A former resident and older friend of mine who lived on Rutland was always telling me, “If you’re interested in the history of Grandmont, you should go talk to Mr. Erwin! He’s lived here a long time.” Finally school was over for me and I was very happy to spend an afternoon with the Erwins.
Mr. Erwin was born in 1899. His family owned the original section that became Selfridge Air Field. He grew up there until his family sold the property to the U.S. government in 1915. He completed two years at U of M, Ann Arbor in electrical engineering in 1920 and went to work as a follow-up service engineer for Underwriters Laboratories, where he stayed for 45 years until his retirement.
Shortly after he began working, he met Dorothy Smith, who soon became Mrs. Erwin. Mrs. Erwin grew up in the Junction and Vernor area of Detroit. The Erwins have been married 62 years and, according to their neighbors, “They still act like teenagers!”
In 1929 the Erwins moved into a flat on Mansfield between Kendall and Schoolcraft. They joined the St. Mary’s parish. In 1940 they purchased one of the few vacant lots remaining in Grandmont. Mr. Erwin designed his own house and James Tuckett was the builder. Mr. Erwin’s hobby is raising flowers so he picked a big lot with no trees. He bought the lot in the winter, however, and as soon as the snow melted he realized that his backyard was about a foot lower than his neighbors! Apparently they had scraped off all his topsoil and put it on their yards. He had to bring in 50 dump truck loads of soil to level his backyard.
Mr. Erwin is in possession of the abstract for Grandmont dating back to the original land grant. The 80 acres which include his lot were deeded by Andrew Jackson, United States President, to Thomas Norton on Oct. 28, 1835. The Davids bought 40 acres of that from the Harrows in 1880 for $3000.00. Then the Grand River Development Co. paid $16,000.00 to Victorine David on Oct. 20, 1915 for those same 40 acres.
The house on the corner of Rutland and Schoolcraft was the original farmhouse of the Davids. It was probably built in the latter part of the 1800’s. Mrs. Boylan, one of the Davids who lived in that house in the early 1900’s, refused to sell the farmland on Rutland to the developers unless they planted maples on both sides of the street. (That’s why Rutland has maples!) Also, many trees on Grandmont lots are much older than the subdivision since parts of the area were wooded when the area was built up. The trees were a big drawing card for prospective buyers.
By the 1940’s Grandmont possessed the equivalent in social status to Palmer Park today. There was a minimum price in the cost of construction which decreased from Grand River to Schoolcraft. “Those people up there by Grand River were snotty!” recalls Mr. Erwin.
World War II didn’t bring too many changes to Grandmont, except for the Victory Gardens. Mr. Erwin and his neighbors cultivated two empty lots. He remembers that there were more rats in the area as a result. His garage had a ratwall but his neighbors’ didn’t. He used to watch the rats run across his backyard from one garage to the other. The city finally came out and asphyxiated the rats in their holes with exhaust from their trucks.
Both Mr. and Mrs. Erwin have a tremendous enthusiasm for life and are emphatic that they wouldn’t change a moment since they were born. Mrs. Erwin is an ardent Tiger fan and has been to every opening game for the last 63 years except one, when she was about to deliver one of her sons! She knew Charley Gehinger and his mother when they lived on Woodmont and Lyndon.
She says all the stone in that house was hauled from the U.P. This year she was the guest of the Detroit Fire Fighters Association forth opening game and sat in their box in back of home plate. For many years the Red Wings team doctor lived next to the Erwins on Rutland. Mrs. Erwin taught many of the hockey players’ wives to play bridge. Teresa Delvecchio was her best pupil, she recalls.
Mr. Erwin learned contract bridge in Chicago from Cornelius Vanderbilt in 1923 and brought the game back to his friend in Detroit. The Erwins have taught at least 1000 couples how to play bridge.
The Erwins have always liked Grandmont, but are especially enthusiastic now. “If I stop working in my back yard and sit down for a few minutes, my neighbor is inquiring if I’m all right!” said Mr. Erwin. His other neighbor spent 2-1/2 hours shoveling snow and ice off his driveway after the big ice storm in March. “We have the best neighbors we ever had”, say both Erwins.