In northern Macomb County, tree-lined, two-lane roads soon give way to a landscape of tight-knit communities reminiscent of the 1950s, striving to hold onto tradition while changing with the times.
Metromode took a step outside of our usual coverage area to find out more about our northern Macomb County communities. Here's a look at three places where small-town America is alive and well in Metro Detroit.
Township and Village of Armada
When you jump on North Avenue heading north towards 33 Mile Road, you’ll drive right into Armada Township. It’s an agricultural community that's maintained its rural charm with small farms and residential areas dotting the landscape.
“I see it as a place that’s comfortable, a bit quieter and offers a softer lifestyle,” Armada
Township Supervisor John Paterek says. “Or put it this way, if you don’t see a deer in your yard, you’ll see one in front of your car.”
John Paterek, Armada City Supervisor. Photo by David Lewinski.
The township, formed in 1832, covers 36 square miles. Nestled within is the one-square-mile Armada Village. The population of Armada Township is about 5,500 people.
Paterek says the township’s greatest assets today are its schools, churches and the nonprofits in the community that combine to make Armada a family strong community.
“The strengths here are really in the community itself. We have parents that are truly involved in the schools and all our events; we don’t have to worry about finding a coach because we always have more than we need,” Paterek says.
Beyond the family component, Paterek says things are going well in many other areas of the municipality, with thanks due in part to Clerk Mary Swiacki and Treasurer Camille Finlay who oversee the day-to-day operation of the township.
Economic development in the industrial corridor between 32- and 33-mile roads is underway with a major project taking shape off Pound Road. Utilities should be installed in the northern end by late spring, and so far, a robotics company and a mini-storage business are lined up to fill space there, Paterek says.
Although the township’s population is aging, he says folks still move there with young families and the real estate market is very stable.
“Many people are attracted to the chance to build their own homes on property that’s close to downtown and the schools,” Paterek says.
Clare Reagin, recently moved to Armada to live closer to her son who purchased property and built a home there.
“I love being close to my grandson’s house of course and I feel safe there day and night,” Reagin says. “It’s a convenient walk to the post office, gas station for coffee, or the restaurants downtown.”
For the retirement crowd, a new complex that will include 56 condominiums in a senior community, not assisted living, is also planned near the Powell road industrial corridor.
Other big developments in the township of late include a $300,000 BMX Skate Park installed after area youth raised $100,000 and township funding and grants picked up the rest. Right now, the group, Friends of Armada, is working to raise half of the $200,000 price tag to put in a new playscape.
The new development will bring more job opportunities to the community, but for the most part, Armada remains a bedroom community.
“We’re a bedroom community, and most people drive out for work and drive back,” Paterek says. “Except me, I feel I have the American dream because I have two businesses, my kids’ school and my home all within three miles right here in Armada.”
City of Richmond
Fostering a small-town atmosphere while keeping the city moving forward is a challenge for leaders in the city of Richmond, but it’s one they’ve grown to embrace over time.
Originally a village founded in 1879, the city of Richmond was formed in 1966 and covers just under three square miles near 32 Mile Road and Gratiot Avenue. The bulk of the city is in
Macomb County with a small portion falling into St. Clair County. The population today includes 6,000 residents.
Over the last several decades, Mayor Tim Rix, who has lived in the city all of his life, says he has watched the population grow.
“The growth has allowed the city to expand its services in the community, and we want to maintain our community’s traditions and small-town atmosphere because it makes Richmond an attractive place to raise a family and locate a business,” Rix says.
Other perks of small-town living include having close-knit nonprofit and civic groups that work together to enhance the quality of life for residents year-round.
Richmond. Photo by David Lewinski.
Noting recent improvements in the economy, City Manager Jon Moore says the city has enjoyed both commercial and residential growth in the last year.
The city’s two major commercial centers, Lenox Square and the TSC Plaza, are now under local ownership and improvements to the centers are attracting new businesses. Also, the city is in the final stages of approving the West Richmond Subdivision, which will bring 54 new single-family homes to the city.
“The first new industrial facility, Masters Machine, is currently being constructed on Skinner Drive and the city hopes this is the first of many new industrial facilities on 32 acres of industrially zoned property there,” Moore says.
Having new industrial and commercial opportunities will bring new jobs to the city, and that’s a big plus too, he adds.
Recreational amenities have also been plentiful, with a summer camp and the nearby city pool logging their biggest attendance numbers in years. This winter the recreation department will work with the city’s DPW to enlarge an ice-skating rink at Beebe Street Park, and organizers hope to utilize the rink to bring winter events back to the park.
Moore says the city is becoming a destination for young families and retirees alike who are impressed with the services and amenities provided in a rural setting with lots of ways to get involved.
“We also have good long-term planning by city officials, and it makes the community financially sound which is also important when people are looking to move,” he added.
Situated north of the city of Richmond off M-19, falling into both Macomb and St. Clair counties, Memphis is comprised of just one square mile with a population of 1,200, but that hardly tells the whole story.
“This is a town that’s bigger than its actual footprint,” Mayor Eric Schneider says. “We have people who live just outside the city in Riley or Richmond Township who just say they’re from Memphis.”
Memphis Mayor Eric Schneider. Photo by David Lewinski.
Pride for a city that took shape as a village in 1848 and was granted city status in 1953 remains strong in Memphis where similar to many rural areas; it’s the people that keep it going.
“The idea that they can make a difference and be part of a small community is what draws people in here,” Schneider says. “Of course, many work outside the city but they like to come home to that small town life; it appeals to a lot of people.”
Keeping things moving forward when recessions come, and businesses leave has been a challenge for the city but they’ve rebounded once again, and things are going well.
Schneider credits local business owner Tammy Wehrum, who’s also president of the chamber of commerce and longtime resident and business owner, Rodona Harper, for the success.
“They’ve done a great job helping new businesses here and it’s really important to attract that and work with them because they are investing their life savings,” Schneider says.
Having the city remain fiscally sound has also been important and former mayor and current city councilman Larry Wilson is credited with keeping them afloat. Schneider says Wilson, a retired financial planner, has spent the last two decades devoted to managing spending and savings plans for the city without any real compensation.
“He has been a huge influence helping us establish a savings account, and we have some money set aside for an emergency, and that feels great,” Schneider says.
Housing in the city remains the same, meaning people come and go living in existing structures, but new development isn’t in the cards right now.
“We don’t have much room to grow, we need to vacate land for that, and the people who have it aren’t ready to sell,” Schneider says.
Nonprofits like the Lions Club, Knight of Columbus, American Legion Post, and school boosters play a huge role in maintaining a steady schedule of activities for city residents. Spaghetti dinners, euchre nights and music in the park all secure regular dates on the community calendar.
The Memphis Public Library also hosts a huge array of unique and fun family events for the community, Schneider says.
A Facebook page called ‘Memories of Growing Up in Memphis’ launched by lifelong resident Ruth Koppinger Suwalkowski also provides an outlet for both current and former residents to share stories and photos about the town they love. The site boasts nearly 3,000 members.
“I like that we are a city that doesn't give up, we may disagree but will come together for each other when needed,” Suwalkowski says.
Heading into 2019 the city doesn’t have much in the way of development on their agenda.
“We have a few small road projects next year but long term it’s all about the money,” Schneider says. “We have to work to keep up the systems here and hopefully we can; I’ve got my fingers crossed.”