1880-1899

Setbacks and Renewed Growth

Ann Arbor had no sooner shrugged off the Douglas-Rose controversy than it had to face a renewed threat to its prosperity. While the completion of the Toledo, Ann Arbor and Northern Railroad in 1878 lowered freight rates and increased the volume of local economic activity, the advantage was offset by a slight business recession and a temporary setback encountered by the University of Michigan, the town's largest employer. Between 1881 and 1884 the University's enrollment declined from 1,534 to 1,295. The amount of money spent by students in the town decreased accordingly. In addition, state appropriations to the University were drastically curtailed. The gradual increase in the city's population between 1875 and 1880 was reversed. The number of residents in Ann Arbor between 1880 and 1884 declined from 8,061 to 7,022.

Good health returned shortly thereafter, and during the next sixteen years Ann Arbor obtained a durable prosperity little affected by the national depression of 1893. State appropriations to the University more than doubled and the number of students nearly tripled, going from 1,295 to 3,712. The number of permanent residents almost doubled, jumping from 7,922 to 14,509, adding in sixteen years an amount that had taken sixty years to achieve previously.

Prosperity and population growth sustained a tremendous housing boom. Many houses were sold or rented before the foundations were laid. The University provided no dormitory facilities, and most new home owners built grandly knowing that extra rooms could always be rented to students for additional income.

Newcomers were attracted by the city's natural beauty and educational opportunities. Families moved to Ann Arbor because of the high school's good college preparatory program and stayed until their children had completed education at both the high school and University. In addition to educating Ann Arbor residents, the high school also accommodated a large number of tuition students from outlying rural areas and surrounding states who were eager to prepare for attendance at the best college west of the Alleghenies.

Most of the homes in Ann Arbor in previous years had been built near the Main Street business district or in the immediate vicinity of the campus. New subdivisions on South State Street beyond Packard, on the south side of Hill Street formerly occupied by the fairgrounds, and on Washtenaw Avenue south of Hill Street were begun in the last decade of the century. The geographical center of the city's population shifted eastward toward the campus area.

Business Growth

Inconvenience caused by living at a distance from Main Street was alleviated by changes in Post Office procedures and the dispersal of retail outlets.Post Office The first collection boxes for mail were set out in 1884. Three years later rural home delivery eliminated the necessity of going to the Main Street Post Office to post or receive mail. Students and east-end residents increasingly declined to make the trip downtown and shopped on State Street or ordered by mail from Detroit. To meet their needs, Main Street merchants established branch stores on and around State Street. Combined with newer stores, the branches created a whole new business district and contributed to a growing distinction between the University community and the original town of Ann Arbor.

In spite of the city's substantial prosperity in the late nineteenth century, local businessmen were uneasy because the stability of the town's economy was dependent on The University of Michigan. As other midwestern states established colleges and began to compete more successfully for students, the probability increased that the University's enrollment could drop and with it sales receipts. In addition, while profiting from the second business district, the Main Street merchants feared its potential as a competitor. To insure a sturdier economy, everyone agreed Ann Arbor needed a permanent industrial base.

In May 1886 local businessmen organized the Businessmen's Association of Ann Arbor to promote business interests and encourage manufacturing. The organization was an effective force for only a few years and never did achieve its goal of attracting industry. Nonetheless, it was an important precursor of the modern Chamber of Commerce and paved the way for later collective action by Ann Arbor businessmen.

In August 1887 the city called a special election on a proposal by the Association to raise $5,000 in taxes for the purpose of "booming" the city. Voters approved the tax 230 to 78, but a number of determined opponents succeeded in getting a court injunction against its collection. After this setback the Association's influence diminished. Businessmen periodically revived the organization during the next decade but it was never quite as strong as in its first two years. With monthly meetings, more than 100 members, a number of hard-working officers, and committees on such specific subjects as sewers, road improvements, and the publication of literature "booming" the town, the organization did call attention to the implications of changes that were taking place in Ann Arbor.

City Government and Public Services

In 1880 Ann Arbor was a small town with a University perched on its outskirts. There were virtually no public services available. The city council consisted of a mayor, the recorder (who was a forerunner of the modern city clerk), and twelve aldermen. Individual aldermen controlled affairs in their wards and personally extended the few existing city services to areas under their patronage.

The boom of the last two decades of the nineteenth century included not only the building of new houses, but also the construction of schools, churches, and public buildings, as well as the introduction of many modern services such as electric lights, water, sewers, paved streets, and a street car system. Ann Arbor responded to these changes first by letting private enterprise fill the needs, and when this proved unsatisfactory, by expanding the regulatory role of the city government. Trying to keep taxes as low as possible, the council granted franchises to private companies to build and operate new utilities.

In January 1881 the telephone company opened Ann Arbor's first telephone exchange and within the next few years put up lines connecting Ann Arbor with Ypsilanti, Saline, Manchester, Howell, Adrian, and Detroit. The number of telephones in town increased from 25 in 1881 to 96 in 1883 and 141 in 1892. Many subscribers used the instrument for entertainment. Some people played checkers by phone, while others sat at home and listened to a sermon delivered in the Congregational Church, or to a concert given in Adrian. As more and more businesses in town installed telephones, serious matters began to be transacted by phone.

The price for telephone service in the 1880's ($36 per year for a residence, $48 for a business) restricted use to the wealthier segment of the population. In 1897, however, a rival telephone company with considerably lower rates began operations in town. During the ensuing price war both companies added hundreds of new subscribers. But the competition also forced merchants and public offices to have two telephones--one with each company.

An electric light company was formed in 1884, and in the following year a group of outside investors started the local waterworks. In both cases there was some sentiment in favor of the city owning and operating the plants. But the council preferred to keep taxes down by contracting with private companies to provide the services. The city subsidized these enterprises by becoming their single largest customer. The first six electric street lights were installed in 1884. Within ten years, all of the gas street lamps had been replaced by electricity.

The agreement between the city and the water company stipulated that the company install 100 hydrants in the city and supply water for fire fighting at an annual fee of $40 per hydrant. Violating its trust, the company never provided satisfactory service. It allowed water pressure to drop below the level needed for fighting fires and mixed unhealthy river water with spring water. Little could be done to correct the situation because the company held a long-term franchise. It was not until 1913 that the city was able to buy it out.

Public Transportation and Changes in City Government

The electric street railway system was instituted in 1890. Capitalizing on a desire that had originated in the 1860's, the Ann Arbor Street RailwayMichigan Central Railroad depot Company's first line connected the Michigan Central Railroad Depot, the downtown business district, the University campus, and the new fairgrounds at Burns Park. That same year another company built the first interurban system in the state, connecting Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor. The interurban began operations in 1891 and five years later merged with the Ann Arbor Street Railway. In 1898 this system combined with the larger Detroit, Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor Street Railway Company. Offering frequent trips at low prices, the interurban took much of the passenger traffic between Ann Arbor and Main Street, 1892Detroit away from the Michigan Central Railroad and allowed people in rural areas to come to Ann Arbor more frequently. Ann Arbor residents could now shop in Detroit and Ypsilanti or ride the car between Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti for a warm summer evening's entertainment.

Besides negotiating and amending franchises for public service corporations, the city council worked on a sanitary sewer system (begun in 1894), a storm sewer system (begun in 1898), street paving (begun in 1896), and the repair and replacement of sidewalks. Prior to the 1890's good natural drainage kept Ann Arbor's dirt streets passable in all but the wettest weather. The installation of water pipes and sewers, however, left the roads rutted and marred by potholes. As an experiment in 1896 the city macademized a portion of Huron Street in front of Fireman's Hall, Fourth Avenue between Ann and Catherine, and Detroit Street between Catherine and the depot. In 1898 five blocks of Main Street were paved with brick and in the following year a brick surface was put on the downtown blocks of Washington Street.

Burgeoning city services called for an increasingly sophisticated city government with an independence and expertise impossible to maintain under the old paternalistic system. Led by Mayor Samuel W. Beakes, council rewrote the city charter in 1889, making the council purely a legislative body. The mayor was given strong executive powers and a veto over council legislation. In addition he obtained the right to appoint, subject to council approval, all members of city boards, and other city officials including the treasurer, the chief of police, and the city attorney. These paid officials assumed administrative chores previously performed by the city council. A new City Building was constructed in 1893 and symbolized the change to a more public government.

Two important regulatory commissions were created under the new charter. The Board of Public Works brought all work on city streets under the direction of a city engineer. Previously the council had maintained separate street funds for each ward, administered by the appropriate alderman. Central planning and control of street maintenance soon proved more efficient and less expensive.

The Board of Fire Commissioners supervised the city's first professional fire fighting force. Hose Company No. 3Prior to 1889, the city's protection against fires consisted only of several volunteer fire companies. Under this system anywhere from 75 to 150 people per year received the $5 salary for firemen (increased to $10 in 1886). The Board of Fire Commissioners converted the fire department to a professional force of about 6 full-time men and 5 men on call, and was able to raise wages to $40 per month for a first-year man.

Politics, Schools and Churches

The Republicans were the majority party in the city during much of the post Civil War era, but a split in the party ranks in the early 1880's over prohibition allowed the Democrats to establish a tradition of office holding. Most Republicans advocated temperance in the use of liquor, but one faction supported outright prohibition. The prohibitionists often entered a separate slate of candidates for city offices and even won a council seat in 1884. The effective result, however, was to give control of the city to the Democrats. Although the prohibition party soon disappeared from city politics, the Democrats continued to offer strong candidates and held the mayor's office thirteen of the fourteen years from 1880 and 1893, often with council majorities. The depression of 1893 hurt the party nationally and locally and the Republicans regained their domination of city government.

Although it had little role in the formal machinery of government, prohibition was a significant force in community affairs. Given the prominence of education in Ann Arbor, the school board was an important community institution. In combination with the women's rights movement, the prohibitionists managed to elect a number of candidates to the school board. While the board continued to be controlled numerically by wealthy merchants, women became increasingly involved in school affairs. In 1881 women property owners received the right to vote in school elections. Backed by local temperance societies in 1883, Mrs. Sarah Bishop became the first woman elected to the board.

During the 1890's the interest in the women's rights movement increased in Ann Arbor. In 1894, after the Michigan Equal Suffrage Association held its annual convention in Ann Arbor, local women founded the Political Equality Club of Ann Arbor. That year club member Miss Emma E. Bower, editor of the Ann Arbor Democrat , backed by the WCTU and the suffragists, won a seat on the school board. In 1896 Mrs. Anna Bach became the first woman president of the school board. The following year Miss Bower was made board treasurer. She served a term as president in 1899.

Besides the public school system, Ann Arbor also had three parochial schools. St. Thomas Catholic School, the largest of the three, completed a new building in 1886 on its present site and soon enrolled 200 students. Bethlehem German Evangelical Church School had 60 students at that time and the school connected with Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church had 55.

A school of music had existed in Ann Arbor as early as 1879. The program was strengthened in the 1890's when the University Musical Society started the University School of Music. The school constructed its own building on Maynard Street in 1893 and had, despite its name, no formal ties with the University. It merged with the University in 1929.

Ann Arbor's churches enjoyed a prosperity of their own between 1880German Methodist Episcopal Church and 1900. Only four new congregations formed during this period (Disciples of Christ, Grace Lutheran, Trinity Evangelical Lutheran, and Seventh Day Adventist), but a great increase in attendance was experienced at established churches. Ten new churches were built. Most of these new stone or brick structures are still standing and are among the most beautiful old buildings in Ann Arbor. Some are romanesque structures--the Unitarian Church (northeast corner of State and Huron), the Church of Christ (northwest corner of Tappan and Hill), and St. Thomas Catholic Church (northwest corner of Kingsley and State)--and are good examples of field stone architecture. The two African-American congregations of Second Baptist and Bethel A.M.E. built new brick structures in the 1890's to accommodate a stable African-American population.

Entertainment, Libraries, Ethnic Celebrations and Festivals

The last years of the nineteenth century were a busy time for the citizens of Ann Arbor, with increased opportunities in recreation, entertainment, and sports. Although the number of circuses diminished from previous years, the size and quality of those which came were more impressive. Adam Forepaugh brought his show to town about every other year in the 1880's. P. T. Barnum's troupe performed several times. In 1896 Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show appeared and two years later the Ringling Brothers Circus came to town.

Because there were often several years between the appearances of circuses in Ann Arbor, many other forms of entertainment became popular. An Ann Arbor resident could hear lecturers such as Mark Twain, Robert G. Ingersoll, Julia Ward Howe, Frances Willard, Henry George, or Susan B. Anthony. Orators such as Theodore Roosevelt, James G. Blaine, Grover Cleveland, William Jennings Bryan, and William McKinley spoke in town. Other possibilities for an enjoyable outing included a Shakespearean play, an opera by Gilbert and Sullivan, or a concert by John Philip Sousa and the U. S. Marine Band. The most popular entertainment was the play "Uncle Tom's Cabin," based on Harriet Beecher Stowe's novel.

One of the most popular events on the Ann Arbor cultural scene was the annual May Festival, begun in 1894 and sponsored by the University Musical Society. Each year during the '90's, this festival attracted visitors from all over Michigan and several neighboring states. University Hall was often filled well beyond its normal capacity for performances.

Almost every year the Washtenaw County Agricultural and Horticultural Society sponsored a county fair in Ann Arbor. The displays, races, and entertainment generated much interest, but competition with fairs elsewhere in the county made the fair less than a paying proposition. In 1890, the Society was forced to sell its grounds on the south side of Hill Street between Forest and Lincoln. Mrs. Olivia Hall agreed to give the Society an equal amount of land in what is now Burns Park plus $7,000 in exchange for the Hill Street property. This transaction erased the organization's debt and for many years the fair prospered at its new location.

In the '80's and '90's, Ann Arbor's two libraries enjoyed increasing patronage.Ladies Library Association building The public library had its quarters in the high school building and was open to the public a few hours a week. In 1885, the Ladies Library Association completed a new building on Huron Street where the Ameritech building now stands. Upon payment of a membership fee of one dollar a year a patron had access to a collection of 3,500 volumes.

Two of Ann Arbor's ethnic groups held annual celebrations and a number of special festivals during these years. Every year the African-American community either staged a celebration of Emancipation Day or organized excursions to participate in celebrations in other towns. In 1883, a large number of Ann Arbor African Americans went to Lansing for the Emancipation Day celebration. The following year a special celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the freeing of the slaves in the West Indies was held.

The other ethnic group in town with regular celebrations and festivals was the large German population living largely west of Main Street and south of Huron. During the 1880's the Beethoven Gesangverein (choral society) provided regular musical entertainment for the German community, and in the 1890's the Lyra Gesangverein took its place. Beginning in 1890, an annual celebration of German-American day was held in one of the communities in the county.

The Beethoven Gesangverein served as the host for the largest singing festival ever held in Ann Arbor. The three-day Seventh Peninsular Saengerfest, held in 1887, was conducted by the Peninsular Saengerbund, an organization representing most of the German singing societies in the state. Seventeen train-car loads of visitors came from Detroit. Over 3,000 people attended the closing concert.

Popular Sports

Another form of entertainment for the people of Ann Arbor was athletics. During this period sports were not as highly organized as they later became. There were many more participants and fewer spectators. Baseball was the most important sport in the late nineteenth century, both locally and nationally. The sport became a real "craze" around the middle of the '80's. By 1884 the city council felt it necessary to ban ball playing in the streets.

In those days most baseball games were arranged on the spur of the moment. Local residents could see matches between the staffs of two local newspapers, between the Northside Club and a traveling club of professional female players, between the city officials and the county officials, or between the University faculty and a team composed of the high school faculty and the board of education. The University of Michigan played a schedule which included Ann Arbor High School and a Detroit professional team.

Football also grew in popularity in the late nineteenth century, but untilUniversity of Michigan football team, 1889 the 1890's it resembled rugby more than modern football. One newspaper article claimed that "There is really very little kick in a game of collegiate football. It is principally a mass of struggling humanity, with wildly protruding eyeballs, bruised and wrenched limbs, [and] streaming apparel." In the early '90's both the University and the high school appointed boards to control professionalism in athletics and prevent the use of such tactics as slugging in football games.

During the 1880's the new high-wheeled bicycles became popular among students Man on bicycleand some of the younger businessmen in town. Soon the sport was quite the rage and several bicycle schools opened up to teach people how to ride the "animal." The modern bicycle became available in the 1890's at a fairly low cost, and the number of cyclists in town rose steadily. By the turn of the century, there were between 2,500 and 3,000 bicycles in town. Through such organizations as the League of American Wheelmen, cyclists were the first to lobby for better roads. Junius Beal, the young editor of the Ann Arbor Courier, was the first president of the Michigan Division of the League of American Wheelmen and active in the national association.

By the turn of the century, Ann Arbor was a prospering community, supported for the most part by its educational institutions and a few small manufacturing establishments. Over a very short period of time "Ann's Arbour" had acquired most of the modern conveniences available in the larger cities and yet had retained its character as a fine residential town. While not all of the problems of earlier years had been solved, the citizens of Ann Arbor faced the new century with a sense of accomplishment.