The gardeners at Votrobeck have already had a busy season planting, weeding and teaching kids about mother nature. Something extra special happened during June and July 2015… It Takes A Village Garden raised $27,000+ through crowdfunding to finish creating the community gardens at the rear of the Votrobeck property. When the project is finished it will include a some unique features – a meadow, butterfly and rain gardens, edible wall, sunflower living room, gourd trellis [this is really cool] along with gazebo, raised beds, signage and bench seating. Click here for an informational video.
Founding Family Farmers
The pastures and barns owned by the Votrobeck family are long gone from northwest Detroit, yet their surname lives on at Seven Mile and Evergreen Road. The playground and street honoring their homestead lies within a renovated, gated apartment complex.
Back in the day, Detroit was a small town located near the Detroit River surrounded by outlying villages and townships. Joseph [1866-1937] and Anna Votrobeck [1868-1945] settled this northern area which would later be enveloped within Detroit’s border. Both came from Bohemian backgrounds; Joseph was born in Austria, while Anna was born in Michigan to Austrian parents. Joseph moved to Michigan from Iowa. They married in 1893.
Three daughters and one son rounded out the family – Dorothy, Frances, Rose and Joseph Francis. The children pursued higher education – the daughters became stenographers which could possibly be a paralegal, admin or legal secretary. Joseph graduated from University of MI in 1925; taught math and electronics at the Flint Community College and became a math professor at University of Detroit.
Contrary to what city publications list, the land for the Votrobeck playground was deeded to the City of Detroit solely by daughters Rose and Frances. It consisted of a 3 acre parcel with frontage on Seven Mile Road, Vassar Street and Evergreen Road. Letters written to the Detroit Parks and Recreation Dept. by the Votrobeck family indicate the presence of apartments adjacent to this property at the time of dedication in 1948.
A long while back, I visited this site on an early morning to find a lot of construction going on. The original flagpole dedicating the playground could be viewed from the side street; it sat in the middle of a mud pile. My friend graciously hopped the construction fence and navigated the mud. The original dedication plaque was gone.
Another stop over to Vassar Street in 2014, revealed a beautiful new playground residing in the middle of the renovated apartment complex. I chatted with a complex resident from outside the fence; she indicated she was pleased with the updates, but was unsure why her street had such a weird name.
Behind the complex is a newer gazebo, additional sun shelter, parking and a tract of land perfect for community gardens, picnicking or playing frisbee. The renovations are lovely. I think they would make the Votrobeck family proud – a little bit of country greenspace in the city and a perfect opportunity for a neighborhood family to make some good memories on that former playground.