From Race Track to POW Camp and Back

Just a few miles from my home is a sign that says “P.O.W. Camp Owosso.” The sign is outside of a oval track for car and motorcycle racing.

Being new to this area, this sign caught my interest and I decided to do some research on the camp. Here is what I found.

During World War II, over 6,000 prisoners were housed in Prisoner of War (POW) camps in Michigan. While approximately 1000 were held in the Upper Peninsula, most were housed in the Lower Peninsula. Many camps were held at former Civilian Conservation Corps barracks that were no longer in use.

In Owosso, this racetrack that was not in use because of the war was chosen for a prison camp. Reports of exactly how many prisoners were held here vary between 350 and 1000. After the war the Germans were returned to their home and the administrative records were deposed of in the 1950s.

The men were housed six to a tent and the area was surrounded by a fence. In the winter time they were moved to the barracks at Fort Custer.

(picture thanks to Dominic Adams | dadams5@mlive.com)

Due to the draft, the U.S. had a huge labor shortage. The government allowed POWs to be used for labor in nearby farms or businesses. W.R. Roach Canning Company was the principal contractor with the government for prison labor. But many also worked on local farms. The prisoners were paid for their labor with 80 cents per day going to them and the rest of the wage going to the federal government to maintain the camp. The 80 cents was given in canteen checks which could be used for cigarettes, candy and other personal items not provided by the government. Most worked for six days per week at 8 to 10 hour days. While the men did not have to work outside the camp, most preferred that to staying in the camp as there was a little more freedom and most farm families would feed them lunch. The government provided a couple of slices of bread and a piece of meat or cheese for lunch, but the families felt this was not adequate for manual labor and many allowed them to eat the noon meal with their family. This led to friendships between the farm families and the POWs and they remained friends after the war ended.

(National Archives picture “German Prisoners of War at a camp near Owasso, Michigan, being paid with canteen checks by Camp Commander Captain Ohrt.” Dated 8/8/44 – photo by Sgt. S.L. Hertel.)

Reports from that time indicate that the men were well behaved and there was little attempt to escape. But then where would they go? Thousands of miles from home over an ocean and with their German accent, they would quickly have been captured.

However, at Camp Owosso there was an escape attempt that included two local girls. In July, 1944 two local girls helped two men escape from the Canning Compay where they were working. They spent the night in the woods before being captured by authorities.

The girls probably did not realize the consequences of their actions. Found guilty of conspiracy, Kitty Case received one year and three months and Shielry Druce was sentenced to one year and a day.

The girls’ motive for helping the men was not given but one of the girls testified that she was in love with one of the men. This attempted escape brought lots of new attention to the local county. You can read a novel based on this story. Cottonwood Summer by Gary Slaughter.

The prisoners were also heroes to one family. Eva Worthington had just come home for giving birth to her tenth child when her house caught on fire. Her husband, superintendent of the Roach Canning Factory, was at work. Several prisoners saw the fire, hurried in and wrapped Mrs. Worthington in a mattress and carried her to safety.

When the war ended the men were returned to their homes, but some came back and settled in the US, at least one man marrying an American young lady he had met while working outside the camp.

Today the racetrack once again welcomes family and racers to enjoy the sport. Owosso Speedway is one of the premiere short tracks in the state of Michigan featuring constant side by side action and fun for the whole family.

Want to Live in a Lighthouse?

Have you ever wondered what it was like to live in a lighthouse? Well – in Michigan you can have the chance to experience life as a lighthouse keeper.

Interested?

Mission Point Lighthouse is located at the end of M-37 where the road ends at West Grand Traverse Bay.

The drive along the peninsula is a beautiful one with cherry trees blooming in the spring and vineyards all along the route. Ten wineries make up the wine trail. You can take a few hours or an entire day and enjoy tasting the different wines and enjoying the beautiful views from the vineyards. This drive was listed as one of ten beautiful coastal drives in North America by USA Today.

When a large ship during the 1860’s hit a shallow reef and sank just in front of where the lighthouse now sits, Congress authorized $6,000 to construct the lighthouse. Construction was delayed until 1870 because of the Civil War. From 1870 through 1933, Mission Point’s light kept the waters at the end of Old Mission Peninsula safe for mariners. Decommissioned in 1933 it was replaced with an automatic buoy light just offshore. Today the lighthouse is open to give visitors a look at what life was like for lighthouse keepers who lived around the turn of the century.

There are beautiful views of the Bay and trails through the trees surrounding the lighthouse.

Over the years seven different keepers lived in this house. One keeper, Captain John Lane, worked with his wife, Sarah. Upon his death, she continued to serve at the lighthouse for a few more months being the first and only female keeper in the lighthouse’s history. .

Because of the beautiful beach and surrounding forest with trails, by the turn of the century, visitors began coming. A fence was erected to protect the lighthouse and a wooden walkway was added so visitors could easily access the each and get a good look at the front of the lighthouse.

It is interesting that the lighthouse sits on the 45th parallel or halfway between the North Pole and the Equator.

The lighthouse offers a chance to actually experience life as a lighthouse keeper. You can stay in the lighthouse for a week or more. During that time you will work in the gift shop where you can meet and talk to visitors who come from all over the world.

The quarters is equipped with kitchen appliances, dishes, cooking utensils, small appliances and a washer and dryer. They also provide free WIFI, cable service and central air conditioning. You will be expected to bring your own bed sheets, pillows, blankets, towels and food. There are two single beds and a sleeper sofa in the living room.

You will need to be able to limb the 37 steps to the tower where you will need to clean the windows, sweep stairs and vacuum daily.

Training will be given upon arrival. While you will be busy at the lighthouse during the day you will have plenty of time to explore Traverse City and the surrounding area each day after 5 pm and on the one day off allowed during each week’s stay. However, you will be expected to spend each night in the lighthouse.

There is a great demand for this opportunity as many who have tried the program come back each year.

Sound interesting? Check out this link to the lighthouse keeper application.

Old Mission Peninsula – A Vision of Cherry Blossoms!

With the easing of restrictions in our state and since we have received both doses of the vaccine for Covid, we took a trip north to Traverse City, Michigan. Grand Traverse Bay created by the glaciers is a beautiful bay 32 miles long and 10 miles wide. In the middle of this bay the glaciers left a 19-mile long peninsula. This area is filled with beautiful small hills and rich, fertile soil. The moderate climate is ideal for farming.

Long before the white man came this peninsula was the home of the Ottawa and Chippewa Indians. There they raised corn, pumpkins, beans and potatoes. They also had planted apple trees.

In 1836 the tribes made a treaty with the USA in which they surrendered much of their land in this area. In return the USA agreed to provide the Indians with missions, schools, and Indian reservations.

The Presbyterian Church sent Reverend Peter Dougherty to the region in 1839 and he established a church and a school for the tribes still living there. The federal government paid the Presbyterian Mission Board $3,000 to maintain the mission. In 1842 he built his home which is believed to be the first frame home north of Grand Rapids in Michigan.

This is a replica of the original mission church. Originally built directly on the Bay it was moved up a hill to be safer from the water.

Solon Rushmore bought the home from Dougherty in 1861. For approximately 100 years it remained in the Rushmore family and was at one point turned into an inn.

Over the next ten years more and more European settlers came to the peninsula. In 1852, Dougherty and the tribes decided to move across the West Grand Traverse Bay to an existing Native American village. Situated on Leelanau Peninsula, this became the modern city of Omena. Calling this place “New Mission” the community they left became “Old Mission.”

During his time there Dougherty planted cherry trees. It quickly became clear that this was an ideal place for the orchards and cherry trees began to be planted all over the peninsula and the surrounding area. Lake Michigan moderates the Arctic winds in the winter and cools the orchards in the summer.

Today the whole area – both the Old Mission Pennisula and the Leelanau Peninsula are beautiful every spring as the many cherry trees produce their beautiful blooms.

In July Traverse City hosts a Cherry Festival. The population is just over 15,000 but during the Festival the city greets over 500,000 visitors from around the world.

While we would avoid the city in July (too many people for this old couple) visiting it in May when the trees began to bloom was a trip worth taking.

Christmas in a Small Town

Merry Christmas from St Johns Michigan. This is a view of our main street downtown all decorated for Christmas.

This small town has so much to offer year round but it is especially beautiful this time of year.

The stores down town have a decorating contest. So many unique shops.

There is the Adorn Mint Gift Shop. You can find all kinds of stocking stuffers here like earrings, candles, and the one I love is an beautiful glass etched with the state of Michigan outline.

And if you love candles (who doesn’t this time of year), you have to shop at the Kymora Kandles Outlet. I love this beautiful gift box loaded with candles.

But there is more than just candles here. Beautiful purses along with dozens of other gifts.

The Mint Door Boutique has many one of a kind clothing and a nice line of shoes to choose from.

If all that shopping (and there are many more stores to choose from) makes you hungry, stop and grab a cupcake from Cupcakes and Kisses St Johns. All the delicious items in this bakery are made from scratch with real butter, sugar and eggs.

And for your chocolate lovers, you must make a stop at Oh Mi Organics. The store carries 180+ flavors and its chocolate is all gluten, dairy, peanut free. They even have vegan options. I can verify that their chocolate is beyond description. This is one store I always take my visitors to and buy them some chocolate.

One of my favorite places to stop and relax while shopping is the Global Coffee Shop. The shop has a map of the world. The owner encourages us to think about where our coffee comes from – what’s in a cup of coffee, how it got there, and why it tastes the way it does. She says “Here, everything about the coffee matters – from the people, the origin, the elevation of the farm, and the processing, all the way to the meticulous brew.” I love to sit in the corner of the shop and sip my coffee while watching the people walk by.

Another very special treasure in this small town is the Art and Soul Art Gallery. Sponsored by the Clinton County Arts, this store promotes, encourages and supports the artist in Clinton County, Michigan. While you would expect an art gallery to sell beautiful paintings, the art here includes much more than that. You can find pottery, jewelry, scarfs, quilts, books as well as many beautiful paintings. My own husband has some of his paintings there.

You can end your day by enjoying a good meal. There is Main Street Cafe, Domino’s Pizza, Main Street Pizza and our latest addition, St Johns Brewing Company.

We may be a small town, but there is no need to fight the large crowds at the malls or in the larger cities. Just visit my small town. You will love it!

Chalk Art, Live Music, Small Town on a Friday Night

Every year the small town where I live has a Chalk Art Event.  Local business owners sponsor an artist who designs a chalk drawing on the sidewalk in front of their stores. The small downtown turns into a great combination of chalk art, live music, food vendors and community engagement.  It’s a great way to enjoy a Friday evening meeting friends, grabbing a coffee, food from one of the street venues or stopping in the local cafe.

Artists come early in the day and make their design.  

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That evening a map is provided with a list of all the drawings with the artists and the business that sponsors their work.  Everyone is encouraged to vote for their favorite three entries and the top three with the most votes will receive a prize.

Who would you vote for?

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My husband who is an artist and participates in some of the art events around the community had to pass on this one.  His arthritic knees would never let him get back up if he sat down on the sidewalk to draw.  But we both enjoyed the evening sharing with friends and neighbors the beautiful Friday evening in our small town.  

 

 

Exploring Southern Michigan

Almost two years ago my husband and I moved to Michigan.  Situated close to the middle of the “mitten” we have spent the last two years exploring this beautiful state.  We have fallen in love with the many small towns around the state that are full of arts and crafts, charming down towns that have preserved the older buildings and, of course, the many towns built by Lake Michigan with their beautiful beaches and historical lighthouses.  While it would be hard to pick one town over the other, I must confess I especially loved Holland during the tulip festival and Frankfort was probably my favorite.

Some of our trips started out with a particular town in mind but most of the trips we just got in the car and headed north – east – west.  Getting off the interstates and taking side roads led us to discover many lovely towns and beautiful scenes that we would have missed if we had stayed with the main road.

Yesterday we decided to head in a direction we had not taken – south.  Heading south we discovered the area looked more like our home in Illinois.  More corn fields, more open areas with fewer trees.  The majority of trees were – like back home – deciduous.  While there were evergreen trees they were in the minority.

It was nice to get the sense of being back home, but I must confess in my opinion the southern part of Michigan does not begin to compare with the beauty up north.

However, we did discover two interesting towns.

  • Jackson Michigan

The town of Jackson claims to be the birthplace of the Republican party.  (I have found other towns making that claim.)  There is a plaque commemorating a meeting held in 1854 that Jackson claims was the start of the party led by anti-slavery men.  oaks

 

 

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Jackson also lays claim to having the first prison in Michigan.  Today the old prison area has been turned into the Armory Art’s Village.  Situated behind a 25-foot stone wall, these apartments are home to emerging artists and musicians.

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They give tours of the old prison site, but due to the virus restrictions we were not able to take the tour.  Something to put on our bucket list for later.

Jackson also has several buildings/areas that were part of the underground railroad – but again because of the virus we were not able to visit them.  Add that to the bucket list.

  • From Jackson we headed west to Hillsdale.

Hillsdale College sits in the heart of the city.  The school was established by Free Will Baptists as Central Michigan College at Spring Arbor in 1844.  In 1853 it moved to Hillsdale and changed its name.  It was the first American college whose charter prohibited discrimination based on race, religion or sex.  Hillsdale was the second college in the nation to grant four-year liberal arts degrees to women.

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The college was very active in the fight to end slavery with more students enlisting to fight for the Union than any other western college.  More than 400 students fought for the Union and sixty gave their lives.  Four students earned the Congressional Medal of Honor, three became generals and many served as regimental commanders.  In honor of that heritage the college had a statute of an Union soldier on its campus as well as Frederick Douglas.

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We also saw statues of Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan.

Leaving Hillsdale we headed back home.  While I must confess my trip south was not as beautiful as the trips we have taken north, still it was good to have discovered more about our adopted state, Michigan.

I vote that our next road trip takes us back north!

 

 

 

 

 

Enjoying Retirement – My Husband the Artist

When my husband and I married years ago he told me he used to paint.  However, he only had one painting to show me.  It was one he had given to his oldest daughter.  I found it interesting because if you looked at one way it appears the people were walking forward side by side; viewed at a different angle it appears they are walking to the left – or is it to the right?

 

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Over the years he had given all his other paintings away.  I tried to encourage him to take up painting again.  One evening he sat down and starting painting.  I loved the finished product.

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My camera does not do the painting justice.  In the trees above there is a small cabin but my camera does not pick that up.

He did not continue painting because being a pastor and a family man his time for painting was limited.  Also we had no area where he could really set up his paints and work at his leisure until a painting was done.

While he did not paint, his love of art was clearly seen in our home.  We often visited art galleries and art shows and he collected quite a few beautiful paintings.

Thankfully, retirement has arrived.  Now he has the time to devote to this love of art.  He also now has a place of his own where he can set up his paints and canvasses and work without the need to set up and put away his work each day.

Last spring we were fortunate enough to buy a condo.  The basement was unfinished and he quickly went to work to make a studio for his art.

He loves to paint the sea with the beautiful sky above.  In our new home state of  Michigan he has plenty of sites to inspire him.  Michigan also has so many small towns with great art galleries and we have loved exploring them.

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Making road trips, he also finds inspiration.  Driving through South Dakota with the treeless view inspired this painting.

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A trip to South Carolina led to these two paintings.

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One of my favorites is Storm at Sea.  You can see the rain coming out of the dark storm clouds.  Looking at the ocean it invites me to wade into the waves as they rush to the shore.

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He recently has a display of his work at the local art gallery featuring his series based on the Creation story in Genesis 1.

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Of that series my favorite is the first one where he tried to imagine Genesis 1:1  How do you capture the Spirit of God hovering over the waters?  To him, it was the darkness with the flame of fire since God’s spirit is often depicted as fire in the Bible.

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While he is no Rembrandt, I am so glad that he finally has a place of his own to enjoy expressing himself in his paintings.  He even set up a page on  Facebook – PWL Art Gallery.

He has worked hard all his life and as he approaches his 80th birthday, I’m thankful he has time to devote to his love of art.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Southern Victorian Houses in Michigan!

On our last road trip of 2019 we headed to the top of the lower peninsula of Michigan to see the beautiful fall trees.

Just outside Traverse City we came across a beautiful little community with huge Victorian houses.  They were so picturesque we had to take time to drive through the community.  From the look of the houses I thought I was back in Charleston, South Carolina.  All the homes have large porches – and not just one porch.  These two-and three stories houses had porches on the second and third level.  I am a lover of porches and could not stop taking pictures of all the homes with these porches just inviting me to stop and sit awhile.

 

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Driving through the streets and snapping pictures it appeared a lot of the homes were closed for the season.  The porches on many of the homes had heavy plastic covering the front.  Since the community sits directly across from the Little Traverse Bay I can only imagine the cold and snow they must get in the winter.

Fascinated by the community I did some research on my return home and discovered this community’s history goes back to the late 1800’s when it was founded by Michigan Methodists “for scientific and intellectual culture, and for the promotion of the Christian religion and morality.”

It began in 1875 as a camp-meeting where families would gather in the summer, pitch tents and enjoy revival services.  The first building erected on the grounds was the preaching stand.  Today it serves as the Bay View Historical Museum.  We saw the museum but it was closed for the season.  Slowly the area was developed with streets, parks and public area and simple cottages were built.  As time passed, the simple cottages became these beautiful Victorian homes.  At the same time the members of the Association organized a summer university, a home study program enrolling men and women across the nation, and became part of the Chautauqua movement.

In 1987 the National Park Service designated the Bay View area as an National Historic Landmark.

Associated with the Methodist Church it claims to be open to anyone and today has speakers from different denominations during its summer program.  The summer programs look very interesting and along with the speakers and musical events the Little Traverse Bay is just across the road with its beaches and beautiful sunsets.

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Disappointed that the area was basically closed for the season, we will definitely check it out come summer.  They have a beautiful inn, The Terrace Inn, built in 1910 that is now a Michigan Historical Landmark.   Their summer program runs from May through November.

This winter when we are hibernating from the snow and cold, we will make plans for a visit to this beautiful community where just maybe someone will invite me to sit on their porch.

 

Bier Art Gallery

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On our recent trip north to the tip of the mitten to see the beautiful fall trees, we also found some great art galleries.  Just south of Charlevoix is the Bier Art Gallery housed in a beautifully restored school house.  The gallery is owned by Ray and Tami Bier.  The Biers were both artists when they met and after marriage they began selling their stoneware pottery.  As time passed and they met many other artists they decided to purchase a place to showcase not only their art, but that of the many friends they had made through the years.

They purchased an old school house and turned it into the beautiful gallery it is today.

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Among the many different galleries in the school house is the pottery gallery which features the Bier’s art.  So many beautiful artifacts.  Since we have downsized this past year I had to just look but not buy.  It was so tempting though to purchase something.

The sculpture gallery was such a fun place.  So many different characters and ideas!

 

Beautiful pieces in the glass gallery – but I was afraid to even touch them lest I break one.

Many of the works in the metal gallery were actually displayed outside.  We thought of our youngest granddaughter, Zoe, and how she would love some of the displays.

Being a jewelry nut – a woman can never have too much jewelry – it was hard to walk through the jewelry gallery without buying something.  But I am proud of myself!  I resisted these beautiful pieces of art.

What a nice addition this gallery was to our trip.  Seeing the beauty God created in nature with all the fall colors and then seeing the beauty God also created through the talents He has given to men and women.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Wait Was Worth It!

Home again after taking a trip to the top of the mitten to see the Tunnel of Trees.  Since moving to Michigan last year I have heard a lot about this short section of highway (approximately 27 miles) that follows the shore of Lake Michigan and the Little Traverse Bay.

Told by many how beautiful it is in the fall when the trees all turn beautiful shades of red, yellow and orange, I have waited all year to make the trip.

Was it worth it?

Yes – and no

Basically I was told three main things about the tunnel.  Two of which I found to be true.

The road was said to be very narrow.  Boy was it!  There is no center line painted on the road.  Many places were so narrow when we met another car one of us had to pull over on the tiny shoulder so the other car could go by.

I was told it was very windy.  Boy was it!  We would just get through one stretch of curves when we would find another one waiting.

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But there were no colors!  No oranges, reds or yellows!  The website for the Tunnel of Trees indicated that this time was the peak for the colors.

Disappointed!!!

I am guessing if we returned in a week we would find the colors and the beauty they talked about.

However, the trip was not in vain.  While there were no colors in the tunnel driving across the middle of the mitten getting to and from the tunnel there were colors everywhere.  We discovered that the trees near the lake turn colors slower than inland.

So – now we know.

While the tunnel was a disappointment – the trip was not.

 

Acres and acres of trees – as far as the eye could see – brilliant colors!

What an artist God is!  And what variety!  He could have made one tree – but look at all the different trees we have.

The wait was truly worth it!

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