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.

Crispus Attucks and the Boston Massacre Memorial

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Crispus Attucks one of five killed in the Boston Massacre

Recently I shared a post about a statue of an African-American that my husband and I found when we were exploring a park in Charleston, North Carolina.  One of my readers wondered how many statues there are in the USA of African-Americans.  That started me on a search to find other statutes honoring them.

As a fan of President John Adams I have often read about the Boston Massacre which occurred on March 5, 1770.  Colonists who were very resentful of the British soldiers  stationed in Boston began to gather and taunt a small group of the soldiers daring them to shoot and pelting them with snow, ice and oyster shells.

As often happens when mobs take action, it appears one of the colonists struck a soldier with a rock and they reacted by firing their muskets into the crowd.  Three Americans were killed instantly and two more suffered wounds from which they soon died.

Attucks was the first colonist to fall and thus became one of the first to lose his life in the cause of American independence.  His body laid in state at Faneuil Hall in Boston until March 8.  Colonists printed pamphlets dubbing the event the “Boston Massacre” and made its victims instant martyrs.  Rather than a mob out of control they became symbols of liberty.  At the time blacks could not be buried in the same cemetery as whites, but in this instance Attucks was buried along with the others killed that night. All five victims were buried in a common grave.

John Adams took quite a chance on any future political career when he defended the British soldiers in court against the charge of murder.  Adams described Attucks as the self-appointed leader of the mob’s attack.

Every year leading up to the Revolutionary War the citizens of Boston observed the anniversary of the Boston Massacre.

In 1858 a  “Crispus Attucks Days” was established and a memorial was erected to the five martyrs:  Crispus Attucks, James Caldwell, Patrick Carr, Samuel Gray and Samuel Maverick.

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While this is not a statue dedicated to Crispus Attucks alone, it is quite remarkable that, given the attitude of that age toward blacks, that he was buried with the others and included in this memorial.

Ten to 15 black soldiers fought against the British at the battles of Lexington and Bunker Hill.  Although two of these men were recognized early for their bravery, Salem Poor and Peter Salem, it quickly became clear that while the founding fathers spoke of all men being created equal, they did not include enslaved blacks in that category.  Sadly, the 5,000 to 8,000 blacks who contributed to the cause of liberty both in combatant roles in battle and in noncombatant roles were never given recognition for their service and never granted the liberty the War was supposed to give to all men.

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Saying Goodbye to Lizzie

That time has come!

That time when I realize that I do not want to spend the last years of my life dusting all the “stuff” I have accumulated over the years.

That time when I realize I do not want to spend the last years of my life cleaning floors in rooms I no longer need or use.

That time when I realize I do not want to wash windows in rooms I no longer need or use.

In other words, the time has come to downsize!

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Posting items on local swap sites I have been a little unsure as people purchased my “stuff” and the house has become more empty each day.  But after a few items were gone, my house suddenly felt so much bigger and so much less cluttered.  As each item sells I begin to feel like a weight has been removed from my shoulder.

I have had little trouble parting from the extra furniture, the deep freeze I was no longer using, the extra bedroom furniture I no longer need.

But when it came to looking through my many bookshelves filled with books, I must confess I have had a moment of sorrow.  Over the years I have collected biographies of presidents, first ladies, and people who played a role in our American history such as our founding fathers (and mothers), senators, generals and other famous political persons.  All of them I have read at least once – and most two or three times.  It is like saying goodbye to old, dear friends.

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But one item I am parting with has little or no resale value.  I would probably have a hard time even giving it to anyone except for someone who knows its history and loves it too.

It is my garden frog, Lizzie.

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Named after my grandmother, Martha Elizabeth, this little cement frog stood guard in my Grandmother’s garden for years.  Grandma loved flowers.  When I was a little girl I loved the plants in her yard  with their big beautiful green leaves that looked like their name “elephant ears.”

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Remembering her elephant ears plants perhaps that is why I have loved my hosta garden because of the huge leaves many of these plants have.DSCF0046

Grandma slowly lost her eyesight to glaucoma and had to get rid of her flowers.  That was a sad day for her.

I am not even sure how I came to the be the grandchild that got Grandma’s frog.  But I have treasured it.

One reason is that I inherited her love of flowers and I feel a connection to her through the flower garden and little Lizzie.

But also because Grandma was the only one of my grandparents who I felt loved me.  Grandpa (her husband) had died years before I was born so I never had the chance to know him.  My other grandparents never showed me any sign of affection.  I cannot remember ever getting a hug or hearing them say they loved me.  Going to their house my parents always told me to say hello to them and then go sit down and be very quiet.

But my flower grandma always made me feel not only loved, but special.  Like her I was a redhead and she was proud of that.  As she began to lose her eyesight she would have me stand in the doorway where the sun would shine on my hair so she could see the red hair.  She also had me played the piano for her when I came over.  Just learning how to play, I am not sure how good it really was but Grandma always praised me.

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But in downsizing to a smaller home with a smaller yard, I will no longer have a place for Lizzie.

So what to do with Lizzie?

Perfect answer:  my daughter, Rebekah.  She, like Grandma and like me, loves flowers and gardens.  While I will miss Lizzie, I am content knowing she will be loved and treasured by the fourth generation.

Enjoy your new home, Lizzie!

 

 

Historic Henderson House

I am a history nut!  That is, American history.  My library is full of biographies of presidents, secretaries of state, senators – the players in our country’s political life.  As I read of our country’s past, it is interesting to note that much of our current political events are really not new.  Attempts to destroy your opponent by rumors of bad conduct (both true and false) began with John Adams and Thomas Jefferson and have continued throughout our history.

While many are frustrated with the lack of action from Congress, that too is nothing new.  The writer of Ecclesiastes was not referring to American politics, but his commentary on life certainly is true with our political history.

The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.

Loving history as I do, I was so excited when I was able to live in the Henderson House in 1969 for several months.  My husband and I were married in March of that year shortly after his return from 13 months in Vietnam with the United States Marine Corp.

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Me and my Marine!

After our wedding, we packed our wedding presents and our clothes into our 1966 Chevelle and headed for Quantico, Virginia where my husband would be stationed for the rest of his enlistment term.

The base at Quantico is where the Marines train their officer candidates and the FBI also does training exercises on the base.

Just young crazy kids in love, we headed out with no idea of where we would stay when we arrived.  After living in a small efficiency apartment for a few weeks we heard that the owners of the Henderson House had an apartment for rent in the town of Dumfries, just outside the base.  At the time we had no idea of the history of this house, we just needed a nice place to live.

The house had a huge hallway running completely down the center of the house.  On the front of the house it opened onto a beautiful large porch with comfortable chairs and a swing.  In the back it opened onto a large well landscaped back yard.  One side of the hallway had originally been the large formal parlor with a more informal music room on the other side.  The current owners lived in the rooms on one side of the hallway and rented the other side to us.

How excited I was as I talked to the owners and found that this house had been built by the father of Archibald Henderson the fifth Commandant of the Marine Corps.  Alexander Henderson built this home in the late 18th century near the Old Post Road (King’s Highway).

During the American Revoluntary War the Hendersons entertained many of the leaders of the revolution.  Both the Confederate and Union armies used the house as a hospital during the Civil War depending on which army occupied the area.  The owner showed us a hole in the side of where a cannonball had struck the house during the Civil War.  It had remained lodged in the west wall for about 100 years until a souvenir hunter stole in the 1960’s.

My imagination ran wild as I would sit on that front porch and imagine the wounded solders that had stayed in the same rooms I was now staying in.  I wonder if George Washsington or John Adams had sat on this same front porch sipping a glass of wine while discussing the fight for independence from England.

I was just a young bride then and while I loved the idea of living in such a historic place, I did not fully appreciate the history of that entire area.  Learning much later that the town of Dumfries received its charter on May 11, 1749 and was the oldest continuously chartered town in Virginia, I wish I had done more exploring of the area.  Dumfries was  the second leading port in Colonial America receiving tobacco from the upland, it rivaled New York, Philadelphia and Boston. But long before my arrival in 1969 the town had lost its importance.  The Revolutionary War, erosion and siltation, and the shift in the main shipping commodity (from tobacco to wheat and sugar) led to its demise as a major port and today it is just a small town of about 5,000 people.

Guess it is just getting old myself, but when I reflect on how this once prosperous and important port became just a small town that most would drive through without taking a second look, I realize how quickly life comes and goes.  How quickly what is important today may become just a memory or a point in history.  How much we should enjoy this moment before it is gone!

Don’t miss today by regretting yesterday or worrying about tomorrow.