Bay City: Part II

23 Jun

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On our way to the bed and breakfast, we take a detour along the Saginaw River in search of the permanent mooring site of the USS Edson. I read that the destroyer had arrived in Bay City and was to open as the Saginaw Valley Naval Ship Museum in May. We continue to follow the river, just as we are about to give up, the enormous ship comes into view; at an overall length of 418 ft, it is quite a sight. A trailer sits off to the side, it’s early evening, we hope there’s still time to get a tour. Inside we are greeted warmly by volunteers, told we can start our tour immediately, we pay the admission and we are off. As we approach the destroyer I am taken aback by its size, our guide  is knowledgeable and friendly, he rattles off facts and figures effortlessly, here are a few; the USS Edson  is a Forrest Sherman-Class destroyer, 45 ft beam, 22 ft draught, 418 ft overall length. Commissioned in 1958, earned a reputation as a Top Gun ship, nicknamed “The Destroyer” and “The Grey Ghost of the Vietnamese Coast” as a member of the US Pacific Fleet, decommissioned in 1988.

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We go inside the ship, everything is painted the same shade of grey, hallways are narrow, the low ceiling is thick with wiring. We peek inside a series of different rooms, in some, walls are covered in nautical charts, in others bunks hang from chains and are stacked three high, officers had it better, one bed and their own bathroom. Everywhere I look I see switches, dials, gauges and knobs. As we walk our guide tells us stories about the Edson and the men who temporarily called the ship home. They had everything they needed; a barbershop, doctor, dentist, they could buy a candy bar and mail letters. We enter the galley area, there are maybe a dozen booths where the men would take their meals, with a crew of 17 officers and 218 men, they had to eat in shifts. We go down to the engine room where the 70,000 horsepower Worthington steam turbines are located, these monsters are capable of powering this massive ship to nearly 50 miles per hour, Wow, can’t imagine how loud it must have been down there, not to mention the heat. The pilot house is huge, we peer out the windshield at the Saginaw River, passing boats blow their horns and passengers wave as they pass. The Saginaw valley was home to many shipyards, the former Defoe Shipbuilding Company built many ships for the US Navy, making Bay City a perfect home for the USS Edson.

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We make our way back downtown to Populace Cafe on Washington Ave, time for a coffee break. Opened in 2012 the original owner ran the cafe, the wholesale business and most importantly roasted all the coffee. Though he still owns and runs Populace Coffee Company he sold the cafe to his barista, Lindsay, and the place is thriving. The decor is an eclectic mix of vintage and modern, chalkboard menus hang on the wall in pretty vintage frames. They have the usual espresso and coffee drinks you’d expect to find, but what really sets the shop apart are Lindsay’s homemade syrups; vanilla, dark chocolate and 3, yes I said 3, kinds of caramel! Kris had an iced coffee with the vanilla and loved it, unable to decide between the dark chocolate and the salty caramel, she made me a latte with both, yum! They also have a nice selection of teas and some tasty looking baked goods. Heck, we’d come to Bay City just for the coffee!

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At last we arrive at the Historic Webster House where we will be spending the night; built by Judge Thomas Webster in 1886 the 4,750 sq. ft. home is a lovely example of Queen Anne architecture. We are immediately greeted by innkeepers Frank and Gail, we walk through to the breakfast room where Frank points out a batch of freshly baked peanut butter chocolate chip cookies. The home is gorgeous; stained glass windows, polished hardwood floors, ornately carved wood trim and moldings, it is completely furnished in Victorian period pieces. Gail leads us to the stairway, she pauses at a table holding a platter of cheese and crackers, I catch the fragrance of red wine before I see the decanter and matching glasses, I love this place already! We ascend the steps up to the second floor where a guest refrigerator is stocked with soft drinks and more wine, Gail takes us into our room, it is splendid. The room is distinctly shaped, one wall is a series of large windows; a small table and two chairs are placed against a window. The bed is higher than a standard bed, the blanket is fluffed, it looks extremely comfortable. We have a fireplace and a small flat screen TV, the bathroom is roomy, I wish we were staying all weekend…… We help ourselves to a glass of wine, unpack a few things and get ourselves situated. If you’re looking for some luxe accommodations in Bay City, give this place a try!

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The Webster House is located in the Center Avenue Historic District, in 2011 the district was expanded to include 875 structures in a variety of styles from Gothic Revival and Italianate to Richardson Romanesque and Arts and Crafts. As we walk we pass grand manor homes, keep in mind this neighborhood was where industrialists, lumbermen and ship builders dwelled.  It is a perfect evening; water splashes in concrete fountains, Irises are blooming, lilacs perfume the air. The grass is deep green and lush, long walks lead to front porches bearing cement lions or gargoyles. Huge urns filled with annuals add a splash of color, ivy climbs the fireplace of a stately Tudor. There are also a number of “kit homes”, the Alladin and Lewis & Liberty Companies pioneered the manufacture of kit homes right here in Bay City. We arrive at a quaint little park; in a pond, water streams up from a whale and a dolphin, they look as though they have been entertaining children for decades. We take Center Street back to the bed and breakfast, have to freshen up for dinner.

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Everybody we talk to in Bay City tells us to have dinner at Old City Hall; as you may have guessed the building, opened in the late 1890’s was the city’s first city hall. Back in the logging days this area was known as “Hell’s Half Mile” for all of the rough activities that took place in the local saloons and brothels that stretched this section of road, eventually it forced the relocation on city hall. Today the restaurant looks like something you’d find in Birmingham or Ferndale, exposed brick walls, funky light fixtures made from empty wine and liquor bottles and a diverse menu. We begin our meal with the Thai lettuce wraps, a tasty blend of chicken, cashews and veggies smothered in a mild Thai sauce spooned into crisp romaine lettuce leaves, delicious. Our entrée of shrimp pad Thai arrived in a large bowl and smelled wonderful. A combination of shrimp, tofu, bean sprouts, egg and crushed peanuts the sauce was sweet and spicy, scrumptious.

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After dinner we walk down to the water front, the temperature has dropped quickly, we can see our breath when we speak, ah, Michigan in May! Lights across the river reflect on the still waters, pretty, a large white sculpture lights up Wenonah Park, the Delta College Planetarium looks super cool at night. The cold night air sends us back to the bar at Old City Hall; with 150 wines from around the globe and 23 beers on tap there is much to choose from. We sip our drinks and relax, it has been a fun and busy day.

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