Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Tiles revealed

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The Tiles, now painted white, is in the center of the map just off River Valley Drive. McLaren Hospital is to the east.

Gerry Godin solves the mystery of The Tiles:

"This was where you went to prove your bravery in the '60s.

"My friends and I were not that stupid; if you fell off while crossing you would either kill yourself or be maimed for life.

This was the main sewer line for the city of Flint running all the way to the waste treatment plant located off Beecher Road. There is now a subdivision located next to the Black pipe, but this was all field in the '60s. I've recently seen a picture of it but can't remember where. We always heard the legend about the kid who crossed it on a bike but that would have been impossible due to the large joints which protruded outward. I walked out about twenty feet on it before turning back, so I guess I was a little ignorant.

"As far as exploring the city sewers, that was easy — just find the outlet and crawl in and follow it until you had enough. I got chewed out for this because a neighbor kid broke out in hives because he had claustrophobia. I even set up a camp in one junction line near Flushing road. When we found this spot it looked like a homeless person (called bums then) had left their dirty magazines behind. The woman who just died in that trailer fire off Pasedena in Flint who was wheelchair bound was one of our group. Her name was Judy VanHouten. We used her "Give A Show Projector" to light our way and also show an occasional slide show.

"The farthest we ever got going up the sewer lines was about a half mile because straddling the flowing water and being bent over was rough even for a kid. In some locations near the Eldorado Vista subdivision, you could actually see into people's basements. Can you imagine looking into you drain in your basement and see someone looking back? Some city friends said there was a larger entrance near the Chevy plant that you could even ride your bike into but I never seen it.

"We used to get there by going west beyond the church across from McLaren hospital but it can now be reached through the subdivision off of Beecher Road."


  1. Great story! I never knew you could actually go inside them, though if I had I probably never would have ventured into or out on top of one of them. This is off the subject, but I wonder if Eric Koziol ever had a Give A Show Projector....

  2. Tried to post this a few days ago, but no go. Maybe it was nixed on purpose...

    Black Tiles (Tiles? Can somebody explain that one to me?) is behind the Greek Orthodox Church on the south bank of the mighty Flint. I walked across the pipe (if I recall correctly there were actually two parallel pipes) a number of times. It crossed a very steep and deep ravine. If you fall you're dead meat.

    The area seems topographically unique for Mid-Michigan. Squint and you'd swear you were in the UP. I never discovered the entrance to the large drain, but I doubt I would have explored much after reading about the 3 kids who drowned in Kearsley Park back in the late 80s.

    I wonder if this is where Sewerfest was supposed to take place. Apparently some bands in the mid 80s considered playing a generator show inside of some large pipe. Maybe it was a joke, but I always liked the idea.

    A few years back a sewage spill flooded the 3-hole golf course that you can see from I-75. Dunno if the tiles were to blame for that or not.

    Sewage. Mmmmmmm. Does anybody remember the noxious yellow clouds that would waft over the westside in the 70s. Clean Air Act be damned... that was some nasty shit.

    ...and finally... the area on the north bank of the river in that area is known as Cycle Hills. Motocross jackasses, creepy solitary fishermen, ancient abandoned trucks, and Westside Rockers grafitti useta abound there. 10 or so houses were moved off of Grey St. and Maxson Avenue after persistent flooding in the early 80s. Not quite on the level of VOW, Cycle Hills with its empty streets and ghostly traces of a community disappeared definately qualifies as a weird place.

  3. I decided to drive around Cycle Hills (glad to have a name for it) last fall; I got the small town stare when I turned around at the east end of the street and high-tailed it out of there.

  4. Wow, Cycle Hills...never heard of it and I don't think I've ever been there. I'm learning a lot about Flint twenty years after I left. From the satellite map the river does look pretty major and wild in that area.

  5. You would not actually enter inside the Black tile. There was an access to it but it was closed I believe with an iron door. The sewer's we entered were the ones you find like the Kearsley one that exits into a creek or river. The area of Gray and Maxson was my old neighborhood. We were known as "river rats" by the city kids. My friends house's down there are gone now. One of my old friends was caught off guard when it flooded in the 70's and I don't think he even had time to move his car. I probably was gone by the time of the yellow cloud, but dose anybody remember when the river became florescent green in the late 60's? It looked just like the fake water in a view master slide. we followed it back to Chevy in the hole and it was still being discharged when we got there. We used to walk down the middle of the river all the way to downtown at the Saginaw street bridge when the buildings were still built on the bridge. The river was most shallow in the middle having the deep spots near the bank. One time when we were bored we came up with a game where we all put "dares" in a hat and drew them out. One kid had to swim across the river in high flood with ice flows and he almost drowned. My way of saving him was a bit odd but it worked. I dove in and got him to the opposite shore and not wanting to walk two miles back we dove in with him holding my neck. We made it but were carried by the strong current almost to the I-75 overpass. I knew better because my father always helped drag the river for body's and even got on the front page of the Flint Journal once. I believe that kid was found near Flushing. Another time some of us got stuck during flood time on one of the I-75 bridge foundations and we had to be rescued. I remember it was shown on channel 5 news. Being a river rat I have many story's.

  6. Was North Shore Dr. vacated in the early 80s? I think parts of Clarendon and Joy might have been closed as well. I know houses were removed from Gray Ave and Mitson Blvd. A few were moved to lots on Walton Ave. Inexplicably there are still a few houses on Gray right across from the river. I wonder how often they flood.

  7. Here are some photos of the Tiles taken in 1976:

    This is me walking across the Tiles:

  8. The images conjured up from the stories here have all the makings of a film akin to "Stand By Me" my goodness what adventures you guys had in the 60's and 70's.

    I thought we had a blast in the late 70's and 80's over in the Westgate neighborhood, what with the Truck & Bus plant fires, paint fumes, and yes, we had our own sewer stories.

    We had a scary park in the back along the river (Neithercut) that had all sorts of undesirable drifter-type characters hanging around. Not exactly the kind of stuff that mixes with an elementary school. But we all had the times of our lives 1977-1984 over there.

  9. I'm pretty sure the times I made it across, we walked on the narrower pipe with the rivets, although not sure why... also, I remember there was a very large entrance to the sewer system right off Third Avenue by G.M.I. The whole thing was concrete. I remember people bragging about how many "bends" they went up into the pipe.

    Another cool place to get into plenty o' trouble was on the old farm that was owned by G.M.I. when the house & buildings (barns, etc.) were still there. I think that's where the Dorms were built. I think the name of the original owners was Hasselbring.

  10. As long as this is live again, some info on sewer systems:

    Black Tile was a sanitary sewer. Flow = sewage. Pumped and pressurized in locales without sufficient grade, which in Flint is almost everywhere. No openings to the outside except for gas vents via stacks. The building at Third Avenue and the river is the primary sanitary pumping station for the run from there to the treatment plant, including Black Tile. There are several other pumping stations around town. Household sanitary drains (with traps) are the feed source. In theory, no storm water or other street runoff goes into the sanitary system. Industrial waste water goes into the sanitary system under current codes if it's been pre-treated to remove any toxics or bioaccumulatives, but contains too much organic material to be acceptably dumped into the River or the storm drain system.

    Sewer grates on streets, and also some basement flood drains when required by Code, go into the storm sewers. This is a totally separate system. Storm sewers in theory contain no sewage or other concentrated organic waste, though in practice every storm washes animal and bird waste, leaked automobile oil, etc., into the system. Storm sewers generally dump directly into the River, since in theory if the storm sewers didn't exist, the water flow would either flood local areas or end up in the River anyway.

    Storm sewers are almost always gravity-flow, although there are exceptions. The pumping station on Hammerburg is a storm drain station, I think, because the flow from the south has to get over the ridgeline between Miller and Corunna to get to the River.

    Anybody that walked into a sewer had to be in a storm sewer. Sewage reacts with oxygen and anaerobically forms various toxic breakdown gases, so the atmosphere in a sanitary sewer, in addition to being uber-smelly, is completely non-life-supporting.

  11. Up to the post-WWI period, I think, Hasselbring Farm extended northward across Third Avenue. GM bought some of their property to extend Chevy in the Hole and to build the original GMI (i.e. Kettering). I think probably the original subdivision northwest of GMI (Gerholz I?) was built on ex-Hasselbring land.

    I attended Southwestern during 1963-64, and the shortcut for walking home to Mott Park was to cross the westernmost railroad bridge over the river, then walk via the established paths through the Hasselbring jungle to Third Avenue. I was a good boy, so I only did that a couple of times.

  12. JWilly - Thanks for that info. Yeah, I knew the sewer we used to walk into was a storm sewer, but really had no idea what Black Tile carried. I used to live a block away from Mott Park. It was a great hood to grow up in. Lots of rowdy kids. I attended St. John Vianney until '69.

  13. I have "Mott Park Chronicles," a recent history book about my neighborhood. The Hasselbring Farm only existed behind the Hasselbring home at 527 Garden Street, including all of the land behind it, south of Third Avenue and north of the river. The land north of Third Avenue was originally part of an Indian reservation, then transferred to Jacob Smith, and then was split into smaller farms. GM bought it up to build Mott Park, and put GMI's first building where it sits today.

  14. The legal history documented in the deed for my parents' ex-home in Mott Park, a copy of which I have somewhere, stated if I recall correctly that the reservation in question actually extended from the Flushing area to somewhere past the Grand Traverse river crossing along the north bank of the river, and a considerable distance to the north. I believe the transaction of that land out of Native American hands was quite a while prior to GM-associated agents buying the land for development.

    I have a copy of a hand-drawn illustration/map of downtown Flint--in the early 1800s, again if I recall the date correctly (I'll check when I get home)--that looks to the west. It shows the land on both sides of what probably then had some country-road name but later became Third Avenue, apparently in farming use. My assumption was that Hasselbring farmed all the contiguous fields.

  15. Need to clear up some misconceptions about "The Indian Reservation" in Flint.

    By the Saginaw Treaty of 1819 a number of both "tribal" and "individual" reservations were created ranging in location from present day Bancroft, Flint, and Montrose to Saginaw, Vassar, and other points north.

    The "reservation" at Flint was actually eleven individual "reserves" for the following individuals (in order per the treaty, and in order as appears on the survey map dated August 20th, 1821): Nowokeshik, Metawanene, Mokitchenoqua, Nondashemau, Petabonaqua, Messawakutt, Checbalk, Kitcheguqua, Sagosequa, Annoketoqua, and Tawcumegoqua. A section of land was reserved for each, a section being 640 acres in area. (I would have said "a square mile" but a "section" need not necessarily be "square".)

    Now, were these individuals Indian? In the majority of cases, no, although that did not seem to be an impediment to litigators.

    Let's deal with the only three reservees whose claims to the land were not contested in the courts. Nowokeshik was deemed to be Francis Edouard Campau -- mixed breed son of trader Barney Campau. Kitcheguqua was deemed to be Catherine Mene -- mixed breed daughter of trader John Baptiste Brillant dit Beaulieu. Petabonaqua was deemed to be Felicity Beaufait -- mixed breed daughter of Louis Beaufait.

    The remaining eight reserves were contested and five of the claimants involved in the litigation were the white offspring of Flint's first resident, Jacob Smith. The Smith children eventually received patents to these lands but this was not until 1836 -- 18 years after the treaty and 16 years after the "survey" of the eleven sections.

    Upon granting of the patents, the Smith children had a re-survey made of the five sections and four of these, Sections 3-6 were divided into farms by surveyor Hervey C. Parke. Now, this is not to say that the Smith children hadn't already sold off some of these lands. Typical for the day, when a land claim was contested on the frontier, and given the slow-moving court system of the day, land sales were made "subject to the claims of others" as the litigation made its way to conclusion. For example, John and Polly Todd had by then sold their inn and ferry service downtown and had moved downriver onto one of these farms. Thus, "Todd" appears as owner of 300 acres on both sides of the "River Road."

    Now, all five of the Smith sections are north of the river. But the Smith children also eventually laid claim to a section on the south side and as this litigation proceeded, there were eventually three claimants for the name Mokitchenoqua -- one the supposed mixed-breed daughter of Smith, another the mixed breed daughter of fur trader Archibald Lyon, and the third, Marie Gouin, mixed breed daughter of another fur trader.

    Eventually three full-blood Indians were involved in claims, two daughters and a niece of Chief Neome, who was granted a tribal reservation at Montrose -- Sagosequa, Annoketoqua, and Tawcumegoqua. The first two lost out to the Smith children -- the last, to one of the descendants of Louis Campau.

    This is a rather rudimentary explanation and a much longer post would be necessary to detail all the complexities of getting title to the lands at Flint. But, imho, stating that Flint was originally "an Indian Reservation" is most definitely incorrect.


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