New Leaves

Clawson, MI

Clawson 1953

Sep 15, 2017 by Bonnie

I am hoping to share, each week, a little of my personal history of growing up in Clawson, Michigan.

 Our first home was in Berkley, Michigan, where Mom and Dad built a small 2-bedroom house on Ellwood, taking advantage of the new GI loans available to servicemen returning from World War 2.  For some reason, two-bedroom houses were popular then, but in 1953, with their third child on the way, Mom and Dad decided to sell and move to Clawson. I was six and my brother Garry was four. 

We had often visited Clawson Park to play, and when Mom and Dad (George and Madalynne Gardner) saw that new houses were going up all around the park, they thought that it would be nice to live nearby, so that we children would have easy access. At that time, there were only a few homes on Knollwood. The Shearers lived on the corner at 160, the Ryan family lived at 150, and 140 was the model for the new houses that would soon fill up the rest of the street. At the other end of the street were the Moses and Menzies families. There were not yet houses on the south side of the street. They are a little different than the ones on the north, and may have been built by a different developer. I’d appreciate feedback and memories from anyone who remembers this time in Knollwood’s history. 

Nana Doten In Kitchen at Knollwood

Mom and Dad bought the home at 140, and we loved it. It was the essence of mid-century modern. The walls in the living area were gray, and the tile in the kitchen was yellow with birch cabinets and a yellow and gray linoleum on the floor. There was room for a chrome kitchen table and chairs in the kitchen. I’m now using that table for a desk in my own home in Tennessee. Fortunately the bathroom tile was gray, which made it more timeless. We used to go in and see how the house was progressing. Before the moldings were put on the closets, we signed our names on the wall underneath. They’re probably still there! Soon it was moving day. We needed to get in before the baby came in December! Garry and I were excited! Not only were we getting a new house, we were getting a new sibling! 

It was an exciting time! We quickly became friends will all the Ryan kids next door and the Moses family down the street. We all spent hours each day in the park, which was much more interesting than it is today. It was more primitive, and left more scope for imagination. We loved playing cowboys and Indians. Old fallen logs with worm markings on the wood became Indian carvings. The boys had their toy cap guns so they wanted to be the cowboys. We girls could more easily make headdresses to be Indians. 

The park also provided a place to ride our bikes. The ground wasn’t level, especially along Elmwood. There was a gully running parallel to Elmwood, and we called it The Hills. We would ride down into the gully and back up the other side in several places that we numbered. Hills #1 and #2 were easy, but #3 an #4 were much harder to navigate. Behind the park, past the ball fields, there was an wild area where Schalm school is today. We caught pollywogs in the creek and brought them home to watch them grow into little brown toads. Of course, when they finally got their legs, they would often jump out of their tank and move on to more natural spaces. 

Garry remembers that Clawson park had abundant wildflowers and he found some morel mushrooms there once. There were also a lot of trees good for climbing - mostly beech trees with a very smooth bark. He remembers one tree that was broken off part way up and one day when he climbed to the top there was a raccoon nested in the hollow top. He ran home and told Nana that he had seen a 'coon in the tree and she told him it wasn't nice to call people that name.

Washington street was not yet paved. The city would periodically spray it with oil (used motor oil?) to keep the dust down. On all the intersecting streets the people who lived in the first three houses off Washington had to pay $5 each to cover the cost of the oil. 


In December of 1953 our sister Dottie was born, and occupied the crib in Mom and Dad’s room until the next baby came along. She was a beautiful baby, with long dark eyelashes and dark hair. As babies, Garry and I had been bald, so we were in awe over our little sister. Shelly Ryan was born around the same time, which made four children for the Ryans. Jimmy was my age. Cathy was a year older than Garry and Betsy was a year younger than Garry. Mary Jane and Jimmy Moses were also near our ages. In the winter, we would all play in our basement or Ryans’. And sometimes the city would flood part of the extension of Knollwood (planned as a second and third block of homes, but never built) as an ice rink. We could skate right at the end of the street! We were very pleased with our new home and neighborhood!