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.

Frankenmuth – Michigan’s Little Bavaria

After visiting Flint, Michigan on a recent trip, my husband and I traveled on to one of the most interesting little towns – Frankenmuth.  Known as “Little Bavaria” the sign welcoming us gave a feel for what was to come as we explored the town.  Its Bavarian-style architecture highlights its German roots.

 

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On of the first things we saw on entering the town was Bronner’s Christmas  Wonderland.  They claim to be the world’s largest Christmas store.  Larger than two and a half football fields the enormous building contains over 50,000 gifts and trimmings for Christmas.   It was a little overwhelming!

 

Since we have just downsized in moving to a smaller place we were able to resist buying anything here.  The Cheese Haus, however, was a different story.  We love cheese and this store is certainly a cheese lover’s fantasy.

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The store carries over 120 different kinds of cheese, including chocolate cheese.

 

I was not brave enough to try that chocolate cheese but could not resist buying a block of Colby cheese.

Looking forward to some authentic German food we stopped at the Bavarian Inn Lodge for lunch.

 

Nestled along the Cass River the Lodge has 360 European-themed guest rooms, including whirlpool and family suites, four indoor pools, three whirlpools, two water slides, a miniature golf course, two gift shops, two lounges and two restaurants – all under one roof.

Sadly the line waiting to eat when we arrived was very long and the wait would have been 30 to 45 minutes.  Since we were both very hungry and being diabetic could not really wait that long we looked for another  spot for lunch.

While certainly not as fancy as the Inn, we found a small wine bar and charcuterie called Prost!

Prost is one of the most important Oktoberfest words.  It is a German cheer to good food, great wine and the warm conversation and laughter among family and friends.  And here I got my German food fix.

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Charcuterie (pronounced “shar/kew/tree”) describes any kind of cured meat, but is typically associated with specialty and gourmet meats.  The term “charcuterie board” often refers to an assortment of meats that are paired with different accompaniments, such as toast, fruit, cheese, and sauces.  The menu at Prost! offered lots of choices but I zeroed in on the  bratwurst with sauerkraut and lots of mustard on the side.

By this time evening was approaching and reluctantly we headed home.  There is so much more to see in this charming town.

  • Bavarian Belle Riverboat
  • Ultimate Mirror Maze
  • Silent Night Chapel
  • Rose Garden

And the list goes on.  So come spring we will be heading to Frankenmuth for a much longer stay.

 

 

 

 

I Got My German Food Fix!

After moving to Michigan in October we have tried to do some sightseeing.  However, cold weather is limiting that right now.  Last weekend we had a beautiful sunshiny day so we took off on another adventure.  We had no definite destination – just heading east and seeing what the day brought.

Our first stop was in Flint, Michigan.  While living in Illinois we had watched the news report of the water tragedy in that city.  The city water was full of lead which was poisoning the residents and there were legal battles over who was at fault.  Watching the news of that city and trying to imagine how you would function when you could not use the water in your own home, I never dreamt that I would some day visit the city.

But  I discovered there is a lot of interesting history in both the city of Flint and its county of Genesee.

The county’s name comes from Genesee County in the state of New York.  It means “beautiful valley.”  The county’s first white settler, Jacob Smith, opened a trading post on the Flint River in 1819.  In 1829 the federal government began building a military road connecting Detroit to Saginaw Bay.  Saginaw Bay is located in Lake Huron forming the space between Michigan’s Thumb region and the rest of the Lower Peninsula of Michigan.  The construction site where the wooden bridge was built over the Flint River became the city of Flint.

I have always associated the automobile industry with Detroit, but was surprised to find much of the history took place in Flint.  One of Flint’s citizens, Willam Durant, began building carriages.  His company, Durant-Dort, manufactured 50,000 vehicles annually.  As carriages began to give way to cars, he invested in the Buick Motor Company.  He had the vision of creating holding companies that would manufacture different lines of cars.  He joined with Louis Chevrolet and formed General Motors with a car designed by Chevrolet.  The city of Flint began rapidly growing with the automobile boom and was known as “Vehicle City.”

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Sadly, the automotive industry in Flint has taken a big blow and the city does not have  the booming economy it once had.  Work continues on the water situation and the city just recently reported that:

Overall, to date, service lines to 7,831 homes have been identified as lead and/or galvanized and have been replaced, including 1,603 homes found this year. The efforts are a part of Mayor Karen Weaver’s plan to determine if water service lines are made of copper, and replace service lines made of lead and galvanized steel. Mayor Weaver is determined to restore safe, clean drinking water to Flint residents.

The goal is to have all of Flint’s lead-tainted service lines replaced by the end of 2019. More information about the FAST Start initiative can be found on the City of Flint website – http://www.cityofflint.com

Still, there are several areas of interest we want to check out.  One fast trip through did not give us much time.  We will have to come back to see:

Longway Planetarium – Michigan’s largest planetarium

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The Buick Gallery and Research Center

 

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Oh you are wondering about my German Food Fix.  Well, after Flint we ventured on to Frankenmuth, Michigan a little town known as “Michigan’s Little Bavaria,” where I enjoyed a delicious German meal.

But that will wait for my next post.

 

 

 

Michigan’s Lighthouses

I have always loved lighthouses.  When my husband and I took vacations to the east coast we always visited the lighthouses.

Recently moving to Michigan I was so happy to find out the state, with 3,288 miles of shoreline, is home to more lighthouses than any other state in the USA.  Although Old Man Winter is showing up this week with a snow storm and we will not be able to do much traveling right now, come spring I’m heading out to check out these lighthouses.  As the maps below show that will probably keep me busy for a long, long time.

In the meantime, thought you might enjoy some interesting facts about lighthouses:

  • A person who likes lighthouses is said to be a pharophisle.  (Not really sure about that one – the word is not in the dictionary but there are plenty of lighthouse lovers who insist this is a word.  Collins English Dictionary says it is a word “pending investigation”.)
  • The United States has more lighthouses than any other country – 37 states have lighthouses.
  • The tallest lighthouse in the USA is Cape Hatteras Light on North Carolina’s Outer Banks.  It stands 193 feet tall.
  • The tallest lighthouse in the world is in Saudi Arabia.  Jeddah Light is 436 feet tall.
  • The east coast of the USA has 391 lighthousesas opposed to only 94 on the west coast.
  • A lighthouse keeper was sometimes called a “wickie” because in the days before electricity the oil lamps were used for a light.  The lighthouse keeper was responsible for keeping the wicks trimmed and the light burning.

I think one reason I love lighthouses so much is the very idea of their existence.  They were created to serve as a navigational aid and to warn boats of dangerous areas.  As a girl I loved the song “Jesus is The Lighthouse.”  The Bible also talks quite a bit about Christians being lights in the world.

Here’s the song sung by the Heritage Singers.  Note that it is from 1976 – but I hope you will take time to listen to it.

And you can bet come spring I’ll be posting about the lighthouses of Michigan.

 

Getting Off the Beaten Path

My husband and I love to travel without any agenda other than heading in one direction.  As we travel we often get off the main highway and just follow a road wondering where it leads.  Or, we will pull off the interstate into what looks like just a “spot in the road” kind of place.

As new residents in the state of Michigan we are excited about the chance to follow new roads and see where they lead us.

Last week traveling west on one of the state routes that leads from our town, we took a side trip through the small village of Muir.  Driving through the downtown area it appeared time had passed this village by.  Most of the stores were empty and in need of paint and/or repair.  Thinking there was nothing here of interest, we turned a corner and found a hidden treasure.

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The Mother Church for the Disciples of Christ in the Grand River Valley.

Organized in 1856 in nearby Lyons, Michigan, the small congregation soon moved to the schoolhouse in Muir.  The small congregation grew quickly and in 1861 constructed a church building.

Considered the mother church for the Disciples of Christ denomination in the Grand River Valley, this is one of Michigan’s oldest Disciples of Christ congregations.

This single-story, rectangular wood-frame church is an excellent example of the Gothic  Revival Church.  Measuring 70 feet by 30 feet, each side has five Gothic windows.  They are so beautiful.

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One of the windows was dedicated in 1906 on the 50th anniversary of the church in memory of the founding pastor, Isaac Errett.

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The window on the left has an inscription dedicating the window in memory of their first pastor.

For these history lovers this was quite a find.  We love American history and have a large collection of biographies of American presidents.  We knew that President Garfield had been a minister before entering politics.  What a pleasant surprise to find that he had visited and ministered in this very church.  He apparently visited the area often and there are other spots in Michigan claiming a Garfield connection including the Garfield Inn in Port Austin.  This home has been made into a bed and breakfast and boasts that Garfield often visited here when it was owned by the Learned family.

He has been quoted as saying before giving his inauguration speech:

“I resign the highest office in the land to become President of the United States.”

Just six months later he died by an assassin’s bullet in September of 1881.

I found this copy of an article in the Detroit News published in 1930 telling the story of Garfield’s visit to the church in Muir.

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This church building is on both the state and national historic registers.  If we had not followed our spirit of adventure and turned off the main road we would have missed this period of history.

By not following the beaten path we have found many historical treasures like this as well as some beautiful parks, small lakes and other beauties of nature hidden from the main road.

So, when you travel, don’t be in too big a hurry to reach your destination.  Take some time and get off the beaten path.  You will be surprised at what you will find.

 

Underground Railroad History in Michigan

So excited!  As a lover of American history – both its good and its bad history – I have found that there is a wealth of history on the Underground Railroad in the state where I recently became a resident.

I recently wrote a couple of blogs about statues of African-Americans in the USA.

Crispus Attucks and the Boston Massacre Memorial  and

Denmark Vesey – Leader of Failed Rebellion

I knew there was a statute of Harriet Tubman in New York City.  This statute was dedicated in 2008 and is located on Frederick Douglass Boulevard.

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However, I was surprised to find out there is not one, but two statutes of Tubman in Michigan.  In researching information on these statutes, I discovered that Michigan was very much involved in the Underground Railroad.

Looking at the map of Michigan it is easy to see why this location would have been perfect for those trying to escape slavery and find freedom in Canada.  Surrounded by three of the Great Lakes – Michigan, Huron and Erie, Michigan’s eastern cities are only a short distance from Canada.

The first monument is a bronze statue of not only Tubman but local conductors of the Underground Railroad, Erastus and Sarah Hussey.  This statue in Battle Creek, Michigan depicts Tubman and the other two conductors leading a group of runaway slaves to safety.   Created in 1993 by sculptor Ed Dwight the W. K. Kellogg Foundation commissioned the work.

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The second statue of Tubman is in Ypsilanti, Michigan.  Located in Washtenaw County in Southeast Michigan there are numeous sites connected with the Underground Railroad.

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(Permission for use of this photograph of the sculpture is granted by sculptor Jane A. DeDecker, Loveland, Colorado.  The sculpture of Harriet Tubman was created in 1995 and is an Edition of 7 with one located near the Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock Arkansas.)

 

Cass County in Southwest Michigan also offers many sites where the Underground Railroad was conducted by both free blacks and whites.  Slaves fleeing the South passed through Cass County, then on to Battle Creek and Detroit on their way to freedom in Canada.

So – what started as just wanting to see what statutes of African-Americans there were in the USA, I am excited to find I am near to a lot of history of the Underground Railroad.

Looks like I will be busy checking these sites out!  Can’t wait!

And, of course, I will be writing about these sites as I visit them.