Ann Arbor was founded in 1824 by land speculators John Allen and Elisha Walker Rumsey. On May 25, 1824, the town plat was registered with Wayne County as “Annarbour”, the earliest known use of the town’s name. Allen and Rumsey decided to name it for their wives, both named Ann, and for the stands of bur oak in the 640 acres (260 ha) of land they purchased for $800 from the federal government at $1.25 per acre. The local Ojibwa named the settlement kaw-goosh-kaw-nick, after the sound of Allen’s sawmill. Ann Arbor became the seat of Washtenaw County in 1827, and was incorporated as a village in 1833. The Ann Arbor Land Company, a group of speculators, set aside 40 acres (16 ha) of undeveloped land and offered it to the state of Michigan as the site of the state capital, but lost the bid to Lansing. In 1837, the property was accepted instead as the site of the University of Michigan, which moved from Detroit.
Since the university’s establishment in the city in 1837, the histories of the University of Michigan and Ann Arbor have been closely linked. The town became a regional transportation hub in 1839 with the arrival of the Michigan Central Railroad, and a north–south railway connecting Ann Arbor to Toledo and other markets to the south was established in 1878. Throughout the 1840s and the 1850s settlers continued to come to Ann Arbor. While the earlier settlers were primarily of British ancestry, the newer settlers also consisted of Germans, Irish and African-Americans.
In 1851, Ann Arbor was chartered as a city, though the city showed a drop in population during the Depression of 1873. It was not until the early 1880s that Ann Arbor again saw robust growth, with new emigrants from Greece, Italy, Russia, and Poland. Ann Arbor saw increased growth in manufacturing, particularly in milling. Ann Arbor’s Jewish community also grew after the turn of the 20th century, and its first and oldest synagogue, Beth Israel Congregation, was established in 1916. During the 1960s and 1970s, the city gained a reputation as an important center for liberal politics. Ann Arbor also became a locus for left-wing activism and anti-Vietnam War movement, as well as the student movement. The first major meetings of the national left-wing campus group Students for a Democratic Society took place in Ann Arbor in 1960; in 1965, the city was home to the first U.S. teach-in against the Vietnam War. During the ensuing 15 years, many countercultural and New Left enterprises sprang up and developed large constituencies within the city. These influences washed into municipal politics during the early and mid-1970s when three members of the Human Rights Party (HRP) won city council seats on the strength of the student vote. During their time on the council, HRP representatives fought for measures including pioneering antidiscrimination ordinances, and a rent-control ordinance; many of these remain in effect in modified form. Alongside these liberal and left-wing efforts, a small group of conservative institutions were born in Ann Arbor. These include Word of God (established in 1967), a charismatic inter-denominational movement; and the Thomas More Law Center (established in 1999), a religious-conservative advocacy group.
In the past several decades, Ann Arbor has grappled with the effects of sharply rising land values, gentrification, and urban sprawl stretching into outlying countryside. On November 4, 2003, voters approved a greenbelt plan under which the city government bought development rights on agricultural parcels of land adjacent to Ann Arbor to preserve them from sprawling development. Since then, a vociferous local debate has hinged on how and whether to accommodate and guide development within city limits. Ann Arbor consistently ranks in the “top places to live” lists published by various mainstream media outlets every year. In 2008, it was ranked by CNNMoney.com 27th out of 100 “America’s best small cities”. And in 2010, Forbes listed Ann Arbor as one of the most liveable cities in the United States.
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