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Thursday, April 15, 2010 • HERITAGE NEWSPAPERS/WESTERN REGION
Five generations called local farm home lmer E. Anderson doesn’t remember much about the spring of 1926, but he has heard a lot about it. He was 6 months old at that time, and moved with his family to a farm south of Mooreville. Anderson arrived at the farm from New Boston, located in Wayne County. He came with his parents, Henry and Maude Anderson, and his grandparents, Frank and Jane Downs. The families left New Boston because of an expressway going through, and they preferred the quiet atmosphere in Milan Township. Anderson said his family lived on the west side of Petersburg Road and his grandparents lived on the east side. He is part of a five-generation odyssey through time in that location, as horses and buggies were replaced by cars, as outhouses were replaced by indoor plumbing, and as a man walked on the moon. The generations start with his grandparents, Cynthia Jane and Frank Downs. His grandmother was known as “Jane.” The two were married in the New Boston area in 1882, and had two adult daughters when they made the move to Milan in 1926. Maude was born in 1887 and the younger daughter, Mabel, was born in 1892. The Downs family included a third child, Thomas, but he died as a baby. Maude and her husband, Henry Anderson, raised one daughter and five sons on the farm west of Petersburg Road, previously known as the Albert Johnson farm. Elmer’s daughter, Wanda Snyder, was inspired to learn about her family after enjoying some family bibles. She has been gathering the old family photos, collecting the family information, and organizing reunions for all of the cousins, aunts and uncles. She got in touch with me to show off the photograph accompanying this piece. I am guessing this picture was taken in 1897 because I can guess the ages of the two girls and I know their birthdates. The photo frame says it was taken in Willis, and I have no idea why the Downs family would visit Willis for a portrait when they lived in New Boston. I am guessing this picture was taken sometime after the girls’ baby brother had passed away. When the Downs and Anderson families moved to Petersburg Road, they kept about 20 dairy cows and grew the usual grains. Anderson recalls there was always plenty of milk on the table when he
MARTHA CHURCHILL was growing up. People did not bother to pasteurize the milk in those days. “We took our milk to the creamery on County Line Road east of Milan, across from where Mullins is today, where the log cabin is now,” Anderson said. Anderson says the milk was transported in 10-gallon cans. Within a year or two of moving to Milan, Anderson’s father joined some neighbors to grade Redman Road. This happened in about 1927 or 1928. They used a team of horses to get it ready to pave. Elmer Anderson joined his sister and four brothers at the Mead School, a two-room country school on Sherman Road at Half Road. “I walked there,” Anderson said. “It was 2 miles.” For fun, Anderson played such outdoor games as tag and ball during 15-minute recess time. Florence mentioned another outdoor game called Antee Over. “You throw the ball over the roof, and if they caught you, you had to go over to their side,” Florence said. Mead School had a pole outside about 15 or 20 feet high, and Anderson says the children got to celebrate May Day with strings attached to the pole. “Both boys and girls got to whirl around it,” he said. In the winter at school, Anderson played indoor games, including clap-in, clapout, in which one person was “it.” After all this time, Anderson remembers the names of all his teachers at Mead School. “I had three teachers in eight years. Miss Spencer the first three years, Mrs. Helen Moorehead (or Helen Forbes), then Harriet Habich,” he said. The last teacher saved Anderson’s academic career. He was sitting in the two-room schoolhouse, listening to the older students reading from their books, and memorizing it all. When he was older, he just recited the stories from memory, not bothering to look
at the book. He, therefore, didn’t know how to read. Mrs. Habich figured out what Anderson was doing, and gave him intensive reading lessons so he could catch up with his friends. She also gave him assignments to read at home to his mother. By the time he started at Milan High School, he could read very well. He graduated in 1943. I asked Anderson to tell me what students did for fun in high school. “I remember Hemio,” Anderson said. “The first day of school, the sophomores would sit you on top of the water fountain.” In the sophomore year, he said, “the juniors would pick your name. I had to wear 13 size shoes one day. I borrowed our preacher’s shoes.” Anderson had to wear curlers in his hair at school on Hemio Day, and eat worms. “We got electricity in 1934,” Anderson said. He remembered the time clearly because it was such a change in lifestyle to flip on the lights rather than lighting candles or oil lamps. “We had a battery-run radio,” he added. Anderson still shows excitement remembering the electric lines coming to his farm. “We got a refrigerator the first thing,” he said. Soon after the electricity was available, Anderson says his brother Frank put together a homemade electric milking machine, using odd parts he had found on the farm. Some of Anderson’s grandchildren were listening when he talked about electricity as the greatest innovation of his lifetime. “No, what about indoor plumbing?” asked an incredulous youngster. “We didn’t get the inside bathrooms until the 1950s. That was after we were married,” Anderson said. “Electricity is more important,” his wife agreed. “We had an electric light in the outhouse.” In May 1944, Anderson said he joined the military. He had just finished taking some agriculture courses at Michigan State University, then known as Michigan Agricultural College. His military service led him to Germany, after the war had ended, and he left the service in December 1945. He ended up marrying the sister of one of his Army pals. Anderson ran the farm until 1978, when a fire destroyed his farm buildings. He says he took a job for a lumber company for 12 years after that. Along the way, he has had many experiences.
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“I was a 4-H leader for 48 years,” he said. “For a while, we had 100 members in the club. We had beef, poultry, cooking, photography, clothing and pigs.” For three months, in the late 1950s, he taught agriculture and shop at the high school while regular teacher was off
she recalled, smiling. This summer, the Andersons are scheduled to have another family reunion at the farm. And I hope they have many more. Martha Churchill is a freelance writer. She can be reached at milanhistory@yahoo. com.
after surgery. “They called me from the school Sunday night and asked if I could teach the classes. I asked when they wanted me to start. I started Monday morning,” Anderson said. His wife, Florence, remembers that time very well. “We bought a clothes dryer,”
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Frank and Jane Downs of New Boston, east of Milan, are pictured in about 1897. They had this portrait taken in Willis with their two daughters. Maude (left) might be about 9 years old, while Mabel is about 5. Their baby brother, Thomas, died the year before. In 1926, they moved to a farm south of Mooreville in Milan Township and stayed for five generations.
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