There is a minor controversy over who the original “Ann” of Ann Arbor was.

According to the most popular legend, the city was named after the wives of its two founders, John Allen and Elisha Walker Rumsey.

As the tales goes, the men were so fond of watching their wives sit under the branches of wild grapevines in a small arbor that they named the city after them.

Another lesser-known, but more mysterious, tale suggests the city was named after a female guide, Ann D’Arbeur, who led pioneers west from Detroit through the Michigan wilderness starting around 1813. This fable is generally not considered credible due to lack of evidence.

To some extent, the first myth is plausible because the wives, Ann Allen and Mary Ann Rumsey, did in fact share names and have an arbor of grapevines that grew over plum trees planted by their husbands.

But later historians like Russel Bidlack suggest the details of the original tale are skewed. In his biography of Ann Allen, Bidlack argues that her husband named the town only for his wife, because Mary Ann Rumsey did not go by her middle name.

An online University history project argues the opposite, saying the town was named only for Rumsey, as Ann Allen did not arrive in the territory of Michigan until October 1824 and survey records from May 25, 1824 already list the town as Annarbour.

Whatever the case, the exact spelling of the town’s name remained a point of contention. Allen used the English spelling and wrote it as one word. Michigan Territory Governor Lewis Cass spelled it as two words. Others hyphenated it.

After Noah Webster declared “arbor” to be the American spelling of the word, most reflected the change in the spelling of the town’s name. For the rest of their lives, Allen and Rumsey insisted it be spelled the English way to no avail.


Information for this story was taken from the Ann Arbor District Library’s Pictoral History of Ann Arbor and an online University history project called “A Tour of Ann Arbor’s History.”

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