Bloomer Park is Steeped in History

Bloomer Park, located at the north end of John R Road in Rochester Hills, is the city’s oldest park. The centennial of its founding will occur in 2022. Long before anyone thought of dedicating the land for recreational purposes, the location was part of a pioneer-era transportation project called the Clinton-Kalamazoo Canal.

Bloomer Park sign by the entrance to the park

Entrance to Bloomer Park

The Clinton-Kalamazoo Canal was begun under Michigan’s first governor, Stevens T. Mason, who broke ground for the waterway near Mount Clemens in 1838. State leaders envisioned an engineered waterway that would follow the Clinton River inland, traverse the state to the Kalamazoo River, and eventually link Lake St. Clair with Lake Michigan, allowing for water transport across the entire 216-mile expanse of the Lower Peninsula. The project was inspired by the Erie Canal, which linked Lake Erie to the Atlantic seaboard in 1825 and opened the Midwest, including Michigan, to migration from the eastern states.

The canal project was plagued with problems from the outset, including difficult terrain, the need to build a series of dams and locks to overcome the 300-foot falloff in elevation from the Clinton’s headwaters to the level of Lake St. Clair, and unstable financing. Only 16 miles of canal were built—extending from Mount Clemens to the Rochester area—before the entire project was abandoned in 1843. The excavations reached the southern edge of the village of Rochester, and the last dam constructed for the canal was in what is now the western corner of Bloomer Park. A Michigan Historical Marker was dedicated at Bloomer Park in 1957 to commemorate the canal; this marker was later relocated and now stands at Yates Park on Avon Road. A portion of the canal’s route through Oakland and Macomb counties was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972.

Map of Bloomer Park listing all the points of interest

Current map of park facilities (Courtesy of City of Rochester Hills)

Fast-forward almost 80 years from the end of the canal-building era to the end of World War I, and the property along the Clinton River was once again making news. Howard Bradley Bloomer, an ardent conservationist and the chairman of the board of Dodge Brothers Motor Company, convinced the automaker’s board of directors to donate 781 acres of land located in Oakland, Livingston, and Macomb counties for development as state parks. The gift, meant to honor the memory of the late John and Horace Dodge, was accepted by the State of Michigan in 1922 and was used to create 11 state parks.

Two weeks after the Dodge gift was announced, Howard Bloomer stepped up to set a personal example and donated 211 acres of his own real estate holdings in Oakland County for the creation of four additional state parks. His 47-acre parcel along the banks of the Clinton River in Avon Township became Bloomer State Park No.2; Bloomer Park No. 1 lies in West Bloomfield on Middle Straits Lake; Bloomer Park No. 3 is located near Ortonville; and Bloomer Park No. 4 is on Grass Lake in White Lake Township. In addition to donating the real estate for the new state parks, Bloomer also donated money to fund initial improvements to the properties to make them accessible for public recreation. The state legislature formally accepted Bloomer’s gift of four parks on October 13, 1922.

One person standing and six people sit on a small dam at Bloomer park

Visitors enjoy Bloomer State Park No. 2 in 1924 (Courtesy of Rochester Hills Public Library)

Just a few years after Bloomer State Park No. 2 opened in Avon Township, a development on property immediately adjacent to the park raised its visibility in the region. In 1925, the Detroit Ski Club bought 11 acres from the Milo Newberry/Bert Frank farm near the park and built a competition-grade ski jump on a bluff overlooking the river. The ski jump was inaugurated in January 1926 and the ski club hosted numerous tournaments there. The ski jumping meets drew thousands of spectators who watched top competitors like Olympic medalist Anders Haugen launch themselves from the 112-foot slide. The ski jump, which stood until destroyed by a windstorm in the late 1930s, was often locally referred to as the “Bloomer Park Ski Jump,” although it was never actually a part of the park, but stood on the adjacent Newberry Hill.

Bloomer State Park No. 2 was a popular picnic spot for families, clubs, and church groups. During the Great Depression, the park benefited from public works initiatives of the Roosevelt administration’s New Deal. The Civilian Conservation Corps, or CCC, was enlisted to improve parks, recreation areas, and forestlands across the country. In Oakland County, the CCC’s Dodge-Bloomer Camp No. 1615 carried out improvement projects in many of the Dodge and Bloomer state parks, including the Avon Township location.

At Bloomer State Park No. 2, the CCC built a parking lot, picnic grounds, and toilet facilities. The workers also improved miles of paths and trails. When Congress terminated the CCC program in 1942 because of U.S. involvement in World War II, the Dodge-Bloomer unit was in the process of building a combination picnic shelter, restroom facility and concession stand in the park. The fieldstone structure was approximately one-quarter complete when the CCC stopped work and left it unfinished.

Bloomer Unit sign at the park

Bloomer Unit sign (Courtesy of Linda Ahlgren)

In early 1946, the State of Michigan, at the urging of then-governor Harry F. Kelly, organized several new state recreation areas. These efforts were concentrated in southeastern Michigan, and one of the new areas was christened the Rochester-Utica Recreation Area. This site linked together 1,334 acres of park land and natural areas lying along the Clinton River in Avon, Shelby and Sterling Townships, as well as land in the city of Utica. Bloomer State Park No. 2 was absorbed by the new Rochester-Utica Recreation Area, where it was designated the “Bloomer Unit,” while the Yates area on the north side of Avon Road was designated the “Yates Site.”

In September of the same year, the Michigan Department of Conservation allocated funds to complete the work on the stone shelter at the Bloomer Unit that had been left unfinished upon the departure of the CCC. The Rochester Era reported the happy news on September 26, 1946: “Building materials which have lain at the site since CCC workers laid down their tools before the war are being worked again, and Bloomer No. 2 state park will have a new combination shelter, toilet and concession building ready for next season. The structure, of split fieldstone and logs, was nearly one-quarter complete when work stopped. The crew now finishing it will also build several hundred feet of sidewalks and steps leading down the steep banks of the Clinton River.” The stone building and the steps descending the riverbank are still features of Bloomer Park today.

In the early 1990s, the State of Michigan sought to reduce expenses by turning over some of the state recreation areas to local control. The Bloomer and Yates portions of the Rochester-Utica Recreation Area were offered to the City of Rochester Hills under a use agreement in 1991. On March 18, 1992, the City of Rochester Hills officially accepted responsibility for operation of the Bloomer and Yates portions of the former recreation area. Two years later, the state transferred the deed to the property to the City of Rochester Hills.

One of the city’s first acts was to separate the Bloomer and Yates sites, which had been connected by a pedestrian bridge in 1971. As Bloomer Park would now charge an entry fee, while the Yates site would be operated as a free roadside park, the city decided to dismantle the bridge, which was in poor condition and not ADA-compliant. Today, the two sites are accessed separately; Yates Park is entered from Avon Road, and Bloomer Park is entered from John R Road.

Stairs at Bloomer Park leading down into the woods

Stairs at Bloomer Park

In 1999, negotiations began to bring a new attraction to Bloomer Park. A non-profit organization, led by cycling enthusiast Dale Hughes, struck a deal with the city of Rochester Hills to build and maintain an outdoor velodrome in the park. Hughes brought considerable expertise to the venture, having designed the velodrome for the 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia.

Construction of the velodrome began in 2001 and the 200-meter wooden track was opened on June 1, 2002. Funded entirely by private donations, it was the first velodrome built in Michigan since 1969, and remains the only outdoor velodrome in use in the state currently. Cycling organizations regularly host races there and offer instruction to individuals or groups.

Today, Bloomer Park offers a wide variety of recreational opportunities, including picnic areas, playscapes, horseshoe pits, ball fields, hiking and biking trails, Michigan’s only outdoor velodrome, and a sled/toboggan run. The daily vehicle entry fee for the park is $5, but varieties of annual pass options are available. More information is available on the Rochester Hills web site at www.rochesterhills.org/Bloomer.

Do you have special memories of Bloomer Park? Please share your stories in the comments!

 

About Deborah J. Larsen

Deborah J. Larsen recently retired after 34 years as local history librarian at Mount Clemens Public Library. She currently serves as the research chairperson for the Rochester-Avon Historical Society, and writes on a wide range of local history topics.

Comments

  1. My family and I grew up inside the park. My father was a WW2 veteran and went to Michigan State College and studied forestry. He was hired as a Michigan State Park Ranger. He worked in Livingston County at Island Lake State Park. We moved to Bloomer State Park #2 when I was 2 years old in 1963. We lived in Park’s Ranger’s house. I lived there until 1982. I have 5 siblings and we enjoyed having a state park as a yard. I only have extremely found memories living there. My father had vast knowledge about the park and the CCC construction. As kids we I use to help my dad repair the large stairs leading to the Clinton River. To stay in shape for sports I ran those stairs. We use to show people the old ski jump foundation at the base of the hill.

  2. Alan Frampton says:

    I remember when you went into the park at the end of John R road. We used to get in on our bikes for free. We lived nearby on Willard Road. This was 1971 to the early 80’s when things started to get built up.

  3. Donald Worrell says:

    Thanks for another fine historical article by
    Ms. Larsen. We want more!

  4. Richard Martin says:

    I remember the Hall family! I remember playing with the kids as my Grandparents Oscar and Juliette Piché ran that park store in the 60’s. I have so many memories of running around that park as a kid exploring. I helped in the store and remember my Grandpa Piché spinning Cotton Candy and Grandma cooking the best smelling burgers for customers. During the holidays the park was packed with people and the lines would be 10 people deep at the counter. The hill where the ski jump used to be was called ‘suicide hill’ by us kids. It was real steep. We also used to run down the slope next to the stairs all the way to the river. I could go on and on. I have a special place in my heart for my Grandparents and that time of my life!! It was truly wonderful, especially as a kid! Now as an adult, US Air Force Veteran, my wife and kids can and have walked into the park anytime we want as we live in Rochester vis the Paint Creek trail!

  5. Mike Seiler says:

    I recommend the booklet called “I Got My Thrill on Newberry Hill” by Penny Reddish that is available through the Rochester Avon Historical Society. It has great pictures and information about the ski jump. I think it would be good to have plaque at the base of the ski hill, and would be interested if anyone who knows the exact location of the jump would like to get involved. I think the foundations of the stairs are still on the hill? I could help with fund raising, talking to the park officials, and any physical work that needs to be done. If anyone else is interested please contact me at mseiler@comcast.net .

  6. John Cryderman says:

    I ran in several Cross Country meets for Rochester High School at Bloomer State Park. I also remember practicing on the sledding “hill” getting ready for those meets. It was a wonderful place that I visited many times while growing up in Rochester.

  7. Karen Koschke says:

    I so enjoyed reading this history. We lived in Troy in the 50’s and our school picnics were at Bloomer. At that time there was the pavilion, a playground, picnic tables, and of course those stairs. Later we lived in the log house on Willard Rd. in the late 60’s. Hi Alan. We’ve gone back over the years and enjoy seeing the changes. We also had some old photos of Yate’s Cider Mill when there was still the river crossing the river to power the water wheel. I took them to Yates several years ago and they were happy to have them.

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