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Tea with Martha Hay Ayres

“Mrs. Martha Hay Ayres, 400 South Michigan Avenue, a pioneer resident of Saginaw for many years prominent here, socially and otherwise, died Sunday and the home of her daughter, Mrs. Jane Cummings in St. Louis, Mo.”

-The Saginaw Daily News, January 17, 1928

The phrase “prominent here, socially and otherwise” only hints at the breadth of Martha Hay Ayres’ accomplishments. Active it the community, she was known as a gracious and accomplished hostess. However, the “otherwise” is an understatement. It only hints at her business accomplishments and her ability to transcend the proscribed boundaries for women in the nineteenth century.

Born near Detroit in 1847, she married James Hay in 1864 and moved to Saginaw City. James Hay had moved to Saginaw in 1857. Although arriving with little more than an ax, success came quickly. In 1871, he became a partner in a lumbering firm and prospered. Tragically, he died suddenly in 1881 of Typhoid pneumonia. Widowed, Martha Hay was left was a family to raise and business to manage. Rather than turning over her business operations to others, she took an active role in its operation. She was named the successor for her husband in the firm of Rust, Eaton & Company and assumed his seat on the board of the Tittabawassee Boom Company.

While managing her business, she raised seven children, had an elegant home constructed on South Michigan Avenue – then known as South Washington, and excelled at fulfilling the proscribed roles of a socially prominent nineteenth century woman. In 1896 she remarried.

This link will take you to an article about Martha Hay Ayres from Michigan History Magazine:

The Home Martha Hay Constructed

At the time of his death, James and Martha Hay lived on South Michigan Avenue at Lyon Street. In

December 1885, the newspaper wrote that “F.W. Hollister is preparing plans for Mrs. James Hay, who will remodel her residence . . . in the spring.” Within a month she had changed her mind and they reported that she had purchased a new site “and intends on erecting a residence that will rank prominent with the finest on the street. The site is a good one for a fine residence.” The home she constructed wholly fulfilled the newspapers’ expectations.

Located on the southeast corner of South Michigan and Van Buren, the home’s grounds encompassed half of a city block. At the time of its demolition in 1937 an article titled “Once City’s Most Beautiful, Ayres Home to be Razed” noted:

Soon to disappear from among Saginaw’s familiar landmarks is another of the old mansions which gave expression to the city’s wealth during the lumber era.

It is the home of the late Mrs. Martha Hay Ayres, which since 1883 [sic.] has stood at the southeast corner of Michigan Avenue and Van Buren Steet.

After describing how the home would be replaced with a gas station and noting that she had married Ebenezer Ayres in 1896. The article continues:

Drapers came from Chicago to aid in decorating the Hay home, as it has always been known, and it generally was considered that Mrs. Hay had the most beautiful home in Saginaw. Gorgeous tapestries hung in the reception hall and dining room and throughout the home were bric-a-brac vases and furniture from distant places. The china and silver owned by Mrs. Hay also were conceded to be the most beautiful found in any of the Saginaw homes. In addition, the residence gained distinction by being about the first ever to have an elevator operated with water power.

The article concludes:

“Vacant since the death of Mrs. Ayres a few years, the mansion has stood as a bleak reminder of the glory it once possessed as ‘Saginaw’s most beautiful home.’ “

-The Saginaw News, August 8, 1937, p.1

After you make your tea sandwiches, we encourage you to enjoy them with a cup of tea – served in your finest teacups - and enjoy this album of photographs capturing the scale of the home Martha Hay Ayres had constructed.

As you admire her numerous possessions, remember: each of the numerous items you see in the images was carefully listed and in her will along with a description, value and to whom would she was bequeathing it.

The Hay home was located at 400 South Michigan.

The Recipe-Tea Sandwiches

This week’s recipes are from the cookbook, Back to the Kitchen with Lakeside Cooks. This early twentieth century publication, includes recipes from Saginaw residents who had summer places in the Lakeside Association at Higgins Lake. Martha Hay Ayres’ cottage was known as The Pines and the newspaper frequently reported of the family’s summer visits to their cottage – and their return to Saginaw.

The two recipes we selected from several listed as associated with her family’s cottage, are for sandwich fillings. They are classic tea sandwich fillings and the Castle Test Kitchen prepared and presented them as tea sandwiches:


Mix 1/2 cup blanched and chopped almonds and 1/2 cup of diced cold chicken and moisten with 4 tablespoons rich cream, season with salt and pepper and spread between slices of bread.


Chop very fine several sprays of water cress, mix with butter which has been softened and creamed and spread sparingly on bread. 


As there is no unmolding or baking involved, these are truly simple recipes requiring no updating or interpreting. Although you might ponder whether to boil or bake the chicken, the art is in the preparation and presentation.

We hope that Martha Hay Ayres would be pleased with our efforts and her household staff would not be embarrassed to serve them.


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