Hidden Stories

A Rentschler Farm Handout for Members of the US 12 Heritage Lab, International Heritage Conference, Detroit, MI, June 20, 2007.

Story #1 – Discovery of Mastodon Footprints
Over a period of several years’ time, a local farmer discovered very large bones while working his field west of Saline. In 1992, a team from the University of Michigan made a significant archeological dig on this property, uncovering what is thought to be the largest and most complete track way of mastodon footprints east of the Mississippi River. Plaster casts of the footprints are now housed at the Natural History Museum at the University of Michigan. The general location of this find is on the north side of Michigan Avenue, across from Harry’s Furniture Store between Saline and Clinton.

Story #2 – From the Sauk Indian Trail to the Village of Saline
Saline is a 21st Century City on the Old Sauk Trail. Founded in 1831 by Orange Risdon, the city is on the US12 Heritage Trail. History has given this road several different names: the Military Road in the 1830s, the Chicago Road, and by 1915, Michigan Avenue. All this was begun when the federal government charged Orange Risdon with surveying a military road between Detroit and Chicago. Unfortunately, he and his team were less than 60 miles out of Detroit when the government ran out of money. Their plans for creating a nice, level, straight road had to be abandoned. Instead, their survey followed the Old Sauk Indian Trail with its many twists and curves. The end result is a beautiful scenic highway, with the City of Saline in the midst of Washtenaw County, Michigan. Looking back, the unfortunate circumstance turned out to be very fortunate indeed!

Story #3 – Salt Causes Settlement and Ultimate Prosperity
Mastodons and other wild animals came to this area because of salt springs that bubbled up near the river. These springs were well known to various Native American tribes who used the six trails that converged here. By the 18th century, French fur trappers and traders, seeking wild game and salt, canoed up the waterway from the Raisin River and Lake Erie. They gave the name Saline (meaning salt) to the river. When Orange Risdon passed through the area in the 1820s while on his surveying treks, he liked what he saw, paused to
purchased 164 acres from the federal government, founded the Village of Saline in 1832, and soon found himself wheeling and dealing land, acting as postmaster and justice of the peace, and operating a general store and inn.

It wasn’t long before the Village of Saline became a center of local commerce. By 1835, weather permitting, the Detroit-Chicago stagecoach service ran through Saline daily. In 1866, the village incorporated and assumed the status of a city in 1931, one hundred years after its founding.

Between the early years and now, the City has grown to just under 10,000 residents. In 2005 and 2006, CNN/Money Magazine named it as one of the “Top 100 Cities in the U.S.”, one of only four cities in Michigan to receive this honor. The Saline Chamber of Commerce reports, “This has been the most national attention the Saline area and surrounding townships have ever received!”

Story #4 – German American Farming Community
Travelers on the Heritage Trail will come upon the 4-acre Rentschler Farm Museum, dedicated to all the German farmers who lived and worked in the Saline area. Sandwiched between the modern Sauk Trail Shopping Center and an automotive plant, this small oasis was once part of a 240 acre farmstead where four generations of Rentschlers lived and worked between 1901 and 1998. The City of Saline purchased the early 19th c. farmhouse with its Queen Anne style porch, the outbuildings, and four acres of land. The property is leased to the Saline Area Historical Society, whose members have developed the museum with a focus on farm life from 1900 to 1950. Those years were a time of great change in agriculture and family living, with transitions from horse to tractor, from kerosene to electricity, and from an agriculture based economy to a manufacturing economy. All these changes are visible in the history of this family farm. The museum is open Saturdays 11:00-3:00, May through early December. Several special events are schedule annually.

Story #5 – Saline: The County’s Busiest Agricultural Shipping Point
The railroad brought prosperity and connection to Saline. The town established itself as the principle agricultural shipping point in the county. Activity bustled around the railroad depot and tracks. The depot was built with a late Victorian architectural style in 1870 and was used almost one hundred years. Thirty years later, the depot was dedicated as a museum and accepted to the National Historic Register. An old pot-bellied stove still reigns in the station agent’s office, where visitors can view pictures of all the depots along the line between Ypsilanti and Hillsdale County, where switching tracks took the train on to Chicago. The exhibit also includes the freight room, a fully furnished 1906 caboose, and an 1830s livery barn. Today, this property is owned by the City and leased to the historical society. The museum is open Saturdays 11:00-3:00. Our depot is 4 blocks north of the US 12 Heritage Trail, near the corner of N. Ann Arbor and E. Bennett Streets.

Story #6 – Weber-Blaess Country School Still Attracts Students.
A quaint one-room schoolhouse from the 1860s was moved from Lodi Township to its current site on the north side of the city. The schoolhouse has been restored as a fully functional and interactive museum with many artifacts that would normally have been found in a country school. Teachers from the Saline Area Schools developed individualized curricula for Weber- Blaess, enabling students of various ages to experience a rich sampling from different eras of the early days of education. The building is open to the general public when special functions permit.

Story #7 – Bixby Marionette Exhibit
Saline is honored to have acquired Meredith Bixby’s handcrafted marionettes so that we can celebrate the work of this magnificent artist and craftsman. Saline’s own Meredith Bixby is one of America’s foremost puppeteers. For generations, school children throughout the nation sat in rapt attention when the puppeteers made their annual visit. Displays of Bixby’s marionettes and stage settings, videos, photographs, and artwork highlight his fifty years as a national performer. For many years, the exhibit was house in the Chamber of Commerce Building on E. Michigan Avenue butr has now been moved to the Saline District Library.

Story #8 – Henry Ford’s Cottage Industries Found in Saline
In the 1930s, Henry Ford developed cottage industries in many small towns of Michigan. One such industry was right here in Saline, where he contracted with local farmers to grow soybeans. Using the lumber from the Schuyler Grist Mill, Ford rebuilt and restored the building at its original location along the Saline River and Michigan Avenue. The mill was used to store and clean the beans. A smaller building of like architecture was constructed behind the mill and used for experimentations in processing beans, the oil from which was used in making plastic parts for Ford’s Model T cars. The structures became known as the Ford Soybean Mill. In so doing, Ford preserved these buildings, which now house a business called Weller’s, the site of weddings and other upscale functions. These buildings are not open to the general public.

Across Michigan Avenue from Weller’s is the restored Ford-Hoyt School, which currently houses offices. Henry Ford moved this vacant building from Macon Road, restored it and used it for educating the children of his employees. By request, visitors are received during regular business hours and can view a photographic display of Ford-era pictures.

Story #9 – The Mission of the Saline Area Historical Society
“To provide an association for people sharing common interest in the history of the Saline area and to encourage preservation and provide education and activities that best illustrate local heritage.” The stories presented above and others like them make up the heritage of the Saline Community. Volunteers from the society strive to make local history come alive.

© Agnes Dikeman 2007 (Updated 2011). Marketing Director
Saline Area Historical Society