tuesday for one year. She was arrested under the truancy law and sentenced by Justice Joslyn.

"The Queen City** Quartet will furnish music for the prohibitory amendment meetings which will be held."

"The small boy should be happy, and economical. Three large circuses, Forepaugh's, Dorris', and Sells Brothers', will invade Michigan early this spring."

"The W. C. T. U. will meet at the Methodist chapel Tuesday afternoon, March 15, at 3 o'clock. Topic, Will the prohibitory amendment, if carried, interfere with the use of fermented wine for sacramental purposes? The question for discussion last week, That the tax or license system interferes with the liberty of a greater number of persons than a prohibitory law, was nearly unanimously decided in the affirmative."

"The warm weather has brought out the bicycle, and during the past week Charlie Sweet has been putting his through an unusual number of gyrations much to the enjoyment of the spectators. Charlie has become an adept with the 'wheel'."

--Ypsilanti Commercial, March 11, 1887

*Adrian had a state institution designed for errant girls. Supposedly one main building on the grounds had basement jail cells where especially troublesome girls were kept.
**Ypsilanti was one of several Michigan cities that gave itself the nickname "Queen City."

Friday, March 9, 2012

Interlochen Public Radio sturgeon story

Yesterday I was in Ann Arbor in a WUOM studio for an interview with Interlochen Public Radio about my recent Ann Arbor Chronicle sturgeon story. Here's the finished interview. Grateful thanks to both radio stations for their interest and assistance!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

An order has been received at the local postoffice from the office of the postmaster general as follows: All mail matter sent by the post by Frances F. Cleveland, widow of the late Grover Cleveland, under her written autograph signature, and by Mary Lord Harrison, widow of the late Benjamin Harrison, under her written autograph signature, will be conveyed free of postage during the natural life of each, respectively. --March 8, 1909 Ypsilanti Daily Press

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Sarah Jane Norton Diaries: "Baked some to take on the road to Ypsilanti"

In the spring of 1864, 24-year-old Sarah Jane Norton, her 28-year-old husband Austin, and the couple's infant son Charlie emigrated from Sharon Springs, New York, to Ypsilanti. Sarah kept a diary over the next 43 years until her death in November of 1906. Her 1864 diary will be serialized here during 2012. To see all entries to date, see the "Sarah Jane Norton" tag at bottom.

At left she is pictured in 1888 at age 49. Introduction to the Norton family.


3/4/1864: Baked some to take on the road to Ypsilanti Charlie is not very well Albert came home from Rochester. he went up to Mr Sprongs and stayed till one o'clock then he came home and slept on the floor untill morning

3/5/1864: Washed, picking up a little every day so that I will not have so much to do next week Albert started for his regiment it is hard to have him go again such is war friends must part

3/6/1864: Lib Smith called in the forenon. We went George Smiths and took dinner we were agoing to stay all night but Charlie was to sick

3/7/1864: commenced packing this morning Charlie is not well at all he takes cold so very easy Susy Stafford helped take care of Charlie I could not do much we were agoing to stay Johan Moaks if Charlie had been well enough we took dinner to Mr Staffords went to Mother Nortons and stayed all night

3/8/1864: Charlie was sick all night I was up with him from half past twelve he coughed so hoarse we did not know but what he woud have the croup I stayed up and doctred him and he got better Aut and I called to John Moaks the[y] are disappointed because we do not stay there

3/9/1864: Charlie is quite smart today we started for ypsilanti at half past eaght we went to Canapharie in a wagon We took the 8 o clock express

3/10/1864: We rode all night on the cars We crossed the suspension bridge about midnight it was so dark I could not see much Charlie slept good we had a double seat and laid him on one of them we crossed on the ferry boat to Detroit. we arrived at Ypsilanti at noon it was raining father was waiting for us

These diaries were written by Sarah Jane Norton and are the property of the Norton Family. They may be used and reproduced for genealogical and historical purposes only. No commercial use is allowed without the express, written permission of Dennis Norton and no charge may be made for, nor income derived from their use.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Prohibition Frenzy; Strange-Looking Elocutionist; Water Works Uncertainty: Tidbits from the March 4, 1887 Ypsilanti Commercial

"The crowd that customarily greets the numbers of the Normal Lecture Course was on hand last Monday evening to listen to Mrs. Laura Dainty's readings. Her appearance did not predispose the audience in her favor, but before her first selection was finished she had their sympathy, and held it till the close of the entertainment. She has a good voice, well trained, and is perfectly at home before an audience, but her work as a whole does not compare favorably with Mr. Burbank's."

"The dry goods stock of the late Joseph Kitchen was sold at auction by C. L. Yost this week. Mrs. H. D. Martin will move into the Kitchen store Mar. 15."*

"It must be evident to all candid minds that our people are not prepared to vote on the water works question, until they had more definite information as to a source of supply and the probable cost. What then justified the action of the Council in refusing to hire an expert to investigate the matter?"

"Opera House for March:
Manager Curtis announces that the dates for March at the Opera House have been filled as follows:
Mar 10: Wrestling match between Jake Martin of Ypsilanti and T. J. Murphy of Minneapolis.
Mar. 11: Walter Thomas Mills on the prohibition amendment under auspices of W. C. T. U.**
Mar. 15: M. E. Hawks, lecture on the prohibition amendment under auspices of W. C. T. U.
Mar. 17: St. Patrick's Day--the great play 'Devil's Auction or the Golden Branch,' under the personal management of Chas. H. Yale.
Mar. 20: Col. Geo. W. Bain, of Ky., lecture under the auspices of the W. C. T. U. on the prohibition amendment.
Mar. 21: Mendelshon [sic] Quintet Club of Boston, the last in the series of Normal Lecture and Music Course entertainments.
Mar. 23: Sylvester Larned on the prohibition amendment under the auspices of the city committee.
Mar. 24: Young Men's Prohibitory Amendment Club mass meeting--the addresses to be by young men.
Mar. 26: Afternoon and evening, Prof. Morris' celebrated trained dogs.
Mar. 31: Hon. John B. Finch under the auspices of the W. C. T. U., a lecture on [take a wild guess --ed.] the prohibition amendment.

--Ypsilanti Commercial, March 4, 1887

*She opened a millinery store.
**Women's Christian Temperance Union.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Teenaged Jessie Swaine's Reflections on the 19th Century

One recent discovery in the Archives is the 1895 literature notebook from Jessie Swaine, onetime domestic science instructor at Ypsilanti High School and the Normal School. Jessie lived for much of her life in what is still called the Swaine house at the northeast corner of Forest and River. She wrote in this notebook when she was approximately 16 years old. One of the entries is an essay on the 19th century.

The Nineteenth Century


The Nineteenth century period is the present period and is the most wonderful period of all; it is an age of invention and their [sic] has been a great advancement in Education, Religion and Literature also in the social life and politics have been bettered and science has advanced greatly nearly every school boy and school girl knows now and more than the men that made science a special study in the past ages, it is taught in all schools and in nearly all grades. The invention of electricity has aided us greatly in lightly on streets and many other useful things, the sewing machine has taken the place of the needle, and fire arms have been greatly improved.

The different churches have become more united and societies have been formed in which the Bible is read and people are taught more about religion, then missionaries are sent from Christian countries to countries where God is not known and they teach the people there so that the Christian religion is being spread all over the world.

In Literature fiction has taken the place of the drama of the Elizabethan age and it is purer than it used to be, and treats more of the life and ways of people then of wars etc. We read not only for the story but for what we can get out of it, we find most of our best reading in the magazines and Reviews.

Baron [Byron] was one of the best poets of this period but his life does not correspond with his writing and many think that he will not have a lasting remembrance, his poems are gloomy, melancholy but deep and beautiful. Is this not true:

There is a rapture in the pathless woods,
There is a pleasure on the lonely shore,
There is society where none intrudes,
By the deep sea, and music in its roar.


His words are certainly stricking [sic] and stirring....

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Past and Present: Washington Street, 1930s

Here's a view from what was until recently the Mongolian BBQ looking north. Long before it was the BBQ it was a Kresge's and is still known as the Kresge Building.

Check out the Coca-Cola lettering on the tall white building in the middle of the east side of the street. Perhaps the building just to the south was built later, as it obscures the logo.

The building just to the south of the Coke logo has a quite pretty facade, presumably still beneath the modern-day green covering.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Caviar: Imported from Detroit

...ok, so that's a ripoff from the commercial...but it was also a huge industry in late-19th-century Michigan!

Grateful thanks to the Chronicle for publishing it. I have a new favorite fish, one who lives just 25 minutes from my home!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Sarah Jane Norton Diaries: Preparing to Leave Sharon Springs, NY

In the spring of 1864, 24-year-old Sarah Jane Norton, her 28-year-old husband Austin, and the couple's infant son Charlie emigrated from Sharon Springs, New York, to Ypsilanti. Sarah kept a diary over the next 43 years until her death in November of 1906. Her 1864 diary will be serialized here during 2012. To see all entries to date, see the "Sarah Jane Norton" tag at bottom.

At left she is pictured in 1888 at age 49. Introduction to the Norton family.


2/26/1864: Rained Aut went hunting and shot a rabbit Josh an Flora were here to tea Charlie was quite sick again this afternoon

2/27/1864: Snowed it looks as though we were a going to have sleighing

2/28/1864: Raind to day we were to Floras this afternoon took tea there Charlie acts like himself again to day. Aut spent the evening to home

2/29/1864: Washed. Mother Norton Elma and Mrs Spong were here to look at our things We think we will go west a week from Tuesday or Wednesday

3/1/1864: Hung up my clothes this morning then I went to Jack Smiths a little before noon. Mrs Lingered and Mrs Best were Charly was very cross he has a cold and cutting teeth

3/2/1864: Went to George Fondas Eve was home and Bettesy Like was there Charlie worried some

3/3/1864: Aut read till after two last Charlie woke up early. I got up at five and finished ironing I went to Mrs Wilds this forenoon and John Harppers this afternoon drawed Charlie in his wagon

These diaries were written by Sarah Jane Norton and are the property of the Norton Family. They may be used and reproduced for genealogical and historical purposes only. No commercial use is allowed without the express, written permission of Dennis Norton and no charge may be made for, nor income derived from their use.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Adulterers Jailed; Patient Abuse; Infusorial Earth: Tidbits from the February 25, 1887 Ypsilanti Commercial

"Monthly meeting of Washtenaw Pomological society on the 5th of March, at 2 o'clock p.m. in the basement of the Court House at Ann Arbor. Report of committees on fruit factory, on infusorial* earth, on best and cheapest fruit packages, on statistics. Prof. J. B. Steere will lead in the discussion on noxious insects and insecticides."

"The Knights of Honor* up to this time have paid Mrs. James E. Lawrence $2,000, Mr. Lawrence being a member of the order when he died."

"John Girdler and Carrie Gill of Grand Rapids have been convicted of adultery. Girdler pleads hard to be allowed to suffer the full penalty alone, but the judge thought both should be punished, and sentenced Girdler to the state prison for one year, and Carrie Gill to the Detroit house of corrections for the same time."

"TORTURING PATIENTS. Extreme Cruelty Charged at the Soldiers' Home at Grand Rapids, Mich. LANSING, Mich.,--Some of the testimony given at the examination of the inmates of the Soldiers' home in Grand Rapids has been made public. The most damaging stories were related by Private Keyes and Baker. They swore that the principal nurse of the hospital--Sergt. Downs--so maltreated one of the inmates named Moore that he died the next morning. When the dying man objected to taking medicine, Downs said: "Take it, you d----- d----- ----- ----- -----, or I will throw you out of the window." The testimony shows that Downs jumped on Moore with his knees and forced obedience to his demands. Other specified instances of extreme cruelty are sworn to. One veteran swears that cayenne pepper was put in liniment in order to cause excruciating pain. Sick men were given icy baths. The testimony abounds in incidents in which the officials used profane and obscene language. Several of the subordinate officers admit to the profanity and try to justify it. The legislative committee says that these circumstances were unknown to the management."

--Ypsilanti Commercial, February 25 1887

*one of the innumerable fraternal orders of the era.



*diatomaceous, possibly used (as it still is) to deter insects by sprinkling on the ground around plants.

Friday, February 24, 2012

First Black Student at the Normal

Be sure to pick up a copy of this week's Courier to check out my story of the first black student at the Normal, class of '88! On a deadline so I'll post more later today if I finish my assignment. :) Thanks as always for reading!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Past and Present: Pearl and Adams

The onetime office of a Dr. Shaw. The odd little building also housed Catholic Social Services at some point in its history and was demolished when the bus terminal was built in 1991.

Another view of the curious little office:

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Blizzard Causes Havoc for U-M Beaus and their Ypsi Belles

On the night of February 21, a blizzard struck Ypsilanti, as part of the ongoing January-February cold wave. "Business in Ypsilanti is at a standstill," says this February 22, 1912 Ypsilanti Daily Press article. "For once, at least, a holiday is welcomed by local merchants because conditions are such that no trade is lost by reason of the stores being closed and there is plenty of work in snow drifts in front of nearly every man's house today to afford him ample exercise and [pastime]."

The storm's effects were also chronicled in the 1912 Aurora yearbook's joke section. On the night of the blizzard, the Senior Dance had been held, with plenty of visiting would-be suitors from Ann Arbor. The poor things were caught in the midst of it.

The Aurora editors wrote up the U-M students' consternation in the form of a mock resolution that may be paraphrased thus:

"Because the weather is unpredictable, with deep snow difficult to slog through, and because the interurban doesn't run a late-night car, leaving the only other option a ride from Ypsi to Ann Arbor on the 2 a.m. Michigan Central train, we U-M students will skip the traditional finale of our dance parties so that we can return our ladies to their homes earlier and arrive back in Ann Arbor in a timely fashion."

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

A Look at the Campus, 1888

This September 1888 cover of the Normal News (predecessor to the Eastern Echo) gives a peek at the campus of yore. Clockwise, the buildings pictured are the following: music conservatory (now gone; Boone Hall stands in its place), the teacher practicum school (also known as the Old Main building, which with the Conservatory was one of the first buildings on campus), and the Old Main building again with its new 1888 additions. From this view, the Old Main building is concealed by the new three-story structure and tower in front of it.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Last Group of Workers at Ypsi Underwear Factory

From the Ypsilanti Daily Press of February 14, 1912: this want ad for women workers at the Oak Knitting Mill, which was the last iteration of the Ypsilanti underwear factory. In a few years it closed and the building was taken over by Ray Battery for a time. In its heyday the underwear factory was by far the largest employer of women in town--though in those days, the term "factory girl" had a pejorative meaning.