No annals depicting the socio-economic growth of Macomb County and its environs would be complete without mention of Lehner Associates. Among the early translators of dreams for Macomb County’s future was Walter J. Lehner who in 1912 at the age of 23 trudged the length and breadth of the county, platting the highways and byways, hamlets and farm land that were to form the nucleus of future cities. In those days, the northern portion of the county was relatively pristine, with rutted dirt roads the only connecting arteries, first for buggies and wagons, then for the automobile.
As the first engineer for the Macomb County Road Commission, and later in private practice, Walter Lehner had a guiding hand in the development of sewer and water projects for the cities of East Detroit, Roseville, St. Clair Shores, Warren, Sterling Heights, the townships of Clinton and Shelby, and several other smaller communities. The projects formed the nucleus upon which the communities depended for growth and development of municipal services. From this network of sewers, drains and roads came the seeds of growth that brought Macomb County to the point it is today – the third largest populated county in the state of Michigan.
Walter Lehner’s contributions to the growth and development of the area include many noteworthy projects. In 1916-17, Mr. Lehner surveyed a section of property northeast of Mount Clemens which became the original land upon which Selfridge Field was built. In 1927, fifteen years after he began surveying in Macomb County, Charles Kettering, then head of research for the General Motors Corporation, contacted Mr. Lehner to complete some surveying near Milford, Michigan. From those plattings grew the Milford Proving Ground, the first such facility built by an automobile manufacturing firm to road test its automobiles and trucks under actual road conditions.
As the county grew and developed so did Lehner Associates, Inc. In 1946, Walter Lehner’s son, John, joined the firm as an engineer. The post-World War II boom was underway and hundreds of thousands of workers had migrated to the Detroit metropolitan area. A frenzy of growth ensued as Lehner Associates assisted in the development of residential and industrial subdivisions and complexes, in addition to many more commercial, office and multi-unit housing structures.
Under John Lehner’s leadership, Lehner Associates was contracted to do the original center line and route surveys for a stretch of road that would lead to a brand new beach park newly opening in 1951 on the shore of Lake St. Clair, just east of Mount Clemens – Metropolitan Beach – a year-round haven for fun-seekers. The thousands of motorists who drive to that park each year on the Metropolitan Beach Parkway (16 Mile Road), ride the route platted by Lehner Associates. Another first for the firm was the platting of land for the first condominium complex to be constructed in Macomb County. Lehner Associates was also called upon to assist in development across the state. The firm, as part of Michigan Engineers, designed some ten miles of I-96 near Grand Rapids, another ten miles of US-10 west of Midland and several bridges for I-75 and US-10 for the Michigan Department of Transportation.
After Walter Lehner’s death in 1969, the firm continued its contributions which, to name just a few, included designs for the Cass-Crocker bridge over the Clinton River in downtown Mount Clemens; a water storage and pumping station at 10 Mile Road and Harper in St. Clair Shores; for the city of Roseville, a storm water separator, sanitary sewer collection system for the north half of the city; the original water and sewerage system plus the sewage treatment plant for Clinton Township and later, the city of Sterling Heights.
The firm has evolved over the years to meet the many new challenges posed by modern-day society. Under the leadership of Lehner Associates’ current president, William Thompson, the firm continues to build on its long-standing service to the community founded by Walter J. Lehner over 100 years ago.
Walter J. Lehner