This article is from 2017, but still has some great information on Ypsilanti! For updated event dates, click HERE.
Every name has a story, whether it’s mundane or eccentric. For a city like Ypsilanti (Ǐp’-sǐ-lǎn-tē), it’s obvious the story has to be more of the latter. It all started in the 1800s when three settlers sought new development and opportunity west of Detroit’s coughing smokestacks. Those settlers were John Stewart, William Harwood, and integrally, Augustus Woodward.
The city’s story began when Orange Ridson, a local surveyor, was commissioned by the territorial government to lay out a route between southeast Michigan and Chicago. Ridson found that the nearby Sauk Native American trail made this an easy task, as it connected Detroit and the Huron Valley while avoiding bluffs, swamps, and difficult waterways. While surveying, Ridson plotted a section of the new route that crossed the Huron River at an easy location.
Enter Stewart, Harwood, and Woodward. Almost immediately after the route was plotted, they bought all of the land adjacent to the crossing. Before they had even built a single structure, though, the three men found themselves facing a problem: what were they to name this new settlement? Several names were proposed: Stewart’s idea was “Waterville,” while Harwood suggested “Palmyra”. In the end, it was Woodward’s choice that would win the day.
Woodward, the federal judge for the Michigan territory, was a brilliant and eccentric man who commanded great respect. One of his many interests was ancient Greek, which drew his attention to the Greek Revolution happening at the time. Many Americans viewed the Greek’s struggle as similar to their own Revolutionary War. When a heroic general in the Greek army appeared, it was no surprise then that he had a large amount of support among the American people.
The general, Demetrios Ypsilanti, was a heroic figure tantamount to characters of legend. With an army of only 300, Ypsilanti held the Citadel of Argos for three days against an army of 30,000. When they could hold no longer, Ypsilanti and his troops made a clandestine escape by sneaking behind enemy lines. He did not lose a single life.
With this heroic feat in mind, Harwood proposed that the new settlement be named Ypsilanti for the famed general. So here’s to Ypsilanti: A Greek patriot and a Michigan hero.
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