Students survey the ruins of a home that once stood on the island during a tour in 2019.

Students survey the ruins of a home that once stood on the island during a tour in 2019.

File photo by Deb Jacques


West Bloomfield Historical Society offers virtual events for residents

Sylvan Lake celebrates 100 years

By: Mark Vest | West Bloomfield Beacon | Published May 26, 2021

 A boulder with a plaque commemorating Apple Island’s addition to the National Register of Historic Places was installed on the island.

A boulder with a plaque commemorating Apple Island’s addition to the National Register of Historic Places was installed on the island.

File photo by Deb Jacques

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WEST BLOOMFIELD — The Greater West Bloomfield Historical Society has been a source for learning about local history for decades now, and fresh opportunities have been scheduled for residents to tap into resources the society offers.

Virtual Apple Island Tours are scheduled for 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. June 12 and 13 via Zoom, with volunteer presenters.

Apple Island informational panels can be found outdoors at the Orchard Lake Museum, depending on weather conditions and potential COVID-19 restrictions.

The Sylvan Lake 100th Anniversary Open House will be held at 1 p.m. July 11 via Zoom, with historian Helen Jane Peters sharing the history of Sylvan Lake Village 1921-2021.

Viewers can ask questions live, and Sylvan Lake panels will be outdoors at the museum, also depending on the weather and possible COVID-19 restrictions.

Historical Society Office and Activities Coordinator Cory Taylor discussed Peters’ role in the presentation.

“When I was working on filming that with her, just learning about Sylvan Lake, it’s very small,” Taylor said. “It’s a lot smaller than I thought, but it’s filled with history, and it’s filled with people that have lived there their entire lives. … Helen Jane was born at a local hospital. … It’s a place, a community that’s very special to her. That’s very evident when she talks about the city, and she talks about the different pieces of history.”

Peters said her parents brought her home from the hospital in 1939. She has lived in Sylvan Lake for the majority of her life since then.

“I have lived here almost all my life,” Peters said. “I’ve been collecting the history for the last 25 years, and I have many notebooks full of information that I’ve gathered. … Just this morning, I found out that the official date for Sylvan Lake becoming a village was November 1, 1921, and that’s what we are going to celebrate in August — Sylvan Lake, 100 years old as a village.”

From Peters’ perspective, the Sylvan Lake community that she and her husband live in has a “Mayberry” feel to it.

“We are 81 years old, and hardly a week goes by without somebody bringing a meal, cookies or something to the door for us,” she said. “This community has taken care of us this past year, through the pandemic.”

The Walter Flanders Open House will be held at 1 p.m. Aug. 8 via Zoom.

The scheduled presenter is William Spencer, whose grandfather, Walter Flanders, was an early automotive entrepreneur who had a large estate in West Bloomfield.

Part of Spencer’s presentation is expected to include what it’s like to own a Flanders 20 Runabout vehicle, along with a question-and-answer session.

Classic car enthusiasts could also be in for another treat.

“We hope to invite people with vintage cars, classic cars that they would like to exhibit in the parking lot, using the protocol that’s appropriate at that time,” said GWBHS President Gina Gregory. “We’re looking forward to that, if we’re able to host that in the Orchard Lake Museum parking lot during the same time as the open house.”

Gregory discussed the possibility of each of the presentations having an outdoor element.

“We’ll have outdoor components to each of those where we’ll have exhibit panels leaning against the fence, weather permitting and COVID restriction permitting,” she said. “Look forward to getting back to live presentations as soon as we can.”

After not having it last year, either virtually or in-person, Taylor discussed the return of the Apple Island Tours.

“It’s our biggest event,” she said. “It’s the event that draws the most amount of people. The first time I did the event in 2019, we had close to a thousand people between both days, and one of the days it rained.”

Despite the event being virtual, Taylor said it’s exciting to be able to provide something.

“I’m looking forward to being able to show people the island, even virtually,” she said. “We were really bummed last year that we weren’t able to do anything. … We were not expecting anything like what we ended up experiencing last year. We didn’t get all of our stuff together to do anything; that was a big bummer.”

Last year, a video virtual tour of Apple Island was created by Christy Forhan as part of a September open house about the 50th anniversary of the West Bloomfield School District owning the island.

Forhan is on the district’s school board.

“We’re fortunate enough to be able to play that again in June,” Taylor said. “Basically, that’s the tour on it. It kind (of) touches on everything that we would normally talk about on the tour, but it also goes to a couple different sites that the trails normally wouldn’t go on the in-person tour. … It’s a great video.”

Forhan said she is a volunteer liaison between the school district and the Historical Society.

“The island is such a unique asset for the community, for the school district and for the Historical Society,” she said. “It has a whole bunch of challenges, not the least of which is getting there. It’s really unique, and I think it’s kind of fun and intriguing. … I know what’s out there, and to be able to share some of that with the community is fun for me.”

Forhan isn’t alone in her enthusiasm for Apple Island.

“Not only does the community look forward to the events, but volunteers who’ve been with the society for decades look forward to it,” Taylor said. “We have certain volunteers that only volunteer for Apple Island tours. It’s one of our biggest draws, not only for the community, but also for our society.”

Having a job that coincides with one of her interests helps put Taylor in an ideal position to learn more about the local history of Keego Harbor, Orchard Lake, Sylvan Lake and West Bloomfield.

“I grew up going to museums and things like that,” she said. “It’s interesting to me to learn about different pieces of history. Now I’m more involved in my local history because of this job. It’s been very cool to learn about these different things, and I didn’t realize that four communities as small as the four that we live in could be this rich in history.”

Exactly when the Historical Society returns to hosting in-person events is yet to be determined, but from Gregory’s perspective, something positive has come from going virtual.

“We’re excited that we have the capacity to create our own history content video,” she said. “This is something that we started as a response to COVID, but we see that it has long-lasting value now because we’ll be able to share it on YouTube for a long time.”

Forhan shared a similar sentiment.

“It’s one of those good things that’s come out of being quarantined and (the) pandemic; now we have some of these digital tools and educational programs that can be presented multiple times, and not just one time, with one audience and one presenter,” she said.

For information about how to log into the events via Zoom, visit gwbhs.org. For more information, call (248) 757-2451.

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