The following is an article from The Grand Rapids Press January 3, 2003 – Page D1
Author: Melissa Kruse / The Grand Rapids Press
Barn razing erases vintage landmark
KENTWOOD — If it were possible to see time changing, it might look like a barn at 28th Street and Patterson Avenue falling Thursday to the ground it rose from more than 100 years ago. The turn-of-the-century structure’s catalog of memories includes a time when it was possible to cross 28th Street with a pony and cart and another time when a newly elected congressman named Gerald Ford spent two weeks there milking cows.
The Patterson family homesteaded the land in 1836. The remaining members of the avenue’s namesake still own the 100 acres of farm where the barn stood, but agreed to have it leveled at the request of Kentwood city officials because of its dangerous condition. Around 1900, the barn was attached to another barn built in the 1860s. The area that connected the two suffered heavy damage during strong winds last August.
Siblings Ellen Grooters, 70 and Mel Patterson, 77 grew up on the dairy farm their grandparents founded. Patterson and his wife, Avis, still live on the farm, while Grooters lives five minutes away. “I worked on the farm all of my life. I’m sad to see it go,” Mel Patterson said. “But I guess it’s going to happen sooner or later. We thought it should be torn down because it was falling apart.” The Patterson Family Farm produced wheat, corn, hay and oats besides milk, until 1980. Patterson had until the first of the year to bring down the 40-foot-by-90-foot barn. Kentwood economic development planner Lisa Golder says it was no longer functional.
Photo Right: Three Paris township farmers, up and about their chores by 6 a.m., pause in their work to chat with Gerald R. Ford, jr., aspirant for the Republican nomination to congress. Ford makes about three trips a week to Kent and Ottawa county farms in behalf of his campaign.
Though the Pattersons have no desire to develop the property, the Kentwood Planning Commission has come up with a plan for development, should they ever sell the land. An office development park that would preserve the Pattersons’ home as a historic site and the wetlands to the north for open space is penciled in for now.
Even with that eye toward the future, Kentwood leaders know it’s important to preserve elements of the community’s farming past. Officials are working on a project that will document the remaining barns in the city through photography. “This is a first-ring suburb of Grand Rapids, but its history is the farms,” Golder said. “It’s important to at least recognize that was the history. If it was possible to retain barns in the city that’d be great. But the case is, it’s not a farming community anymore. It would be difficult to ask people to retain the buildings because there’s no functional use for them.” The Heyboer Farm on 52nd Street near Stauffer Avenue is the last cash crop Kentwood farm.
Farm life stuck with Grooters long after her 1953 marriage to Delmer Grooters, an East Grand Rapids police officer who used to escort Betty Ford to the beauty salon when she was in town. “I have some great memories. I had breakfast for two weeks with Jerry Ford,” Grooters said.
A bet between area farmers and Ford earned him a fortnight of milking cows after his victory in the 1948 congressional race. “My mom fixed great big breakfasts when he was there, then I had to go to high school,” Grooters said. “[Ford] was very nice and very quiet and he liked to eat. I sat next to him.”
Now a widow, Grooters lives with her 3-pound Toy Poodle, Fifi, but she fondly remembers days occupied with hardier friends such as sheep, lambs, pigs and of course, Bob the horse, whom she used to ride bare-back. “You think when you’re growing up on the farm that sidewalks would be so great to ride bikes on and all that, but looking back, country living is the best,” Grooters said. “There’s nothing better.” For Grooters the barn with a 40-foot-high peak was a monument to farm life that will remain unforgettable. “It saddens me, you know, it was my life growing up there.”