Lucile Vincent: Mistress of Packard Proving Grounds

Behind all of the noisy background of proving Packard vehicles on the track and trails was a family living “life” here. 

Lucile Vincent, wife of the PPG’s superintendent, Charles Vincent, was busy raising her three daughters within the beautiful lodge built by Albert Kahn. When the family moved to the Packard Proving Grounds in 1927 the area was quite rural and far from family and friends. 

It is noted that she followed her husband in a Packard vehicle to help create the winding rugged back trails upon the property. And we can probably guess that she may have done more for the Proving Grounds and the staff that worked here than what was documented.

A recent discussion with her daughter, Roberta (also known as Bobbie), revealed a fact that shed a whole new light upon the domestic history of this family at the Proving Grounds. 

Bobbie talked about taking over the cooking at the age of ten due to her mother’s poor health. 

Her mother suffered from mastoiditis, which infected her brain, when Bobbie was only seven years of age. Lucile was sent to Harper Hospital in Detroit for treatment where she was recorded as having the highest temperature ever recorded there at that time. 

Bobbie was sent to spend the summer at Dr. Earl Merritt’s summer home in Canada while her mother recovered. Dr. Merritt’s first wife, Jacqueline Blythe Blood Merritt, was related to Lucile’s father’s side of the family. He most likely looked after Lucile during her stay at Harper Hospital in Detroit as that is where he worked. Bobbie has fond memories of learning how to swim while staying with him.  Unfortunately, she also has the memory of falling into a water-hole. Thankfully, she was rescued by Dr. Merritt’s twin daughters, Phyllis and Patty, and had water pumped out of her lungs. 

Lucille Vincent louning in a lawn chair with a dog on her lap at the Packard Proving Grounds Historic Site
Photograph courtesy of Packard Proving Grounds Historical Site archives
Chocolate cake recipe from a vintage Baker's Chocolate ad in Life Magazine, 1941
Chocolate cake recipe from a vintage Baker's Chocolate ad in Life Magazine, 1941

Lucile was only in her early forties when she became so ill that she had to learn how to walk and talk again. She was still shaky on her feet when they had to move out of the Packard Proving Grounds in 1941. Packard moved out of the grounds when Chrysler Defense Engineering leased the grounds to test tanks and armored vehicles for the war effort.

Bobbie vividly remembers listening to FDR’s “Day of Infamy” speech while her father sat in the red leather chair next to the large Stromberg radio. She had the feeling that this would change her life. 

While yet recovering, Lucile and Bobbie moved to their newly acquired farmhouse in Avoca, Michigan. Bobbie was in the 6th grade at that time. Her two eldest daughters were already out of the house and her husband was living, most of the time, in an apartment in Detroit to work at the Packard factory on the Liberty engine. Lucile and Bobbie would live with him in the apartment during the winter months. 

At the age of ten, Bobbie helped with growing, preserving and cooking their food. She has no memories of her mother cooking after she became ill. 

I asked Bobbie if she had a special recipe that she liked to prepare. She spoke of the neighboring farm boys, Jack Packaberry(son of a Detroit Policeman who moved to a farm after retiring) and Bill Reid (who was noted as being clumsy) used to come over for her chocolate cake. Bobbie kept in touch with Bill and his wife for years. She lost touch with Jack after leaving the farm in 1949 to study nursing.

Perhaps she used this popular chocolate cake recipe from 1941!

Despite her illness, Lucile kept busy creating textiles. She was talented at crocheting and knitting. Proof of this can be found in Roberta’s room where her beautiful popcorn crocheted blanket is laid out upon the bed. Lucile added onto the blanket when they moved to Arizona so that it would fit their larger Queen-sized bed. Bobbie said it was the last thing that she made.

Roberta's room at the Packard Proving Grounds Lodge House with a popcorn-crocheted blanket
Roberta's room at the Packard Proving Grounds Lodge House with a popcorn-crocheted blanket

Lucille's Family Tree

Finding Lucile more and more interesting has encouraged me to dig deeper into her family tree. Lucile’s mother was Mary Blood Cookson. Her father, Lucile’s grandfather, was John Allen Blood, the brother of James Harvey Blood who was married to Victoria Woodhull; one of the most interesting women in American history. Victoria Clafin Woodhull was a women’s rights advocate, popular public speaker, a newspaper publisher who introduced Americans to the works of Karl Marx, and the first woman to operate a Wall Street brokerage firm. Most notably, despite not reaching the mandated age of 35 to serve as President, is also considered to have been the first woman candidate for the U.S. Presidency in 1872.

Victoria Woodhull, Women's Rights Advocate
Victoria Woodhull, Women's Rights Advocate
Col. James Harvey Blood
Col. James Harvey Blood

Photographs courtesy of Wikepedia

It’s interesting to note that, despite the then news sensation that her Great-Uncle and Victoria Woodhull were in their day, Bobbie said she never knew this part of her family history. She said that she only heard stories about her father’s side of the family and very little about her mother’s family.