The Pony Express route ran from St Joseph Missouri to Sacramento California and covered 1,996 miles. It took the riders on average ten days to make this long trek.
This mail service only lasted 18 months from April 3, 1860 to October 26, 1961. The telegraph wires which provided such quick means of communication meant the death for the Pony Express.
When it began in 1860 the charge for delivery was $5.00 per ounce. Later it was reduced to $1.00 per ounce. The riders carried up to 20 pounds of mail. Because speed was so important, most of the riders were small weighing between 100 and 125 pounds. Average age was 20.
The city of Gothenburg, Nebraska has the original station that was used by the riders. This cabin was first built in 1854 on the Oregon Trail and used as a trading post. The Pony Espress used the cabin as a station from during the short time it was in operation. Used after that as a Overland Trail Stage Station and then a storage building, in 1931 the cabin was taken down and restored in Gothenburgh. Mrs. C.A Williams bought the cabin and donated it to the city.
We visited the cabin site on our road trip west.
The Pony Express was founded, owned and operated by the freighting firm of William H. Russell, Alexander Majors and William B. Waddell. There is a plague at the site remembering the founders. The Gold Rush of 1849, The Mormon journey to Utah in 1849 and the pioneers who moved west on the Oregon Trail in the 1840s created a need for a fast mail service.
Shortly after the Pony Express began Congress authorized the building of a transcontinental telegraph line connecting California to the East. On October 26, 1861 San Francisco was in direct contact with New York City. The last Pony Express letters completed their journey to California in November 1861.
Although it was only in service for 18 months, the legend of the riders have become a part of our American culture. In 1960 the post office issued a stamp in honor of the riders.
As a history nut, it was a great feeling to know I had stepped inside the cabin where many of the Pony Express riders had also been. I closed my eyes and just imagined one of them walking up to me and saying “hi.”
We decided to celebrate the end of summer and beginning of fall by taking our granddaughter to Potter’s Zoo. The Zoo is part of Potter Park in Lansing, Michigan.
It is the oldest public zoo in Michigan. Accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) since 1986, the Zoo has also received the AZA Quarter Century Award recognizing their accreditation for 25 years or more. The Zoo covers over 20 acres and includes over 500 individual animals representing approximately 160 different species.
Every year they publish an annual report. The report for 2020 shows that even in spite of Covid-19 and being closed for 92 days (March 13 – June 15) they had 90,920 visitors.
The land for the Park was donated in 1910 by James W. Potter. He first donated 58 acres and later in 1917 gave an additional 27 acres. Additional donations of land from others increased the park to its present 102 acres.
Our first stop were the North American River Otters.
So many different animals to enjoy but one of my favorites was the peacock. These birds were walking all around the zoo. So beautiful when they open up their wings.
It was a very hot day and the lions and leopards were taking life easy.
We got to see the black rhino Jaali just before the Zoo will be saying goodbye to him.
Jaali was born at the Zoo in 2019. This was a special event for the Zoo as he is one of only a few black rhinos born in zoos. Jaali has been used to draw attention to black rhino conservation. Rhinos are becoming close to being extinct and veterinarians, zookeepers, rhino experts, and multiple AZA institutions have been working to try to breed more rhinos. Recently a breeding match for Jaali has been discovered and he will be soon be leaving to join his mate at another zoo where it is hoped they will find true love and increase the rhino population. The Zoo is actually holding a going-away party for Jaali in October.
Our granddaughter loves wolves so we had to make a stop there.
It was interesting to see the reasons why wolves howl.
To assemble the pack before and after hunts.
To alarm one another of danger.
To send territorial message from one pack to another.
Or, simply because they hear a nearby wolf howing.
The sign also told us that when wolves howl together, they harmonize rather than use the same note. This creates an illusion that there are more wolves in the pack than there actually are.
Another of the species in danger of extinction is the Eastern Bongo. From African, I thought these animals were very pretty.
There were several different kind of birds, but the one I loved the best was the bald eagle.
I did not realize there are different kinds of foxes. To me, a fox was a fox. We saw the Artic Fox, whose habitat is of course, the northern regions near the North Pole. I wonder how they like our hot summers here.
And the bat-eared fox was very interesting with its large ears – like a bat. We were told that these large ears help them locate beetle larvae buried underneath the ground.
By the time we had walked near the back of the zoo, I was so tired. Thankfully we found a nice place to sit and enjoy the farm animals.
By the end of the visit, we were happy but tired. A last visit at the gift shop was, of course, in order.
After living almost three years in Michigan and hearing of the beautiful Dow Gardens, my husband and I decided it was time to check it out.
All the hype we had heard was true – it is an unbelievable place of peace and beauty. My husband commented that this was just a glimpse of what the Garden of Eden must have been. We laughed that we might see Adam and Eve and our daughter who was with us wondered if they would have any clothes on. 🙂
This beautiful place was once the home of Herbert and Grace Dow. They built their home here in 1899. Called “The Pines” the couple raised their family here. Herbert Dow conducted experiments in fruit-growing and developed gardens. Today the home is listed as a National Historic Landmark.
Tours are offered to view the insides of the home where it is furnished with many of the Dow items and gives a good look at what life was like for them. We were not able to take a tour of the home but we did sit on the porch and enjoy the beautiful huge yard with its large expanse of green grass and flowers plantings everywhere.
Herbert Dow was the founder of Dow Chemical Company and by his death had received over 90 patents for chemical processes, compounds and products. I do not understand all the science behind it, but the Dow Chemical Company website says he devised a new way of extracting the bromine that was trapped in underground brine. The company went on to became one of the world’s major producers of magnesium metal, agricultural chemicals, elemental chlorine, phenol and other dye chemicals. The company also was involved in producing plutonium, the element used in hydrogen bombs (a type of atomic bomb).
The company has been the subject of several lawsuits for environmental concerns. In 2011 Dow agreed to pay a $2.5 million civil penalty over alleged violations of the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) at its chemical manufacturing and research complex in Midland, Mich.
Herbert Dow started the gardens as a hobby. He experimented growing different flowers, shrubs and trees seeing what would grow well in the sandy soil. On his death, his wife created The Herbert H and Grace A Dow Foundation. Its charter goals were to improve the lives of Michigan’s people through educational, religious, economic and cultural means. The Foundation gave the estate to Michigan for the community enjoyment. Today the 110-acre Dow Gardens welcomes over 300,000 visitors each year.
There are multiple gardens with 3 miles of accessible hard-surface walks. In the spring over 22,000 bulbs begin to bloom and in the summer over 35,000 annuals provide much color and beauty.
Walking along the path we heard the beautiful sound of running water. Turning a corner we came to a beautiful stream. It was so peaceful we had to stop and just sit and listen to the melodious sounds of the water as it flowed through the peaceful garden.
While we were there we found they had a exhibit of glass gardens by Lansing Michigan artist Craig Mitchell Smith. Mr. Smith creates beautiful floral forms out of glass. His work has been displayed at the Missouri Botanical Gardens and the Epcot Center of Disney World.
There was much more to see including the Whiting Forest of Dow Gardens. This area is 54 acres of woodlands, ponds, meadows and stream. It contains the nation’s longest canopy walk. It is 1400 feet long and reaches up to 40 feet above the ground. There is also a playground for children, two pedestrian bridges and a Cafe. I would have loved to see the forest although I do not think I would have attempted the canopy walk. But my arthritic knees gave out on me and we had to call it a day.
My husband and I plan to go back at some point and check out the forest. If you are ever in mid-Michigan I would highly recommend you include a visit to the Dow Gardens. It is probably as close to the Garden of Eden that we will get in this life.
To celebrate our anniversary this year we took a short trip to the thumb of Michigan. Before moving to Michigan I had never heard this expression in reference to the state. However, when you look at the map of Michigan you can see that the lower peninsula does look like a mitten and – yes- the eastern part does look like a thumb.
We stayed at Port Huron where we could look over and see Canada. Unfortunately the border between our country and Canada is still closed. It was nice to see our flag and the Canadian flag flying together on both sides of the Clinton River which celebrates the two nations.
In 1836 the US established a Port of Entry and commercial ferry service began from Port Huron to Canada. It was not until 1938 that a bridge was built and opened to automobile traffic. Today the bridge is referred to as the Blue Water Bridge and is a twin-span international bridge connecting Interstate 69 and 94 in Michigan to Highway 402 in Ontario. Since moving to Michigan it has been our goal to cross this bridge and explore Canada. However, the Covid 19 has made that impossible for now. Hopefully in the future we can do that. Still, we enjoyed looking across into Canada and the bridge at night with its lights was beautiful.
We had a great lunch at Vintage Tavern. The food was great and the building built in the 1800’s was beautiful. They had the original tin ceiling with hardwood floors and brick walls throughout. There were also leaded stained glass windows and three fireplaces.
Thomas Edison lived here as a young boy and there is a museum commemorating his time in Port Huron.
As a student at Port Huron a schoolmaster called Edison “addled.” Furious, his mother took him out of the school and proceeded to teach him at home. Edison said many years later, “My mother was the making of me. She was so true, so sure of me, and I felt I had some one to live for, some one I must not disappoint.”
In 1859, Edison took a job selling newspapers and candy on the Grand Trunk Railroad to Detroit. In the baggage car, he set up a laboratory for his chemistry experiments and a printing press, where he started the Grand Trunk Herald, the first newspaper published on a train. An accidental fire forced him to stop his experiments on board.
While he was in Detroit Edison would visit the large library there. He said, “I didn’t read a few books, I read the library.”
When he was 19 Edison moved to Kentucky and continued with his experiments. By the time of his death in 1831 he had a record 1,093 patents: 389 for electric light and power, 195 for the phonograph, 150 for the telegraph, 141 for storage batteries and 34 for the telephone.
Another interesting stop in Port Huron was the Great Lakes Maritime Center. Here we found a wealth of information about the history of shipping on the Great Lakes.
We also learned about the underground tunnels that run under the St Clair River allowing trains to make the crossing from Port Huron to Sarnia, Ontario. This tunnel was the first full-size subaqueous tunnel built in North America allowing a railroad to pass beneath a river. Before the tunnels were built trains would come to Port Huron where they would have to be loaded on a barge and carried across the river to tracks in Sarnia.
Along with all the interesting history of shipping on the Great Lakes, the Center was a nice place to just sit and watch the ships on the river as well as again glance across at Canada.
We finished our visit to the Thumb by checking out the Fort Gratiot lighthouse. This fort was built in 1914 during the War of 1812. Occupied by the United States Army until 1879 it stood guard over the juncture of St. Clair River and Lake Huron. In 1823 the lighthouse was built here and it is the first lighthouse in Michigan and the second oldest on the Great Lakes.
We enjoyed sitting here and watching the large ships coming from Lake Huron to the St Clair River.
The keepers house is large and looks beautiful although we were not able to go inside.
You can climb the stairs in the lighthouse and I only imagine what the view would be like. But my arthritic knees prevented me from climbing the 94 stairs to the top.
As always on our trips, there was so much more we wanted to see but time did not permit more exploring. There is much more to discover on the Thumb and hopefully we can return again and explore more.
You never know what treasures you will find when you get off the interstate and roam down country roads.
When my husband and I first moved to Michigan three years ago we found a beautiful old church in the small town of Muir. Passing through the town on the main road you would never see the church. But by turning off the main drag we found a church with historical value as well as beauty.
Recently we found another interesting church in the small town of Woodbury. Again, the church would never be spotted from the main highway but we discovered it when we turned off the main road into the town itself. It’s a small town with little to offer but this unique church caught our eye.
The sign outside said it was the St Herman Orthodox Christian Church.
Not being that familiar with the Orthodox faith we had never heard of a St Herman so we were intrigued.
When we drove by the church was not open but we checked their website and found that they had services on Monday. We drove back to Woodbury and the priest and his wife were so gracious to allow us to see the church and to share the history of both the building and the Orthodox faith.
The church building is over 100 years old and was originally built by the United Brethren. In 2006 the Orthodox church family purchased the building and began converting it into their own facility. In the Orthodox faith there is a great emphasis on icons of Christ and the saints. This church was beautiful inside with the “great crowd of witnesses” they had there. The priest’s wife was the artist and she spent over ten years paintings these colorful icons. I would have liked to have taken more pictures but out of respect for their tradition did not get too many.
On learning our names, they pointed out Saint Barbara and Saint Paul that were part of the saints at the front of the church. It was interesting to me that there were no pews in the sanctuary but they explained they stand for their services.
We also learned a little more about St Herman and found that there are several Orthodox churches in the USA that are named after him.
Born into a merchant family in the diocese of Moscow, St. Herman became a monk when he was still a teenager. When Russian explorers began looking toward Alaska St Herman was part of a group of ten men that came to evangelize the area. After five years the head of the mission with several of his group were drowned. Slowly others began to leave until St Herman alone remained. He loved the children, baking them cookies and nursing those who were sick. He started a school for orphans and took the side of the natives against the Russian fur traders who were exploiting them.
After his death in 1837 he was buried in the Resurrection Church on Kodiak. In 1970 the Orthodox church canonized Herman “as a sublime example of the Holy Life, for our spiritual benefit, inspiration, comfort, and the confirmation of our Faith.”[ He is considered by the Orthodox church to be the patron saint of Alaska.
The priest and his wife were very hospitable even inviting us to share their noon meal. They also invited us to join them for one of their services. I’m not sure I would be up to it as they stand for the service and their brochure says their services are long (as much as two hours). I would never be able to stand that long on these arthritic legs. Still, it would be interesting and I have always loved learning more about other Christian beliefs.
Life is much more interesting when you get off the interstate and explore!
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.
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.
Because of Covid our plans for continuing our exploration of Michigan this summer did not materialize. However, we did get in just a little adventure on a recent trip back to Illinois to visit family. During that trip my husband and I took a side tour to Otterville, Illinois.
My husband was interested in the area because many of his mother’s family had once lived there. During research on his family tree, he discovered that one of his ancestors (his tenth great grandfather) was actually a slave from Angola. From previous trips to that area we knew there was a school that had been established in Otterville for the education of black students. Intrigued by the idea that a school for black students had been established in the same area where the branch of his family descended from a slave had also resided, he wanted to check out this school.
Hidden away in this small country town is a jewel of history. The building we found there is no longer in use as a school, but has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Classes were actually held there through 1971. Beginning in 1983 the site has been open for tours and an annual Hamilton Primary School Festival is held each year in September.
This school’s claim to fame is that it was the first integrated school in the nation. Years before the Civil War and before the landmark Supreme Court decision in 1954 Brown vs Board of Education, the Hamilton Primary School opened in 1835 as a free school open to everyone regardless of financial resources or color of skin.
Named after its benefactor, Dr. Silas Hamilton, a stone schoolhouse was opened in 1836. The finances for this school came from $4,000 Dr. Hamilton left in his will for construction and operation of a building for both educational and religious purposes. Razed in 1872, rebuilt and enlarged classes were held here until 1971.
Dr. Hamilton, a physicial originally from Vermont established a practice in Nashville, Tennessee. Saddened by the treatment of slaves that he saw, he bought a plantation in Mississippi in 1820. His mistaken idea was that he would treat his 28 slaves humanely and that would serve as a model for his neighbors. Of course, this did not work.
Recognizing this was an unrealistic and impractical experience, he traveled to Ohio where he freed his slaves. Moving west, he settled in what became Otterville and opened a medical practice.
While still a slave owner in Mississippi and on a trip back to Vermont he found a little boy whose parents had been sold at a slave auction. He purchased the young boy whose name was George Washington. While he freed George, the young man came with him to Otterville. The residents of Otterville were supporters of abolition and it is rumored that the town may have been a stop on the Undergrand Railroad.
On his death, Dr. Hamilton provided funds for the school to be built.
“Believing in the very great importance of primary schools, and desiring that my friends and relatives in this neighborhood should receive the benefit of them, I give and bequeath $4,000. dollars for the establishment of a primary school. $2,000 dollars to be appropriated to the erection of a building suitable for the school and a place of public worship, and $2,000 dollars to constitute a fund for the support of a teacher, said house to be erected not to exceed one mile south of this residence, nor one mile north, nor a quarter of a mile east, but at or near the point called the Four Corners, and I desire my executors to oversee the erection of such a building…”
Influenced by Dr. Hamilton, George Washington continued to live as the doctor had – caring for his neighbors. He was a successful farmer and active in the Otterville Baptist Church. An excellent singer, he often lead the singing and taught a Sunday School class also. Those who shared stories about George to their family members said that whenever a family had sickness, he would show up with wood for the fire and food for the table. He was the community “grave digger” working for free. As long as he stayed in Jersey County he was a free citizen. However, on a trip to the nearby city of Grafton (Calhoun County), he was assaulted by some men and placed in jail charged as a fugitive slave. Fortunately, a Jersey County businessman heard of his arrest and was able to procured his freedom.
On his death he left a sizeable estate to pay his debts, provide a monument to this former master and for the education of “colored persons, or Americans of African descent.”
On his death Washington was buried alongside his former master. While Southern plantation owners often buried their slaves in family plots, this is probably the only incident where the master and slave were buried side-by-side. Also, the only known instance where a former slave erected a monument for his master.
The newer school and church built in 1873 used stones from the original building. Since 1983 it has served as a museum with the halls and classrooms line with photos of past graduation classes, and photos and cermeonies remembering Hamtilton and Washinton.
Another reminder that when you get off the beaten path there is so much history hidden in small towns and unexpected places.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Although it was cold today, the sun was shining and it was a perfect day for a ride. A walk through an antique mall and Chinese food for lunch made for a great day.
I have to be patient as I deal with this current difficulty, but when I’ve had enough my husband is there to help me “get of Dodge” if only for a few hours. In the meantime, I’m looking at the map and making plans for longer road trips this summer.
Do you have those times when you feel like you have to “get out of Dodge?”
What do you do/where do you go to “get out of Dodge?”
After a quick drive through Bay View Michigan where we discovered beautiful Victorian houses, we learned this community was part of the Chautauqua movement from the late 1800’s. Although the movement slowly died out in the 1920’s this community has remained active from its founding in 1875.
Always interested in our country’s history I have done some research since coming home on the Chautauqua movement.
I found the word is an Iroquois word and means ““a bag tied in the middle” or “two moccasins tied together.” This name apparently was given to the movement because the first such meeting took place near Chautauqua Lake in New York where the word described the shape of the lake.
Started by John Heyl Vincent and Lewis Miller in a Methodist camp meeting site, it was used as a summer school for Sunday School teachers. Although it started in this religious setting, it was more than just religious teaching.
It quickly spread throughout the country and attracted families to enjoy educators, preachers, musicians, orchestras while also enjoying camping and other outdoor summer activities.
Politicians also enjoyed speaking at these gatherings. The large crowds that attended these summer programs gave them a way to get their message out (before the days of television, Facebook and cable news). One of the most famous of those politicians was William Jennings Bryan. A Democrat who ran for president three times, Bryan was very adamant about the importance of making education available to all. He found the Chautauqua Movement an excellent way to make educational, religious and cultural programs open to all.
Theodore Roosevelt called it “the most American thing in America.”
The movement began to die out as television and other modern entertainment venues grew in popularity. However, today it is experiencing a come back. The idea of lifelong learning has gained importance again and the desire for cultural experiences is returning. There are existing Chautauqua communities throughout the USA.
The original Chautauqua is now a 750-acre education center in New York State. During the nine-week summer season at the Chautauqua Institution, over 7,500 persons enjoy the all the programs which include the four pillars of the movement: religion, recreation, arts and education. Courses are offered in art, dance, theater, writing among many other psecial interests.
The one we found in Bay View is definitely one I want to visit next summer. In addition to the beautiful homes and the programs they are offering, I look forward to enjoying the sunsets on beautiful Little Traverse Bay just across the street.
If you do not live near Michigan, check the map to find one of the many Chautauqua facilities and check it out.