Monday, July 6, 2009

Forgotten Native American Cemetery on Ypsilanti's EMU Campus

Dusty Diary found a curious paper in an Archives file labeled "Indians." It details the discovery of bones at EMU in the 1940s and reads:

In the early 1920s the northwest corner of Michigan State Normal College was a field of weeds and brush. The college decided to clean it up. A number of college students who were working part time to help pay their college expenses were sent up there, near the corner of the present Collegewood Drive and Hillside Court, to clean it up and to plant "baby" pine trees. As one of these students, I was interested in the area and especially in the fact that Professor William H. Sherzer, head of the Department of Natural Science, told us that the area was the site of an early Indian cemetery.

The trees were planted and the area was called Pine Grove or Pine Grove Park. Digging to plant the pines did not go deep enough to uncover any graves.

In the 1940s the college decided to build a number of apartment houses there, for married students. Seeing the pine trees, which I helped plant years before, being cut down and basements being dug, I walked over to the area to see what was happening. In the debris of the digging were a dozen of more old, old bones. The man in charge of the excavation said they were Indian bones, that the digging had uncovered remains of several graves.
The area, with its present apartment houses, is now called Pine Grove Terrace. --Edward Heyman March 10, 1970

Well, I had to investigate this. I took a quick look at a Google map and saw that "Pine Grove Terrace" was just off Oakwood. OK, no problem; I could find that. Off I went!

None of the streets leading east off Oakwood are labeled. Dusty D got confused and wandered around the Hoyt Conference Center. Where were the student apartments? I scrutinized a map billboard standing in the plaza of the three tall dorms. Nothing. No street names, no Pine Grove apartments. I was baffled.

A little dispirited, I turned to bike home. Passing the Student Center's north side, I decided to make a last-ditch effort to find Pine Grove Terrace Apartments. Maybe I could ask someone. I went in and shuffled through a rack of fliers for student apartments. Nothing.

On the way out, a computer sitting in the hall caught my eye. This was my last chance. Maybe I could find something online. The computer was set up to, of all things, an online historical tour of EMU buildings.

I almost glanced behind me. Who was reading my mind?

Within a minute I had pulled up the page for Pine Grove Terrace Apartments. I saw a historical picture of one building with a stand of pines in the background.

I read the historical tour information, and then..."demolished 2005-2006 to build the Student Center."

I gulped. I was standing IN the ghost of Pine Grove Terrace Apartments, here in the Student Center. I was in the cemetery, as if guided here. Agog, I stumbled out of the north side of the Student Center. I turned back to the building just to catch my breath and saw...

...the Kiva Room, a circular room built to honor local Native Americans by integrating a Native American symbol into the building.

The Kiva Room floated like a sunlit spirit over the old cemetery. Dusty D was stunned.

Later at home, I rechecked the Google Map for "Pine Grove Court,"--this time with Satellite version. The satellite picture, 3 or 4 years old, reveals a half-constructed Student Center...and the location arrow for Pine Grove Court is exactly where the Kiva Room is today.

It was almost as if Dusty D had been mysteriously guided to find this amazing discovery.

I stared at the ground and saw two pine cones in a vehicle rut, like a subtle memorial.

The riddle was solved, and, shaking my head, DD biked home.


Dusty D said...

One mystery remains.

At first I guessed that Professor Sherzer got his information from Hinsdale's famous "Indians of Washtenaw County," whose accompanying map shows a cemetery in this general area.

But I checked, and it was published in 1927.

Heyman in his letter here says that the Prof had already informed him that the area was a cemetery when Heyman went to plant trees "in the early 20s."

But Hinsdale was if memory serves an anthropology prof at U-M, and Sherzer was a Natural Sciences prof, so perhaps they were friends or colleagues and had talked about this cemetery even though Hinsdale hadn't yet published it.

Mike said...

Very interesting Dusty. My wife and I lived in Pine Grove Apartments back in 1996. I wish I had know about the indian burial site then. I was told by a professor that the large pines had been planted in the early to mid 30's by the WPA.

Dusty D said...

Mike: That is very interesting, since another part of Mr. Heyman's typed recollection is suspect, too: he said "In the 40s the college decided to build a number of apartment houses there, [and cut down the trees]" but EMU's page on the site ( says Pine Grove #1 was built in 1955 and P.G. #2 was built in 1957.

The WPA was definitely active on campus, which I hadn't known:

"Hover laboratory was built as yet another Munson era building project. This time, Munson was able to use Works Project Administration (WPA) labor to build the new laboratory building for $53,000. The WPA was a Depression Era program run by the federal government in an effort to give jobs to hundreds of unemployed workers. Using his broad influence, Munson was able to get WPA labor to construct not only the laboratory but also hundreds of miles of pipes under the campus of EMU as part of his building plan."


Interesting info; thanks for the WPA tip!

BF said...


You may want to take a look at "Eastern Michigan University : A Sesquicentennial Portrait", by Laurence (Larry) Smith.

There's a few copies available to check out. As a resident of Ypsilanti, you can get an EMU Library Card! See: Borrowing Privileges, for more info.

Dusty D said...

BF: That sounds like an excellent recommendation. Think the Archives has a copy too.

EMU is very generous to the community by allowing free (!) library privileges to anyone, in the beautiful Halle Library. Over at U-M's Harlan Hatcher, borrowing privileges are extended only to students, faculty, and staff of U-M and last I checked, a card for anyone else was at least $150.