First, a football star
Horace Greely Prettyman (1857-1945) was a Michigan football hero in the 1880s, when the sport had scarcely begun. Tall and strong, he had movie-star looks before there were movies — dark eyes, brooding brows, and a full but well-regulated moustache. He scored Michigan’s first-ever home-field touchdown, and he was the only Wolverine ever elected captain for three years.
But his larger impact came later, as host and father figure to a generation of Michigan students.
Prettyman came to Ann Arbor from a farm in Bryan, Ohio, when he was already in his early 20s. For a year or two he attended Ann Arbor High. Then he entered Michigan, where he threw the hammer for the track team, boxed, and wrestled. But those were just for fun. Football was the main thing.
According to the Michigan Daily, he was the first Ohioan to play the sport for Michigan. And he soon was a leader, first as a “rusher” then a “forward.”
Leader on and off the field
Prettyman’s era preceded the organization of intercollegiate athletics as we know them today. Teams often made their own arrangements with opponents, some representing other colleges, some representing city teams like the Detroit Independents, with only a few games per season.
In his first season, Prettyman handled the finances and logistics for a four-game eastern swing, and according to one newspaper, his teammates were “most hearty in their commendation of Prettyman’s excellent management of the financial interests of the trip…” (On the field, the story wasn’t so good. Michigan lost to Yale 46-0, then to Harvard 3-0 in a game that ended in all-but-total darkness — “one continuous scramble” with the crowd “unable to distinguish any of the actions,” according to the Boston Journal.)
The team elected Prettyman captain for the next three years, 1886-88, and in that span won all seven of their games.
Prettyman had a gift with people. Three years as captain made him a local celebrity. So when he was done with schooling, he went straight into the local business community — traveling salesman, factory manager, real estate agent, hotel manager.
Not that his football career was over. He played three more years for Michigan as a non-student, retiring only in 1891 at the age of 34.
By then, Prettyman had a wife, Jennie, who had grown up at 602 Lawrence St., a house built in 1853 and still standing as the Stefan T. Vail Cooperative House, one of Ann Arbor’s oldest residences. Prettyman moved in with his wife.
Just before they married, Prettyman bought a two-story frame house at the corner of North University Avenue and Fletcher Street (then 12th Street). It stood about where the south end of the University Health Service building is today, next to the School of Dentistry.
The Prettymans were married in the house. Right away, they began to take in students for room and board. Soon they had a flourishing business.
Prettyman’s connection to the football team was key. The house became the Wolverines’ unofficial headquarters, serving the players every night at a long training table. (Prettyman never charged rent for the training table.) As the sport’s prestige grew in the 1890s, the house exerted a magnetic appeal on students, and it became known as the Campus Club. Many knew it simply at “Prett’s.”
The Prettymans and Jennie’s sister, Mattie Calkins, ran the operation, which grew and grew, thanks in part to Mattie Calkins’s extraordinary pastries.
They added a third story onto the original house. Then they had a kitchen wing built on and a broad stone porch. Then they bought two adjacent houses. Prettyman constructed a toboggan run down the slope of the big ravine just to the east of his properties, called the Cat Hole.
By now the Prettymans were serving meals to some 250 students and renting rooms to 40 or 50 of them. The establishment was Ann Arbor’s best-known boarding house in the time before dormitories, when every U-M student lived in the constellation of privately owned residences that spread through the blocks around campus.
The Prettymans charged $1.50 per week for a room, $2.50 per week for meals.
Before the Michigan Union and the Michigan League opened in 1919 and 1930, respectively, the banquets and conferences typically held in those buildings were scheduled for Prettyman’s, in the big room at the southeast corner of the house.
In that room, in 1901, University officials decided to hire a new, young football coach, Fielding H. Yost, who kept the training table at Prett’s.
More than landlords
The Prettymans were much more than landlords. The Campus Club, recalled a writer for the Ann Arbor News, “was a sort of parental influence for the larger segment of the student body with which it came in contact. Many a young man confided in Mrs. Prettyman as he would a mother and many, too, benefitted from practical counsel offered by Mr. Prettyman.”
In 1914, nearly 30 years after the couple welcomed their first student guests, the University bought the houses and converted them to residences for students in the School of Nursing.
Arthur Prettyman already had his hands in other businesses. He became the president of the Ann Arbor Press, the Wolverine Power Company, co-owner of the White Swan Laundry (which undoubtedly washed a lot of Prettyman tablecloths), and the owner of a fruit farm. He was an Ann Arbor city councilman and the city’s postmaster.
Some 35 years later, in 1938, the University tore the houses down to make way for the School of Dentistry of building.
Jennie Prettyman had died in 1931. Arthur lived until 1945, when he died at 87.
Sources included the Ann Arbor News, the Michigan Daily, Michigan Alumnus, Bruce Madej, Michigan: Champions of the West (1997), and “Horace Greely Prettyman,” Wikipedia. Lead image of men convened around a table at the Prettyman house in 1904 is courtesy of U-M’s Bentley Historical Library.)