Sylvan Lake unveils new historical signs

West Bloomfield Beacon | Published August 28, 2013


By Cari DeLamielleure-Scott
C & G Contributing Writer

SYLVAN LAKE — A local history group is hoping some new signs will shed light on the area’s past.

As part of the MotorCities National Heritage Area’s Wayside Exhibit Program, the city of Sylvan Lake dedicated a series of historical signs at the annual Sylvan Lake Garden Club ice cream social Aug. 15.

“Each sign signifies a historical aspect of the city of Sylvan Lake,” said Helen Jane Peters, the town historian. “These are permanent signs that will last for many years and explain our history to our citizens and visitors.”

The private donor campaign began a year and a half ago, and as a result, enough money was raised to showcase five signs. The exhibits were installed around the city by the Sylvan Lake Department of Public Works Aug. 9.

While the Michigan Department of Transportation funded a portion of the total cost, private donors, including the Sylvan Lake Garden Club, contributed the remaining one-third, totaling $1,875.

Peters teamed with Eric Wiegand, a local artist, to create the signs. Together, they chose the pictures and captions that best highlighted the historic areas.

The Sylvan Lake Garden Club, an organization with deep roots in the community, sponsored the dedication, and it was well attended by the residents of Sylvan Lake.

Established in 1939, the garden club has held the community ice cream social since 1965, charging only $1 for ice cream and homemade cakes, which are donated by residents.

“It seemed to me that more people attended than usual. We ran out of ice cream and had to go buy more,” said Helen McAllister, co-secretary of the garden club.

At the event, Peters presented Paul Anger, editor of the Detroit Free Press, with a framed copy of the Detroit Free Press Fresh Air Camp exhibit at the social.

The camp, which existed from 1906-1962, was developed by the Detroit Free Press on land formerly occupied by the Sylvan Lake Inn.

After the camp closed, the Detroit Free Press deeded the property back to the city of Sylvan Lake. Currently, Sylvan Lake’s Community Center resides on the land.

The other four exhibits describe the Sylvan Lake Inn, Ferndale Beach and Tower Beach, the Detroit United Railway on Garland Avenue, and the Oakland County Boat Club.

Sylvan Lake Inn was built by Merrill B. Mills in 1893 and burned to the ground in 1903. The signage includes the bridge over the canal, which has been there since 1895, Peters explained.

The Detroit United Railway sign explains the trolley, also built by Mills, that transported people around the metro area and brought them to the Sylvan Lake Inn.

The picture Peters and Wiegand selected for the Oakland County Boat Club, which began in 1912, shows the building originally built over the water so boats could be stored underneath. The club moved to land in the 1930s.

Upon learning that the Wayside Exhibit Program focused on automotive and labor history, the Greater West Bloomfield Historical Society planned to also install exhibits in Westacres, Keego Harbor and West Bloomfield, said Gina Gregory, president of the Greater West Bloomfield Historical Society.

“Including Sylvan Lake, it totals 20 signs,” she said.

The Wayside Exhibit Program launched in 2007 when MotorCities received a transportation enhancement grant from the Michigan Department of Transportation to install up to 300 historical signs across Michigan in areas where people naturally gather, such as park trails and community centers.

“The idea behind it was to unify the communities by promoting the labor and automotive history of their areas,” said Brian Yopp, director of operations and community liaison with MotorCities National Heritage Area.

The project will conclude by the end of September 2014, he said. So far, signs have been installed in Lansing, Detroit, Flint, Dearborn, Sylvan Lake and Ypsilanti.

Upon completion of the project, residents can look forward to the creation of an interactive map highlighting the community’s automotive heritage. The map will be created by the teamed efforts of MotorCities and the Oakland County Executive Office.

For more information regarding the Wayside Exhibit program, visit