YPSILANTI: Neighborhood Treasures

9 Jul

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Ypsilanti is about 35 miles west and a little south of Detroit, most folks know it as the home of Eastern Michigan University. In 1835 the road from Detroit to Chicago (now called Michigan Ave) opened, train service arrived in 1838, allowing travelers easy access to the city. Michigan Normal College, a school for training teachers, was founded in 1849, today we know it as EMU. Flour mills, saw mills and plaster mills along with farming brought wealth to early residents; the city is dense with beautiful, historic architecture. Ypsi is home to the second largest historic district in Michigan. Today we are getting an up-close look at some of the city’s finest homes on the 38th Annual Historic Home Tour. It seems many historic districts share the same story, just as a city landmark is about to be demolished, residents ban together, form a foundation, create a historic district and save the structure; such is the case with the Ypsilanti Heritage Foundation

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The structure I am referring to is known as  The Towner House, it’s where we begin our tour. At one time the First Presbyterian Church of Ypsilanti owned the house and property, wanting to expand the church’s footprint they planned to demolish Towner House, that’s when a group of people stepped up, joined together, formed the Heritage Foundation and saved the house from demolition; today the Towner House Foundation owns the house. Built in 1837 in the Greek Revival style, the renovated exterior is a lovely medium blue. The building stands on its original stone foundation, the original timbers used in construction still bear their bark, we’ve never seen that before, it’s pretty amazing. The interior is gutted; walls are missing plaster, ceilings are open, remnants of wallpaper found on walls rest on a table. Wood floors, a pretty marble fireplace and a portrait remind us of the families who once lived here. Collecting stories from people who once lived in the home or neighborhood is ongoing as the restoration process continues— at 178 years old, that’s a lot of stories

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Just down North Huron Street we find ourselves in front of a gorgeous Tudor Revival home built in 1921, because of its size the front entrance and facade face the south side of the lot. Members of Ypsi’s most prominent families once called the place home. Trees and shrubs create a tranquil landscape, bright red Geraniums fill flower pots, whimsical sculptures are tucked into plantings. Dark wood beams frame stucco, this house uses the pebble-dash method, the amount of exterior detail is staggering. The living room is a sunny yellow lit up by the afternoon sun, built-in leaded glass bookcases line the back wall, original chandeliers and sconces still adorn the home.

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  Across the street a spacious red-brick home is a pleasant blend of Italianate, Georgian and Colonial Revival styles. Built in 1860 for a local haberdasher, ensuing residents were also wealthy; the best known being Danile Quirk Jr, son of the founder of Peninsular Paper Company and the National Bank of Ypsilanti. During the time Ypsi owned the house, the 14th Circuit Court operated out of the library Quirk added in 1927.  The house now contains the offices of Manchester & Associates. As we pass through the reception area we notice many of the original details remain such as splendid fireplaces and exquisite plasterwork.The library is stunning; handsome wood covers the walls and ceiling, built-in bookshelves are crammed tight with volumes, a petite arch leads to a tunnel-like stairway to the balcony, we have a great overall view of the library from here. When we exit we study a large black and white photo that captures the elaborate terraced gardens that once covered the back slope of this hill.

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The next stop on the tour is a former carriage house turned apartment, it sits behind a grand home that is now the Ypsilanti Historical Museum. When the horse and carriage was phased out the automobile took its place in the building; it was turned into apartments around 1930. We climb the long stairway to the second floor, the space is modern and attractive with a wonderful view. We pop into the museum for a look around; all the goodies you’d expect to see in a well-to-do 1860’s home are here: plaster ceiling medallions, winding staircase, fancy chandeliers, ornate plaster moldings and beautiful furnishings. The historical society displays the history of Ypsi in rooms at the back of the house; display cases exhibit old photos, war relics, the stories of Tucker and Elija McCoy, all very interesting.

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We leave the neighborhood taking Washtenaw to the next tour home, a gorgeous brick Tudor built in 1932. I love the exterior brick, an assortment of colors with dark clinker bricks sticking out. The details are extensive inside and out; stonework, leaded glass panels, plaster and fabulous ceramic tile—it still has the original sconces too! The owner is a collector of fine things, the home reflects his good taste.

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Just up the road on Huron River Drive we find ourselves at a farmhouse built in 1841 by the Starkweather family. Built in the Greek Revival style the home is in the process of being renovated into apartments. The current owner has been able to restore some of the original features in the process. The last tour home is a Mid Century ranch built in 1956. The builder lived in a beautiful Gothic-style home, he split the property, built this house and moved in with his family. The exterior appears much as it did then, the interior has been extensively updated. One of the cool things about an old neighborhood is the variety of homes that sit side by side.

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We are having lunch in Depot Town at Maiz Mexican Cantina on E Cross Street. Specializing in Tex-Mex, the food is prepared from scratch daily. Patio tables extend across the sidewalk, chairs are a mix of red, green and white, the colors of Mexico’s flag; it’s a perfect day to sit outside. With a little help from our server we place our order, we gobble up colorful tortilla chips dipping them in spicy salsa and creamy guacamole. Our tacos arrive; flour tortillas stuffed to capacity with tasty fillings like pan-fried avocado slices dusted in cornmeal, flour and sesame seeds, beer-battered cod and vegetable hash. Toppings include spicy slaw, chipotle cream, mango salsa and cilantro aioli, everything is delicious! Side dishes of black beans and corn on the cob are equally tasty. We linger on the patio sipping cold beverages; a steady stream of folks come and go, pedestrians carry ice cream cones and shopping bags. What a perfect summer day. 

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