The Early Political Landscape

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In the beginning, Ann Arbor was a frontier town. The majority of the citizens were farmers, but the area was home to some tradesmen and artisans. There was no established form of government, so the Allen family settled any political arguments that may have arisen. As the town grew, a more structured form of government was required, and the first charter for Ann Arbor was created in 1833. The charter created the position of the Township president and a council. Not surprisingly, the first president was John Allen and his council was comprised of many of Ann Arbor's wealthiest and influential people, notably James Kingsley (pictured) and Anson Brown.

Anson Brown was a fairly wealthy land owner. His properties were north of the Huron River in a region called Lower Town. Brown was constantly competing with the people of the downtown area which he referred to as "the hilltoppers." Lower Town was not in the original plat of Ann Arbor, so it was technically a separate village. Brown had a vision to make Lower Town just as prosperous as "the hill," but he had trouble getting settlers to move to Lower Town despite the fact that the land was considerably cheaper there. One important reason for his difficulty was the mail. Mail came from Detroit and was delivered in Ann Arbor. Consequently, people wanted to live near Ann Arbor. Later, a post office was to be built and Brown persuaded officials to build it in Lower Town. This was quite a victory, and population started to increase in the area. Soon, a railroad was to be built there as well.

James Kingsley was the first attorney of Ann Arbor and a well-respected citizen. In 1828, he was elected judge of the probate court. In 1837, he was in the Lower House of the State Legislator and eventually State Senator. Most importantly, Kingsley was always devoted to Ann Arbor, and was instrumental in bringing education to the forefront of the community as a regent of the University of Michigan. Initially, education was difficult for the settlers. Schools would be founded, but the average life span of these institutions was about two years as most citizens could not afford to send their children to these schools. 

The village council began building public schools, and later built one of the costliest buildings in the state, the Union School, later renamed Ann Arbor High.

 

The single most important event in Ann Arbor's history, and what will forever intertwine the city with education, occurred in 1837 when Ann Arbor was chosen as the new site of the state university. The price for such an honor was forty acres of land the village council was more than willing to give. The State Journal wrote: "Our village, we trust, is destined to be the pride and ornament of Michigan" . 

 

The addition of the University of Michigan to Ann Arbor changed how the city operated. The people of the city began to take pride in the university and in Ann Arbor as a place for scholars. However, they did not want certain aspects of university life affecting their community. To combat drunken students╣ presence in the streets, for example, ordinances were passed prohibiting the sale of alcohol to students. There was also an ordinance prohibiting saloons from operating on Sundays. The town felt they had a great interest in the university because the university affected their livelihood, such as housing and trade. "That in the prosperity of the university depends, in a great degree, the prosperity of our village; and hence it is not only our right but our duty to look to the manner in which its affairs are managed" (Michigan Argus).

 

A glorious day came when in 1851 George Sedgwick brought news that Ann Arbor had officially become a city. Great celebration followed as the townspeople were so happy, and Sedgwick became the first mayor of Ann Arbor.

 

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