A Dream Land

Christine Crockett fell in love with historical houses early on in life. Now she lives in one and unravels the history of the Old Fourth Ward.


Drawing Courtesy of Christine Crockett

Christine Crockett has always had a love for historical houses, starting in her childhood. Although she grew up in a rural area of Michigan, she remembers constantly admiring her friends and family’s older houses, especially those in the Detroit area. Crockett’s relatives lived in a Victorian home, which Crockett thought was “the greatest house in the world.”

“Going to Detroit, for me, was just going into [a] dreamland,” Crockett said.

Crockett worked as Community High School’s (CHS) first librarian for 34 years and currently resides in a beautiful Queen Anne Victorian home on 506 E. Kingsley Street. The house is easy to detect with its beautiful wrought iron fences which border the lively, green garden. Flowers, when in season, hang from the porch which bloom with vivid colors. The long wrap-around porch is lined with carved pillars that are painted red, green and yellow.

Crockett’s dream of living in a historical home has truly been realized. Built-in 1891, this house has seen many people pass through its doors. John and Sarah Schumaker moved into Crockett’s current home in 1892. The couple was from Lima Township, just outside of Ann Arbor. After getting married, they opened Schumacher’s Hardware, a hardware store on Main Street. The hardware store was open from the 1870s until the 1940s.

“I feel that our historic house carries the positive spirit of all the people who’ve ever lived here,” Crockett said. “We found out [that] the people who have lived here, are all really wonderful people.”

When Crockett and her husband purchased their house, a study was being conducted in the neighborhood to see which houses could be considered historical and if the neighborhood could, in general, be considered a historical area. The study was undertaken by the owners and occupants of the neighborhood and made its way to the city council, where a document was configured and documented the historical significance of these houses. Despite being newcomers, Crockett and her husband came together with their neighbors to form a neighborhood association. They sent out notices to neighbors and held a meeting, at which Crockett was elected president.

The Old Fourth Ward Historic District was established in 1984 and comprises 400 buildings; the earliest buildings date back to the 1820s. The district extends east to west from Glen Street, to Fifth Avenue and Detroit Street and then north to south of Huron and Depot. Generally, it is the neighborhood that surrounds CHS. The Old Fourth Ward, previously a political ward, is the designation of this historic district because, in the 19th century, there were six political wards in Ann Arbor.

Before, where CHS sits now, Jones Elementary School was the neighborhood school designated to the Old Fourth Ward. During the 1930s and 1940s, Ann Arbor’s Black population was growing and many moved to the Old Fourth Ward, due to segregated living and housing. The student population of Jones Elementary School consisted of Black and white children, and immigrant residents as well. However, the Black population of Jones Elementary was 75%. In 1963, after the verdict of Brown v. The Board of Education, Ann Arbor Public Schools (AAPS) conducted a survey that ended up closing Jones Elementary in 1965. Students of Jones Elementary School were assigned to the different schools of AAPS and the future generations of those born in the Old Fourth Ward would be assigned to schools throughout the district. Crockett’s son, for example, was sent to Haisley Elementary, a predominately white school. Crockett pushed to arrange her son to attend a more integrated school.

In 1974, Crockett was hired at CHS when there was no library at all. Originally employed at Brighton High School, she eagerly took the opportunity. While not having to drive every day to work was one of reasons she took the job, the task of building the school’s first library was a compelling project.

Disderide’s Days was two doors down from Jones Elementary. It was the neighborhood’s old grocery store, and it is now Zingerman’s. The older neighborhoods of Ann Arbor, like the Old Fourth Ward, always had stores that were walkable for daily life. Zingerman’s was established in the early 1980s when Paul Saginaw and Erin Weiss purchased the small, two-story brick building. Over the years it has grown in fame as a grocery store that serves its community. Aside from having many stores and schools, churches are also prevalent. There are many like St. Thom- as and St. James, both Catholic. There is a Unitarian Church on the corner of North State and Huron, across the street from North Quad. There is Harris Hall which is across the street from where the Episcopal students had a meeting place. The first African American church in Ann Arbor is on High Street. There were a multitude of activities that took place in town and close to one another.

“There were houses, schools, businesses, barns, churches and everything that pertained to everyday life all grouped together,” Crockett said. “And that’s what makes this neighborhood so interesting.”

Crockett feels that historical houses have a special gift that new houses cannot possess. Going back to the very first people who lived in the home, each and every family has left a mark, one way or another.

“The Schumachers were great people and very important to the early days of Ann Arbor,” Crockett said. “There are positive spirits in the house that have left their mark and remain here in some sense.”