Esek Pray House

8755 Plymouth Ann Arbor Rd Ann Arbor

Washtenaw County Historic District Commission
Written By Washtenaw County Historic District Commission

Washtenaw County's historic preservation program is dedicated to supporting local historic districts, spurring heritage tourism, and attracting investment in our historic resources.

In 1805, the first European settlement in Washtenaw County was founded as a trading post called "Godfrey's, on the Pottawatomie Trail." This settlement later became the city of Ypsilanti and Godfrey’s Trading Post is now occupied by the Riverside Arts Center at 76 N. Huron Street. Washtenaw County was officially laid out by the Legislative Council in 1822, seventeen years after this first trading post was established. Pioneers arriving in Washtenaw County often chose to settle near waterways, building sawmills and gristmills. In 1824, John Allen and Elisha Rumsey platted the town of Annarbour. Local tradition attributes the city’s name to Allen's wife, Ann; Rumsey’s wife Mary Ann; and the thick concentration of oak trees in the Huron River Valley. From 1826 to 1827, the government of Washtenaw County was formally organized.

As the county grew in population, settlers came from New England, New York, southern Canada, Germany, Ireland, and other parts of Europe. The University of Michigan moved from Detroit to Ann Arbor in 1837 (the same year Michigan achieved statehood), and Michigan State Normal School, now Eastern Michigan University, was founded a dozen years later in 1849. This school is the oldest teachers college west of the Allegheny Mountains

Esek Pray was one of these early property owners in Washtenaw County. He settled in Superior Township in 1825. Pray’s farmstead on West Ann Arbor Road became successful within his first few years of settlement. Pray was involved in early politics and attended the “Frost Bitten Convention” of December 14, 1836, which enabled the Territory of Michigan to become a State. His son George was part of the first graduating class from the University of Michigan in 1845. After Esek Pray passed away, his daughter Mary Jane and her husband Watson Geer took over the property, which was later designated at a Washtenaw County Local Historic District. The Prays were prominent and formative settlers of Washtenaw County.

Early residents of Washtenaw County relied heavily on foods they could grow or purchase from other local farmers. While merchants imported more expensive goods from the East, settlers used as much local meat and produce as possible.13 The early nineteenth century brought many new things to Washtenaw County, including the first widely available cookbooks. Mary Hook Cornelius wrote The Young Housekeeper’s Friend, first published in 1845. Below is her recipe for chicken salad. Today, these ingredients are still easily found in Washtenaw County. There are few measurements included in the recipe; therefore many of the ingredients should be adjusted “to taste.”

19th Century Chicken Salad

1 Whole Chicken 1 Large Bunch of Celery 4 eggs, hardboiled Sweet Oil [light olive oil or vegetable oil] Pepper Salt Mustard Vinegar Boil or roast a nice fowl. [Roast a whole chicken or boil a whole cut up chicken]. When cold, cut off all the meat, and chop it a little, but not very small; cut up a large bunch of celery and mix with the chicken. Boil four eggs hard, mash, and mix them with sweet oil, pepper, salt, mustard, and a gill* of vinegar. Beat this mixture very thoroughly together, and just before dinner pour it over the chicken and stir. * Gill: although its capacity has varied with time and location, in the United States a gill it is defined as half a cup, or four U.S. fluid ounces. Sources: Cornelius, Mary Hook. The Young Housekeeper’s Friend, 1845. Historic District Study Committee. Gordon Hall Final Report. 10 September 2001.http://quod.lib.umich.edu/c/clementsmss/umich-wcl-M-1234cha?view=text. Washtenaw County Government. Esek Pray Driving Tour. Available at http://www.washtenaw.org/preservation. Washtenaw County Government. German Heritage Driving Tour. Available at http://www.washtenaw.org/preservation.

(Esek Pray House in Washtenaw County photo provided by County Staff)

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