The University Record, April 22, 1997

The Historical Record

Editor's Note: This is the first in a series of articles to appear monthly. The Historical Record will examine interesting aspects of the University's history. You may send your suggestions for future columns to

By Patricia S. Whitesell


Did you know that the University's Diag came very close to being located on a site with a commanding view of the Huron River?

The decision to locate the campus in Ann Arbor was made in 1836. The cities of Detroit, Monroe and Marshall were among those that competed with Ann Arbor as the site. The Ann Arbor Land Co., which had not been successful in attracting the state capital to Ann Arbor, saw an opportunity to sell land by attracting the University instead. It offered 40 acres at no charge in hopes that this would make the adjacent land attractive to buyers. The plan was successful. Several of the owners of the Ann Arbor Land Co.---Thompson, Maynard and Thayer---are remembered today by the local streets named after them.

In 1837, the Board of Regents was presented with two sites from which to choose. Their first choice was part of the Nowland farm, described as "commencing near the fence upon the brow of the hill near the river, bounded westerly by State Street, extending easterly about 70 rods to the center of the ravine, and extending southerly about 91 rods for quantity." This land is shown within the box drawn on the birdseye map.

After surveying the land, checking to make certain there was a clear title, and making sure they could secure rights to water from adjacent springs, the Regents changed their minds abruptly. They preferred another parcel, described as being "bounded on the north by the road leading to Judge Fletcher's, the width of the Rumsey farm (so called), west by State Street, east by lands of Judge Fletcher, on the old east line of said Rumsey farm, and south for quantity."

It is not known why the Regents changed their minds, deciding in favor of the 40 acres now bordered by State Street, and North, South and East University Avenues. Politics may have been involved, though there is little documentation. Another possible factor may have been the terrain. The Nowland farm site dropped dramatically to the Huron River at the north and into a ravine to the east. A level building site was needed.

Thus, the University of Michigan campus was established in Ann Arbor. The first structures were built in 1840, consisting of four identical buildings that served as professors' houses. Only the President's House remains. It is the oldest extant building on campus.