Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Salute to Ypsilanti Backyard Chickens, 1823-1950

View Ypsilanti Chickens Through History in a larger map

Dusty Diary applauds the City Council for taking the time to consider the historically accurate revival of a custom that lasted for almost all of the city's history: backyard chickens. Let's take a quick tour through time of chickens in the Ypsi papers. You can also click on the pointers in the map, above, to see chickeny nuggets of Ypsi history.

In the 1898 city charter, rampant chickens were strongly discouraged. Let your flock run wild, and they'd end up in the city animal pound, not to be returned to you till you pay a fine.

In 1907, Black Minorca cockerels were for sale on South Huron.

1910 saw the formation of the Ypsilanti Poultry Fanciers' Association, down in the Masonic Hall (now Riverside Arts Center).

Poultry expert Mr. Ferguson gave a talk on culling your flock at Fred Simon's home on Emerick in 1922.

In 1923 you could buy your Rhode Island Reds at the Prospect Park Poultry Farm.

If you'd rather raise the chicks yourself, you could instead choose fresh-laid 1923 eggs from the Ypsilanti Field Hatchery on N. Hamilton.

The Depression saw a rash of chicken thefts, as desperate and hungry men stole poultry from backyard coops in 1930.

The Ypsilanti Field Hatchery is still in business in 1930.

Finally, in 1950, you could buy your birds over on Bagley, just east of downtown.

Dusty Diary does not have any tidbits of "hen-story" newer then 1950, because I don't look at papers after the 50s or so, preferring the older ones. But I'm sure there were chickens well into the...well, into the the new millenium, now! Hurray! Our 3rd century of chickenry!


jml said...

I wondered whether there were still Poultry Fanciers' Associations around, so I googled. The very first hit was for the Palm Beach (FL) Poultry Fanciers.

Now I keep imagining Rhode Island Reds pecking on the lawn at Mar-A-Lago...

Dusty D said...

jml: that is funny. The Ypsi PFA had increasingly huge chicken shows over the next few years, and the (long!) newspaper accounts of the shows go into extensive, earnest, and unintentionally hilarious detail about the li'l birds and their proud and dignified owners. I should post 'em.

Ypsilanti was SERIOUS about its chickens back then, yessir.

Paul Schreiber said...

Dear Ms. Diary:

Thank you for organizing this blog on Ypsilanti's history.

When were chickens outlawed in the city and why?

Paul Schreiber

Dusty D said...

Dear Mr. Schreiber:

It is a great compliment to see our honorable Mayor kindly stopping by to visit. Thank you for reading!

That is a really good question. I don't know, but now of course I am quite curious.

I haven't checked much after the 50s, but the answer is there somewhere. I'll be going through the old papers later this week, and I'll see if I can find some clues.

Or perhaps it would be best if I asked some old-time residents? Hmm, now I really want to know why this changed. I will see what I can find out.

Thanks again for visiting.

Pete Murdock said...

Hi Laura -

It's good to see you back. In the Chicken post you site an 1923 newspaper ad offering chickens for sale at the Prospect Park Poultry Farm with an address of 501-611 E Cross. That is the location of Prospect Park and I thought that Prospect Park and the original cemetary predates 1923 by several decades. Was that really the address of the Poultry Farmor or was it further East?


Dusty D said...

Dear Honorable Council Member (and former Mayor) Murdock:

Thank you too for visiting--that is, as with Mr. Screiber's visit, a great compliment and I appreciate it.

I too was struck by the Poultry Farm's address being in Prospect Park. I had never before heard of chicken-ranchin' in the former cemetery.

As you know, Prospect Park opened as a cemetery in 1842. After Highland Cemetery opened in 1864, the bodies were moved there, and Prospect Park was converted to an official park about three decades later.

Later in the park's history, part was given over to become what is now Adams Elementary School, with the theory that the parkland would give the kids a safe place to play. Did the same cession of land, in part of the park, once happen for a poultry farm, now vanished? I'll have to do some digging on this, since I've never before seen it in the papers.

It's a great question. Between plat maps and old papers we might be able to figure it out.

I'll post answers to your and to Mr. Schreiber's questions as soon as I pin it down (and grill my friend James Mann).

James Mann said...

Now we come to the burning question of when it became a question of law to own chickens in the city of Ypsilanti. My guess, and it is a guess, is it happened some time after the Second World War. As then the city was growing and stores were selling fresh eggs, and no one need to raise chickens in the coop out back. There was also the problem with thee smell that comes from chicken poop. This was also the time when everyone wanted to have the lawn with the greenest grass.

This need for the lawn with the greenest grass is something I think may be slipping into the past. I have noticed a few, so far very few, places, where the lawn is not that important. People are once again working to be self sufficient and a green lawn is just not that important. The backyard farm may be coming back. Watch out for the cows crossing the road.