Established as a city in 1823 Michigan’s second oldest city was named after General Demetrius Ypsilanti, a hero in the Greek war for independence. Judge Woodward of Detroit was so impressed and fascinated by General Ypsilanti’s military successes that he named this settlement on the Huron River after the war hero. Ypsilanti would eventually encompass several area settlements that were established to take advantage of both the Huron River and existing Indian trails. The most famous of which was the Sauk trail. In 1935 a military road following the path of the Sauk trail opened from Chicago to Detroit and the railroad followed three years later. Originally named Chicago Road, the byway would become Michigan Ave providing a major source of industry and anchor Ypsilanti’s downtown commercial district.
The area east of the Huron River had already begun to develop as a result of the river trade and would become known as Depot Town once the railroad arrived. The first wood frame depot was replaced in 1864 with a three story brick masonry structure which at the time was considered the finest facility on the Detroit to Chicago line. Another structure that went up at this time was a mill specializing in the manufacture of The Union Suit. This same mill in the 1880’s began to make fine knit underwear with the motto “Never a Rip, Never a Tear, Ypsilanti Underwear”. Most of the Depot Town buildings still standing today were built in the mid to late 1800’s. The prosperity of the era remains apparent in the Victorian-period mansions built along the Huron River.
Henry Ford and World War II brought the next wave of expansion and industry. In the 1930’s Ford Lake was created to generate hydroelectric power for the manufacturing plants. World War II brought the Willow Run Bomber Plant and 100,000 workers. Rosie the Riveter is most closely associated with a Kentucky-born woman, Rose Will Monroe, who relocated to Michigan to work in the Willow Run Aircraft Factory. Ms. Rose was depicted in the widely recognized poster campaign. At the height of production a B-24 Bomber was rolling off the Willow Run assembly line every 55 minutes.
A few gems of Ypsi’s automotive history include the Apex Motor Corporation, Preston Tucker’s “Car of Tomorrow”; the Tucker Torpedo, also the Kaiser, the Frazer and the Corvair. Much of this history can be witnessed at the Automotive Heritage Museum and Miller Motors Hudson. The Museum is also home to the world’s last Hudson Dealer. Jack Miller, son of the original dealership owner Carl Miller, is curator of the Museum and still sells a few reconditioned Hudsons a year along with supplying the parts to keep existing Hudsons in top condition.
Extending out from both Depot Town and the Downtown district you will find Eastern Michigan University, The University of Michigan and Washtenaw Community College, among others. EMU was founded back in 1849 as The Michigan State Normal School and one of its early buildings was considered the finest educational structure in the nation.
Today Michigan’s second largest historic district is in Ypsilanti. Approximately 20 percent of the 4.4 square miles is designated historic. Instead of the flour, paper and lumber mills or the cigar makers and long underwear manufacturers housed in these 19th century buildings you will find coffee shops and hip clothiers. You can shop for original art or relax next to the railroad tracks at a restaurant voted to have one of the top burgers in the country.