Wandering Through History

The following article was written by Janet Kreger, MHPN President, but could be the story of almost any preservationist in Michigan. 

I moved back to Ann Arbor in July after a 14 year absence.  During my time away, I rented my Mid-Century Modern condo to a variety of medical people who found it convenient to the University of Michigan Medical Center.  It’s very nice to be back in my home located off the Huron River. I’m enjoying Ann Arbor almost as if it were new to me.

I have more flexibility with my time in my working-retirement, so when I go out to do some uninspiring task like go to the post office, I turn it into an adventure by taking the longest route possible. Like you perhaps, I’m entertained by looking at architecture, and if its daylight and I have gas in the tank, I even relish getting lost.

Let me tell you about one such adventure set in motion by my wanting a Venti Café Mocha.

Huron River Wanders through Ann Arbor

It was 7:00 PM, long after the light summertime rush hour characteristic of the last days of summer before school begins at U of M.  The sun was still well above the horizon as I drove out of my parking lot.  My condo is on an oxbow formed by the twists of the river.  Several historic roads radiate from this point – Broadway and Pontiac Trail are still rich with historic residences clinging to a steep hillside, while Plymouth Road now accommodates four lanes of traffic.

In between Pontiac Trail and Plymouth Road, however, is a fourth spoke – Traver Road. What a treat, yet how odd that I had never traveled on a road so close to my home.  As I drove up the hill from the river, the narrow two lanes of pavement took me through a tiny treasure-trove of 19th and early-20th century architecture.  I passed early Greek Revival settlement homes no more than 20 feet wide and sheathed in wide clapboarding.  I passed modest Queen Annes and Italianates before coming to some small Bungalows.  The scale of the neighborhood was low and close with mature trees nestling everything.

The road soon turned to dirt, and I wondered how many of these still survived in Ann Arbor!  It was washboarded so I had to down-shift to second. On the left I passed an old farmhouse and barn close to the Leslie Science Center, and Black Pond Woods Nature Area with its vernal pond fed only by rainwater.  To the right was the Leslie Golf Course, so simple in design that you could hardly tell it from a mowed field.

Traver Road, Ann Arbor

The dirt road turned to pavement again and my road took me by the enormous Traver Ridge development of nicely landscaped split-level homes dating from the 1970s.  The development’s low apartment buildings follow the curved banks of a stream.  People were out walking their dogs and pushing strollers, enjoying the evening.

I drove only a short distance more before I popped out onto Nixon Road, a throughway that formerly emptied the busy Bechtel Company’s Research Park with its aluminum-clad buildings and hundreds of flues.  Now, as part of the University’s research facilities, it was as quiet as campus.

Finally I came to Traver Village, my destination for coffee.  An older shopping mall built when I was still a U of M undergrad in the early 1970s, it has a clock tower, dozens of tiny-leaved locus trees breaking up the monotony of the parking lot, and a children’s play area in the center where one dad was pushing a tiny brown-haired girl on a swing while, I bet, the mom shopped Krogers.  Ann Arbor’s strip malls even present humane environments.

I looked at my watch and could see that it had taken me almost 50 minutes to pass 160 years’ worth of architecture.  After getting my coffee, it took me about 5 minutes to get home along Plymouth Road.

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