A Visit to Old Town

In our continuing exploration of Michigan, today my husband and I visited Old Town in Lansing, Michigan.

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In 1825 a surveying crew stopped along the Grand River next to what is now Lansing and plotted land that would someday be called Old Town.  James Seymour and Jacob Cooley from New York purchased the land from the federal government eleven years later.

In 1843 John W Burchard purchased a portion of the land from James Seymour and built the first log cabin in North Lansing, later called Lower Town and now Old Town.  He also built a dam across the Grand River hoping to build a mill.  However, in 1844 he drowned while inspecting a break in the dam.  After his death James Seymour continued his plans and built the mill.

In 1847 Lansing became the capital of Michigan.  This brought commercial and industrial business along with new families to the area.  Franklin Street, now named Grand River Avenue, was the main thoroughfare with shops, churches, banks, a railroad station, manufacturing quickly springing up along the street.

As the area grew, there were three different areas comprising Lansing:  Upper Town, Middle Town and Lower Town.

It was here, in Old Town, that Ransom Eli Olds founded the car company that became the first assembly line producer of automobiles in the world (Oldsmobile).  Although Henry Ford is credited often with that distinction, Olds was the first to actually build cars in an assembly line.  Henry Ford, of course, took that idea and made it a successful part of his company.

For many years Old Town saw prosperity and the growth of a large middle-class.  However, as the car manufacturing industry moved to Detroit, Old Town began to become a shell of what it once had been.

Neglected as the middle class fled to the suburbs or other parts of Lansing, buildings were boarded up, with some burned down.

A few years ago some residents of Lansing felt that this part of the city could be revitalized.  A Main Street program was established in 1996, This part of the city is such a treat.  Full of great restaurants, stores, art galleries, my husband and I spent over two hours just walking around and taking in the scene.

Today was a great day to visit as they were celebrating “Chalk of the Town.”  Artists began creating masterpieces on an assigned area of the sidewalk at 9 a.m.  They could use only chalk.  All creations were to be completed by 2 p.m. and winners would be announced by 3 p.m.

We only got a few pictures of the many who were busy at work all morning.

 

Sadly a thunderstorm rolled in about 1 p.m.  We quickly jumped in our car and barely missed getting soaked by the heavy rainfall.  I’m not sure what they did about judging the art.  When we parked early in the morning one man was just beginning his work.  Coming back to our car he was just finishing his work and putting his chalk supplies up when the rain came.  He took a picture of his work.

I felt sorry for him – after working all day to see your work washed away so quickly.

But we enjoyed the day.  Cut short because of the rain, we will definitely be going back soon to Old Town.  If you live near Lansing, I strongly recommend you spend a day there soon.

Welkom to Tulip Time

My husband and I recently visited Holland Michigan on our first trip checking out the lighthouses in Michigan.

While we enjoyed seeing “Big Red” the real treat was enjoying all the beautiful tulips around town.  The weekend before had been their annual Tulip Time Festival.  For almost 90 years this annual event has featured over 5 million tulips blooming everywhere you look in the city.  Tulip Time has been given many different  accolades including being named the nation’s Best Flower Festival, America’s Best Small Town Festival and the 2017-2018 Tulip Festival of the Year.

We waited until the weekend after the festival to avoid all the crowds but still catch the tulips while in bloom.  We were not disappointed.

Over the years millions of people have gathered to enjoy this display of beauty.  There is also much to celebrate of the Dutch heritage with traditional garb and dance, watching the artists create wooden shoes from a block of wood and the beautiful  blue Delft dishware.

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We visited Nelis’ Dutch Village, a perfect place for families.  Along with the thousands of tulips, there were kid-friendly rides, an ice cream shop and Dutch dancers performing every half hour.  After watching the Klompen Dancers, families could stay and learn some of the Dutch dance steps themselves.

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If you go, you must get some of their fudge.  So delicious!

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Our second stop was Windmill Island Gardens.  Situated on the edge of downtown Holland, the gardens have the only working Dutch windmill in the USA.  Named “De Zwaan” (the Swan) this windmill was brought over from the Netherlands in 1964.

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Tours are given of the working windmill and you can purchase flour and other grain products.  The windmill is 125 feet tall from the ground to the top of the blades and they say the view from the fourth floor is spectacular.  I would have loved to climb to the top but with my arthritic knees, I chose to remain on the ground.  I can only imagine what the view from the top must be looking down on all the thousands of tulips.

We loved seeing the workers in their native Dutch costumes.

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The gardens also had so many beautiful flowering trees and canals.  My husband and I walked and snapped pictures until we had to stop because my legs were swollen from all the walking.  Coming home, I had to use pain meds and ice to get relief, but for all the beauty of God’s creation, it was well worth it.

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Reflecting back on all the beauty, I was reminded of how awesome a creator God is.  He could have made one flower, but he made such a multitude of different flowers and trees.  He could have made tulips all red, but look at what he created – just for us to enjoy.

If you ever wonder to Michigan in the spring, you must check out Holland Michigan.

Besides the beauty of the flowers and trees, the downtown area has so many neat shops and coffee bars.  Throughout the downtown area you will find many statues.

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Beautiful classical and marching tunes were playing at this statute

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Missed the flag in this picture but a great statute showing honor to our flag

Tulip time in Holland Michigan will be one of my favorite road trip memories.

Big Red – Most Photographed Lighthouse in Michigan

When my husband and I moved to Michigan last fall I was fascinated by the many lighthouses that are in the state.  In a blog I wrote then I said I was looking forward to spring/summer when we could begin exploring these lighthouses.

Michigan’s Lighthouses

Well – that time has come.

This past weekend we visited the most photographed lighthouse in the state – Big Red.   Located at the entrance of a channel that connects Lake Michigan with Lake Macatawa.   I was surprised at how small it actually was.  Thinking of lighthouses as being very tall, this one looked more like a big barn with a tower for the light.

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The lighthouse has a great history.   The area was settled by the Dutch in 1847 on the shore of Lake Macatawa.  Led by Rev. Albertus C Van Raalte a band of Hollanders founded the city of Holland.

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When they settled here they realized they needed access to Lake Michigan from Black Lake (now called Macatawa) to help their community grow and flourish.  The entrance to the lake from Lake Michigan was blocked with sandbars and silt.

After petitioning the government for help but getting none, the citizens took matters into their own hands and cut a channel that was deep enough for barges to use.  Finally, in 1866, Congress made an appropriation for work on the harbor taking over improvement of the harbor in 1867.

The government gave funds of $4,000 in 1870 to build the first lighthouse.  A small, square structure on top was a lantern deck with a ten-window lantern room.  The lighthouse keeper lived on the shore near the lighthouse and would carry his lighted oil lamp along a catwalk where he would place the lamp under a lens or magnifying device.  He would use a 18 inch fish horn to warn incoming boats when the fog hide

 

When fog lay on the lake, as it so often did, a light signal was useless. It was obvious that a fog signal, stronger than a fish horn, must be incorporated. In 1907, a steam operated fog signal was installed. A building was made for the fog signal.  This building and the lighthouse stood next to each other until 1936 when the Coast Guard combined the two structures by placing a light tower on top of the building for the fog signal.

The two buildings were painted pale yellow with a deep maroon base.  In 1956, to satisfy a Coast Guard requirement that a structure or light on the right side of any harbor entrance must be red, it was sandlasted and planted the bright red that gives it the title now of Big Red.

Marking the end for the need of lighthouse keepers, the light was electrifid in 1934 and in 1936 air powered horns using electricity were installed.

Since the lighthouse no longer was needed the Coast Guard declared it to be surplus.  A petition and letter writing campaign to save the lighthouse began.  The Holland Harbor Lighthouse Historical Commission was organized and this group gave it the name of “Big Red” to create more awareness in its effort to save the lighthouse.

 

 

 

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View of Big Red from the adjoining beach

 

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View of Lake Michigan from the beach by Big Red

Sojourner Truth – Ain’t I a Woman?

When we first moved to Michigan I was intrigued to find there were many areas in the state where there had been  Underground Railroad activity before the Civil War..  Located close to Canada, Battle Creek was one of the main stops for slaves traveling by foot through Indiana, Detroit and then Canada.

One of the most famous former slaves who became a strong abolitionist and champion of human rights was Sojourner Truth.  She lived in Battle Creek for the last 26 years of her life.  Born in New York State in 1797 and named Isabella, she escaped slavery while in her mid-thirties.

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Promised by her owner, Dumont, he would grant her freedom “if she would do well and be faithful,” she worked for him fulfilling the time he had specified.  When the date came for her freedom,  he refused to let her go.  Feeling she had kept her end of the bargain, she took her infant daughter and escaped.  Later talking about that decision to leave she said, “I did not run off, for I thought that wicked, but I walked off, believing that to be all right.”  It must have been a tough decision because she left her older children behind as they were still legally considered property of Dumont.

The New York Anti-Slavery Law passed in 1799 stipulated that children born to slave mothers were free.  They were required to work for the mother’s master as indentured servnts into their late twenties but then be free.  Dumont ignored that law and sold Isabella’s five-year-old son.  She filed a lawsuit to get him back and was the first black woman to sue a white man in a United States court and win.

After excaping slavery she became a Christian.  In 1843 she changed her name to Sojourner Truth.  She felt she had an obligation to travel and speak out against slavery and oppression while sharing the news of the Gospel.

Asked to speak at the Ohio Women’s Rights Convetnion in 1851 she spoke out about black women’s rights.  Reporters took down her speech and it has been widely publicized as ‘Ain’t I a Woman?”

Well, children, where there is so much racket there must be something out of kilter.  I think  that ‘twixt the Negroes of the South and the women at the North, all talking about rights, the white men will be in a fix pretty soon.  But what’s all this here talking about?

That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain’t I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain’t I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man – when I could get it – and bear the lash as well! And ain’t I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain’t I a woman?

Then they talk about this thing in the head; what’s this they call it? [member of audience whispers, “intellect”] That’s it, honey. What’s that got to do with women’s rights or negroes’ rights? If my cup won’t hold but a pint, and yours holds a quart, wouldn’t you be mean not to let me have my little half measure full?

Then that little man in black there, he says women can’t have as much rights as men, ’cause Christ wasn’t a woman! Where did your Christ come from? Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him.

If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back , and get it right side up again! And now they is asking to do it, the men better let them.

Obliged to you for hearing me, and now old Sojourner ain’t got nothing more to say

During the Civil War she helped recruit black soldiers.  Working for the National Freedman’s Relief in DC she encouraged people to donate food, clothes and other supplies to the black slaves escaping from the South.  This bought her to the attention of President Abraham Lincoln who welcomed her to the White House and showed her a Bible he had been given by African Americans in Baltimore.  She was bold enough to ride on whites-only streetcars while in DC.

She spoke to fellow Christians when she asked:  “Children, who made your skin white? Was it not God? Who made mine black? Was it not the same God? Am I to blame, therefore, because my skin is black? …. Does not God love colored children as well as white children? And did not the same Savior die to save the one as well as the other?”

She visited more than 20 states speaking against the evil of slavery.  While speaking to a Quaker group in Battle Creek in 1856, she felt so welcome in this community that she moved here the following year.  At first she lived in a small settlement west of town called Harmonia, moving into Battle Creek in 1867 where she lived until her death in 1883.

Today there is a statute celebrating her in downtown Battle Creek.

 

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Because it was illegal to teach slaves, she never learned to read or write. This is the only known example of her signature which she wrote in an autograph book of a high school student in April 28, 1880.

She is buried in Oak Hill Cemetery in Battle Creek as well as some of her children.

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You can learn more about this courageous woman in “The Narrative of Sojourner Truth which she dictated to Olive Gilbert.

Fort Custer National Cemetery

My husband and I visited the Fort Custer National Cemetery today.  We were impressed by the entrance to the cemetery.  All along the main road were rows and rows of flags.

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This Avenue of Flags was dedicated May 26, 1986. It is composed of 152 flagpoles located along the main road, and an additional 50 flagpoles arranged in a semi-circle at the head of the thoroughfare.  These flags are displayed from Easter through Veterans Day with 50 flags from the 50 different states are flown on special occasions.

Named after General George Armstrong Custer, a native of the state of Michigan, Camp Custer was built in 1917.  In response to mobilization for World War I 2,000 buildings were built to accommodate some 36,000 men.  After the end of the war, the camp was  transferred to the Veterans Bureau.  The Battle Creek Veterans Hospital was completed in 1924.

In 1943 Fort Custer Post Cemetery was established with the first burial.  Army rules at that time required officers and enlisted men to be buried in separate sections.  Today you will find Section A filled with graves of enlisted servicemen and in Section O the graves of officers.  Today there is no separation.

During World War II more than 5,000 German prisoners of war were held at the Fort.  The POW’s were used to supply farm labor because of a shortage of workers due to the war.  After the Germans departed back to their country, 26 Germans were left behind, buried in the Fort cemetery.  Sixteen were killed in a car accident and the others died from natural causes.

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Every year on Volkstrauertag, which occurs in November, the cemetery hosts a ceremony of remembrance for these 26 German soldiers.  Volkstrauertag is a day of mourning for Germans and honors their war veterans.

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The National Cemeteries Act of 1973 transferred the cemeteries from the Department of Army to the National Cemetery System, part of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

In accordance with this Act, Congress created Fort Custer National Cemetery in September 1981.  The Fort Customer Military Reservation and the VA Medical Center all donated land for the cemetery.

We found the arrangement of the graves here different from any other national cemetery we have visited.  Instead of long row after row of white tombstones stretching out one after another, this cemetery is filled with areas of trees with sections of graves in between these groups of trees.  With the tombstones flat with the ground, it was almost like driving through a park with areas of trees and then open beautiful green grass areas.

A place of history, a place of honor, a beautiful place.

 

Am I a Michigander, a Michiganian, a Michigander, a Michiganite, Michiganese, or a Michigine?

Well now I guess it is official.  As of April 8, 2019 I have become a Michigander.

Six months ago my husband and I moved from northern Illinois to St Johns, Michigan – just about 20 miles north of the state capital of Lansing.  Never in our wildest dreams did we think we would spend the last years of our life in Michigan.

Both of us were born and raised in Illinois.  My husband was in the USAF for 20 years so he spent much of his early adult life out of the state.  However, upon his retirement he returned to what was home.

I spent a couple of years out-of-state also but most of my 71 years has been spent in Illinois.

Illinois

  • corn fields
  • Abraham Lincoln
  • boyhood home of Ronald Reagan
  • Chicago Cubs
  • Major winter storms, deadly tornadoes and spectacular heat and cold waves.
  • The worst state in the union for financial stability

Last October we moved to Michigan and rented a small house.  We were not sure we would like St Johns and did not want to make a commitment until we determined whether we liked it or not.  We followed our daughter and her family here and said we would give it a year’s trial.

After six months we like Michigan, we discovered we like Michigan.

Michigan

  • The Mackinac Bridge – one of the longest suspension bridges in the world
  • Battle Creek – cereal capital of the world
  • lighthouses
  • Great Lakes
  • Motown Records
  • apples

So we purchased a condo and on April 8 – my birthday – we signed the closing documents.

All this week we have been packing boxes and moving the smaller items.  Since we moved only a mile away we were able to actually hang up pictures and put up curtains.  Today family and friends helped us move the heavy furniture.

So now here we are – officially Michigander or Michiganian or whatever!