By Darlene Hawley – If you grew up in Wayne, you are very familiar with the neighborhood called Norwayne. Chances are you had (and still have) family members and friends who were residents of that community. It was bounded by Glenwood and the Rouge River to the south, Palmer to the north, Wildwood on the west and Merriman on the east. Venoy, which runs north and south, bisects the community. Grand Traverse and Dorsey roads run east and west through Norwayne with streets and neighborhoods meandering off of them. The subdivision was in what was then Nankin Township. Some say that it was named Norwayne because it lies just north of Wayne.
In 1942, during the midst of World War ll, the National Housing Agency began building the Norwayne Subdivision in order to house workers employed by defense industry plants such as the Willow Run Bomber Plant. Others who qualified to live there were military personnel and some employees of Eloise. Those that occupied the Norwayne homes had to have incomes under a specific level. In 1944 the income cap was $2000 yearly for a family of two and an additional $200 for each child up to $2800 maximum. The families paid a monthly rent for their homes.
A Detroit architectural firm was hired to build the community and much of the work was completed in 1943 with additional work being carried out until 1947. Due to the war raging and the lack of supplies, the homes and buildings built were constructed with whatever materials could be found available. For this reason, items such as gutters were left off of the houses.
In all, 1,189 residential buildings were built which contained 1900 individual dwelling units. Some of the homes were two story duplexes with two or three bedrooms. Some were one and two bedroom row houses (quads), and some two and three bedroom single homes. The single homes had gable roofs and the rest had flat roofs. They were all painted a grey color. The builders also constructed a Community Center (later called the Dorsey Center) which was originally the management office for the subdivision. It was located on the southwest corner of Dorsey and Grand Traverse roads. One of the early government managers of the community, if not the first, was P.D. Graham who later became superintendent of schools in Wayne. A fire station for Norwayne was built directly behind the Dorsey Center and a Community Church was constructed on the southeast corner of Dorsey and Grand Traverse roads.
Two schools were built to service the children in the subdivision. Lincoln Elementary was on Grand Traverse west of Venoy and Jefferson – Barns was on Dorsey east of Venoy. (Later, the Wayne Westland School District bought the buildings and operated them until they were closed in 2008.) There were five vacant lots left by the builders which were acquired by the township in 1958. They were cleaned up and turned into parks with picnic pavilions and play equipment.
Some commercial buildings on Venoy Rd. were part of the original Norwayne development. These buildings housed a grocery store, dry cleaners, barber shop, beauty shop and, taxicab office on the ground floor. A dentist office and a physician’s office were on the second floor. A drugstore was added on later and a five and dime opened in a nearby building. All in all, the little community was self contained and a good place to live and raise a family. The people who lived there came from far and wide and all walks of life. It was a time of turmoil for our country and people in Norwayne banded together to form friendships with their neighbors and were ready to help each other in times of need. Many of those who grew up in this community are still living in surrounding towns and serving their communities in a variety of ways.
My memories of Norwayne in the 1940’s are of visiting aunts and uncles who lived there and playing with cousins who lived near Lincoln School where my grandfather was a custodian. During my high school years at Wayne Memorial I had many friends who lived in Norwayne.
I spoke with Mrs. Betty Dryer, a long time friend of our family and the community of Wayne. She shared memories with me of living in Norwayne from 1943 until 1945 with her husband Dr. Ken Dryer. At that time Dr. Dryer was in the military and assigned to practice medicine in the Norwayne Community. His office was on Venoy Rd. and they lived in a single family home. Often, people would come to their door and ask for help and medical advice. (Very few people had phones in their homes in those days and it wasn’t always easy to get to a payphone to call for help in an emergency.) Mrs. Dryer recalls a frantic neighbor knocking on their door to report his wife was having a baby. Dr. Dryer went to their aid and delivered the baby. It was 1943 and the very first baby to be born in Norwayne. (In those days an office call cost $2, a house call $3 and the delivery of a baby $35.) Mrs. Dryer talked about the wonderful people who lived in the community; doctors, engineers, pilots, servicemen, and hardworking people who helped with the war effort. In 1945 Dr. and Mrs. Dryer moved to Wayne where he opened an office and practiced medicine for many years while becoming a prominent member of the community.
After World War ll the federal government decided to sell the houses to individual residents with preferences given to veterans. In 1948, the township took over operation of the water and sewer services and in 1953, sales of individual homes began. Many were bought to rent and over the years some units deteriorated and had to be torn down. Many of the homes have been remodeled, added on to and updated. Many yards are beautifully kept and cared for. Today, there are people who have spent many years or most of their life in the Norwayne Community and have fond memories of the people and life long ago. Norwayne is a unique community with historic significance in our community, state and country.