Churches, Theater and Newspapers

Drama was introduced in 1837 when the Ann Arbor Thespian Society presented "Pizarro or the Death of Rollo," a tragedy plus "a comic song" and a "laughable pantomime of the Sportsman." The first professional theatrical group came in January 1849 when the National Theatre of Detroit performed the "Lady of Lyons" and the musical farce, "A Loan of a Lover." Though many of these early cultural efforts survived for only a short period, they laid the foundations for later permanent institutions.

One of the first was the church. The initial clergymen were itinerants, like Methodist John H. Boughman to whom John Allen opened his home for services in the fall of 1825. In 1826 the Presbyterians met to form a congregation in the log school house Allen had built. The Episcopal congregation was organized in 1827. By 1831 Lucy Morgan could report in her letter home that the Presbyterians, Methodists, Episcopalians, and Baptists all held regular meetings "upon the Sabbath" and all had "very good preachers." She admitted, however, that frontier Ann Arbor was "like almost all places that grow up suddenly--not distinguished for morality."

Other Protestant denominations came into the village reflecting new doctrinal contributions or new ethnic settlements. The first Catholics settled in Northfield Township, Washtenaw County, in 1831. Not until 1835 did they hold regular services in Ann Arbor and it was another decade before a church building, a brick structure and the largest in town, was erected. Though a few Jews appeared in the 1840's, they were too few in number to form a congregation until the twentieth century.

The churches, too, served the purpose of providing places for public events. The Presbyterian Church, for example, was the site on November 10-11, 1836, of the founding meeting of the Michigan State Anti-Slavery Society. Seventy-five delegates representing Oakland, Wayne, Washtenaw, Lenawee, Livingston, Kalamazoo, and St. Joseph counties plus four visiting delegates from Ohio met, elected officers, adopted a constitution, and passed resolutions espousing the cause of abolition and supporting the free African-Americans in their drive to win the ballot in Michigan and to gain improved educational opportunities. The meeting also called forthe creation of an abolitionist press in Michigan. This sentiment led directly to the establishment of the Michigan Freeman in Jackson, which in 1841 moved to Ann Arbor and became the famous Signal of Liberty, edited by Guy Beckley and Theodore Foster.

The Signal was not the first newspaper in Ann Arbor. The village was scarcely five years old when theWestern Emigrant began publishing under the editorship of Thomas Simpson. After only five issues, he was bought out by Samuel W. Dexter and John Allen, who made the paper a strong opponent of Masonry, a controversial issue of the time. The paper had no competition until the Michigan Argus was established in February 1835. Other papers followed, often printed to reflect the feelings of various political parties. But there were also attempts to publish humor and satire, such as B'hoy's Eagle published in 1849.

The newspapers were a major factor in all phases of the community, but especially in the business and professional life of Ann Arbor. From the first issue, physicians and lawyers placed their notices in the paper. As the town grew, they were joined by other professionals. In 1836, an itinerant named G. W. Smith, probably the town's first dentist, told all citizens that he would "remove diseased teeth and fangs with the greatest possible ease, and insert Silicious, Metalic [sic] and other artificial teeth in the most durable manner."