Oral History: Historic Sites in Pittsfield Charter Township
Featuring Pittsfield Township Resident: C. Edward Wall
April 10, 2014
We'll start with going from north to south on Carpenter Road. The first historic site I'll mention is along Washtenaw Avenue just west of Carpenter Road. There was a very early settler here in 1820 by the name of Aaron Barney. At the time there was a creek right where US 23 crosses over Washtenaw – that was called Whitmore Creek at the time. Right now it's known as Swift Run. And then when US 23 came through it was all redirected and what else. Back in 1824, Aaron Barney built two large structures on Whitmore Creek, at that point on the south side of Washtenaw. He built a log house and a log workhouse, which became the first factory of Pittsfield Township. He manufactured farm tools. (Ed Wall also wrote an essay on this.) What is also interesting is, because of his location at that corner, he gave the name to Barney Road. And Barney Road began as Washtenaw – which has a long interesting history in and of itself. But it began in terms of European settlements as Barney Road. (That would be described as the east path of the northeast road corridor of section 2. If you read the description of the property that he owned.)
So then coming farther south down Carpenter Road to the intersection of Packard— that area was known, and even today it's respectively known, as Carpenter's Corner. It was so named because Ezra and Horace Carpenter came out and settled at that location on the south side of Packard. They owned 80 acres on both the west side and on the east side on Carpenter Road, south of Packard. Ezra's house was on the west side of Platt, south of Packard. Ezra was obviously a significant early settler in the area, but it was his son Horace who would play an incredibly important role in aspects of the early history of Pittsfield Township. It is essentially from Horace and his contributions to the Township that that particular side remains particularly important.
Now north, across Packard and west of Carpenter, were 80 acres that were patented and purchased from the Federal government by Joseph Parsons. Joseph Parsons cleared the property, but he also ran an inn on his property. That was a location approximately half way between Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor. The roads at the time were terrible and treacherous. If you were pulling a loaded wagon by oxen, you would need a place to stop for water. So, it became an important, pivotal location in the community for people who were traveling on business, or to see family or anything of this nature. So it was heavily used. Then when the stage coach began to run through Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor, it became a stage town. The location where horses were chained played a very interesting role. And a key to that whole success was the whiskey that was served at the bar— that was the primary beverage of choice. That location was called the Wayside Inn. It subsequently was sold to Benjamin Woodruff Jr. Now there were 3 Benjamin Woodruffs in this area. One was the founder of Woodruff's Grove, which is south of Ypsilanti, which was the pre-curser to Ypsilanti. The Benjamin Woodruff(s) that we're talking about here have nothing to do with that Woodruff of Woodruff's Grove.
Anyway, Benjamin Woodruff Jr. came with his family and brought his aging father with him, Benjamin Woodruff Sr. Benjamin Woodruff Sr. was a soldier in the Revolutionary War. He is one of our 7 soldiers of the Revolutionary War who lived here – six of them died here in Pittsfield Township including Benjamin Woodruff Sr. This is where he lived up until his death. Benjamin Woodruff Jr. had a number of very talented, capable sons who have interesting stories of their own to tell, but they all kind of evolved Pittsfield Township in one way or another. When Benjamin Woodruff was here, he himself was a harness maker, his son Charles was a tailor. We had kind of a little community of commerce in this area with a saddle maker, a tailor— I forgot to mention Horace Carpenter was a carpenter, which is highly appropriate for the name. And then to kind of round all that out, there was a rifle maker in the area, but I could not find detailed information about him. There was also a blacksmith that was located here on the east side of Carpenter Road. He was essentially leasing, I think, that property from Ezra Carpenter. And that was Philo Elansen Prichard. He lived there on that corner and his children attended Carpenter School. But then Philo Elansen Prichard relocated to Morgan Road, west of Platt. That's where he lived most of his life, until he died in 1853.
The first school of Pittsfield Township was opened in 1825. The district around it and the area generally east of Platt became known as Pittsfield Township School District Number 1 or Carpenter School. It was called Carpenter School because Ezra Carpenter founded the property on the east side of Carpenter Road. That then was deteriorated and had to be replaced with a slightly larger trade school on the west side of Carpenter Road. That existed until 1911, and then it was replaced by a rather handsome brick structure. That structure later became Ozzy's, and was then torn down for construction of the high-rise internment for seniors.
The successor to that school then became the 4th Carpenter school which is on Dayton and Central. So this has a very long history. As I mentioned to you, if you go back to 1825, last year (2013) when Pittsfield Township and Carpenter School celebrated its 175th anniversary, it actually also was marking the 187th year of continuous service as an elementary school in Pittsfield Township. An unbroken legacy of 187 years.
So let's look our way down to Ellsworth and Carpenter. On the southeast corner of Carpenter and Ellsworth were a series of properties that extended from along Carpenter Road east over to Golfside. The first was 80 acres that were owned by Jacob Aray– next in which were 80 acres owned by James Aray, and next in which there were 80 acres that were owned by families known as Olds and Sweet. In the 1830s and 1840s, a history was written about Carpenter School because all the one room schools were being consolidated or closed.
The very first paragraph of the history of Carpenter Schools talks about the "Old Negro Burial Ground" old the Olds/Sweet Farm. We have no idea, but I have total belief that that comment would not have been made if it was not believed to be absolutely true. In some communities a burial ground would be very close to the road, and in some communities it was kind of tucked away at the back of the property. But I would suspect that in the case of the Old Negro Burial Ground, it was set back into the back of the property, and it probably was destroyed with the construction of I-94 in the 1970s.
It is not inconceivable that these still exist. If there is construction on this particular property, (some of which I think is still open to future development) we need to be very careful and at least leave some kind of an archeological statement to that location. The description of that property would be the west half of the northeast corner of section 13. Jacob Aray's property was the west half of the northwest corner of section 13. James' was the east half of the northwest north corner of section 13.
That particular, James/Jacob Aray is important because they are family members of Asher Aray who was a very significant conductor of the Underground Railroad. And his home is just a little bit farther south on Michigan Avenue. So we'll be coming to him quite shortly here.
Coming south to Carpenter and Morgan Road, there was an airport there –the Ypsilanti Airport. I haven't taken much time to get aerial photos that show locations of old air hangars. This would be an opportunity for a historical marker – transportation of flight in Pittsfield Township.
On the northwest corner of Michigan Avenue, there's a very important tavern that existed for many years. In various maps it's showing as Robert's Tavern or Robert's Hotel– it's given various names. It really served travelers of the Old South Trail, or the Chicago Road/Chicago Turnpike for probably 30-40 years. At that time, there was really no other transportation for travelers in the area. This was known also as the half-way house – half way between Ypsilanti and Saline. It was a very good location for changing horses, giving water to the horses, and getting a beverage for the passengers. This whole area became known as Robert's Corner. As a result, across the road near the southeast corner of Michigan Avenue and Carpenter Road, it's still known as Robert's School. It has a long and distinguished history, and was a very interesting facility. It was a location where societies met and Sabbath School was held. There's a photograph of the Sabbath school members – which we have in the Pittsfield Township Historical Society archives. It shows the African American and Caucasian members of that parish standing side by side, and it's just a beautiful photograph showing the intricacy of the breakdown of the color barrier here in Pittsfield Township.
James Aray came out in 1826 and Jacob Aray came out in 1827. Jacob also purchased the southeast quarter of section 23. In 1829, Jacob sold/transferred the west half of that quarter section to his son, Asher Aray. Asher also acquired another 80 acres south of Textile Road—a long section of land that was a mile long and a quarter mile wide. This property extended on both sides of Michigan Avenue and both sides of Textile Road. Asher Aray's house and barn was on the south side of Michigan Avenue. Asher Aray was a very important conductor of the Underground Railroad.
There's a famous story of John Fairfield, a famous conductor who brought 27 freedom seekers out of North Carolina and Kentucky. Fairfield brought them through Cincinnati where Eli Kauffman and other members of the abolitionist community secretively sent them through the Underground Railroad over to Indiana and up through Michigan. The freedom seeker's last night before freedom in Canada was spent at Asher Aray's.
Asher Aray did not do that alone. There were three other important abolitionists in the exact proximity. Immediately to the west of him was Roswell Preston, who owned 80 acres adjacent to Aray. He owned a small slice of property between Michigan Avenue and Textile Road as well—around a total of 100-105 acres in that area. His house faced Textile Road, as opposed to Asher Aray's, which faced Michigan Avenue. That was important because Michigan Avenue and the turnpike had the heaviest travel. Preston's was a little bit more discrete, which made it more secretive to put freedom seekers at Preston's than it was at Asher Aray's.
Another important person here was William Webb Harwood – we'll talk about him a little later.
Continuing on Carpenter Road— at the northeast corner of Bemis and Carpenter Road, there was a school known as Oaklawn School. (This is a very confusing school because it turns out there was another named Oak Grove in York Township.) Immediately west of that is Section 35 is for another one of the Revolutionary War soldiers—a man named Mason Hatfield. He died there and was then buried in Stoney Creek Cemetery.
In the summer he came out with his son in law, Allen Crittendem, who owned the property immediately adjacent to the west side. That legal description would be the west ½ of the southeast corner of Section 35 – Mason Hatfield. Allen Crittendem's was the east ½ of southeast corner of Section 35.
That covers some of the highlights of Carpenter Road. There were certainly many other things that took place in that area.
Mastodon bones were found south of Textile Road, and just west of Crane Road.
A Civil War surgeon/doctor named Nathan Webb lived about half way between Merritt and Textile Road. He had three sons, all of them fought and died in the Civil War.
Now west of Platt along Washtenaw (the northeast quarter of section 3) was a property acquired by Claudius Britton Jr. from the Federal government. (All of these properties were essentially patented from the Federal government directly.) It's interesting that Britton came with his father and family. His father was another soldier in the American Revolution. (Ed Wall tells that story in one of his books.)
That property then was purchased by Washtenaw County for a poor farm that is now the County Farm Park. We have 18 acres or so called Britton Woods.
Going south to the intersection of Packard and Platt Road— that area was known as Mallet's Creek Settlement. It was within a mile of that particular intersection that almost all the settlements of Pittsfield Township began.
If you go south on Packard and east of Platt, there would be a property on the west half of northwest quarter of Section 11. That property was acquired by Oliver Whitmore.
Next of that going east was his brother Luke Whitmore's property--- that property extended for ½ mile. So that the east edge of that boundary was the Carpenter's property. Luke Whitmore also had a strip of land that came all the way down to intersect with Ellsworth, and he had a strip of land that went north in section 2. That portion of land ran next to Joseph Parson's property where the Wayside Inn was located.
Now across Packard, on the east side of Platt Road was the home of Samuel McDowell. Samuel McDowell had 160 acres at that location. West of Platt, but north of Packard were 240 acres. That was owned by Ezra Maynard, and subsequently his son, Charles.
There was a very early traveler who visited the area who stayed the night at Woodlands Grove and the next day followed the old Indian trail to Ann Arbor. When he got to Ann Arbor he said there were to houses: one by John Allen and one by Elisha Rumsey, who were co-founders of Ann Arbor. He said on his way to Ann Arbor, he passed two other houses. He said one was just being finished (which was Oliver Whitmore's). He said the other family was living in a barn shanty, and where just finishing putting a roof on their log cabin. I mentioned Samuel McDowell. Samuel McDowell and Oliver Whitmore became friends, and they patented their land kind of in unison along the creek or so. McDowell was probably the younger, he had a young family. When they came out, they got as far as Woodruff's Grove, which was out in Ypsilanti. McDowell left his wife and daughter with Woodruff, and came with Oliver Whitmore to help build Oliver Whitmore's house. After Oliver Whitmore's house was complete, they went across Packard and built Samuel McDowell's house. So that kind of is an explanation of some of the first few houses. There were certainly other very early patentees and settlers like Lewis Barr who was on the east side of Platt. Certainly there were others.
Ezra Maynard transferred his property to Charles. Charles obviously was not a farmer – he offered his property for sale. He took his 240 acres and broke it up into half, so there would be two 120 acre units. The west of those 120 units was acquired by Benajah Ticknor. Benajah was a naval surgeon, and the brother of Heman Ticknor. Heman came out to Pittsfield Township of Benajah's behalf and purchased that westerly 120 acres. They were living in a home that was built by Ezra Maynard, but when Benajah came to visit his brother, he noticed the home's conditions. Benajah was pretty successful as a surgeon and had money to spend. So, it was he who instigated the construction of the cobblestone house.
What's interesting about that house was that his wife's maiden name was Cutler – and her father was Josiah Cutler, another soldier of the Revolutionary War. He died in that house.
Luke Whitmore arrived in 1825. Oliver Whitmore arrived in 1824. Oliver's daughter died not long after their arrival. He set aside a parcel on his land that was adjacent to Joseph Parsons'. The description of that would be the west half of the southeast quarter of Section 2. On the southwest corner of that land, he set aside a parcel of his land for a cemetery. That's where his daughter Emily was buried in 1825.
Later, he deeded that land for the use of all of the surrounding early settlers. It was here in that cemetery, Whitmore cemetery, that Benjamin Woodruff Sr. was buried, and Josiah Cutler was buried. Later John and Sara Terhune were buried there, both Revolutionary War patriots.
Malletts Creek School was 3/10 of a mile east of Platt Road. on the south side. That's where the very first school of Washtenaw County was held—conducted during the summer of 1825. They opened it under a large oak tree, and it was taught by Miss Elzada Fairbrother. As far as I can tell, the first religious services of Pittsfield Township were held under that same oak tree. It was then during the summer of 1825 that Malletts Creek School was constructed. This area grew rapidly, and most of the families that came out were very large; they had many children. It wasn't long before the school as overcrowded, and after a few years they finally built a new school.
On the west side of Platt Road, south of Packard, leased property from a person by the name of Alpheus Collins. "Collins School" was then constructed – that existed for a few years and then moved farther west. Another Collins School was constructed, and then they came over to Carpenter Road.
Coming down Platt to Ellsworth, on the southwest north quarter of Section 14 – there was a property owned by John and Sara Terhune. John was a solider in the Revolutionary War. He had been with George Washington in Trenton. His involvement was significant in the fact that he retired with a pension. He was given a pension of $240, whereas most revolutionary war veterans had pensions of $60-80. You can see the significance that was placed on John Terhune. His wife Sara was a heroine in her own right. She had warned Washington of the advancement of British troops. This is a very confusing history looking through the details here, but we do know that John settled in 1831, and died in 1839.
I'll talk about Morgan Road west of Platt, because back in the early days, Platt Road dead ended at Thomas. It dead-ended there because there we had a great swamp in Pittsfield Township that covered approximately 4.5 square miles.
At the far end of Morgan Road (which didn't exist back then) was the home of Samuel Morgan. In 1852, just east of Morgan's house, the township built the first township hall. Prior to that time, meetings had been held at the schools. Slightly farther east of that was a long strip of land that had been acquired by Philo Elansen Prichard, the blacksmith. What's interesting about Philo Elansen Prichard is his father-in-law was Archibald Armstrong, another soldier of the Revolutionary War. As far as I can tell, he and Philo's mother lived nearby at that location, but there is no record of where Archibald Armstrong lived. There is a memorial stone for him at the cemetery. Armstrong died from complications from a snake bite.
Across Morgan Road and Platt Road were 160 acres that were owned by William Geddes. He also acquired 180 acres on the east side as well, totaling 220 acres. His property backed up to what today is Thomas Road. A school was built on the south side of Morgan Road, east of Thomas Road, on property owned by William Geddes. This school was known as Geddes' School, and eventually there were three Geddes Schools. There was talk of building the township hall in kind of the basement area of that third Geddes school.
The school in the meantime had been used by Pittsfield Township. The school decided to submit a bill to the township for all the firewood that had been consumed. The township decided it would just build its own township hall, so we ended up with a township hall across the street. The third school took on a different name of "Old Town Hall School." There is a book that has been written by Old Town Hall School called Down the Myrtle Path. It is based upon the transcription of the old Geddes School records. There is a handwritten copy of Geddes School records at the Ypsilanti Historical Society archives.
Since about the 1850s or so, the intersection of Textile Road, Michigan Avenue and Platt Road was essentially known as Katy's Corner. The reason for that is immediately east and south of Textile Road was a property owned by Katy. That was in the Katy family for a long time. In more recent years, when Michigan Avenue came to evolve into a motor route for cars with internal combustion, they built a 1-room gas station at that location.
Because of Katy's Corner and because of the proximity, a lot of things emerged. That particular corner is the nexus of the Underground Railroad in Pittsfield Township, because off to the west you have William Harwood, and off to the east you have Roswell Preston and Asher Aray, for example.
You have the Textile/Cord Road – probably a toll road built by John Gilbert. Gilbert had been involved with surveying and constructing portions of the Erie Canal. He had owned the Harwood property prior to William Harwood. Harwood traded the property for a mill on the Huron River that Harwood had.
Along Michigan Avenue there was a long history, and there's additionally of course an Indian Trail. That trail was called the Old Sauk Trail and it got its name from the Sauk Indians that had their village at the mouth of the Rock River.
It slowly evolved after the war of 1812 into the primary route of early migration into Michigan coming out of Detroit. It began to involve into an improved road. In about 1849 or so it was identified as Plank Road, overcoming the obstacles of nature provided a better road to Saline. It was one of numerous Plank Roads constructed in the State of Michigan at the time.
Also on the north side of Michigan Avenue was an inter-urban railroad that started in the late 1800s and continued up until the early 1900s. The roads were so terrible, the inter-urban railroad became the real means of transportation from Ypsilanti to Saline and vice versa. And then Ypsilanti then connected all the way to Detroit.
I forgot to mention along Packard there was also an inter-urban known as the Ypsi-Ann Inter-Urban. The depot for the inter-urban was on the southwest corner of Packard and Platt Road.
In the proximity of the triangle made by Platt Road, Michigan Avenue and Textile Road, an assistant surveyor found abandoned wigwam poles when an old survey took place for the Old Chicago Trail. I can only imagine one thing that would leave the wigwam poles abandoned—disease outbreak. Something like that would cause the Native Americans to leave behind a lot of their possessions. Skins and other items were all gone, but the poles still stood.
Going back to Textile Road there--- this whole area is fairly complex in this particular section. One of the reasons why I personally conclude that Textile Road was cord road with toll booths, is because in 1835, road inspectors were elected for the roads in Pittsfield Township, and every segment of the road was divided into a different number of the district. However, there was none elected for the segment of road that goes up on Textile Road from Platt to S. State Street. All of the farmers living along that had to give two weeks labor per year to maintain the road. And we know this is this district was being used because there was McCracken School. That school was on the southwest 1/4 of the southeast ¼ of the southwest ¼ of Section 22. That school was described in very early records as the school next to McCracken Tavern.
It was Ralph Harwood who for the first time told me (Wall) about McCracken Schools, at the location south of Textile Road, west of Campbell. Now some years later, when I (Wall) was much involved in the historical society, Marsha Ticknor confirmed it. Her family had told her about the existence of the McCracken Tavern, and she too said that it was there on the southwest corner of Campbell and Textile Road. There was a tavern at that location because the roads were deplorable. If you go back 200 years, the water level was up to 50 feet higher than it was today, and had not been drained. We hadn't done all the ditching or trenching to drain water off. At times of the year, the trail would have been impassable across the marshes and bogs. And so there was a bypass that came along Textile Road to S. State Street. For that matter, the majority of the settlement that took place in western Washtenaw County would be on wagons. They would have went down Chicago Road and the intersection of Textile Road. So, Textile Road played a very important role in Pittsfield Township, and yet it was impassable without upgrading to a cord road. A cord road is constructed by cutting trees and laying the trunks of the trees sideways on the road. What they would do then is to fill gaps between logs with smaller branches, rocks – and then over the top of that they would put gravel and then dirt. The problem of course is that dirt would wash away with rainstorms, which is one of the reasons why this was a labor intensive process. We know that there was no tax revenue/no funding for roads whatsoever. It was all up to the individual who used that road area. The farmers next door were required to put in two weeks of labor per year, for example. It was all up to personal initiative. There was no federal, state, territorial, and no Township funding – it was all up to personal initiative. And the concept back in those days was that the roads benefited those who lived next to them. There was no concept of in interstate commerce, because it was a totally different time.
Imagine the water levels being 50 feet higher than it is today and you could see that is was a major task to build Textile Road. I am absolutely convinced, although I haven't been able to find records that it had to have been a toll road. Because when the water line was put in around Textile Road, the contractor who was laying the pipe had difficulties stabilizing the pipe because the soil was so unstable.
Now going down to Thomas Road on the east side, just north of Textile Road, there's a bog. The road does not come straight through, instead, Thomas Road comes down toward Textile and there's a boulder off to the west. The reason for that is early settlers probably drove straight through. Unfortunately, I've read accounts of one horse and wagon that was lost to quicksand. Finally they gave up and put in a dog leg. That dog leg was on the same quarter section where McCracken School was located.
At that time, a person named Charles Woodard owned that property, and what is today known as Thomas Road was known as Woodard Road.
If you come down Platt Road to Bemis Road, there was Section 33. We've had another Revolutionary War soldier by the name of Samuel Walters who owned property there. He owned about 80 acres of land that started on Bemis Road about half mile then was offset, and then another 80 acres up to Merritt Road. I think his home was on Bemis Road. He died in Pittsfield Township, on property owned by his second wife.
The Lathrup-Lohr house was located on Lohr Road on the west side, south of Ellsworth. At that time, the house was purchased from the Federal Government. Lohr Road only came down to the house itself – because the great swamp covered so much of this area. All of the airport area, for example, and much of section 16 was covered by swamp.
The Lathrup-Lohr house was on the west side of Lohr Road, about half a mile south of Ellsworth. It's a beautiful home, and this property was initially settled by the Lathrup's, an English family. The Lathrup-Lohr house tells an interesting story of the changing demographics of Pittsfield Township. Most of the early settlers of Pittsfield Township where English, Irish and Scotch. Many of them were residents initially of New England, New York, Pennsylvania and so on. A lot of them had made successful moves moving from those areas, and they kept moving west looking for land. And of course most of these families had 6-8 children, or even 12 children— so you'd have more parcels of land for them to buy. Instead of having 1 parcel of land for a family of 12 children, now you end up needing 12 parcels of land. So these are the pressures of western expansion.
Most of the individuals who came to Pittsfield Township initially either came out of the states that had become essentially settled with those of English/Scotch/Irish heritage. Or people came over, like the Farnell's and some others, on their own to come to Pittsfield Township – to pursue the land. The Germans who came over just a little bit after the English – they all settled in primarily western Washtenaw County (Manchester, Lodi, and Saline). - Just a huge concentration of Germans over in that particular area.
But the English settlers oftentimes had children who did not want to farm – and so with migration, farmland became available. The Germans living in western Washtenaw wanted settlements with land of their own, so there was pressure to find new places to set up new farms. One of the first German families of Pittsfield Township was the family of Philip Moore, who purchased the Lathrup Farm. And so that was a very interesting story itself. It's an important location because it allows us to tell the story about the changing demographics.
We'll go down to Fosdick and Warner. A person by the name of Horace Kellogg patented property in Section 32, west of Fosdick Road, just north of Bemis. He had I think 160 acres there originally. According to his son Daniel, he was perfectly religious, to a point of excess. He constantly gave more to the church than he was earning. And so he kept on selling off parts of his property in order to support those religious contributions he was making. Finally, he got to the point where they needed to relocate. He found a parcel, about 60 acres or so, on the west side of Warner Road, and built a shanty with a sloping roof. That is where the Horace Kellogg family relocated. It was at that location, very close nearby, that he constructed a lime kiln.
There was a lot of lime there. I'm not a geologist, and I'm not quite sure how that would have happened, but it's quite likely from the glacial history of our Township. Obviously there was a very significant operation here because there were approximately 240 bushels of lime produced per week. Over the history of that lime kiln, just about 150,000 bushels of lime were produced.
Now limestone at that time would have had no value. But lime, on the other hand, would have had tremendous economic value. It was used as mortars for binding stone to make stone foundations like for the cobblestone farm. It was used for an inexpensive wash that would help seal and preserve wood. It was used for tanning animal hides. It had tremendous value in trying to breakdown acidity of clay soils. And so lime had a lot of value. As a result, the Kellogg lime kiln was a strategically important early residence in Pittsfield Township.
Now it required certain natural resources just to sustain and support itself. It needed a lot of timber. A lime kiln is typically constructed in 4 layers. We have kind of a basement area, then a fire box area above that, then a lime stone area – kind of round with a hole in the middle of it, and above that you have a chimney. A fire was built in the fire box on the second level and needed to control the draft of that fire, control the temperature from burning the lime.
Limestone was excavated nearby and according to one account of that, the limestone extended down to a blue-greenish layer of clay. One of the workmen was curious as to what was under the clay. And so he stuck in his shovel, and all of a sudden a ton of water flooded up. I wanted to mention another trail in Pittsfield Township. Again, because the marshes were here along the Old Sauk Trail, there was a need to bypass those. There was a bypass along the north of Textile Road. There was also a bypass south. That bypass began to emerge from the Great Sauk Trail about a mile or so east of Pittsfield Township. In Ypsilanti, or it may have come up close to the edge of Pittsfield Township. At that particular corner it began to merge more sharply to the southwest, and then it began to parallel the Old Sauk Trail about a mile further south of the Old Sauk Trail. That trail would have passed Platt Road at approximately Merritt. That trail had been called the Pittsfield Salt Trail, because it led to an area south of Saline. There were salt springs at that location. There were salt springs back in the early 1800's, and as recently as 2013 a person walking found salt springs still running, at least occasionally.
Salt was essential to life. As a result, all of the trails that we have throughout this area were originally animal trails leading to the salt springs in Saline. Those animal trails then became the highways for the Native Americans. And those Native American trails then became the trails for early European settlers. Those salt springs were the source of sustaining life in this particular area. This trail extends down parallel to the Sauk Trail. The Pittsfield Salt Trail gives us an opportunity to tell a really significant story about early life, the nature of the animal trails and Indian trails.
There were other schools in Pittsfield Township. I've counted at one point 26 schools that we've documented or were identified over the years. If you go west of S. State Street, there is evidence of a school on the south side of Ellsworth – up to 1/8th to a 1/4 mile west of S. State Street. That would have been replaced at some point with a school north of Ellsworth. We know about that school from a number of references.
I know if you go back on Ellsworth, between Stone School and Platt, there was a farm by Elsaac Farnell. Elsaac Farnell had two sons and a daughter. One of his sons fought in the Civil War and died. At one point, they petitioned to have their children not attend Mallet Creek School, but instead attend the school over here in this area. I can't remember what the name was at the time. These school didn't survive very long, and I'm not sure what the succession or transition of schools would have been afterwards.
If you come up to Ann Arbor- Saline Road, there was a very important school up here. Approximately at the intersection of Lohr Road and Ann Arbor-Saline. It would have been on the north east side- that was the Mills School. It was I think probably the fourth succession of Mills Schools: once the first, then another school that was built about a ¼ mile south of that location – which was then relocated some time and finally this brick structure of there. There was another school that was not in Pittsfield Township – called "Dold School". It served much of Pittsfield Township. I do not have a lot of information on that school because it's outside our traditional boundaries.
Coming farther south to Textile Road, go south on S. State Street, west on Textile Road – you come to the Sutherland Wilson Farm. Across the road from the Sutherland-Wilson farm was the Sutherland School. You have a railroad crossing in this area as well. You have a very wet marshy area on both the north and south side of Textile Road along the railroad tracks. If I remember correctly, the area north of Textile is owned by a Nature Conservancy. In some respects, that would have been part of the great swamp of Pittsfield Township. I think at that particular location it had a sidewalk that would go past there. As we cost the railroad tracks and look at that marsh- that would be one of the possible locations in Pittsfield Township for a historic marker about the great swamp. The great swamp covered 4.5 miles or so.
Coming farther south into Section 31, we have on the very far corner a farm owned by George Foster. Now Foster used a small portion of his land for a school, which unfortunately in historical reference is called Forten School. When the kids of the successor to that, Valentine School, wrote the history of the school, none of the old-timers remembered firsthand knowledge. Our history is that at the mercy of quality penmanship, to be able to read letters. Handwriting was so pivotally important, or you just couldn't read it. In fact, our whole history is at the mercy of the quality of data/Census records. So when writing the history of the school, Foster was interpreted as Forten School. But it was the Foster School that was located here for probably 5-6 years. It was closed by 1837, and then the school was moved to a Valentine owned farm on S. State Street and Michigan Avenue.
Valentine school was a beautiful little school. According to some evidence, it is the school that the original Foster School, that moved and became Valentine School, except Foster School faced north on Michigan Avenue, and Valentine faced South on Michigan Avenue Unfortunately that building was destroyed just a couple years ago. It was a non-conforming structure and was torn down. Which is why I think what you're doing is so important. Hopefully it'll begin to give the Township a sense of the legacy, character and importance of some of those aspects.
We have the Sutherland-Wilson Farm that we're interpreting essentially from 1850 - 1860, which is the decade of the Civil War. We had Old Town Hall School, which still exists from 1852, here at the intersection of Thomas and Morgan Road The Old Town Hall School was fortunately relocated to Eastern Michigan University to commemorate that history of that school. I think that that saved the building.
If you come where our railroads cross at the southeast corner of the railroads – it was east of the Ann Arbor Rail Railroad, south west of New York Central, there was a depot. That depot was known by two different names as "Pittsfield" and "Pittsfield Junction." That was destroyed by a New York Central Train that barreled off the tracks. (Unsure on the year.)
Historical Information provided by: C. Edward Wall
Additional contributors: Helen Richards, Marsha Ticknor, Mary Ellen Wall
- Ypsilanti Historical Society Archives, Ypsilanti MI
- Latter Day Saints Library, Saline MI
- Bentley Library, Ann Arbor MI
- Milan Public Library, Milan MI