Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Peck's Gully, a Forgotten Ypsilanti Garbage Dump

Dumps are historical libraries.

In the disposal of unwanted items, a society or era reveals what it bought, ate, wore, and what it could afford to throw away. Unlike some textual accounts of history, arguably the most political of social sciences, these items are not edited, selectively displayed, distorted, or swept under the rug. The sweepings, and the rug, and the broom for good measure, are there for anyone to find.

For this reason DD is interested in old garbage dumps and was reading today in the Archives of the old city dump south of downtown by the Huron Street-I-94 interchange. In one article, I found this 1961 gem at left. It is a mini-history of how Ypsilantians disposed of their trash before the existence of the I-94-Huron dump.

The selection shown begins by discussing the days of burning what little garbage existed in the woodstove and throwing bones into the ash-pile. It mentions the annual spring clean-up and accompanying bonfires while recyclers came by to collect rags and old metal. But then:

"Then the trek began to Peck's gully, a deep ravine south of Highland cemetery. Friends met there to throw away trash and to chat. Little boys went through the leavings and occasionally unwanted property was exchanged."

A look on a topographical version of Google maps shows two topo lines (highlighed in orange and green) southwest of the cemetery, indicating a steep slope.

When compared with a satellite version of the same image, there is a scarified treeless area.

Was this Peck's gully?

A look at the 1915 plat map (below) shows that the swampy land south of Highland Cemetery was owned by "Peck Bros." It seems likely that this area is Ypsilanti's forgotten dump!

Unable to farm the muck, did the Peck Bros. sell the land to the city for a community dump? Or did they die without heirs and did the city obtain the land and turn it into a dump?

In either case, it looks as though this was probably the spot where, generations ago, Ypsilantians assembled a library of artifacts, otherwise known as a trash dump. What broken tools, empty bottles, china chips, and other weathered fragments of past lives lie forgotten there?


Patrick R said...

If you poke around the western and south western sides of the cemetery, you might see some old stuff poking out. It gets overgrown in the summer...

Siani said...

You know, if anyone is interested in poking around down there my husband and I found a path down into the gully from the cemetary. We live directly accross the street and love to take walks there, or just sit on the porch and admire the view. It's somewhere along the back left side of the cemetary, I think on the path that leads back away from the civil war memorial? There are two small white lions that stand on either side of a little path leading out of the cemetary and down the hill. It looks so intentional we followed the path for a long time trying to figure out what it lead to. We followed it for about fifteen minutes down a long steeo hill, but in the end it just petered out and we headed back. Still, the statues, seemingly deliberately placed to mark the path still make me wonder...

Dusty D said...


"Old stuff poking out"?! Oh my gosh. Words to make me salivate! OK, got my camera and got my bike and now all I need is to persuade my husband to go out there after breakfast at Cafe Luwak.

I've got that eyelash-batting down to a science.

Dusty D said...

Siani: what a wonderful place to live! I love the cemetery and being able to pop over anytime would be so nice.

Wow, thank you for the info about the lion-path! I just have GOT to go there and see. What an odd place for a path...hmm, I am so very curious now!

Thank you both for such great information! How cool!

Fritz said...

Finding the lions was fun. Big thanks for the tip.

We didn't see any artifacts. But we plan to go back after the leaves have fallen.

The lions seem too close together to be flanking a road, and too close for a cart of garbage to get through. And the path feels exactly like an informal footpath. We couldn't figure out where it went either.

My guess, based on no real information at all, is that most of the dumping was done from South of the cemetery, where the hillside comes closest to River Street.

The lions are a beautiful. They are cast concrete, with flaking white paint. And to my eye they are much less austere than most of the cemetery's stonework, and probably less expensive. They are also perfectly spaced on either side of the current footpath. Perhaps a project that didn't quite make it. Another mystery. :-)