Ann Arbor's Gandy Dancer Restaurant

The elegant 1886 Michigan Central Railroad Station at 401 Depot Street, now the Gandy Dancer restaurant, testifies to the importance of train travel a hundred years ago. No expense was spared to make this massive two-towered stone building what the Ann Arbor Register called "the finest station on the line between Buffalo and Chicago."

Ann Arbor, 1910. Michigan Central Railroad Station 

I was so lucky to have been on a field trip in 2nd grade to visit the Kellogg's Plant in Battle Creek, Michigan.  That had to be about 1962 or so. We rode a train and boarded at this very cool building.

Back in the day access to a railroad line could mean the difference between life and death for a struggling young town in the mid-nineteenth century. Before the Michigan Central reached Ann Arbor in 1839, a trip to Detroit was a difficult all-day affair on horseback. 

On the train, it could be done comfortably in two and a half hours. The movement of freight improved even more dramatically. The depot swiftly became the funnel through which virtually all traffic in and out of the city passed.

Ann Arbor, 1900. Michigan Central Railroad Station

The Michigan Central was putting up new depots all along its route when the Ann Arbor station was built, but each had its own unique design. Ann Arbor's was designed by Detroit architect Frederick Spier (who also designed the Kelsey Museum and St. Thomas Catholic Church) in the then-popular Richardson Romanesque style.

It was built by Gearing and Sons of Detroit of glacial stones quarried from Four Mile Lake between Chelsea and Dexter and cut at Foster's Station on Huron River Drive near Maple Road.

The track side of the Gandy Dancer today is much narrower as Chuck Muer added a wall of tables with the back wall being all glass. If you look at the 1900 photo above you can see how much wider the platform was back then...

The back dining area

The inside was elegant, with stained-glass windows, red oak ceilings and trim, and French tile floors, and even separate waiting areas for men and women. Ivy grew up the side of the building, petunias and carnations were planted around it, and a fountain spurted at the point of a triangular garden just east of the baggage shed, where the Gandy Dancer's valet parking lot is now.

Freight operations were handled out of a smaller stone building to the west of the main station. In those days, before trucks, trains carried goods of every description, from food (for instance, bread from the Ann Arbor Home Bakery was delivered to the western part of the state) to kit houses.

Whole train cars were devoted to mail, which was sorted as the train moved and then thrown out onto station platforms as the train whizzed by. Mail service was often faster than it is today: a letter mailed at the Ann Arbor station in the morning could be delivered in Chicago that afternoon.

In 1970, the depot was sold to Chuck Muer, a restaurateur with an interest in historic restoration. By then the trickle of passenger traffic that remained was easily accommodated in the former freight building to the west and later in a small station built by Amtrak west of the Broadway Bridge.

Muir, who later did similar remodeling of an historic fire station in Cincinnati and a railroad station in Pittsburgh, kept this building intact. The original stone walls, slate roof, stained-glass windows, red oak ceilings, fireplace, and baggage scale are still there.

He added a kitchen in the open area between the baggage building and waiting room, windowed in the platform area, and changed the color of the outside trim, from green to dark mauve. Muer named his restaurant the Gandy Dancer, after the laborers who once maintained the tracks.

Cedar Bend Nature Area (from pull off parking area)

Cedar Bend Nature Area is a 19-acre park on the steep bank of the river where the waterway makes a sharp bend back to the south. Parking is available in the main lot accessible from Island Dr, and there is pull-off parking on Cedar Bend Dr.

Facilities are available at nearby Island Park and there are picnic spots along the river near the main parking area. Trails are unpaved, leading up (or down) the steep slope, and also travel a ridge of the slope. Another trail option is a rough unpaved one-way road which winds through the park from Cedar Bend Dr to Island Dr.

The view from Cedar Bend Dr. is now overgrown even in winter. Back in the 1970's the view of Ann Arbor was much prettier than now.. We were somewhat disappointed by the view today.

The entire wooded portion of the park is dry forest, although not as open as it once was, as indicated by several large, spreading trees now being crowded by younger competitors. Unfortunately, like many of our natural areas, Cedar Bend’s native flora also faces competition from invasive, non-native plants such as honeysuckle

This house is so cool, I just stopped my jeep and hopped out to photograph it...

The Huron River has a split here in Island Park..We used to party here a lot when I was in High School.

Back in the late 70's, My boyfriend had a retriever dog and she was only 6 months old when I took her to this park. A bunch of ducks came swimming upstream and the dog bolted and dove in the river after them...

I had to jump in and pull her back to shore..when we go out both of us soaking wet, a charming policeman onshore gave me a lovely TICKET for my dog harassing the dang ducks!!

 Beautiful footbridge in Island Park


Julie Anderson said...

About the time my grandfather arrived at this station from Italy via Canada, on his way to Napa Valley. Walked two blocks to the Italian Guesthouse, now known as the Brewery on Summit Street, met my Grandmother, and stayed in Ann Arbor for the rest of his life.

Butch Cavadas said...

I remember when it was still the train depot, spent my early childhood along those tracks and the Huron River, being a kid in thr fifties was exciting!

John Brier said...

My great grandparents and grandparents came and went through that station. As a boy I sat from the bank across the street and watched the steam engines come and go. Very cool picture.

Butch Cavadas said...

We'd hang over the small wooden bridge and let the hot smoke hit us as the steam es ngines passed underneath! Wha were we thinking? We wern't but it was fun!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...