Friday, March 1, 2013

Ypsilanti, Michigan - Coming of Age

A cholera outbreak in Detroit in 1832 prompted the Michigan legislature to pass an ordinance to prevent immigrants or travelers from spreading the disease throughout the territory. The overprotective frontier nature of the Ypsilanti residents gave the village the reputation of being a dangerous and fearful place to be if you weren’t a local. No one died of cholera that year in Ypsilanti, and the impression persists that the residents of the area are proud of their cantankerous frontier past. 

When a wave of lawlessness and terror swept through Ypsilanti in the late 1830’s, a vigilante committee was formed to clean up the village. Secret meetings were held at different locations monthly, and by all accounts, they did an impressive job. “By the end of 1839, one-hundred and twelve men had been convicted of crimes, hundreds of dollars in stolen goods were recovered, and many undesirables were asked to leave town.

Ten years later, ground was broken on a three storied structure that became the first building of the Michigan State Normal College which later became Eastern Michigan University. The first term began with 122 students in 1853. Males had to be eighteen and females had to be sixteen. A statement of intent to teach in a Michigan school had to be signed by every student. 

Michigan State Normal College was the first teacher training school west of the Alleghenies and was, for fifty years, the only “normal” college in Michigan. As it grew, it became Eastern Michigan College in 1956, but by 1959, Eastern had been granted university status by the state legislature because of its widening educational mission.

The signature landmark in Ypsilanti has long 

been The Water Tower built on the town’s 

highest point several hundred feet above

sea level. Built in 1889-1890, it is a limestone 

clad, elevated reservoir that once was topped by

an octagonal cupola, removed in 1906 due to

fears of strong winds hurling it 147 feet below.

The Water Tower is located on a small triangular patch of land that

stands opposite Eastern Michigan University’s McKinney Student

Union building on the southwestern edge of the campus. 

On a frigid January day in nineteen sixty, John F. Kennedy
metaphorically passed a torch to a new generation in his

inaugural speech. Little did the new President know what history

had in store for America by decade's end

It was a tough decade that polarized the nation like nothing else had

since the Civil War. It was the age of the Vietnam War, political

assassinations, the Civil Rights movement, urban riots, the

Black Panthers, the draft, and the heyday of the Cold War. 

Is it any wonder that by the end of the decade university campuses

all over America felt the dissonant chords of political dissent and

civil disobedience? The campuses of Eastern Michigan University 

and The University of Michigan were no exceptions.

Next post: Ypsilanti, Michigan - The Turbulent Sixties