President’s House 1871-1916
In their search for a permanent successor to Erastus Haven, the Regents selected James Angell, then president of the University of Vermont. Extensive negotiations with Angell continued over two years. It was only after the third offer that Angell accepted the position.
The following excerpts from the letters concerning the long negotiations with Angell reveal a great deal about the President’s House.
A letter informing Angell of his election as president of the University of Michign from E. C. Walker, chairman of the Executive Committee of the Regents on September 3, 1869 states:
“Definite action was not taken on the subject of Salary. It will be $3500 per annum and a roomy and comfortable house (with a large garden for fruit and vegetables attached) - at least.”
Angell’s reply on October 4, 1869 requested more attention to the President’s House:
“It has occurred to me that I ought to ask you a little more definitely what you think could be done to the house. It seems to me to need absolutely, paper and paint, bath room with hot and cold water, water closet, and some arrangement for a dining room closet, and a furnace. My family has never lived in a house without the above named conveniences, which the house lacks, and compossed as it is of persons from very advanced age to infancy, I should not feel willing to ask them to dispense with them, unless there were an absolute necessity. I am well aware that such a change would entail a pretty heavy outlay at first, but once done it would be done for all the future. The attic would hold a tank which could be filled from the roof.
Walker responded for the Regents on January 4, 1871:
“The Board was an unit, without a shadow of a difference of opinion among us. We determine unanimously to offer you $4000 per annum and exps of removal and to repaint the house as you suggested, your salary to begin Aug 1, 1871.”
Angell asked for still more in a letter dated February 1, 1871:
“I do most sincerely appreciate this renewed token of the favor of the Regents. And I beg you to extend to them my hearty thanks for their invitation. I have bestowed earnest thought upon their proposition during the last three weeks, and I am reluctantly constrained to say that I really cannot afford to undertake the work at Ann Arbor on the salary named. I am sorry that my circumstances in life compel me to give more consideration to the question of salary than I could wish. But so it is.”
Henry Frieze wrote to Angell on April 19, 1871:
“We are about to commence repairs on the President’s House. We can manage very nicely in respect to everything excepting the alterations you suggest in the windows. It is the opinion of those who have examined the house, that the walls and stucco will not bear any breaking into--particularly as the addition of the third story to the house a few years ago caused the walls to settle at the corners, and to show some signs of weakness. Though the movement was but slight, it is thought unsafe to tamper with them. I think we shall succeed in making the house in every other way pleasant and comfortable.
Mrs. F. thinks Mrs. A. had better bring with her any good domestic she may already have or may find. You will also need a good horse.”
In a final letter from Frieze on July 15, 1871:
“Things are going well at the house. The front windows are already cut down. The change will be a great improvement in the looks and comfort of the house.”
The negotations continued, the Regents yielded, and a wire was sent to Dr. Angell setting a salary at $4500.
Regent Walker informs Angell in a letter of April 17, 1871:
“The Ex Com. reported about the house, and we appropriated $1,500 to its repair. We are to put in furnace bathroom hot and cold water-and paper and paint throughout etc. etc. Prof. Frieze or Prof. Douglas who is our mechanic will attend to the details and will write you in full. The Regents visited the house when I was not there in March and decided that the addition of the 3rd story, on walls only designed for two rendered the insertion of new windows on the sides unsafe. I regret the decision and do not share in their fears, tho some are far better judges than myself. The fruit expecially the pears, looks very promising. It was forgotten to trim the grapevines and it is now too late.”
The President’s House Backyard
“Except for formal occasions, the back entrance was used. President Angell would often answer the door himself in his slippers and a gracious welcome on his face.” (Victor Vaughn, Michigan Alumnus, December 4, 1926, p. 195)
During Angell’s thirty-nine-year tenure, the President’s House was substantially altered. In 1891 a west wing was added to give the Angells a semi-circular library and more bedrooms. Two large rooms were made from the original pair of small rooms on either side of the ground-floor hallway. A porch was added to the east side and the house was wired for electricity. The barn, an orchard, and a vegetable garden remained at the rear of the house.
The Angell Family on the steps of the President’s House
Front Row: Constance McLauglin (Green); Robert Angell; Esther L. McLaughlin (Donahue); David B. McLaughlin; Rowland H. McLaughlin; James B Angell II; James A. McLaughlin Middle Row: James W. Angell; Marion Angell (McAlpin); James B. Angell; Isabel McLaughlin (Stevens); Lois A. McLaughlin Back Row: Mrs. James R. Angell; James R. Angell; Andrew McLaughlin; Mrs. Alexis C. Angell; Alexis C. Angell; Sarah C. Angell (daughter of Alexis)
The Regents did not accept President Angell’s resignation until 1909 at the age of 80, four years after he had originally tendered it. He lived in the President’s House until his death in 1916. Mrs. Angell died on December 14, 1903.