Monday, May 14, 2018

When We Called the Insane Asylum Eloise

Gates outside of Eloise Asylum Building - 1940
In 1839, two years after Michigan was made a state, Wayne County bought a 166-acre farm for $800 in Nankin Township in what is now Westland. The land bordered the Old Chicago Road (Michigan Avenue) leading to Ypsilanti and parts west. The purchase included several farm buildings and a log cabin known as the Black Horse Tavern. After a wing was added, the cabin became the new Wayne County Poorhouse housing thirty-five destitute people.

The poorhouse was two days travel by stagecoach from Detroit. The unspoken truth was county officials wanted somewhere to send the dregs of society--vagrants, vagabonds, drunkards, thieves, and brawlers. Soon, the insane and feeble-minded were housed there. The mentally ill were housed on the upper floor of the pig barn chained to the timber framing. It wasn't until 1881 when the asylum's first medical superintendent took over the supervision of the mentally ill and ordered the chains be removed.


In 1872, 157 acres adjacent to the poor house was purchased from the Cady family. Over time, the Eloise complex became a self-sufficient community with its own dairy farm, pig farm, bakeries, a slaughterhouse, a greenhouse, a cannery, a tobacco field, a laundry, a police department, a fire station, and a powerhouse. At its height, the complex housed over 12,000 people with 3,000 people working throughout the grounds.

It wasn't until 1894 that the Wayne County Poorhouse was renamed. The United States Postmaster General approved Nankin Township's petition for a post office of their own. The Postmaster established an order that new post offices have only short names of one or two words not resembling any other post office in their state.


Eloise Dickerson
Recently retired, Detroit postmaster Freeman B. Dickerson was largely responsible for the establishment of the post office in the township. As president of the board, he suggested the post office be named after his four-year-old daughter Eloise. The board agreed and sent her name to Washington D.C., and it was approved on July 20. In what must have been a grand gesture to his only child, had Mr. Dickerson known that his daughter's name would become synonymous with one of the largest mental institutions in the United States, he would have chosen more wisely.


Eloise patients in straight jackets waiting to see doctors.
The Wayne County Poor House became known simply as Eloise. The complex consisted of a psychiatric hospital for the mentally ill and criminally insane, a poor house for the indigent, and an infirmary for tuberculosis victims. The Eloise complex grew to over 902 acres with seventy-eight buildings. The facility was plagued by reports of patient abuse, beatings, neglect, unsanitary conditions, and serious overcrowding--as many as 125 women shared five toilets. The mentally ill had no voice in their treatment which might include electroshock therapy, insulin-inducted comas, and lobotomies.

In 1955, the Michigan Society of Mental Health calculated that on a per patient basis, Wayne County General was the most expensive mental hospital in the world. Farming ceased in 1958. As unused buildings at the complex were closed, most were razed rather than repurposed. Tunnels once used to shuttle patients between buildings were sealed off at access points.

By the 1960s, new theories for treatment of the mentally ill were developing. Psychiatrists began experimenting with brain chemistry treating patients with pills and powders. The problem of mental illness in America grew so large that institutions couldn't house everyone who needed services.

A new approach evolved called deinstitutionalism. Mental hospitals no longer provided long term care but returned patients to society as soon as possible managing their treatment through home care outreach or half-way houses. Those who slipped through cracks in the system made a life on the streets by sleeping in cardboard boxes or living in culverts or under freeway overpasses. Some panhandled for spare change while others railed at the sky and the demons tormenting their souls. Many of these unfortunate people ended up in the criminal justice system. The psychiatric buildings at Eloise were vacated in 1973. Psychiatric care ended in 1977 when the State of Michigan took over mental health services from the county. In 1979, the name of the hospital was changed to Wayne County General.

Between the 1890s through the late 1940s, Eloise had its own morgue and three cemeteries with 7,145 burials of unclaimed bodies--each grave marked by a cement block with a number molded into it. The burials were discontinued in 1948 when the Michigan legislature passed a law to use the bodies of unclaimed wards of the state as cadavers for medical training.

https://fornology.blogspot.com/2014/11/detroits-greektown-stella-iconic.html

Friday, May 4, 2018

John Norman Collins Canadian Connection


When I'm speaking to people about the Washtenaw County murders, I am usually asked, "Have you been in contact with any of John Norman Collins family?" My answer is always the same, "I've made several attempts without success."

JNC's older brother and his late sister were steadfast in their silence about their notorious younger brother. Neither of John's siblings bear any responsibility for what their brother did; regardless, they both have paid a heavy personal price and are victims of the collateral damage from the very public and notorious court case. They chose not to comment, and that was well within their rights.

The Collins' family wall of collective silence is a legacy from their mother, Loretta, the family matriarch. She was the sole ruler and spokesperson for the family during her son's trial and afterward. Not even John was allowed to speak in his own defense. Now that Loretta is gone, there is no one to speak for the family.

My researcher Ryan M. Place and I had just about given up establishing contact with anyone in the Collins clan when I received a surprising email from an unexpected and unsought source. 

"Please allow me to introduce myself. My name is John (Philip) Chapman; I am John Norman Collins' (Canadian) cousin. I have been in contact with my cousin since 1981, 32 years now... and I have some interesting facts I would be willing to share with you pertaining to John's (Canadian) family history and facts he has revealed to me. 

"I normally would never get involved, however, after reading your blog post (Treading on the Grief of Others in the John Norman Collins Case), I do agree that a debt is owed to history that must be paid.

"My heart truly goes out to those young women and their families who had their daughters taken away from them too soon. If there is anything I can share with you to help, I would be more than happy to do so."

This was almost too good to be true. John Philip Chapman appeared exactly when we needed him most. My researcher and I had been working for three years to get someone from the Collins family to speak with us about John's childhood and early family history.

We discovered that Chapman had a personal motive for contacting me. His uncle Richard Chapman was JNC's Canadian birth father from Windsor, Ontario. 

John Philip Chapman wanted to correct a long held misperception about his Uncle Rich. Previous published accounts of this case have noted and repeated that Mr. Chapman was a drunk who deserted his family.

Richard Chapman in 1944 on motorcycle seen with his friend Fred Higgins who saved his life.

"Nothing could be further from the truth. My Uncle Rich lost his left leg in 1944 during the Second World War. Afterward, he suffered from battle fatigue and other maladies of war. The medication he was on for the rest of his life would not allow him to tolerate alcohol. It would have killed him, yet my uncle lived until 1988."

Staff Sergeant Richard Chapman served in His Majesty's Canadian Services--unit #152. He was a light-infantry officer and an explosives/demolition expert. After his injury, he spent weeks in a military hospital recovering before he was returned home.

"I want to take the opportunity to correct a historical inaccuracy. War changes people, however, my Uncle Rich was never abusive towards his children or my Aunt Marjorie. He never abandoned his children and never would. 

According to Chapman, "My Aunt Marjorie's (Loretta Collins) family had money, and they felt that Uncle Rich was not good enough for their daughter. He wasn't Catholic. Her parents didn't like their son-in-law, to say the least, and they offered him money to disappear.... I know for a fact that my Uncle Rich never took the money, but not wanting to drag their children through a bitter divorce, he gave Aunt Marjorie what she wanted--full custody.

"Uncle Rich loved his children very much... however, due (to) the amount of lies Aunt Marjorie put in their heads, they didn't want to be bothered by their dad, with the exception of his daughter. She learned the truth before her Dad passed away."

If I wanted to learn more about the Chapman side of the family, John Philip suggested I call or speak with him in person. First, I made a sixty minute phone call to Canada to satisfy myself that he was the real deal--he was.

Then, my researcher and I arranged to meet with Chapman in Canada on my next trip to Michigan. A month later, in June, we drove across the Ambassador Bridge from Detroit into Windsor and then the Toronto area to see what we could learn about the early years of JNC's family.

Ryan M. Place and I spent several hours talking with John Philip and his mother about Marjorie (Loretta Collins) Chapman, JNC's birth mother. When Loretta was living in Canada, she went by her middle name, Marjorie.

We had a wonderful afternoon meeting the Chapmans; they were warm and inviting. John Philip explained that he had been writing his cousin John (Collins) in prison since he (Chapman) was seven or eight years old.

"(Collins) is twenty-five years older than me and has always been like a big brother to me. In our letters, he refers to me as 'Little Brother'." 

John Philip Chapman further explained that he was an only child and found comfort in the attentions from his older American cousin who became a virtual 'Big Brother'  to him. Somehow, Chapman managed to remain largely ignorant of his older cousin's crimes.

Now forty-one years old, Chapman's personal search for knowledge about his cousin was making him confront his deepest fears. Over the years, Chapman had maintained a "Don't ask - Don't tell" policy regarding his cousin's imprisonment. 

After all, Collins had insisted that he was innocent of the Karen Sue Beineman murder. He also complained in his letters that he was victimized by a rogue cop (Sheriff Douglas Harvey), an overzealous prosecutor (William Delhey), and a corrupt legal system that was looking for a scapegoat. 

After sharing our information with the Chapmans, we went through several family photo albums with faded snapshots and Polaroids from back in the day. It was interesting and vaguely voyeuristic to peer into their family history. 

John Norman Collins (13), his brother (16), and sister (15) - December 30th, 1960.

As Ryan and I were getting ready to return to the states, John Philip asked if we would be interested in receiving some of his cousin's prison letters. Chapman had noticed a change in tone and intensity in the letters lately, and he wanted us to take a look at some of them. We couldn't believe our good fortune - again! Then, John Philip volunteered something unexpected. He offered to see what other information he could find out for us from his cousin about his crimes. Without JNC's knowledge, over the next four months we received a total of nine prison letters and a half-dozen emails from Collins to his cousin.

The letters average seven pages each and cover a myriad of subjects, but one theme became more and more prevalent as time went on. Collins was pressing for an international prisoner exchange with Canada--once again.

He had tried unsuccessfully in 1981. JNC was born in Canada, which was the basis for his naturalization claim, and he said he had relatives and a support system there. Canada has more liberal sentencing provisions than the United States, so a parole was a very real possibility. 

But both JNC's father and his uncle refused to offer Canadian sponsorship to him after being contacted by authorities on both sides of the Detroit River informing them of the details of John's crimes. The Michigan Department of Corrections summarily revoked Collins' application for an international prisoner exchange.

Thirty-two years later, Collins summoned up the courage to ask his younger first-cousin--his last Canadian blood relative--to sponsor him for another prisoner transfer attempt in hopes of receiving dispensation for timed served. To Collins's way of thinking, all he needed was a relative and a place to stay; then, he would be assigned to a work release program in Canada and be free of his Marquette Branch Prison cell.

Now, it became clear to Chapman what JNC had been driving at for months--the chicken hawk wanted to come home to roost.


Link to the above mentioned blog post:
http://fornology.blogspot.com/2013/06/treading-on-grief-of-others-in-john.html

Monday, April 30, 2018

The Great Migration North to Detroit


In what was the largest internal migration of any group in American history, the Great Migration saw six million African Americans migrating from the South to the North drawn by improved economic opportunities and hopes of a better life. Black Americans were also escaping segregation and discriminatory "Jim Crow" laws in the South.

Another factor for the diaspora was the release of the movie Birth of a Nation in 1915 which portrayed the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) as a heroic force protecting the purity of white womanhood against sexually aggressive freed slaves after the Civil War. The D.W. Griffith film opened to nationwide protests and demonstrations.

"Birth of a Nation" still. The black man was played by a white actor in blackface.
After a private screening, President Woodrow Wilson released a public statement calling the film "Unfortunate." With the film's general release, the South experienced a resurgence of KKK domestic terrorism driving more black Americans North. Most of the migrants were unskilled laborers and service industry workers--not rural farm workers.

From 1910 through 1929, Detroit experienced the fastest growing African American population in the United States--a 611% increase. During the same period, New York City had a 66% increase and Chicago had a 148% increase. Blacks settled primarily on Detroit's lower east side in a concentrated neighborhood called Black Bottom--originally named by the French for the dark, fertile soil found there. The area adjacent to Black Bottom became Paradise Valley--famous for its jazz clubs.

Black migrants found fierce competition for living space in Detroit's worst neighborhoods which became segregated slums. Living conditions in Paradise Valley and Black Bottom were bleak with the oldest wooden dwellings in the city--many dating back to the 1860s. Fire was a constant hazard. The buildings were owned by absentee landlords and were poorly maintained. Old hotels and row houses were subdivided into small apartments and boarding houses to increase profits--many without plumbing facilities.

Thinking they had left "Jim Crow" laws enshrining segregation and racism behind, blacks found that in Detroit they were confined to "red lined" neighborhoods backed by real estate covenants preventing them from moving into Detroit's established white neighborhoods or suburbs. Blacks found that racial discrimination and white supremacy were entrenched in the North just as they were in the South.

But there was a significant distinction between the North and the South for blacks in this era. In the South, white people didn't mind living in proximity with blacks. The plantation culture depended upon it. But white people didn't want to work next to blacks. The North was the opposite. White people tolerated working with blacks, but they didn't want black people in their neighborhoods.

The assembly line

Early on, black women overwhelmingly worked in domestic service jobs. Eventually, clerk positions opened up in the retail industry for them. Black men worked in the service industry at hotels, restaurants, passenger trains, and public works. The jobs paid little, offered no fringe benefits, and provided no chance for advancement. Labor shortages during World War One opened up good jobs in shipyards, foundries, steel mills, auto factories, and meat packing. Unskilled black laborers took the most undesirable and dangerous jobs wherever they were employed.


Henry Ford
When Henry Ford announced the Five-Dollar Day in 1914, he also ramped up the hiring of blacks to fill vacancies in the Highland Park Plant. Employee turnover was a problem, and black workers were willing do jobs others would not. This set many black workers on the road to modernity. Beginning in the 1920s, Dodge and Packard began recruiting black workers too.

With improved economic conditions, a black inner city culture developed catering to the needs of African Americans. Churches, markets, bakeries, barber shops, hotels, beauty parlors, clinics, jazz clubs, and adult entertainment developed. But every white and black Detroiter knew where the color lines were and woe to him that crossed them.

The high cost for African Americans penetrating the color line in Detroit is exemplified by the Dr. Ossian Sweet affair in 1925. As a youth in Bartow, Florida, Ossian witnessed the lynching of a black man in 1911. The angry white mob strung up the man while he pleaded for his life. The vigilantes doused him with gasoline and set him on fire. The crowd cheered when the flames enveloped him. Traumatized, the Sweet family moved to Detroit as part of the Great Migration. 

Dr. Ossian Sweet and his wife Gladys
Ossian Sweet managed to secure an education and attend medical school at Wilberforce Academy in Ohio. Between semesters he worked in Detroit as a bellhop at several hotels--one summer he was a vendor at Bob-Lo Island Amusement Park. Dr. Sweet and his family were part of a new demographic--upwardly mobile, black Americans. As a young doctor at Dunbar Memorial Hospital, Sweet wanted to escape the confines and squalor of Detroit's minority-isolated inner city. Dr. Sweet bought a home on Detroit's east side in an all-white, working-class neighborhood.

When word spread of the purchase, whites viewed the incursion into their neighborhood as a violation of their "sacred" real estate covenant. The day the Sweet's moved in, a mob of "neighbors" assembled outside their home on September 8th, 1925 and cursed them with racial slurs. On the second day, the crowd grew to several hundred angry whites. Dr. Sweet and his family were joined by Sweet's two brothers and seven other friends--no doubt for a house warming get-together and a show of moral support. The hostile mob surrounded the house and started throwing rocks and bricks through the windows.

The sound of shattering glass terrorized the group and prompted Ossian's brother Henry to fire two shots at the mob--the first above their heads and the second into the crowd. Leon Breiner took a bullet and died. The Detroit police were conspicuous by their absence until the call went out that a white man had been shot by a black man. Everyone in the Sweet home was arrested, taken to jail, and tried for conspiracy to murder.

Clarence Darrow
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) retained the best lawyer in the land--Chicago civil liberties attorney Clarence Darrow. The first trial lasted four weeks and ended in a mistrial. The second trial focused only on Henry Sweet--the shooter. The prosecution pushed for a murder charge, but the defense insisted that a man's home was his castle, and he had every right to defend it. Henry Sweet was acquitted.

The Sweet trials were a referendum on race relations and segregation in Detroit ushering in a new era of political activism. But the graphic incident showed the risk of violating the city's red-lined neighborhoods. When it became clear to whites that black people were breaching their segregated neighborhoods, growing numbers of white Detroiters began to relocate to the expanding suburbs north, south, and west of the city in a demographic shift known as white flight.

Franklin D. Roosevelt
The Great Migration slowed during the Depression but picked up again with the coming of World War Two. The Selective Service took many white and black males out of the work force to serve in the military. The war represented a turning point in black employment prospects. In 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed executive order #8802 creating the Fair Employment Practices Commission (FEPC) mandating nondiscrimination in defense industries and government jobs. Industrial work began to eclipse service employment for black men. By the end of the war, African Americans held 8% of defense jobs, up from 3% before the war. Despite the gains for black men, black women were still relegated to domestic work and low wages.

The United States Congress debated making the FEPC permanent, but Southern legislators cut off funding and shut down the program in 1946. It took another twenty years before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission was established to address many of the same issues.

World War II helped transform Detroit's social geography. Several distinct black communities emerged based on income, occupation, and status within black Detroit. Many African Americans fortunate enough to flee the crowded city center left as soon as they could; the rest were left behind to bear the brunt of being trapped in the city's worst housing. Detroit's shifting racial borderlands became battlegrounds for the future of the city. This racial frontier put blacks on a collision course with their white counterparts.

"Detroit Lost Neighborhoods: Black Bottom and Paradise Valley"
https://fornology.blogspot.com/2016/01/detroits-lost-neighborhoods-black.html

Sunday, April 22, 2018

When White Pine was Green Gold in Michigan

"Brag Load" of Logs and Ten Man Crew with a Team of Horses

The Michigan forest landscape was bountiful for early settlers. Rivers and lakes provided plenty of fish and wildlife while the forests and open glades provided game and fowl for hunters. Clearing the land was a slow process with timber cut with axes. The first order of business was throwing up some hasty shelter. Log cabins were built and railings cut for fences to pen livestock. What scrap wood was left became firewood. These small pioneer farms had minimal impact on the environment.

Rapid development of the American East in the first half of the nineteenth century depleted much of the lumber forests east of the Appalachians. By mid-century, New York lumber speculators discovered the vast virgin hardwood forests of Michigan's lower and upper peninsulas--especially the stands of old-growth white and red pine for building materials. Many of these trees were over 200 years old, 200 feet high, and over 5 feet in diameter.

With the invention of the steam-powered circular saw in the 1850s, the lumber business ramped up production. Fortunes were made by enterprising men who had vision and deep pockets. They bought large tracts of private and government land and were quickly dubbed Lumber Barons. They owned the saw mills and set up the system of lumber camps that made more than a few men rich. The "shanty boys" as the owners called the lumberjacks did the heavy lifting. After a harsh winter, they could walk out of the forest with several hundreds of dollars--big money in those days--only to be targets of robbery or worse. The lumber business attracted a tough crowd in and out of the forest like any boom town industry would.

The first great lumber area in the state was Saginaw Bay which fed into Lake Huron. What made this location ideal for the lumber business were the six rivers that converged to form the Saginaw River: the Chippewa, Tittabawassee, Cass, Bad, Shiawassee, and Flint. From 1860 until 1890, most of the trees from the heart of the state were felled and floated down these rivers on their way to the saw mills.


Logging was a cold weather job. The logs were too big and heavy to drag through the woods. The loggers cleared timber roads first. When the roads iced over in winter, huge sleds were loaded with timber and dragged by horses or oxen to the river's edge where they were stacked awaiting the spring thaw; then, the logs were pushed into the swollen rivers and floated down to the lumber mills. Once at the saw mill, the logs were cut into boards, kiln-dried to reduce weight and warping, and loaded onto ships.


Lumber camps were rustic, quickly built, and meant to be temporary. When the land was exhausted of timber, the operation moved on. The camps consisted of a bunk house, a cook shanty with dining room and kitchen, a camp store, a blacksmith's shop, and a barn for the horses. Each camp had about seventy men and two foremen, twenty teams of horses, and seven yoke of oxen. A ten man crew could produce about 100 logs a day with a two-handled, cross-cut saw and double-edged axes.

Lumberjacks worked from sunrise until sunset, six days a week out in the wilderness with little to occupy them. Their pastimes were telling tall tales and playing cards on Sundays, as well as any mischief they could get away with in town if they were near one.

Lumber camps competed with each other to see which outfit could stack the highest load--called a brag load--and pull it twenty feet over the ice with a team of horses. My guess is the winning camp won a wager and a keg of beer along with bragging rights. I hope the horses got a little something extra for their efforts.

Stump Prairie
When the logging industry was finished raping the land, lumber camps were abandoned because owners didn't want to pay taxes on the land they owned, so they simply defaulted and the land went to the state. In all, over nineteen million acres were clear cut with no reforestation strategy, leaving behind barren "stump prairies" contributing to soil erosion, river and lake pollution, more atmospheric carbon dioxide, and degraded wildlife habitat.

One of the few forest animals that benefited from the clear cutting was the whitetail deer. With new open ground for grazing and more abundant and accessible plant food, populations grew. Little good it did them though. By 1876, professional market hunters were killing 70,000 deer each year to supply the booming lumber camps, and ship what they couldn’t sell locally to big cities like Chicago and Detroit that had a taste for venison.

In a report on Michigan Forest History compiled by the Michigan Department of Resources, researchers found that: "Land clearing for agriculture, logging, and settlement altered local stream flow patterns and volumes, eliminated some waters, and introduced pollutants into others. Huge quantities of sediment from log drives and sawdust from sawmills were dumped into rivers. In one instance, the mouth of the Manistee River accumulated sawdust to the extent that it formed a delta of several square miles. At sawmill locations throughout the state, wherever sawdust was dispensed into the river, toxic and oxygen-deprived conditions were created for fish. These detriments, combined with land clearing efforts, exacerbated soil erosion into rivers, significantly reducing the quality of fish habitat in rivers."

The Hartwick Pines State Park near Grayling has the only remaining stand of Michigan old growth forest. The park consists of fifteen square miles featuring forty-nine acres of old growth white pine saved from the teeth of the loggers' saw. The land was gifted to Michigan's Department of Natural Resources in 1927 by Karen Michelson Hartwick as a memorial to the logging industry in the name of her husband Edward E. Hartwick--a lumberman killed in World War I.


During the Great Depression, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) built a logging museum adjacent to the old growth forest in the park to educate visitors about the logging industry. The CCC also hired unemployed men to plant millions of seedlings to reforest Michigan's barren areas, but even after one hundred years, some of the "stump prairies" still exist. On a brighter note, over half of the state is covered by new growth forests.


Michigan Logging History (5 minute video): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ShqFL9vWXmY

Monday, April 16, 2018

All-Time Top Ten Fornology.com Blog Posts

Photo Credit: Nicole Fribourg
I won't lie, it takes time to research a post and write it concisely so readers don't feel like I'm wasting their time. But after seven years of blogging, I enjoy writing these smaller pieces largely because of the instant gratification of having readers respond, comment, and share my posts in real time.

One of my young critics wrote that my blog was old-fashioned and looked like a Monopoly property card. High praise indeed! That's when I knew I was onto something. No whistles, no bells, no GIFs, no capturing of readers' marketing information, just fact-driven posts that interest me--and as it turns out--interest others. As of May 2018, I have written 400 posts drawing over 630,000 page views trudging my way to a million.

Several people have asked me how to find my earlier posts. Go to the right sidebar and scroll down to the Blog Archive. You can browse the titles by year and month to find a topic you like. To receive new posts automatically, you can subscribe in the upper-right corner of the site.

Many thanks to everyone who reads, comments, and shares my Fornology posts. Here are the titles of my top ten all-time blog posts.

Posts


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Thursday, April 12, 2018

Willow Run Bomber Plant Changes Ypsilanti Forever


Original Three-story Ypsilanti Depot Station.
At the turn of the century, before the second World War, Ypsilanti had an active downtown area along Michigan Avenue. Northeast of town, there was a thriving business district called Depot Town.

Depot Town was the area's commercial hub and provided services for weary train travelers. Ypsilanti's three-story brick depot station was ornate compared to the depot in Ann Arbor. In its day, it was said to be the nicest train station between Detroit and Chicago.

The Norris Building built in 1861 was across from the depot on River Street. It was originally supposed to house a retail block on the ground floor and residential rooms on the two upper floors. Instead, the building became an army barracks during the Civil War. The 14th Michigan Infantry Regiment shipped out of Depot Town in 1862, as did the 27th Michigan Regiment in 1863. 

The facade of the historic Norris Building remains on North River Street, despite a fire which decimated the rear portion of this last remaining Civil War barracks in Michigan. Work has begun on rebuilding the historic building.

Michigan State Normal School was located west of Depot Town on West Cross Street and northwest of downtown Ypsilanti. It spawned a growing educational center which later expanded its mission to become Eastern Michigan University. 

Ypsilanti's residential area with its historic and varied architecture filled the spaces between. Surrounding everything was some of the most fertile farm land in the state.

The water-powered age of nineteenth century manufacturing on the Huron River gave way to the modern electrical age of the twentieth century. The soft beauty of the gas light was replaced with the harsh glare of the incandescent light bulb. The times were changing for Ypsilanti--ready or not.

***

The countryside was prime tillable ground with fruit groves scattered about the landscape. Henry Ford owned a large tract of land in an area known as Willow Run, named for the small river that ran through it. The Ford patriarch used the land to plant soybeans, but the United States government needed bombers for the Lend Lease program with Great Britain. On December 8, 1941, one day after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, the Nazis declared war on the United States on behalf of their ally. America was drawn into the second world war.

The Roosevelt administration asked the Ford corporation, now run by Edsel Ford, to build a factory that could mass produce the B-24 Liberator Bomber. Edsel Ford, Charles Sorenson (production manager), and some Ford engineers visited the Consolidated Aircraft Company in San Diego to see how the planes were built. 

That night, Sorenson drew up a floor plan that could build the bomber more efficiently. His blueprint was a marvel of ingenuity, but the Ford corporation made one significant change in his master plan.

The best shape to build a front to back assembly line operation is in a straight line. But to avoid the higher taxes in Democratic Wayne County, the bomber plant took a hard right to the south on one end to stay within Republican Washtenaw County, which had lower taxes. This was at the insistence of Harry Bennett, Ford's head of security who had strong ties to Washtenaw County being a graduate of Ann Arbor High School.

The construction of the plant in Willow Run began in May of 1941, seven months before Pearl Harbor. Legendary Detroit architect Albert Kahn designed the largest factory in the world, but it would be his last project. He died in 1942.

The federal government bought up land adjacent to the bomber plant and built an airport which still exists today and is used for commercial aviation. The eight-sectioned hangar could house twenty Liberators.

***
Soon, workers flooded into Ypsilanti and the rapidly developing Willow Run area where makeshift row housing was hastily constructed. The Ford Motor Company recruited heavily from the South. By March 1, 1943, the bomber plant brought in 6,491 workers from Kentucky. That's when the derisive term "Ypsitucky" was first heard. But Ford recruiters also brought in 1,971 workers from Tennessee, 714 from Texas, 450 from West Virgina, 397 from Arkansas, and 314 from Missouri. In the most demographic shift in the area since the white man drove the red man west, the sleepy farming town of Ypsilanti went from a sunrise-to-sunset community to a three shift, around-the-clock, blue collar factory town. 

Suddenly the area was hit with a housing shortage. Ypsilanti homeowners rented rooms to workers or converted their large Victorian homes into boarding houses. It was wartime and money was to be made. Some families rented "warm beds." One worker would sleep in the bed while another was working his shift, but still there was a housing shortage. Many people slept in their cars until they could make other arrangements. 

Long time residents did not like the changes they saw in their town. The bomber factory workers worked hard and drank hard. Fights broke out in local bars, often over women. Ypsilanti developed a hard edge and a dark reputation.

Because so many men were in uniform serving their country, there was a shortage of skilled labor at first. But then the women of Southern Michigan stepped up big time. To make up the labor shortfall, they donned work clothes, and tied up their long hair in colorful scarves collectively earning the nickname "Rosie the Riveter". It was calculated that by the end of the war, 40% of every B-24 Liberator was assembled by women.

***

Little known factoid: The first stretch of expressway in America was made with Ford steel and Ford cement. It connected workers in the Detroit area to their jobs at the bomber plant in Willow Run via Ecorse Road. It's still there and runs along the north end of the former GM Hydromatic Plant and Willow Run Airport.

***

The Yankee Air Museum housed on the east end of Willow Run Airport was established in 1981 to restore and preserve the almost forgotten history of Willow Run Airport, and to commemorate the achievement of the men and women who helped win the war by the sweat of their brow producing 8,685 B-24 Liberators.

***

Background history of the Yankee Air Museum: http://yankeeairmuseum.org/our-history/

Rosie the Riveter short: https://fornology.blogspot.com/2013/03/rosie-riveter-happy-womens-history.html

The following link has some vintage bomber plant footage: http://www.annarbor.com/news/ypsilanti/pbs-to-air-documentary-about-ypsilantis-legendary-willow-run-b-24-bomber-factory/

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Erie Canal Populates the Great Lakes Area

If you wanted to travel to the Northwest Territory from the East prior to 1825, your choices were limited to canoeing with portaging around sizable natural barriers, or a person could take a rugged land passage on horseback or a horsedrawn wagon over perilous dirt roads and Indian trails. Neither method was suitable for commercial success or serious westward expansion. There needed to be some way to open the interior of the continent west of the Appalachians to farming and settlement.

The driving force behind the Erie Canal was New York Governor DeWitt Clinton. His vision made Detroit a destination city in the nineteenth century and provided a water highway for many of our European ancestors--especially German, Irish, Italian, Polish, Scandinavian, and Greek. These settlers were not like the French who trapped and hunted wildlife establishing a lucrative fur trade with Canada and Europe. These new immigrants were land-hungry farmers and empire builders who wanted a fresh start in life, and they changed the face of the Great Lakes region forever.

Once Governor Clinton raised the seven million dollars for its construction, the groundbreaking for the Erie Canal began at a middle segment of the proposed route in Rome, New York, on July 4, 1817. When finished, the canal would stretch 363 miles from Albany, New York on the Hudson River to Buffalo, New York on the east end of Lake Erie, opening the Great Lakes to westward American expansion.

Untold numbers of Irish immigrants and draft animals provided most of the muscle power to dig out the canal. The excavated soil was piled on the north side and graded to form a towpath for horses to pull canal boats and barges along the route. Hundreds of migrant German masons were hired to build the stonework for thirty-four locks needed to raise the boats 565 feet--the elevation difference between the Hudson River and Lake Erie. Where the canal had to cross valleys and water barriers, the masons built eighteen aqueducts to carry the boats above them. 


Lockport, New York
In 1823, the builders reached the Niagara Escarpment at what came to be known as Lockport, New York. Canal engineers devised five locks along a three-mile stretch to carry the canal eighty feet over the dolomitic limestone barrier. The original Erie Canal profile was forty feet wide at the surface, twenty-eight feet wide at the bottom and four feet deep. In 1835, the State of New York enlarged the canal to seventy feet wide and seven feet deep, further encouraging westward expansion and making New York City the economic powerhouse of the Eastern Seaboard.


"Erie Canal Opening" by Charles Yardley Turner (1905).
The Erie Canal was completed in eight years, two years ahead of schedule at a cost of $7,143,000. In a grand ceremony, Governor Clinton and other dignitaries boarded the Seneca Chief steamer in Buffalo and traveled the length of the canal to the Hudson River and down to New York harbor. On October 26, 1825, amid patriotic fanfare and a brass band, Governor Clinton took a keg of Lake Erie water and poured it into the Atlantic calling it a "marriage of the waters." The keg was then refilled with ocean water for the return trip of the Seneca Chief to Lake Erie to consummate the exchange of water.


Erie Canal aqueduct
The Erie Canal became an instant commercial success and stimulated economic growth along its entire route. Before the canal, the only way west through the Appalachian Mountains was overland on rugged wagon roads. The trip to Detroit took five to six weeks. The Erie Canal cut that time in half.

Prior to the canal, bulk goods traveled on the backs of pack animals limited to no more than 250# per beast of burden. Canal boats could carry up to thirty tons of cargo. Shipping costs dropped 90% from $100/ton to less than $10/ton. Buffalo, New York became a major transhipment point for farm produce from Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Michigan going east while manufactured goods and European immigrants shipped west.

Historian Harvey C. Colburn wrote in The Story of Ypsilanti (1923) that "Immigration in Detroit from Europe was greatly facilitated by the Erie Canal. The first steamer on Lake Erie was the Walk-on-the-Water in 1819. By 1826, there were seven steamers on the lake, and by 1830, a daily service was established between Buffalo and Detroit." If your ancestors came to Detroit between 1825 and the 1850s, chances are they floated up the Erie Canal courtesy of the labor of thousands of skilled and unskilled immigrants who preceeded them.

The Erie Canal reconfigured the young United States' national religious and social dynamics by connecting the Hudson Valley with the Great Lakes region. By 1842, the New York Railroad had a continuous line linking the East with the continental interior. Passenger traffic on the canal tapered off in favor of the modern steam locomotives with their speed and relative comfort. The canal simply increased its commercial freight business. Water was still the most cost-effective way to move bulk goods, and the canal could ship thirteen times more tonnage than all the trains of New York Central Railroad.


By the end of the 1880s, railroads dominated passenger transportation, but it wasn't until competition from improved roadways and the trucking industry at the beginning of the twentieth century that the canal was rendered obsolete. Today, 200 miles of the old canal are used for public recreation like boating, biking, hiking, and cruising.


https://www.cbsnews.com/news/all-hail-the-erie-canal-200th-anniversary/