10 Sep

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Northville is about 30 miles northwest of Detroit and has a surprisingly industrial heritage. The city was the location of Henry Ford’s first Village Industries factory. Mr Ford purchased the former Northville Mills building in 1919, eventually that building was razed and a larger one (designed by none other than Albert Kahn) built across the street that would provide valves for every Ford, Lincoln and Mercury vehicle built. The theory was by having small factories in rural communities a farmer’s income would be stabilized through the winter months, they were given a leave of absence to return to working on the farm. In 1972 Ford Motor Company donated the original building site to be used as a Historic Village, Mill Race Village was born.

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Operated by the Northville Historical Society, Mill Race Village is populated with buildings that were slated to be razed, preserving  architecture, furnishings and the lifestyle of the 19th century. On our way into the village we pass the Bell Pier, the 24″ bell was manufactured by the American Bell Foundry that operated in Northville from the 1890’s to the 1930’s; they were well-known for their dinner bells, bells for churches, factories, schools and farms. Crossing the wooden bridge we find ourselves in an old-fashioned village. We wander into a small home built circa 1889 that is now used as weaver’s studio, lovely textiles such as rugs, tablecloths and blankets are on display, a woman demonstrates how a loom operates. Pretty flower gardens fill front yards, huge Hydrangea bloom in beds, Black-eyed Susan’s and phlox add bursts of color.

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The Yerkes House built in 1873 is a gorgeous example of the Carpenter Gothic style; the green and tan beauty is adorned with ornate trim and decoration, I’m particularly fond of the pointed windows. The size of the home, furnishings and housewares convey the wealth of the family, the floating staircase is my favorite feature. Next we walk over to the river, water gently flows from one level to another, don’t miss the view!  The Hunter House built in 1851 is classic Greek Revival, it was moved to the village in 1972 from its original location on Main Street at Griswold.

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More people arrive as it gets later in the day, making it look like a bustling village. The New School Church is air-conditioned, we are grateful for that. This building has served many purposes from church to school, a barracks and then as the Northville library for 70 years. It can be rented for weddings, parties and meetings. Wash Oak school was the typical one-room schoolhouse we have all heard about, rows of desks await children, the flag hanging near the blackboard only has 47 stars. There’s activity at the Hirsch Blacksmith shop, a “smithy” is demonstrating his craft for visitors. The other side of this replica building houses rotating exhibit space, Kris and I enjoy the Silver Springs carbonated beverages display, fruity drinks such as the Lime Rickey were bottled right here in Northville.

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One of Northville’s oldest structures, built circa 1831, the Cady Inn was once a boarding house and stagecoach stop before it began serving hungry diners. These days the Historical Society Offices and Archives are located here; this space is also available for rental. The temperature continues to rise; at the General Store we purchase bottles of cold water and admire the original tin ceiling. This was the last timber-framed building standing in downtown Northville before being taken apart piece by piece and reconstructed on this spot. Outside we quench our thirst as we watch a resident squirrel enjoy an afternoon snack. Next door we stop in at the Interurban Station; this tiny building was originally the waiting room for Farmington’s transit system. A map of the interurban train line hangs on the wall, thick red lines trace routes from Detroit to Port Huron, Flint, Toledo and Ann Arbor.

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Downtown Northville still retains that small-town atmosphere despite its recent growth spurt. Grand Victorian era homes fill neighborhood streets, most built before 1930; old-fashioned street lamps and benches line Main Street, very quaint. We are having lunch at Garage Grill & Fuel Bar, a cool Art Deco style gas station-turned restaurant. Built in 1940 as a Gulf Oil gas station, it’s had many incarnations through the years: Sunoco gas station, Chrysler dealership, dry cleaner and what we remember it as, a garden shop. After a complete renovation it opened in 2012 as Garage.

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The interior decor plays homage to the structures origins; air pump, gas pump, vintage toys, photographs and a bunch of automotive memorabilia. The hanging light fixtures are pure deco, did I mention the booth seating is done in Levi’s? Just as we finish our salad our Big Sicilian pizza arrives, no pizza stands here, just Texaco oil cans! The pizza is covered with pepperoni, house-made sausage, prosciutto, bacon, red sauce and mozzarella, so flavorful, absolutely delicious! On the way out we have a peek at the fully restored 1930 Ford Model A in the back, sweet.

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Walking down Main Street we stumble across Browndog Creamery & Dessert Bar, we know what will happen if we go in, but we can’t resist. The shop makes small-batch ice cream and desserts all in house; the baked goods are tempting, but what’s better on a hot summer day than ice cream? Flavors are unique, french press mocha, triple vanilla, pumpkin road, and one I had to try, New Holland Poet Oatmeal Stout—-it has a nice taste. In the end we walked out with one of those waffle cones dipped in chocolate, smothered in sprinkles and filled with Cookie Monster ice cream. Don’t let the blue coloring throw you, it’s pretty tasty, a vanilla-ish base loaded with a variety of cookie pieces. We join other leisure-seekers in the attractive town square; tall grasses and trailing petunia emerge from large urns, we finish our ice cream cone to the sound of water splashing in the fountain, such a nice place to relax.

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It seems no matter where we find ourselves in the metro area we are always learning, always discovering, and  best of all, having a great time!

One Response to “NORTHVILLE: Time Warp”

  1. Donna Laby September 14, 2015 at 2:24 pm #

    What a wonderful article! I am Docent Chair for Mill Race Village and we sincerely appreciate your photos and information. Please visit again! We are havng our annual Victorian Festival the weekend of September 18, 19, & 20. The city and Village will be humming with activity and a parade on Friday evening at 6:30pm, all in Victorian style!
    Hope you can attend, Regards, Donna Laby

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