29 Jun

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After a peaceful nights sleep at the Webster House the car is loaded and we are on our way, a quick stop at Populace for coffee and we are headed to Saginaw. At one time Saginaw was a thriving lumber town, the nearby forests were thick with White Pine, the proximity to the river made it easy to float  logs down to the sawmills, they were then loaded onto ships and later railroad cars and sent all over the country. As lumber production began to disappear a new industry had taken hold of the area, manufacturing. Most of us are unaware at what a manufacturing hub Saginaw was, at one point the city and township were home to 12 General Motors plants and an Eaton manufacturing plant; not to mention the production of chemicals, plate glass and metal fabrication. Saginaw’s contribution to the Allies eventual victory was significant; facilities here produced over half a million M1 Carbine rifles for the US military along with gun parts, tank treads and ball screws for the Boeing B-29’s, thanks to our manufacturing base we could build it all! Through the years plants were bought and sold, many closed down, only a few continue to operate today. Saginaw struggles with the same issues so many of our once great manufacturing cities do. A trip down Jefferson Ave gives one a glimpse of Saginaw’s magnificent architecture.

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We begin our visit with a trip to the Marshall M Fredericks Sculpture Museum on the campus of Saginaw Valley State University, I bet you even know some of his work. Spirit of Detroit statue? Yep, that’s his, Christ On The Cross out in Indian River MI, that too, how about the Leaping Gazelle, aka the Levi L Barbour Memorial Fountain on Belle Isle? Uh huh, as a matter of fact, that was his very first commission. Fredericks grew up in Cleveland, graduated from the Cleveland School of Art in 1930, he traveled to Sweden to study under another great sculptor, Carl Milles (who had previously studied under Rodin in Paris). After Fredericks spent some time in Europe, he was invited by Milles to join him on staff at the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, which he did, Fredericks resided in Birmingham MI until his death in 1998.

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We arrive at the museum, Fredericks  sculptures are scattered about the landscape, Kris recognizes the Lion and the Mouse from his childhood days at Eastland Mall. Inside, a large space is tightly filled with plaster castings for Fredericks pieces, we are familiar with many of them. Starting at one side we take our time traversing the aisles; there are a couple of castings  for The Spirit Of Detroit in different sizes, it was not unusual for Fredericks to make smaller versions of sculptures as sort of practice pieces. A down-sized version of Christ on the Cross hangs on the marble wall, the Leaping Gazelle was one of his most reproduced pieces, it is lovely even in plaster. A row of elongated figures balance on round bases, they must belong to a fountain. The left wall is windows top to bottom overlooking a pretty green space, water splashes from one of Fredericks fountains. Figures are often reaching upwards towards a higher power, animals always look friendly, we recognize the Cleveland War Memorial Fountain. The next room over is a reproduction of Fredericks sculpture studio, everything in there; tools, equipment, armatures, came from his studios in Royal Oak and Birmingham. All the steps are laid out from sketch to casting, we watch a video showing the process, it really is amazing. The gallery displays 200 works of bronze and plaster molds that span Marshall Fredericks career, we both love his work! As we depart the museum we see the Night and Day Fountain, the same one sits outside the McMorran auditorium in Port Huron, we check out the remaining outdoor sculpture and then we are off to downtown Saginaw.

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As I mentioned earlier, Saginaw has some incredible architecture, one such building is the Castle Museum. Designed by William Martin Aiken it was built in 1898 as a United States Post Office, which means, no expense was spared. Completed in the French Renaissance Revival style, this place is stunning. Saginaw’s population continued to grow, in 1937 the building was enlarged, thirty years later the building was threatened with demolition, fortunately it was transferred to the County of Saginaw and became the Castle Museum of Saginaw County History. Covering all aspects of local history they have over 100,000 objects and artifacts related to the heritage of the area, they did a fantastic job making the museum interesting to everyone, not just locals. The interior space is perfect for a museum; wide hallways, large rooms, lots of windows, the structure itself is just as interesting as the exhibits. Automobiles from different eras are displayed in the main hallway, we see architectural pieces from old buildings, photos showing the interior when it was a post office hang on the walls. We climb the circular stairway to the top floor a gold medallion decorates the center of the ceiling. Exhibits take us from the early days when Indians roamed the land to the time of lumbering, noting that in 1880 Saginaw Valley was home to 80 sawmills. My favorite section is the re-creation of Saginaw in its prime; a vegetable truck sits near the City Market, you can pretend you are taking a ride on a street car downtown. When Myer Bros. Jewelers closed in 1974 the museum obtained all of the interior counters, cabinets and mirrors, I actually feel like I am in the store, it’s beautiful! Other local shops are represented as well including Morely Bros. Hardware.

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 Back in the days when the building was a post office people actually paid their bills by sending cash in the mail….In one area we see the old safe, signs direct us up a narrow stairway, leading to an even narrower hall, from here we see tiny elongated windows that were used to ‘spy’ on employees as they were processing the mail, the government wanted to make sure all that cash got to its intended destination. The lower level is home to a large “HO” Scale operating railroad with more than 1000 feet of track, two freight-yards and realistic vintage scenery. Maintained and operated by the Saginaw Area Module Modelers it’s really cool. We walk the perimeter of the large display, there is so much to take in, trains are running in several different directions, volunteers are happy to explain all that we are seeing. Throughout the museum we see much of Saginaw’s history from furniture, photos and clothing to vehicles, toys and household goods, it has been an enjoyable visit.

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As we exit the museum our gaze falls upon another gorgeous building right behind it, this would be the Hoyt Public Library. Although Jesse Hoyt was never a permanent resident of Saginaw he and his family owned a substantial portion of the city and were involved financially in lumber, railroads, salt and buildings. Always concerned for the welfare of the community, he willed the city $100,000 for the establishment of a public library to be built on a parcel of land owned by him. The library was to be for consultation and reference only and to always bear the name Hoyt Public Library, completed in Romanesque design the library opened in 1890. We were so happy when we pulled on the door and it opened, we step inside and pause to look around, it is quite lovely. Kris begins to take photos as I wander about. A couple of employees engage us in conversation, we tell them we are fond of old buildings, they smile and tell us to have a look around. One man acts as our guide and takes us from room to room, I’m always excited when the big key ring comes out and we get to see spaces not generally open to the public. There is lots of wood and ornate plaster, a fireplace takes center stage in one of the small rooms. Completely renovated in 1997, new lighting was hung, old wooden shelves were replaced and computers were installed all the while maintaining the original Victorian motif. If you’re ever in town be sure to stop in and have a look around.

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It is late afternoon and we have yet to have lunch, we are starving! We take a drive through downtown but have no luck finding anything open on a Saturday. We cross the river  and scan the area for somewhere to eat; in no time we find ourselves at the Old Town Drive-In. This charming old-fashioned car-hop restaurant has been serving up their homemade draft rootbeer, rootbeer floats and coney dogs since 1940. The outdoor spaces are filled, so we decide to eat inside, a row of swivel bar stools line the counter, we have a seat and quickly decide what to order. Before we know it our food arrives; a coney dog, a cheeseburger and fries. We always like to try out the coney dogs at these cute family owned drive-ins, each has its own distinct coney sauce. Everything is good, we polish off the meal quickly.

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We make one last stop in town at the Saginaw Art Museum on Michigan Ave. The museum is housed in the former Ring family residence, built in the early 1900’s in the Georgian Revival style, the family donated the home to the city. There is a buzz of activity when we arrive, a wedding is about to take place in the formal gardens. Inside we are slightly disappointed to find artwork removed and areas closed off, but the place is wonderful all the same. My favorite space is the former dining room, rich Butternut paneling adorns the walls giving the room a cozy feel. We proceed through the galleries, the collection contains about 1700 pieces, American and European art being the majority of the collection. There is a nice variety on display today; paintings, sculptures, textiles and African art. One area of the modern and contemporary is filled with folding chairs this afternoon, ah, the wedding. The museum is currently closed for renovations and will re-open in the Fall, we look forward to a return visit when we will be able to see it in its entirety. We have thoroughly enjoyed our visit to Bay City and Saginaw, there was so much more than we expected to find.

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4 Responses to “Saginaw”

  1. Debbie June 30, 2013 at 9:43 pm #

    So enjoy reading all these.


  2. The Detroit Foodie July 1, 2013 at 12:16 am #

    You always manage to find the coolest spots in a city along with a great write-up & photos, nice post!

    • detroitdvotion July 1, 2013 at 10:25 pm #

      Thanks Foodie

      As you know, there are all kinds of great hidden secrets right in our own backyard!!

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