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Looking Back: Ponies and love in Birmingham

Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published February 26, 2019


BIRMINGHAM — At Watkins’ Pony Farm in Birmingham, Fenton and Florence Watkins would take ponies from the farm over to Boblo Island every summer, and all three of their children were born during those summers on the island. Their relationship actually began because of those same Shetland ponies.

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, many children in Birmingham and the surrounding areas used horsepower to get to and from school, especially in the winter. Florence had what she described as a “very well pony” named Prince who could pull through anything, including the thickest mud.

Shortly after dropping out of school in the 10th grade to start working, Fenton moved to Birmingham from Grand Haven to help his uncle, Gilbert Watkins, run the pony farm. His main duties included rounding up boys from the high school late in the spring to help herd the ponies to Belle Isle and onto the ferry to Boblo, and then staying with the ponies on Boblo during the season, leaving him with his winters free to find other work.

Around 1906, Florence’s father hired Fenton to help out on his farm and care for Florence’s pony, Prince. In an oral history given in the 1970s, Florence stated that she first set eyes on Fenton as she pulled into her family’s yard and saw him waiting there, reading a newspaper. It wasn’t love at first sight, though; Florence was only 13. It wasn’t until 1913, after she had moved back to Birmingham after pursuing a teaching degree in Ypsilanti, that they began courting. Fenton and Florence married in 1916.

— Caitlin Donnelly, museum assistant at the Birmingham Museum