The Heritage Celebration is an opportunity to combine fun and history for local residents. This year’s event took place Sept. 22 at Heritage Park.

The Heritage Celebration is an opportunity to combine fun and history for local residents. This year’s event took place Sept. 22 at Heritage Park.

Photo by Donna Dalziel

Heritage is on display for fall events

By: Mark Vest | Farmington Press | Published October 8, 2023


FARMINGTON HILLS — Residents recently had a chance to have some fun and learn about history at the same time at the Heritage Celebration, which has become a tradition in Farmington Hills.

The event took place Sept. 22 at Heritage Park.

“The Heritage Celebration is really the kickoff to our hayride season here in Farmington Hills, so in addition to celebrating the fall and the hayride season, we also take that opportunity to celebrate our history, our heritage here in Heritage Park, and beyond into the Farmington Hills community,” said Farmington Hills Nature Center Supervisor Ashlie Smith, who thinks it was the ninth or 10th year of the celebration. “It’s a rare chance for folks to visit Heritage Park and learn more about the cultural history. … We tie in information about the family that used to live on the land, what they used it for, (and) even the farming equipment that they had. Folks get to peek inside the Red Barn, and that normally isn’t open to the public, so they can go around and see some of the cool farming artifacts and things that we keep in there.”

Heritage Park is located at 24915 Farmington Road, between 10 Mile and 11 Mile roads.

An inscription at the location provides some historical information about the property.

Architect Marcus Burrowes designed what is known as the Spicer House in 1925 for David and Martha Gray.

Part of the inscription reads that, “Burrowes selected the site and built the house to blend with the land, yet retain an historic English architectural form.”

The Grays never lived in the house. After her husband’s death, Martha Gray gave the house as a wedding gift to Eleanor Goodenough when she married John Spicer in 1935.

“Mrs. Spicer’s home became a working farmhouse on the 211 acre farm, as well as home for her five children,” the inscription reads. “For 47 years, she raised sheep and kept riding horses, while a suburban community developed around her. The City purchased the home and property from her estate in 1985.”

Smith doesn’t know the exact number of people who attended the Heritage Celebration this year, but she estimated that there were at least 100 people there.

History can be a big part of the experience, and she said an element that was added to this year’s celebration was a past and present hike.

“We walk from the Red Barn to the Spicer House … and talk a little about those spaces, what they used to look like, what they were used for, why they look like how they look now, lead folks over to the Spicer House, let them go inside and look around in there, and answer their questions,” Smith said. “A pretty rare treat (because) the Spicer House typically isn’t open all the time for folks to just go in and walk around.”

Ken Klemmer is the former chair of the Farmington Hills Historic District Commission.

Although he wasn’t at this year’s event, in the past he has helped to provide some historical context for attendees.

“When I have participated in the past I have functioned as a docent in the Spicer House at Heritage Park and convey the design ethos behind this Marcus Burrowes house,” Klemmer stated via email. “I also try to educate people on the importance of historical properties and the resources available to owners to help maintain and celebrate their own historic homes.”

The Heritage Celebration appeals to both children and adults, and Smith shared one of the highlights for kids.

“I think the kids enjoy the farm-chore games and getting to see the farming artifacts, like the old carriages that we pull out from the barn,” she said. “I think that’s a really unique feature of the event. But there’s some folks that are just excited to come and learn more about the buildings and the history because that’s not something we are able to do all the time. … And then the hayrides are a nice bonus, that they’re able to enjoy the park that they just learned all about, along a hayride through the trail.”

The farm games are also one of the stand-out aspects of the celebration for Smith.

“I think one of my favorite things about the event are the really fun, old-fashioned farm games we have set up for the kids,” she said. “So they get to participate in, essentially, what are farm chores, but we make them into games for the kids. They get to wash clothes on a washboard and hang them to dry; they get to collect eggs from a little mini chicken coop in  a basket, pair them up, and see how many they can collect. … They get to pick up fake poop, so they go around with a little shovel.”

Tours of the Red Barn on the property can also draw a crowd.

“We have some areas staged to show what it may have looked like when the barn was in use. So, for example, we have a tack room set up where there’s saddles and the things that may have been necessary to care for horses that the family likely had either living near the barn or across the road where this old stables building was,” Smith said. “So, we had that set up there so folks can see what that may have been like.”

Those who like to get an actual glimpse into history can also be in for a treat when visiting Heritage Park.

“We have really interesting old photographs of what Heritage Park used to look like before it was a park, when it was farmland, when the family lived here,” Smith said. “That’s a cool way to give folks that sense of place, how things change over time, and the work that has been done to maintain this as a natural area and a park as well. I think that’s really interesting to see those old photographs, kinda side-by-side with some places — what they look like now.”

Although this year’s Heritage Celebration event has come and gone, there are still opportunities for people to partake in some fall fun at Heritage Park.

According to Smith, hayrides are scheduled every Friday 5:30-7:30 p.m. through Nov. 3. The hayrides cost $5 per person, and are free for those 2 and younger. S’mores kits are also available to enjoy at a campfire at a cost of $1 per kit.

“It’s a beautiful time of year to walk the trails, and the Nature Center’s open late on Fridays in the fall,” Smith said. “So, we encourage folks to come out and enjoy the fall season. (It’s) a really relaxed event and a good way to enjoy time with the family, but also experience the trails and the seasonal change in the park.”

For more information, call the Farmington Hills Nature Center at (248) 477-1135 or send an email to asmith@fhgov.