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

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!

 

 

Happy Birthday Michigan!

On January 26, 1837 the state of Michigan became the 26th state in the United States of America.

That makes the state 182.

I have only lived here four months but I have found so much that is interesting and I can hardly wait until spring to begin exploring.

  • With 3,200 miles of shoreline Michigan claims more lighthouses than any other state.
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Big Sable Point Light

  • Michigan touches four out of the five great lakes, more than any other state: Huron, Michigan, Erie and Superior.

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  • The legendary children’s story of Paul Bunyan is believed to be based on a French-Canadian lumberjack Fabian Fournier,  who moved to Michigan after the Civil War to take advantage of the high-paying logging industry.  While Minnesota also claims Bunyan as theirs, two towns in Michigan make that claim.  Ossineke has a giant statue of Paul Bunyan and Babe, his blue ox.

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  • The Cross in the Woods Catholic shrine in Indian River has a 55′ foot cross carved from one redwood tree.  Raised in 1954, a sculpture of the crucified Christ was added to the cross in 1959.  My husband and I visited this shrine several years ago when vacationing in Michigan but I am looking forward to seeing it again come spring.

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  • Mackinaw Island is high on my list of places to visit. The island sits between Michigan’s Upper and Lower peninsulas.  Since I’m a history nut I want to visit Fort Mackinac which was founded in 1780.  Another fort, Fort Holmes, was built during the wall of 1812 and has been reconstructed.  No cars are allowed on the island so that should make travel interesting.
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Mode of transportation on this island

  • Mackinaw Bridge is one my husband and I crossed on our first visit here.  It is a little scary if you are afraid of heights.  The towers reach 554 feet above the surface water.   Five miles long it is the longest suspension bridge in the Americans.  Known as “Big Mac” it  links Michigan’s Lower and Upper peninsulas. When we planned our trip in Michigan a few years ago it included crossing this brige to the upper peninsula.  I was fine until I read how high the bridge was.  Then panic set in because I have a terrible fear of heights.  When we drive through a mountainous area, I often have to close my eyes to avoid a complete panic attack.  Caught between my fear of heights and my desire to see the upper peninsula, I started my day with my devotion before we headed to the car for the trip.  What a pleasant surprise as I read the devotion for that day.  So thankful that God cares even about our silly fears.  The devotion from the book of Habakkuk that day said:

Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation.

The Lord God is my strength, and he will make my feet like hinds’ feet, and he will make me to walk upon mine high places

I was now calm and ready to go.  My husband has no fear of heights and was not concerned about driving across the bridge.  However, when we were about half way across the bridge I looked at him and he looked terrified too.  It is a beautiful sight – but I’m not sure my husband is ready to drive over it again.  We shall see.

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There’s so much more to see, learn and explore.  But for now, Happy Birthday Michigan!

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.

 

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.