Miss Goodell's Back Yard
In childhood time I see Miss Blanche Goodell and her yard on Goodell Street and Jefferson Avenue in Ecorse, complete with the wooden fence, at least two times larger than the white picket fence around my house around the corner on Pitt Street. To me, Miss Goodell’s yard was an unexplored land, starting with the fence that closed it in from Jefferson Avenue, St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church, and prying eyes. The backyard gate hung a little to one side and it had to be carefully unlatched and just as carefully fastened together again. Neatly trimmed bushes grew along the fence, and flower beds with lilies and other seasonal flowers snuggled up against it. The expanse of lawn resembled a modern quilt for a king sized bed and a flagstone walk led from the gate up to the back door of her castle sized house. In my imagination I saw a moat full of daisies and dandelions, my favorite flowers, around her house the few times I was invited to enter Miss Goodell’s yard.
I couldn’t enter Miss Goodell’s yard on my own, because I didn’t know her personally. Luckily for me, my childhood friend Robbie had the inside track to Miss Goodell through her lawn. In my imagination I could see Miss Goodell tapping Robbie on the shoulder with a magic sword and appointing him official keeper of her castle grounds. The real life and more boring story is that she probably asked him if he would be interested in mowing her lawn for profit since he lived only a few doors away and he accepted.
One time I went with Robbie to collect his pay for mowing the lawn, and the back door of the castle opened and Miss Goodell stood in the doorway holding out Robbie’s payment. She looked more like a petite queen than the princess of a castle, but when she smiled and offered us a cookie, her princess crown blinded me.
We neighborhood kids didn’t get to play in Miss Goodell’s yard too often, but sometimes Robbie would use his insider’s access to get permission to play twilight games of hide and seek among the bushy bushes and tall trees and inviting black shadows next to the house. I sought more than I hid. The minute we entered Miss Goodell’s gate, I traveled to mysterious places and made up stories about the people who lived in the castle, at the same time I counted to one hundred or shouted “one, two, three on Mary Lou!”
Ordinary life dragged me away from the magic of Miss Goodell’s yard. Our teenage years overcame us, Robbie became Bob, I moved away, and along with us, Miss Goodell grew older.
Years later, when I visited Miss Goodell’s yard, a vacant lot stretched in front of me and the turreted castle house that had so enchanted me as a child had been torn down. I wondered if the stories of her house and yard had disappeared along with them.
Mary Emma and Blanche Emma Goodell
The Ecorse Advertiser, United States Census, and other records revealed that Miss Goodell’s story was just as interesting as her house and unlike her house, could be reconstructed. An obituary in a 1937 Ecorse Advertiser reveals that Miss Goodell’s aunt, Mary Emma Goodell, age 90, died on Sunday, June 13, 1937 at her home located at 4260 West Goodell Avenue- Miss Goodell’s house! Mary Emma had suffered a fall and been ill for only a short time before she died. Funeral services were held from her home on Wednesday, June 16, 1937, with Reverend George Severance of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Wyandotte and Reverend Leonard Duckett of the Ecorse Presbyterian Church officiating. Miss Blanche Goodell supervised the services and attended her Aunt Mary Emma’s burial in Elwood Cemetery in Detroit.
A well known Ecorse resident, Mary Emma Goodell was a member of an Ecorse pioneer family that had settled in the area in the Nineteenth century. The daughter of Elijah Goodell and Mary Copland Goodell, Mary Emma was born in Detroit on December 14, 1846. During the War of 1812, Mary Emma’s paternal grandfather, Elijah Goodell, came to Michigan from New England and served as a United States government Indian agent shortly after his arrival, supervising Indian affairs from Detroit to Mackinaw. The government granted him a parcel of land including the area on both sides of Jefferson Avenue between Jefferson Avenue and the Detroit River from Salliotte Road to Benson Street. Elijah and his family were the only English family in Ecorse at the time, settling among the majority French pioneers.
Mary Emma Goodell was educated at Sacred Heart convent in Detroit and taught school in Ecorse from 1862 to 1865. A member of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Wyandotte for 50 years, Mary Emma also participated in Ecorse Sunday school activities, frequently in connection with the Ecorse Presbyterian Church. Sunday School classes often met in her home on Jefferson Avenue.
Mary Emma Goodell’s survivors included two nephews, Charles C. Goodell of Sturgis, Michigan and Edward G. Goodell of Stevens Point, Wisconsin. Three great nieces, Blanche Emma Goodell of Ecorse, Mrs. Bernice Persing and Mrs. Mary Ann Allen of Sturgis and a great nephew, Edward A. Goodell of Sturgis also survived.
Blanche Emma Goodell was one Mary Emma’s great nieces, the daughter of Charles C. Goodell and Mary Goodell of Sturgis, Michigan. Blanche and her twin sister Bernice were born in 1897 and according to the 1910 census Blanche Goodell, age 13, lived with her Aunt Mary Emma at 4260 West Jefferson in Ecorse. Blanche Goodell attended River Rouge High School and graduated from Detroit Central High School in 1914. From 1915-1916, she taught second grade in Ecorse Public Schools and from 1919-1921, she taught Spanish, French, and English at River Rouge High School.
From River Rouge High School, Miss Goodell began teaching basic courses in Spanish at Wayne State University while studying for her bachelor of arts degree at the University of Michigan, receiving it in 1919. In 1928, she earned a master of arts from the University of Michigan and in 1950 she received a PhD from the University of Wisconsin. Dr. Goodell was a professor at Wayne State University for 46 years until she retired in 1961.
She belonged to the Ecorse Episcopal Church of the Resurrection, the Episcopal Society of Cultural and Racial Unity, and served as president of the Wayne State University Episcopal Mission Board. In 1962, the Ecorse Community Relations Commission presented Dr. Goodell with the Burton E. Loveland Brotherhood Award for what it called her outstanding contributions in the promotion of brotherhood and understanding between people of every race, creed, and nationality. The Commission emphasized her particular success in creating good human relations in Ecorse. She served on the board of Family and Neighborhood services and participated in many inter cultural activities and she was a member of the Detroit Historical Society.
A member of the hospitality committee of the nationality division of the United Community Services organization in Detroit, Dr. Goodell served as an interpreter for Spanish-speaking visitors to Detroit as official guests of the United States government. During World War II, the War Manpower Commission appointed Dr. Goodell to teach English to Mexican workers brought to the United States to relieve the manpower shortage.
Dr. Blanche Emma Goodell, 76, died on June 27, 1973 at Mt. Carmel Mercy Hospital in Detroit and she was buried in Elmwood Cemetery near her Aunt Mary Emma Goodell. Her sisters Bernice-Mrs. Raymond Persing of Bradenton , Florida- and Mrs. J. Howard Woods of Jackson, Michigan and her brother Albert of Port Isabella, Texas and eight nieces survived her.
Elijah Goodell’s Tombstone
Historian Elwyn DuHadway revealed another chapter in the Goodell story in his Mellus Newspaper column of Wednesday, July 29, 1976, when he told the story of Dr. Goodell’s ancestor Elijah Goodell’s 154- year- old grave marker. According to Elwyn DuHadway, her family members honored her request to have his grave marker removed and placed over her grave in Elmwood Cemetery.
For years the tombstone had nestled against an ivy covered fence on Alexander Court between Benson and Goodell Streets in Ecorse, not far from where Elijah, who died in 1820, had built his first log cabin. Elijah’s log cabin home was one of the largest in Ecorse and functioned as a social, civic, and religious meeting place. Tradition says that the Reverend Father Gabriel Richard, sang mass in the cabin’s large kitchen on his monthly visits to the Downriver area. If this tradition is true, it perhaps fed into Dr. Blanche Goodell’s ecumenism, because the Goodells were French Huguenots- French Protestants- who fled to England from France to escape religious persecution.
Another tradition has it that the original thick walls of Elijah’s cabin survive in a house built around it at 4319 Alexander Court in Ecorse.
The Pear Tree and the Goodell Homestead
Another Goodell tradition is the French pear tree that bloomed in front of the William Goodell house at 4265 West Jefferson. A story in the Ecorse Advertiser in 1935 stated the original Goodell homestead extended from Benson Street to Salliotte on both sides of Jefferson Avenue. Another Ecorse Advertiser story said that the old Elijah Goodell homestead still sits on Alexander Court close to the Detroit River and although it has been added onto and sided through the years, the original logs still exist underneath its modern exterior.
A modern Google map shows that 4265 West Jefferson, now a tire store, is located between Bonanzo and Alexander Court well within the boundaries of the old Goodell homestead. It is almost directly across Jefferson Avenue from the corner of West Goodell Street and Jefferson Avenue where Miss Blanche Goodell’s home stood for many years. The City of Ecorse tore down Miss Goodell’s home in the 1970s.
The French Pear Tree Up Close and Personal
A Detroit News story dated May 13, 1935, addressed both the French pear tree and the William Goodell homestead. The origin of the French pear tree growing in front of the William Goodell house in Ecorse, Michigan, is also a puzzle that is lost in the mists of botanical history. The Detroit news story noted that the French pear tree once again bloomed with snowy blossoms and that it had grown in the yard of William Goodell on West Jefferson Avenue for so many years that not even the oldest person in Ecorse knew its history.
In early May, the French pear tree in William Goodell’s yard in Ecorse blossomed and produced many symbolic and real bouquets of waxen flowers. It grew to a height of approximately sixty feet and its trunk measured about three feet thick. Many people mistakenly identified the French pear tree as an oak tree because it so resembled hardwood. In the fall, the French pear tree yielded plenty of small, sugar, russet pears for harvest. In its best years it produced fifty to sixty bushels of pears that had a distinctive flavor, tasting tart and yet sweet with a mellow and firm pulp.
The French pear tree had a distinctive bearing record. It rotated in three year cycles, each year producing more fruit than the least year. In the third year, the yield began to decrease and continued to do so for three years and then started increasing again. Frost did not seem to affect the French pear tree.
In 1935, the Ecorse pear tree growing on William Goodell’s property was one of just six in the Downriver area. One grew in Waterworks Park in Detroit, two in Lenawee County, and two across the Detroit River in Canada.
The French Pear Tree's Debated Past
The historical and botanical records differ on how the pear tree came to the Downriver area. Some records indicate that over two hundred years ago when French explorers voyaged through Southern Michigan seeking beaver and other furs and exploring rivers and lakes, they also discovered pear trees. Some historians argue that the Goodell pear tree is a native of Michigan and that the Indians cultivated it for generations, introducing the old pear trees to their new French friends.
Other historians believe that the early French settlers brought the French pear trees to America with them because they resemble a similar kind of pear tree found only in France. Pears, like the Goodell family, have an extensive and cosmopolitan history. Pears grown in English medieval gardens had French names , suggesting that their origins were probably French, while other kinds of pears were developed and cultivated in England. One of the favorite varieties of the old pears was grown in France and named for Saint Rule or Regul, the bishop of Senis in northern France.
It doesn’t take a leap of logic to picture the English branch of the Goodell family planting French pear trees in their orchards and carefully tending them into long and productive lives. It is equally logical to picture the early French settlers carrying carefully bundled pear trees when they moved to their new homes in Downriver.
An Ecorse Advertiser story in 1935, about the widening of Jefferson Avenue continues the story of the Goodell French pear tree. The Advertiser story assured residents of Ecorse village that the stalwart old pear tree at the William Goodell home at 4265 West Jefferson would be spared in the forthcoming street widening . Many people were relieved to hear the good news about the Goodell pear tree that was older than the village of Ecorse.
At first officials thought that the grand old tree, believed to be well over 200 years old, would have to be cut down when the actual widening of Jefferson got underway. Then they discovered that the tree came just barely inside the curb line, saving it from being cut down. Rather than see the old pear tree lose its struggle for existence the Goodells planned to go to the extra expense of tearing down part of their house and then move the house around the pear tree when they moved it back, from Jefferson Avenue.
The survival of the old French Goodell pear tree for over two centuries was a vital connection to the days in Ecorse history when it stood by the Detroit River that flowed over the paddles of Indian canoes.
In the centuries since Elijah Goodell brought his family to the wilderness of Ecorse, his descendants have settled throughout the Downriver region and they have given their names to schools and streets in several communities. Goodell names live on in in street names including Jonas, Alexander, Cleophus, Riopelle, Philomene, Mark, and Oceana. Goodells and their descendants have helped develop the Downriver area and served as physicians, teachers, business and civic leaders, and elected officials.
Goodells like Dr. Blanche Goodell have enriched Ecorse and inspired generations or Goodells and non-Goodells. For me, Miss Goodell’s back gate and back yard were passages into the larger world and into adulthood. Even though they now exist only in my imagination they are concrete reminders of the simple power and beauty of one life and its ripple effect on countless numbers of people.