A new storybook garden in Oakland Township focuses on seven children’s characters and stories, which make up the seven sections of the garden. These include Winnie the Pooh, Peter Rabbit and Ferdinand the Bull, along with “The Secret Garden,” “Goldilocks and the Three Bears,” “The Wind in the Willows,” and “Charlotte’s Web.”

A new storybook garden in Oakland Township focuses on seven children’s characters and stories, which make up the seven sections of the garden. These include Winnie the Pooh, Peter Rabbit and Ferdinand the Bull, along with “The Secret Garden,” “Goldilocks and the Three Bears,” “The Wind in the Willows,” and “Charlotte’s Web.”

Storybook garden helps highlight the history of local woman, farm

By: Mary Beth Almond | Rochester Post | Published November 10, 2021

 Oakland Township recently dedicated a storybook garden in honor of Helen Southgate Williams, who lived at Cranberry Lake Farm in Oakland Township from 1948-1949.

Oakland Township recently dedicated a storybook garden in honor of Helen Southgate Williams, who lived at Cranberry Lake Farm in Oakland Township from 1948-1949.

Photo provided by Oakland Township

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OAKLAND TOWNSHIP — A new storybook garden at Cranberry Lake Farm in Oakland Township aims to connect the present day with the past.

The township recently developed the garden in honor of Helen Southgate Williams, who lived at Cranberry Lake Farm in Oakland Township from 1948-1949.

Oakland Township’s Historic Preservation Planner Barbara Barber spearheaded the idea while looking for a way to highlight the history of Cranberry Lake Farm and the people who lived there.

“We wanted to do something that would honor some of the people that lived here, so we could get more people involved in coming out and being a part of our history,” Barber explained.

The garden’s theme focuses on seven of Williams’ favorite children’s characters and stories, which make up the seven sections of the garden. These include Winnie the Pooh, Peter Rabbit and Ferdinand the Bull, along with “The Secret Garden,” “Goldilocks and the Three Bears,” “The Wind in the Willows,” and “Charlotte’s Web.”

The garden also includes a Little Free Library — which organizers want to make sure stays stocked with all of Williams’ favorite children’s books — and features many areas for people to sit to enjoy the books.

“The Little Free Library was specially made for books that are for loan, because we selected these books specifically because these were books that Helen recommended. There are some wonderful books in there,” Barber explained.

The garden was made possible by donations from members of the community, along with Oakland Township’s Historical Society, Historic District Commission and Parks and Recreation Department. The St. Paul’s United Methodist Church youth group, who worked on the garden, also contributed to the project to honor Williams.

Known to some as the “Pied Piper of Reading” and “The Story Lady,” Williams dedicated her life to bringing good books and literature to children throughout the metropolitan area.

Williams — who taught children’s literature at Wayne State University and at the University of Chicago — operated a book shop called The Old Red House from the living room of her home on West Second Street in Rochester for 15 years.

In 1964, she moved her book business to Main Street in downtown Rochester, after her house and property on Second Street were sold for an apartment development.

From 1964-1974, Williams owned and operated her bookstore, called The Book Stall, where, officials said, her love of books and skills as a storyteller challenged the imaginations and expanded the world for many children and adults.

Although Williams closed The Book Stall in 1974, she continued to operate an educational consulting business from her home until she was well into her 80s and was a popular lecturer for schools, churches and private organizations.

For eight years, she published “The Incessant Trumpet,” which contained her essays and thoughts on children’s literature, and she was appointed to the International Board of Books for Youth, an agency of the United Nations.

Williams died on May 10, 2002, at the age of 97.

The Cranberry Lake Farm Historic District is located at 388 W. Predmore Road in Oakland Township. For more information about the farm’s storybook garden, visit www.oaklandtownship.org or call (248) 651-4440.

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