Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Ruth Angell

(Interviewed by Diane Rockall on July 22, 1988.) 
DR:  Let’s start with your early childhood.  I noticed that you were not born in Northville.  Where were you born?
Angell:  I was born in Redford, Michigan, July the 4th, 1915 on a farm that Grandpa Angell owned on Grand River right across from Grandlawn Cemetery.

DR:  How big of a farm was it?
Angell:  It reached from Grand River to Seven Mile.  In the spring of 1916, he bought a farm at Nine Mile and Napier for my father.  So we moved up on the farm.  It was on the Northeast corner of Napier and Eight Mile.  So they farmed until the spring of 1926 when our father passed away and mother was left at age 38 with three children to raise and 80 acres.  My sister was ready for high school so she had this house built and that’s where we’ve been ever since.

DR:  So your family is the only family that has lived in this home then?
Angell:  Mother had the house built.  She paid $1200 for the lot and had the house built for $7500 material and labor.  We kids all finished high school and my sister got married, my brother got married, but I never did.

DR:  Were you the youngest?
Angell:  I was in the middle.  My sister’s older.  She lives in Royal Oak.  She’s a widow and my brother lives down on Meadowbrook Road and he’s a carpenter at Schoolcraft College.  It’ll be 17 years next month that he’s been a carpenter over there and he’s retirement age but doesn’t want to retire.

DR:  What are their names?
Angell:  John and Jean

DR:  What are some of the first things you remember about living in Northville when you were eleven years old?
Angell:  There was lots of children in the neighborhood then.  In 1928 was when they first paved our street and we had lots of fun roller skating.

DR:  Were most of the other streets paved?
Angell:  Just the main streets, I guess.  The side street wasn’t, I don’t think.

DR:  Were most of the other houses in this neighborhood also built in that same time-period?
Angell:  They were all here and this one right next door was built by a Civil War veteran.

DR:  You said that your father had died.  Did he die in a farming accident?
Angell:  He and his father were spraying the orchard and in those days you got a barrel of spray material.  There was some other poison in that barrel of spray.  Dr. Atchison’s father was his doctor, Dr. R. E. Atchison, and all they could do was put lead poisoning on the death certificate.  In those days you didn’t go off to a hospital.  Then his father died five days later.

DR:  They both died as result of this?
Angell:  Yes.

DR:  Was his wife still living too, your grandmother?
Angell:  Yeah.

DR:  Did she come to live with you here?
Angell:  She lived at 324 S. Wing.  They had moved up from Redford in 1923.

DR:  Did you come to visit her before you moved into town?
Angell:  Oh, yeah.  We didn’t move in here until the seventeenth of November so my sister and I stayed with Grandma Angell and just went back home on weekends.

DR:  You were staying here so that you could go to school?
Angell:  Yes.

DR:  What kind of memories do you have of your early schooling in Northville?
Angell:  Well, I started here in the fifth grade and I went right straight through graduation in the old High School building.  That’s all there was then.  Well, there was another school building for the lower grades but I went from the fifth right through graduation.

DR:  And all the school buildings were right here only a few blocks away?
Angell:  The old High School was the one and then there was one south of that that burned.

DR:  And that’s where you went to grade school?
Angell:  I didn’t’ go there, my brother did but he started the fifth grade in the other high school.

DR:  And the building that was the high school is the one that they use for the Board of Education Offices now?
Angell:  It’s the other one.  The old dark-colored brick one.

DR:  Can you remember any of your teachers or any of the friends you had then?
Angell:  My first teacher here was Francis Steward.  I think, in the fifth grade and in the sixth grade I had Olive Eldon who had also been my teacher in the country school out Eight Mile.  I had a Mrs. Phillips who was Yvonne Rawlings’ mother.  Then there was quite a few teachers.  Mrs. Chapman was one of my teachers.  Ione Palmer was a teacher.  Of course Mr. Amerman, I can remember when he came here in 1928 as principal.  Thad Knapp was one of the superintendents.  We had a Mr. Gordon.

DR:  What kind classes did you take in high school?
Angell:  Just the regular courses and I had a year of Latin and a year of French from Ione Palmer.  There was only 48 in our graduation class and we have had our 25th, 35th, 45th, 50th class reunion and next year we’ll have our 55th.

DR:  Are many of the graduates still in the area?
Angell:  Not too many.  One girl, Vera Buckles down on Horton, Ethel Hartner on Horton.  Ware, her name is now and Vera’s name was Horsfall, her maiden name.  I’m trying to think who else.  Well Alfred Parmenter.  I really don’t think there are any others.

DR:  How many graduates still come back to the reunions?
Angell:  Well, there’s sixteen of them that have passed away and we’re lucky if we have fifteen or sixteen.  Probably half of the remaining ones.

DR:  What kind of things did you and your classmates do for recreation or entertainment?
Angell:  Like I say, we rollerskated part of the time and then in those days, too, we had the Wayne County Fair and so that was something to go to every year before it got turned into the race track.  Sometimes the whole neighborhood would congregate out here on the driveway and we’d play “spin the bottle” or something like that then come in the house when it got dark and move the dining room table and we had a piano at that time and one of the girls would play the piano and we’d play musical chairs.  It’s a wonder it didn’t drive Mother crazy.

DR:  What kind of things do you remember that they had at the Wayne County Fair?
Angell:  Oh, lots of things.  Animals.  All the animals and then the farm produce displays.  Mother used to raise vegetables when we were still on the farm.  My father would exhibit the grain and things like that and Mother would take vegetables that she had raised.  We’d come down from the farm every afternoon and go to the Fair and go home and do the chores, come back at night and see the program or whatever was out in front of the grandstand and watch the fireworks.

DR:  They had fireworks every night?
Angell:  I think they did, pretty much so.

DR:  Did you have a car on the farm at that time or did you have to come in on a horse and buggy?
Angell:  I think we had a 1914 Ford.  That was the first car I know that we had.  Before that when we used to come down to town in a horse and buggy or a sleigh if it was winter time and leave the horse in a farm there in town and then we’d take the street car and go down to Redford to Grandma Angell’s.
DR:  And the street car you could pick up in the center of Northville?

Angell:  Yes, right in the center of town.  Then they’d go down to the Ford factory and over to 8 mile and 8 Mile to Grand River and on down.  We’d get on right in from of Grandma’s house.  That was a long time ago.  It was fun.  I was downtown a couple years ago and went on the People Mover and that was not exciting, no more than the street car.

DR:  What can you remember about life in Northville in the 1920’s and the 1930’s?
Angell:  We came in 1926.  It was just a nice little country town.  In those years you probably knew most everybody you saw and then as it expanded, you didn’t know everybody.  Of course in the Depression when banks closed, that wasn’t very good either.  I think then some of the folks that wouldn’t speak to you before, got so they would.

DR:  Was there kind of a class difference?
Angell:  I suppose maybe there was, because there was some that thought they were a little bit better than some of the other folks.

DR:  Do you think that’s gone away now for the most part?
Angell:  Everybody’s friendly now except there’s so many strangers in town, you don’t know them.  We used to be able to go uptown and speak to most everybody we saw.  Now you can’t.

DR:  Can you remember any of the local businesses and the local business people?
Angell:  Well, there was one man that ran the dry goods store, Mr. White.  There is a picture somewhere in the Historical Village that Mother gave to them that he had given to her.  We came down from the farm.  It was near Christmas time.  He was a painter or had done oil paintings so he had three pictures and he asked her which one she liked best.  She picked out this picture with a stone wall.  It was a little old farm, run-down barn or shack or shed or some sort behind it and she told him she liked that the best.  So he said, “Well, Merry Christmas!”  So that we have given to the Historical Society.  And then there was Mr. Ponsford that had the clothing store.  We used to go in there to shop.  Don Ware’s mother had sort of a candy-ice cream store.

DR:  Where was that located?
Angell:  On our side of Main Street, pretty much near where the theatre or 5 and 10 cent store is, I think.

DR:  And the clothing store was on the south side?
Angell:  South side, where Lapham’s store is now.

DR:  What about the dry goods store?
Angell:  It was on the south side of Main Street, too as I remember.  Elliot’s Bakery was there for quite awhile.  Schrader’s store was up on North Center.  Of course Schrader’s had been there a long time.  Old Nelson Schrader had the funeral parlor, too, at the time my father and grandfather died.  Ambler’s Hotel was on the southwest corner of Center and Main.  I think we used to go in there and get an ice cream cone.

DR:  Do you remember the fire that destroyed that hotel?
Angell:  I think so.  I remember the fire when these factories down at the end of Cady Street burned.  I remember when the Grade School burned, because we stood here in the kitchen window and watched it.  Oh, and it was cold that morning, oh, gee!  Then they had a big fire on Main Street.  I think that was in the Chevrolet Garage.  As near as I can remember, it was along where Harold Bloom’s Insurance office is.  There was a barber shop, Mr. Heatley’s Barber Shop… Bruce Turnbull’s father-in-law.

DR:  And that was on the north side of Main Street?
Angell:  Yes.

DR:  You’ve been active in some organizations in town.
Angell:  I used to belong to the B.P.W. (Business and Professional Women’s Club).  I belonged to the King’s Daughters and the Senior Citizens, of course.  In August of 1955, I started working in the accounting office at the Northville State Hospital.  Then I retired the seventh of February, 1979.

DR:  Do you have any stories from the Northville State Hospital?
Angell:  (laughing) Not that I’d want to tell.

DR:  How long has that hospital been there?
Angell:  I think they brought the first patients in ’51.

DR:  So you were one of the first employees.
Angell:  Not really, because some of the first ones rode bulldozers and walked planks to get in across the mud and all that but it was pretty well settled when I got there.  It wasn’t a bad place to work.  In the earlier years I was there, they had some patients that could come in and help with typing or filing or little things like that.  Then when I retired they had a party at the Plymouth Hilton for me.

DR:  Between the time you graduated from high school and the time you started working at Northville State Hospital did you do anything else?
Angell:  For about five months, I was part-time help at the Ford Garage, Ford Sales and Service.  Before that, I guess, I don’t know, I must have goofed off.

DR:  How long have you been a member of the King’s Daughters?
Angell:  Yvonne Rawlings could tell me right off the bat, I think, because she has all those dates in her book.

DR:  What kind of things did the organization do?
Angell:  They work with the poor people at Thanksgiving and Christmas time handing out baskets and like that and then we do a lot of work for Motts Children’s Hospital out there in Ann Arbor.  The women knit, crochet, or whatever and then we buy things for the children, coloring books and crayons, things like that.  It’s more a service club than anything, really.  So many of the older ones are passing on and there isn’t so many of the younger one joining, although they do have some new members.  It’s just a good group to belong to.  A lot of them in there that I’ve known for years.

DR:  Did they have a building in town?
Angell:  They meet at the Methodist Church.

DR:  Is it affiliated with the church at all?
Angell:  No, we just use it.  We have pot luck dinners at the beginning of the season.  In the summertime we don’t have meetings and then in January and February, we don’t because it’s too dangerous for the older folks to get out on the ice.  I’m getting so I’m one of them.  I don’t like to walk on the ice.

DR:  Can you tell me the most memorable community event that you can recall?
Angell:  Was it in 1927 when they had the 100th?  I can remember some of that.  Well, I know we came to it because we were here in town.  They had speakers, I guess and the old City Hall then was on the corner.

DR:  The street went through at that time?
Angell:  Wing Street did, yeah.  Other than going to the Fair, there wasn’t much excitement that we went through.  Maybe the show once in awhile.

DR:  There was a theatre in town?
Angell:  I don’t know when that started, but we used to go up to the show.

DR:  Where the Marquis is now?
Angell:  Penniman Allen Theatre, I guess is what it was called then.

DR:  In more recent times, the airplane crash which happened in your own back yard… Would you like to tell me about that?
Angell:  Eighth of May, 1959 and we weren’t home.  Thank goodness I’d taken the afternoon off from work and Mother and I had gone to Plymouth.  When we came home I couldn’t get up Cady Street so I went down Wing Street back to Fairbrook and came up 1st street.  Here was fire engines, police cars, people, and as we got nearer to this street, Mother says, “Well, my house in on fire!”  I said, “No it isn’t.  There’s no smoke.”  They did let me in with my car.  Well, out here in the driveway was just all fragments of steel and metal.  If my car had been setting there it’d probably looked like it had swamp pox.  We were just fortunate that we weren’t here because if we had been and heard the noise that everybody tells us there was, we’d have rushed right to the back door and had it right in my face.

DR:  Your porch did burn?
Angell:  A little bit.  Mrs. Kohs put out one part of the fire and then, of course, the firemen were here to put out the little spots on the roof that were burning, but we were just lucky.

DR:  There was the one injury, the little boy that was playing?
Angell:  Two children.  Two King children.

DR:  But there were no fatalities?
Angell:  No, because the pilot bailed out over in the park.  They next day, I think we had hundreds and hundreds of people here just to look at the damage and at that time I had, a, at that time, 165 kinds of bearded Iris which got burned and soaked with oil and our strawberry bed was just white with blossoms and we’d have had 100 quarts if we’d have had one quart.  That was all gone, and of course the Government paid us for some of it.  So, that was the end of our Iris collection and I never got started again.

DR:  Did they ever say why the pilot bailed out of the airplane and let it crash into a city?
Angell:  The story went that he had what they call a stick lock.  He had no control, nothing.

DR:  So he couldn’t move it away from the city?
Angell:  He’d probably been killed if he’d landed or stayed with it.  That’s all the real damage it did.  It missed all the wires and everything out here which was a miracle because he came straight down instead of coming flat, why it was right straight down.

DR:  How long did it take you, after the crash, to get your house back in order?
Angell:  See, all it really did, beside the spots on the roof that were burned, was knock the curtain rod off on one end of the back door.  We were just so lucky because one of the pieces of the airplane went across the street, went through their front window and landed under the TV, but it didn’t burn.  Another part, it was part of the seat, I think it was, was in a tree over on the east side of this lot next door to us.

DR:  Was that on a school day?
Angell:  They were having grade-school at that time.  That was so close to the school yard.  And the one bus driver said he almost froze because he had a bus load of kids.

DR:  He wasn’t too far away from the school building was he?
Angell:  No, ‘cause it was right when school was getting out.  It could’ve been a terrible thing if he’d have come in on a slant, but it wasn’t to be.

DR:  What are some of the biggest changes that you can see in the community over the past sixty years?
Angell:  All the new subdivisions and houses.  Every site you look at, they’re building.  And of course larger houses than what are here, a lot of them.  And the apartments and condos.

DR:  At the time that you moved in, there were other people building houses?
Angell:  I suppose so, yes, but not in this neighborhood because there was no place for them except this one next door.  That was built in 1955.  Grandma Ambler’s house was next to this one, next to the school yard.  She lived there for quite a while after we loved here.  She had three granddaughters that lived with her so we were together quite a bit.

DR:  Is that why you called her Grandma Ambler because you knew her granddaughters?
Angell:  She was Grandma Ambler to everybody.

DR:  Was she the wife of the man who had built the Ambler Hotel?
Angell:  No.  Thelma Ambler Shoultz.  It was her folks that had the hotel.

DR:  So the Grandma Ambler you knew was a relative?
Angell:  Her husband was a relative, I guess.  A lot of these houses around here were built by some of the Amblers but I don’t know which ones.  Of course they tore her house down so that’s just a vacant lot now.

DR: That’s the house that they tore down because they were going to make the bus turn around for the schools?
Angell:  I think so.  They had ideas over here that some doctor or dentist had bought it and they were going to move a house there but I don’t know.

DR:  What would like to see come back that is gone?
Angell:  Well, I’m sure if they had the Fair come back, it wouldn’t be like the old Country Fair.  We used to go up to the old Fish Hatchery sometimes to look at the fish ponds or whatever they called them… I really don’t know.  I guess we stayed home.  Well we had no car.  We had no way of getting anyplace.  We’d take the streetcar or then when the buses started running between here and Redford, why we could go on the bus.  Mr. Biddle used to have the bus company, at least I suppose he owned it.  I don’t know.  We always called it Biddle’s Buses, anyhow.

DR:  Were they operating in the 30s?
Angell:  Must’ve been.  I would think so.  I don’t know when the streetcar stopped running.  It would have to be in that Northville book somewhere, I would think.  I still haven’t read that book.  I thought maybe when I retired, I’d sit down and read it, but I haven’t yet.  I’ll have to wait now ‘til I get moved before I have any spare time.

DR:  Do you think you are going to miss the house that you lived in for so many years?
Angell:  I don’t think so.  I really don’t think so.  I think I’m going to be glad to get into something smaller.  That’s what I think now.  Maybe when it comes right down to the nitty gritty… but I don’t think so.  I don’t know why I don’t think I’ll feel bad, but I don’t think I will because there’s so many people up there at Allen Terrace that I know that there’s no way I’m going to be lonesome.  I’ll see more people than I do right here.

DR:  Can you think of any other people, places, or things that we haven’t talked about that you might like to share?
Angell:  We’ll when we moved here, Frank Hill and George Hill lived up here where Mrs. Kohs lives now.  Frank Hill had a son and George Hill had a daughter that used to come down here and be with the rest of the neighborhood kids.  I can’t think who came in there after they moved.  There’s been a couple different families in there, I think, before Mrs. Kohs came, but they’ve been there quite a long time.  There’s been several families across the street.  When we came here some of the Casterlines lived there.  Ray Casterline’s parents.  It has changed hands quite a few times.  And of course this house next door, when we moved here, Mrs. Rowle and her two maiden daughters.  I have a doll bed that their father made and it has the square nails and just all made by hand.  They wanted me to have it before they passed on.  So it’s antique.  Real antique.  And that house has changed hands a few times.  The little house on the corner has changed hands.  The one across the middle of the block has.  In back of us, they’ve all changed hands.  We’ve stayed put!  Mother was 99 years and almost 5 months old.  She would’ve been 100 in December, so she probably was the oldest person in Northville.

DR:  Did she ever tell you any interesting stories about her growing up or her childhood?
Angell:  You mean before we came here?

DR:  Yeah.
Angell:  Well, she taught country school for three years before she got married.

DR:  And where was that?
Angell:  Down in Redford.  She was born in Redford.  So was my father.  She used to tell about walking to school, building her own fire, and doing her own janitor work.

DR:  There was no help at all?
Angell:  She was it.

DR:  And then when you started school in Novi Township, you went to one of those schools?
  We went to what is the William Allen Academy out there on 8 Mile.  So we walked to school and Don Miller’s sister was my first school teacher.  Helen Miller.

DR:  Is that school still there?
Angell:  Yeah, but they’ve built on to the original school and then there’s a couple other little buildings, I think.  My sister and I went back a few years ago when they had a reunion and there was a few that we knew.  Some of the old-timers were there.  But, we walked to school.  Even waded the snow banks.  You didn’t get bused to school in those days.

DR:  And then when you moved to town, you didn’t have very far to walk.
Angell:  No, just across the … Before they built this wall around the school yard and filled it in, there used to be a nice hill.  Of course, we didn’t have to worry about cars much in those days so we’d start up in back of the school, come down across here, and go down First Street on our sleds.

DR:  A lot of people who have lived in Northville a long time talk about the sledding on Buchner’s Hill.  Do you remember that?
Angell:  No.

DR:  That was before you came here?
Angell:  Oh yeah.  I think Mrs. Buchner was one of Mother’s school teachers.  I’ve heard her tell that.

DR:  I always wondered how they could do that with the traffic, so it was probably before there were very many cars.
Angell:  It was horse and buggies, ‘cause I think one story goes that somebody went right between the horses legs.  I don’t know whether it’s true or not.

DR:  Well, I would like to thank you.
Angell:  Well, I hope it’s turned out all right.

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