Aerial view of University of Michigan

A Brief History

Twenty times in the last two million years, glaciers have covered Ann Arbor. The varied topography today is a result of the last of the glaciers known as the Wisconsinan, which made an uneven withdrawal after a warmer period. Each time it paused, it deposited extra amounts of debris, which formed the two ridges on the east and west side of the city (bicyclists are very much aware of these!). At times during its glacial period, Ann Arbor was beneath as much as two miles of ice!

The Rock

Many large boulders left by the glacier were gathered by early settlers to build foundations for their homes, and "Ann Arbor's Most Famous Glacial Erratic" is the painted rock at Washtenaw Avenue by Hill Street. This huge chunk of Canadian limestone, deposited by glaciers in a gravel pit on Pontiac Trail, was moved to Ann Arbor by Eli Gallup in 1932 to become a memorial honoring George Washington on his 200th birthday. Buried in the foundation of the rock is a box containing its history and origin. Originally the rock was painted gray and had a copper plaque with a tribute to President Washington. In more recent years, the rock has become an adorned object with thousands of gallons of paint. A favorite subject of speculation around town is the rock's true size!

The Name

Originally named Annarbour, a romantic legend exists that says Ann Arbor was named for the wives of founders (1824) John Allen and Elisha Walker Rumsey (both women were called Ann) who sat in a wild grape arbor built for them by their husbands. Here, it is said, they whiled away the warm afternoons sewing and exchanging gossip. The two Anns undoubtedly did spend many afternoons visiting together, but these tete-a-tetes could not have been the inspiration for the naming of the village, as the name Ann Arbor was chosen and recorded five months prior to the arrival of Ann Allen. It is charming and probable that the Ann in Ann Arbor honors the two wives. The Arbor, however, more than likely comes from the common 19th century usage of the word "arbour" used to describe a grove of trees or shady spot, of which the new town had many.

The City and the University

Ann Arbor soon became a bustling community, but having lost its bid to become the state capital, the city fathers were very eager to have Ann Arbor become the future site of the University of Michigan. Offering the most appealing inducement, a 40-acre tract of land on the edge of town, they achieved their goal. In 1841, the University was ready to open its Ann Arbor doors to seven students served by two faculty members. By 1865, only a short 24 years later, the University of Michigan with 1,145 students had the largest university enrollment of any college. Always an enlightened and forward looking institution, the University Regents--strongly opposed by the faculty and students--adopted a resolution in 1870 allowing the admission of women students. By 1891, the university was still the largest in the nation with 2,420 students representing most of the states, territories and eleven foreign countries. Unfortunately, at this point, student tuition had doubled to a whopping $20 a year for residents and $30 for "outsiders." Even student room and board had skyrocketed; the most reasonable prices available were $2.50 per week!

Land Acknowledgement

The University of Michigan is located on the territory of the Anishinaabe people. In 1817, the Ojibwe, Odawa, and Bodwewaadami Nations made the largest single land transfer to the University of Michigan, ceded in the Treaty of Fort Meigs, so that their children could be educated. We acknowledge the history of native displacement that allowed the University of Michigan to be founded. Today we affirm contemporary and ancestral Anishinaabek ties and their profound contributions to this institution.