Past Perfect

New coffee-table books on the history of Ann Arbor reveal how Tree Town branched out and blossomed
Past Perfect
Ann Arbor newsboys in 1892. Photograph Courtesy Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan

It’s hard to imagine that Ann Arbor, a bustling, traffic-choked university town of almost 115,000 people, had only 15,000 residents in 1900, a year that also saw the city’s first automobile. Or that Main Street wasn’t paved until 1908. Or that, in the late 19th century, German-Americans accounted for nearly half of the population.

These are some of the interesting tidbits about the town — founded in 1824 — in the coffee-table book Historic Photos of Ann Arbor (Turner Publishing Co., $39.95), by Alice Goff and Megan Cooney. Both women are master’s degree students at the University of Michigan and work at the university’s Bentley Historical Library, from which all of the photographs came. The oldest stretches back to the early 1860s, and the most recent date to the late 1960s. Most images don’t chronicle important events, but merely life as it was lived, which is the book’s chief charm. There’s an arresting photo of cherubic-faced Ann Arbor newsboys in 1892; a man cleaning plank sidewalks on State Street in the early 1890s; firemen in a horse-drawn wagon storming out of the engine house in 1906; and moviegoers queuing up in 1949 to see It Happens Every Spring at the Michigan Theatre. There’s even an undated picture of Drake’s Sandwich Shop on University, a student hangout much lamented since its shuttering in the early ’90s.

What, you ask, no photos of U-M.? Turner Publishing has that ground covered in Historic Photos of University of Michigan ($39.95), by Michael Chmura and Christina M. Consolino, featuring images ranging from the school’s first football team in 1879 to an outdoor art class held by Jean Paul Slusser on the Law Quadrangle, circa 1930.

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