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Posted on Sat, Jan 26, 2013 : 5:59 a.m.

Snow days in Ann Arbor are timeless

By Kellie Woodhouse


Snow covers the University of Michigan engineering arches sometime in the early half of the twentieth century.

University of Michigan Bentley Historical Library

As the snow piles up, University of Michigan students and Ann Arbor residents are looking for ways to take advantage of the winter weather this weekend.

Will you sled in Nichols Arboretum? Go ice skating on that pond near the music school? Stage a snowball fight?

Ann Arbor is no stranger to snow, and throughout the years residents here have found ways to enjoy winter's coldest weather.

In 1974, after weather reports predicted only a light dusting of snow, Ann Arbor was blasted by a fierce blizzard. Eighteen inches of snow-stranded motorists, prompted U-M and Eastern Michigan University to cancel classes and left hundreds of homes without power.

According to a Dec. 2 1974 Ann Arbor News article, 1,000 motorists were transported from snowbound cars on U.S.-23 to shelters and one Ann Arbor man died after suffering a heart attack brought on from shoveling snow.

In the midst of the chaos snowstorms bring, they also allow people a break from the frigid mundanity that winter brings.

Here's a look at how residents and students have enjoyed Ann Arbor's winter wonderland.


Ann Arbor News

Ann Arborites enjoying winter skating in West Park. This picture was snapped in 1960, prior to a February snow storm. According to the Ann Arbor News, it was an unusually cold winter that year.


University of Michigan Bentley Historical Library

It's not the classic college stereotype of students sledding down hills on cafeteria trays, but it sure looks fun. In this image, dated between 1891 and 1900, U-M students pile on a toboggan in the wintery weather at the Arboretum, which was a popular spot for sledding.


University of Michigan Bentley Historical Library

Snowball fight, anyone? U-M students act like teenagers (again?) and have some fun in the snow. The photo, originally which appeared in The Michigan Daily, was taken by an army corporal. According to the College of Literature, Science and Arts, the students were ROTC members.


University of Michigan Bentley Historical Library

Snow gear has changed over time. This portrait, originally taken in the first decade of the twentieth century, is of three U-M students. Is your winter hat that fashionable?

The article has been corrected to note that the 1970s storm referenced took place in 1974, not 1979. Kellie Woodhouse covers higher education for Reach her at or 734-623-4602 and follow her on twitter.


Jeff Renner

Sat, Jan 26, 2013 : 11:48 p.m.

The photo of the Engineering Arch reminds me of the time many hundreds of students, including me, filled it up with hard-packed snow late one night after a big storm in January or February, 1965. I got a phone call around 11:00 pm from a friend who told me to bring my dorm (East Quad) wastebasket and come down to the Engin Arch; they were filling it with snow. Three of us went and quickly fell into one of four long snaking bucket brigades down South U and East U and out into the Diag, passing full wastebaskets in and empty ones out. We cleared all of the snow for hundreds of feet. I don't remember any organizers, but it was efficient. Several dozen students worked the "face" of the project, packing in snow, as well as several heavy benches and at least one bike rack with a bike or two chained to it. There was a photographer from the Michigan Daily, and I was careful to stay out of any incriminating photos. We kept looking for cops, but there was no campus police department then, and AAPD must have had better things to do. There was a photo story in the Daily the next day. It must be in their archives. I'd love to see it! There was also the slightly scandalous presence of a few women - scandalous since back then, freshman, sophomore and junior women had to live in dorms with "hours," and we were definitely out way after midnight. (I think women's week-night curfew was 11:00 pm.) It took much of the morning for a team of University workers to remove the snow with front-end loaders and shovels. The benches and bike rack must have made it harder. There was still packed snow stuck on the walls well into spring. I took somebody's wastebasket home with me, certainly not mine, and it was considerably worse for the wear, and I was chilled and wet, but I had a great time and a story to tell the grandkids.


Sun, Jan 27, 2013 : 3:12 a.m.

That's a funny story, in a college-prank sort of way. Thanks.

Wystan Stevens

Sat, Jan 26, 2013 : 9:38 p.m.

The third photo, of students on a toboggan, was not taken in the Arboretum before 1900. The University did not open the Arboretum until 1907, following a gift of much of the land from the Walter Nichols family. After that, of course, winter sports did become wildly popular there. (The Arb also was a popular outlet for the study of wildlife, by which of course we mean kind of sports that a young man's fancy turns to in the Springtime, involving friendly encounters with coeds under the lilac bushes.) In 1921, UM Engineering Professor Ferdinand Menefee proposed that the Arboretum's original purpose be abandoned, and that it be developed as a winter sports complex for students. When the Prof's suggestion was rejected, he turned to a study of 19th-century rammed-earth construction methods, as a possible answer to the problem of low-cost housing. He concluded that it wasn't feasible, but two of his houses still stand -- one on Rose Street, the other on Pontiac. (Prof. Menefee's grandson is David Menefee, the talented Ann Arbor musician and stonemason whose twinkly eye and bushy beard are local icons.) Incidentally, I don't believe that the toboggan photo ever was taken in the Arboretum. Look at the huge smokestack in the background. The Arboretum area never had a chimney like that one. All of these photos are disappointingly dark; they should have been PhotoShopped before being posted here.


Sat, Jan 26, 2013 : 7:53 p.m.

Jan. 26-27, 1967 This storm left a drift on Scio Church rd east of Wagner that was about 7ft deep. Dec. 1-2, 1974 During this storm I was out on I-94 on my snow mobile during the day filling baby bottles and giving candy to diabetics.I was out until 3-4 in the morning taking stranded motorist on I-94 to the high school in Chelsea for shelter.


Sat, Jan 26, 2013 : 6:29 p.m.

Hah! Dec. 2, 1974 was 2 days before I 'officially' (and completely) moved to Ann Arbor. That was the first in a series of winters we "endured" w/o being able to get to work (35 miles away) at least one day. I remember those blizzards, with -50 windchill, snow drifts higher than 5 feet, driving visibility zero. Great photos - very interesting compared to current U of M student garb. (audaciously) Form-fitting leotards and net stockings seem to be the currently popular winter wear for the young women and men's belt buckles seem to have drifted somewhat "south" of the crotch area. In the old days, men used belts to keep their pants UP. ;-) BTW: "As the snow piles up" seems a little exaggerated for today's less-than-2-inch accumulation. People are wondering aloud if the drought of last summer is continuing into this winter. Any stats on that?


Sat, Jan 26, 2013 : 5:47 p.m.

People are talking about the '74 blizzard at Thanks Giving.There was another one on Thanks Giving in '73 or '75.I remember because my Aunt and Uncle who lived in Ohio had to come back to our house two years in a row because US 23 was shut down


Sat, Jan 26, 2013 : 3:40 p.m.

Such fond memories of skating at West Park during that time. I've previously mentioned the pot belly stove in the warming shack that eventually burned it down, the kids mittens catching on fire, etc. We were not required to all skate in the same direction back then. We were free! Then we would walk down to the corner store on the corner of Chapin and Miller in our skates...dulling them all the way. The brave kids would sled down the side of the ravine...some even tried it on skates!


Sat, Jan 26, 2013 : 3:37 p.m.

also in re: the 1974 thanksgiving weekend snow, the University closed n that Monday - not only was there snow but majority of students had not gotten back to road and airport closures.


Sat, Jan 26, 2013 : 3:24 p.m.

I remember the 1974 storm very well also. The initial Weather Service projections early in the day were for an inch or so, but every 30-60 minutes the forecast kept changing, with additional amounts predicted relative to the previous forecast. The ability to track the paths of storms has improved significantly in the decades since.

sandy schopbach

Sat, Jan 26, 2013 : 2:51 p.m.

Everyone knows you don't SLED in the Arb. You TRAY in the Arb. When I was at Stockwell (in a previous life), we borrowed trays from the cafeteria and used them to slide down the slopes of the Arb. Only problem was that you could NOT steer them at all, and there's something vaguely unsettling about sailing faster and faster -and backwards - down a hill dotted with trees!

Ann English

Sun, Jan 27, 2013 : 12:19 a.m.

I would think that a downhill trip traying would have you facing backward when you're almost at the bottom, like ordinary sledding at Veterans Memorial Park.

Kellie Woodhouse

Sat, Jan 26, 2013 : 2:37 p.m.

Big storms definitely make a lasting impression. I'm originally from Maryland, and while the state does get snow, it is usually not more than a few inches. The winter of 2010 we were blasted with about 18 inches of snow. I remember it so vividly because it was my first year of marriage and we lived in this little village with a brewery that boasted about being open 365 days a week. My husband and I decided to test it out, so we basically did high knees to the pub (no plowing for days) and, to our delight, had a few brewskis. The whole neighborhood was out in their yards that day, shocked by the weather. It was a lot of fun.

Rod Johnson

Sun, Jan 27, 2013 : 4:50 a.m.

365 days a week!? Where is that village? I'd like to live there.

Lizzy Alfs

Sat, Jan 26, 2013 : 2:41 p.m.

That's great, Kellie! I love these pictures. I don't remember a huge snowstorm like that, but of course, I remember being a student and waiting for snow days. I would hardly sleep the night when I knew a storm was coming, and it was fun because my dad was a teacher, so we'd have the day off together!


Sat, Jan 26, 2013 : 2:36 p.m.

Great Article!


Sat, Jan 26, 2013 : 2:05 p.m.

All I remember is that around December either 2007 or 8 we got socked in for two days. Started on a Sunday morning and locked in the children doing a winter camping thing out there and all I know is they told the parents not even to attempt it. If I remember correctly that was 30 inches of snow. I don't think we will even see that one again. As for Friday morning? That was an Ann Arbor very distinctly remembered. Love to have one on Monday.


Sat, Jan 26, 2013 : 2:06 p.m.

Sorry, but they were at Camp Storer where they had minimal snow and let me tell you, I thought about burning the clothes they had when they returned.


Sat, Jan 26, 2013 : 12:26 p.m.

I think you have your dates mixed up on that big storm. AA got 18" of snow on 12/1/74, but I do not think we got another dose like that in '79. I remember driving to AA on Sunday after that storm.....think it was Thanksgiving weekend. It was not snowing Up North, but the farther south we went, the more it snowed. When we got to AA the town was shut down. I don't recall another storm like that in '79, but might have been.

Rod Johnson

Sun, Jan 27, 2013 : 4:49 a.m.

I remember that 74 storm, but I'm pretty sure there was one in 79 as well. I had to make the same 50-mile drive both times, in opposite directions, and it was a nightmare, creeping along at 5 miles and hour and trying not to join all the other cars in the ditch.


Sat, Jan 26, 2013 : 3:37 p.m.

I worked at the post office on Stadium in '74 and we were all pretty snowed in. But our supervisor decided we needed to make it to work anyway and he actually drove around a picked some of us up in his huge old Cadillac! The mail must go through!!! Later that weekend we had planned a cross-country sky party but had to cancel it because no one could get out to come.


Sat, Jan 26, 2013 : 3:34 p.m.

blizzardmtype weather came across great lakes and snow belt on sunday of thanksgiving weekend in 1974. i was caught on the ohio turnpike which closed for two days

Kellie Woodhouse

Sat, Jan 26, 2013 : 2:31 p.m.

@romuloid. You're right! I just took a look at the News article I referenced and the date of the article is handwritten on the page. It's a classic "4" and I mistook it as a 9. I'm fixing now. Thanks!


Sat, Jan 26, 2013 : 2:09 p.m.

Duc...I remember going to the Flaming Pit on Sundays after church when I was a Kid.Remember that big box of toys for kids at the exit ?


Sat, Jan 26, 2013 : 2:06 p.m.

We did indeed have back to back snow storms in Jan 1979 totalling 18-24 inches.

Duc d'Escargot

Sat, Jan 26, 2013 : 1:53 p.m.

I think this was the storm that hit when I was working in the restaurant at the old Holiday Inn at Washtenaw and 23 (anybody remember the old Flaming Pit Restaurant?). When US-23 was shut down drivers were abandoning their cars just anywhere and trudging through the snow to the hotel, which was already full, of course. The management allowed everyone to sleep on the floors of the banquet rooms; they scrounged around for all the blankets and pillows they could find. I remember 2 or 3 of those snowstorms, one of which could have been in '79.


Sat, Jan 26, 2013 : 1:19 p.m.

Yeah, when we left Roscommon Sunday it was not snowing. It picked up around Saginaw and it took us almost 3 hrs to get to AA from there. By the time we got to AA Sunday pm it had snowed so much there were almost no cars moving about. I parked in the middle of the street and helped my riding companion carry her bags to the dorm. US 23 was totally shut down from AA south, I believe.


Sat, Jan 26, 2013 : 12:57 p.m.

It was indeed Thanksgiving weekend of "74 because I was making that same drive.

Chip Reed

Sat, Jan 26, 2013 : 11:29 a.m.

Great pictures! The photo of the three fashionably-hatted students was taken on Huron, just west of State. You can see Harris Hall in the background.

Kellie Woodhouse

Sat, Jan 26, 2013 : 2:19 p.m.

Indeed, thanks for pointing that out.