Swiss Valley Park
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Shelby Township Historical Committee

Casimer Ochylski had a butcher shop on 5445 Chene Street in Detroit. While working as a butcher he always had a dream. He wanted to have a wild game preserve to show his children what various wild animals looked like. After searching much of the area north of Detroit he found a piece of property he thought would meet his criteria.

Swiss Valley Park was started by Cass Ochylski, a brother of Ed Ochylski of Belvidere Park, in 1921 and 1922. At 37 acres, it was larger then Green Glen and the most picturesque. The property was owned by Mr.Delbert Ladd who lived on the corner of Woodall and Auburn Roads.

It was the dream of Cass that he would have a park in the flat land of the Clinton River and a wild life preserve on the higher ground. By having animals and the wild life he would draw many families to the park.

The park was the first project to get off the ground. Cass built a concession stand with a 40' bar. Next was the dance hall which was about 75'x 75' in size. One hundered picnic tables were built using 2x4s for the legs and 2x6s for the seat and 1'or 5/8 boards for the table top.

Since this was during Prohibition, Cass sold bootleg whiskey. However, it had to be cut because it was 180 proof. It was cut about 15% by adding water, adding tea or burnt sugar to make it look like whiskey.

He was now in business. He charged 25 cents per person at the gate to enter. Beer was 25 cents a glass and whiskey was 50 cents a shot. Hot dogs and hamburgers were 10 cents. Soda pop was 5 cents.

This went on for 10 or 11 years. He would work in the buther shop during the week and spend weekends working at the park. Then a tragedy occured.

Two robbers were waiting for the park to close. At the close of the park, they held Cass up and forced him to go to his store in Detroit and open the safe. They took all his money, put a gun in his mouth and shot him. He indicated he knew them but was unable to talk or write. He died a few days later. To this day, his killers are walking the streets as free men. Cass Ochylski died July 4th, 1928.

After the dearth of Cass, his wife kept the park open until the season was over. They let the park go back to Bert Ladd because she had no money to make the payments.

In 1933, Joe May and Joe Kawala leased the park. The partners rebuilt the dance floor and concession stand, wired all of the buildings for electricity and had the electricity strung to the park by Detroit Edison. They also repaired and built more benches and tables for the picnicers. Admission fee was 50 cents a person.

Joe May signed a lease with Mr. Ladd in 1933 that did not include Joe Kawala. Joe May managed Swiss Valley Park for the next year. The following year he left Swiss Valley and rented Martha Washington from Pete Gruczynski. The park was idle for a few years.

It was in 1937 that the Hamtramck Buthers Association decided to have a picnic, but they were unable to find a suitable location. Finally one was found: Swiss Valley Park. Bert Ladd would not rent it or run it. He wanted to sell it. So after two or three sessions of haggling Joe Godzisz and three friends each put in $400 and they were the new owners of Swiss Valley Park. The Butchers had their picnic.

However, the four partners did not get along very well in this venture. So Joe bought them out. One wanted just what he had into the venture, $400. The other two wanted $800. each which Joe paid. He was mow the sole owner of the park.

Joe was the business manager and his wife the operations manager. Son Ted Godzisz would work where needed.

Over the years some repairs had been made but nothing was repaired while the park was idle.

The posts under the dance floor were rotting so they were replaced with cement blocks. Also, the dance floor was enlarged to about 75' in diameter. It would dance 350-400 people easily with the bandstand in the center of the dance floor.

More tables had to be made and the old ones repaired and all had to be painted. Joe worked for the Ford Motor Co. in Dearborn where excess green and white paint was for sale for a $1 a gallon. So the tables were painted white and green. The concession stand was painted white and the pavillion was painted green.

The park would be rented for $75 a Saturday and $150 per Sunday with one half down and the balance the day of the picnic. As was the custom at the end of the day, they would be paid for the balance owed to them. So many times the head of the picnic would say, " I don't have any money. We went in the hole today and are unable to pay you the half of the rent. "

Ted was a senior in high school and every night during the week he would go to the Hamtramck DPW where they had an excess of broken sidewalk. He used his dad's model A pickup for the hauling. It held about a yard and a half. So he would load up the broken concrete and take it to the park and pack it along the banks of the Clinton River to stop erosion. he did two trips a day during the week and seven on Saturday.

While Ted was building up the banks to stop erosion, his dad was building a new concession stand. It was 100'x 50' with a 90' bar. The beer and food was dispensed from this building. The former concession stand was used for soda pop and light refreshments.

Joe Godzisz died in 1950. Ted now became the business manager and his mother would still be the operations manager.

Ted also raised the rent for the park according to the amount of people that were scheduled to attend. It was still one-half down and the other half before the picnic began. He had been stung to many times by bad checks or lack of cash to wait until the event was over.

He hired the bands for the summer season at $60. per Sunday. That did not work out well because some of the ethnic groups wanted to bring their own band and that would put Ted's band that he had hired out of work for that weekend. So he said each group would hire their own band and furnish people to man the pop and concession stands. That eliminated the manpoer problem for Ted.

The picnic people had to get their own one day license to sell beer and wine. They also paid for security. Usually two deputies were added when the picnic was larger than standard.

Ted graveled the roads as needed and also put oil on them to hold down the dust. He also built cement block toilets with running water. He installed drinking fountains in various places on the picnic grounds. Ted's children now were helping to keep the park clean. He followed in his father's and mother's tradition of having a clean, trash free park with the grass mowed.

They had a small lawn mower and it took a week to mow the lawn and still never got done. The lawn mower broke down, so he took it to Mr. Milmo located on Hall Road, one block east of Van Dyke on the north side of Hall. As Ted was telling him his story of how much grass he had to cut, Milmo said he should buy the International Cub Tractor with a 6' sickle bar. ted said he had no money but Mr. Milmo delivered it that evening anyway and said they would work out the payments.

By now the rent for the park was $100 for a Sunday and $500 for Saturday depending on crowd size for that day. Some of the crowds reached 2-3,000 on a given day.

One of the groups which rented the park on an annual basis was the German American Culture Center. They had the park on the second Saturday and Sunday in August. It was their "Deutscher Tag Day" which means German Day. Most all of the German Clubs in the Detroit area would come to this picnic.

Vera Davey recalls as a young girl, that her parents, Leo and Gertrude Harbrecht, would drive out in the country from Centerline and attend picnics at Swiss Valley Park. Vera and her sister Carol would come along. Her mother would pack a lunch but very rarely ate it because they would by from the concession stand. She said they had a good time, playing with their friends and swimming in the Clinton River.

All the Germans were proud of this picnic. Most of the German elite could be met out there on this picnic. There was plenty of singing and "Gemutlichkeit"( socializing ). Most always the Governor of Michigan would honor them by attending, particularly, G. Mennen Williams and wife Nancy and Governor William Milliken.

Ted laughed as he told of the politician Williams. He attended many of the ethnic picnics at the park. If the ethnic group was German he was always intoduced as having a little German blood in him and everybody clapped. The next few weeks or so would be Belgium and he would be intoduced as having a little Belgium in him. Next would be Polish and the same thing. It did not matter what ethnic group had the picnic, he was always a little part of them. It was a good way to get more votes.

In 1974 Ted and his wife decided to sell the park. After 38 years they put up a For Sale sign. In 3 days Ted found a note on the back door that the Department of Natural Resources was interested. After a little haggling, he sold the park to the DNR. They tore down all the buildings and locked the gate and it remains that way as of this writing.