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Historical events uncover Novi and Walled Lake’s past

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October 14th, 2016
The roller coaster at the now-shuttered Walled Lake Amusement Park brings back warm memories for Fox Run residents and Novi locals, many of whom frequently visited the park in its heyday.

The roller coaster at the now-shuttered Walled Lake Amusement Park brings back warm memories for Fox Run residents and Novi locals, many of whom frequently visited the park in its heyday.

Novi, Mich., is a great place to live today, and when you look into the city’s past, you can uncover all kinds of rich history. 

Those stories inspired Fox Run residents Marianne Balding and Nancy March to put together a three-part series of events about the history of Novi and nearby Walled Lake.

Of course, one of the most romantic chapters of local history is the Walled Lake Amusement Park. The first event, held in August at Fox Run in Novi, focused on the park and its past. 

“We were at a restaurant across from where the amusement park was, and all of these memories kept coming back about the rides and dancing to live bands, and I thought this would be a wonderful topic for an event,” says Nancy, who was born and raised in Detroit. 

“I loved the roller coaster, and that is where I had my first speedboat ride—I think they cost 15 cents back then,” she recalls. “In my dating years, I would go dancing there in the late 40s and 50s.”

Historical perspective

Michigan State Representative Kathy Crawford (R–38th), chairwoman of the Novi Historical Commission and a Novi native, headlined the first event. Crawford spoke at Fox Run about the history and magic of Walled Lake Amusement Park and Casino in its heyday. 

She talked about the amusement rides, the large speedboats, and the boardwalk. She shared stories about big bands, like Tommy Dorsey, and Stevie Wonder, who performed at the casino, which was a large dance hall, not a spot for gambling.

To help bring residents’ memories of the special place back to life, Crawford brought along artifacts that were uncovered when the site of the former amusement park was excavated to make way for the current Pavilion Shore Park, located just west of Fox Run. 

Some of the items Crawford displayed included broken tile from the bathhouses as well as bathhouse tags, which were hooked onto bathing suits indicating personal baskets in the bathhouse. During the interactive presentation, residents reminisced together about time they spent at the historical park.

“One of my favorite memories of the Walled Lake Amusement Park was the ‘House of Mirrors,’ which completely distorted your reflection, making you very short and squatty or long and lean—that seemed so magical to me,” Crawford says. “It would be impossible for me to think of the park, however, without imagining the wonderful tantalizing smell of cotton candy being made before your very eyes. It was hypnotizing to watch all of the colors being added and smelling that warm sugar being fluffed.”

Walled Lake was a popular weekend and vacation destination for people from the Detroit area and beyond. Families could rent cottages on the lake or camp at what is now Pavilion Shore Park. Companies like Ford and GM often hosted annual picnics there, and big-name performers were common at the casino.

“There was something on the property for everyone, no matter the age—fishing, swimming, boating, amusement park rides, contests of strength such as tug-of-war competitions between large regional companies, picnics, camping, music, dancing, a roller skating rink, and more,” Crawford says. 

Celebrating local business

In conjunction with Crawford’s presentation, Marianne and Nancy wanted to highlight family-owned businesses that are important in the area. They invited Guernsey Farms Dairy to put on an ice cream social after Crawford’s talk. 

“They are going to bring a server, scoop it up, and serve ice cream in cups,” Nancy said before the event. “They will have literature, and people can ask questions about the company.”

The second presentation in the series took place in September and focused on the development of Novi from farmland into a modern-day town. 

Roy Prentice, the farm manager of nearby Tollgate Farms and Education Center, was scheduled to speak at the event. 

“He is also going to talk about the development of Tollgate Farms and the connection with Michigan State University,” Marianne said in August.

Digging up the past

Marianne and Nancy researched and read extensively about Novi to choose topics for each event. 

Marianne says the aspect of local history that she finds most fascinating is the Native Americans who originally lived on the land, which will be the focus of the third event in the series in October. 

Fox Run Associate Executive Director Fred Moschetta, a local history buff, will lead that presentation. 

In the course of their research, Nancy and Marianne connected with some long-time Novi residents who gave them a lot of information about the Potawatomi Indians who used to live in the area. 

“They told us that they were excavating a nearby park and were talking about building a high-rise, and locals were fighting that,” Marianne says. “They found bones with leather wrapped around them, and realized it was burial ground, so they stopped the plans for a high-rise, and now it is Pavilion Shore Park.”

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