In the latter half of the 19th century, the city of Ypsilanti went through a rapid transition from a small farming community to a center of education and business. By 1900, Ypsilanti was nationally known for three things: the Michigan Central Gardens, the mineral wells, and underwear. The gardens were designed by famed landscape gardener John Laidlaw, who studied gardening in his native Scotland before coming to the United States. Beginning in the 1880s, people came from miles away to bathe in Ypsilanti's mineral waters, which were said to cure just about anything. And for many years, Ypsilanti was the home of the Underwear Factory, where the finest full body union suits were made.
Dr. Helen McAndrew was the first woman doctor in Ypsilanti, opening her practice in 1854. She and her husband were active in the Underground Railroad, which Ypsilanti played a very active role in. Ypsilanti is also the home of Eastern Michigan University, founded in 1848, becoming the first normal school west of the Alleghenies.