Frankfort’s U-of-M, Maize-and-Blue connection
By Beatrice Nesbitt Ruthven
Editor’s Note: The author passed away on May 20, 2016, two weeks after writing this story and just shy of her 99th birthday.
Dr. Alexander Grant Ruthven, former President of the University of Michigan (for a tenure of 22 years) and his family came to Frankfort from Ann Arbor in 1929 as guests of the Dean of the Dental School, who owned a cottage on Crystal Lake. While here, Dr. Ruthven fell in love with the area, as most people do. He purchased a piece of property from the railroad. At that time, the property was believed to be 24 acres.
Soon it was determined that there was not sufficient pasture land, so Dr. Ruthven purchased the property to the north, on the other side of George Street. This property extended from M-22 to Lake Michigan. The Ruthvens built a small barn for their Morgan stallion, a barn which still stands today on the corner of George Street and Michigan Avenue. (It should be noted that Dr. Ruthven, an avid horseman, brought the first Morgan horses from Vermont to Michigan.)
The Ruthvens and other Ann Arbor friends were equestrians and brought their horses up from Ann Arbor via train—or actually rode them the entire 250 or so miles—every summer. The property was vacant and proved to be an excellent place to build stables, a bunkhouse, and adequate riding facilities with pasture land. (If you look at the aerial view in the photo in the north hallway, you can see what the property looked like back then.)
The Michigan Shores property was named The Rolling R Ranch. The main house was completed in 1932. Stables were built, and what is now called “the white house” was the bunkhouse for the stable boys.
The main house included five bedrooms, because Dr. Ruthven hosted the U of M regents in the summertime. As such, there were separate bathrooms, one for men and one for women.
The Ruthvens had three children: Kathryn, Peter, and Bryant. I married the younger son, Bryant, in 1940, and we spent our honeymoon here.
When my mother-in-law, Mrs. Ruthven, passed away, the property passed on to us, and it was where we lived from 1972 to 1989. During this time period, we converted “the bunkhouse” or “white house” into a guest cottage.
In 1985, Mook, Hook, Good, and Howe—a group from the First Congregational Church in Benzonia—approached us to ask if we would ever consider selling the property. We told them, ‘yes,’ but not right away. They said that they could wait, as they were just getting started on their imagined project which was to become Michigan Shores.
My husband, Bryant Ruthven, while not at all eager to sell, was very pleased with their idea of a not-for-profit co-op for retirees, thinking that his parents would like this idea for the best use of their property.
These visionaries from the church were able to complete the purchase in three years, and groundbreaking took place on September 9, 1990. It opened for residents less than a year later.
We moved into Michigan Shores in the year 2000. Michigan Shores has provided a home for many people throughout its long life, so we are overjoyed to be celebrating 25 years of its existence.
Photo courtesy of Michigan Shores.