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.

 

 

 

I Wonder Where Rosalie Is Today?

She was such a cute little girl.  A little afraid, but very curious, of the Americans who had moved into her neighborhood.

She began by peeping around the corner of the wall of our compound, trying to sneak a look at us while remaining hidden herself.

 

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Slowly she came out of hiding and let us see her pretty face.

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For several days she played this peek-a-boo game with us until finally she came with a friend and sat down outside our gate.

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My husband, our youngest daughter and I had moved into her neighborhood where we lived as we taught in a local Bible school and also in local churches throughout Iloilo City on the island of Panay in the Philippines.

Having white Americans as neighbors was quite a novelty.  Children in the neighborhood came to the gate every day to get a look at us.  We began talking to them and before long we developed friendships with all the children on our street.

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At first when we walked down our street, the little boys would call out to my husband, “Hello GI Joe.”   After repeating each day that his name was Paul, they finally called him by his name – but it came out with two syllables – Pa -ul.

Our daughter started a Kids Klub for the neighborhood children.  Saturday mornings our living room would turn into a classroom.  Jessica taught them songs, Bible stories and always had games and snacks for them.  They called her “Tita” or aunt and followed her each time she left our home.

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Rosalie was the youngest of five siblings.  Their mother was a widow and made her living by selling food in a makeshift hut on the side of the road.

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While we fell in love with all the children, we took a special interest in this family.

When it was time for us to return home, Rosalie’s mother wanted us to take Rosalie with us.  She envisioned a much better life for her youngest if she came to the United States with us.

We struggled with what would be the right decision.  It sounded good to provide this little girl with all the luxuries she would never have in Iloilo City.  Things like clean water, plenty of food, shoes and the many things we take for granted but would not be available to her in the Philippines.

But what would it do to her emotionally to be ripped from her home, her siblings and especially her mother?

Was it arrogance on our part to think that all the material things we could give her was worth more than family?

Yet how could we say no to giving her a life that would be much easier than the life she would have here in Iloilo City?

In the end, the legal requirements and the cost of adopting her and all the red tape involved proved more than we could do.

The day we left our neighborhood was very traumatic.  The children gathered early at our home and hung on to the jeepney as we drove slowly away.  They cried out, “Don’t go, don’t go.”

As I reflect back on that time, I do believe it would have been wrong to take her from her family – but I still wonder.

Did we do the right thing?

I wonder where she is today?

With today’s technological advances of Facebook and the internet we might have been able to maintain some contact.  But that was not possible then.

Still, I think of her and wonder if she remembers us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Food – Restaurants and Rubber Duckies -Lowell Michigan

A fun trip this week to Lowell, Michigan.   Founded as a trading post in 1831 by Daniel Marsac on the Grand River, in 1851 when a post office was established it was named Lowell after the township.  Located about 20 miles from Grand Rapids, this small town has a six-block downtown with antique stores, art galleries, restaurants and boutiques lining Main Street.

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In 1999 this downtown area was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

 

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Since my husband began painting again in his retirement, the first places we headed were the art galleries.   We found beautiful paintings – and some what I can only call “different” paintings.

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I love the picture of this old man!

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The colors here are so vibrant!

The Flat River meets the Grand River here at Lowell.   Duck boats are available to take a ride on the Flat River.

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We also saw plenty of ducks while we were there.

Real ducks.

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And rubber duckies.

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This weekend was the Riverwalk Festival and the folks from the local Art Council had a float playing on the “duck” theme.  We were walking along the street right beside this float as they played the rubber ducky song – and by the time it ended my husband had removed his hearing aids – and was ready to scream “enough!”

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It was neat to walk along the Flat River and enjoy all the arts and crafts and local food on display all along the riverwalk.

And lunch was delicious at the Flat River Grill.

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After exploring this unique and interesting small town, we headed north to the covered bridge at Fallassburgh.

You can read about this bridge and the village time forgot in my blog:

A Village Time Forgot

If you are ever in the Grand Rapids Michigan area, it would be worth your time to take a side trip to Lowell.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Village Time Forgot

In our road trip today we visited one of only two covered bridges open to traffic in Michigan.

The bridge leads to a village that time has forgotten.  John Wesley Fallas and his brother, Silas, came to the area in 1837.  Built alongside the Flat River they used the power from the river to construct a sawmill and a chair factory.  In 1839 they built the first bridge across Flat River at this site.  Today, this is the fourth bridge built here and was completed in 1871.

 

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I loved the sign that indicated there was a fine of $5.00 if you drove across the bridge at a speed greater than walking.

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Today all that is left standing of the village is a school house, a cemetery, the Fallas and Misner House museums and the Orlin Douglass/Tower Farm.   The old school house was built in 1867 and was actually used as a school until 1961.

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School house was built in 1867 and actually used as a school until 1961.

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The Fallas home – for its time it was quite an elegant house. 

At one time the state road from Detroit to Grand Rapids passed through Fallasburgh and the village was a thriving area.  The village had a stone-mason, blacksmiths, general stores, mills, a post office and even a hotel and tavern.

Then the railroad came.  In 1858 the D&M Railroad came to a nearby town, Lowell.  Slowly, the village declined.  Most of the area’s hardwoods which supported the mills and the chair factory were depleted by late 1800’s.  The founder died in 1896 and by 1905 the post office had closed.

The village continued as a sleepy summer community until today it is only a reminder of the past.

A historical society has been founded and events are held throughout the year to keep the memory of the community alive.

The village is surrounded by a beautiful park.   Close to 300 acres of picnic areas, beautiful trees and  the Flat River.

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We drove along the road near the Flat River on our way home.  A beautiful drive.  Lots of curves and hills.  A perfect end to our visit to Fallasburgh.