Lucile Vincent: Mistress of Packard Proving Grounds

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

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. But, what do we know about Lucile?

We can surmise that it must have been a bit isolating to have moved out to the middle of what, during the late 1920s and early 1930s, would have been considered nowhere. 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 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 with Dr. Earl Merrit in Canada while her mother recovered. Dr. Merrit was said to be a relation of her mother and lived by a lake where Bobbie learned to swim.  Unfortunately, Bobbie fell into a water-hole and had to have water pumped out of her lungs. Dr. Merrit’s twin daughters, Phyllis and Patty, rescued her.

Lucile was only in her early forties when she became ill. 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 due to WWII and the tank testing that took over the grounds. While yet recovering, with her two eldest daughters already out of the house and her husband living most of the time in an apartment in Detroit, she and Roberta moved to their newly acquired farmhouse in Avoca, Michigan.

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 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.

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.

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

Stay tuned for more stories connected to our Packard Proving Grounds!