The Thompson Block Building – Ypsilanti’s Depot Town Civil War-Era Treasure Nearly Destroyed by Fire

Ypsilanti, Michigan’s Thompson Block building was constructed in 1861 and, in 1862, began serving as army barracks for the 14th and 27th Michigan Infantries during the Civil War. Company E of the 17th Michigan Infantry stayed in the building before going to Detroit to muster in with the rest of the regiment in August of 1862. They were known as The Normal School Company because over half of them were students at what is now Eastern Michigan University. Many Union soldiers called the Thompson building barracks “home” as they awaited transport on the nearby Michigan Central railroad to the battlefields in the south.

Thompson Block Then (1)

The Thompson Block in 1862. Courtesy of the Ypsilanti Historical Society.

Thompson Block Now (1)

The Thompson Block photographed one day after the fire on September 23, 2009.

After the Civil War, the O.E. Thompson & Sons Company purchased the building in 1869 to serve as a paint shop. Over the years, the company manufactured and sold nine lines of products, including wheelbarrow grass spreaders. In 1880, the Thompson Hardware Store was established here which, among other things, became the first place to sell bicycles in the Ypsilanti area. It then became the city’s first fire station in 1895 before becoming the first Dodge Brothers car dealership in 1916.

Thompson Block Then (2)

The Thompson Block as it appeared after 1869. Courtesy of the Ypsilanti Historical Society.

Thompson Block Now (2)

The Thompson Block photographed one day after the fire on September 23, 2009.

In the 1960s, the Thompson Block fell into neglect and became vacant soon after. That is all I remember of the building … a sad, empty, rapidly decaying reminder of its illustrious past.

In 2006, the Beal Group began a $3.5 million restoration project on the 30,000-square-foot Thompson Block for its use as condominiums and shops. Yesterday, September 23, 2009, the property was partially destroyed by fire. Preliminary reports indicate that the cause of the fire has been deemed “suspicious”.

Thompson Block (1)

Thompson Block (2)

Thompson Block (3)

Thompson Block (4)

The building is located at the northeast corner of River Avenue and East Cross Street in Ypsilanti, Michigan’s historic Depot Town district.

UPDATE JULY 13, 2011: A 21-year-old man was sentenced Tuesday to five years of probation for setting fire to the historic Thompson Block building in Ypsilanti on September 23, 2009. Police arrested the man several weeks after the fire that caused significant damage to the vacant building located in Depot Town. No one was injured.

UPDATE JANUARY 14, 2014: The Thompson Block building restoration is near completion and, this week, the Ypsilanti City Council approved a planned unit development agreement for the mixed-use Thompson Block, which is scheduled to open by September 2015. The building will feature 16 luxury lofts, 14,000 square feet of commercial space, and a 26-space parking lot. Prices for the residential units range from $732 per month for a 610-square-foot studio to $1,424 per month for a 1,187-square-foot apartment with two bedrooms and one bath. Reserved parking will be available in the proposed parking lot for a monthly rate of $75 per space. For more information about the Thompson Block, at 400 N. River St. near Cross Street, visit thompsonblock.com.

Historic photos and historical data courtesy of the Ypsilanti Historical Society and Dave Tennies.

Online Sources:

The Ann Arbor News: Man sentenced to probation for Thompson Block arson in Ypsilanti

DBusiness: Thompson Block in Ypsilanti’s Depot Town One Step Closer to 2015 Opening

One Response to “The Thompson Block Building – Ypsilanti’s Depot Town Civil War-Era Treasure Nearly Destroyed by Fire

  • I have new images of the Thompson Block if you would like to add the to your blog! What a tremendous amount of work has gone into the facade of the building. Thanks 🙂

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