Wandering Through Wyandotte

18 Aug

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We’re in the historic waterfront community of Wyandotte, about 11 miles downriver from Detroit. We begin our visit with a scenic stroll along the water; the sun is blazing overhead causing cicadas to break into song, seagulls glide above, boats zoom past as we gaze across the river at Canada. It’s quite beautiful here, in Michigan we’re spoiled by the abundance of blue water surrounding our state. Out on the fishing pier we stare at Grassy Island, a Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge, further out is Fighting Island, a Canadian Island that looks equally uninhabited. Freighters pass on their way to or from Lake Erie. 

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Over on Biddle Ave we arrive at the Ford-MacNichol Home Museum. Built in 1896 the home is a wonderful example of Queen Anne Architecture, it also serves as history museum for the city of Wyandotte. The 2 1/2 story house features a lovely wrap-around porch, Tuscan columns and a corner turret. First let me tell you a story. In the late 1880’s while drilling for natural gas, huge salt deposits were discovered under the city. Over in Pittsburgh John B Ford, founder of Pittsburgh Plate Glass, got word of this, you see, salt is critical in the creation of soda ash, which is used to make glass. JB Ford established the Michigan Alkali Co. to manufacture soda ash for his factory. His son, Edward Ford, founded Ford Plate Glass Co. in Toledo, which eventually became Libbey Owens Ford. This house was built for Edward’s daughter Laura and her husband George P MacNichol. Let’s go inside.

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As you can imagine, money was no object, the interior is stunning. Occupying 6,600 sq. ft. are 32 rooms, 6 fireplaces, 65 windows and 53 doors. They had indoor plumbing, a coal furnace, and both gas and electric lights; furnished with period pieces, the home is quite elegant. The large living room is decorated in olive-green, the carpet was reproduced from an old piece of the original, curved glass fills the windows in the turret area. Throughout the house walls are covered in boldly patterned wallpaper, the textured style in the foyer is still original, framed portraits and hair art hang on the walls. Each fireplace has a different color tile, the antique Delft Blue tiles are gorgeous, each one unique.

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The huge mirror in the dining room was rescued from a house being demolished down the block, volunteers carried it down the sidewalk, right into this house, the Limoges china is incredible. The music room is home to antique instruments, another splendid fireplace and an early phonograph. Past the butler’s pantry is the kitchen, used only by the domestic help the room is quite plain. An old toaster and waffle iron rest on burners, large pots, an iron and washboard remind us how much work simple tasks used to be. Vintage bottles and tins from the Michigan Alkali Co. rest on shelves.

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The basement contains exhibits and items that tell the early history of Wyandotte; from the 1700’s when the Native American tribe known as the Wyandot roamed the land to the beginning of industry and manufacturing. Placards tell us stories, show us photographs, items are displayed under glass. Eureka Iron Works was the first company in America to use the Bessemer process which created steel rails. Michigan Alakli Co manufactured chemicals and salt based cleaning products such as baking soda and lye. In the 1930’s it merged with J B Ford, becoming the Wyandotte chemical company, which operates today as BASF and remains in the city. Over 300 steamers, tugs and ferries were built between 1870 and 1930, the hulls were made here, tugged to Detroit, then outfitted in the shipyards.

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On the second floor we peek into the grand master bedroom complete with fireplace. The tower room contains the Attic Gallery, filled with items representing Wyandotte history, sports, recreation and prominent businesses, I don’t know what to look at first. The room itself is cozy, lots of wood, team photographs, architectural elements, paintings, memorabilia. My favorite is the Wyandotte Plays exhibit; toys from All Metal Products company, better known as Wyandotte Toys, fill a case with trucks, cars, planes, animals–all painted red, yellow and blue. The company operated here from 1921-1957, it seems plastic became the favored material from that point on. The Melhouse Ice Cream pieces are pretty sweet too, the actual building has been restored and is now an architectural firm in town. Wyandotte has a pretty amazing past! We take the main stairway down past stained glass windows and stop for one last look around, the Victorian grandeur has been well-preserved, as has the history of this city.

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Time for lunch. Just down the street is Dangerously Delicious Pie’s Wyandotte location. The Detroit location inside Third Street Saloon closed August 1, we can get our Pie fix here until the new Detroit shop opens in the fall. The walls of the modest space are bright red, seating is available at the counter or tables scattered about the room. The same delicious varieties are available with a few seasonal choices thrown in. We order at the counter, take our seat and in about 10 minutes our food is delivered. I’m trying out the Crab & Cheddar, that unmistakable flaky crust holds a filling of crab meat and cheddar cheese in a quiche-like base, yum! Kris barely says a word as he digs into the Hot Rod Potato, tender potatoes, peppers and a spicy sauce make this one of our favorites. Large slices are served with a generous heap of salad greens with house dressing, the price for all of this is still just 7 bucks.

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We saunter up and down Biddle Ave wandering in and out of boutiques, galleries and shops. Both Sanders and Stroh’s are tempting, it’s Whiskeys on the Water that draws us in. This bar/restaurant has only been open since March but has already developed a loyal following. The original 1924 stone bank building is now an industrial-modern space decorated in brick, metal and reclaimed wood; huge windows bring sunlight into the large space. We sit at the bar and order cocktails, an Old Fashioned for Kris and the house version of a Moscow Mule for me. The after-work crowd begins to drift in, we sip our tasty cocktails as the Olympics are broadcast on flat-screen televisions.  Relaxed and refreshed, it’s time to go home. Good things are happening in Wyandotte, come see for yourself! 

 

 

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