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Historical Commission



Commission Members for 2014

Historical Commission members are:

John Conner
Frank DiMaria
Douglas J. Harvey
Meghan Mott
Ruthann Schinzing
Scott Townsend

 

 

 

 

Mission Statement


To foster an understanding and appreciation of local history and to identify and preserve the heritage of our city.


The Historical Commission strives to promote an awareness of the heritage of this community; to identify local preservation concerns; to attend workshops and seminars relating to preservation management; to study public policies designed to protect and preserve local history; to provide opportunities for residents to share and shape their historical legacy.

Through membership in the American Association of State and Local History, the Michigan Historic Preservation Network, and the Historical Society of Michigan, the Commission works to expand its perceptions and knowledge of current practices in the field of local history. It tries to keep abreast of state and federal legislation, as well as to identify sources of funding such as grants and endowments.

The Historical Commission has the responsibility to identify structures and sites of historic significance; to study the value of their preservation, and to make recommendations for future use. The Residential Date Plaque Award Program, established from 1992-1999, has recognized 33 homes of historic value in Sterling Heights as identified by age and architectural significance.

To encourage an appreciation of local history, the Sterling Heights Historical Commission is also responsible for the development of the Sterling Heights Historical Collection in the Upton House. The Commission collects and exhibits items reflecting life and times in our community since its inception as a township in 1835.

The Commission, in partnership with the Friends of the Library produced a book on local history entitled Seven Miles from Home: An Oral History of Sterling Township, a Michigan Farm Community.

The Commission, in partnership with the Sterling Heights Public Library, produced another book on local history entitled Sterling Township 1875-1968 through Arcadia Publishing. This book is available through local bookstores and retail websites.

An oral history collection is also available at the library. The collection consists of 100 resident interviews talking about their early lives in Sterling Heights. The interviews are available on audiocassette and include written transcripts. Individuals interested in using this collection can speak with a librarian at the 2nd floor Reference desk.

As Sterling Heights continues to change, it is important to remember that learning about our history creates a bridge from the past to the present. What is happening here today will be tomorrow's history.

The seven-member Historical Commission acts in an advisory capacity to the City Council. Members serve uncompensated terms of three years. The Commission, established May 1970, meets quarterly on the first Thursday of the month in the Upton House. The Public Library Director is the staff liaison, relating the activities of the Commission to City Administration.

Key Goals
Increase public knowledge

We work to increase the public knowledge about our local history and historic preservation.
Research and document

A big part of what we do is to research and document significant historical sites in Sterling Heights.
Promote cooperation

We promote cooperation and resource sharing with local, state, and national preservation organizations.
Historical Marker Project

The Michigan Historical Marker Program was designed to reveal the important stories surrounding persons, places, or events. The markers show the potent significance of a community's heritage and history.

If you think a home or other building in Sterling Heights is worthy of such a marker, you can find an application here.

If you would like guidelines for researching the historical significance of a building, click here for more information.

Upcoming Activities / Events

The Sterling Heights Historical Commission meeting dates for the 2011/12 fiscal year are listed below. All meetings are held at the Upton house at 7:00 PM on Thursday as follows. Meetings are open to the public.

  • Upcoming Meetings:
  • Feb. 6, 2014
  • May 1, 2014
  • Sept. 4, 2014
  • Nov. 6, 2014

For Historical Commission meeting agendas and minutes, click here.

Sterling Heights Historical Collection

The Sterling Heights Historical Commission solicits and accepts items for the Sterling Historical Collection which depict the growth and change within this municipality since its inception as a township in 1835. Recognizing that today's events will be tomorrow's history, modern items judged to be of permanent value will be considered.

The Commission encourages and will consider items which fall into the following categories, although it will not be limited by these categories:

  • Maps, photographs, and documents relating to personal, business, educational, cultural, and recreational activities. Household accessories and personal artifacts.

 

  • Items will be collected for preservation and display in special exhibits at the Upton House or the library, or elsewhere if display cases and security are provided.

If you have any of the items listed and would be willing to lend them to the Commission for a display, please contact Tammy Turgeon, Library Director, at 586-446-2640. If you would like to arrange to tour the Upton House, please contact Community Relations at 586-446-2470.

 

Wanted: Display Items & Photographs

Are you one of those organized souls who can drag out the family photo album with every picture in chronological order and labeled? Maybe you’re like most of us and just have boxes and boxes of photos waiting to be organized. Either way, the Historical Commission needs some help from you.

The Commission is looking for photos from the late 19th century to early 20th century that show schools in Sterling Township. In particular the Commission is looking for pictures of the following schools: Maple Grove School, located at Utica and Kleino; County Line School, located at 15-Mile and Dequindre; Monfort School, located at 14-Mile and Schoehnerr; Berz School, located at 15-Mile and Mound; Canal Road School located on Canal Road West of Saal; and Fox School, located on Clinton River Road east of Hayes.

The Commission is also seeking photos from the same time period showing what daily life was like in Sterling Township. Pictures of homes, churches, local businesses, and any kind of family gathering or event are all welcome.

Loaned photographs will be copied and returned to you within a few weeks. Identification of when the photo was taken and who and what is in the photo would be appreciated. Commission members may be able to assist you if you’re not sure of dates and places.

A rotating display of photographs is planned for the Upton House. Copies of the photographs will also be placed in the historical archive collection at the library.

If you have any questions, call Commission liaison Tammy Turgeon at 586-446-2640. If you would like to arrange to tour the Upton House, please contact Community Relations at 586-446-2470.

We are also looking for items for the Upton House Display. Items from the late 1880s to the early 1970s needed for display include: toys, china, cards, decorations, linens, and other family memorabilia. If you would like to loan items for the display, contact Joe Vitale at the library (586) 446-2662.

Books on Sterling Heights History

 

Sterling Township


The Sterling Heights Public Library and the Sterling Heights Historical Commission proudly announce the publication of Sterling Township: 1875-1968. The book is available for $19.99 at area bookstores, independent retailers, on-line bookstores, and through the publisher, Arcadia Publishing.

The book contains more than 150 photographs from the library’s archives. Librarian Debra Vercellone chose the photographs used in the book and wrote the captions. Historical Commissioner Wallace Doebler helped authenticate the photos and wrote the book’s introduction.

Sterling Township, located about 18 miles northeast of Detroit, was first settled after the Erie Canal was opened. The rich soil, relatively flat land, and the vital Clinton River attracted pioneer and immigrant families who arrived to establish farmsteads. The first influx of immigrants came mainly from the British Isles, and by the 1870s, German families had flocked to the area, raising dairy cattle and establishing farms. Belgians, arriving in the early 1900s, developed truck farming - growing fruits and vegetables to sell every week at the farmers’ market in Detroit.

Farm culture prevailed until the 1950s, when large industrial plants began moving in, bringing with them workers and a need for housing and city services. Sterling Township became the city of Sterling Heights in 1968, and this collection of photographs showcases the families and the way of life in the early days of this community, a historic community that is now the fourth largest city in Michigan.

Collaborator Debra Vercellone is a librarian and local history authority for the Sterling Heights Public Library. A lifelong resident of the Sterling Heights area, she has had a keen interest in local history since childhood, when her father pointed out an abandoned one-room schoolhouse. She has degrees in history and in library science from the University of Michigan.

Wallace Doebler’s family has deep roots in Sterling Township. Doebler has been very active in civic and business affairs, serving on the Sterling Heights Historical Commission for many years. He has written three books on local history that are available in the library.

Seven Miles from Home


In 1985, Sterling Heights Public Library began an oral history project that would capture the memories of the aging citizens of the Sterling Heights community. Dramatic changes in this fast growing city made the recording of the community's history a priority. A few years later, one hundred interviews had been conducted, and seventy interviews had been transcribed and bound. In this book, twenty-nine select interviews comprise the history of the Sterling Township farmers in twenty-five categories.

Sterling Heights had leapt from the rural Sterling Township of the 1940s with only a few thousand people to the bustling city of Sterling Heights in 1968. Reaching a population of 117, 810 in 1990, changes impacting lifestyles and values are little short of phenomenal. The pages of this book offer the reader a view of a fading rural American lifestyle by those who lived it. If not immigrants themselves, most were descendents of immigrants. Their stories reflect the influence and importance of the immigrant lifestyle for generations to come.

This book is available at most of the local bookstores.

Glenn Ruggles is a 1948 graduate of Elk Rapids Rural Agricultural High School and holds a Masters Degree in history from the University of Detroit. He has been recording oral histories throughout Michigan for more than thirty years. A retired history teacher from Walled Lake Central High School, he has authored five previous books on oral and local history in Michigan. In 1985, he was appointed Project Director for the Sterling Heights Public Library's Oral History Project. He is the recipient of the Historical Society of Michigan's Award of Merit (1976) for the 16mm motion picture of the Grand Traverse region, The River's the Same, which he co-produced with Bob Humitz. He is the recipient of the Ferris Lewis Award for Excellence in Teaching Michigan History (1991). In 1997, he received a First Place Award from the Michigan Press Association for his weekly column in the Elk Rapids Town Meeting. Today he lives with his wife, Margee, in Oakland County.

Historical Articles

Interested in the history of Sterling Heights? Check it out on the City Website by clicking here.

Stories by Historical Commissioner
Wally Doebler


Summertime Work for Kids

In the summer, I worked for a gardener named Bill Kidd for 10 cents an hour. That was after working a year picking beans and peas by the bushel. Fifteen cents a bushel! If we got into a new patch, I could pick two bushels per hour. But, you did not pick in a new patch all of the time. When you got to the second and third pickings of one patch, we could only pick a bushel in an hour and a half. The beans were not so plentiful.

After you had attained that speed, picking two bushels an hour, you went on salary, earning 10 cents per hour. Though it was less money, I got more of a variety. Pulling onions, picking peppers and getting to work in the barn were added duties. The main attraction was not the work, but rather his three daughters! When we were done picking, we would wash and pack the truck for the market, either Kroger or Eastern Market. Usually we would go to Kroger in the morning and then bring the balance to Eastern Market.

The next year I worked on the farm, my salary was raised to $10 per week and then $12 for my last year. Jobs were hard to get and I had work. Mr. Kidd always paid off every Saturday night around 5 p.m. The older boys would get to know how he worked so we would try to get the rows of beans to pick nearest the barn as he stopped to pay those workers first. He would always ask “How much do I owe you.”

We would respond, “A full week Mr. Kidd,” and he would give you $6 and excuse you for the day. He would go to each worker the same way. He never questioned our honesty. If some had a day off, they would deduct the 10 hours. He did this week after week, with no bookkeeping and no name or address written down. My how times have changed!


Confirmation

I remember the spring of 1936. The girls were getting new dresses, some home sewed and some bought off the rack. The boys were getting suits with their first long pants. Parties were planned. It was going to be a great festive occasion.

Confirmation. We were looking forward to the Sunday before Palm Sunday as we were examined in front of the church. The church would be full of people. The next Sunday would be Palm Sunday and our confirmation. But wait. It was discovered that there were four people in the confirmation class that would not be twelve years old until after confirmation. The rules of Trinity said you must be twelve years to be confirmed, so a special meeting of the voters was called. Of course the voters made a variance for the four. They were Wally Heldt, Norm Kraft and Caroline Miller and myself.

At confirmation we would receive our own personal hymn book, usually in black imitation leather. Our name and the year we were confirmed would be printed in gold. We could hardly wait to use it. The following Sunday was really the big one. Our service then was a little different than confirmations now. The women with their small unconfirmed daughters and babies always sat on the left side and the men with their unconfirmed sons sat on the right side of church.

The school children always sat in the front pews, girls on the left and boys on the right. On each side of the church toward the front was a alcove. There were short benches and all the confirmed boys and girls sat there until they were married. Girls were on the left and boys were on the right. Now, on the boys side you were getting big if you could put your knee on the back of the bench in front of you. The shorter guys would put their hymn book on the book rack in front of them and put their knee on the book. Then they were big. But I was a small guy and when I tried to put my knee on the hymn book I almost slid off the bench on to the floor. The guys all laughed, the men gave us a stern look and I had to wait two years until I grew tall enough toput my knee on the book rack.


Sausage Making Time

For the families that lived in the Sterling Township area, spring (sometimes fall of the year) was time to butcher the hogs they were fattening all winter and process the meat. It was quite a production. Grandma Doebler and Aunt Agnes Boening would come over to our house along with my mother and dad and we would begin to make sausage. My mother would clean the innards casings for the sausage and cut them to length. Dad would carve the pieces from the pig to be ground at Merkle and Neumeier Butcher Shop. They would also add some ground beef, which they bought from the butcher shop. Into the washtub it would go. They would put the wash tub on a bench so two people could mix and knead the ground beef and pork with their hands and add the various spices that Grandma Doebler prepared for them.

After they thought they had the beef and pork mixed thoroughly, grandma Doebler would prepare a sample to see if the taste was OK with all of us. Grandma would take out a little meat and put it in the small 9-inch black iron frying pan to cook. When it had been cooked, they would cut it into pie-shaped pieces and every one, including me, would get a taste. Everyone had input. Not salty enough, a little more sage, too much or too little beef. They would come to a conclusion and the ingredients were added to suit the taste.

My job was to get the vouch (sausage preen) to put on the end of the casings. They were the thorns on the crab apple tree. I would break the thorns off and bring them into the house. We had a sausage machine. A vouch preen would be put on the end of the casing and the rest of the casing would be slipped over the spout. Then you started to crank the handle of the sausage machine and the ground meat would come out of the spout into the casing. When the casing was full, you put another preen on the end, took binder twine, tied it around both ends, made a loop to hang on a broom handle and laid the broom handle over the back of two chairs. You also made a few samplers. They would be about 6 to 8 inches long and Dad and Mom would take them with them as we visited friends or relatives on the weekends.

On these weekend visits, cards and local gossip would be the entertainment. The host would always serve lunch, which would be their homemade bread and coffee cakes and sausage. Each person had their own method of smoking their sausage. Grandma Doebler had a smokehouse and Dad, Aunt Agnes Boening and Aunt Ada Glawe used it to smoke their sausage. Dad liked his sausage smoked so there was little pink in the middle and not too hard. Uncle Louie Bloss liked his sausage smoked through and quite hard. All were good.


I Remember Christmas

My Christmas before I was a teen, I could hardly wait until the magical two weeks would come.

My parents had an artificial tree that burned candles. Christmas tree lights, as we know them, were not available at that time. The tree was about 4 to 5 feet high and had little metal things (candle holders) on the end of each limb that would hold a candle.

My dad would go to Kraft’s Hardware store in Utica and buy a box of candles that would fit the size of the candle holder.

He would set the tree up and we would start decorating. We then would put the candles in their respective candle holders on the end of the limbs. Next would come the various decorations. As we finished decorating, the final step would be the lighting of the candles. We had to be quiet, and were not allowed to run around so that the flame would not blow on the limbs or they might catch on fire.

Many a house burned down because of fires caused by a Christmas tree fire. Then the candles were all lit, and we three would sit there motionless watching the candles burn. The lights were out and it was a pretty sight. Dad would wait until they were half burned, which would be about 15 to 30 minutes, and we would put the fire out on the candles so we could burn them the next night.

You see, we were in a depression and money was scarce, and the box of candles would have to last until Christmas. Needless to say, we never had a problem with fire as we were very cognizant of the destruction that a fire could cause. Another Christmas legend was the Christmas bag we kids received on Christmas Eve at Trinity Lutheran Church. St. Lawrence and the Utica Methodist Church did the same thing. After the Christmas Eve church service, all of the kids would come to the front of the church to get their Christmas bag from the elders of the church.

In the bag was a variety of nuts, an apple (usually a snow apple which had white meat), an orange, and sometimes a banana. The other churches used the same method of disbursing their bags. Bananas were seldom in the bag. Very few were being shipped into the U.S. at that time. Sometimes the elders of the church had a little more money and we would get one in the bag.

As I got the bag home, I would dump its contents on the kitchen table to see what I had received. The first thing I would grab was the orange. I would peel the orange and we three, Mom, Dad and I, would share the orange. You see, there was no money to buy oranges and this would be the last one until next year at Christmas time.

My how times have changed.


Tiling Farm Land in Sterling Township

As Sterling Township was being populated with Europeans, mostly Germans, in the late 1800s and early 1900s, it was a common thing to see the clearing of trees for the development of the fields. This was accomplished by logging and removal of stumps, filling the stump holes, and then plowing the fields to get them ready for farming.

The logs were used to build their cabins. The limb wood would be split and corded to be used for fuel for the cooking range in the kitchen and for the potbelly stove in the living room.

When the fields were being fitted and planted, it became quite obvious that the fields with excess water from the rain were not being drained. The water was not being absorbed by the ground as the ground was already full of water and had no where to go. To seek temporary drainage, the farmer would plow furrows toward ditches, creeks, or streams to help drain the fields.

Macomb County also saw this problem of water filled farming land. They established a Macomb County Drain Commission. It was their job to keep streams, creeks, and ditches clean and clear so the water could flow freely to the Clinton River.

This would help drain the fields for earlier planting and eliminate the possible drowning of the seeds or plants that the farmer had planted. It would make for a longer growing season which would be more profitable for the farmer.

The county realized the ditches, streams, and creeks had to be cleared of grass, weeds, and brush so the water would flow and not back up. The county would hire farmers in the fall and spring to clean out the county ditches. Bill Malow and my dad, Herb Doebler, were buddies and lived across from each other on Canal Road. These two young guys went into business cleaning ditches. Bill would get the jobs from the county and together they would clean the ditches and their banks.

They would use a team of horses and a board scraper, one driving the horses and the other using the scraper. After about an hour, they would trade off driving horses and using the scraper. A board scraper was about four feet wide and about three feet high with a heavy piece of steel on the bottom and two handles on the top to guide the board. The piece of steel was sharpened on the bottom so it would cut into the earth. The horses pulled the scraper and the holder would force the scraper into the ditch bottom to scrape the debris, grass, weeds, sludge, etc. and pull it up onto the opposite bank They would repeat this procedure along the ditch until it was finished. With the bottom of the ditch clean and clear of debris, the water would flow freely to the Clinton River.

With the development of motors and engines a new idea was formed to drain the fields - field tile. Field tiles were round clay-baked, usually reddish in color, cylinders about 4 ½” in diameter and about 8” long, and ¼” thick. A tile digger was invented to dig the trench about 3-4’ deep. The tile would be laid end to end on the bottom of the trench. The trench would be about 18-24” wide and would be the length or width of the field and would empty into a ditch, creek, or stream. After laid, the trench would be filled and leveled with the farm land.

During the summer when the crops were growing, it would drain the fields after heavy rains to stop any cooking or drowning. In the fall it would help the harvest as they could get on the fields with machinery and would not get stuck in the mud.

The farmers saw the advantages of tiling their fields. Soon many of the farmers were tiling their fields as money became available. After the war, beginning in the 50s, the entrepreneurs came in with their housing developments. There went the farm land and also the need for tile as sewers were laid.

Now, most all of Sterling Township (Heights) has been developed with a sewer system covering all of the city. Only the north end of Macomb County is still using the tile system.


Windmill Use on the Farm

During the 1890s, the windmill became popular for the farmers. There was no electric at that time so the windmill would do various jobs around the farm. In the picture on the left, John Doebler with the beard is standing by the buzz platform, on the left side of the picture. His brother-in-law standing on the platforms by the wheel is Arthur Schultz. The children are their families.

My dad, Herb Doebler, told me then his dad (John Doebler) purchasd a 14-foot Star windmill on March 31, 1989, from Star Windmill. It was mounted on the west end of the roof of his large barn. This windmill saved him a lot of work or "elbow grease" as he called it. He told me that it used to take him an hour in the morning and evening to pump water for the cattle and horses. With the widnill, all he had to do was shift a little lever and the windmill did the pumping.

He also said that in the spring and fall, many hours were saved plowing. By putting the mill on a belt driven grindstone he could sharpen the plow point very quickly and he could plow for four hours without resting their three horse team. If the point was dull, the horses had to work harder and they had to be rested more often. I asked how old he was and he said around 12-years-old. Dad said he was too small to harness the horses so his dad John would do it, then my dad would plow all day. Child labor? Sure, according to today's standard. In his time you worked the farm to eat and make a living. When there was no work on the farm, bad days and winter, you went to school.

No more using a cross cut saw to make cord wood. (No chain saws in those days.) Put the mill on the buzz saw platform and buzzed the buzz wood (buzz wood is what remains after small limbs have been removed) trees into cord wood for the stoves to heat the house. A cord is wood that has been cut 16" in length, and piled in a row 8' long and 4' high, 4 x 8 x 16.

About 20-25 years later, along came a guy named Tom. He made the mill obsolete. His name was Tom Edison.

Listed below is a copy of the memo John Doebler wrote to his Star dealer.

Flint & Walling Mfg. Co.
Kendallville, Indiana

Dear Sirs:

Allow me to express my entire satisfaction with the 14-Star power mill purchased from your agents, Ameis, Gerlach & Houghton, last fall. I can do much more with my outfit than I expected, and certainly a good deal more than you advocate. The photograph above scarcely does the outfit justice. I have sawed more than one hundred cords of wood (photo shows about fifty cords), ground all my feed, cut my fodder, pumped water, shelled corn, sawed wood, and run a grindstone. One thousand dollars would not buy my outfit if I could not get another. Anybody wishing reference.

Yours truly,
John Doebler

A story by Historical Commissioners Lorraine Ostrowski and Laura Szpont


Cemeteries are resting place for city’s early residents

Long ago here in Sterling Heights, 90% of the land was working family farms. Most likely your home is sitting on one of those farms. Have you wondered about the people who lived here over 100 years ago? Included in the city’s cemeteries are two historical cemeteries that are the final resting place of many of these early residents: Sterling Grove Cemetery located on Saal Road and 19 Mile and St. Paul Lutheran Church Cemetery located on 18 Mile Road, west of Hayes.

Sterling Grove Cemetery: When the land was first deeded to become a cemetery there were strict regulations. Hedges and shrubbery were to be very well maintained; the beautifying of the individual lots was to be undertaken by the owner. Approximately 237 people are buried in Sterling Grove. Back in the late 1800s it cost $1.50 to dig a grave for an adult and $1 for a child under 10. (Now the cost would be about $1,200.) Among those buried there are members of the Saal family. Ages of those who are buried there range from children who lived only a short time like Alvin Schildt, who died at 1 month old, to the elderly Mrs. Stadler, who passed away at 95. The earliest burial was in 1879, and most likely the family of that 22-year-old young man is no longer around to take care of his grave. There no longer is an association to take care of this land.

St. Paul Cemetery: This cemetery began as a family burial ground for the Kukuk family. The land was part of their farm until the owner donated the property to St. Paul Lutheran Church in May 1887. One of the earliest graves is that of Helene Kukuk, dated Dec. 10, 1883 with the most current resident being laid to rest in 1992. The cemetery has a civil war veteran and Adolph Kukuk, a WWII veteran. There are more than 50 residents buried there, many of them were parishioners of St. Paul Lutheran Church. The entrance is almost completely blocked off as 18 Mile Road is not maintained at this time.

In both these cemeteries there has been much destruction, especially at St. Paul’s, due to the desolate location and the difficulty in accessing the area. Many stones are missing, some stones have been moved and no longer rest in their family plot, some are defaced to the extent that names and dates cannot be read, others knocked over and smashed. It is our responsibility as the new tenants of Sterling Heights, to show respect to those who were here before us. We must make sure that where they rest is not neglected.

So keep a watchful eye there, visit once in a while, maybe pick up a piece of paper that was blown in or a bottle or can that was dropped. Let us show the future generations that we care and have respect for these final resting places.

A story by Historical Commissioner Laura Szpont


History of Maple Lane Golf Course

Maple Lane Golf Course is located on 14 Mile Road and Maple Lane Drive in the city. It consists of 296.8 acres that encompasses the current standing club and the links. However, a portion of the property has historic roots in the community as an operable farm. During 1834, the Stickney family, consisting of two brothers, David and Jonathan, purchased 160 acres of property. David bought 80 acres on the east side of Maple Lane, commonly known as section 35, and Jonathan purchased the other 80 acres on the west side, known as section 34.

Eventually, David purchased his brother’s interest and owned the property until turning it over to his son Levi. Not much is known about the Stickney farm; however, records for the community show sales of items from the farm such as apples and oak lumber.

No property records exist from 1895 to 1914 when the Stickney farm was transferred to the Wieg family, who were Sterling Township natives. The Wiegs operated the farm until it was sold. A portion was sold to Maple Lane Golf Course during 1926, when the original course was developed by Clarence Wolfrom.

There is no sales price on record for the purchase by the Stickney or Wieg families; however, the property had a value of $10,000 on the 1870 census which would equate to $62.50 per acre and less than one cent per square foot. Today, a property of that size would sell for development for about $1,760,000 or $11,000 an acre.

The Maple Lane property was farmed by at least two noted Sterling Township families and eventually a portion became the Maple Lane Golf Club, which has been a source of entertainment in Sterling Heights for the past 82 years. As time goes on there may be many changes to Section 34 and 35, but those changes will only add to the history of the property.

A story by Historical Commissioner Douglas Harvey


Harvey family, part of Sterling Heights history

My Uncle Burtwill (1889-1950) took the photograph (on this page) of the Harvey Farmhouse on Clinton River Road south of 19 mile in 1904. Burt was attending Utica High School at the time and several of his photographs were taken in and around the school building. My Grandmother Fannie (1864-1942) is next to the flag.

My Grandfather Burt (1856- 1926) met Fannie Leggett while working at a clothing store in Grand Haven, Mich. Their family moved into the farmhouse when my father, Jack Harvey (1895-1987), was 3 years old. Previously, the family lived in a farmhouse across Utica Road from what is now the Sterling Heights Nature Center. Jack is the young lad in the picture under the large window. The farm was one of a number owned by my Great-grandfather William Henry Harvey (1829-1901) who lived on Cass Street in Utica.

As part of an estate settlement, my Grandfather Burt obtained a life lease of the property, which was to be passed on to Burt and Fannie’s five children. William Henry’s home, now Willmar Convalescent Home, still stands much as it was when built. William Henry, son of Samuel Harvey, came to Clinton Township in the 1830s from New York. He was involved in various businesses such as lake boats, sawmills, and a hotel before buying farms around the Utica area. My Uncle Ross (1897-1974) is sitting on the porch just below the hammock. Ross served on the battleship Texas in World War I. The two young ladies are Helen (1887-1920) (standing) and Margaret (1892-1976) (sitting on the porch). Grandfather Burt was most likely working somewhere on the farm. Providing for a family of seven was certainly a challenge. Some food came from the farm, but many things had to be purchased.

Farming in 1900 was all done by muscle power. Horses were used for the real heavy work such as plowing and pulling harvesting implements. Men and boys did all the other farm work. Gasoline and steam engines were around at that time but not in general use. Harvesting farm crops was usually done by neighbors helping neighbors. Labor trading was as much social as economic. Wright, Heide, Kidd, Pinow, Faulman, Marotz, Schuldt, DeCook, Vokes, Curtis, Drake and Doebler were the family names of the neighboring farms all on the East Side of the Clinton River. All of the Harvey family seen in the picture, with the exception of my father Jack, moved away from Sterling. Jack inherited 1/5 and with his wife Marjorie (Mayhew) Harvey (1897-1956) purchased the remaining interest in the farm from his four siblings in 1922. My father was primarily a dairy farmer. Typically he had 30 Holstein cows and shipped bulk milk to a dairy in Detroit.

The farm buildings were located in the area where the M-53 freeway now crosses Clinton River Road. All were demolished with the exception of the farm and tenant houses that were moved to Harvey Court. My sister Helen Browning and her husband Bill live on Mayhew, which is part of the Harvey farm. My wife Dottie and I live on Clinton River Road also on land that was part of the farm. The fifth and sixth generation children have scattered mostly to other areas in Michigan.

A story by Historical Commissioner Jenni Ferro


Historical Markers in Sterling Heights

History, Arts and Libraries, strives to document historical sites and spark new interest in the local history of one’s own community. The City of Sterling Heights and the immediate surrounding area have several historic sites for residents to enjoy.

Within the City of Sterling Heights, there are two Michigan Historic Sites, Holcombe Beach and the Upton House.

Holcombe Beach is located on Dodge Park Road North of Metro Parkway near the site of Heritage Junior High. The location is recognized because archeologists uncovered evidence of an early Paleo-Indian settlement in 1961. About 11,000 years ago, the area near Heritage Junior High was a lakeshore. Bones and other artifacts from the settlement were found, revealing the Paleo-Indians’ likely food sources. As the marker indicates, the site is “a reminder of the basic changes in Michigan’s physical and biological environment over the ages.”

The Upton House, located at the corner of Dodge Park and Utica Roads, is also designated as a Michigan Historic Site. The home of William Upton was constructed between 1866-1867, and represents one of the oldest surviving nineteenth century brick dwellings in the City. The house reflects the Italianate style of architecture. William Upton farmed the land surrounding the house and sold fish caught in the nearby Clinton River. The use of brick as a building material, rather than wood, indicated the affluence of the homeowner.

By 1891, William Upton’s farm consisted of 138 acres, encompassing the area that is the present site of City Hall, the Police Department, 41-A District Court, Sterling Heights Public Library, Senior Citizen Center and Stevenson High School. The Upton House is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Numerous other historic sites can be found in neighboring communities. In Utica, St. Lawrence Parish and the Utica Cemetery are both recognized with Michigan Historical Markers. Likewise in Warren, the Detroit Arsenal Tank Plant and Warren Township District No. 4 School, also known as the Bunert School, are commemorated with markers. Nearby Clinton Township and Shelby Township also have historic sites to offer.

Whether you are just driving around Sterling Heights or headed to a different area of Michigan on vacation or business, stopping to read a historical marker can be a valuable lesson in local history. The Michigan Department of History, Arts and Libraries Web site and The Michigan Historical Marker Web Site, both provide excellent search options for locating historical markers wherever you are headed. So next time you pass a green and gold Michigan Historical Marker, take a moment to read the history and find out just what happened on the spot where you stand.

A story by Commissioners Lois Krawczyk & Mary Pawlowski


Rhubarb History

Although many Sterling Heights residents are aware of the city's farmland past, few know that this area was once known as the "Rhubarb Capital of the United States." The soil and the climate were considered excellent for growing rhubarb. Around five million pounds of it were produced in the Sterling Heights and Utica area in 1961. This was sixty-five percent of the world's hot-house rhubarb.

Urban sprawl has replaced all of the hot-houses that were once prevalent in the Sterling Heights area. These hot-houses were heated by steam which was fired by coal. Rhubarb was a very profitable crop, but it required much time and extreme effort to get it to market.

Small nursery plants were grown for two years then transplanted to a larger space for two more years. In the fall after the first frost, the rows of rhubarb plants were plowed out and laid out on top of the furrows until they froze into hard clumps of dirt-covered rhubarb weighing fifty to sixty-five pounds each. These clumps were loaded onto wagons and taken to the hot-houses. After six weeks in the houses which were heated to sixty-three degrees, the "forced" rhubarb was ready to pick. The rhubarb was picked all at once so farm families often worked around the clock to get the job done.

Is rhubarb a fruit or a vegetable? It is a vegetable. The stalk or stem is the only edible part (the leaves contain poisonous levels of oxalic acid). Because the flavor is very strong, it is usually cooked with sugar or other types of sweetener. It can be made into pies, jam, or compote. If you have never eaten rhubarb, give it a try! Try the recipe below.

Rhubarb Kuchen

1 cup flour 1 tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. salt 2 Tbsp. sugar
1/3 cup margarine 1 Tbsp. milk
1 egg 3 cups cut rhubarb
1-3 oz. package strawberry jello

Sift dry ingredients. Cut in margarine, combine egg and milk. Add to flour mixture and press into greased 9” square pan. Cover dough with rhubarb. Sprinkle jello evenly over rhubarb and sprinkle the following topping over jello.

Topping: ½ cup flour, 1 cup sugar, ½ tsp. cinnamon, 1/3 cup margarine. Combine dry ingredients. Cut in margarine to form crumbs and sprinkle over top of jello. Bake at 375 for 45 minutes.

A story by Historical Commissioner Lawrence Archambeau


Canal, a Victim of the Times and Circumstances

Soon after achieving statehood in 1837, the Michigan state legislature passed the Internal Improvement Act, providing for the construction of 3 railroads and 2 canals to open the interior of the state and provide for the convenient movement of people and material goods. One of these projects was the Clinton-Kalamazoo Canal. The canal was to traverse 216 miles across the southern tier of Michigan beginning at the Clinton River near the village of Frederick, just west of Mt. Clemens. Frederick has since disappeared. The western terminus was to have been at Singapore at the mouth of the Kalamazoo River. The project was inaugurated with much fanfare on July 20, 1838, with the governor performing the ground-breaking.

This work proceeded slowly through dense forests and swamps and the difficult construction of locks. The terrain from Mt. Clemens to Pontiac included an elevation of 200 feet, necessitating approximately 25 locks, built as required by the changes in elevation. Locks and dams were built of stone and heavy timbers to prevent erosion back into the canal. Most of the earth removed from the canal bed was placed along side, to be used as a towpath for the horses which would haul the flat-bottomed barges used to carry goods and passengers. Construction proceeded as far as Rochester by 1842 when it was halted. The principal reason for this was financial. Eventually, the state officially cancelled the canal project.

Historical records relate that only two boats ever operated on the canal. For a short time, a single small boat transported freight from Utica to Frederick. Less than $100 in tolls was ever collected from this operation. Legend also depicts that a flat-bottomed, horse-drawn barge was built in 1844 by a Rochester carpenter named Asa Brown for an excursion. It was reported to have been abandoned during its maiden voyage in the first lock it came to because it was too wide to navigate the lock and got stuck.

Despite the passage of more than 150 years, we can still find traces of the canal. It started at what is now the foot of Canal Road in Clinton Township, where a park has been established to commemorate it. No evidence of the canal remains within the city limits of Sterling Heights, but it is clearly evident along Canal Road east of Hayes.

As you drive through Sterling Heights, you might notice two new signs stating “Clinton Kalamazoo Canal”. Thanks to the efforts of the Historical Commission, signs have been placed near the northwest corner of Schoenherr and Canal and near Canal and Clinton River Roads.

The canal was clearly a victim of the times and circumstances. Fresh off the success of the Erie Canal, a canal across the Lower Peninsula appeared to be a natural success. Instead, financial problems and the coincidental development of the railroads served to undermine the project almost before it began. Time and progress have reduced it to little more than a footnote in the history books of the state of Michigan.

Veterans History Project

The Sterling Heights Historical Commission is participating in the Veterans History Project. The project collects first person accounts of military service in World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Cold War and Persian Gulf Conflicts. The veterans are interviewed on DVD-R video and the videos are archived in the national Library of Congress and cataloged. They are available for viewing by the public and online from the LoC. The Sterling Heights video interviews are also available online from the Sterling Heights Public Library at http://www.shpl.net/SHHCVeterans.html or http://www.sterling-heights.net , drop down SHTV On-Demand, and go to the Veterans History Project folder.

The following Sterling Heights veterans have participated in the project. To view the Information Collection on each Veteran at the Library of Congress, click on their name to link directly to the Library of Congress. To return, use the return button from your Internet browser. To view the Sterling Heights Public Library video, click on SHPL Video after their name.

If you are interested in participating, please call the Sterling Heights Public Library at (586) 446-2640.

LoC Veterans Information Conflict Sterling Heights PL Video
Belfiori, Carl J. Korea SHPL Video
Day, James Albert World War II SHPL Video
Gimpert, John World War II SHPL Video
Hanjian, John A. Vietnam SHPL Video
Harvey, Douglas Jack World War II Video: Part1Part2
Kanyusik, Stephen Edward World War II & Korea Video: Part1Part2
Kerney, George Thomas World War II SHPL Video
Kotowski, Chester F. World War II SHPL Video
Layne, Delmar World War II SHPL Video
Libecki, Arthur P. World War II SHPL Video
McCarthy, James E. Korea SHPL Video
Miller, Eric World War II SHPL Video
Mauchline, James Robert Vietnam SHPL Video
Saenz, Jr., Lawrence Vietnam SHPL Video
Schroat, Martin (not available on Library of Congress site) Korea SHPL Video
Smith, Paul M. Vietnam Video: Part1Part2
Velasco, Robert A., Jr. (not available on Library of Congress site) U.S. Air National Guard SHPL Video
Walsh, Martin J. World War II SHPL Video

Lawrence Saenz Jr. is in the Library of Congress Veterans History Project featured interviews titled Disabled Veterans: The Unhealed Wounds. You can link to the feature story at http://www.loc.gov/vets/stories/ex-war-disabledvets.html

If you are interested in participating, please call the Sterling Heights Public Library at 586-446-2640 or stop by to register. You must be a current resident of Sterling Heights to take part in this local project.

Are you a Sterling Heights Veteran?


The Sterling Heights Historical Commission is participating in the Veterans History Project. Local veterans from World War I, World War II, and the Korean, Vietnam, and Persian Gulf wars are invited to contact the library at (586) 446-2640 for more information or to register. You must be a current resident of Sterling Heights to take part in this local project.

There will be a 45-90 minute video recorded interview with each participant. These video interviews will be added to the library’s archives and are available online. Veterans are encouraged to bring Medals, Citations, mementos, letters and photographs that help tell their story. The library will make copies of any photographs or letters and return the originals. Don’t wait, call today and schedule an appointment at 586-446-2640.