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Bartleby the Scrivener vegan27
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woodward farms


sweet_bread's house in Ferndale has an unbelievably huge back yard. I don't even think I've ever seen the end of it when she and her husband have hosted backyard parties. She said that it was because there was supposed to be another street at the back end of the property, but I didn't believe her at first. Of course, she knows her own damn property better than I do, and she was absolutely right. The street-that-was-not-to-be existed on paper only, as Robindale Avenue. [EDIT: It appears that the street was not officially vacated until 1980.] The lots west of Robindale, and the land for the street itself, were combined into large lots, giving sweet_bread and her neighbors homesteads measuring 233 feet deep.


Plat of Gardendale subdivision, Ferndale.


These aren't the only oversize lots in the area. The adjacent subdivision to the east originally consisted of lots measuring 152 feet wide and up to 255 feet deep.


Plat of Woodward Farms subdivision, Ferndale.


Why were these lots so huge? Were they intended to be divided yet again, or were they intended for mansions? Why were there no alleys behind the lots? A little bit of research answered all of my questions.

This subdivision, platted in 1912, is called Woodward Farms, and the larger lots were literally intended to be small farms. At least that's what was promised by the land's owner, the Michelson Land & Home Company managed by Frederick E. Michelson and James G. Pierce.



The Michelson Co. advertised these lots as lying on "the most fertile spot in the County", consisting of "black, mealy" soil, with "plenty of room to keep chickens and enough gardening space to make the farm pay for itself." The area of course had been used for farming, having previously been the Henry Hook Farm in section 34 of Royal Oak Township.


The area shown is today bound by Pinecrest St., Fair St., 8 Mile Rd. & 9 Mile Rd.


The initial sale of lots was a festive public event held on Memorial Day (then called Decoration Day) of 1912. Buses shuttled interested members of the public from Palmer Park, and the promoters refunded train fare for those who arrived by the interurban railway. Free ice cream was available to all visitors, and prospective buyers were encouraged to bring their children in order to "see how tickled they are to get out into the country, the best place in the world to bring up little folks." Later advertisements promised to drive interested parties to the grounds in an automobile.


Full page ad in the Detroit Free Press, May 29, 1912.

"What more could a man ask for than to have his own house on his own full acre of ground in the most ideal section of one of the best and fastest growing cities in the whole country? That sounds expensive. It isn't. Our prices and our easy payment plan put this opportunity within the reach of any man drawing an average Detroit wage."

It may be indicative of the honesty of the Michelson Land & Home Company that one of the few verifiable claims in these advertisements--that buyers were getting an acre of land--is actually false. The lots were slightly irregular, but averaged about just less than 90% of an acre in size. However, it does appear that they improved the land as promised, with roads, shade trees and concrete sidewalks.



Obviously, suburban homesteaders with gardens and backyard chickens are doing nothing new. This was the vision all along--to enjoy both the benefits of city life (paved sidewalks, streetcar access) and country life simultaneously. As one advertisement put it, Woodward Farms is "where you will be away from the noise and bustle of the city and can enjoy the fresh, clean air which your children need so much." To be honest, I find it hard not to be suckered in by these 100-year-old, too-good-to-be-true claims.



Without more research, I can't say whether any mini-farms were established on these lots, or if the first buyers were just speculators. It does appear that each of these plots was divided into four narrow lots measuring 38.2' wide.

I know I have mentioned here that Sarah and I talk about moving in together, and that Ferndale is her first choice for a place to buy a place to live (although whether or not I will sell my house is still not decided). I find this house on St. Louis Street, located on lot 179 of the Woodward Farms subdivision, appealing in a quaint, kitschy way:



Obviously the house needs a historically-appropriate makeover. (The house was built in 1938 and it may be possible that the aluminum siding is original, but it seems that aluminum siding for homes wasn't widely available until after World War II.) In any case, the house seems solid, well-located, and has a dry, clean basement. The asking price is $129,000. Small, "cute" houses are "in" right now.

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If you have a half hour budgeted for recreational YouTubing, I recommend this 1939 documentary on the benefits of suburban living:


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