Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Douglas Cameron

                                                Oral History Interview - Douglas Cameron
                                        Youthful Experiences in the Waterford Community 
                                        Northville Township Historic District Commission
February 19, 2016

Interviewers: RS=Robin Schleh and RA= Richard Allen (Members of the Northville Township Historic Commission)

RA:  This is Friday, February 19, 2016. We are interviewing Douglas Cameron. Douglas grew up in the Waterford area of Northville Township and attended Waterford School. (Waterford was generally SE of Six Mile and Northville Roads and west of Bradner.)

RA: I understand you lived on Franklin Road. Could you tell us who your parents were?

DC: My parents were George and Margaret Tegge. My dad worked at Ford Motor for 51 years and my mother worked at the Township Hall I believe, for 30, before she retired. I understand she was quite the lady; everybody knew her. She resolved a lot of problems the Township had with various residents.

RA: Were you born in this area or did you move here?

DC: I was born in Detroit but always lived on Franklin Road.

RS: My understanding is that your parents built that house.

DC: They certainly did. I still have some of the receipts for the house and the prices were amazing. The garage was $50.

RS: They purchased the land and was it farmland?

DC: It was farmland and I do not remember the name of the people they bought the house from.

RA: We understand you went to the Waterford School, which subsequently became the Township Hall. We would be interested to hear what your school day was like. Did you have water, heat, how many classes there, teachers’ names or anything else? Lead us through your school life.

DC: I went there until the fifth grade and then was transferred over to Northville.

RS: Was that common? Did Waterford School end at fifth grade?

DC: I am trying to remember, but I am not sure if it was. I don’t know if they closed it down for a while and converted over to the Township Hall. I am not sure what the time frame was.

RS: So you believe your last year at Waterford may have been the last year it was used as a school.

DC: I think so.

RS: In this book “Northville Township…from the Beginning,” I saw a picture of a class from 1935 and wondered if they originally did all twelve grades, but your experience is you left after the fifth grade.

DC: No, they did not do all twelve grades, I think they went up to either the fifth or sixth. The school at that time did not have running water in the restrooms, but did have a sink in the lobby by the front door as you came into the lobby, but that was the only running water. There was a bell the teacher rang with a big rope at the start of the school day.

RA: Did you have restrooms or an outhouse?

DC: No the restrooms were on each side at the entrance and there was a cloakroom.

RS: I presume there was only one restroom.

DC: There were two. The toilets consisted of a big (maybe 15 feet deep) hole in the ground. I never used it.

RS: Now you lived very near the school.

DC: Right down the road. I walked to school everyday and was always late.

RA: Generally, how many students were in the school?

DC: Not many. At the most, 20-25.

RA: That was split up among five or six grades?

DC: The third grade consisted of me only.

RS: Did they have a kindergarten?

DC: Yes, that is where I began. There were three of us in kindergarten.

RA: Do you remember who they were?

DC: Yes, Joanie Baskins and Ardith Robertson. Those two girls were cousins.

RS: Do you remember what years you were at that school?

DC: Yes, 1946 to 1950. In fact I have something to show you—a picture of my first day at school. (See page 4.)

RA: How many hours a day was the school in session?

DC: It began at 8:00 in the morning until 2:00 in the afternoon.

RS: Did you have time for lunch at school?

DC: Yes, we had an hour, but I usually went home.

RS: I assume some of the students had to have their lunch at school.

DC: Oh yes. I remember seeing lunch pails with Roy Rogers on the side.

RS: What subjects were taught in school?

DC: Spelling, I remember because I was good at it, geography, english.

RA: Do you remember any of the teachers’ names?

DC: Yes I do. There were 3 or 4 teachers while I was there. My first teacher, and I still remember her name, Mrs. Roberts, who was there two years. Mrs. Wright replaced her, and she drove an old Hudson pickup truck. This was unusual, as they didn’t make many pickup trucks. Mrs. Helen Sukkerka was from Sweden and was in her early twenties. That was my first experience with the opposite sex. Boy, oh boy, she was beautiful. I always wondered what happened to her. She was kind and she was sweet. She was one of those teachers you never forget. She had a big influence on me.

RA & RS: Everybody has one.

RA: You mentioned in our previous conversations about how you got to school by riding your horse.

DC: I wasn’t the only one: Doug Whiteford and three or four of us. We had places to ride. We used to ride our horses over to Farm Crest, which was all dairy cattle there at the time, and we used to play cowboy chasing the cows. I am sure they lost weight, and I am sure that didn’t make Farm Crest too happy. They never did catch us.

RS: What did you do with the horses during the day? Did you tie them up and go out and check on them during recess?

DC: Yes, they had plenty of grass. I even rode my horse one time down Main Street in Northville. No one looked twice at me.

RA: At Thayer School they had the ponies from Belle Isle during the winter. They rode them to school, and one of the neighbors let them stay in their barn during the day. The students would go out at lunchtime and give them water and feed them.

DC: It was just a simple time. I looked forward to going to school. I never knew what to expect, and I learned something different everyday. No stress.

RA: How many students rode horses to school?
DC: Half a dozen at the most. Randy Hass, whose parents owned Farm Crest.

RS: That would be a little distance for him. Where was the farmhouse for Farm Crest? Closer to where Township Hall ended being or closer to Bradner Road?

DC: Closer to Bradner Road, like right across the street. Beautiful mansion. I remember the night it caught fire. My dad and I drove over there. I remember seeing him and a couple of other fellas carrying a baby grand piano out the door and to get it out the door they had to saw the legs off. I think it was lightening that struck the house. Beautiful house.

RS: Really! That is high ground and so I can see where lightening would go after that.

RA:  You mentioned earlier about Farm Crest. Tell us about that.

DC: That is where we got our milk. I used to drink a gallon of milk everyday when I was growing up. It was 26 cents at Farm Crest. Got my first dog over there. He was born inside one of the barns. My dad went over there and brought him home. Name was Baron.

RA: Was it a dog-dog or mutt?

DC: He was half Dalmatian and half Dachshund.
RS: Oh my!

DC: Long rear legs and short front legs.

RS: Poor puppy.

DC: Always going downhill, but he had a good life.

RS: Now, did the family run Farm Crest or did they employ people?

DC: They employed people.

RS: Did most of those people live right in the Waterford area?

DC: I don’t know. I remember they had a big house next to the barns, surrounded by pine trees. But they also had a ranch up on Six Mile. (Hills of Crestwood subdivision.)

RA: The house is still there.

DC: That is the original ranch house.

RS: The log house.

DC: That was all natural. We used to ride horses. They had a huge barn and 20-30 horses over there—all kinds of places to ride. We just grew up riding horses. It was so normal. That was the area.

RA: It was farm area in those days.

DC: It was farm area.

RA: Did the Farm Crest store sell anything besides dairy products?

DC: No, strictly dairy. All we ever bought over there was milk. I don’t remember seeing butter. It was just a quiet peaceful time. You would always have that aroma of cows in the air, everywhere. You just got used to it.

RA: Were the Grennans on the south side of Six Mile?

DC: I don’t remember the Grennans. It was just the Hass family (Farm Crest) I had contact with. Patty and Randy were the offspring of Robert and Evelyn Hass. They had that beautiful house on Six Mile.

DC: At the school we would have recess. You could go home or play or whatever you wanted to do.

RA: Any particular games you would play at recess?

DC: No. There were swings and teeter-totters. We had a baseball diamond.

RS: Did you go out in any kind of weather or in bad weather did they keep you inside and have games inside. Do you remember?

DC: I think we stayed inside. Our coats in those days were not warm. They were paper-thin. You just didn’t want to go outside.

RA: What did you have for heat?

DC: I think they had a gas furnace located on the other side of the building. It was in a small room. Once in a while the power would go off and they would send you home.

RA: That was life in the country.

DC: I will never forget her ringing that bell.

RA: Did she let the kids ring the bell?

DC: No, the teacher did.

RS: Did she ring it at the end of recess also?

DC: No.

RS: You mentioned that sometimes you went home, and I was curious if she called you back.

DC: I don’t remember if she did. I just remember in the morning. But Mrs. Wright, I will never forget Mrs. Wright. Like I said I was late for class everyday because I didn’t want to confront Mrs. Wright. She would be standing in the doorway with a paddle and you would get a whack on the hind end because you were a few minutes late. She wouldn’t hit you hard. She was just trying to get your attention. Be early tomorrow or be on time. It got a lot worse when I got up into Northville.

RA: What did you do in your spare time to occupy yourself besides ride horses?

DC: Build forts in the woods; go into town, because that was the thing to do. You felt like an adult and went to the movie. It is still there. I think it was 29 cents for adults and 15 cents for kids to get in.

RA: Saturday matinee?

DC: Yes.

RS: Do you remember any of the shows you saw there?

DC: I remember one in particular and that changed my life. That was “Blackboard Jungle” with Glenn Ford, because Bill Haley and the Comets played “rock around the clock.” That was my first taste of Rock and Roll. I was singing that song for a month afterwards. “Mom, you have got to buy me this record, I got to have to have it.” Rock around the Clock, Bill Haley.

RS: You were on six acres, right?

DC: Yes.

RS: So your parents didn’t farm any of it?

DC: No, my Dad was not a farmer, I think he tried to grow vegetables.

RS: A lot of people had gardens. Some were more elaborate than others.

RA: Many people canned in those days.

DC: My Mother did.

RA: Did you have any part time jobs?

DC: I worked for a farmer down on Six Mile. Trying to think of his name. Oh, I mowed grass on the cemetery up Franklin Road (Waterford Cemetery).

RA: What did you do for the farmer?

DC: Fed the cows. A. C. Crum, that was the farmer’s name.

RS: I have seen his name on a plat map.

DC: Nothing but farms on Six Mile.

RA: We have one left, Milan George, but they are fast disappearing. He died just recently and the family is selling off the property. They lease a lot of land in the area to farm. They grew corn and pumpkins.

DC: Where on Six Mile?

RA: Between Napier and Ridge.

DC: I mowed the grass at the cemetery. I think they paid me $25 and it took all day.

RS: That was pretty good for that time.

DC: It was hard work mowing around all those tombstones. I had to trim around the stones and the mower would quit half the time. I mowed grass for the local residents.

RA: When we talked earlier you mentioned about Indians being buried next to the cemetery. I have talked to someone trying to get info on that.

RS: Is it in the cemetery proper?

DC: Right next door in the wooded lot.

RA: Immediately south of the cemetery?

DC: Yes, there is only one wooded lot.

RA: I have talked to John Colling, who used to be on our Historic commission and lives almost across the street from the cemetery. He is going to do some checking and see what he can find.

DC: As I recall the Curtis family lived right across the road from us. He was a dentist, and he used to go up there and dig up arrowheads and stuff like that. I overheard him telling my dad that that was an Indian burial ground at one time.

RA: It will take some research and it will be very difficult to verify that.

DC: I think the house the Curtis family lived in was the oldest and first house in the neighborhood. It has to go back to the 1800s.

RA: Doing research for the Township we discovered the cemetery had never been deeded by anyone. When the farmers sold off their property, the cemetery was always excluded.

DC: Really!

RA: The Township had to go court to get a deed. Canton had a similar situation with an un-deeded cemetery. We searched the Wayne County records and could not find a deed.

DC: Is the cemetery still in use?

RA: No.  There are rumors there are still a couple of burial spots in there but we are not sure where they are.

DC: In the back.

RA: The Township considers the cemetery closed. I know one person, Eunice Switzler who probably replaced your Mother, wanted to be buried there, but that didn’t happen.

DC: I think there are some World War I vets in there.

RA: There is one black man there that used to work in one of the Waterford grain mills that burned. He escaped the fire and lived in the area. He is buried in the back of the cemetery.

RS: It wouldn’t surprise me though that there would be an Indian burial ground next to the cemetery. The thought might have been to have a cemetery next to a burial ground.

DC: How old is that cemetery?

RA: We have the records, but I can’t recall the date off hand. It is back in the 1800’s.

RA: There is some interesting history. There is one family that had seven or eight children and none of them lived for more that a few years. I think it had to be bad water or something in that family. You look at it and it had to be horrifying. The Benton family is buried there, and they are associated with the Cass Benton portion of the County Park.

DC: Oh, I remember seeing the Benton name in there.

DC: There are a lot of kids buried there.

RS: A lot of times illnesses wipe out many people.

DC: What was the average life expectancy? 40 or 45 years?

RA: After dong some cemetery research, generally if you lived past 30, there was a good chance of living to 70 or 80.

DC: Really!

RA: It was just a trend, a lot of people died in their 80’s but also a lot of them died before they became 30.

RS: Teenagers.

RA: Once you got through all the childhood diseases, you were good.

RA: Some cases were bad water. In the case of Thayer School, the family they were getting water from developed diphtheria. They had to change water sources quickly.

RS: You say a lot of the area was mostly farms. We know that Farm Crest was a dairy. Were the other farms just run-of-the-mill farms?

DC: A lot of corn.  I remember seeing a lot of cornfields, a lot of cows and animals.

DC: You know when you were just a kid; you didn’t pay a lot of attention to what people were growing.

RA: Have we missed anything you would like to talk about?

RS: Do you remember anything about when the school burned?

DC: No.

RA: I think it was in the 70’s.

RS: Was your Mother still living here when that happened?

DC: Oh yes, she was still here.

RS: I thought you might remember when she talked about it.

DC: I remember her talking about they could have bought the property all the way to Six Mile and Bradner, where the school is now, if my Dad could have come up with $500.

RA: The story of everybody’s life.

DC: They never had a mortgage. They paid as they went. They never financed anything.

DC: The school was a fond time in my memory. It was just an innocent time and I just kind of wish you could turn the clock back and experience that again.

RS: I do have a question. How much do you remember about the layout of the school? I would assume you had a blackboard here? (See schematic on page 5.)

DC: Yes.

RS: And the teacher was up on a platform.

DC: No. Just a desk in the middle of the kids.

RS: Was the desk in the front of the room or were the students on each side of the desk?

DC: I remember she would change it, quite often. She would get tired and move it. “Doug would you help me move my desk over here?” “Sure!”

RS: I have heard stories that sometimes the teacher would put her desk in the center and have the grades arranged around her.

DC: Usually it was on the opposite side in the corner.

RS: I assume the youngest grades were closest to the teacher and the older grades further back.

DC: Kindergarten was right here in the corner.
DC: We tied our horses to this railing right here.

RS: If kindergarten was in this corner, the teacher’s desk was in this corner?

DC: There was an upright piano on this side in the back corner. My job was to play the piano every morning.

RA: What did you play?

DC: Not very well. I was taking piano lessons in Plymouth. Word got around that I could play the piano, so I had to entertain. Usually songs I was learning.

RS: Now the school day had just begun. Did you start with the Pledge of Allegiance?

DC: Yes.

RS: I assume she put assignments on the board.

DC: She didn’t put them on the board. We had booklets, which she passed out. We would spend 20-30 minutes with each class. I don’t know how they did it juggling all these different classes. It was amazing how they pull that off.

RS: Would it be correct to assume she started with the younger children or did she start with the older children to get them going and then move on?

DC: I believe so. She started with the older ones.

RA: Keep the troublemakers busy?

DC: We weren’t really troublemakers. We didn’t know what the word meant. It was an innocent time. Nobody got into trouble.

RS: Children were expected to behave. My goodness, even when I was in school, you wouldn’t dream of talking back to your teacher or doing some the things that I hear about now.

DC: It is now a whole different world.

RS: Once she passed out the booklet for lessons for that day and she started all the grades, was there ever any other community event for the whole school to come together to do something together? Maybe, a music section where everybody sang together?

DC: The only singing we ever did, as I recall, was at Christmas time when we put on a play. Everyone was able to come, and I remember that I was really nervous about performing in front of adults at that age. But we did it! The schoolhouse was all decorated with holly and stuff. It was really nice. It was really festive. Like that painter…

RS: Rockwell?

DC: Yes. It looked like a Rockwell painting. Really good.

RS: Any homework?

DC: No. Not really. That didn’t start until we transferred over to higher grades in Northville.

RS: Not even reading assignments or anything?

RS: I have another question about Waterford School. Was the building used for other things like a community meeting?

DC: Not that I remember. Not that I recall until it was transferred over to the Township.

RS: While it was a school, it was purely a school and never used for any other purpose?

DC: Not that I recall until it was transferred over to the Township.

RA: Doug, we want to thank you for making the trek in for this interview.

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