Roadtrip……Kalamazoo; Gilmore Car Museum, Henderson Castle B&B

14 Sep

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I don’t know about you, but every time I hear the name” Kalamazoo” the Glenn Miller song starts to play in my head; A,B,C,D,E,F,G,H,  I got a gal in Kalamazoo……There’s something catchy about that name, it has been used in songs, books, and slogans such as “From Timbuktu to Kalamazoo”.  We were looking for a short overnight trip Labor Day weekend and Kalamazoo is what came to mind.

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We pointed the car west, got on I-94 and  covered the miles quickly, there wasn’t time to take back roads both ways; sometimes you have to make sacrifices. Our first stop was the Gilmore Car Museum located in Hickory Corners MI. This place is astounding, and truly one of a kind. Here’s a brief history: Donald Gilmore receives a 1920 Pierce Arrow “project car” as a birthday present from his wife, he restored it with a group of friends, and soon his collection grew to 30 cars. He purchased 90 acres of farm land and several historic barns, which had to be dismantled plank by plank and moved to the site to store the vehicles. The collection eventually became a non-profit foundation and a public museum it opened July 31, 1966. Let me just assure you the Gilmore family is not short on cash; The number of autos and barns has grown substantially through the years, making it one of the top automobile museums in the country. In addition to the autos (200) displayed in eight barns, there is also a re-created 1930’s service station, a small town train station, an authentic Diner Car, and a double-decker bus, all for your enjoyment. The museum also owns one of North America’s largest displays of hood ornaments and name badges, and if you like vintage pedal cars, you’re in luck!

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We were fortunate in that there was a Cadillac La Salle meet going on when we arrived; we immediately set our focus on the gathering of cars, walking up and down the rows among giant tail fins and tons of chrome. Interiors are lush; leather seats and dashboards loaded with gadgets and trimmed in more chrome, it’s hard for me to imagine people drove these daily, the size is intimidating….parking spaces must have been bigger in those days….. Next we went to the barns; they are numbered so it makes it easy to keep track of what you have and haven’t seen, meticulously restored, they are beautiful inside. If you asked me what my favorite car is I couldn’t choose, if you asked what is the one thing you shouldn’t miss, I say don’t miss any of it! Automobiles were elaborate, if you spend the time to really study a Pierce Arrow, Franklin, Duesenberg, Packard or Cord, you recognize that each one was different, the design reflecting the time period, the craftsmanship outstanding, they were rolling sculpture.  Barn #5 has a fascinating collection of cars made in “Kalamazoo- The Other Motor City”, this town has a strong automotive heritage, in the same barn are the Brass & Nickel Cars which date back to 1931 and older, the Cars of the 1950’s also share this space and seem to be quite popular with visitors. Vehicles of the 30’s and 40’s are displayed along with Preston Tucker’s office (yes, the real thing) and the Tucker Historical Collection in barn 6, feast your eyes on an authentic Tucker, the single headlight sets it apart from all other vehicles. From the 1800’s to the 1970’s and from the luxurious to the muscle car you can see a little bit of everything at Gilmore.

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We had walked, smiled, ogled and photographed for hours, we needed to re-fuel, lucky for us the Blue Moon Diner car on the premises serves lunch from 11-4 daily.  An original 1941 Silk City Diner, this place is cool! Order at the counter, if there’s room I recommend sitting inside, if not, tables are plentiful on the outdoor shaded patio. The food is great; hot dogs, many people ordered the “Chicago”, sandwiches served with a bag of chips, typical diner fare, and of course homemade pie. They do a big frozen custard business too, everywhere you look people had a cone filled with the delicious stuff. We ordered a BLT; bacon was crisp and tender piled on white toast topped with juicy tomatoes, lettuce and a generous coating of mayo. In addition we had the salad special of the day, grilled chicken, crisp lettuce, fruit, nuts and a great homemade dressing, diet coke was served in the petite silver bottles and was icy cold. What fun!

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It was getting late in the day so it was time to check in to our Bed & Breakfast, we booked a room at the Henderson Castle in Kalamazoo. As of August 2011 the Inn has a new owner so it was our first stay since it had changed hands, it was a little rough around the edges, but we expect the new owner will whip it into shape quickly. The house is stunning; built in 1895 of Lake Superior Sandstone and brick this magnificent Queen Ann sits on top of a hill overlooking the city. The original owner, Frank Henderson was a wealthy and successful businessman, he built 25 room home at a cost of $72, 000.00, I’d say it was worth every penny. Francois greeted us at the door and showed us to our room (Tibet) on the second floor, climbing the wooden staircase I had forgotten how extravagant the place was. As the door swung open the brightly painted tin ceiling came into view; one of the previous owners had it removed from a building downtown that was set to be demolished and had it installed in the Tibet Room, then he hired students from nearby WMU to paint it, the last step was the installation of fiber optic lighting around the perimeter and ceiling medallion, it’s gorgeous. The bathroom is huge; the floor is covered in original ceramic tiles, the Tibet theme continues here too. After we settled in we headed back out for dinner.

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There is an area of downtown called the “Mall”, basically it’s several blocks of small shops and restaurants that is quite walkable and charming.  We came across a place called Central City Tap House that looked inviting; tables indoors and out with sliding glass doors to separate the spaces. Our indoor table facing the open doors was perfect, we had a pizza and an Asian salad that really hit the spot, a nice amount of food for a fair price. I had to save a little bit of room for our next visit: the Bell’s Brewery.  Bell’s has been around for a while now, and most Michiganders know it well; the Porter is my favorite. We parked on the street and sat indoors, the place was busy and the list of available varieties was long, but we managed to get both a beer and a table. I selected the Rye Porter and was glad I did, the perfect drinking temperature this beer had nice deep flavor and a smooth finish, it would go well with a meal too. We had a great day in Kzoo, and now it was time to get some sleep. Tomorrow always brings a new adventure.

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