Washtenaw County Historical Society
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History of the Washtenaw County Historical Society
Alice Ziegler Papers
The Naming of Ann Arbor
The Story of Ann Allen
Dear Brother - Letters from John Geddes
Mystery Artifact
The History of Our Name
WCHS Presidents
Wystan's Wanderings

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 History of Washtenaw County, Michigan

According to Chapman's History of Washtenaw County (1881), the legislative Council of Michigan Territory defined the boundaries of Washtenaw County in 1822. Washtenaw is a variant of Wash-ten-ong, a Chippewa name for Grand River. The Huron River valley was originally home to a large Native American population. In 1680, the French explorer LaSalle passed eastward through this region canoeing from Portage Lake down the Huron to Lake Erie. French fur traders and Jesuit missionaries soon followed.

Four years after Michigan became a territory in 1805, Godfrey, Pepin and LaShambre established a trading post known as "Godfrey's, on the Pottawatomie Trail" in what is now Ypsilanti. Many pioneers saw economic opportunity by harnessing river power for sawmills and gristmills. Major Benjamin Woodruff, who purchased 160 acres of land in 1823 in Ypsilanti Township, is commonly acknowledged to be Washtenaw's first settler. A year later John Allen collaborated with Elisha Rumsey to plat the town of Annarbour, named for Allen's wife, Ann, and for the burr oak openings.

The University of Michigan, founded in Detroit in 1817, moved to Ann Arbor in 1837. In Ypsilanti, Michigan State Normal School now Eastern Michigan University (founded in 1849) is the oldest teachers' institution west of the Allegheny Mountains.

Early area transportation networks developed from the rivers and Native American trails. In 1827 the Chicago Military Road was built along the Great Sauk Trail (Michigan Avenue). Two years later, the Territorial Road to St. Joseph (now US-12) was built along the same route. The completion of the Michigan Central Railroad's Detroit-Ann Arbor connection in 1839 symbolized the beginning of a new era of immigration, economic accessibility and growth for Washtenaw County.

Source: From the Washtenaw County Historic District Commission brochure: "History of Washtenaw County."

Washtenaw County History Links

Michigan County Histories and Atlases

The Michigan County Histories and Atlases Digitization Project consists of 428 digitized titles in the public domain. keyword searchable with page-by-page images. Includes 19 Washtenaw related titles including Chapman's 1881 and Beake's 1906 histories of Washtenaw County.

Ann Arbor District Library Local History

Local online history collections, including Ann Arbor Cooks, the Ann Arbor Police Department History Exhibit, The Downtown Ann Arbor Historical Street Exhibit, The Making of Ann Arbor, and PictureAnnArbor. Also a local history blog with contributions of local historians.

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