Built in 1860, the Dow House was owned and occupied by three prominent families prior to ownership by the Ypsilanti Historical Society: the Dows, Goodrichs, and Barneses. It was built in a style known as Italianate identifiable by its hipped roof, hooded windows, extended eaves, and expressive brackets.
Asa Dow, who had been a business partner with Daniel Lace Quirk in Chicago, built the house and made it his home for the years he lived in Ypsilanti. He founded the National Bank of Ypsilanti and participated in the organization of the Ypsilanti Woolen Manufacturing Company. His wife Minerva (Miles) Dow died in 1864 at the age of 37. She was the second person to be buried in Highland Cemetery. Shortly after, Asa returned to Chicago. After his death in 1890, his remains were returned to Ypsilanti to be buried near Minerva.
At the time he purchased the house in 1865, Aaron Goodrich was the manager of the Follett House on Cross Street - Ypsilanti’s largest and finest hotel. The stately house was home to Aaron and Julia Goodrich for over 10 years. They took great pride in maintaining the dwelling and its setting.
The Barnes family purchased the home in 1879. Lambert Barnes was president of the Peninsular Paper Company and mayor of Ypsilanti from 1875-1878 and again from 1879-1880. His wife Jane was the daughter of Robert L Geddes, one of Washtenaw County’s earliest pioneers. At the time of his death in 1887, Barnes was Vice President of the First National Bank of Ypsilanti, the same bank Asa Dow founded. Members of the Barnes family owned the house until 1922.
Laverne Ross purchased the property in 1922. She converted it into apartments around 1922. Up to eight apartments were available for rent between 1922 and 1966. The carriage house was renovated with a brick veneer and converted into an automobile garage.
The City of Ypsilanti purchased the home from the Ross Estate for $44,000 in 1966 and continued to rent the apartments. The last tenant moved out in 1970 and the city offered the home to the Ypsilanti Historical Society as a local history museum. The house was then converted back into a single-family dwelling with alternations for the use as a house museum. False ceilings and walls were removed to reveal the original finishes of the house including beautiful stenciled walls and elaborate plaster moldings. The museum opened in 1972 after much repair and restoration.
The Ypsilanti Historical Society purchased the house and carriage house in 2006 for $250,000. Additional restoration included furnaces, wiring, insulation, flooring, displaying the Tiffany window, paving the parking lot, and installing display cases. The mortgage was burned in 2014 and commemorated with a silver engraving installed in the grand stairway newel post. Visiting the museum is now a visit to Ypsilanti’s Nineteenth Century.
Louis S. White was appointed City Historian in 1935 and was given the third floor of city hall at 304 N Huron to be used as storage facility for historic material. On December 21st 1959, White petitioned City Council to create a Historical Committee for the City of Ypsilanti. A resolution creating the Ypsilanti Historical Committee was adopted unanimously on April 28th 1960. At this time, the second floor of what was Dan Quirk Jr’s mansion at 206 N Huron was refurbished to store the growing collection of historical materials. Marion Spear and Ruth Shaw were recruited to setup recording systems for all artifacts which satisfied the requirements for the State of Michigan. This same year, the Historical Committee formed the Ypsilanti Historical Society with the first board elected in 1961 with Foster L. Fletcher as president.
Louis White passed in 1963 leaving the Ypsilanti Historical Society Archives with 1,631 films, 30,000 named autobiographical files, Burton collection census records, hordes of area maps, and much more. Foster L. Fletcher and his wife Mary archived the entirety of the White donation. It became crucial to find more accessible storage with a responsible party to maintain it. This led to the 1965 move to the Ypsilanti Library basement at 229 W. Michigan. It was renovated with funding from the City of Ypsilanti creating the first legitimate archival storage and display space for the Society. On February 23rd, Mrs. Donald W. Disbrow was hired as the archivist to keep order for the substantial and rapidly growing collection.
In 1966, Foster Fletcher was appointed City Historian. In 1967, Mayor John Burton offered YHS the city-owned Barnes-Ross House at 220 N Huron for the development of the museum and archives. The City of Ypsilanti appropriated $14,000 spread over two fiscal years for the rehabilitation and renovation of the building. With the success of the 1973 Ypsilanti Sesquicentennial, YHS received $2,300 for the alteration of the last apartment in the house for the archives with convenient access for the public. In 2003, the archives moved into the ground-level apartment in the carriage house.
Finally, in 2007, the archives moved again into the basement of the museum. President Alvin Rudisill used his organizational skills and professional experience to create the highly functional archives we have today. This move was accompanied with an YHS/EMU agreement where each party paid half of the cost of hiring two EMU Historic Preservation Program graduate-student interns. The two EMU interns separately staff the museum and archives from 1 to 5, Monday to Friday. Volunteers staff the museum and archives on Saturday and Sunday.