Paul Cousins

Paul Cousins
Village Councilmember, Rotarian, teacher
Dexter, Michigan

Tottered on: 3 July 2008
Temperature: 61 F
Ceiling: overcast
Ground: soaked rough gravel
Wind: N at 3 mph

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TT with HD: Paul Cousins

Paul Cousins Dexter Dam Teeter Totter
Totter 2.0 on location: Dexter Dam

PC: [Ed. note: PC's opening comments are in response to the multiple shots taken by HD with his camera.] It doesn't get any better than this, I can tell you that right now. When you're close to 70, they don't get any better. [laugh]

HD: How close to 70 are you?

PC: I'll be there on September 1st.

HD: All right! You know, September 2nd is my wedding anniversary!

PC: Oh, very good. And ours is the 3rd!

HD: Oh, really! Wow! Three important days in a row.

PC: 48, for Pat and I.

HD: Wow.

PC: How about yours?

HD: Let's see, this year will be 19.

PC: 19 is good, that's excellent.

HD: Generally speaking, yeah, with 19 usually I can brag.

PC: Oh, almost, yeah.

HD: But 48, you know, that just blows me away.

PC: I always said Pat couldn't train anybody better than she's got me trained. [laugh]

HD: [laugh] Well, listen thanks for coming out on such a crappy morning.

PC: It's not bad. It's not raining, it's not pouring like it was last night.

HD: Yeah, not now. On the ride over here I noticed a lot of limbs down, a lot of generators running. This was Dexter-Ann Arbor Road into town. So other parts of Dexter, did they do all right as far as you know?

PC: Yeah, we had a lot of limbs down, trees down, we had a couple of brief power blips, but it didn't last very long. And then they came right back on. We have been pretty fortunate in the village here. Once in a while we've had a couple outages, but never for long extended periods of time.

I remember when we had the restaurant--we used to have Cousins Heritage Inn, the restaurant here--there was a squirrel that hit a generator down here, and it took us out of power for about eight hours, and I was afraid that we weren't going to be able to serve dinner that night. But it came on about 5:00 and we survived.

HD: So how did you determine that it was a squirrel?

PC: Dave, I guess the fried parts said that, okay? [laugh] I had no idea. It was Edison or the DTE that said it was a squirrel that got into it.

HD: So that wasn't for dinner then?

PC: [laugh] We had wild game, but squirrel was not on the menu.

HD: Got it. So when did they take the dam out? I mean part of it is left, but when did they open up that breach?

PC: It's a phased process. What they did is, they came in and the area here that we are sitting on--this little road right here--it wasn't here. This was actually part of the pond area right here. So they brought in these large rocks to form a roadbed so they could get their equipment down here.

The basic reason for the equipment, they have a great big excavator and a dump truck and they are taking out the silt and any of the sediment that is being collected behind this road that they built all the way across. The dam was actually the impediment to all that sediment going downstream before, and it just caught behind that.

It used to be a beautiful mill pond, open, people used to skate on it, rowboat on it, picnic along it. Then that filled in over the years. So in the last 50 years it has just filled in with all the sediment. Over a period time, from about 1990, that's when the process started of taking the dam out.

HD: So close to 20 years you've been working on this?

PC: Since 1992 I have actually had my finger in trying to get this done. I was on the Village Council from that period of time from '92-'98, and I was off until just four years ago. In 2004 I was back on again. And my term ends in November this year.

HD: So you're not running for re-election?

PC: I didn't say that yet! I haven't made that determination.

HD: Okay.

PC: I would like to finish this project, but I haven't made a decision.

HD: You don't want to make a pronouncement from the end of the teeter totter? [laugh]

PC: No, not yet. [laugh] Leaning towards that, but not positive.

HD: So, earlier this morning there was a father with his kid looking over the site here from up on the BP parking lot, and I overheard him say to his son something like, Oh, well they've got a long way to go. What else is there to do?

PC: What else is there to do is that they have taken out one half of the bridge and they are reconstructing that portion first so that we can have two-way traffic back again. That was our goal, to have two-way traffic.

HD: That was a priority to restore the two-way traffic?

PC: Yeah, to get the two-way traffic so we have good mobility again between the northern portion of the village and everybody else going into the south.

HD: For people from Ann Arbor, if you want to go to the A&W drive-in, like my wife and I did a couple weeks ago, you know you can't go right back to Ann Arbor over the bridge ...

PC: ... right, you have to make a loop around.

HD: Right, you have to make a loop around. And you would never have occasion to make that loop, so it was nice to see that side of Dexter.

PC: Well, there's a lot of people who believe that, but some of the people who live over there who have that amount of traffic don't believe that! During school--because the school is right on one of those corners--that was an issue, now that it's summer it's not as much of an issue.

But to finish here, they've actually got most of the physical dam out right now but they still have this temporary road that is catching the sediment and they will do that continually every two or three days. They come in here with this excavator and truck and take it out and they will shove that back over towards that here and they will cover that with a clay cap and then dirt. And we hope to have this in as a park in the future. So when he said we've got a long ways to go, I think that's what he was talking about.

We would like to recover this into a park area. And there is going to be a connector underneath the new bridge to our other park on the other side, so that people will be able to walk from one side to the other.

HD: Okay, so without having to go up over the bridge they can go right under it.

PC: Exactly. And as far as a vision for the park, a good thing to say in my mind is that we want a lot of public participation. So in the past years you had no access to the creek here at all, it was pretty inaccessible for everybody. So public activity on this area, whether it's a picnic table, or a walking path, or a gazebo or a bandshell. None of that has been formed yet, we'll have a number of public hearings to let people have their input into that.

HD: To figure out exactly what's going to go there?

PC: Exactly. We've hired a company, JJR, out of Ann Arbor, and ECT, those two companies will cooperate together to help us make our decisions here, and they are helping us with some of the formulations. We'll have public input and then we'll have a plan together that over the years we'll be able to implement.

HD: So you mentioned back when there was a real mill pond, there was ice skating in the winter. Is that something that you did as a kid, I mean, did you grow up around here?

PC: No, I didn't grow up around here. I've been here for 45 years, but I didn't grow up here. I came here to teach school for 20 years. And one of the things that has been really exciting for me is that when I taught at the old high school along Baker Road, Mill Creek ran right behind it. So I've had familiarity with Mill Creek almost all my life here that I have lived in the village.

So it's really exciting for me to see the stream opened up again for a variety of reasons. I mentioned the accessibility of the public back to the creek. Fish passages. And then maybe the idea of recreation, canoeing, kayaking, people can come up and down this, where they haven't been able to do that since about 1824, when Judge Dexter came and originally put the original dam in here for his mills.

HD: So where are the original sites of the mills?

PC: The mills were over on the other side where Mill Creek Sporting Goods, that's where his lumberyard and lumber mill was. And then on the side where the fire station is, those were where his grist mills were. Those were mills for flour, wheat, corn, that type of thing. And that stayed here for a period of time until the railroads came through, and then you could transport it for more efficiency than that process here. But the lumber mill--you almost always had to have some type of lumber mill, because it's wooded, people had to clear fields for farms and you had to have that, and people could build their houses. That's the first thing he did in 1824 is create this mill and a log cabin that he lived in. That's the origin of Dexter.

HD: So his name was Judge Dexter?

PC: Was actually Samuel Dexter. And he became the first judge of Washtenaw County. That's why he's famously just generically called Judge Dexter, because he was the first judge of Washtenaw County. He came the same year that John Allen came to start Ann Arbor. 1824, both of them.

HD: I think people mainly know John Allen for the creek.

PC: Right.

HD: I mean, if they know the name Allen at all then it's for Allen's Creek. So they knew each other, Judge Dexter and John Allen?

PC: Oh, they knew each other, and in fact they actually bought a newspaper together. They were very, very close friends.

HD: Really? What was the name of the newspaper that they had?

PC: The Western Immigrant, it was called. And they did not like the tenor of the news that was being published at that time. They were abolitionists and they didn't like what the fellow said, so they bought it. Judge Dexter was a strong abolitionist, and in fact, when he built his house up here in 1841, he built areas in it for the underground railroad. So that was a very important thing for him, that process.

He also started the railroad track which you can see right here. He was a very early proponent, back in the 1830's, of the intercontinental railroad. He was one of the first ones who ever published--actually wrote it down in black and white on a piece of paper--that there should be some day an intercontinental railroad that went from the East Coast to the West Coast. And so that was very important to him. When he had his home on Huron Street--just up by the cider mill there, is where his second home was. The log cabin was first, that was the second one. After he built that, he then donated the land for the first railroad, but it was so noisy that he couldn't stand it, he and his family, ...

HD: [laugh] [laugh]

PC: ... so they decided that he was going to build another one. And he built his other house in 1841 up here. The same year, July 4th in fact, was the first day that the railroad actually came through Dexter--July 4th, 1841.

HD: Wow, okay. So is there a Fourth of July parade here in Dexter?

PC: No, we don't have one. We have a Memorial Day parade, we have a big Dexter Day parade, for Dexter Days in the second week in August. But we don't have a 4th of July parade.

HD: So you're going to go to the one in Ann Arbor this year?

PC: No, I'm going to actually be out of town. This is, I think, the 3rd of July, and we are leaving the next day to go to Maryland.

HD: So you're leaving for Maryland! So you visiting family there, or?

PC: We're having my wife's family reunion. I'm excited about it because my grandchildren are coming in from around the country, as well as a lot of other relatives. We'll be there just about a week.

HD: Wow, so a whole week for a reunion!

PC: Actually, the reunion is to go on for four days and then we're going to be doing some other things there in the area just visiting. Play a little golf.

HD: So this sounds like it's going to be a major family reunion.

PC: We do about every 2-3 years.

HD: Over 100 people?

PC: About 50.

HD: That's plenty.

PC: Yeah, it's plenty.

HD: So at each of these family reunions, is there somebody that could be considered like the family patriarch or matriarch who runs things?

PC: Actually my sister-in-law, whose house is kind of centrally located, that's why we kind of chose this site this time, is the one who's hosting everything. Previously we've done it in Alabama and here, and one other time there in Maryland so it's kind of a cyclic thing.

HD: So whoever's hosting is the one who calls the shots?

PC: Is the one who kind of says, Okay let's have one and I'll put my house up for the sleeping portion. And we've got to eat there, and we also rent a few places, because we can't get everyone at the same place.

HD: So is there like a schedule of events?

PC: Actually there's not. The area that we're going is called Deep Creek. It's up along this finger of Maryland sort of slips under Pennsylvania and over West Virginia and there's a large lake there.

HD: Isn't there a canal that used to go through there?

PC: I don't know that, I've never seen a canal. But it's a very, very high recreation area. A lot of people from DC used to come up here to have their summer home and recreate there. When they retire they moved there. And there is a ski area there, too, so they like to ski, even though they are in their mid-70's. My brother-in-law has two other women who go skiing almost every morning. One of them drives the boat, and one is the watcher, and the other one skis, and then they alternate. It's kind of fun to see these 74, 75, 76-year-old people out skiing--almost every morning that's available during the summer they water ski.

HD: Wow, so that's just something they feel like they need to do?

PC: Yeah, they just do it, it's great. It's kind of neat for me. I have never been on skis in my life, but they love it.

HD: So do you ride in the boat at least?

PC: I have done that. They have also a pontoon boat that you can go around on the lake and do fishing and stuff like that.

HD: The other reason people from Ann Arbor might recognize your name is in connection with Gordon Hall. I haven't been following that closely, but did it hit some kind of a glitch recently?

PC: I wouldn't say a glitch. They're trying to raise money for the roof right now. And of course that's not one of the things we programmed in when we were raising this money. We really need to get a roof on there to protect the integrity of the house. It's around $45,000 that we need for this roof. So they're looking for donations and that type of thing. Just for the normal glitches that you have, you know. But it's going along as we expected. Raising money still to pay off the debt, that's part of the responsibility that we have.

HD: So has the University continued to be any kind of a partner at all with this, or did they just basically say, Okay we sold it to you, now were done with it?

PC: Yeah. That's one of those things that probably will stick in my craw for a long time. And I can say it, because I've told the Regents publicly that they didn't do the right thing. This was given to them in 1950, and then they proceeded to basically take Judge Dexter's house, and put it into four apartments. So the integrity of a historic home--which you would find in Ann Arbor you couldn't do because of the rules and regulations that they have in the historic districts there--they decided that this wasn't important here, and they put it into four apartments. Now in one sense they say, Well, we protected the house from destruction. But it was being renovated by Judge Dexter's granddaughter for protection anyway. So destruction wasn't the ultimate problem.

HD: So this was his third house, right?

PC: This was his third house.

HD: So the one he built, because he wanted to get away from the noise from the railroad?

PC: That is correct. That was actually designed by Millard Fillmore's brother, the president of the United States.

HD: Okay, so that Millard Fillmore.

PC: Yeah, that Millard Fillmore that nobody knows about anymore. Or recognizes him! [laugh] His brother was a builder and an architect and he built a number of homes, including that home there. Well-known, listed as one of the most impressive structures east of the Mississippi River. Because it was such a large mansion up on the hillside. And because of the importance of what Judge Dexter was.

A lot of people don't know, but he helped start the city of Byron in Michigan. He also gave a significant amount of land to Saginaw to start a court house, so he helped Saginaw get its start as well. He was a very, very popular person. He used to be a regent at the University of Michigan, a postmaster--he did everything.

HD: So just before you climbed on the teeter totter, you came from a Rotary club meeting, is that right?

PC: Yes.

HD: So what was on the agenda this morning?

PC: Well, we had a business meeting. The Rotary club is 10 years old, we just celebrated our 10-year anniversary. We're a small club, but we're now, I guess, the second largest club in the county, I didn't realize that. The one downtown in Ann Arbor is obviously the largest one, they have about 300 members. We have about 35. We are about 10 times smaller than they are.

HD: Growing up in my hometown of Columbus, Indiana ...

PC: ... outside of an Indianapolis ...

HD: ... right. So the Rotary club was known for their pancake breakfast. And they had a pancake machine. It was a rotating griddle, and it had a handle that controlled the hopper for the batter, so you had one guy who could just let the batter fly and it would make a perfect round circle, and as it rotated, the guy on the other side of it, would flip them, they'd go through again, and he'd flip them onto your plate. So that's my association with all Rotary clubs--do you guys have a pancake machine?

PC: We don't have a pancake machine. [laugh] No. Every Rotary club has a couple of projects for raising money. They donate the money, but they have projects to raise the money. And we have two of them. It's called Food, Art and Wine. We have an artist come in and display their wares and people can purchase them there or later on. We also have the food portion of it where we have a sit-down dinner. And then we have wine, which you can taste wine and then through the restaurants that we are associated with--this time it was at North Grill, the new restaurant here in Dexter ...

HD: ... so I passed it on the left as they came in, it's in the new building, the Monument ...

PC: ... the Monument Park building, yeah. And we have wine, which you can buy by the glass and taste, and then also purchase by the bottle for events that you want to have. So it's kind of a three-part process of raising money. And then the last part of it is an auction where we auction off items. And people in the Rotary they donate something, either a service or something of value, and then it's auctioned off.

This year was our most successful. We raised about $14,000 this year. And before we had never raised more than about $6500. So we were ecstatic this year. One of our members donated--I thought it was the most unique one item I'd heard of--to have dinner with the King of Sweden.

HD: No way.

PC: Because he knows the King of Sweden, because he's Swedish and he's one of the members who is active in the--I think he's a Consulate member for the State of Michigan. So he knows Governor Granholm real well.

HD: You are kidding me. The King of Sweden??

PC: Here is a unique part of it. When you got this bid, you actually had to go to a pre-dinner to learn how to eat with the King. So I guess you couldn't do something obscene like pick your nose, or your ear or something in front of the King and when he put his fork down you had to put your fork down. I heard that was part of it.

HD: [laugh]

PC: So I think somebody paid $1400 to have dinner with the King.

HD: So have they had dinner yet?

PC: They haven't had it yet. It's scheduled here for this fall.

HD: Oh, so he's coming over here?

PC: He's coming over here for a visit in United States, and while he's here they will have this dinner.

HD: So is he coming to Dexter??

PC: He's coming to outside of Dexter. It's actually Leonard Johansson is the fellow's name who donated it, and he lives south of I-94 there on Parker Road.

HD: You know, when I hear something like King of Sweden is coming to visit our area ...

PC: ... you want him to get on the teeter totter!

HD: Well, heck yeah.

PC: I'm not so sure the King knows what a teeter totter is. Or has ever been on one.

HD: I wonder what the Swedish word for 'teeter totter' is.

PC: It would be fun.

HD: Well, anyway that would be great if the King of Sweden climbed onto the teeter totter.

PC: I could introduce you to Leonard, you would be fascinated with him. But you better plan all day because nothing can stop him from talking once you get him started.

HD: Oh yeah?

PC: Oh he's amazing.

HD: My sense is you could give him a run for his money! [laugh]

PC: Well, maybe. I always had a goal of out-talking my students. So I wanted to be louder than they were, see?

HD: Well, listen, is there anything else you would make sure we cover here?

PC: Well, I'm just very excited after all the effort, not only mine, but there has been a lot of effort by a lot of people--the [Huron River] Watershed Council has been invaluable in helping with this process

HD: Yeah, I'm wearing their T-shirt!

PC: Yeah, you're wearing a T-shirt, I appreciate that. I didn't wear mine today, but I have one of those. Probably should've worn it, Margaret will be all over my back for not doing it. [laugh] But the fact of the matter is I'm very excited. To see the dam come out after being here in various forms since 1824, it's really exciting for me to see that process, and community planning in putting this area from a backdoor to a front door of a village with all the activities and so forth.

We're really excited about that, and looking forward to a lot of fun things to happen here.

HD: Well, congratulations on that.

PC: Well, thanks very much.

HD: So maybe like five years from now when the park is in place, maybe I'll bring the teeter totter back.

PC: I've always said, people kid me about it, that I won't be alive long enough to see the dam come out. But now I've seen that! So I think five years and now I think I'll see the park.

HD: I would recommend not putting teeter totters in the park--I want to have the only one.

PC: [laugh] That's good.

HD: Well, listen, thanks for riding.

PC: Well thank you, Dave, and congratulations on this here, it's a really cool idea.