By Anthony Zick
Current has recently published a series of articles concerning prospective homebuyers who, despite decent incomes, are unable to afford a home in Ann Arbor. As home prices in the seat of Washtenaw County have skyrocketed, many middle-income families have made the move to Ypsilanti. People who spend time in Ypsi fall in love with its down-to-earth attitude, historic architecture, socioeconomic diversity, and its heart for the arts. For those with kids, there are a variety of nearby educational options.
This issue of Ypsi Living focuses on the historic and vibrant Depot Town neighborhood. While there are no official parameters for the Depot Town neighborhood, Linda French, a longtime resident and owner of Sidetrack, identifies the approximate boundaries as: N. Huron St., E. Michigan Ave., N. Prospect Rd., and E. Forest Ave.
The Depot Town neighborhood is named after Ypsilanti’s railroad depot, which was completed in 1838. Throughout the years, businesses and people thrived as a result of the railroad, but passanger service dwindled after World War II. The use of the railroad depot eventually died in the 1960s, leading to a period of time where buildings and houses were neglected and crime rose. In the 1970s, young artists and entrepreneurs started moving into Depot Town, looking for cheap rent and new opportunities. Around the same time, Depot Town became a part of Ypsilanti’s official historic district— the second largest in Michigan.
Depot Town housing architecture consists of two major styles: Greek Revival, seen in the area’s Pre-Civil-War housing and typified by columns and a rectangular block form, and the Italianate style of the commercial buildings and houses built in 1860-1880, characterized by arch-shaped windows with ornamental hoods, and decorative brackets along the roofline.
Depot Town awaits an exciting building transformation with the planned restoration of the historic Thompson Block. The commercial Italianate-style building, which has been in a state of disrepair for decades, has a rich history. Built in 1861, the basement of the building is thought to have been a part of the Underground Railroad. In 1862, the building was put to use as a barracks for Union soldiers during their training for the Civil War. The restoration, set to be completed by the end of 2019, will house twenty apartments priced at market-rate, a whiskey bar, a restaurant and other retail shops.
Depot Town’s main storefront district on E. Cross street is filled with iconic, locally-owned restaurants, bars and storefronts, including several Best of Washtenaw winners, as well as popular sights like the Ypsilanti Automotive Heritage Museum, the Michigan Firehouse Museum (which houses the Ypsilanti Historical Museum and Archives), and the historic Ypsilanti Freighthouse, first built in 1878, which will be host to Current Magazine’s Best of Washtenaw 2019 party on September 12th. In addition, Depot Town boasts two lovely parks, Riverside Park and Frog Island, one on either side of the Huron River, which are connected by a three-pointed bridge, as well as the new Washtenaw-County-wide Border to Border trail, running directly through the parks. Annual events held at Riverside park include ElvisFest, which attracts tribute artists from around the country and recently celebrated its 20th year, and The Ypsilanti Heritage Festival, now also called YpsiFest, an annual celebration featuring live music, entertainment, and historical tributes.
Nearby schools include the Washtenaw International High School (WiHi), recently ranked the #4 high school in Michigan by U.S. News and World Report, and the Middle Academy (WIMA) on N. Mansfield St. In addition, Perry Early Education Center, just a 5 minute drive, is a public preschool, kindergarten, and first-grade school provided by the Ypsilanti Community School District. Another secondary option is the Early College Alliance at Eastern Michigan University, a public early college program where high-school students can get their high school diploma and also graduate with up to 60 college credits.
Bang for the Buck
58 E Forest Ave, Ypsilanti, MI 48198
List price: $225,000
Summer Taxes: $3,965.07
Winter Taxes: $199.95
3 bedroom 2 full bathroom. Double-lot Depot Town Historic District Home, built in 1901. 7,840 sq. ft. 0.18 acres. Motawi Tileworks fireplace. Maple and heartwood pine flooring throughout. Walking distance to hip breweries, cafes, parks, and shops. Walk-out basement.
943 Carol, Ypsilanti, MI 48198
List price: $149,000
Summer Taxes: $860.58
Winter Taxes: $552.66
3 bedroom 2 bath home. Built in 1900. 1,200 sq. ft. Lot size: 0.14 acres. 2-car garage. Carpet, wood, and vinyl flooring. 3 min. drive to the central Depot Town area.
Eden Spring, Depot Town Resident
What’s your story, and how did you come to live in Depot Town?
I’ve lived in depot town for five years. My husband, James, has been here since 2003. We have a unique and blended family! We share one three-year-old girl together. He has two sons. One is twenty and at Ohio State; the other is six. I have another daughter who is thirteen.
How does living in Depot Town make you feel like a part of a community?
My husband settled down here because there was a house here right across the street from a close friend of his. And who wouldn’t want a great neighbor? We love our neighbors, and we’re very close. We have neighborhood barbeques. If you need to borrow something, we will all help you out. We’re all community-minded and want relationships with our neighbors. Just recently, my three-year-old became immediate best friends with a girl from a lovely couple who just moved into the neighborhood.
What is it like raising a family in Depot Town?
I love the walkability. We walk everywhere, and, because of how many locally owned businesses there are, you are bound to see one of your neighbors wherever you go. I grew up on a farm, and I couldn’t walk anywhere. Although I loved that experience, as a child, I always wanted to be in a neighborhood. As far as education is concerned, there are many great options. When I first came here five years ago, I didn’t know anything about the area, so I felt more comfortable sending my oldest daughter to the Ann Arbor public schools because of their incredible reputation. At the same time, I am torn because she is missing the opportunity of going to school in her community. We are still figuring out where we will send our youngest daughter. Highscope is a fantastic pre-school program in Depot Town that we are considering for her.
What are some of your favorite places to visit?
Corner Brewery is right near our neighborhood; they have an awesome beer garden, and it’s very family friendly. Also, the Ypsilanti District Library is one of the best libraries I’ve ever been to. I go to all three branches. Having a young child, it’s an amazing resource. They have lots of story times and children-centered events. We love walking into Depot Town to go to Sidetrack and Maíz, and I love that I can stop into The Eyrie and find a gift for everyone on my list. It’s also nice to have the Ypsilanti Food Co-Op and our local Ace Hardware so close. We love to walk down to places like Frog Island, Riverside Park and the Riverside Arts Center. We even walk into downtown. My girls and I enjoy going to Beezy’s, The Rocket, Unicorn Feed and Supply and Puffer Reds on Michigan Ave.
Have you had any experiences with crime or feeling unsafe?
Crime is a factor— I had my purse stolen from my back porch a while ago. But I don’t feel unsafe. These things happen everywhere, and you can’t let fear keep you from doing something. Also, we as neighbors look out for each other, which adds a sense of community and security. I think crime is a cry out for help, so we need to work on prevention and figuring out how we can help each other.
What’s one thing that stands out to you about Depot Town and Ypsilanti?
There is a lot of diversity here. I am interested in anti-racism work, and I’ve seen that so many people here from different kinds of backgrounds are open to having conversations about race. You don’t see that everywhere, and I think Ypsilanti can be an example for other communities to follow.