Zylpha Davenport Was a Driving Force Behind the Saline Library

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 01/29/2016 - 02:09

When Zylpha P. Parsons married William Davenport in 1851, many of Saline’s movers and shakers were probably in attendance.

Zylpha’s father, Orrin Parsons, built the first sawmill in Saline Township, just south of the salt springs. Shortly afterwards, he established a flour mill.

Orrin had arrived in the Saline area in 1826 with his younger brother Chester and both their wives.

Orrin and Chester Parsons soon found the land they wanted in Saline, just south of the salt flats. They hurried to Monroe, on foot, at night, to purchase the land before anyone else could buy it.

The two brothers built log cabins immediately. In 1827 they built a sawmill, and then a flour mill.

Owning a sawmill before 1830 in Washtenaw County guaranteed an extremely high income, as settlers were arriving from “out east,” all wanting to build houses and businesses.

The flour mill was likewise a tremendous money-maker. Plenty of farmers were growing wheat and other grains. They had to either grind it by hand or take it to a flour mill.

Orrin did not have any milling experience back in Massachusetts where he came from. He just figured it out as he went along, since he was mechanically inclined.

His mill is still standing on Hartman Road and belongs to Taylor Jacobsen.

Besides owning a tremendously successful business, Orrin Parsons was elected Saline Township Supervisor almost every year from 1832-1840, and also served as Justice of the Peace on and off.

As icing on the cake, Orrin served on the Michigan State Legislature in 1846.

Zylpha’s brother Cornelius was another mover and shaker in Saline. He became a successful merchant, selling groceries and dry goods in downtown Saline.

Her uncle Chester Parsons was a VIP in town, as co-owner of the sawmill and flour mill with Zylpha’s father. The 1850 census records show he was extremely wealthy at that time, and his real estate was worth a great deal.

Since Zylpha was one of eight children, she had plenty of sisters and brothers (and spouses) who were around to attend her wedding.

Zylpha was 24 at the time of her marriage; her husband, William Davenport, was 25, working as a clerk in a store in downtown Saline.

Within a few months of the marriage, Davenport was financially able to set up his own business in downtown Saline.

By 1863, Davenport had the funds to build a giant three-story brick sky scraper on the northwest corner of the downtown.

His wife probably did not have a public face on his business, and stayed home raising their four children while playing the piano.

William and Zylpha (sometimes spelled Zilpha) had three sons: Beverly, Arachie, and Edward, as well as a daughter, Mary.

Zylpha did not just sit around enjoying the mansion she lived in, which still stands on Michigan Avenue near Maple. She was active in the community. She donated money for a library and books, then arranged to upgrade it to a space on North Ann Arbor Street behind her husband’s storefront.

She was behind a new, larger library built just next to it, which today says “Library” along the top of the building, where the Drowsy Parrot was.

This interesting and generous lady died in Saline on March 5, 1921 at the age of 93 and she is resting in Oakwood Cemetery.

Thanks to Taylor Jacobsen; History of Washtenaw County 1881; Robert Lane; Jim Peters;  Census data; Find a Grave; Ancestry; Saline Area Historical Society; and Internet photos of Saline history through the Saline District Library.

Martha Churchill's picture
Martha A. Churchill
BA in Journalism and Anthropology at UM in 1973. Law degree at Cooley Law School in 1979. Member of Milan City Council since 2004. Practicing attorney. Genealogist since 2001; local historian since 2006. Free-lance writer.