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Posted on Wed, Jul 22, 2009 : 9:05 p.m.

Tidbits: A History of Ypsi Chickenry

By Laura Bien

Ypsilanti has reclaimed her long and glorious history of urban chicken husbandry, thanks to City Council’s recent approval of chicken-keeping. For nearly all of her history, Ypsilanti has had city chickens. Today’s Tidbits features a timeline of notable nuggets of chickeny history.
1824: At the one-year-old city’s first Fourth of July celebration, dinner consisted of “chickens, roast beef, warm biscuit with butter and honey, cheese, rice pudding, and loaf cake.” The feast was a mix of goodies carted from Detroit that included raisins, whiskey, and sugar, and such locally-grown food as peas, beets--and, like as not, the chickens.

1872: Ypsilanti resident W. O. Strong patents an egg-carrier (Pat. No. 128,920), arguably the finest and most elegant egg-carrier west of the Alleghenies.

1880: Ypsilanti city charter warns against rampaging chickens, and says owners must pen them between April 15 and November 1 of each year, or see them carted off to the city pound.

c. 1890s: Boston Poultry House is in operation in Ypsilanti’s Water Street District.

1903: Washtenaw Poultry and Pet Stock Association holds a successful inaugural poultry show.

1904: 2nd Annual Washtenaw Poultry and Pet Stock Association poultry show. M. J. Furnum is Superintendent of Poultry. Ernest Haarer is Superintendent of Pigeons. E. E. Calkins is Superintendent of Cats.

1906: “Chicken Show Ended in Blaze of Glory” crows the January 13 Ypsilanti Daily Press. “Best One Given Between New York and Chicago.”

1907: “Fowl Show in Ann Arbor Began Yesterday and Is A Good One,” noted the January 29 Ypsilanti Daily Press. Held in the downtown Armory, the noisy show featured crowing roosters, and “mingled with the squawks and cackles of the hens is the cooing of doves, the quacking of ducks, and the many other ear splitting noises of the barnyard.”

1907: Downtown dry goods merchant W. H. Sweet extols the chicken. He raises 100. “The average farmer doesn’t realize what a profit there is in poultry,” Sweet is quoted as saying in the February 12 Ypsilanti Daily Press. “Chickens are a source of ready money at every season of the year.”

1907: Black Minorca cockerels are for sale at 537 S. Huron Street in Ypsilanti, according to a November 22 Ypsilanti Daily Press classified ad.

1908: An unknown predator kills local poultry. “Among the losers are Mr. Miller on the Wm. Lay farm who lost 15 hens and seven ducks; S. Hamilton, 15 hens; and Ed. Wiard who lost three geese and one hen,” noted the November 9 Ypsilanti Daily Press.

1910: Founding of the Ypsilanti Poultry Fanciers’ Association. A big show is planned for early 1911.

1911: The Ypsilanti Poultry Fanciers’ Association holds its inaugural show at 29 N. Huron St., in the old Weinmann-Matthews drug store. The show’s 700 entries take up two floors of the store and include peacocks and fancy chickens. “Musically, the show leaves a very little to be desired,” said the January 18 Ypsilanti Daily Press. “When the owners were oiling the legs of the fowls and grooming them so that feathers should shine gorgeously, voice culture received evidently scant attention, and the sounds which assail the ear are strongly suggestive of steam whistles.” Ypsilanti mayor and poultry fancier George Gaudy wins a prize for his entry of Barred Plymouth Rocks.

1911: 50 Barred Rock chickens are for sale on 317 Oak Street in Ypsilanti.

1922: A Mr. Ferguson, poultry expert, gives a demonstration of poultry culling at Fred Simon’s home on Emerick St.

1923: 28 full-blooded Rhode Island Reds are for sale at the Prospect Park Poultry Farm.

1923: The Washtenaw County Poultry and Pet Stock association considers an Ypsilanti building for its annual poultry show.

1923: Newly-laid eggs are available from the Ypsi Field Hatchery at 309 N. Hamilton.

1924: The Washtenaw County Poultry Show opens in Ann Arbor in the Walker building. “What is considered the prize display is a group of 50 silver spangled Hamburgs,” notes the August 24 Daily Ypsilantian-Press. The show included white and blue peacocks, African geese, and pheasants.

1925: Ypsilanti City Council weighs the problem of piles of chicken feathers accumulating in alleyways behind meat markets.

1930: 100 Barred Rock pullets are offered for sale by Charles Baylis, rural route 4, Ypsilanti.

1930: Thieves steal chickens from Ypsilanti backyard coops at 621 Oak Street and 414 Oak St.

1930: Poultry dressed to order for 30 cents a pound, delivered, is offered for sale by the Ypsi Field Hatchery.

1932: Between 70 and 80 chickens are stolen from Herman Ludwig’s farm on Superior Road. “Trooper Conrad Konetshny investigated,” noted the September 10 Ypsilanti Daily Press, “but no important clues were discovered.”

1932: Admission was 1 potato at a kids’ “Potato Show” at the Martha Washington movie theater (now Déjà Vu). 50 bushels of potatoes and produce for the poor were collected. One child brought, for his admission, one chicken egg “clenched with care in his hand,” noted the November 22 Ypsilanti Daily Press. “Surprisingly enough the fragile offering survived the melee, permitting its donor to breathe a sigh of relief at being relieved of his ticket.”

1932: Two live chickens are found on a Sunday afternoon in November within the locked Roberts School in Ypsilanti.

1932: The Ann Arbor Grange welcomes the Dig and Scratch Poultry Club at the Y.M.C.A. Demonstrations are given of a mash hopper, poultry culling, and worm remedies.

1950: After a local turkey farm is quarantined, Ypsilanti poultry is inspected. No unsafe fowls were found.

1950: 25 5-pound White Rocks are for sale ($40) at 739 Bagley.

1960: Fresh eggs “from our own flock” are for sale at E. Forest and Harris Rd. Dozen, 50 cents.

About this time, the chicken scratches, sadly, fade from Clio’s scroll. When did chickens disappear? One former councilmember is reported to have said, “They never left!” Happily, they now have an official home again in Ypsilanti.

Sources: editions of the Ypsilanti Daily Press, the Daily Ypsilantian-Press, and the Ypsilanti Commercial.

Tidbits is published every Friday in


Building Place

Tue, Jul 28, 2009 : 2:13 p.m.

Great story! Thanks for the history. With all of the chickanery that has gone on in past years related to urban chickens in Ypsilanti, I'm glad the City Council got things done with this new ordinance to permit some hens.

Laura Bien

Sat, Jul 25, 2009 : 12:05 a.m.

One wonders if he had a badge. And kept it afterwards.


Fri, Jul 24, 2009 : 9:10 p.m.

I have to respect someone who will accept the title, "Superintendent of Pigeons". :-) It somehow suggests a smaller, more comfortable world.