Page 22 - Scene Magazine 42-07 July 2017
P. 22

Neighborhood Scene
The Neighborhood Series: Washington Heights
BY JEREMY ANDREWS
In this second installment of “The Neighborhood Se- ries” we continue to promote the unique characteristic of neighborhoods across the Greater Battle Creek Area
and show some historical context from some residents’ perspectives. This month we will feature Washington Heights and Willis Commons.
We have included two features here. Devon Gibson provides the first one. The second piece was submitted by Sam Gray, in honor of Velma Laws Clay, who wrote about the founding of the Willis Commons Area, a neighborhood within a neighbor- hood. This area is called a lot of things: The Heights, the Northside, and NPC2 (which encompasses many neighborhoods).
In the words of Devon Gibson... One of my favorite things about our humble little city is our rich history. One of the most historic areas of our town is Wash- ington Heights.
Before it was known as “the Heights”, it was farmland known as Christian and Hubbard farms. In 1902, five guys (ac- tual five guys not the burger chain) pur- chased the land and began to plot it into residential lots, first sold in 1905. The area would become part of the city just over a decade later.
Many know the area for its massive housing units, a throwback to the days when the Sanitarium was booming and employed lots of people who bought homes within walking, or biking dis- tance (as did Dr. John Harvey Kellogg) of their place of employment.
As the Depression came, it hit the San hard and the neighborhood started to show it. Folks started to move elsewhere.
In 1947, a devastating flood hit Battle Creek and brought about many chang- es. A cement river channel was built to handle a worst-case scenario and the pre- dominately African American families that lived along the river (about where the Motor Mile is today) were relocated. The community that was tight-knit and featured several black owned businesses was split up and many of those families moved into Washington Heights.
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You can still see the tightness of that community today. Throughout a normal day you will see people hanging out in their yards. You see guys who grab chairs and sit at the curb, just talking about mu- sic, sports or any other topic. You see folks working on their lawns and waving to almost every car that drives by.
If you head down to Claude Evans Park, you’ll see kids playing on the playground and teens playing on the basketball court, working on their game, with parents, friends and family watch- ing. Good luck finding a parking spot on game days. You’d think all of Battle Creek was there.
People say lots of things about Wash- ington Heights. Some of it true, most of it’s not. But what you most certainly do have is the same thing you see in every neighborhood in the world. People living this thing we call life.
Thank you to Sam Gray for the fol- lowing regarding Willis Commons... The name “Historic Willis Commons” is named after Mr. Henry Willis who owned property in our area referred to
as “Historical Willis” properties. Henry Willis was the first person to bring So- journer Truth to Battle Creek to speak at the Quaker Meeting House where St. Philip Church stands today. Based on the above connection linking original own- ership of the property to “Willis Prop- erties”, the name “Historic Willis Com- mons” was adopted. Commons relates to the community as a whole. The Liberty Bell was chosen as the logo based on Willis’ activity in helping slaves escape and advocating freedom for all.
Willis Commons is a connective part of the Quaker Park Neighborhood. It was established by the neighbors that lived between Hubbard Street from 488 W. Michigan Ave. north to Parkway Drive intersect.
The historical elements of Willis Commons and the surrounding neigh- borhoods was to revitalize the area and honor the legacy it represented. Under the leadership of Dr. Velma Laws Clay, neighbors were encouraged to partici- pate in planting trees and lights in every yard and to maintain their properties. Neighborhood meetings were held reg- ularly at 97 Hubbard Street to plan vari- ous activities including picnics.
The community was extremely proud that Dr. Velma Laws Clay and her twin sister Vivian Laws Ritter, returned to Battle Creek after many years and initi- ated the leadership to improve the neigh- borhood the family lived in. They felt that when parents work hard to give you a piece of land and a home, you should continue to maintain it in the way you were taught.
In 1998 the Neighborhood Asso- ciations of Michigan presented to the twin sisters the NAM Leadership Award for their vision, courage, and character demonstrated through their commitment to improving the quality of life in their community.
Note: I think it is important to note that neighborhoods, their boundaries, and their names are always changing as new people move in and out and the landscape and features change. No name of a neighborhood is meant to leave out anyone. Want your neighborhood fea- tured? Contact us at sproutbc@gmail. com and send your submission!
UNIQUE GEMS IN THIS AREA
• Tommy & Company Barbershop – an institution.
• New Level Sports
• Dudley STEM School and Greenhouse
• Leila Arboretum (borders Urbandale and the Heights, host to awesome community events like LeilaPalooza, Festivus, and Fantasy Forest)
• Kingman Museum
• Sprout Farmstand on Kendall
• The Hood Store – love it or hate it, its where culture bubbles in this part of town
• Figg’s Best Burger (Its really in the former “Bottoms” neighborhood”)
• Becke’s Rental – historic family business with an outstanding vintage jukebox collection
• A-Z Key Shop – Old School locksmith in the neighborhood. They do it all.
• The Gleaning: an urban farm at Washington Heights United Methodist focused on supplying food pantries.
• Disc Golf Course at Leila – one of the most challenging in the area.
• Claude Evans Park – This historic park is bustling with activity all year long.


































































































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