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History of Michigan Shores, from a Ruthven’s Point of View

Michigan Shores Cooperative history Michigan Avenue Frankfort Michigan Dr. Alexander Grant Ruthven University of Michigan president of University of Michigan Beatrice Nesbitt Ruthven Bryant Ruthven First Congregational Church Benzonia

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.

“Go Blue” Avenue
Many Ann Arborites were charmed with the beauty of the area and built their own summer homes here, including Mrs. Ruthven’s sister. The pink art deco house next door to the Ruthvens was built by the Dean of the Medical School, Dr. Furstenberg. Mrs. Canfield, widow of a prominent medical doctor in Ann Arbor, built the house now known as the “King House” and the property where “The Bluffs” stands.

On that note, I have long wondered why in downtown Frankfort there is no consistency in the naming of the cross streets. For example, it doesn’t go 1st, 2nd, 3rd streets. Instead, what should be 1st street is actually called Michigan Avenue. I have been told that when all of the University of Michigan people moved up here, it was referred to as “Michigan Avenue,” and the name stuck.

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.

1 reply
  1. Marge Jones says:

    I was delighted to come across this website, quite by accident. I only wish I had discovered it before Mrs. Ruthven had passed away.

    I met her and husband Bryant during the two Summers I spent with Dr. And Mrs. Ruthven at their Frankfort home way back in 1960 and 1961 when I was a university student. I was most fortunate to be asked to assist the Doctor in writing his memoir, “Naturalist in Two Worlds” and to provide evening meals.

    I treasure the memories of Dr. Ruthven making–and eating!–his homemade soups, which he created with leftovers I had prepared the night before. Although the Ruthvens turned 80 that first year, he took out his beloved Morgan horse for a ride each morning and Mrs. Ruthven still enjoyed trimming plants and looking after those in the courtyard.

    Dr. Furstenberg was a regular visitor and I also remember Dr. Peterson, who I recall headed U.M.s natural sciences museum, and spent a few days with the Ruthvens.

    I was so fortunate to know all of them. They were an important influence in my education and in my life. I loved the hacienda style house and the view of Lake Michigan and, by extension, the town of Frankfort and the area. I visited the town in 2011 and discovered the house and barn,, etc. had been replaced. It is only now, with Beatrice’s interesting writing, that I know it was replaced with the retirement
    residence. And, yes, I agree, the Ruthvens would likely be happy to know that many other retirees are able to enjoy time in a wonderful spot!

    Marge (nee Murphy) Jones

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