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The library in Ypsilanti was founded over 150 years ago. For nearly half that time, the Michigan Avenue branch has been part of its fabric. 

Original watercolor pen and ink of YDL-Michigan by Bill Shurtliff.

The construction of the building that became YDL-Michigan.

The Connection to Downtown Ypsilanti

Paula Drummond, who heads YDL’s Adult Services, says the library was connected to the downtown in entertaining ways. She remembers helping a patron who called from a bar asking how old Smokey the Bear was.

“Pretty quick to find today, but before the Internet it took research to track down things like that,” said Drummond. “He was very happy I could help him win his bet.” 

As Ypsilanti celebrates its Bicentennial in 2023, here’s a look at how the Michigan Avenue branch has changed, improved, and been a staple of the historic downtown since 1963. 


The Journey to Michigan Avenue

Ypsilanti’s library was started in 1868 by six women with 175 books who charged $1 for a library card. They housed the library on the second floor of the Arcade Building on North Huron. In 1886, the library moved to the second floor on the Union Block of Michigan Avenue. It soon became a public institution open to all at no cost, and “the Ladies Library” then moved into the historic home on Huron Street donated by the Starkweather family in 1890. 

Having changed its name to “Public Library,” the library expanded again in 1963 to its current location at 229 W. Michigan. The former Carnegie post office building was sold to the City of Ypsilanti for $1 in 1962. The City renovated and opened the library there the following year. 

A map of the cardholders in YDL’s service area, circa 1967.

Fun Facts about the Michigan Avenue branch
  • The building the Michigan Avenue branch is housed in was built in 1915 as the Carnegie Post Office.
  • Mr. Robert Kramp was the first director at YDL-Michigan.
  • For the first few years, only the main floor was open to the public.
  • In 1966, the Ypsilanti Historical Society renovated the lower level, which became the historical museum.
  • Four years later, the Historical Society moved to its current location, and the library’s youth collection was moved to the lower level, where it resides today.
  • The original renovation to open the building as a library in 1963 cost the City $128,000.
  • In 1968 Ypsilanti Township gained access to the library through an arrangement where the Township paid an annual subscription fee of $5 for each card holder. Nearly 250 people received cards.

Patsy Chandler, her tea set, and the original fountain at YDL-Michigan. Click the arrows to scroll through the images. 

Improvements Inside & Out

 The original plaza fountain was built in 1982 with the help of Ypsilanti resident Patsy Chandler, who held annual tea parties on her birthday to raise funds for worthy local causes. You can find one of the tea sets she used for those parties in the Michigan History Room at the Whittaker Road branch. When YDL-Whittaker opened, the Michigan Avenue branch closed for more large-scale renovations, which were unveiled in 2003. 

The Library Park Plaza was redesigned in 2006, funded by the Friends of YDL, the Downtown Development Authority, Pfizer, and a variety of local fundraising efforts. The fountain was restored and covered in its mosaic glass tile, and a new life-size bronze statue of Harriet Tubman was installed in the Plaza joining the historical marker commemorating Elijah McCoy. More recent work has been done to make sure the building endures for a long time to come—as well as to pave the way for future plans (see below). In 2022, water remediation work was completed on the foundation. In addition, new lighting in the Plaza and LEDs in the parking lot were installed, along with a power pedestal in the Plaza for charging personal devices. 

On the inside, YDL repainted the main floor and replaced some furniture during the COVID closure. In 2022, new carpeting was installed, and new lighting is soon coming to the Youth area. In the near future, virtual meeting technology will be installed in the public meeting rooms.


Looking Forward

YDL completed a space needs assessment in 2019, inspiring some big plans for a thorough future renovation. Those goals were amplified in YDL’s most recent strategic planning survey, where the community overwhelmingly affirmed that more renovations are desired. More exciting plans are on the way to keep this historic downtown jewel as vibrant as ever! 

Making these investments now, Drummond said, “will show that YDL recognizes the importance of the Michigan Avenue branch to the downtown area and to the lives of those who count on its services and its presence.” 

Blueprint of the front elevation of the Michigan Avenue branch