Palmer Park is a wellspring of memories and stories
Once it was an ancient Native American sacred center. In the 1800s, it was a rural retreat for senators, mystics, and early Detroit leaders and philanthropists.
Treasured as a public park for more than 125 years, it has been the site for magical memories, stories and experiences for children, who played and explored there, and their families. Once it was thriving and beautifully maintained — with waterfalls, wishing wells, lakes, a 1908 million dollar marble fountain, hiking trails, ponds for fishing and ice skating, orchards, flower gardens, wildlife, casino and log cabin from the 1800s — but fewer and fewer remember those days, as the park has suffered from neglect and lack of city funds to maintain it.
What do YOU remember?
Share your memories with us firstname.lastname@example.org and help us capture those experiences. If you are willing to be interviewed in person, please let us know because we hope to have an oral history project spin off from this. We want memories of the Park from elders and youngsters of all ages so we can collect your stories to help guide and inspire us as we restore, revitalize and re-create Palmer Park.
"We have been a 45+ year resident of this community and have not ever during those years seen sooooo much done sooooo quickly!!!! What an impact your organization has made to the neighborhood. THANK YOU." ~David/Shirley Northcross
"I have a memory if I am not mistaken of my father conducting a band concert in the park — dad was Herbert Couf — former principal clarinetist with the DSO in the 1950 and early 1960’s. Take subsequently owned Royal Music Center in Royal Oak. I believe he conducted concerts in Detroit Parks with Detroit Concert Band. Does anyone have any history on this? As I recall they were set in a large bandshell and extremely well attended. It was magical!"—Karen Couf Cohen (April 29, 2014)
"I grew up in Highland Park in the 70’s-80’s, 1 block south of McNichols between Third & Hamilton. Palmer Park was our everything. Baseball field, football practice, basketball courts, swimming pool, playground, tennis courts, pond for feeding the ducks popcorn from the refreshment stand in the summer and ice skating in the winter warming afterwards with hot chocolate. Navigating the trails, riding our bikes on suicide hill (at least that what we called it behind the maintenance garages, watching night softball games, you name it, we did it there – everyday!And Theresa, yes I do remember the Fish Sandwich man! LOL. I am extremely encouraged with the resurgence and would like to lend a hand whenever possible to do so."—Kevin Waterman (February 4, 2014)
"I grew up in Highland Park in the 50’s and 60’s. Palmer Park was a central part of my childhood. I remember using the tennis courts, playing shuffle board, and watching the softball games. I think my first model boat was launched on the pond and I remember the miniature castle at the far end.
Palmer Park is real gem. In Virginia where I have lived since the mid 70’s the state manages to fund many parks through fees, and leasing arrangements with utilities. For example, the W&OD bike trail, which I ride frequently is funded in large part by utilities running underground cables in the area on either side of the trail. Of course I would not mind paying for the use of the trail.
As I recall, when I first visited Palmer Park in the early 50’s there was a large concession stand on the pond. I can’t remember when it was torn down. I think the best way to fund and maintain most parks for the benefit of the users is to be creative with development and commercial interests as well as charging fees when it is necessary." —Samuel B (October 25, 2013)
"In the 1960’s, we used to visit my grandmother who lived in the now Covington Lodge apartments on Covington. We just had to cross the street into Palmer Park. I loved to ice skate in the pond by the cabin and feed the Canada Geese that had a heated pond. I also enjoyed watching the fox squirrels. I remember watching the Tigers practice game in the park with my normally quiet grandmother who shouted and whistled." —Sharon Joyce (October 5, 2013)
"My memories would be from the late 1940’s. My mother and I would go to Palmer Park for picnics and a carriage ride. She had a childhood friend who was a Detroit Mounted Police Officer and he would sometimes ride beside the carriage. We probably took a bus to get there, because we lived in Ferndale. It was a wonderful time in my early life."—Janet (June 19, 2013)
"...my playmates, family and friends enjoyed ice skating in the pond near the Historic Log Cabin. The free ice cream guided tours of the cabin, square dancing, period customes, storytelling and bicycle raffles are wonderful ways to celebrate Palmer Park’s 125 year old historic log cabin."—Verne Brown (May 16, 2013)
"My mother’s family, the Grix family,left Germany in the 1870s to avoid the draft and came to Detroit where they purchased rural farm land. That farmland was located between what is now John R and Woodward, Six and Seven Mile road across the street from Senator Palmer’s property now known as Palmer Park Remnants of their time farming the land can be found in the current street names, Grixdale, and Hildale (a cousin) There was enough land for 6 of the seven brothers to farm and have homes but not enough for the youngest, my grandfather who settled in the city a block from the river (now the site of the Riverwalk carousel). My mother used to take the interurban train out Woodward avenue to visit her “country cousins.” Since they were neighbors, her uncles knew Senator Palmer very well. In fact, when he died, they served as pall bearers at his funeral." --Mary Anne M. Helveston (September 18, 2012)
"I caught the Davison bus to Woodward and the Woodward bus to the park because all the tennis players had started playing there. I would cry on the days it would rain because I could not play tennis. I was 15 years old and we played on court 9. I was taken in by the players at the park who helped me become better. I remember the tennis courts being so crowded that there was a Detroit Rec attendant housed in a booth who would give out permits for an hour. Because we were regulars he just gave us one for Court No. 9 for the whole time we were there. We had clout. I played from 9am to 12am during the summer. We had lights then. We ate at Ted's on the Park across the street. I could say a lot more, but I will put it in my novel. Palmer Park Tennis Courts to this day is my happy place."—Lee (September 13, 2012)
"My parents managed an apartment that was at the end of Manderson Rd., right next to the park. I always loved going to the park and seeing the log cabin. After my children were born, I always took them to the park. At that time, there would be musical concerts in the park. Everyone would bring their blankets or lawn chairs and listen to the concert. It was a wonderful place to spend hot summer nights sitting on a blanket and enjoying the cool breeze from the trees. My parents moved there in the 1950’s." —Nancy Pattullo (September 12, 2012)
"I remember Sundays full of softball, laughter and waiting for someone to knock it outa the park on to Woodward and dont forget the Fish sandwich man … with his smile and story …..! Any other day but Sunday enjoying a Few Dutch Girl Donuts in the park! It Is a beautiful place, families playing tennis, walking and riding bikes in the park. Palmer Park just needs some TLC and People to appreciate it all its History. Its one more pf Detroit’s last diamonds in the ruff!"—Theresa Mackay (September 12, 2012)