GROWING UP NORTHVIEW
(Brother Mike on the left. Me at the end of the bench. 2yrs.)
While making notes on growing up on 5 mile road I happened upon some aerial photographs of Plainfield Twp from 1960.
I’m guessing the maps are from a bit earlier since construction began on Northview High School in ’59 yet the map shows none. My aunt Nora lived with us from the time she was 15 until almost graduated. She bussed to Rockford High School until Northview H.S. was completed then she became the first 10th grade class to graduate from the new school. I am still amazed, though, at how much was not here around 1960! Much of our little township was still undeveloped. Northeast of Dean Lake was field and woods with the exception of the Plainfield Avenue corridor. 5 mile road just shows the few small houses along that road and none of the neighborhoods that came up soon after; Northville drive, Bonanza & Bonneville, Chandy, Crisfield & Hackley, (which incidentally was called the Plainfield Highlands Plat).
My earliest memories of home have me sledding down Mike DeYoung’s hill on Bonanza; and Bonneville only going back to where the two roads reconnect. Highlands Middle School was a vacant field and Chandy, if it existed, didn’t go back very far past the Feist’s house. Looking down 5 mile from Plainfield Avenue we lived at the highest point one could see of the road. All along both sides massive oak trees lined the road and spread a canopy of branches and leaves that almost touched. Behind us, to the north, lay a stretch of woods that, in later years would contain my neighbor Mr, VanStee’s (Uncle Dale’s) narrow gauge hobby train track, but now, the woods being relatively young, we could watch the movie at the Drive-In through the upstairs window of our house. Much of 5 mile and the connecting neighborhoods was surrounded by large tracts of land that lay undisturbed by car or plow, but houses kept going up and businesses kept expanding out from Grand Rapids proper along Plainfield and down where the beltline crossed the Grand River and became Northland drive, so there was an exciting mixture of rural and suburban life that coexisted for a while until suburbia enveloped the area as commercial and residential growth always does. This is probably why I have always enjoyed open spaces, trails and woods. 5 mile was still very open. Large tracts of land were still owned by individuals and families with ties to farming and fruit growing like the Robinettes. East of the Beltline 5mile was a dirt road that went back some way until it became a two-track through the woods down to Grand River drive. My folks bought their little house (25×25) around ’58. With no basement and only an attic space for sleeping it didn’t take long for us to grow out of this tiny home. Mike, Shannon and I slept on narrow wooden beds squeezed into the north end of the attic while, around the tight staircase that twisted down to the main floor, my folks found room for a queen, two cribs for Kelly and Denise, and dressers for everybody on the south end. The driveway of our little house was just a two-track path that ran diagonal across our front yard.
I remember we had two wagon wheels half sunk in the ground on either side of the drive. At times my dad would repaint the flat steel tire and axle band black and the wood wheel and spokes white. Across the street the Dempsey’s had a large family garden with massive rhubarb plants that begged for me to break off a stalk to chew on as I made my way through Mr. Hansen’s plot next door. Mr. Hansen was mysterious and unfriendly (to a seven year old). His plot was a two-track meandering back into the brush with some plantings and fruit trees. He had chickens and coops but there was no house. He also brought all sorts of interesting things to store in rows; old appliances, boxes of car parts and other brick-a-brack. Apparently nothing of interest to kids because I never felt induced to take anything. A little further down the road lived my friend Sandren Schollaart. Sandy’s folks had a small barn with a few animals and Mr. Schollaart worked a job as well. Looking back this seemed typical to the area. There was a blending of old world and new; rural and suburb. I remember Sandy and I getting switched, (at least I got switched) for taking money from our homes and walking up to Plainfield where we loaded up on snacks from the vending machine of the gas station on the corner opposite the fire barn. The gas station is long gone and a succession of convenience stores have come and gone as well. The library used to be housed in a strip of offices Just beyond the fire barn where Jayne Dykema’s law offices now reside. My love for books began there with The Black Stallion series. Summers would find me down by the ponds at the bottom of the hill (where the library now stands) where sometimes my mom would pack a picnic lunch for us and we’d pick the indian paint brushes as a bouquet and separate the snake grass into small piles.
Polliwogs would be caught in jars so we could watch them turn into frogs, and blue and purple bodied dragonflies would light on toes, shoulders, and fingers. Forts were built, fruit trees ravaged, feet froze in shoes wrapped in bread bags inside black rubber galoshes with metal buckles. Mike Foster, Mike DeYoung, Dennis Wilson, Joe Mark, Sandy Schollaart, all within shouting distance or a quick walk. Buck Barry lived just down the road, his horse Thunder waiting in his corral for young hands to stroke his mane or offer sugar. There must have been furious residential growth in the early sixties as the neighborhoods sprung up quickly through field and wood. By ’67 we had to move to my grandma’s house on Carleton off 4 mile for a couple years while my folks figured out whether to buy or build. During this time 5 mile was widened to make way for increased traffic to the new North Kent Mall and our new house was built on the existing lot we owned. Business sprung up everywhere and open spaces closed in. Even now 5 mile is changed…and yet has stayed the same. Most of the old neighborhood is still there along with some new. Familiar houses and lots still unchanged next to new houses and complexes. I think of myself as a boy here, running through woods, building treehouses and camps complete with smoky fireplaces, Fields and ponds to explore, and friends to find adventure with. Northview started with us. We are Northview.