PORT HURON: Cool Old Stuff….

27 Sep

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There seems to be no end to the fascinating history of Detroit and Michigan, this place has done it all! In the early days we built trains, ships and stoves, we made cigars, soda pop and ice cream sundaes; of course, we are best known for putting the world on wheels. North of Detroit, in the small town of Algonac, the legendary Chris-Craft boats were born. In the early days, beginning in 1917, Chris Smith teamed up with Gar Wood;  Smith built ’em, Wood drove ’em,  they went on to win five straight Gold Cups from 1917 to 1921 before parting to start their own companies. In 1922 the Chris Smith & Sons boat company was formed, by 1927 Chris-Craft was recognized as the largest builder of mahogany constructed power boats……..which leads me to today…..Every September the Michigan Antique and Classic Boat Society hosts the Blue Water Antique and Classic Boat Show at the River Street Marina on the Black River in downtown Port Huron. We are not boaters ourselves; terms like aft, bulkhead, cuddy, keel and gunwale mean absolutely nothing. But, given the opportunity to get a look at a group of pristine antique wooden boats, we’ll be there!

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It was a crisp Saturday morning, the weather forecast was not exactly boat friendly; windy, cool and rainy. Always enjoying a trip to Port Huron anyway, we took the ride up the water to check out the boats. We parked at the marina and were excited to see a fair amount of boats tied up at the docks. On the grass, a display of vintage outboard motors was set up; Sea King Midget, Chris Craft Commander and Mercury, some for sale, some just to look at. I love the way they even made the motors decorative back then, great lettering, pretty colors, they’re cool!   The boats themselves are works of art, seriously, have you ever seen a completely restored Chris-Craft Runabout? The mahogany is refinished perfectly, chrome railings and nameplates gleam in the sunlight, the upholstery flawless. Initially we walked along the sidewalk, getting an overall glimpse at each one, on the way back we took the time to see each individually by walking out on the dock.  The detail is amazing;chrome and teak make beautiful accents, dashboards are clustered with all sorts of gauges. Each owner adds their own personal touch with distinct colors and furnishings. The crafts ranged from the 1920’s to the 60’s, I couldn’t get over how modern the models from the 20’s and 30’s looked. The combination of wood and chrome is unbeatable whether a Runabout, Capri or Cruiser, they are gorgeous!

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Luckily, the rain held off, which meant we could have lunch on the roof-top deck at the Vintage Tavern. This charming brick building has been completely renovated; brick walls are left exposed, dark wood adds rich accents to the decor, each floor has its own fireplace. We walked through the cozy main dining room to the back stairway which led us to the rooftop. Straight out you can see water in the distance, off to the side is a view of the city, clear lights are strung across the top of the dining area; it must be beautiful at night.  The menu offers a little bit of everything; looking for a light lunch we decided on the Tuscan Dipping oil with a loaf of French bread and the gourmet cheese and cracker platter. Kris commented to our waitress that he was surprised to see dill pickle soup on the menu, she raved about it and was nice enough to bring us a sample, it’s really good! It had turned into a lovely afternoon; we sat in the sun and leisurely dined on marinated mozzarella, Italian salami, fresh fruit, nuts and crusty french bread. When we had our fill we descended the staircase and on the way down noticed many of the details we had missed the first time; framed ads of local breweries from back in the day, stained glass windows and the wine barrel that hangs precariously above the front door. It’s such a nice place we’d like to come back for dinner some time.

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For as many times as we have been to Port Huron this summer, our visits have never coincided with the open hours of the Knowltons Ice Museum of North America…until today that is. I know, an ice museum? YES, an ice museum, and what a great museum it is! We had no idea what to expect, which made it even more fun to discover. We came in the door, paid our admission and sat down to a short movie that summed up how the ice industry began. It’s funny how we take things for granted; we’ve all heard of ice boxes and the ice man, but maybe never stopped to think of where the ice came from. In the 1800’s and early 1900’s men would actually cut blocks of ice from frozen lakes and ponds, the ice would then be stored in ice houses to be used in the sweltering summer months; this was known as natural ice. The man who owns the museum is the founder of the Party Time Ice Company, he has a passion for collecting anything to do with ice; what better way to show off your collection than to open it up to the public. The museum is awesome; he has everything that was used to cut and harvest the ice: saws, axes, picks and chippers. There are the items used to store ice in the home: ice boxes, buckets and coolers, from plain to ornate he has loads of examples. There is an old-fashioned kitchen exhibit, it was no easy task being a housewife in those days; everything was done manually. The owner was a milkman at one time and has an excellent array of antique milk bottles. A glass cabinet is devoted to old, miniature ice wagons and trucks; there are ice crushers and makers, even horse-drawn ice wagons. The collection is huge! One section is dedicated to Diana’s Sweet Shop; opened in 1926 it was a  fixture in the city that sadly closed several years back. This was the place locals and visitors went for a meal or just dessert. There are photos of the interior, it was gorgeous, items from the restaurant include a Vernor’s dispenser, signage, uniforms and more. Someone actually bought the interior of the shop and moved it down to Nashville TN, so Diana’s lives on! Next time we go to the Music City, we will have to check it out.  I’m so glad we finally got a chance to visit the museum, make a plan to see it yourself.

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One Response to “PORT HURON: Cool Old Stuff….”

  1. Barbara Dorda September 28, 2012 at 9:41 am #

    Enjoyed this posting very much!

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