Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Thompson Block Building - Ypsilanti's Depot Town Civil War-Era Treasure Destroyed by Fire

Ypsilanti, Michigan’s Thompson Block building was constructed in 1861 and, in 1862, began serving as army barracks for the 14th and 27th Michigan Infantries during the Civil War. Company E of the 17th Michigan Infantry stayed in the building before going to Detroit to muster in with the rest of the regiment in August of 1862. They were known as The Normal School Company because over half of them were students at what is now Eastern Michigan University. Many Union soldiers called the Thompson building barracks "home" as they awaited transport on the nearby Michigan Central railroad to the battlefields in the south.

The Thompson Block in 1862. Courtesy of the Ypsilanti Historical Society.

The Thompson Block in September 2009.

After the Civil War, the O.E. Thompson & Sons Company purchased the building in 1869 to serve as a paint shop. Over the years, the company manufactured and sold nine lines of products, including wheelbarrow grass spreaders. In 1880, the Thompson Hardware Store was established here which, among other things, became the first place to sell bicycles in the Ypsilanti area. It then became the city's first fire station in 1895 before becoming the first Dodge Brothers car dealership in 1916.

The Thompson Block in 1862. Courtesy of the Ypsilanti Historical Society.

The Thompson Block in September 2009.

In the 1960s, the Thompson Block fell into neglect and became vacant soon after. That is all I remember of the building … a sad, empty, rapidly decaying reminder of its illustrious past.

In 2006, the Beal Group began a $3.5 million restoration project on the property for its use as condominiums and shops. On September 23, 2009, the property was destroyed by fire. Preliminary reports indicate that the cause of the fire has been deemed "suspicious".

The building is located at the northeast corner of River Avenue and East Cross Street in Ypsilanti, Michigan's historic Depot Town district.

Historic photos and historical data courtesy of the Ypsilanti Historical Society and Dave Tennies.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Abner Delos Austin's Civil War Memorial Re-dedication Ceremony ... a Wonderful Day to Remember!!

On Sunday, September 13, 2009, a memorial service took place at Clarenceville Cemetery in Livonia, Michigan at the gravesite of my Great Great Grandfather, Abner Delos Austin. The ceremony was coordinated by local Civil War reenactors and was attended by approximately 40 guests along with my father, Edward V. Austin of Wauseon, Ohio, and my husband Jason Scarcelli. It was a glorious afternoon that was warm in more ways than one; warm with the Indian summer sun and with the full hearts of everyone who attended.

The ceremony featured a musket volley and a bugler providing a flawless and moving performance of “Taps”. Also as part of the event, I sang “God Bless America” in honor of my ancestor and recited Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain’s famous “In great deeds something abides” address from 1889. The Livonia Police Department graciously provided us with security and members of the local press were on hand to cover the event.

One local gentleman, a World War II veteran and descendant of Civil War soldier Casey Krueger, read about the ceremony in the Canton Observer newspaper and decided to come out and show his respect. And a wonderful surprise was getting the chance to meet Sue Daniel, chairman of the Livonia Historical Commission, who attended so that she could share with me that Abner’s foster mother, Eliza Shaw Milroy, was part of a prominent 19th century Livonia family and that the Shaw family home is at Greenmead Historical Park in Livonia! She also mentioned that the historical commission is in the process of reading and documenting a Shaw family diary and that she would like to share with me the findings … particularly if there are any mentions of Abner! How exciting!!

But the highlights of the ceremony were the addresses given by two gentlemen who have become dear friends of mine and whom I am very blessed to know. Mike Gillett, Chaplain of the Fort Wayne Battalion, an umbrella group of Michigan Civil War reenactors, spoke and provided the prayer. Living historian Dave Tennies, portraying Michigan Senator Jacob Howard, was also a keynote speaker. Both Mike and Dave spoke about Abner as if they knew him personally. Their words were deeply touching.

In many ways, I couldn't help but sense Abner's presence while Mike and Dave spoke. It was a wonderful feeling! Surely, if he was watching and listening, he was pleased.

Words cannot express how honored I am that so many wonderful people would take time out of their busy schedules to memorialize my Great Great Grandfather. To everyone who attended: Mike and Karen Gillette, Dave Tennies, Jim Cary, Ken Collier, Mike Parr, Pam Setla, Rick Danes, Andy Assenmacher, Rebecca Assenmacher, Drew Assenmacher Jr., Sue Daniel, Celestine and Robert Hollings, Bennie Latimer, Bill Bresler, my friends from the 17th, 21st, and 24th Michigan Infantry reenactors, the Michigan Soldiers Aid Society, Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, Daughters of Union Veterans of the Civil War, Junior ROTC/Marines, Greenmead Historical Museum -- and especially my Dad and Jason -- thank you for sharing this wonderful day with me. I will never forget it!! I am so blessed!

Thank you Mike Gillett and Dave Tennies for coordinating this tremendous event in honor of my ancestor. Thanks also to reporter Karen Smith for covering the event and her wonderful story in the Livonia Observer newspaper, with beautiful photos by staff photographer Bill Bresler.

To everyone who made this day possible ... THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart!!!

“Why we’re here today isn’t because Abner Austin was unique,” Mike said during the memorial ceremony. “Rather, he was pretty typical. His uniqueness comes from the fact that his story is being told. But for those soldiers whose stories have not been told, our goal should be, in the words of Hamlet, that each grave shall have a living monument.”

His name may not appear in most history books but Abner Delos Austin is an American hero who will never be forgotten. In all that I do, I strive to be that living monument!

Photos courtesy of Bill Bresler and Jason Scarcelli.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Civil War Memorial Re-dedication Ceremony for Abner Delos Austin

Today, we will gather at Clarenceville Cemetery in Livonia, Michigan to pay tribute to my Great Great Grandfather Abner Delos Austin (and all Civil War veterans like him) for his service to his country.

Please click the link below for a story about Abner from today's Canton Observer newspaper.