DETROIT: Cabin Fever…

29 Jun

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Thomas Palmer, a Detroit resident, U.S. Senator, American ambassador to Spain and land owner—farming 640 acres of land that included orchards, cattle and Percheron horses, in what is now Palmer Park, married Elizabeth (Lizzie) Pitts Merrill in 1855. By 1885 Lizzie was looking for a place to escape the traffic, noise and crowds of Detroit. Her husband presented her with plans for a rustic cabin, built to her specifications, on land he owned along Woodward Ave, which at that time was considered out in the country; the cabin would be used  for entertaining and as a summer retreat. The team of George Mason (Masonic Temple) and Zachariah Rice (The Grand Hotel and DYC) designed the cabin which was completed in 1887.

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Nearly 130 years later the cabin still stands on its original spot. Eventually Palmer gifted the land and cabin to the City of Detroit, in 1897 the area was officially designated Palmer Park. Once a year the People for Palmer Park and the City of Detroit open the cabin to the public, today is Log Cabin Day. We follow the sidewalk along Lake Frances, a young girl expertly riding a Penny-farthing (or High Wheeler) passes by. We approach the cabin, volunteers are dressed up in 1880’s clothing, we hear musket blasts coming from the Civil War camp in the distance, the 102nd USCT  history group is putting on a demonstration. A policeman sits atop a beautiful horse, visitors have gathered waiting for their chance to pet the majestic animal. Behind the cabin the Saline Fiddlers Philharmonic play American folk, fiddle and bluegrass tunes as Appalachian step dancers perform on a makeshift stage, these high-schoolers are impressive.

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Walking around the cabin we pause to look at the building, it was constructed with trees harvested from the surrounding forest, awnings are made from split logs. The structure is in need of repair, the fireplace exteriors are shrouded in tarps that have seen better days. Cheery flowers have recently been planted in front, flowering shrubs are in full bloom, members of PFPP have been hard at work on the cabin. Inside, historians dressed in period attire speak about the Palmer family, they tell us about the cabin with its stone fireplaces, pocket doors, wooden floors and the indoor toilette–something that was unheard of in those days. The stairway is central in the house, the woodwork is in remarkably good shape, pretty fancy for a cabin. The home had 21 lovely stained glass windows, volunteers demonstrate the expensive restoration process, the remaining windows are protected by metal screens, a donation jar nearby is stuffed with 1 and 5 dollar bills. In another room the Detroit Unity African-American Quilters show off their handiwork, photographs and postcards cover the walls sharing Detroit history and memories. The American Jewel stove is the highlight of the kitchen, from where I’m standing I can feel cold air seep from under the cellar door. A continuous stream of visitors make their way from the front to the back door.

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Outside, a cast of 7 from Project Daydream is performing Cinderella, Guernsey Dairy is handing out scoops of chocolate and vanilla ice cream, kids and grown-ups are hard at work creating hats out of paper bags, scraps of material, ribbons, feathers and beads for the Mad Hatter contest. We see more members of The Wheelman group wearing vintage clothing and riding antique bikes. CJ Forge Blacksmithing demonstrates the craft of creating hand-forged items. We check out the bright yellow International pick-up truck, cool. The Detroit Mounted Police Unit moved to Palmer Park in 2010, we visit the horses, they seem to appreciate the company, leaning their heads against the fence hoping for a pet. Palmer Park is truly an urban oasis with 296 acres of lawns, historic woodlands, Lake Frances, hiking and biking trails. Be sure and check out all of the activities PFPP offers throughout the year.

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Kuzzo’s Chicken &Waffles is just minutes away, we’ve written about them before, but you can never have too much chicken & waffles. We slip in just as a number of tables leave, good timing. Today’s special is Motor City Blues; a blueberry Belgian waffle served with 3 chicken wings or tenders, we love the tenders. The waffle is delicious, beyond delicious if that’s possible; studded with sweet, juicy blueberries, dusted with powdered sugar and a scoop of butter, drizzled with maple syrup, YUM! The biscuits and gravy are a must; flaky, moist biscuits served with a bowl of creamy sausage gravy……enough said. We still have yet to try one of those fancy layered Kool-aid drinks served up in Mason jars–next time.

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Driving down 8 Mile Rd we notice the sandwich board on the sidewalk for Detroit Vintage, we drive around the block, park in back and stop in for a coffee. The building has been in the owners family since 1956 when it was the Paris Inn restaurant, the current incarnation is a whimsical, eclectic, coffee shop/tea room/espresso bar/gallery/boutique. Attractive displays fill the space; antique, vintage, interesting items are stacked, layered and hung. Seating areas are tucked in among the whimsy. Glass-domed dishes contain Italian creme, lemon pound and triple chocolate cakes, cookies and cupcakes look equally tasty. We make ourselves comfy, drinking iced coffee as we take in strings of white lights, large red stars, clocks, sconces and a bicycle that hangs from the rafters. What an absolutely delightful place.

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