Sara Swanson

Manchester architecture to be focus of ALI & WCC classes this fall

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The Fountain-Bessac House is one of Grace Shackman’s favorite buildings in Manchester.

This fall, Adult Learning Institute (ALI) of Chelsea and Washtenaw Community College (WCC) both will be offering a class titled “Architecture and History of Saline and Manchester.” The class is being taught by Washtenaw Community College (WCC) instructor, Grace Shackman.

Shackman has been interested in architecture since she was little. “My family moved around a lot and so I got to see lots of houses growing up. I can still remember the lay-outs of most of them,” she said. She got interested in historic preservation specifically when she and her husband moved into Ann Arbor’s Old West Side. She wrote about history and architecture for the Old West Side News in the 1980s, then for the Ann Arbor Observer. She expanded her interest to the whole region when she started writing for the Chelsea Standard/Dexter Leader and served as a county commissioner for eight years.

Shackman went on to write for the Community Observer, covering Dexter, Chelsea, Saline, and Manchester. Her articles on libraries, early telephone service, and one-room schools, for example) looked at all four communities. Her Manchester-focused articles covered topics such as the Fountain-Bessac House, the Village Tap, the Manchester Mill, and the church-turned-doctor’s office. At about the same time, she began teaching adult education at Washtenaw Community College, where she was encouraged to teach about the whole county, not just the Ann Arbor area.

“At first my articles and lectures were about local history but the more I researched, I began to understand how architecture and local history were intertwined,” Shackman explained, “For instance, in Manchester the original Commercial Italianate down town is gorgeous, but also tells us that in the 19th century Manchester was a busy regional commercial center, as do the great Italianate mansions backing into the river. The mill building can be seen as architecture but also as a remnant of early industry. I like to show my classes the mill race and the mill pond, so they see how the mill worked.”

Her first and third class will be power point lectures using old pictures to show the history and architecture of each town. The following class will be a walking tour to see what is left and to put everything from the class before into context. The ALI classes meet during the day, while her WCC class meets on weekday evenings for the power point classes and then on Sundays for the walks.

WCC “loans” Shackman to ALI. “I enjoy teaching for ALI,” she stated. “They are a wonderful group of people, very supportive in all ways.  They furnish me with a class assistant and an AV person. A lot of the people take my classes again and again so I know them and have become friends.”

The ALI class will meet in Dexter on four Thursday afternoons beginning September 14th and costs $25 in addition to a $10 registration fee (financial aid is available.) To register for the ALI class, visit or pick up a registration form at the Manchester District Library. The class through WCC will meet in Ann Arbor on two Tuesday evenings and two Sunday afternoons (walking tours) and costs $89. To register for the WCC class, visit (click on “community enrichment,” then “history and culture”).

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