Cobblestone Farm Association
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 2005 Annual Meeting

Ticknor burial mysteries & other Cobblestone ruminations

-David Park Williams’s report from February’s Annual Meeting At the 2005 Annual Meeting of the Cobblestone Farm Association we were privileged to have Wystan Stevens as our speaker. A long-time friend, Wystan brought his wisdom, experience and sense of humor to our gathering. We were happy that we had followed the lead of most school children: “Start with dessert!” because we were eager to hear at once Wystan’s wonderful tales and to view selected photos from his storied Cache of Thousands, a treasure trove still largely untapped.

The Issa issue

Almost at the outset, Wystan remarked that Editor Tom Dodd’s rather conspicuous absence from the gathering was owning to Tom’s acute embarrassment at having, in the last issue of The Cobblestone Farm News, misplaced the original Pittsfield Township Cemetery. Now a cemetery, even a notably small and select one, is not easily dislocated, but Tom managed to do precisely that (if we may venture to say it) in spades. Tom’s caption under the first of three photos on page 6 reads, “Issa property…is just across the road from Cobblestone’s mail box.” This is especially astonishing because Wystan’s accompanying article specifically states that Benajah Ticknor’s “temporary resting place” was “in the old Pittsfield Cemetery which, like Cobblestone Farm, was located on the north side or Packard, just east of the present Issa property.”

Now, Tom, listen carefully: Driving east from the Farm and toward Ypsilanti begin looking left just after you pass Darlington Lutheran Church. There you will see an imposing compound, consisting of four large brick houses behind a sturdy wrought iron fence supported by rectangular brick posts.That’s the Issa property. There is a traffic light there. Immediately after the Issa property lies the site of the ancient and hallowed Pittsfield Cemetery. It is, admittedly, overshadowed by an irrelevant (and therefore irreverent) example of modern commercial signage. Tom, you lost the burying ground, but how could you lose the Issa property? The graveyard may be lacking its tombstones, but the Issa compound is itself...monumental.

The subsequent history (and mystery) of the other graves at Pittsfield Cemetery is related in Wystan’s article on the same page. If anyone has not gone on one of Wystan Steven’s annual fall walking tours of Forest Hill Cemetery (either on TV or in person), these fascinating field trips await those who seek a “hands on” experience.

You can’t beat City Hall

Twenty or twenty-five years ago, Wystan and some Ticknor relatives joined George and Mary Campbell on a trip to Ann Arbor’s City Hall to try to establish claim to the old Pittsfield Cemetery. The City officials were adamant in their refusal to countenance any assertions that “dead people” and any claims whatever to a piece of property. So the matter rests––and so rest bones of people’s Pittsfield ancestors.

Stephen Mills, a stern and stalwart stonecutter

The screen for the slide show was a white inner wall of our Barn and the first picture was of Stephen Mills, a builder of cobblestone houses. Mills was responsible for many such dwellings in New York State along the Mohawk Valley, route of the Erie Canal, and is said to have constructed Dr. Ticknor’s house here in Pittsfield Township, Michigan. Mills looks very forbidding in his likeness, but how many houses being built today will last over 150 years? (Even this one would have survived without us!)

A picnic and a porch

A picture of a picnic on the front lawn of the Cobblestone house is dated July 13, 1903. The people are shown sitting on folding chairs, probably loaned by a local funeral parlor. Prominent behind the picnickers is the “Italianate Bracketed” front porch of the farmhouse. The porch collapsed under an overload of snow near the end of the twentieth century. Wystan would like to see it replaced even though it originated with Nelson and Sophia Bassett Booth who lived at the Farm from 1860-1880. After all, the two-tiered wrought iron fountain (also from the time of the Booths) has been retained and restored. As someone once said, “It lends class to the joint.”

Miscellaneous firsts

Slides in this category included: (A) The first Open House in 1973. (B) Nan Hodges’ son, Daniel, with a brick he found on the property; on the mortar attached to the brick was inscribed the date 1835. (C) Because John Allen had registered the first deed of land in Ann Arbor on May 25, 1824, the birth of the Cobblestone Farm Association occurred in Ann Arbor’s sesquicentennial year. In February 1974: the first official meeting of the CFA took place in the original Stone School (now a day care center) because the Farmhouse was too cold. The spot was doubly appropriate because Heman Ticknor built the school, and George and May Campbell were pupils there.

Random slides

Wystan explained that he couldn’t possibly go through his thousands of slides one by one for this annual meeting, but had found a few that he felt would be both appropriate and interesting. These were: (A) A pit that had once been the site of the heavy scales used to weigh farm produce. (B) the old two-track lighting system (often called knob-and-tube) which if still in use (someone pointed out), could present a definite fire hazard. (C) A wall in the basement built of bricks made right here in Ann Arbor. [continued on page seven] The bricks were turning to dust, which proved that these proud local products had been somewhat less enduring than the native fieldstone. Planned obsolescence? (D) Plowing with a team of horses on May 5, 1975.

We interrupt this program with a news flash!

In the first half of the nineteenth century there had been a time when in Washtenaw County oxen outnumbered horses. In recognition of this, our spring plowing in 2003 was done by a yoke of oxen provided by Tillers International. George Taylor mentioned that I had taken my turn behind the oxen, and I said, “Yes, but I zigged when I should have zagged, and tumbled into the next furrow yelling, ‘Man overboard!!” I finished the furrow, but I had learned that plowing behind oxen is not child’s play.

Footnote (or hoof note): “Gee” is right, “Haw” is left; the “nigh ox” is on the left, and the “off ox” is on the right. We now return you to our current program, which is already in progress.

A tale of two festivals

We were treated to scenes of the Fall Festival of 1975 and the Bicentennial Festival of July 4, 1976, the 200th birthday of our nation. At the 1975 Festival we saw Judith Kushner at our booth in the Farmers’ Market, selling what Wystan termed “something like a pot-pourri of pot-pourris, paper weights, and note paper.” Another slide showed long lines of people of all ages waiting to enter the Cobblestone House; the reason was not the same as the one that, thirty years later, causes long lines to form at the airport. There was also a slide of Jackie Greenhut photographing Mary Campbell.

Introducing the Bicentennial Festival was some spiraea planted by George Campbell. There was a patriotic cake in the shape and colors of an American flag. It was made of fruit: blueberries for the field, and strawberries for the red stripes. Members of the Hook-crafters’ Guild were known among themselves as “The Happy Hookers.” There was a slide of the east piazza of the house where Martha Burns and her “Old Timey” band were playing behind the grapevines. {This was the stage where the idea of the Cobblestone Country Dancers first formed in my mind. Wystan said he was sorry not to have included a picture of the Dancers in his presentation, but I was secretly relieved because in those days the one really level spot in the yard was where the trashcans were. Consequently most of the views were of eight or sixteen dancers in 19th century costume, Vinny Tufo on fiddle, Debbie Low on keyboard, and three or four garbage cans in rapt attendance.} The Declaration of Independence was read by an impersonator of John Allen, and the celebration was, some remember, rained out.

Wystan Stevens, Harlan Hatcher, Stephen Hamp, and other local historians

There was a Christmas open house in December of 1976. The penultimate slides presented random facts about several local historians: Wystan Stevens, historian and photographer, lived in the Kempf House from 1970 to 1983. Harlan Hatcher, President of the University of Michigan and author of The Western Reserve and Lake Erie, lived to be one hundred years old. Stephen Hamp, once husband of Noonie Hamp, (they were joint caretakers at the Farm) is now the director of the Henry Ford Museum. We have admired Charles Ciccarelli’s fabulous pen and ink drawing of the Cobblestone House and other Ann Arbor landmarks, and were shown views of the artist at work. There was also a slide of Russell Bidlack, considered the Dean of Ann Arbor historians.

The final subject was Mary Campbell with helpers demonstrating several types of butter churn. (I recall the event vividly and appreciatively.) About 1900, we are told, William Campbell’s Jersey cow ruminated all day long, and twice daily produced rich cream to be churned. A Holstein furnished somewhat thinner milk, but more of it.

Thank you, Wystan Stevens, for a wonderful evening! Now, knowing on which side of my bread is buttered, and aware that fair words butter no parsnips, I believe that we’ve churned around here long enough. Just where are those refreshments?

[Editor’s note: Did anyone really think asking DPW to report the Annual Meeting program would result in mere “minutes of the meeting”? –td]

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