Exploring Clarkston

4 May

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About halfway between Detroit and Flint off I-75 is the tiny Village of Clarkston. Roughly a half square mile in size the picturesque village is home to a thriving downtown, over 100 historic structures, Parke Lake and the Mill Pond. Early settlers include brothers Jeremiah and Nelson Clark, for whom the village was named in 1842. The pilot for the HBO series HUNG was shot at Clarkston Jr. High School. Recently Clarkston Union Bar & Kitchen and Union Woodshop were featured on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives as part of Kid Rock’s Detroit tour with Guy Fieri. Oh and Valerie Bertinelli lived here as a child.

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We park the Jeep by the Mill Pond, a placard tells us it was created by the Clark brothers to harness water power. The original dam held Clinton River water to a depth of 22 feet producing the power to run the (then) nearby gristmill. The Mill Pond became a central feature in the village, it was used for boating, swimming and ice harvesting. Henry Ford came along in 1941 and built an enhanced dam to provide more power for his Village Industry at Clarkston Mill. Elegant homes rise up on the banks of the tranquil pond. We head out on foot through the charming neighborhood surrounding the pond.

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Walking along the sidewalk, modest homes represent many styles of architecture, no two houses are the same. Cozy bungalows and Tudor revivals are some of the few homes made of brick, Saltbox and Victorians are colorful. Heading back to Main Street we watch a family of geese go for a leisurely swim in the pond. The grandest homes reside on Main Street (M-15); Queen Anne’s, Greek Revivals and an eye-catching Mansard in blue, take up loads of square footage. Porches are large, columns are a common feature and come in many lengths and diameters.  The massive, white, Greek Revival is impressive, wide Ionic columns and black wrought iron balcony give the structure and important feel.

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Lawns are deep green and lush, weeping cherry and Redbud trees bloom along with golden-yellow forsythia, multi-colored Tulips and dandelions. The homes are just lovely, white Colonial Revivals share the real estate with a grey Queen Anne donning pink accents; fish scale siding accompanies highly detailed trim, fancy window pediments and American Flags rustling in the breeze. The building at 90 N Main started out in 1910 as Clarkston High School, Henry Ford bought the property in 1940 and used it as a factory to manufacture vehicle straps and seat cushions for military and other vehicles during WWII. He added a smokestack and power plant at the back of the building using the water from Parke Lake to create steam power.

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We dip in and out of side streets perpendicular to Main, more lovely homes are colored in deep blue, earth tones, lavender and pink; each is unique. Urns have already been filled with spring flowers, azaleas are a blaze of purple. Over on Buffalo we see what was originally the Methodist Episcopal Church built in 1873, it’s now a private residence, it’s gorgeous with fancy brickwork surrounding elegant wooden doors. Homeowners are creative with their decorating style, many of the houses look recently restored.

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Back on Main St. flowering pear trees are in full bloom, Rudy’s Grocery has a large selection of hanging flower baskets for sale; the store is charming with its stone exterior. Essence On Main sells specialty foods, select wines, locally roasted coffee, housemade soups, sandwiches and treats in addition to housewares. I love the Detroit Jewel Stove used in one of the displays. All of this food is making us hungry! Further down the street we have arrived at our destination, Union Woodshop. The place is jam-packed, 2 empty bar stools have our names written all over them. We like sitting at the bar, the conversation and interaction with the staff is always interesting. A quick look at the menu and we place our order.

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Union Woodshop is part of the Union Joints family which includes Clarkston Union, Vinsetta Garage, Fenton Fire Hall, Pumphouse Custard and Union General Store. Kris and I love that they put their businesses in such interesting, old buildings. We eat our Cherry Pork Salad of house-smoked pulled pork, piles of romaine lettuce, dried Michigan cherries and crispy friend onions dressed in honey mustard and the Pretender sandwich: House-made vegan patty, coal-fired tomatoes, arugula, broccoli sprouts, goat cheese, shiitake bacon dressed with roasted garlic balsamic mayo; nary a word is uttered—everything is top-notch delicious! The restaurant has an eclectic decor of funky light fixtures, tin ceiling, sawed-log-covered walls and knotty pine beams. 

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Further down Main St. we stop in at the sister store Union General a boutique and cupcakery housed in a 1850 parsonage. After all that savory food we could use a sweet little something. The self-description of the store is purposeful goods and lovely whimsies, yep, I’ll go with that. And then there’s the cafe; ice cream, coffee drinks, hot chocolate made with Sanders Hot Fudge (I know!) and an assortment of baked goods, cupcakes are the specialty. After much thought we choose the PBJ and a Baby Cake, a cup of coffee completes our order. We sit at the only table and dig in, both are wonderful; moist, dense cake, creamy frosting, just the right amount of sweet, perfect.

Clarkston is an ideal destination for a day trip. The pretty little village has destination-worth dining, walkable neighborhoods and plenty of surrounding water, check it out.

10 Responses to “Exploring Clarkston”

  1. Carmen May 12, 2016 at 7:40 pm #

    There is so much more. White lake, Clintonwood park. DTE concert arena. The sky lodge!

    Bring your kids on Halloween or come to the taste of Clarkston. I also love our super unique theatre at the old train station!

    Thank you for the article and thank you for sharing Heather.

  2. Sandy Markwalder May 12, 2016 at 9:40 pm #

    Loved the post! We are the owners of that blue mansard on Main Street (soon to be painted an elegant and classic white with black shutters in a month). Thanks for the mention, what a nice surprise!

    • Danni May 13, 2016 at 11:50 am #

      OHHHH NO
      WE LOVE THE BLUE 😃

  3. Sally Seaman May 13, 2016 at 10:37 am #

    Wonderful to see this. FB friends, this is Clarkston, where Greg and I live.

  4. Cheryl Johnson May 13, 2016 at 8:10 pm #

    I see my home (the other side of Main St & the and Mill Pond.. Parke Lake) and my grandparents home in this grand little village. I also see it’s been discovered and is shared with many. It was a beautiful beginning.

  5. Neil Cooley May 14, 2016 at 8:18 am #

    Very nice article and tour of Clarkston. We lived in Oakland County for many years and have always enjoyed the quaint village of Clarkston.

  6. Mildred Cooper May 14, 2016 at 8:59 am #

    We restored a home there in 1959,the original millstone was there by the road,wonder if it’s still there,loved it there,Thank You for this article!

  7. Carrie McAlister Mobley May 15, 2016 at 9:55 am #

    No surprise, I cried the entire time I was reading this. These might just be pictures and words to other people, but each and every one of them holds a precious memory of my childhood. Thank you to all the wonderful homeowners, shop owners, and visitors for keeping Clarkston beautiful so I can continue to be so proud of my hometown. Thank you for the article!

  8. Barbara Deegan May 17, 2016 at 7:30 am #

    You didn’t mention the parades! Clarkston loves parades!

  9. Bill Hatmaker May 18, 2016 at 6:34 pm #

    Love It ! Miss it………..

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