Growing up, Ida Weier would help tend to the chickens, pull weeds, and draw water from the well out back. Early in the morning, she’d get up and walk to the white one-room schoolhouse down the road, built on land her family had sold to the township a few years back. She never could’ve imagined that one day her family’s farm would end up smack dab in the middle of the suburbs, and that the county would basically take it all away.
But that’s what happened.
By 1970, Warren, Michigan was home to almost 180,000 people, a sprawling suburb just north of Detroit. Times, as Bob Dylan said, were a-changin’. Weier’s farm was the last holdout from the old days, and Weier had no intention of leaving. When the roosters crowed at sunrise, awakening the whole block, the cock-a-doodle-doos sounded like shouts of defiance. In a regulated, manicured world, the Weier farm was an annoying aberration, but she probably felt it was the other way around.
The city had already taken some land from the Weiers in the mid-1960s to make room for a new elementary school. Rumor has it they dug up an old pioneer cemetery or Indian burial mound in the process – imagine their shock when bones popped out from the freshly dug earth! Now Macomb County officials were eyeing what little was left so that the Macomb Community College campus on 12 Mile could be expanded along Bunert Road, named after Weier ‘s grandparents.
As part of the “friendly condemnation proceedings”, it was agreed that the Bunert-Weier farmhouse would be spared, but that was about it. Today, the old farm is home to a couple school buildings, a massive parking lot, and a sports and expo center. It’s hard to see how it was much of an improvement, or necessary.
Thankfully, Weier’s house is still across the street, the door to the chicken coop out back proudly propped open in the midday sun. Her descendents live in the brick house, which is in excellent shape, and a Michigan Centennial Farm sign is posted in the front yard. They might only have a suburban sized plot, but they aren’t giving up.
To be fair, the Weiers aren’t the only ones who keep fighting the good fight.
There’s the Base Line Feed Store on 8 Mile, for instance – yes, the same 8 Mile Eminem grew up on – that’s been selling feed since the 1930s in a shop that dates back to the 1877. The owner, a wary man fond of flannels, can barely keep the heat on, but it’s doubtful he’ll be closing up shop anytime soon. It’s the family business.
And who could forget the Alibi Bar, a watering hole that’s about as old as dirt? Yes, the bathroom might perpetually smell like a piss, and at least half the clientele sports the same tired, long, salt and pepper beard – so what? They’ve got a cold one if you need it, and plenty of ears to moan on. Plus, if you’re lucky, you might get to hear a drunk Johnny Cash-style take on America’s “Horse With No Name”, or some other select working class Roanoke classics.
That’s how the memories stay alive, like new plants growing from the cuttings of a great, big dying tree. Some embers of the past might burn on at the Warren Historical Research Center & Museum Gallery, a small collection of artifacts and informtion in the Warren Civic Center, but that’ll be snuffed out unceremoniously one day when the next round of budget cuts come.
A triptych of Warren’s last three mayors at the Warren Historical Research Center & Museum Gallery.
Any true hope for Warren’s past – its roots – rests with families like the Weiers.
To them, I say, good luck. Standing on the corner of Beebe and Flynn in the Village of Warren Historic District, I can almost see what they’re trying to save… whenever the traffic on Mound lets up.