Washtenaw County Historical Society
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Ruthruff Family
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 The Museum on Main Street: A Museum of County Life
The History of the Museum on Main Street

A Museum of County Life
By Susan Wineberg
Summer 2007

Our building at 500 N. Main began its life across the Huron River in Lower Town at 1015 Wall Street. It was built in phases in the 1830s, with the oldest section (the middle room) dating to 1835 and the front section to 1839.  A small side section was added in the 1840s. The house was moved by the WCHS in 1990 when demolition threats spurred it to act and save it.  The University of Michigan donated the house, the City of Ann Arbor donated the land, and our members did the rest. After years of fund raising, the Museum finally opened to the public at a gala ceremony in May 1999.

The house is an extremely rare example in Michigan of an unremodeled 1830s house and therefore is an artifact itself. We have highlighted some of the unusual construction features with see-through examples of the brick nogging used for stabilization and fire prevention, the accordion lath (scored wood, not sawn) used in the walls in the rear room, and the wide board flooring throughout the house. Although often referred to as a Greek Revival style building, it is closer to the Federal Style found further east.

The builders of our house, members of the Kellogg and Warden families, were typical of the settlers coming to Michigan in this time period. They were millers, statesmen and merchants from Cayuga County, New York and probably came to Michigan via the Erie Canal. Land speculation was rampant at this time and the Kelloggs bought and sold many parcels of land. The first member to arrive, Dwight Kellogg, had been a partner with Anson Brown and Edward Fuller in businesses and mills at Broadway and Pontiac. More members of the Kellogg family—brothers and sisters of Dwight (Ethan Warden was married to Dwight’s sister) --- built homes on Wall Street and opened business on Broadway. The Kelloggs also ran a grist mill on the Huron River.  In 1839, the patriarch of the family, Charles Kellogg, arrived with his wife and lived here until his death in 1843.  A large collection of letters from the Kelloggs to family and friends in New York resides at the Bentley Library on the UM’s North Campus and is a rich trove of information on this emigrant time period.

Ann Arbor’s Wall Street didn’t live up the financial reputation of its counterpart and the Kelloggs did not prosper as they had dreamed. Many died here and are buried at Fair View Cemetery. Only one member, Dorr Kellogg (treasurer of our society in 1877), remained in Ann Arbor—the rest returned to New York State. The house stood empty after Charles’ death in 1843 until it was purchased in 1853 by Samuel Ruthruff, a pioneer who had arrived in Washtenaw County in 1837 from Seneca County, New York.  He and his family lived in our house from 1853 until 1877, despite almost losing it in the Panic of 1857. His son-in-law, Freeman P. Galpin, saved the day and the Galpins maintained ownership until 1889, 12 years after Samuel died. These families have close associations with Superior Township and Dixboro.

Mrs. Greiner and daughters in front of house on Wall Street.

In 1890, the house was purchased by Charles Greiner, a gardener who worked in the nearby greenhouses. His descendants occupied the house for the next 100 years. Greiner had only girls—look for their names in pencil on the door to the attic.  A descendant of the family later presented us with a turn of the century photograph showing Mrs. Greiner and her daughters in front of what looks like a farmhouse (and shows the original six over six windows).  This was the state of Lower Town in the early 20th century.

After being moved, we built a new basement with state of the art equipment and storage facilities.  A new wood shingle roof was put on, sidewalks and a parking lot were added and fire suppression equipment was installed.  Outdoor lighting, a Victorian garden scheme (using lilacs and roses from the original Wall Street site), and re-plumbing and re-wiring occupied our talents and money for years.

We had our first exhibit in the summer of 2000 entitled “In the Good Old Summertime.”  Since then we’ve mounted about four exhibits a year, ranging from Delivery Days to Wedding Dresses, Politics of Washtenaw County and Women’s Suffrage movement, One-Room Schools, the Bridges of Washtenaw County, Northfield and Pittsfield Townships, 100 Years of Psychiatry at UM and The Sewing Arts.  In addition, we have special Christmas exhibits and Open Houses every year.

In 2002, we were willed a generous donation by Doris Anna Bach, the last surviving member of this important Ann Arbor family.  With the interest income from this account, we have been able to hire a part-time staff person and make many necessary repairs to our building...  In our 150th year, we are proud of our past and look forward to our future.

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