Plymouth Colony Farms

The History

Plymouth, Michigan, USA - The year was 1824. It was the year in which the United States Government set the stage for the founding of a new community in the wilderness by selling the first piece of property in what was to become Plymouth Township, Michigan.

On February 26, 1827 a small group of settlers met at the home of John Tibbits, on North Territorial Road just west of Beck, to select the official name for the community. First choice of those assembled was LeRoy according to A.B. Markham, secretary for the meeting. However, if this name had been appropriated by another town, then Plymouth was to be the name.

The name Plymouth was proposed by William Bartow who later became the first Supervisor of the Township. Bartow declared that the name Plymouth was "more historical and patriotic" than others proposed at the time, and, he added, many of the first settlers had come from families who had lived near Plymouth Rock, in Massachusetts. Plymouth it was.

Territorial Governor Lewis Cass approved the name in April, 1827. Plymouth then became the official name of a super-sized township comprising what are now Plymouth, Canton, and Northville Townships. The southern part of the area (township two south) was called "South Plymouth." It became a separate township, Canton, in 1834. The northern part of the original Plymouth Township became a separate entity when Northville Township was spun off in 1898, making Plymouth Township only one-quarter as large as when first established. The Village of Plymouth was incorporated in 1867.

The name "Plymouth" chosen 169 years ago by a small group of settlers has played a major role in shaping the architectural, commercial and social character of the area. The colonial style of the banks and store fronts; the merchandising themes adopted by local commerce; the name of the hotel; and names of the real estate subdivisions all reflect the influence of the community's name.

Plymouth Colony Farms - In 1927 Ralph H. Pino, a prominent Detroit ophthalmologist, began to acquire property in Plymouth Township. That year he purchased 34 acres which in 1941 would become known as Plymouth Colony Farms. He envisioned his enterprise to become a cooperative program of work, recreation and education for the people living on the Farm. In 1943 he acquired an additional 50 acres adjoining the original 34, and then in 1947 he purchased 8 additional acres to bring the total acreage to 92.

One of Pino's goals in developing the Colony, in the late 1930's and early 1940's, was to create a "vertical" weaving industry which would provide a living and working experience for shepherds, weavers, fabric designers, interior decorators, distributors, and their families.

The first structure to be erected on the land was a log cabin located in the southwest portion of the property. This cabin was named after Henry David Thoreau who, as we all know, was a lover of nature as was Dr. Pino. Pino initially used this cabin for outings on the property traveling from his home in Detroit. Years later, he allowed local boys to utilize the cabin for campouts on the property.

Pino was a great admirer of American literature, as evidenced by the naming of the log cabin, and named each of the three houses he had built on the Farm after Ralph Waldo Emerson, Walt Whitman, and Oliver Wendell Holmes. These homes were built in the mid-1930's by local laborers and farmers including Jake (Joe) Brink and William (Bill) Fehlig. Two of the three homes still stand today and are located at 9630 Pino Court (Ralph Waldo Emerson) and 9495 Bradford Court (Oliver Wendell Holmes). The third was located at what is not 9433 Bradford Court (Walt Whitman) and served as the office of Normal L. Dietrich Associates and Steward C. Oldford, the architect and developer, respectfully, who designed the built the current Subdivision in the early 1970's. Later it became a sales office for the real estate firm selling the lots within the subdivision. The Township required this structure to be torn down as it did not meet the minimum size requirements at the time. It was razed in 1973 to allow construction of the current home on that site.

Two other structures also exist today, the pump house and barn. The stone pump house, located at 9455 Bradford Court, provided a supply of water to the three homes and barn located on the Farm. The pump continued in operation supplying water to the barn until the early 1980's at which time the barn was connected to the Township's water supply. The barn was retained as common property and converted into the Colony Farms Meeting House.

There were several outbuildings also on the Farm located to the southwest of the Walt Whitman house. The outbuildings were razed around 1975 to make way for construction on lots 2 and 3.

Anticipating the need of a water source for the crops and animals, Pino began excavation of a pond located south of the existing structures where Willow and Schultz creeks flowed through the property. As Plymouth Colony Farms was not mechanized, the pond was dug using animal and human power. Dr. Pino enlisted the help of Joe Brink and Bill Fehlig, among others, to undertake this enormous task. The beautiful result is the existence of Walden Pond named in honor of Thoreau, the New England nature lover, who made his pond in Massachusetts famous through his experiments in hermit-like living in the 1850's.

Before he started the weaving enterprise, Pino began to farm the property hiring local farmers to help him manage the work on the Farm. The first farmer he hired was Joe Brink who later owned and operated his own farm and farm market (Brink's Family Farm Market) just to the west of the current entrance to Plymouth Colony Farms, now Ridgewood Hills Subdivision. In the early days of the Farm crops were primarily limited to produce, including both fruit and vegetables. A large fruit orchard, primarily peaches and apples, stood between the three homes and produced fruit for at least 30 years. Several of the original trees are still alive today.

The weaving industry began on the Farm in 1947 and became known as the "Division of Weaving Shops" and was initially located in the Walt Whitman house and later moved to the Ralph Waldo Emerson house. In December 1948 a herd of Karakul sheep arrived on the farm. These sheep were to supply some of the wool that was used in the hand looming shops to create made to order items including place mats and napkins, towels, hand woven aprons, baby blankets, auto blankets , and scarves. In 1949, fine table linens made on the Farm were exhibited at J.L. Hudson's in downtown Detroit and by 1950 Hudson's began to advertise products made at the Farm's weaving shops. In 1953 Karl Laurell, director of the weaving shops, and Delores DeMaria, employed at the shops, won top fabric awards in the annual design competition of the American Institute of Decorators. An article published on April 26, 1953 in the Detroit Free Press reported that some of the countries best high-style fabrics were being woven on the five hand looms in the Farm's studio.

Also in 1953, Pino built a roadside market on the south side of Ann Arbor Road just east of the intersection of An Arbor Trail and Ann Arbor Road. This stand initially sold produce grown on the Farm until the demand exceeded what the Farm was capable of producing at which time he began to sell produce grown on other area farms. His vision was to build a restaurant and shops in which dished popular in the Colony could be served and the items produced in the shops could be displayed and sold. This never materialized and the building closed over a midst of controversy. The Township had notified Pino that the area was not zoned for retail sales and he would have to cease selling items other than those produced on the Farm. This angered D. Pino so he closed the building entirely. It is said that this fine looking building, which stood empty for a number of years, was razed when Ann Arbor Road was widened. However, some of the early settlers in the current Colony Farms Subdivision indicated that it was was moved to eh house and property located on the northwest corner of Ann Arbor Trail and Beck known as Stonecrest. There is a building located just west of Beck on that property which very strongly resembles Pino's original building. We have not yet been able to verify this fact.

It was about this time, circa 1953, that Pino realized the Farm was costing him more money than he could afford. This in conjunction with the argument with the Township resulted in the closing of the weaving operation bringing to a halt his experiment in the weaving industry.

In 1957 Pino was approached by the Mayor of Plymouth and the conductor of the Plymouth Symphony Orchestra who requested the use of the Farm for a series of outdoor summer concerts. The terrain and atmosphere at the Farm were ideal for open air concerts. The terrain and atmosphere at the Farm were ideal for open air concerts. Adjacent to the pond was a natural amphitheater, formed by a grassy slope which ran down to the willow-bordered body of water known as Walden Pond.

When Pino invited the orchestra to use the property, supporters of the orchestra immediately went to the work to build a bandstand beside the pond. Volunteer workers gave up their weekends to drive piles, install flooring and erect a canvas canopy to serve as a sound reflector.

The venture was an outstanding success. Appreciative audiences enjoyed the pastoral scenery as well as the symphonic music. It is said that some performances drew crowds exceeding 2,000. Eventually, however, the Colony Concerts came to an end when the Symphony Society, faced with a financial choice between regular season and summer concerts, chose the former. The three-year summer interlude was enjoyed by those who were fortunate to have attended the outdoor performances.

Dr. Pino retired from practice in 1959 and made the Farm his permanent residence and continued working the farm until he sold the property to Stewart Oldford in 1969. Oldford developed the property into what is today, the beautiful Plymouth Colony Farms Subdivision. Ralph H. Pino died in 1977 at the age of 88.

Plymouth Colony Farms Subdivision - The Plymouth Colony Farms Subdivision Association was incorporated as a Non-Profit Corporation on January 29, 1973 by Stewart C. Oldford, Howard A. Oldford and Patricia Ann Dusincki. Their first meeting was held on February 9, 1973 for the purpose of adopting the By-laws relating to the business of the Corporation, the conduct of its affairs, its rights and powers, and the rights and powers of its Shareholders, Directors, and Officers. The By-laws of the Association were adopted at that meeting. The first meeting of the Association Board of Directors was held on November 10, 1974.

Of note is that pursuant to statutory requirements at the time Colony Farms Subdivision was platted the Michigan Department of Natural Resources established a 100 year flood plain for the artificial pond located on lot 41. This fact became extremely important for development west and northwest of Colony Farms.

Of historical significance is that the first order of business for the Association Board was to standardize the mailboxes and mailbox posts in Colony Farms for a "uniform, attractive appearance which would result in a handsome addition to the Subdivision." Other early business involved appointing the Architectural Committee to oversee the building of homes within the Subdivision.

The first annual meeting of the Association was to be held on March 17, 1977 to elect a Board of Directors from among the members to govern the affairs of the Association. However, the meeting notice was dated March 10, 1977 which was not incompliance with Article III, Section II of the Article's of Incorporation which requires in as much as 10 days notice. The meeting was rescheduled and held on March 24, 1977. It was on this date that Stewart C. Oldford, Howard A. Oldford and Janet M. Police resigned as officers of the Association and Robert Graham, Walter Menard and John Murphy were elected to the Board of Director. This Board was very instrumental in not allowing a commercial development to be built to the property directly to the west of the Subdivision.

Over the years considerable effort has been expended by the Board to lower the speed limit on Ann Arbor Road and enforce the speed limit on Colony Farm Drive. On July 17, 1987 a four way stop was approved for the corner of Colony Farm Drive and Thoreau Drive, however to date the effort to reduce the speed limit on Ann Arbor Road has been futile. In addition, the extension of Thoreau Drive to the west into the Quail Run Subdivision was not granted by the Township in 1987.

In 1985, and before and after, there was considerable discussion and debate over "what to do with the barn." At one point in time there was even discussion about tearing it down. Fortunately, our leaders and residents at the time felt that the barn was a unique feature of the Subdivision and the necessary repairs were completed.


Compiled by David Wright with the assistance of:

Personal Communication :

Bill Fehlig

Michael Bailey: Dietrich, Bailey and Associates

Bruce Richards, Plymouth Historical Museum

Barbara and Kenneth Reuther

A series of articles published by Sam Hudson in the Plymouth Observer on:

November 22, 1979

November 29, 1979

December 6, 1979

March 19, 1996