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#OTGYpsi: Ypsilanti celebrating its 200th birthday throughout 2023


Concentrate Ann Arbor

Rylee Barnsdale's Feature Article: Ypsi prepares to celebrate bicentennial with New Year's ball drop, historical events, and more

Ypsilanti Historical Society

Ypsilanti Bicentennial

Ypsilanti Bicentennial on Facebook

Love Letters to Ypsilanti


Cathy Shafran: You are listening to 89 one WEMU. I'm Cathy Shafran, and this is On the Ground Ypsi, a program intended to bring you the stories of the Ypsilanti community. We bring you On the Ground Ypsi in partnership with the reporting team at Concentrate Media. Before we begin today's discussion, I do want to point out that On the Ground Ypsi is returning after a hiatus since the passing of Lisa Barry. We hope to continue in the path that Lisa had set out with a focus on the community and the issues that are important to you. With that said, we are talking about a big birthday celebration for the City of Ypsilanti. 2023 marks Ypsilanti's bicentennial, and there is plenty planned to celebrate. I'm joined by Concentrate Media reporter Rylee Barnsdale, who's been taking a deep dive into the bicentennial plans. Rylee, thanks very much for joining us.

Rylee Barnsdale: Thanks for having me.

Cathy Shafran: So, tell me. What did you find as you were looking into this story?

Rylee Barnsdale: So, the bicentennial celebration is actually already underway. It started back on New Year's Eve with a big New Year's celebration in downtown Ypsi. The next events will be in July--on the 4th of July--with a time capsule reveal. The time capsule was buried back in 1973. And the celebration will culminate in August with a big celebration with lots of guest speakers from the state and from Eastern Michigan University as well. There are a couple of smaller events planned in between, like, historical walking tours, but the big three events will have been New Year's and then the two events in summer.

Cathy Shafran: I would think that the idea of the Bicentennial Committee is to get the community engaged. What activities, then, and what are they thinking in terms of community engagement?

Rylee Barnsdale: So, not only is all of the community welcome to come to all of these three big celebrations, there's also going to be and throughout all of the celebrations, the organization, YpsiWrites, is who is hosting the Love Letters to Ypsi program. And folks can go online or fill out postcards, writing about their favorite memories of Ypsi. If you live here now, and you want to talk about that, or if you have moved on from Ypsi, you can remember the things that you love the most about the city.

Cathy Shafran: This only happens once every 200 years.

Rylee Barnsdale: Right.

Cathy Shafran: Is it your understanding a lot of planning has gone into this?

Rylee Barnsdale: Absolutely. And there's a lot of work that's been going in behind the scenes with the Bicentennial Committee, lots of community engagement sponsors throughout the community, the different businesses that have been working together to make all of this possible.

Cathy Shafran: So, it started with one activity on New Year's Eve. How long does the celebration go throughout the year?

Rylee Barnsdale: It's going until, I believe, August. August 19th is that big final celebration, the big birthday celebration.

Cathy Shafran: So, there is a lot of time and a lot of activities for the community to become involved.

Rylee Barnsdale: Absolutely.

Cathy Shafran: In your report in Concentrate Media this week, you were talking extensively with Evan Milan. He's the chair of the Bicentennial Committee and a member of the Ypsilanti Historical Society. And Evan actually is joining us as well. Evan, thank you so much for being with us.

Evan Milan: Thank you for having me.

Cathy Shafran: You know, when I first started thinking about the bicentennial, I thought, "Okay." So, that would be 200 years ago. So, that's 1823. So I was just curious what actually marked the beginning of Ypsilanti in terms of historical review?

Evan Milan: Ypsilanti was actually started a little before 1823. It started out in the 18-teens on the banks of the Grand River, where, today, Grove meets I-94. And it was actually called Woodruff's Grove then from the early 18-teens up till about 1823. It kind of started moving close to where Michigan Avenue is today. I'm told April 22nd, 1823, the city as we know it and where it is, was officially incorporated as a municipality.

Cathy Shafran: Our On the Ground conversation with Evan Milan and Rylee Barnsdale is continuing on 89 one WEMU. A lot of history in Ypsilanti has passed since 200 years. What would you say, Evan, are some of the highlights of things that we should be remembering about the city?

Evan Milan: I think there are a number of individuals we should remember in Ypsilanti. One of the more interesting individuals who lived in Ypsilanti was Elijah McCoy. He came from an abolitionist family. His parents actually escaped slavery in the South in the early 1840s. He actually was an inventor. Marion Starkweather was a benefactor who we have to credit for a large part for the library that exists today. She donated her home to become the first designated library branch, which is a big house that still stands on Huron Street. The Array family, they were a prominent African-American family in Ypsilanti who helped on the Underground Railroad. Ypsilanti was actually quite prominent on the Underground Railroad. In the 1960's, a group found themselves in Depot Town, and they put a lot of money and time into a part of town. That was, at the time quite run down, really. It was considered quite dangerous. And EMU students were told not to go down by the track. The French family--Aubree French--he bought what was then a motorcycle bar called The Alibi, and that family still owns what is now Aubree's. And, Linda French, who owned Sidetrack. She was the daughter of Aubree, and is because of that family as well as many others that Depot Town is the way it is today, a bustling entertainment district. Things were changing in Ypsilanti for the better. It was moving from an industrial kind of economy into a more commercial economy.

Cathy Shafran: Speaking of commercial, I understand that Ypsilanti was the first location of a Domino's Pizza in secret.

Evan Milan: If it wasn't the first, it was one of the first three. But, yeah, what is now God Burger as the building right on Cross Street that started in the 1960s. It is one of the earliest places for a Domino's Pizza. That is correct.

Cathy Shafran: We are continuing our conversation with Evan Milan and Rylee Barnsdale on 89 one WEMU. When you put together the bicentennial plans, you wanted to have some love letters from the folks from Ypsilanti. I'm assuming that what you're looking for along those lines are people to tell about their experiences, what it is about Ypsilanti, where they grew up, what has struck with them and why that continues to be a city they love. What exactly are you looking for in the love letters?

Evan Milan: Well, here. I have an example, and I think it shows exactly what love letters is meant to represent. So, the prompt was 2023 Ypsilanti bicentennial will commemorate the 200th anniversary of the City of Ypsilanti, incorporated on April 22nd, 1823. We're celebrating our pets as well as our pride, diversity, and heritage of the city today. And so, his name is Ted, but what he said is, "I love the people and the beer and the small town vibe. I love that we weren't normal or sterile. We are gritty, pretty, and proud. Thank you, fellow Ypsilantians and for making Ypsi Ypsi." And I think that, right there, short and sweet, but full of good feelings. I think that's exactly what love letters is supposed to encapsulate.

Cathy Shafran: And what will happen with the love letters as they come in?

Evan Milan: In long term, they will be stored in the archives. They will be stored in the archives of the Ypsilanti Historical Society. Some of them will be incorporated into skits that we will play at our August 19th events. They'll be one of the many entertaining things that you can see on August 19th. I personally would like to see some of them bound into a book that future generations could easily access and read.

Cathy Shafran: We are continuing our conversation with Evan Milan and Rylee Barnsdale on 89 one WEMU. Rylee, as you were reporting this story about the bicentennial, what were you looking at that you thought might be the most unique among the activities that people can get involved with?

Rylee Barnsdale: I think that the love letters to Ypsi are a very unique thing to put on for the community because it not only encapsulates how folks that currently live in Ypsi feel about the city that they live in and the community that they're a part of, but it's also a way to invite folks that maybe have moved on from Ypsi and gone to different cities in Michigan or even different states or countries altogether and be able to come back and see and remember all together, you know, this really incredible, unique city that, you know, we're all a part of, whether or not we live here now or not. So, I'm very excited to see all of those sort of culminate and get put together.

Cathy Shafran: Yeah, I was also interested in the time capsule. Either Evan or Rylee, can you tell me a little bit more about it what we expect to find when it's opened and where it is and what will come out of?

Evan Milan: It is really up to speculation. Everyone in the commission is really asking the same question. We're not sure what's in there. There are a few members of the sesquicentennial that we celebrated in 1973--the 150th anniversary--who were there, but they don't remember what was in there either. We're not sure what the container is, how big it is, or what's in there. It is at the foot of the water tower at Cross Street and Washtenaw. They kind of fork. The speculation is kind of wild. We're not really sure what what we're expecting to find, but we're all pretty interested to see what's in there.

Cathy Shafran: And lastly, Evan, what do you want to tell the community as far as your hopes for them getting engaged with the celebration?

Evan Milan: My hopes are that everyone, you know, gets involved. Everyone writes a love letter. I have seen so much pride in the city that we live in. I'm quite impressed. So, anyone who wants to volunteer, I encourage them to. If anyone wants to sponsor, you go to Ypsi200 dot com. You can help us sponsor. We would really like all of our events to be free for everyone to come through and enjoy. And the way we can do that is by raising enough funds that everything is already already covered financially. Beyond that, we will have a history book. And I would encourage everyone in Ypsilanti to get a copy. I think that would be a great thing to hold on to for years to come, if you are in Ypsilantian or or even someone who just admires Ypsilanti.

Cathy Shafran: I want to thank you so much both Evan Milan, chair of the Bicentennial Committee and member of the Ypsilanti Historical Society and also Concentrate Media reporter Rylee Barnsdale. Thank you so much for joining us today on On the Ground Ypsilanti.

Evan Milan: Thank you.

Rylee Barnsdale: Thank you so much.

Cathy Shafran: This has been On the Ground Ypsilanti, I'm Cathy Shafran. Celebrating 45 years of jazz broadcasting, this is 89 one WEMU FM Ypsilanti. Public Radio from Eastern Michigan University and online at WEMU dot org.

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Cathy Shafran was WEMU's afternoon news anchor and local host during WEMU's broadcast of NPR's All Things Considered.
Concentrate Media's Rylee Barnsdale is a Michigan native and longtime Washtenaw County resident. She wants to use her journalistic experience from her time at Eastern Michigan University writing for the Eastern Echo to tell the stories of Washtenaw County residents that need to be heard.
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