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Historic Site Was Early Pioneer Farm

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´╗┐Historic Site Was Early Pioneer Farm

By Marion Marzolf
(News Garden Editor)

A working farm with herds of shorthorn cattle, sheep and horses, acres of corn, wheat and oats, and a bustling kitchen where meals are prepared for threshers or handling freshly slaughtered meat for the winter supply might be the order of the day.

These visions of old pioneer farm days were recalled recently by Mary and George Campbell, the third generation of Campbells to live in the old Ticknor-Campbell farm on Packard Road.

The sister and brother, who moved from the farm this February when the city purchased the old historic site, poured over old photos and searched their memories and family diaries to reconstruct the old gardens of the mid-ninteenth century and later for a group of U-M students working on a summer project in historic gardens. (The group's project was reported last week on The News' garden page.)

In the process of recollection, Mary and George Campbell also recreated a picture of farm life from the turn of the century, as they heard about it and later lived it that also will be helpful to the city in planning for the ultimate future use of the building.

Acting City Administrator George Owers met with members of the Ann Arbor Historic District Commission on Friday to discuss plans for the Campbell farm. They agreed on "immediate plans for emergency repairs" to the house by the Parks Department before fall to protect against rain and water damage.

"Personally, I've endorsed the ultimate use of the Campbell farm as a Pioneer Farm Museum," said Owers after the meeting. "It will take much renovation and repairs and rehabilitation to put it into that character -- more money than the city has on its own -- and would involve a pretty extensive community effort."

Owers said the city and the Commission were also exploring the possibility of rebuilding and rehabilitating the back, wooden portion of the building by working with the U-M Department of Architecture students and staff.

This would involve disassembling and reassembling the back wing using architectural preservation methods, explained Kingsbury Marzolf, a U-M associate professor of architecture and the architect-member of the commission.

"We were very enthused by the meeting today," remarked Frank C. Wilhelme, chairman of the Ann Arbor Historic District Commission, which had earlier been asked by the city to consider the potential of the building.

"We will be pursuing ideas of the Pioneer Farm Museum," Wilhelme added, and said that this "would be a major emphasis for the next few months for the Commission." He intends to talk with the Heritage Committee of the Ann Arbor Sesquicentennial Commission about the project.

A farm museum, he agrees, would be the "purest historical use" of the building. Wilhelme, too, mentioned the need for funding for the project.

The picturesque and dignified stone building with its striking herring-bone pattern of small fieldstones has intrigued passers-by for years. Currently, the windows are boarded up by the city's Park Service in order to protect the building against vandalism.

The farm was a part of the Ezra Maynard property, one of the earliest farms in Pittsfield Township. It was purchased in 1835 by Navy surgeon Benajah Ticknor, a retired naval officer, who arrived at the farm in 1840. His brother and sister-in-law and their 12 children had been living in a house, which was small and inconvenient for the large family.

Benajah moved in and shortly after built the handsome two-story cobblestone building with its three-feet-thick walls. Hand-split laths, hand-hewn timbers and hand-made nails were used in the building, and today the structure is a veritable museum of early construction techniques.

The evidence is spotty, but according to Wystan Stevens, curator of the Kempf House, the best guess made by the research team working on the history of the house, is that the original small frame house was joined to the stone house in back. It was used as a dining room by the Campbell family.

A long wooden wing was added to this small building in 1845 and contained the kitchen, pantry, and upstairs rooms for the girl servant and hired hands, toilets and a carriage and wood shed. There was a long covered veranda on each side.

The Ticknors had a large apple orchard to the west of the farmhouse, near the pond. A few of these Snow Apple trees remain on the property, says George Campbell, and "they are delicious."

"The Ticknor garden, a flower garden, as far as we can tell, was on the west and contained flowers such as feverfew, a daisy-like flower, rosemary, corn lilies (or daylilies), larkspur and old-fashioned pink roses, added Mary Campbell.

"It was typical of any farm in the period to have lilacs, daylilies and mock orange," added George. And these exist today at the farm.

A semi-circle of trees, including silver, sugar and black maples, elms, and Kentucky Coffee Bean trees, was planted from the road sweeping around and enclosing the house. This elegant treatment was added by the Nelson Booth family who lived there after the Ticknors. Booth also rigged up the cast-iron fountain in the front which was run from the spring across the road.

"But it was a disappointment," laughed George. "The water just burbled up."

When William Campbell, who emigrated to the U.S. from Scotland, purchased the farm in 1881 he was already in his 50's and had been a school teacher, principal, and was an active member of the Farmers and Mechanics Trade Association. He had two children, Robert Clair and Sarah. The present Campbells are children of Robert Clair.

"We had a very busy life," recalls Mary Campbell. "There were threshers coming at harvest time and we cooked for them. There was a smoke house for smoking ham and we butchered in winter, making a lot of corned beef. We made our own cheese, down in the cool Michigan cellar under the stone house."

Her grandmother made candles when she first kep house there, and spun her own yarn.

A vegetable garden was a necessity for farm families, and the Campbells raised potatoes, peas, parsnips, sweet corn, carrots, turnips, lettuce, onions, radishes, beans, tomatoes, cucumbers and squash. They also had peppers, but "only for pickles," said George.

The bank-barn, built by the Booths, was in back of the house in a cluster of outbuildings including a corn crib, chicken house, sheep shed, and carriage house. The buildings formed an open U-shaped enclosure which sheltered cattle and sheep.

The bank-barn got its name from the embankment leading up to the main floor of the barn. Under the bank was a large water cistern to catch rainwater for the animals and a root cellar.

A 1924 fire, starting in the top of the barn, burned it and four other buildings to the ground and these were never replaced. The family then used an east barn, located approximately where the Buhr Park pool is today.

"Mother just loved flowers," recalled Mary. "She had about every kind that would grow." There were pansies, peonies, flabs, hollyhocks, asters, foxgloves, pinks, bluebells, stocks and roses.

On the west side of the house, near where the flower garden traditionally was located, "Father planted a red cedar tree and there was a Persian Lilac that came from a slip from Grandmother Reed's farm a mile to the south," recalled Mary. There was also a tree lilac, white, early blooming and very old.

The porches were covered in flowers and vines, including morning glory, spice grape vines and castor beans at different time. Geraniums in hanging pots decorated the front porch, a favorite sitting place from which to watch people and the trolly pass by.

Woodbine climbed up one of the eastern stone walls of the house, and spiraea, forsythia and lily of the valley were on the east side. A large myrtle bed and a hedge of arborvitae finished off the vegetation on the west side of the stone house.

The city had expressed an interest in the property for several years and Mary and George Campbell decided to sell after the death of their older brother.

Looking back on the last few decades in the house -- after the farming ended -- Mary said she was glad that they had never done anything to "modernize" the building. They replaced and patched the stone work, but they never changed the lines of the structure. That makes it possible for an accurate rehabilitation job.

Mary and George miss the old farmhouse, but they've moved into another house in the country near Dexter, where, instead of the sound of tennis balls and cheerful whoops in the pool, they once again hear the mooing of cows and have the pleasure of tending a large vegetable and rose garden.

How Farmhouse Looked in 1903

The Ticknor-Campbell Farmhouse, owned by the city, is being talked about as a future Pioneer Farm Museum. The house is located on Packard Rd. adjacent to Buhr Park. The photograph is from 1903 and shows the old split-rail fence that used to be at the back of the yard leading to the pastures. This view of the western side shows the wooden wing and its porch which were built in 1845. Walls of the farm house are three feet thick.