as told to him by Mrs. Thomas Hilton, daughter of the late Dr. C. H. Gracey, developer of Foxcroft
According to Mrs. Hilton, none of those members of the Gracey family now living can remember exactly when it was that the good Doctor decided to develop a highly restricted planned subdivision or community. During the 1930's, from all reports, a family drive on Sunday afternoons became a Gracey tradition. On these expeditions Dr. Gracey always would turn into some residential area. His interest in residential styles and architectural design was remarkable. He would study these areas carefully, but he never seemed to be satisfied with what he saw. So very often, the Doctor would point out the lack of consistency of style and architecture which was so apparent to him, if not to the local residents themselves. The Doctor would say, and I quote, "In my judgment, there certainly is a great lack of enforceable restriction in this subdivision when those two houses were permitted to be built next to each other. It can readily be seen that any aesthetic value and / or excellence of style of either structure has been completely lost or offset by the proximity of the other building".
Dr. "G" was prone to taking snapshots of houses that appealed to him. His hobby was collecting books and magazines that featured home design. Everywhere he went he kept his eye peeled for houses of architectural excellence. He also collected individual pictures of fine architectural accents, such as lanterns, fences, shutters, flower boxes, wood and metal brackets and decorative exterior window "headers" or lintels. All such are a vital part of fine residential construction. The good Doctor apparently devoted untold hours and great quantities of energy to his hobby. Eventually, he developed a fine basic knowledge as well as a highly sophisticated appreciation for design and complex construction methods and practices of the various periods in residential architectural history ... also for the clean and uncluttered lines which are so significant in the contemporary design of our late Twentieth Century.
We understand that no one associated with Dr. Gracey was aware that he was even contemplating starting his own real estate development. To quote Mrs. Hilton, "None of us seems to remember exactly when Dr. Gracey first began to think of a planned subdivision, but I can remember, during Sunday afternoon drives as a rather young girl, he would be looking at houses. I think the reality of it began to take shape in his thinking when we lived on Wing Lake in a little brown bungalow, which was a house over 100 years old".
Mrs. Hilton develops her little saga as follows. “Yes, the little brown bungalow was surrounded by 12 acres of beautiful pasture land and in back of the bungalow was a lovely old barn built of fieldstone. We were told that the slots in the stone walls of the barn had been put there for the residents to use as gun emplacements in case of attack by unfriendly Indians."
Mrs. Hilton continues her story by telling us that her late father decided to make an offer to purchase this picturesque piece of property so that he could subdivide it into parcels or lots of approximately one acre each. His idea was to encourage each purchaser to build a small barn in order that he might keep at least one horse for his family's pleasure and enjoyment. It seems, according to Mrs. Hilton, that unfortunately or fortunately, depending on one's individual point of view, the owners of the property refused Dr. "G's" offer even though they liked his idea. It seems that they took the stand that "If he can do it, why not us?" However, for reasons unknown to this writer, there isn't any evidence of their having developed such an area on Wing Lake. We feel that the important point here is that their refusal of Dr. Gracey's offer proved to be, as is often the case, a "blessing in disguise". Yes indeed, we all have benefited from the fact that they didn't or wouldn't sell the property to Dr. "G". If their answer had been "yes", we doubt if any of us, or perhaps very few, would have been blessed with ownership of land in a place called Foxcroft.
According to Oakland County records, our development actually began at Maple Road and the two Surreys, East and West, as they separate our Lots A and B. The area we speak of is known as Foxcroft No. 1. The streets include the two Surreys, as well as Orchard Way. The record shows that the first lots were offered to the general public in 1937 and the first house was built in 1938. The address of the house to which we refer is 4200 East Surrey, facing Outlot B. It is a very authentic Cape Cod, complete with picket fence. In our opinion, it is rather hard to believe that this home actually is more than 40 years old (in 1987). To us it proves once again that when established architectural traditional lines are followed, the age of the structure is almost indiscernible without extensive investigation. It is our understanding that this home was sold again in 1978, even though more than 40 years old, for better than 10 times its original selling price. This rather interesting fact certainly shows the lasting value of properties in Foxcroft, as well as the constant value of all well-designed residential structures. An adage often used in the real estate business is that "the three most important factors in determining the value of property are location, location and location. Well, Foxcroft certainly is a prime location.
Yes indeed, Dr. "G" did have a dream, so to speak, and he did see it fulfilled during his lifetime. We must point out, however, that this beautiful dream would have died, in our opinion, were it not for the dedication and consecrated efforts of the various Association members, including the people who have served as president or in other offices, filling the chairs that comprise the Foxcroft Association structure.
From what we understand, Dr. Gracey had several other investors at first who helped him establish Foxcroft No. 1. Then, as Foxcroft Nos. 2, 3 and 4 were developed, he was able to handle things on his own, so to speak. He only sold lots to individuals who he felt really appreciated his concept of aesthetics and ideals as far as architecture was concerned. Of course. all proposed designs were inspected and approved by him and he insisted on such fine points as cedar shake shingle wood roofing material and basic traditional architecture in Foxcroft Nos. 1,2 and 3. He did, however, allow contemporary designs to be built in Foxcroft No. 4.
One of the facts that we are very proud of is that we have had, to the best of our knowledge, the highest concentration of artists and architects in the entire State of Michigan living in Foxcroft. The world-famous artist and illustrator, Robert Thom, who did the universally recognized "History of Medicine" series for the Parke-Davis Company and also the greatly admired "History of Michigan" series, as commissioned by Michigan Bell Telephone Company, had his studio on West Surrey in Foxcroft. In fact, he used local people, some of whom lived in Foxcroft, as models when creating his remarkable scenes. There is no doubt that people of taste are attracted to our little corner of the world.
Getting back to Mrs. Hilton's recollections, to quote her directly, "I don't know if anyone remembers that the land was quite flat, except for the ravine running through it. And no trees!" It seems that the good Doctor had considered several farms before he purchased the area near the corner of Maple and Telegraph Roads. He finally settled on this one.
To go on with our quotation, "Then, of course, started the hard work of planning it, putting in the roads, planting the trees on the cul-de-sacs and in other locations, putting up the fences around it...etc." Then Mrs. Hilton speaks further on how devoted Dr. Gracey was to this project, once he had found a suitable piece of property. "He worked in his dental office during the day, but his thoughts were mostly on what was going on out at Foxcroft. I can remember helping out in the office and at various times, between patients and even sometimes during their appointments, he would dash out to the phone to call Mr. Blenman, his lawyer, or someone else about this or that. My brother helped out weekends and summers, cutting the grass and watering the new trees daily. Dr. Gracey's brother, Frank, whom many will remember, worked hard too, but I believe there was someone before Frank who helped a great deal ... Ed Beatty".
Mrs. Hilton has told us that Dr. Gracey never really lived in Foxcroft. According to her, the Cape Cod we referred to earlier in Foxcroft No. 1 was built by Dr. "G" and sold at a rock-bottom price to a family by the name of Wolfston. The Doctor sold this house at such a low price in order to "get someone living in Foxcroft". It seems that he built several houses with the intention of moving into them but in each case someone would show an interest in the house and he would sell it before it was completed, or soon after.
We are familiar with two other houses which Dr. Gracey built. One is on Sandy Lane at Surrey. It is the two-story, Colonial-style, fieldstone-front house with the chimney on the front elevation. The rear yard elevation opens on the ravine. The other home we speak of is on the corner of Surrey Cross and West Surrey, No. 4220 Surrey Cross, which actually faces Outlot A at the Maple Road entrance to the subdivision.
At some point in time Mrs. Gracey moved into this home and was a resident there when we, Bob and Marie Hawkins, purchased our home site on Fieldston Court in 1963. At that time, we were required to submit any proposed construction plans to Mrs. Gracey for approval by the Foxcroft Improvement Association. A few years after that Mrs. "G" sold her home and moved into the nearby Foxcroft Apartments, which are located on Maple Road just east of our entrance. As a matter of clarification, the Foxcroft Apartments are in no way connected with our complex.
Some of the features of Foxcroft we believe should be mentioned follow. Number one, we would like to point out that presently, the business or management responsibilities of Foxcroft are handled by the non-profit Foxcroft Improvement Association, consisting of several officers and three directors. There are several committees as well. (See front of directory). The United Homeowners Association refers to a Bloomfield Township organization made up of representatives from various subdivision associations such as ours. The idea behind the United Homeowners is "United we stand; divided we fall". This unity has paid off many times. If one subdivision has a problem, legal advice and funds have been forthcoming from the entire group to help, for example.
The Building Plans Committee has the task of inspection of all proposed construction plans, no matter how simple or involved they may be. A plan must be submitted and approved before the Township will issue a building permit. Some have objected to this procedure on the basis that it is allowing the Association to dictate to the homeowner what he/she can or cannot do with his/her own property or investment. We have tried to point out, however, that all this committee is doing is enforcing existing restrictions. More importantly, said committee actually is keeping watch over all the area in order that property values may remain at the highest level possible in any current market.
Our former Foxcroft Garden Club, through its many projects over the years, did a great deal to enrich the entire complex, as its sole purpose was the beautification of the area. The Maintenance Committee has assumed much of the responsibility of the Garden Club. Several individual residents have also spent much time beautifying the rotaries and other common areas. Each Spring, the residents conduct a Spring "Clean-Up" day. There is a wonderful picnic in Foxcroft Commons after the clean up ends.
Our Hospitality Committee assumes the responsibility of welcoming new residents to Foxcroft, delivering a copy of the directory on behalf of the Association members.
Each month the Association publishes a little paper which is intended to bring all residents up-to-date on current subdivision projects, events and forthcoming activities. This paper is called the "Post Lantern". The Association also publishes and distributes to ail residents a Directory. The Directory includes names and addresses of all residents. It also includes a map of the subdivision with the address printed on each lot. With this map we may locate another address to determine exactly where it is in relation to our location. We have found this to be most helpful from time to time.
To continue with our description of the various features of our area, let me say that we feel these features really are part of the history because they were part of the original Gracey concept and they are a factor in the day-to-day experience of those living in Foxcroft.
We would like to insert here that in all other cases with which we are familiar, the prime purpose and intent of a subdivision developer has been to make money. It is true that Dr. "G" did turn a profit, but his main purpose was to create something of lasting beauty, an expression of true "soul", if you will -something for all to enjoy and especially those of fine architectural taste and appreciation, not just a development with gimmicks to attract dollars, such gimmicks then to be abandoned when all the lots have been sold.
Please allow me to continue to describe a few of the unusual features. As mentioned before, Mrs. Hilton described the raw farmland as being completely devoid of trees, with a ravine or two running through at various points. Of course, as everyone is aware, we now have many, many mature and beautiful trees and the ravines now have become part of the outlot system between Sandy Lane and Valley Forge and/or Crabtree. Another ravine has become an outlot between Meadow Way and Crabtree and / or Pomona Colony. We have a large area splitting East and West Surrey north of Orchard Way. This is the outlot known as Gracey Park.
The largest and most significant outlot, however, is bordered by Orchard Way, Crabtree and Telegraph. We feel that this outlot is the most important piece of property in Foxcroft. It is the Foxcroft Commons. It covers several acres of prime land. As in old New England, where every community had its common area, or as they referred to them, "The Commons", we too have our Commons. Ours also is the common meeting place for subdivision meetings and outdoor activities. We have swings, slides, a large fireplace, tables and a regulation tennis court.
For many, many years we had a full-time caretaker. His quarters were located on the Commons in a lovely little house. Attached to this house was a maintenance building which was complete with all equipment required to make and repair street and entrance signs. It also served as a sales office for home sites that were still available at that time. Also, various committee meetings were held there. This building was used for many years.
Finally, the Association decided that is was no longer practical to employ a full-time caretaker and the building seemed to require much more maintenance and expense each year, as it had not been constructed in standard way, foundation-wise. After much consideration and study, the building was disposed of. I remember how sad many of us felt, even though we knew that it was something that must be done. It seemed to us that a real part of Foxcroft had disappeared.
The symbol of Foxcroft is our Windmill, which one can find a bit north of center in the Commons. We might point out that Dr. "G" had great plans for the Commons. He had in mind building a stable, a craft or hobby shop and several other facilities for the residents to use. According to Mrs. Hilton, he did build the stable, but one night it caught fire and even though the horses were saved, the structure was a total loss. For some reason or other, he never did rebuild the stable. We understand that a bridle path was planned also (a bridle path, Shetland pony ring, shuffle-board courts, carriage house and other structures are shown on a drawing by Lawrence E. Smith, Landscape Architect, Birmingham, Mi., dated March 27, 1947). The good Doctor even looked forward to building a landing field for helicopters.
A minor, but pleasant feature of Foxcroft is the concentration of mailboxes in one location, preventing a cluttered or non-uniform look.
Well, we have covered a great deal of the history of our "little patch of God's green earth". No doubt we could go on and on, but at least we have touched the highlights. We do hope that if you already are a resident of Foxcroft, we have inspired you a little to appreciate your community a wee bit more, and if you are a visitor or a newcomer, that you will gain a respect for our area and for those who have created it.
The above was written by Robt. Hawkins in 1983 to express "heartfelt gratitude to the late Clayton Gracey, D.D.S. for his fortitude and progressive attitude, as well as his deep appreciation for the aesthetics of landscape and architecture". Mr. Hawkins goes on to "thank all of the residents, past, present and future, for their remittance of the yearly Foxcroft Improvement Association dues" ... without which "Foxcroft would very quickly fall into disrepair, as many fine residential developments have done". Also, he wrote the narrative "Perhaps because my dear wife and family, as well as I, have always loved this little patch of God's green and rolling bit of terra firma we proudly call home".
THE STORY OF THE "RANCH" DESIGN HOUSE IN MICHIGAN
Have you ever wondered why the one story house that is built with the widest dimension toward the street is usually referred to as a "ranch"? Here is the history behind it. In 1930, as the great depression was deepening, two experienced builders, Harry J. Durbin and Merle Wm. Hogan, formed a partnership dedicated to building custom designed houses in the Metro-Detroit area. They built a few very large houses in the Palmer Woods area of Detroit, even though at that time most building companies went bankrupted 1930's, leaving many streets of lots with public utilities in place vacant.
Two things happened in 1935: the so-called "New Deal" program of the federal government. This put the F.H.A. or Federal Housing Administration into effect... "a real shot in the arm" for residential builders and set the stage for a great boom in the home building industry. Something else happened in 1935 ... Mr. Hogan purchased a new Ford Sedan and decided to have an extended vacation by driving cross country to California.
He visited several areas in California and parts of Mexico and Arizona. He was very much impressed by the residential styles of the great Southwest and especially the houses on the large ranch-estates he saw along the way. He told me (Bob Hawkins) he was determined to build a "Ranch House" for himself when he returned.
Mr. Hogan built his house, incorporating unique design ideas. He combined two 35 ft. lots and attached the garage to the house, something almost unheard of 1935. The living room was sunken and the roof made of slate. The construction cost was $6,500. Mr. Hogan held the house open for one year before moving in. His ads read "Come and see the "RANCH HOUSE". Many ranch houses were then built by the Harry J. Durbin Company. One of them is at 4224 Orchard Way, in Foxcroft, built in 1940.
'Editor's note: Mr. and Mrs. Hawkins moved to a condominium in Texas as of June, 1996. Mr. Hawkins first became enamored of Foxcroft when the construction firm he was working for in 1940, the Durbin Company, built the lovely ranch-style home at the corner of West Surrey and Orchard Way. In 1965 he designed and built his own Foxcroft home. His caring participation in our community is much appreciated.