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Columbus Ohio: Still Wandering..

16 May

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We’re in Columbus Ohio exploring downtown, on Fourth Street we pass a beautiful, old building, No. 16 Engine House; a sign out front informs us it’s the Central Ohio Fire Museum and Learning Center. The exterior of the building is red brick topped with a decorative layer of gold brick, like frosting on a cake, a fancy tower anchors the right side. Firefighters, corporate and community sponsors raised nearly $700,000.00 to authentically restore the 1908 building; it opened as a museum in 2002. Run by area firefighters, the museum teaches fire safety, prevention and life-saving procedures to people of all ages. Over 1500 area firefighters continue to contribute money through payroll deductions to help finance the project.

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The 1908 interior is still intact with glazed brick walls, tin ceiling and fire poles. Fire trucks include an 1881 Amoskeag steam fire engine, a 1913 Ford Model T American LaFrance and a 1920 Obenchain Boyer chemical engine. Models vary from a hand-drawn hook and ladder to a horse-drawn model and finally a motorized apparatus. Displays capture the everyday life of firefighters; uniforms, equipment, fire alarms. Black and white photos show firemen in action putting out raging flames, display cases hold speaking trumpets, shields, helmets, wood water mains. There are hoses and fire extinguishers; placards do a good job of explaining  what everything is. It’s very kid-friendly, little ones can dress up in firefighter’s clothes, drive the truck, slide down the pole– hey, that sounds like fun! 

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We cross into the back section, this is originally where the horses were kept, one stall remains as an example of how the space was used. We check out the Safety Kitchen, the exhibit pinpoints where most home fires begin. The Safe Bedroom allows kids to practice escaping from a burning bedroom with real smoke effects. We stop and stare into a full-size children’s bedroom as it appears after a fire, I get chills looking at the melted toys, pictures and damaged furnishings. Volunteers interact with visitors, they’re enthusiastic and share lots of interesting information.

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While we’re downtown we decide to have lunch at Grass Skirt, a fun, Tiki-themed restaurant and bar on North Grant Ave. Part of the Columbus Food League family of restaurants Grass Skirt serves up Hawaiian and Asian dishes along with a 4-page, Kahiki-inspired drink menu jam-packed with Rum/Non-Rum cocktails; Mai Tai anyone? Inside lights are low, the custom-made skull chandelier hangs central in the room. Blowfish lights, a waterfall complete with a Sailor Jerry Hula girl, tiki torches, sculptures and a fabulous glowing lava wall make this place kitschy-cool! The S-shaped bar is made from custom-colored concrete inlaid with colored glass and mother-of-pearl. Open shelves hold tiki mugs, pandas and Buddha’s. We wander around looking at the fish floats, pine log tiki carvings, masks and the ship’s rigging–all very Polynesian.

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Paging through the menu we finally make our selections, we watch old episodes of Family Affair on the bar’s flat screen TV until the food arrives. The Island Nachos are a platter of won ton chips smothered with black beans, creamy cheese sauce, pineapple salsa, shredded lettuce, guacamole and lime sour cream; every bite is delicious. The teriyaki tofu tacos are really good; marinated tofu, cucumber-mint slaw and avocado-yum! At the end of the meal our server places an upside-down skull on the table, she activates the dry ice and smoke billows out the top and hovers above the table; what a great way to end a dining experience.

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We’re just about out of time in Ohio’s capital city. A quick computer check informs us that north of us in Worthington a vintage shop will be open for another hour or so—let’s go! Off the beaten path for sure, in a 2-story office warehouse complex is Dawn of Retro, a resale shop dedicated to Mid-Century Modern and vintage furniture and decor spanning from the 50’s to the 70’s. The space is a maze of dressers, buffets and china cabinets; from blonde to walnut each one acts as a resting place for glassware, serving pieces, ash trays and the like. Puffy, furry couches in wild 1970’s patterns snuggle up to table lamps, retro arc lamps and starburst clocks. Broyhill, Kent Coffey, classics to funky, orange and avocado green. Dawn has it all stuffed into two floors of space. In a cabinet I find a set of glasses I can’t live without…I can’t wait to get home and use them!

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Columbus Ohio: Wandering…

6 May

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We’ve dipped south about 3 hours into Columbus Ohio; after spending the night in German Village we take a drive around the area before heading downtown. On Kossuth, a quiet neighborhood street, we pass an unassuming cement block building, a Packard Service sign hangs above the open door, a 1957 Nash Ambassador Custom peeks out onto the street, vintage signs dangle from the ceiling. What is this place? We park at the corner and wander into the building, we are greeted by a gentlemen asking us if we’re his appointment–no, do we need one? He smiles and invites us into the garage, he explains he is expecting a local couple to come have a look around and encourages us to do the same–thank you! The building was built in 1930 for 80 years it was an automotive repair and paint shop, today it holds the personal collection of these two business partners. They own about 40 cars between them, then there’s the soap box derby cars hanging on the wall, signs from gas and oil companies, antique gas pumps, banners, flags, Dodge, Buick, Plymouth and Packard memorabilia, and the largest collection of license plates I’ve ever laid my eyes on.

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Cars are parked single file against the right wall, at an angle on the left. The Nash is the first vehicle to greet us, look at that rear vent window. The red 1958 Edsel is gorgeous, see those buttons in the center of the steering wheel? P for park, R, reverse, N, neutral, Hi and Lo, believe it or not, that’s how you shift!  The 1956 Cadillac has the gas cap hidden under the tail light, the 56 Imperial is elegant, there’s another Edsel over there–powder blue, cool door-mounted mirror, look at that E mounted on the front fender, sweet. Lots of chrome, huge bumpers, designs resemble aircraft, torpedoes, rockets. The back section holds older vehicles; a bunch of Packards, an Auburn. There’s so much to look at; display cabinets are filled with hood ornaments, advertising and trinkets. Goodyear, Shell, Mobil, neon signs, city plaques for licence plates, how cool. It was sheer luck we happened by when the door was open, the owner was extremely generous with his time and stories. If you’d like to check out the Wagner-Hagans Auto Museum for yourself, call 614-271-0888 and make an appointment to stop by.

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Before you read any further, do me a favor, click on this link: “A Sunday Afternoon on the Isle of La Grande Jatte”. Done? Good. We’re in the Town-Franklin neighborhood on East Town Street at a free, public, Topiary Park, we are looking at the topiary interpretation of George Seurat’s said painting, in other words, it’s a landscape of a painting of a landscape–it’s the only known topiary of a painting. The garden was started in 1988, local sculptor James T Mason designed and built the bronze frames and planted the shrubs. His wife, Elaine, was the original topiarist, she trained the city gardeners how to trim the topiaries. The pond was added in 1989 representing the Seine in Paris, hills were also added to the landscape. The gatehouse came along in 1998 and is home to the Visitors Center.

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I have seen reproductions of A Sunday Afternoon multiple times, here the Parisians enjoying a leisurely afternoon are made of Yew but you totally get the picture. Throughout the park there are 54 human figures, 8 boats, 3 dogs, a monkey and a cat. We walk along taking it all in; flower beds are freshly weeded and mulched, daffodils are in bloom, shrubs are just starting to fill in. I recognize the woman with the parasol and large bustle who resides in the forefront of the painting. Characters gaze out across the grounds, a man in a boat is fishing. They sit, they stand, in solitaire, arm and arm or groups; books, top hats, more parasols, it all comes together when you know what you’re looking at. The painting itself hangs in the Art Institute of Chicago. We exit the garden wandering past Cristo Rey High School; decorative brick patterns and stonework surrounding the windows are magnificent, then  onto East Town Street to check out the spectacular homes.

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Now we’re on the near east side of Columbus in the Olde Towne East neighborhood; stately homes line the streets, flowering trees are in bloom, let’s take a walk. This is one of the city’s oldest neighborhoods; farmhouses once occupied the land, by the 1870’s it transitioned into a subdivision of grand houses built by industrialists, judges, businessmen, lawyers, mayors, governors, you know, the rich and famous of Columbus OH. Back in the day locals nicknamed it the ‘Silk Stocking District’ referring to the residents expensive clothing. By the 1950’s much of the housing was abandoned by the wealthy, palatial homes were divided into apartments, nursing homes or rooming houses; the final blow came with the construction of the highways. Same story, different city. Thanks to the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, the Neighborhood Association was able to begin preservation efforts of Olde Towne East in the 1970’s.

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Today the area is once again on the rise; gentrification has begun, new businesses are opening, Main Street is a mix of public and private development. They say there are over 50 architectural styles spread out over 1,000 homes. We walk past gorgeous 2 and 3-story homes that have been restored or are in the process of restoration; wrought iron fences, columns, turrets, ornate moldings and trim grace lavish residences. Edwardian, Victorian, Second Empire, Romanesque, Italianate, well, you get the idea. Most are brick some have leaded glass windows, beautiful stonework surrounds windows and doorways. Streetscapes are lovely; lawns are neatly kept, ornamental shrubs and trees fill the landscape, today Tulips are in bloom. Olde Towne East was the subject of a documentary film, Flag Wars, back in 2003; after many hardships it’s wonderful to see the neighborhood return to its former glory.

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Canton: Pro Football Hall Of Fame

2 Feb

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We are in Canton Ohio in search of a late lunch. We want to eat someplace authentically ‘Canton’, Char from the Canton Classic Car Museum told us about Bender’s Tavern on Court Street; the sign on the red-brick building says “Canton’s Oldest and Finest Restaurant” it’s exactly what we’re looking for! The Jacob family opened Bender’s Tavern in 1902; it’s now run by the 4th generation of Jacobs. The interior is gorgeous; leaded glass windows, coffered ceiling, lots of polished dark wood, a mural on the top third of the wall, the bar runs nearly the length of the room– I don’t imagine much has changed over the last 115 years. We’re seated in the second booth from the door, the room is cozy, everyone is friendly. The restaurant serves fine food and wine, the seafood is flown in fresh from Foley Fish in Boston MA; we just want something simple, hearty, like a burger. Bender’s gourmet burger is a blend of brisket, chuck and short rib served on a brioche bun, yum. A pile of fries and a housemade root beer round out our meal perfectly. I’m glad we came here. 

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Well-fed and rested we’re ready to tackle the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Did you ever wonder why the PFHOF is located in Canton? Let me tell you a story….Back in the early 1900’s professional football leagues were regional, you had teams on the eastern seaboard or in the Midwest that would play each other. Football was huge in Ohio, they had their own Ohio league. Ralph Hay, owner of the Canton Bulldogs and the successful Ralph E Hay Motor Company had a bigger idea, a national league. He invited owners of 10 teams from 4 states to meet with him at his dealership, they were told to bring $100 each to cover legal expenses to form the league. The meeting took place September 17, 1920 among Jordan Hupmobiles and Pierce Arrows. The men were unable to cover the $100 price tag, fortunately automobiles had made Hay a wealthy man, he wrote a check for $1,000 and the American Professional Football Association (in 1922 the name was changed to NFL) was formed. Hmm, automobiles paid for the birth of the NFL.

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The PFHOF opened in 1963, the building has a distinctly Mid Century Modern look to it; over the years it has grown to 118,000 sq. ft. The large glass entryway is located at the center of the structure, we push our way through glass revolving doors into the lobby; the current special exhibit is the football “Card Collection”, do kids still collect and trade sports cards? In the main museum the story begins with the NFL’s First Century; pre-NFL uniforms, leather helmets (if you can call them that) and shoulder pads are on display. From the beginning to the early 20th century we learn about game pioneers, great players and coaches. A statue of Jim Thorpe “The Legend” takes center stage. I check out a list of firsts: 1921 Fritz Pollard is the NFL’s first African-American head coach, 1922 and 1923 Bulldogs were first 2-time champions of NFL, 1929 the first night game is held, the first indoor game was held in 1932.

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Black and white photos are blown up wall-size and cover gallery walls, I’m a huge fan of nostalgia. Exhibits move us through the decades, placards are filled with interesting facts and stories. We watch the evolution of game footballs, jersey’s, helmets and cleats. We read about the Dolphins undefeated season in 1972, we look at drawings of formations and plays. Who do you like? Elway, Reggie White, Montana, Brady, Manning, Gonzalez–they’re all here. Showcases hold a kickoff ball from a Bengals home opener, Ref uniforms, Paul Brown’s sideline jacket, a Duluth Eskimos coat, they even have a team photo of the 1957 World Champion Detroit Lions: Detroit 59 Cleveland 14, the game was played December 29 at Briggs Stadium–how cold were those fans?

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We move into the Hall of Fame Gallery, the space is dimly lit, the granite floor gleams, illuminated shelves hold bronze busts of every inductee. Just standing here you know you are witnessing something special, these men were the greatest at what they did, they set records, changed the game, became familiar faces on our TV screens. The first face I recognize is Joe Namath followed by OJ Simpson. Each bust is labeled with the player’s name, the position they played and the teams they played for. I move ahead, there’s one player in particular I’m looking for, there he is, Barry Sanders. For you Detroiter’s, 20 of the inductees have played for the Lions, remember Lem Barney, Dick “Night Train” Lane, Bobby Layne, Curly Culp? 

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The movie in the Super Bowl Theater has already started so we move right into the Lamar Hunt Super Bowl Gallery. This section recaps every Super Bowl played to date, it’s also the most crowded section in the museum. The first Super Bowl was held in January 1967, the Packers triumphed over the Kansas City Chiefs 35-10. The Packers went on to win Super Bowl II, this time they beat the Oakland Raiders 33-14. Joe Namath guaranteed a Jets win in Super Bowl III, they beat the Colts 16-7 and became the first AFL team to win the coveted Vince Lombardi Trophy. Display cases are filled rare artifacts such as tickets, hand-written letters, magazine covers, uniforms, gloves and shoes.

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Next we come to the section where they have every Super Bowl ring on display; as you would imagine in the early days the rings were simple and elegant, they get bigger and bigger as years go by. Funny, I couldn’t find one for the Lions…The largest Super Bowl ring ever made was for the New England Patriots (XLIX), it contains 205 diamonds with a total weight of 4.85 carats, pretty snazzy. Guess what? The rings are custom-made by Jostens, you know, the people you bought your high school ring from. In the Pro Football Today gallery we get a look at lockers filled with items belonging to Greene of the Steelers, Favre of the Packers, a Colts locker and HOF inductee Eddie Debartolo of the 49ers. The next hall spills into the HOF Store, here you can buy merchandise from all 32 teams; at 7,500 sq. ft. you could get lost in here. We’re back where we started. It’s time for us to hit the road.

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We’re staying in Cleveland tonight, it’s only about an hour drive. We check in at Stone Gables Bed & Breakfast and get situated. We’re having cocktails at Porco Lounge and Tiki Room on 25th Street. At one time big cities across the country had cool Tiki bars; Cleveland’s famed Kon Tiki closed in 1976, Chin Tiki in Detroit hung on a little longer. Many of the things in Porco came from those establishments–the Polynesian cocktail tradition lives on! The compact space is filled with Tiki paraphernalia; it’s fun to sit and look at everything. There’s a waterfall near the entrance, a large Tiki glows in blue l.e.d. light surrounded by tropical plants. Bartenders wear Hawaiian shirts, a Blowfish light hangs central over the bar, the back bar is overstuffed with liquor bottles. Drinks are made with fresh-squeezed juices, mixers and house made syrups. They’re garnished with fresh fruit, tiny umbrellas, mine has an alligator stirrer. Our server was knowledgeable and helpful, the drinks were great. A fun way to end another day of adventures on the road.

Canton Ohio: Cool Old Stuff

23 Jan

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Today we are meeting the city of Canton. We’ve traveled extensively through Ohio but somehow never managed to visit this city. When you hear Canton the first thing you think of is the Pro Football Hall of Fame, we’ll get to that. First we’re going to dig into the city, explore what makes Canton unique. Kris came across the name of a shop claiming to be Ohio’s largest dealer selling Mid-Century Modern furniture and decorative arts; Main St Modern, here we come!

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We come into the city from the west and the south, we’re in an old industrial area; train tracks, abandoned buildings, empty lots. An ancient brown brick structure looms ahead, we’ve arrived. The building is huge, 40,000 sq. ft, windows have been boarded up, Rebecca greets us as we enter the building. I look from one side to the other, a blur of color, cool shapes and designs fill my view as far as I can see; there are three floors to explore. I’m guessing this is an old factory, paint peels off exposed rafters, the wood floor creeks under our feet. Individual pieces and vignettes of living and dining rooms are set up on carpet remnants; well-known brands share floor space with knock-offs. There are so many outstanding pieces, fabrics with funky designs, stripes and colors. Tables and chairs are trimmed out in chrome, glass tabletops are available for a dining room or coffee table, the legs are always interesting too.

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Plastic was popular in the 1960’s and 70’s, I like the brown circular chairs with the orange cushions. Items are stacked one upon the other, vases and other decorative items rest on dressers, buffets and china cabinets; we look through stacks of vintage paint-by-numbers. Chairs hang from beams, bicycles are mounted on a wall, lamps are abundant, couches are everywhere. Chairs are made of smoky lucite, bar carts hold cocktail shakers, furniture is odd-shaped, we’ve always liked large pieces of metal wall art. We’ve covered all three floors, sadly we’re not bringing anything home but it’s been fun going back in time to the days of shag rugs, tulip chairs and chrome. Were heading downtown where we’ve got lots more to see.

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The Canton Classic Car Museum is much more than a simple car museum, it’s more like a tribute to all things Canton. Marshall Belden was the great-nephew of President William McKinley, this building holds Belden’s classic and special interest autos and thousands of pieces of historical memorabilia he and his wife collected throughout their lives. From Tonka trucks and Hot Wheels to fabulous fashions, vintage advertising and political memorabilia, this place is fascinating!

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Just inside the door we are greeted by a 1901 Oldsmobile with the famous curved dash, historic photos and memorabilia cover every inch of wall space, antique light fixtures illuminate the room, there’s so much to look at. The building was built in 1900 by George Monnot as a bicycle shop that also sold Indian Motorcycles. With the Lincoln Highway just 6 blocks away he turned the building into a 24-hour auto repair shop. In 1914 Monnot decided to sell Ford Model T’s; unable to afford complete cars he and Henry Ford agreed to send parts by train which Monnot’s employees would assemble by hand then place on the showroom floor. This was the largest Ford dealership from 1914-1931–who knew? Walking slowly we make our way to the Canton Room, a 1937 Studebaker bullet-proof police car takes center stage, back in the 1920’s and 30’s gang violence, racketeering and bootlegging was commonplace; they say sightings of John Dillenger, Pretty Boy Floyd and Ma Barker’s Gang were not unusual. The vehicle has 1-inch-thick bullet-resistant glass with a closeable Tommy gun porthole. We read that at one time Canton was a manufacturing powerhouse; home to the Hoover Vacuum Cleaner Company, Tiemken Steel, Belden Brick and Diebold– maker of bank vaults, electronic voting devices and ATM’s, which is still located here. 

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Vehicles intermingle with Oriental rugs, historic photographs, nostalgic pieces from Meyer’s Lake Park, elegant ladies’ hats and gloves. The 1937 Packard Hearse has hand-carved mahogany body panels. An orange 1970 Plymouth Superbird is parked on the original tile floor. They have a Bonneville, a Coupe de Ville, a 1937 Cord, an original 1937 Ahrens-Fox Quad fire truck and Walter P Chrysler’s swanky burgundy 1932 custom Chrysler Imperial. In another area a Pee Wee Herman doll drives a Midget race car, a grouping of coin-operated machines can do everything from telling your horoscope to showing a movie, a traffic light is a must in a car museum.

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Wagons, sleds and birdcages live side by with movie and circus posters, a motor analyzer, one beautiful car after another including a Holmes automobile manufactured right here in Canton; at one time the were 7 auto manufactures here in town. One are is dedicated to President William McKinley, this was his adopted home and where he lived while he was governor and campaigning for the presidency. I poke my head into the Director’s office and meet Char, Canton’s most enthusiastic keeper of history. I ask questions and listen intently to her stories of local families, mysteries, inventions and wealth; I could listen to her talk all day but Kris and I are starving. She’s given us the name of the perfect place to have lunch in Canton, I’ll tell you all about it next time…

OHIO: Walnut Creek

13 Jan

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Traveling during the holidays we find everywhere we go, big cities or small towns, buildings, homes, cafes and shops are lavishly decorated in holiday style. This year we begin our adventure in Holmes County Ohio, home to a large Amish settlement spread out among quaint little villages with names like Berlin, Walnut Creek, Charm and Sugar Creek; Ohio has the largest Amish population in the world. A drive on scenic backroads dotted with Amish homes, farms and picturesque scenery is the perfect way to wind down after the excitement of Christmas.

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We land in Berlin, have a late lunch at Boyd and Wurthum then head over to the Berlin Village Antique Mall, this place is huge. Here we find a large array of kitchen items from cookie jars, salt and pepper shakers and glasses to canning jars in blue, red and gold. A tall cabinet holds old automotive items; oil cans, license plates and vendor signs. Shelves are filled with beautiful colored glass and figurines; if you need a lamp they have dozens to choose from. The antique window frames are attractive, retro-fitted with metal designs they’d look right at home in my garden. Vintage board games by Ideal look familiar. We come across a few old television sets, how did we ever get by watching TV on such a small screen?

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Next door we pop into the Berlin Village Gift Barn, it’s a giant, fancy barn filled with lovely things to decorate your home or cottage. In addition to shelves of merchandise, areas are set up like rooms, my favorite was the cozy living room complete with brick fireplace, knotty pine floors, comfy couches and plenty of pillows–gorgeous. There’s an abundance of accessories like clocks, wine racks, stoppers and serving pieces. We stop in at Heini’s Cheese Chalet, it’s almost closing time, so we have to move quickly. If you like cheese, this is the place to be; rows of refrigerated cases offer you a world of varieties from Asiago, Swiss, Mozzarella, Gorgonzola, Colby, Marble–well, you get the idea. You can choose from smoked or traditional, the best part? You can try ’em all!

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We go east out of Berlin to Walnut Creek, we’re staying at the Wallhouse Hotel; 6 stories of upscale, modern elegance smack-dab in the middle of farm country. As we step foot in the lobby the towering white Christmas tree steals my attention, behind it a lime green wall, how about the sparkly black floor, it that granite? Checked in we take the elevator to our room, very attractive in shades of gray and a touch of lime green; we’ll sleep in luxury tonight on our pillow-top mattress. There’s a kitchenette and seating area, we even have a private balcony. As we head out for dinner we check out the rest of the place; there’s an indoor saltwater pool on the lower level. On the opposite side of the lobby we find a seating area surrounding a fireplace, bright blue sequined pillows rest on white leather couches; the dining room is dark and still, pots of coffee and fresh-baked cookies are waiting for guests.

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It’s a short drive to Der Durchman where we are having an authentic Amish dinner. On any given day you will find both locals and out-of-town visitors dining on platters of chicken, ham and roast beef along with fresh vegetables, homemade side dishes and hot biscuits. A wall of windows curves around the vast dining room, from this hilltop location they say there’s a 5-mile panoramic view of Goose Bottom Valley and the surrounding farmsteads, unfortunately for us night has fallen and all we see is darkness. Our dinner is delicious; juicy broasted chicken, homemade egg noodles and stuffing with gravy. When we’ve finished we head back to the room for some rest and relaxation.

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In the morning we dine on farm-fresh eggs, crisp bacon,  biscuits and gravy and fruit; they put out quite a spread here in the hotel. Out the window the sun shines in a powder blue sky, we watch cows head out to pasture, what a serene way to start the day. After check out Kris takes us on a leisurely tour of the area, everywhere I look is picture post-card perfect. The terrain a patchwork of gentle rolling hills; houses reside on hilltops, farms sprout out of valleys, fields have been turned over, they will lay dormant until spring. The grass is still green, cows and horses amble through fenced in fields eating as they go. Majestic horses pull Amish buggies, passengers are bundled in blankets, I love the clip-clop sound of the horses. 

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Walnut Creek has a tiny business district we’re going to explore, Coblenz Chocolate Company is family owned and operated; caramel is their specialty. The shop is beautiful inside; tin ceiling, dark woods, Christmas trees and garlands. Tables hold stacks of boxed candy already wearing ribbons and bows. What’s your pleasure? Swiss-style truffles, Milk, dark, nuts, caramel, it’s a chocolate lovers paradise. You can even watch it being made! I’m getting some dark chocolate caramels to take home. We browse through tiny shops ending up at a lovely Victorian store known as Carlisle Gifts. A grand curving staircase connects the first and second floor, huge chandeliers hang from the open ceiling. The store is divided into sections by the type of item, for example clothing is in one area, candles another, they offer quilts, greeting cards, purses by Vera Bradley, Annaleece Jewelry, Republic of Tea, bringing a little bit of city to the country.

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There’s nothing quite like the gentleness of Amish country; the blend of agriculture, cheese making and hardwood furniture. Everything here is done the old-fashioned way, by hand and in time. Visiting is a nice reminder for us to slow down and enjoy the simple things.

 

Haven Hill

7 Sep

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Edsel Bryant Ford was born in Detroit in 1893, he was the only child of Henry and Clara Ford. From an early age he was passionate about art, with Henry Ford as his father he naturally went into the family business, Ford Motor Company. In 1916 he married Eleanor Lowthian Clay, they went on to have 4 children together, in 1919 he became the youngest president of Ford Motor Company, that same year Henry and Edsel became sole owners of Ford Motor Company, not bad for a 26 year-old man. In the early 1920’s Edsel began buying up land in Highland and White Lake Townships with the intention of building a self-sufficient retreat to escape city life; what he created was a 2,422 acre estate called Haven Hill. Today we’re in the Highland Recreation Area for the Haven Hill Festival.

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We park near the Gate House, built in 1927 this was the original entrance to the estate, anybody entering would have to pass through security to gain access to the property, remember these were the days of kidnapping, labor unrest and gangsters during prohibition. Today it serves as a headquarters for the festival. Inside a man is finishing talking about the property, restoration of the remaining buildings, historic photos and renderings cover the walls and tables. Jens Jensen and Genevieve Gillette worked together on the original landscape design, I’m not sure how much of it remains.

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We make our way to Goose Meadow, a line of Model A’s from members of the Livingston A’s Driving Club are on display; Edsel was responsible for the design of the Model A. The brass band is playing in the distance as an 1860’s era baseball game is finishing up. Under a canopy historic photos of Edsel, Eleanor and their children at Haven Hill are on display; in those days Edsel held the world on a string. We take the Jeep up a narrow lane that winds through the park till we arrive at the Carriage House. The building, a charming log cabin nestled into the woods, still looks to be in decent condition, windows are boarded up for protection. Originally intended to house the chauffeur and the Ford family cars, it became the playhouse for Henry II, Benson, Josephine and William Clay.

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Just up the hill is the site of the Lodge, the 6,900 sq. ft. hilltop residence at Haven Hill; only it isn’t there anymore. In 1999 the building burned to the ground due to arson; I find the site absolutely fascinating. Concrete steps lead us under an arch, up a hill to the homes footprint, historic markers are placed about representing the various rooms of the estate, placards display black and white photos of the room in which we are standing. Footings remain, spray paint maps out the floor plan, the grand stone fireplace is crumbling. I stand in front of the photo that includes the fireplace, in my mind I can see the family gatherings that took place, well-known visitors such as Thomas Edison, Charles Lindbergh, Jackie Cooper, the Prince of Wales and Admiral Richard Byrd were frequent guests.

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The terrace patio remains, a photo shows a group of lounge chairs providing a restful place outdoors. Here and there colorful stone remains, random groups of flowers are in bloom. I meander room to room; photos display conservative furnishings, a child’s bedroom holds a canopy bed, crib and rocking chair. A few steps lead to the top of the hill, the view now obscured by trees. We look around for what’s left of the swimming pool and tennis court, the path is overgrown and impossible to pass.  It’s kind of eerie, here we are standing in what remains of the grand lodge where the Ford family spent 20 years, their children grew up here, they had a 3,000 ft tow-return toboggan run, they rode horses and went fishing, such personal stories laid out for all of us to see.

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On the way down from the lodge we notice a pair of pretty cupolas in the horizon, a closer look reveals a group of buildings once used for the Ford farm, now used as the maintenance shop for the Highland State Recreation Area. The Edsel Ford Barn was built in the 1930’s, a large section of it was blown down by high winds in 2008, crews are currently working on restoring the remaining section of the barn. Haven Hill was a working farm, Henry Ford once said “With one foot in industry and one foot in agriculture America is safe.” Wise words from a wise man… The barn originally housed 1,500 sheep, later it was home to horses and cattle. The barn with its 3-tiered roof is actually quite lovely, I’d love to come back and see it when it’s done.

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Edsel Ford was the longest running president in the history of Ford Motor Company, he introduced the Model A, Mercury and the Continental. He was a supporter of Charles Lindbergh’s trans-Atlantic flight, Admiral Richard Byrd’s North and South Pole flights, he was the chairman of the DIA. In 1943 at the age of 49 Edsel died at home in Grosse Pointe. Three years later Eleanor sold the Haven Hill Estate to the Michigan State Park System. State budget cuts lead to the closure of the structures in the 1980’s, the riding stables and lodge were lost to fire. Now the Friends of Highland Recreation Area and Michigan DNR are working together to bring the 3 remaining structures back to life, it’s an incredible piece of history that has gone largely unnoticed for decades. 

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On our way out of the park we make a stop at Teeple Lake Beach, a canopy on the beach is ready for a wedding ceremony, the shelter is set up for the reception. The small lake is a pretty sight; wildflowers sprout near the shoreline, the water is almost still, a picturesque wedding venue. We are headed to the Village of Milford for lunch, this quaint little town is home to nice boutiques, restaurants, parks, and a trail system, it’s not unusual to see bicyclists riding through town. The rain has begun, we luck out and get a parking space on Main Street directly in front of Palate. The attractive interior has a rustic, old-fashioned feeling to it, dark wood, brick, wooden barrels stamped with names of local breweries. Servers are friendly and helpful. We are having the Fried Chicken and Waffle sandwich: buttermilk-soaked fried chicken, pickles, 3-pepper gouda, bacon and chipotle aioli all stuffed between two golden malted waffles. The sandwich is delicious, the chicken is crispy and juicy, the cheese and aioli provide a little kick and the waffle is a tasty and tender alternative to a boring bun. Served with a side salad, it is plenty for the two of us. 

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Driving through town we notice the Milford Historical Museum is open, let’s go in. The museum is located in an 1853 Greek Revival home built by local cabinet maker John Wood—seriously. The structure has seen time as a family home, Doctor’s office, village offices and police department, it as been the local history museum since 1976. Milford began as a rural mill community, the Huron River was attractive to settlers from New England and New York. Farmers raised cereal grains, mills processed timber and farm products. The railroad arrived in 1871; there was a door knob factory in the 1880’s, residents manufactured window screens and furniture. Henry Ford created one of his Village Industries along the Huron River and began manufacturing Ford carburetors here in 1938, that’s quite a history for a small town.

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Inside the tiny museum we are greeted by volunteers, near the stairway is an exhibit taken from the old Milford Post office. Up the stairs rooms are furnished in the late Victorian-era, many of the items were manufactured in Milford. I like the rose-colored glass of the hanging light fixture in the formal parlor, the kitchen is full of labor-intensive gadgets. The bedroom has a rope bed high off the floor, the toy room is popular with visitors. The Log Cabin exhibit is a depiction of the Bigelow cabin built in the south end of Milford in 1833. The fireplace was not only a source of heat for the family it was essentially the stove too. It was in this cabin that Mrs. Bigelow started the first school for children in the area.  I always enjoy visiting little local history museums, they share the history and heritage of the town and its residents. Without fail we gain insight into the past helping us to understand the present and have fun while we’re at it.

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LANSING: Old Town & More

14 Jul

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We are in Michigan’s capital city, Lansing, interestingly enough, Detroit was originally the capital of Michigan. Due to concerns over Detroit’s location, such as its proximity to Canada and the desire for a more central location, Lansing became the capital in 1847. The city became an industrial hub with the founding of Olds Motor Vehicles in 1897; factories produced auto bodies, wheels and parts, Lansing produced Oldsmobiles until 2004. The city also manufactured plows and other agricultural tools; the Lower Village Town, now called Old Town specialized in making these tools, the oldest of Lansing’s villages, the first home in was built here in 1843. Factories closed, jobs disappeared, beautiful Victorian buildings were abandoned,Old Town fell on hard times. As is the case with many urban areas across the country these days, new life has reclaimed this charming district, turning it into a destination with public art, eateries, boutiques and galleries. Let’s look around.

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We park on Turner, fancy gold lettering fills a windowpane advertising the Creole Coffee Company, inside, diners scoop up forkfuls of shrimp and grits, biscuits and gravy, eggs benedict. We approach the counter, order two cold brew coffees to go and check out the space while we wait. Vintage signs hang on exposed brick walls, antique-looking lighting illuminates the dining area. This restaurant is part of the Potent Potables Project, a group of 3 men changing the face of dining in Lansing. This establishment serves breakfast and lunch daily from 8 am – 2 pm, oh, and the coffee rocks. Walking to the end of the block we notice murals and sculptures, at the corner we make a left on Grand River.

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Up a ways at N. Cedar is Preuss Pets, the coolest pet shop we’ve ever been to and always worth a visit. The 22,000 sq. ft. building is jam-packed with gerbils, ferrets, guinea pigs, reptiles, fish and birds. Displays are creative like the lime green, blue and orange school bus with the frog at the wheel or the red convertible atop the aquarium supplies. I look around from cage to cage, the gerbil is taking a break from running on his wheel to get a drink, little brown bunnies are taking a nap. The fish section is huge, colorful fresh and saltwater fish glide through the water, each aquarium is unique, you can buy live coral, the shapes and colors are amazing. A small parrot is doing gymnastics on his perch, canaries sing songs, a cockatoo greets me with a ‘hello’, I bid him farewell and we’re off. The Old Town General Store is filled with Michigan goodies from beer and wine to gourmet food and merchandise. Metro Retro is a collection of funky items both new and vintage, the old Glamour magazine covers made into wall hangings are neat-o. 

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Architecture is purely Victorian, lovely buildings with ornate brick and trim make up the streetscape, hanging planters overflow with petunias that perfume the air, banners give a shout out to Old Town. We make a left at the Brenke Fish Ladder, built in 1981 it allows fish swimming up the Grand River to bypass the dam. The river is also a popular spot for fishing, catfish, carp and sunfish all call the river home. The Lansing River Trail invites pedestrians to stroll alongside the mighty Grand, Michigan’s longest river; looks like the turtles are sunbathing today.

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Back on Turner we head to Meat BBQ for a late lunch. Seated on the patio we sip on cold soft drinks under the afternoon sun, a large platter of nachos arrives: tortilla chips bear the weight of pulled pork, bacon, brisket, bbq sauce, cheese, onion, tomato, jalapeno, avocado and a drizzle of sour cream, Dee-licious! Though the nachos really would have been enough we added on sides of blue cheese potato salad, yum, and sweet and spicy cole slaw, good. The bar at The Creole is open and it’s Happy Hour. The restaurant doesn’t open until 5 pm, so we have the place to ourselves. Kris orders an Old Fashion, it’s the French 75 (champagne, lemon, gin) for me. We nurse our cocktails in the charming, air-conditioned, New Orleans-like space; the bartender tells us about the building which is over 100 years old. The Creole takes up the other side of the Creole Coffee Company and is also under the Potent Potables group. The lease actually states the walls cannot be changed, they are the work of former Creole Gallery owner Robert Busby, love that! We talk about Old Town, Detroit, food, craft cocktails and the Detroit City FC, a good time was had by all…..

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Next we pop in and out of independent shops that line the district; Craig Mitchell Smith has a beautiful array of glass art pieces, we walk through to Bradley’s Home and Garden with its modern furnishings, Lead Head Glass terrariums, Tessino jewelry and Lori Mitchell figures. October Moon is a great gift shop with a little bit of everything; specialty food items, linens, dishes, handbags and unique cards. Lamb’s Gate Antiques is filled with a wide variety of cool pieces; lamps, dishes, collectibles, furniture, toys– I like the sweet old ceramic figurines.  We have come full circle, the Jeep awaits.

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Our last stop for the day is the WJ Beal Botanical Garden on the grounds of MSU in East Lansing. Founded in 1873 I read that this is the oldest, continuously operated, university  garden in the country. Prof. Beal established the garden as an outdoor teaching and research laboratory. We are on campus following W Circle Dr, we park near the library, Beaumont Tower looms in the distance. Walking past the fountain we come to the entrance of the garden, the metal gate and surrounding fence look straight out of a fairy tale. A pergola offers shade to visitors and plants alike, benches invite passing pedestrians to sit for a while. Grassy paths run between garden beds, plants are planted in collections of economic, systematic, landscape and ecological groupings–I honestly don’t know what any of that means, but they sure are pretty to look at!

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Familiar flowers like Phlox, Bee Balm, Cosmos, Allium, Foxglove are in full bloom, a leafy shrub is covered in small, white flower balls, bees are busy at work collecting pollen, the butterflies are crazy about them too. Flowers vary from spikes and individual clusters to cone-shaped and narrow-petals; all stages are represented from bud to finished bloom. A mirror-like pond reflects the attractive surroundings, dappled sunlight reaches through trees onto the well-maintained lawn. We spy a bunny in the shade having an afternoon snack, a butterfly reading a plant label, daylillies in assorted colors and a gazebo offering us a panoramic view of the grounds; a peaceful respite tucked away in the big city. We’re keeping our eye on Lansing, so much happening in Old Town, businesses are starting to get a foothold in the new R E O Town district too, we’ll keep you updated.

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Charlevoix: Rock On!!!

8 Jun

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Our travels have taken us to the northwestern edge of the mitten, the city of Charlevoix to be exact. You may know Charlevoix by reputation; quaint, small town surrounded by water: Lake Michigan, Round Lake and Lake Charlevoix, magnificent views, stunning harbor, pristine sandy beaches, fresh whitefish and fudge. What you may not know about the city is its one-of-a-kind stone “mushroom” houses built by famed local architect Earl Young. We have the good fortune of spending the next 4 days at one of his cottages on Park Ave called Abide. Check in is at 4:00 pm, so we have some time to explore the neighborhood.

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Earl Young built more than 30 structures in the city of Charlevoix. In 1908 he enrolled in architecture school at U of M, bored with the study of traditional architecture, he left after one year; he learned about construction and architecture on his own by reading books and magazines, he was an apprentice stone mason to gain understanding of how things were built. He became a realtor and insurance agent, never a registered architect. Young had his own way of doing things, he never made blueprints, he designed the structure to fit the landscape, it is said he was difficult to work with, he designed on-the-spot using stones that ‘spoke to him’. His wife Irene, an artist, would refine his sketches and bring them to the job site describing Young’s vision to workers. 

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We begin our walk in Boulder Park, Young purchased this large piece of land in 1924, partitioned it into 85 irregular-shaped lots, he sold them for $100 each with the stipulation that the first floor of any house built had to be made of stone or stucco; Young built 10 homes in Boulder Park. He first worked on a house with green mortar between the stones, entryways to his homes are in unexpected places, almost hidden, some without a walkway to the entrance. Chimneys are remarkable, giving the impression of randomly placed stones, often chimney-tops appear to be slathered in frosting or snow (I prefer frosting…). Houses are built of stone and timber, some have rolled eaves, colored mortar, stucco. All are playful, whimsical, looking as if they sprouted from the place in which they sit. One looks like an English cottage, another resembles a Swiss Chalet, they have Arts and Crafts characteristics. There’s the Owl House, the Enchanted Cottage, the Norman Panama House, the Pagoda House. 

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The most well-known house in the park is Boulder Manor, it’s amazing. Young had a habit of saving boulders, he would hide them underground, in the woods or in Lake Michigan, always remembering each one, waiting for an opportunity to use it. Boulder Manor would be the recipient of many of these stone treasures. He began work on the home in 1928, it was to be his family home, the playhouse in the backyard was finished first. Before the home could be completed the Great Depression hit, Young lost the house to the bank in 1929. Finally in 1937 he regained possession, finishing it in 1939. You can’t miss it, the front of the house has a huge arched window that looks out over Lake Michigan, the boulders used in construction are massive. Pictures of the interior feature a magnificent fireplace. You do not simply look at these homes, they literally stop you in your tracks. Combinations of stones, uniquely shaped exteriors, roof lines, all cause us to pause, study, and admire the structures.

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The temperature hovers in the mid 80’s as the afternoon sun blazes overhead, the breeze off Lake Michigan provides relief. We head northeast following Lake Shore Dr to East Park to see some of Young’s later houses,  He started building in 1919 and continued into the 70’s. On the left perched above the lake is one of the most photographed of Young’s houses. This one appears to resemble an elongated  mushroom, glass panels afford us a view straight through the house to the turquoise water below. The house is irregular in shape, the chimney made up of 3 stone stacks, flat stones are layered to create borders and fences, it’s pretty spectacular.

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Park Avenue is home to some of Young’s  later houses, referring to these structures he is quoted as saying he “built roofs and then shoved the houses underneath”. Indeed Young’s creativity flows here; roofs meander, buildings are built into hills and trickle down slopes, I can picture Tinkerbell or perhaps Snow White and the 7 dwarfs living in Half House, Hansel and Gretel in Abide, they’re interesting, inviting, they pique our curiosity, I want to peer inside the funny shaped windows, sit on the rock steps, drink hot chocolate by the fireplaces. In 1945 Young built a large cottage with a thatched roof from Europe, later the roof was changed to shingles, the new owners of the house have returned the roof back to thatch as originally constructed. 

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We walk to downtown for lunch at the Weathervane. Originally built as a gristmill in 1871, Young purchased the property and converted the building into this iconic restaurant in the mid-50’s. There are 5 fireplaces in the restaurant, the main one is topped by a 18,260 lb. glacial boulder found by Young years back. We are seated on the deck overlooking the Pine River channel and Lake Michigan, not a bad view! We eat a lunch of today’s special whitefish sandwich, very tasty and a caprese salad, I wash it down with a Belgian Dubbel from Petoskey Brewing. We are entertained by all of the activity; boats come and go through the channel, tourists walk waterside out to the beach. 

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When we are finished we take a self-tour of the restaurant, checking out the fireplaces, the main bar constructed of shipwreck planks, the view. A circular stairwell leads to the lower level where Young once had his office, we find massive timbers and boulders, another fireplace. Displays pay tribute to Young and his work, old photos and memorabilia tell the history of the buildings and Charlevoix. Outside we cross the parking lot to the Terrace Inn nestled into the landscape, Young’s signature turrets obscure stairwells that lead to the second floor rooms of the hotel, it’s enchanting. We peek into the lobby to get a look at yet another sensational fireplace.

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Across the road, Young built another hotel called The Lodge, which opened in 1959, a huge rock out front bears the name of the hotel. Two-stories tall, constructed of wood and stone it looks very lodge-like, here again we have the castle-like turrets that enclose stairways. We enter the lobby, the desk clerk is not surprised to learn we are here to see the fireplace. It’s unique in its vertical design, the wood mantle is very attractive, we learn the sawn-log end tables are original to the lobby too. When you come to Charlevoix you have many options of Earl Young designed accommodations available to you, in addition to the hotels many of his cottages are available for rental privately or through VRBO. Which leads us (finally) to Abide, the cottage we have rented for the long weekend.

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It doesn’t get any more charming than this. Abide was built by Young in 1938 as a rental cottage, it’s darling. A curved pathway leads us to the arched wooden door which is unlocked, waiting for our arrival. Inside a landing of rock makes way to a wood floor, in fact the whole interior is wood, stucco and stone. The square footage comes in at 620 sq ft, every single inch exudes warmth, beauty and coziness. The fireplace is the first he built of Onaway stone, an easy chair is pulled up close. The living space is wide open, one area easily leading to the next. A large table with a bench on each side fills the dining room, wood beams line the stucco ceiling, windows give us a view of the outdoors from every angle. A single bed is tucked into the sleeping porch, a queen bed takes up most of the main bedroom. A narrow hall leads to a galley-style kitchen, all of the modern conveniences are found in this sweet space. As I unpack and explore Kris plays Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong on the CD player, I feel as if I have gone back in time. The evening breeze shuffles the curtains, as evening falls people walk past on their way to catch a sunset on the beach, what a wonderful idea. We immediately feel at home, and we are, at least for the next few days that is…… 

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Cincinnati: See Ya’ Later !

3 Feb

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It’s our last day in Cincinnati, we’re in the Camp Washington neighborhood to check out the American Sign Museum. Tod Swormstedt, former editor and publisher of Signs of the Times magazine has taken his passion for signs and opened a museum in a former parachute factory with 19,000 sq. ft. of exhibit space. Historic signs, books, photos and documents reflecting the art, craft and history of sign-making hang from the ceiling, rest on the floor, fill walls, shelves and display cases. From the days of pictures drawn on cave entrances to colorful signs hanging from shops to the gas-lit illuminated signs of the late 1800’s on to the electrical signs of the early 1900’s, neon and finally plastics, signs have always been a part of the landscape. Signs tell us our location and how to get somewhere, the nature of a building, what brand we should buy, where we should eat, shop, play, stay. The museum highlights the sign industry from the days of goldleaf glass signs through the heyday of neon to the plastic era of the 1950’s.

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Driving down Monmouth vintage signs catch our eye; this must be the place. Parking in the lot, signs surround us, the familiar Holiday Inn with its signature green lettering, a giant hammer from a hardware store, a 20′ bowling pin. At first glance it appears a man on a ladder is in the process of painting the exterior brick wall, a closer look reveals it’s a mural depicting the old-fashioned process of painting signs on the side of a building–this one is amazing! The neon El Rancho motel sign is great, with all of this in the parking lot, I can hardly wait to see what’s inside. Crossing the threshold under the gigantic genie, inside we pay our admission then walk as directed toward the giant yellow arrow with its flashing light bulbs. A rainbow of neon welcomes us to the first gallery; a 50’s style sputnik with light bulb letters twirls, large-scale neon signs, illuminated plastic signs and art deco-style pieces compete for our attention. Neon signs in original crates, pop-culture classics such as Gulf, Shell, Greyhound and Col. Sanders fill the room. Ice cream cones, a swinging golfer on a golf ball, and a motel signs are fantastic to look at.

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Main Street is lined with pavers, shops on both sides of the street are home to every variety of sign from hand-painted to an authentic Mc Donalds sign featuring Mr. Speedee; the original blueprint sits nearby. Taverns, motels, banks, bars and restaurants are all represented. Shop windows hold displays of the art of sign-painting; brushes, paint and alphabet samples even books teaching the skill. There are glass doors with hand-painted letters and numbers reminding me of the Fisher Building in Detroit, make your own sign kits with decals, neon art deco clocks, enameled metal signs for Goodyear. Hand-lettered showcards from Las Vegas featuring Frank Sinatra and Charo remind us that signs serve many purposes from commerce to culture. We walk up and down Main Street reveling in the colors, kitsch and memories. Cars outlined in neon circle a globe, Howard Johnson’s offers us ice cream in 28 flavors, the Acapulco sign with dual palm trees is fabulous!

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Huge signs take up space in the back section; the side of a barn is mounted on the wall, Chew Mail Pouch Tobacco is the message painted in block letters. SEE BEAUTIFUL ROCK CITY atop LOOKOUT MT reads another. Our favorite is the Habig’s sign with the tipping champagne glass, stand close and you can hear the mechanics of the light bulbs flashing off and on, so cool! A working neon shop, Neonworks has their own section where they create and repair neon signs, sometimes you can even watch them work. We finish up our visit, stopping to read placards along the way, the histories and timelines are fascinating. The museum is absolutely delightful, so glad we came.

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We’re having lunch on Hamilton Ave in the Northside neighborhood, Melt Eclectic Cafe offers healthy gourmet sandwiches, fresh salads and soups. We order at the counter then sit in the front window section to wait for our food. Our East Village wrap arrives; rosemary goat cheese, pesto, roasted red peppers, smoked turkey and arugula wrapped up tight and a side of curried potato salad–both are delicious. After lunch we stroll down the street, except for one new development Northside looks much the same as it always has; local entrepreneurs fill street level shops in beautiful historic buildings, a lovely selection of housing stock is available. I love the mural with daisies covering a powder blue background. We stop in at Bee Haven which sells a variety of products including honey, beeswax candles and chocolate, we try a few samples, I grab some lip balm and we’re off. Taking our time we wander in and out of Happy Chicks Bakery, a Cluxton Alley coffee shop called Collective Espresso, Shake It Records selling new and used vinyl, CD’s and DVD’s, a vintage shop called Chicken Lays An Egg with racks and racks of funky clothing, shoes and accessories. The neighborhood is home to a diverse population; college students, the creative class, young professionals and GLBTQ all live in the historic district. 

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We grab a coffee at Sidewinder, hop in the Jeep and start our journey north. It has been a great few days in Cincinnati but it’s time to head home. Kris is taking the scenic route; in West Liberty OH he veers off on State Route 245, it is here you will find the largest of all the cave systems in Ohio at the Ohio Caverns. The caverns were discovered in August 1897 by farm hand Robert Noffsinger, when he informed the landowner of his discovery, William Reams explored the caverns for himself then opened the cave to the public in September 1897. After 25 years of people removing crystals, touching formations and writing their names on walls and ceilings with smoke from oil lamps, the area was destroyed. In 1922 two brothers bought the land and spent 3 1/2 years digging out mud left in the tunnels by the underground river that formed the cavern, they dug out a 1-mile route, strung light bulbs powered by a Fordson tractor on the surface and opened the business as the Ohio Caverns in 1925. Concrete floors were put in in the 1970’s and a lighting professional came in the 1980’s creating concrete sconces and less obstructive lighting. The tour still uses the 1925 route.

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We purchase tickets in the gift shop, a tour is just about to start, good timing… We descend the concrete stairway to the cave entrance, though the pathway is narrow it does not feel constricting, water drips from the cave ceiling, it has been raining for days, shallow puddles form on the walkway. Our tour guide is friendly and informative, she shines the beam of her flashlight on significant formations as we go. Artificial light from nearby bulbs has caused moss to grow in a few areas, care is now taken to turn off lights as the group progresses through the cave. The pathway is smooth, the ceiling low, formations are everywhere. Stalactites cling to the ceiling, stalagmites sprout from the floor, soda straws hang from above. Walls vary in patterns, textures and colors. The Crystal Sea is a water retention pool that holds excess water out of the walkway, the ceiling reflects on the surface of the pool, a bevy of crystals clustered together, so pretty. The Natural Bridge holds nearly 20 crystal columns and is the original floor of the tunnel, they left the columns intact when they dug the pathway, digging under the columns, forming the natural bridge.

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One section holds more soda straws and helictites than any other area of the cavern, they call it Fantasy Land, yep, I can see that. Our guide shines her light on a formation and asks the group what it looks like, this is Old Town Pump, it really does look like a hand pump. The formations remind me of icicles, carrots, coral. Crystal King is estimated to be over 200,000 years old and was last measured at almost 5′ long. There’s a tranquility in the cave that’s hard to describe, maybe it’s being so far underground. We stop to look at the ‘good luck’ crystal, the top now stained brown from years of being touched by visitors, a no-touch rule has now been established. We enter the Palace of the Gods, rich in color it feels lavish compared to the other areas. The variety of colors on the walls come from iron oxide and manganese dioxide, lavish surfaces of flowstone, calcite formations, columns and dual formations make this section unique. The Jewel Room is the most colorful, the color splits down the middle of the room making one side a rusty iron oxide color, the other a darker color from manganese dioxide deposits. This is the end of the tour. A recording of Beautiful Ohio starts to play, a time-honored tradition since 1928. 

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This is the end of our tour too. We hope you have enjoyed tagging along with us on our southern Ohio adventure. See you back in Detroit!

Cincinnati: So Much To See…

27 Jan

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We are in the Queen City, Cincinnati Ohio, she is like an old friend to us. Each time we visit we make time to get re-acquainted; we walk her streets, take in her charm and southern ways. We go back to favorite districts, restaurants and a cozy bar called the Blind Lemon, inevitably we discover something we haven’t done before. The Taft Museum of Art is a perfect example. Built on this spot in 1820 and a stone’s throw from our hotel, somehow we have never managed to check it out, today is the day we change that. Martin Baum, Cincinnati’s first millionaire built the home, Arts patron Nicholas Longworth lived here from 1829 until his death in 1863, he was responsible for some big changes, more on that later….Iron magnate David Sinton purchased the home in 1871 and lived there with his daughter Anna and her husband Charles Phelps Taft, older half-brother of William Howard Taft. The younger Taft accepted his party’s nomination for the U.S. Presidency from the portico of this house in 1908 and went on to become President. Upon Sintons death Anna became one of the wealthiest women in the country, Charles was wealthy in his own right. Through the years the couple amassed one of the most impressive private collections of fine and decorative arts in America. The Tafts signed papers bequeathing their home and collection to the people of Cincinnati. The Taft Museum opened to the public in 1932. After a major expansion and renovation the museum re-opened in 2004. Let’s take a look.

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I read an article that called the home “The Other Mr. Taft’s White House”, the house is indeed white, one of the finest examples of Federal architecture in the Palladian style, today the exterior is draped in holiday garlands, wreaths and bright red bows–it really is quite lovely. We enter on the side, the new section, hang our coats and have a look around. The current exhibitions are Jacob Lawrence: Heroism In Paint and Antique Christmas; there are a lot of people checking them out today. We make our way to the hallway that leads to the historic house, here walls are covered with text and photographs featuring the history of the house and its residents. I am pleasantly surprised that the house still resembles a home, sure the family furnishings have been removed, but important American furniture remains, the museum is a combination of historic home and art museum, it’s intimate, elegant and comfortable. Rooms have been turned into galleries, soothing fern green paint covers the walls, trim is accented in white, arched doorways lead us from one area to another. There’s something special about going to a museum during the holidays, extra effort has been put forth to ‘deck the halls’ as they say. Miniature Christmas trees are enclosed in glass cases, each with its own unique-themed decorations, glass ornaments, whimsical figures. One display is filled with Christmas-themed advertisements, cards, porcelain figures, teeny trees and assorted collectibles, pretty cool!

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 As we wander from gallery to gallery we notice much of the home’s integrity remains; fireplaces, ceiling medallions, crystal chandeliers; the dining room’s ornate plaster ceiling is outstanding, the table is set for Christmas dinner. The music room is bright yellow, a portrait hangs above the fireplace, the room is illuminated by stunning chandeliers. Landscapes and people are surrounded by ornate frames, masterpiece-quality paintings by Rembrandt, Joshua Reynolds, John Singer Sargent and Frans Hals can be found throughout. Decorative arts include European candlesticks and boxes covered in gilt metal, an extensive enamel collection including snuff boxes, portraits, enamel and gold watches and Chinese porcelain from the Tang and Qing Dynasty. Nicholas Longworth extensively redecorated the home, in 1851 he brought Robert S Duncanson in to paint a series of 8 landscape murals, each 9′ tall and 6.5′ wide, they are absolutely gorgeous. At one time they were actually covered by wallpaper–yeah, I know, crazy! It’s possible the wallpaper actually protected the murals, they are as lovely today as when they were painted before the Civil War. Not sure what to expect when we arrived, we were pleasantly surprised and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. 

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The Over-The-Rhine (OTR) district is the largest collection of Italianate architecture in the country. Built in the mid-19th Century it was the heart of the German community in Cincinnati. At that time the Miami and Erie Canal divided the district from downtown, Germans affectionately referred to it as the “Rhine”, reminding them of the river back home, thus deeming the area north of downtown OTR. Eventually the canal was capped, plans to use the underground tunnel for a subway system never came to fruition; today Central Parkway takes the place of the canal. There’s a lot of walking to do in this 360 acre neighborhood, we park the Jeep in the underground lot at the recently revamped Washington Park, grab the umbrellas and go… 

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Streets are packed with beautifully ornate buildings built from 1865 through the 1880’s; Italianate, Queen Anne, Greek Revival and even a few Art Deco structures sit side by side. After years if neglect and decay, a pile of money and sweat equity is being poured into the neighborhood. Three to Five-story brick buildings are now home to restaurants, bars, boutiques, galleries; places to live, work and play. Main Street is the main thoroughfare, here you will find trendy restaurants, coffee houses and one-of-a-kind shops. Vine is also dense with new businesses, it’s on this street we find a place to have lunch. Krueger’s Tavern is housed in a single-story white terracotta building with large front windows. The interior is sort of modern-industrial, wood floor, metal tables and bar, exposed pipes, the artwork is framed Moss, yes, I did say moss–it looks good!  We are enjoying the Tuscan kale salad with Parmigiano Reggiano, breadcrumbs and a tasty lemon vinaigrette along with the Cuban sandwich. The braised pork shoulder is so tender it falls apart, topped with ham, Gruyère, homemade pickles, Dijon mustard and black bean puree stuffed inside a house made Cuban roll, absolutely delicious!

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Back outside we stroll from storefront to storefront wandering in and out of shops, Homage, an Ohio-centric shop sells clothing and accessories representing Cincinnati’s professional and college sports teams, music and pop culture.Wait, does that sign say Macaron Bar? Indeed it does. An entire shop dedicated to those little French meringue delicacies…. I think we should try a few. The space is cute, white Tulip chairs with Red cushions, dangling globe lights and rows of Macarons in 12 flavors. We pick Pistachio, Blackcurrant and Salted Caramel, my favorite is the Pistachio, Kris votes for the Salted Caramel, all are yummy.

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We make our way up to Mt Adams, the Krohn Conservatory at Christmas time is a sight to behold! I can tell by the number of cars parked nearby it’s crowded inside. This is the kind of place people come to with their whole family: mom, dad, grandma, the kids and they’ve been doing it for generations. Inside these glass and aluminum walls a Christmas wonderland awaits; a train runs on elevated tracks winding through a city of Poinsettia, ferns and arborvitae, crossing ponds and mingling with tropical foliage. 3-story townhouses and iconic Cincinnati buildings create a miniature version of the city, there’s even a recreation of the Roebling Bridge. The Rainforest Waterfall is quite popular for photos. Built in 1933 the building has great Art Deco details, I love the railings. The conservatory is one of our favorite places in Cincy.

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While in this neck of the woods Kris drives around to see what else is going on in the area. It looks as though new development is going on in E Walnut Hills, a diverse and historic Cincinnati neighborhood. We drive down Woodburn Ave and see a couple of Vintage/Antique shops, so we check them out. Unfortunately Leftcoast Modern is closed today, but Hi-Bred is open. It’s a great shop with a nice selection of vintage clothing, shoes, hats and accessories in addition to funky items like lamps, drinking glasses, housewares and the like. We turn left off of Woodburn Ave onto Madison Rd and there it is, a gorgeous stone building with a sign that reads O Pie O. Can’t resist. Inside, the space looks like an old-fashioned diner; white subway tiles, hanging lamps, counter seating, charming. The menu offers a selection of sweet and savory handcrafted pies, a wine list, local beers and food (the Guatemalan Empanadas look amazing). Varieties change with the season, we’re told the Honey Vinegar is the biggest seller, but it’s the Malted Chocolate Pecan that gets our attention. We sit at the counter and eat our tasty piece of pie, happy to have discovered yet another trendy, up-and-coming Cincy neighborhood.

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