Charlevoix The Beautiful

16 Jun

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We are in the picturesque town of Charlevoix nestled between Lake Michigan and Lake Charlevoix. We’re spending a few days checking out everything the area has to offer while staying in an Earl Young cottage. After breakfast the first thing we do is walk down to the beach, we have easy access as stairways are built into the bluff on the other side of the road from our cottage. The white sand is already warm, we discard our shoes and walk the shoreline. Lake Michigan’s sparkling water is still frigid, we take turns walking from water to sand. The water is so clear you can perfectly see rocks nestled into the bottom, looking out, the water changes shades from clear to turquoise to deep blue. Pleasure boats  skip across the waves, beach combers are preoccupied looking for the coveted Petoskey stone, paddleboarders head out into the lake. Sunbathers are already set up as we walk out to the boardwalk, the South Pier Lighthouse is owned by the city of Charlevoix, restoration has been ongoing, the Coast Guard still operates the light. From here we have a spectacular view of the lake and our surroundings, far to the left is the cement plant, to the right a fancy boat follows the Pine River into Round Lake; it’s staggeringly beautiful here.

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Next we amble towards town, we make a stop at the Charlevoix Historical Museum inside the Harsha House on State Street. This splendid Victorian home was built by Charlevoix businessman Horace Harsha, his daughter Irene married Earl Young. The house is decorated in high Victorian style, bright-colored, patterned wallpaper covers the walls, doilies are everywhere. There are 3 period rooms filled with graceful, decorative items, exquisite fireplaces, artwork created by local artists and pianos. The next section concentrates on the settlement of Charlevoix from the 1850’s through the 1880’s; we learn what life was like in this tiny lake town; the kind of businesses that were here, the modes of transportation. They have a working player piano, a huge safe from the Charlevoix Lumber Company and an Edison Gem phonograph, I especially like the weathered wood fish market sign, Kris is fascinated by the historic photos. The gift shop offers a nice selection of Charlevoix-esque things including books on Earl Young and his mushroom houses.

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In town we park on Bridge Street in the snug, 4-block business district. We make a beeline to That French Place, a quaint little creperie and ice cream shop to get a quick lunch. Studying the pastries in the glass case our hunger is apparent. We order at the counter from a chalkboard menu and grab the remaining table in the front window. Moments later our crepes arrive in cardboard crepe cones just like you would get on the street in Paris. The ham, egg and cheese is served in a buckwheat crepe, it’s delicious, the butter and sugar crepe— ok, butter and sugar folded up in a delicate crepe wrap, tres bon! This is a nice change from the standard menu offerings in town.

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Now we can take our time walking both sides of the street, we wander in and out of galleries, clothing boutiques home goods stores, shops selling Michigan themed items housed in cute storefronts. We grab an iced coffee from a corner bakery, fill a bag with dozens of different flavored taffy from The Taffy Barrel. Gourmet food shops such as Kilwin’s, American Spoon, Murdick’s Fudge and Cherry Republic are Michigan staples, I can’t resist stopping in no matter how many times I’ve been. The streetscape is so pretty; beautiful blue water, miles of Petunias and the drawbridge that opens every half hour. The year-round population of Charlevoix hovers around 3,000, that number swells dramatically in the summer months. This small town offers big-city conveniences such as a municipal airport, marina, skate park, farmers market, performance pavillion and waterfront parks. And one of the most beautiful natural harbors in the country.

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After eating and shopping we take a field trip a little south off M-66 to Castle Farms. I really didn’t know much about Castle Farms until I read a few things once we had our trip planned; intrigued by the story and photos we put it on our list of things to see while we’re here.The farm was built in 1918 by Albert Loeb, the acting president of Sears and Roebuck at the time. Loeb was fond of the stone barns and castles found in Normandy France, he decided to build his own French-inspired model dairy farm right here in Charlevoix. The farm was home to over 200 head of prize-winning Holstein-Friesian and 13 pair of Belgian draft horses. At one time the farm employed over 90 people and was the largest employer in the city; surrounding residents would come to the farm to buy milk, cheese and ice cream. Loeb would try out new farming equipment here to decide if Sears should sell it. It must have been quite a sight back in those days, all those cattle roaming around the castle…

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From the 1970’s to the 1990’s the property became a music theater and summer concert venue: Castle Farms Summer Music Theater. Rock was the main genre, big names like Alice Cooper, Ozzy Osbourne, Billy Idol, Stevie Nicks, Cheap Trick, Peter Frampton and Def Leppard all played here. Maybe you saw a concert here. In 2001 Linda Mueller purchased the property and began an extensive renovation of the property and buildings. What had been removed was rebuilt, what was here was restored, one of the largest model railroad layouts in Michigan was added in 2008. Today it’s a unique, lovely, wedding and event destination. Let’s go for a walk…

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We meander in and out of gorgeous stone buildings alongside  gardens organized by theme, a rose garden and a formal garden.  We get our first look at the model railroad, wow! G-Scale trains run on seven levels through tunnels, over bridges through hedges and past waterfalls. There are more than 60 trains that glide past little buildings, water towers, animals and people. An observation tower overlooks the railroad giving us a great view, guess what? Tracks line the inside of the tower, trains chug by making their way to the top.

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We traverse the grounds stepping into the Round Office with historic photos and blueprints of the farm, the Octagonal building was once used as an ice house. The Carriage Hall originally had open sides, it was used to house the Loeb’s wagons, carriages and cars. Two antique vehicles are on display along with showcases filled with toys from 1860 through the present. Each building houses one of the owners many collections such as glass, toys, royal commemorative pieces honoring royal families from around the world, wedding cake toppers, you get the idea. The original blacksmith shop is now the 1918 Museum featuring WWI memorabilia and items from the 1918 Sears catalog. Shelves of items such as toys, trains, hats, boots, plates and tools are displayed next to the actual catalog page description. WWI uniforms and posters are treasured collections of the owner.

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One space after another offers an elegant, opulent, dazzling space to hold a wedding or special event. Some such as the Great Hall have soaring wood-beam ceilings, stone walls, wrought iron chandeliers; the King’s Balcony overlooks the grounds. Each space is a little different in size and decor but all are awe-inspiring. Four towers were originally built as silos, original glazed tiles still line the silo walls; there’s a nice blend of old and new. Speaking of new, Norm the dragon found a home here in 2013 after being purchased in 2012 at ArtPrize, now he has his very own garden. We say good-bye to Norm, watch the ducks in the reflecting pond then make our way back to our cottage. We’re back at the beach in time to watch the sunset, what a magnificent one it is. Goodnight.

7 Responses to “Charlevoix The Beautiful”

  1. mukul chand June 16, 2016 at 1:00 am #

    great post

  2. Yvonne Shafer June 16, 2016 at 1:40 am #

    Hi! Me again! Thanks for the additional info about Charlevoix! Several years ago we attended a wedding at Castle Farms but didn’t see any other attractions. I had one question about the cottage, Abide. Can you see the lake from it? Thanks and I really enjoy reading your reviews!

    Yvonne Shafer

    Sent from my iPad

    >

    • detroitdvotion June 16, 2016 at 10:50 am #

      Hello Yvonne,
      Abide is atop a bluff that faces the lake, you can catch glimpses of the water through the trees. There are other Earl Young cottages you can rent that have an unobstructed view of the water. Charlevoix is so pretty and has a lot to offer!

  3. Katherine Karimi July 6, 2016 at 12:28 pm #

    Chalevoix is a lovely town. My husband and I just attended a wedding held at Castle Farms — it’s a great venue!

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