What's in a name - Ann Arbor 1820-1850

What's in a name?

 
 
John Allen
"When their wives came here, Mr. Allen and Mr. Rumsey ... built an arbor out of small trees and bushes. [The] men put a sign upon the front of the arbor, naming it 'Ann's Arbor,' and the village when organized was given that name." 1  
Ann Allen

Ann Arbor, like many cities, has myths and legends surrounding its origins. Perhaps one of the most persistent over the years has been the myth of the city's name. The most common story is that Ann Arbor was named after the wives of the founders, John Allen (pictured above) and  Elisha Walker Rumsey. Legend has it that Ann Allen and Mary Ann Rumsey were fond of sitting under a wild grape arbor built for them by their husbands. John and Elisha were supposedly so enamored by the idyllic sight of their wives relaxing in the shade of that arbor, they decided their newly purchased land should be named "Ann's Arbor," which was later converted to Ann Arbor. Consider the account by Noah Wood Cheever written for the Argus in 1902:
    When their wives came here, Mr. Allen and Mr. Rumsey, aided by their wives, built an arbor out of small trees and bushes on the west side of where the Savings Bank block now stands, for a temporary home, and the men put a sign upon the front of the arbor, naming it 'Ann's Arbor', and the village when organized was given that name. 1
Another popular story, also recounted by Cheever, states that the site of the new town was a "burr-oak opening, having the appearance of an arbor, so they all agreed to call the settlement 'Ann Arbor.'"2 That account fits with a story recorded in a historical chronology of Washtenaw County. An anonymous author, who claims the story was handed down to him verbally, tells of one Calvin Chipman being instrumental in how the city came to be named. However, in this version of the original naming, the direct credit belongs to Mary Ann Rumsey. She came up with the idea, playing off her husband's comment about the aesthetic quality of the area they were located in. The story follows:
 
    Mr. Rumsey occupied the present site of the Episcopal Church, and, as the story goes, his wife, whose name was Ann, said one day to her husband, in reply to his remark, "What a beautiful arbor we have!" "Mr. Rumsey, let's call it Ann's Arbor." 1
Immediately after this exchange between husband and wife, Mr. Chipman put the matter to a vote. All who were present (the story does not supply names or a count of persons present at the time) voted, and thus, the name of Ann Arbor was secured.
[Debunking the Myth]
 
1. Cheever, Noah Wood. Argus 11 Aug. 1902 2. Same reference as above. 3. Romig, Walter. Michigan Place Names. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1986. pg 25. 4. Bidlack, Russell E. Ann Arbor Sesquicentennial. Jan, 1974. pg 4.