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Looking Back: Breaking Ground for the Southfield Civic Center

October 31, 2013

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From Ken Siver, City Historian

Mary E. Thompson was born in Southfield in 1871 and lived on her farm on Evergreen Road, north of 10 Mile Road, for much of her life. Exceptional for the times, Thompson earned a bachelor’s degree from Michigan Normal College (now Eastern Michigan University), a master’s from Columbia University and a doctorate from New York University. She taught at Beddows and McKinley schools in Southfield. 

In the 1950s, developers were buying up the remaining farms in Southfield at a rapid pace. Thompson refused to sell and continued working her land and tending her flock of sheep until her death in 1967. In 1959, she agreed to sell part of her farm to the newly formed city of Southfield for a civic center.  She sold 106 acres to the city for $4,500 an acre when the going rate was $10,000-plus an acre. 

In the photo, Miss Thompson brought her own shovel to the May 1963 groundbreaking ceremony, marking the start of construction of the Southfield Civic Center. Pictured with her is Mayor James Clarkson, members of the City Council and (right center) City Clerk Patrick Flannery.

Do you own a piece of Southfield or Lathrup Village history? Send us your historically significant photos from around town, and we may be able to feature them in an upcoming edition of Looking Back. Email your photos and information to or call (586) 279-1108.

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