A Brief History of Treetown

Ann Arbor was founded in 1824 when two men, John Allen and Elijah Rumsey, headed West from Detroit and fell in love with the beautiful landscape and meandering Huron River. The name of the town is said to be based on the names of both men’s wives and the beautiful trees here. One of Ann Arbor’s nicknames today is Treetown.  We love our trees so much here that someone donated hundreds of thousands of dollars as part of the Ross business school expansion a few years ago to move a 700,000 pound 250-year-old bur oak tree instead of killing it.

The town was developed as an industrial town and university town at the same time. Several mills, a tannery and a general store were part of the first settlement. At one point, 22 mills lined the the Huron River between Ann Arbor and Chelsea. In 1827, Ann Arbor became the seat of Washtenaw County, and incorporated as a village in 1833.

In 1836, Ann Arbor lost a bid to be the state capital. But, in 1837, the town donated 40 acres to the State, and the University of Michigan was moved to Ann Arbor from Detroit, where it began in 1817. The original donated land is still the center of campus today. The Michigan Central Railroad arrived in 1839, making the town a major regional transportation hub.

Rumsey died in 1827. Allen eventually became the town’s postmaster, newspaper publisher and village president. He died in 1851, the year Ann Arbor was chartered as a city. Canadians accounted for the largest percentage of Ann Arbor’s population during the 19th century, but the town also included many German and some Irish immigrants. Currently, Ann Arbor is home to about 114,000 people, making it the 6th largest city in Michigan.


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