From its settlement in 1823 through the present day, Ypsilanti tells the story of the United States; the events that rocked the growing nation, also rocked the growing city. Ypsilanti’s history is overflowing with moments of notable progress, and the residents are proud of this community. Ypsilanti’s Bicentennial is a celebration of its diversity through its past, present, and future.
It is important to acknowledge Ypsilanti was founded on April 22, 1823, as “Woodruff’s Grove” on land belonging to the Anishinaabe people, including the Ojibwe, the Odawa, and the Potawatomi. Please click here to view the Michigan Senate resolution diving deeper and celebrating the city's rich history for Ypsilanti’s 200th Founder’s Day.
Many notable moments have taken place within the past 200 years. Here are some fast facts on more significant history that helped shape Ypsilanti as we know it today:
Brown Chapel AME Church, now the second oldest active AME Church in Michigan, is founded in 1843. In 1904, the community builds and funds the church’s new home on South Adams Street in Ypsilanti’s South Side neighborhood, serving as a cultural and religious center.
Clearly Business College was founded in 1882 and would become the largest business school in the state. Unfortunately, the college was hit by a cyclone just 11 years later in 1893. The Opera House and other businesses along Michigan Avenue and Huron Street were damaged.
Ypsilanti Buildings Tell a Story
Ypsilanti is the third largest historic district in Michigan. When dining out or grabbing a nightcap, you're likely inside historic buildings that tell a story of interesting Ypsi history. Some longstanding businesses include Aubree’s under the same ownership since 1972, and Sidetrack Bar and Grill which opened in 1980, though this location has hosted saloons and restaurants since the building's establishment in the1850s.
The historic Thompson Block Building once served as a barracks during the American Civil War. In 1861, Ypsilanti Light Guard forms after President Lincoln calls for 75,000 volunteer troops to quash the rebellion in the South. Three years later, the 102nd United States Colored Infantry, Michigan’s regiment of African American soldiers, rendezvoused at Thompson Block. Closing down due to economic downturn in the late 20th century, the building reopened in 2021 as the new Southern-inspired restaurant, Thompson & Co..
Next door is the Ypsilanti Automotive Heritage Museum. This building was first deeded in 1824. Many businesses have since used this space, including automotive history dating back to 1917. Learn all about the museum’s history here.
In 1859, The Huron Hotel opens in the (then) Depot Town neighborhood and is deemed one of the finest lodgings along the Michigan Central Railroad. The building is now home to Ypsi Alehouse and several offices upstairs.
The Willow Run Bomber Plant played a significant role in shaping the economy of Ypsilanti during and after WWII. Before the Willow Run Bomber Plant was built in 1941, this area was established by Henry Ford in 1931 as Camp Willow Run, focusing on bringing city youth to the country to learn agricultural trades and rural principles.
Later on in 1946, the Kaiser-Frazer Corporation takes over the Willow Run plant to build automobiles before the plant is used as a war manufacturing zone in the 1950s. Since then, Willow Run has been a cargo, general and executive aviation airport and is one of the largest cargo airports in the United States. Learn more about Willow Run’s history here.
Historic Ypsilanti Events
Annual events have played a major role in the city’s history. The Michigan ElvisFest, which happened each July, had become the largest of its kind in the nation. Visitors love a variety of classic car shows that showcase the city’s rich history. Regular live jazz festivals remind us of the Frog Island Music Festival, and community events are hosted at the beautiful Ypsilanti Freighthouse.
In 1866, President Andrew Johnson, Ulysses S. Grant, and officers David Farragut and George Armstrong Custer stopped in Ypsilanti during Johnson’s Swing Around the Circle tour, a campaigning trip that was highly unusual for sitting presidents at the time.
In 1900, Buffalo Bill Cody brought 46 railroad cars of animals and performers to Ypsilanti for an exhibition of his Wild West Show.
Later in 1978, Ypsilanti Farmer’s Market is founded in the Depot Town Freighthouse. The same year sees the first Ypsilanti Heritage Festival.
From 1982 through 2001, the Frog Island Music Festival featured diverse musical styles like Jazz, Blues, Zydeco and other musical styles that grew from African American musical heritage. The festival was known as “the world’s biggest block party!”
Ypsilanti holds the world record for largest gathering of people dressed like Rosie the Riveter. In 2018, 3,374 women congregated by the Yankee Air Museum, including original Rosies and women ranging from 6 weeks to 101 years old.
This is just a quick look back at 200 years of Ypsilanti. Information provided by Ypsilanti Historical Museum. Browse more Ypsilanti Bicentennial upcoming events and information here.