In My Own Backyard

Being a new resident of Michigan my husband and I have spent the summer exploring many of the small towns on the western side of the lower peninsula.  We have discovered some beautiful art galleries, unique antique stores and loved the beaches and lighthouses all along Michigan Lake.

It has been interesting to me to discover that many of my new friends who have lived in Michigan for years have never visited many of these places.

Funny how we will spend time and money to visit far away places while often ignoring what is in our own back yard.

Yesterday was a beautiful fall day and we wanted to get out and enjoy the day.  We wondered “Is there anything near our new home town that we have not bothered to check out?”

Yes – In a town just 20 miles from us we found a castle and some interesting history.

On the outside it looks like a castle from a fairy tale.  On closer inspection we discovered it was built in 1922 by writer James Oliver Curwood as a writing studio.  Overlooking the Shiawassee River Curwood composed many of his novels here.  The castle was not meant to be a home.  This was  Curwood’s “man-cave.”

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It was easy to see why Curwood built his castle here by the river.  It is a beautiful, peaceful place.  After visiting the castle, we enjoyed the walk by the river and shared the view with some friendly ducks.

This writer who was ranked among the top-ten best sellers in the United States during the early 1920’s was born in Oswosso Michigan.  His novels and short stories and the movie scripts based on his writings made him a millionaire.

Curwood loved the wilds of Canada and was an enthusiastic hunter for many years collecting trophies which he hung in his castle.   Spared by a bear he had shot and wounded, but not killed, he became an advocate of environmental conservation and education.  Shortly before his death in 1927 he was appointed to the Michigan Conservation Commission.

His books were based on his experiences in Canada.  Hundreds of movies have been based on or inspired by Curwood’s stories, including the 1934 movie “The Trail Beyond,” which starred John Wayne.

Only four years after he finished building his castle, he died of blood poisoning.  At the time of his death, he was the highest paid writer in the world according to the Curwood Castle’s curator.

The City of Owosso celebrates Curwood’s birth each year with a festival.  The event is a weekend long celebration centered around Curwood Castle.   They also hold a writing contest for young authors.

All summer we have traveled 50 to 200 miles to see the sights of western Michigan while totally ignoring this beautiful spot and this bit of history right in our own back yard.

I wonder, do you also travel far from home to visit historical and/or beautiful places while driving right by treasures in your own back yard?

 

 

First Commercial Sawmill in Minnesota

While visiting the St Croix River Valley we found the site of the first commercial sawmill in what became the state of Minnesota.  Two lumbermen from Marine Illinois, David Hone and Lewis Judd, finding the area’s abundant white pine, decided to build a sawmill here.  They named the spot Marine after their hometown in Illinois.  On August 24, 1839, they established the first commercial sawmill, The Marine Lumber Company.

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By 1877 the mill was supplying work for an average of fourteen men and the town of Marine Minnesota had grown around the mill.  Operating for Marine Mill for almost sixty years, the mill produced much of the lumber that was used for construction of many of the towns and cities of Minnesota as well as St. Louis and Chicago.

Placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1970 today you can see portions of the stone engine house and the large wheel dating from 1873 and the stream that powered the mill.

 

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If you look closely you can see parts of the foundation of the old mill

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The steam that powered the sawmill

Driving into the town of Marine the views of St Criox River in the fall were spectacular and worth the trip!

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A Very Unique Sculpture Park

Getting ready for a fall road trip, I recently opened some pictures from a fall road trip taken three years ago.  While driving through the scenic St. Croix River Valley in Minnesota we found an amazing outdoor sculpture park.

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Founded in 1996 Franconia has an active artist residency program.  Each year the park has over 150,000 visitors.  They offer yearly fellowships and internships for up to 40 visual artists.

The park is free and open 365 days a year although I am not sure I would want to visit in the winter – Minnesota winters are brutally cold – at least for those of us who live further south.

The park covers 43 acres and shares over 120 sculptures created by artists-in-residence.  Since the sculptures change over time the ones we saw may no longer be there but they were definitely unique.

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I must confess I am not sure I would call some of these sculptures “art” but they were interesting and the walk was nice with all the beautiful fall trees.

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Looking at these beautiful trees, I am so ready for our road trip next week.  Heading to the northern part of the lower peninsula of Michigan for the “Tunnel of Trees.”

Fall is my favorite time of the year!

What season do you like the best?

Are you planning any trips to see the beautiful fall foliage?

 

 

A Busy Summer is Over – But 2020 is Coming

Hard to believe it has been one year already.  Exactly one year ago today my husband and I left our home in northern Illinois and traveled to the middle of Michigan to a new home.

The metropolitan area we lived in known as the Quad Cities has a population of over 400,000.  It includes five larger cities:  Moline, East Moline and Rock Island on the Illinois side of the Mississippi River and Davenport and Bettendorf on the Iowa side.  Interspersed between and around those five larger cities are many smaller town so that you can drive from one town right into the next.

Moving from that highly populated area to a small town of less than 8,000 is quite a change.

But it has been a fun year as we have spent the summer exploring our new state of Michigan.

Our first road trip was to Flint Michigan – a city we heard so much about in the news for the water crisis.  Visiting the city we found there is a lot of history beyond the news reports.

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From Flint we headed to Frankenmuth a place where you can enjoy all things Bavarian and it is Christmas there all year long.  Frankenmuth – Michigan’s Little Bavaria

Come spring, we headed out again.  The first trip was a short one – just a few miles down Route 21 to Ionia.   On the way there we turned off to look at a small town on the way.  Muir.

There was really nothing there to recommend the town except we came across this historic church.

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You can read more about this historic church in my post Getting Off the Beaten Path

Listed in the National Register of Historic Places, this church is considered to be the mother church for the Disciples of Christ denomination in the Grand River Valley and is one of Michigan’s oldest Disciples of Christ congregations.

On to Ionia where we discovered a beautiful courthouse that boasts black and white marble floors, fourteen marble fireplaces and a beautiful walnut and butternut staircase.

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The town has some beautiful old Victorian homes and I loved the brick streets still in use on Main Street.

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Next stop was the Fort Custer National Cemetery.  All the flags along the main entrance to the cemetery was very impressive.

In early spring we headed to Holland the Tulip Festival.

Beautiful does not begin to describe this visit!  This town is on our list to revisit next spring.  We only spent one day there but next year we want to take two to three days to take in all the beauty.

Check out all the beautiful pictures and story of Holland in my post:  Welkom to Tulip Time

My husband has began painting again and one of his goals this summer was to photograph and then paint some of the many lighthouses in Michigan.

We captured Big Red at Holland.

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Big Red Lighthouse is one of the most photographed lighthouses in Michigan.

Beginning American history nuts, a visit to the Gerald Ford Museum in Grand Rapids followed.  I was never a fan of President Ford but after visiting the museum and reading more about him, I came away with a much different opinion of him and his time in office.

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Read more about the museum at Gerald Ford Presidential Museum

Lowell Michigan was our stop in July.  The day we were there they were celebrating their annual Riverwalk.  What fun we had watching the parade and all the ducks.

We enjoyed the views of the Flat River and our delicious meal at the Flat River Grille.

Getting off the beaten track we discovered a village almost lost to the world just a few miles north of Lowell.

The village of Fallassburgh is like stepping back in time.  Way off the beaten path, few visitors find their way here, but it was a beautiful, peaceful place.  A Village Time Forgot

As we enjoyed the lakes and beaches and neat little towns we found a desert in Michigan.  Well, not really a desert but some great sand dunes.  A Desert in Michigan?

As summer came to a close we visited two more towns and they both rate, along with Holland, as ones I want to visit and spend more time in next summer.

First one was Manistee.   Not one but two beautiful beaches and another interesting lighthouse made this a favorite.  Which Town is My Favorite?

Our last town of the year was Frankfort.

It has been a busy summer!  One more trip to make before winter sets in.

Next week we head out for the tunnel of trees.  Voted by USA as the Best Scenic Autumn Drive in America I’m looking forward to that trip.

Hibernating then for the cold Michigan winter, we will be drinking hot tea as we watch some of our favorite movies by the fireplace while studying maps and making plans for another summer of adventures, God willing, in 2020.

 

 

 

Taking a Leisurely Fall Walk

I love this time of year!

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Time for rides through the country.  Time for leisurely walks enjoying the beautiful colors of the trees.

We humans are not the only ones who enjoy a family walk this time of year.

Driving through the woods we had to stop to give this family of wild turkeys a chance to cross the road.

They took their sweet old time – no hurry here.

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Anyone Remember that Frosted Mug of Root Beer?

Before McDonalds, before Taco Bell, before Subway there was A&W.

Growing up my family did not eat out too often.  For one thing, our budget did not allow for such expenses but also there were not many fast-food chains like we have now.

When we had the occasional treat, it was fun to go to the local A&W drive in.  There was no drive through lane to order the food and go and no inside seating.  My dad just drove up to the restaurant, a young girl would come to the car, take our order and return with everything on a tray which was attached to the car window.

Dad would then pass the food back to me and my siblings and we would sit in the car with the windows all down and enjoy our treat.

I always ordered the coney hot dog.  But the best thing about the meal was the root beer served in the big frosted glass mugs.

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It has been years since I saw an A&W drive in.  Yesterday we were driving through the country when we spotted the A&W sign and quickly pulled in for a meal.

Sitting in the car eating a coney cheese dog with lots of mustard and cheese and trying not to get the food all over me, what great memories I had.

And the root beer was wonderful!  You can buy A&W root beer in the stores now but it is not the same as the root beer from the tap in the big frosted mugs.

Oh what a treat!

The store had a sign announcing that A&W is now 100 years old.  Checking it out I discovered the founder Roy Allen set up a stand to sell mugs of his root beer for a nickel  during a homecoming parade for World War I veterans in 1919.  A few years later, in 1922, he formed a partnership with one of his employees, Frank Wright, and thus they came up with the name A&W.

From Lodi, California it quickly spread across the country.  At its peak it had over 2000 stores.  Today it is down to just 600 stores, but the owners of the franchisee have plans to begin expanding again.

The CEO of the franchisee, Kevin Bazner says:

“It really amazes me when I travel—and I am always wearing a logo pin or gear—at every airport, hotel, and restaurant, when I meet people, there are so many stories out there that include fond memories of an A&W restaurant,” he says. Whether it’s stopping at one during a visit to grandparents’ or as a toddler with their parents, “the memories are very strong.”

Yes, I agree.  What memories I had yesterday sitting in my car with a coney cheese dog and a mug of root beer!

Gotta find another A&W closer to home so I can enjoy that root beer again!

A Town Paul Bunyan Would Love

In 2017 my husband, along with our youngest daughter and our granddaughter made a trip to Casey, Illinois to see the small town that boasted:

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While there we saw nine creations by Jim Bolin that have made the Guinness Book of World Records.

You can read all about that visit and see pictures of the world’s largest wind chimes, rocking chair, wooden shoe, gavel, mailbox and birdcage in my post.

Big Things in a Small Town

Since then Bolin has added more big things.  There will be a big celebration on September 28 as Guinness officials will arrive to certify the latest biggest things Bolin has made.  They will be looking at the world’s largest teeter-totter, barber pole, Chevrolet truck key, twizzle spoon and golf driver.

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The spoon is more than 11’6” long and was hot-dip galvanized to give the spoon corrosion protection.

When Guinness Book of World Records has confirmed it is the largest spoon, it will be placed at a bar and grill in downtown Casey, Brown’s Place.

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World’s largest golf tee

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My little granddaughter looking out from the world’s largest mailbox.

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World’s largest knitting and crochet hook.  These 25 pounds needles were actually used to knit the square piece shown here.

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World’s biggest pitchfork

There are many other “big” things that, while not in the Guinness World Book, still are big and interesting to see.

The downtown area where many of these large items are is also beautifully landscaped.

There is also a neat place to have lunch.  Richards Farm Restaurant combines great food with antique farm furnishings.

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The funniest time on our trip was when we had been on the road about two hours and our little granddaughter wanted to know when we were going to get there.  She was puzzled why we were traveling on far to go to Casey’s when there was a Casey’s store right in our own town.  (Casey’s is a quick shop in the Quad Cities area and she thought we were going to one of their stores – did not realize we were going to the town Casey.)

Memories I still treasure from two years later.

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If you are ever in the area of Casey, Illinois you must take time to visit this special small town.

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It’s a town where Paul Bunyan would feel at home.