Thursday, November 27, 2014

Field Research with Connor Coyne

Flint author Connor Coyne is conducting research for his latest writing project — a Flint-based mystery. This morning he explored "the confusing maze of estuaries at the upstream mouth of Thread Lake" with his friend, the graphic designer Sam Perkins-Harbin, and came back with this report:

I've been curious about this area for years. On Google Maps, it looks completely overgrown and wild, like the woods surrounding the Pierce Golf Course or the Happy Hollow Nature Area, but there are also some curious signs of a human touch; particularly what looks like the grid of residential neighborhood streets of a bygone era. I was also curious because local historians have not been able to enlighten me as to what this area was all about. The amusement park was situated further west of the area, and it is not connected to McKinley Park or the Thread Lake Dam. Much of it is also inaccessible and choked with undergrowth, which is part of the reason it took me so much time to actually go and check out. 

Sam and I explored two areas. First, we followed a service drive south from Lippincott Blvd. and came upon a creepy-looking area of small mounds. It was just after dawn, and since I've got an overly-fertile imagination, I was imagining something like this:

A scene from The Killing, season 3, episode 3.

More likely, this was dirt moved and dumped from sites as they were developed along Dort Highway a quarter mile to the east. And this would have happened decades ago because trees were covering everything. While there were signs of dumping, it wasn't anything extensive or recent. For anyone curious about whether or not we saw squatters, there weren't any signs of anyone living in this part of the woods anytime recently.

Further back, past the mounds, the undergrowth became almost impenetrable, with raspberry bushes and cattails choking everything out. We had originally planned on crossing Thread Creek, but when we finally found it, it was more than twenty feet across, deep, and fast-moving, and it would have been very dangerous (and wet, cold, and muddy) to attempt. The grid would have been right on the other side. We returned to the car and were able to enter the woods again, this time from the south, and underbrush here was much less obtrusive (although the ever present raspberry bushes were a real pain). 

We managed to break through to the gridded area, which I've been curious about for many years. It seems that the simplest explanation — which is still intriguing — is most likely the correct one: this had been intended as an extension of the residential neighborhood to the south, and was abandoned. The neighborhood in question is far more recent than most in the city, and follows a suburban layout. This is consistent with the size and density of the trees in the gridded area. It does not appear to have ever been paved; perhaps graveled though. At the easternmost extent, a wide, narrow, deep pit has been dug (clearly by machines), which could have been the beginnings of a foundation or an attempt to link up with the city sewers, but this is the only other sign of serious development. I had wondered if the project was suspended due to high water tables (the whole area is very swampy) or if Flint's declining housing values simply made it a poor investment. At any rate, it has thoroughly gone to seed.


  1. What is the name of the creek that flows into the southwestern arm of Thread Lake? I flows through Flint Golf Club.

    I read a few years back that the Thread Lake Dam was old as hell and in danger of busting wide open.

    1. Thread Creek flows into the lake on the east side and out of the lake on the west side, I believe. I'm wondering if the narrow tributary that runs through the golf club is just considered part of Thread Lake, or if it has a name.

    2. Carmen Kearsley-GilkeyNovember 29, 2014 at 7:17 AM

      You're correct about the direction both upstream and downstream of Thread Creek, the other branch looks like it was a tributary before the dam. It appears to go into a culvert under the highly-toxic Windiate Park/Poet's Subdivision and then reemerges south of Hemphill. Given that Thread Lake was created only about 120 ears ago I would imagine that stream has a name.

      This also begs the question, what is the name of the entirely culverted creek that flows into Devil's Lake?

    3. I think that stopped being a "creek" back when that whole area was terraformed for the Fisher Body plant and the surrounding residential area. That "creek" in actuality is just the outlet for a complex system of underground storm drains that handles the built-up area between Thread Creek proper to the east, and to the west the creek, I think called Stoney Brook, that runs northward into Swartz Creek in the middle of the golf course.

  2. Torrey Hammerberg XIINovember 28, 2014 at 6:35 PM

    Call Gerholz Builders and Realty and ask them. I think they built a lot of the houses along Woodslea Dr. It looks like there still is evidence of a right of way extending to Woodslea Dr. You are probably right about the water table there being too high to build anything much there. Gerholz probably still has the subdivision plans and blueprints for that area. There's a lot of subdivisions that were never built all over the place. They seem like a mystery, but you can usually find somebody who still remembers what happened and why the subdivision was never completed.

  3. Torrey Hammerberg XIINovember 28, 2014 at 6:56 PM


    Gerholz's historical papers are kept at Ferris State University, but I don't know if that would include subdivision blueprints. You might also contact the office of Attorney Jane Koegel in San Francisco to see if she might know something about where the subdivision blueprints are kept or who to contact back home.

  4. Torrey Hammerberg XIINovember 29, 2014 at 6:21 PM

    At one time, low wet areas that are now called wetlands were filled in with dirt from other excavations to build it up and then graded to try to create usable land to build on. Nowadays, if it were allowed at all, it would require extensive environmental impact studies and would take years before any dirt was allowed to be dumped. That is what it looks like may have happened there. Historical studies would also be required to determine if it was a burial or archaeological site.

  5. I lived in the poet's park area from 73 to 2009 I remember when lowell Blvd used to flood through the park in fact I rode an inner tube down it and it was in the flint journal


Thanks for commenting. I moderate comments, so it may take a while for your comment to appear. You might enjoy my book about Flint called "Teardown: Memoir of a Vanishing City," a Michigan Notable Book for 2014 and a finalist for the 33rd Annual Northern California Book Award for Creative NonFiction. Filmmaker Michael Moore described Teardown as "a brilliant chronicle of the Mad Maxization of a once-great American city." More information about Teardown is available at