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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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Roadtrip: Cincinnati…ish

20 Jan

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We arrived in Cincinnati OH late, tired and hungry. We checked into the Residence Inn Downtown, had dinner in at the Phelps Bar in our hotel, then got a good night’s sleep. This morning we’re crossing the Ohio River into Kentucky to visit the Newport Aquarium. This 100,000 sq. ft. building at Newport On The Levee rests on the banks of the Ohio River, directly across from downtown Cincinnati. The aquarium has specially designed underwater tunnels that give you an up-close look at marine life, it’s pretty impressive. We park in the structure, ride the elevator up to the deck where it’s cold and raining. A tent has been set up to shelter those of us zigzagging through the line to purchase tickets; it seems everyone had the same idea today.

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We begin at the World Rivers exhibit showing us life in 9 different rivers on 5 continents. We move from tank to tank, the fish seem to be as interested in us as we are in them. At the Shore Gallery grown-ups and children are all eager for a chance to pet a horseshoe crab, a whelk, touch a Sea star; a young woman demonstrates the two-finger method of touching. We follow the pre-determined path past tank after tank of fascinating creatures, large placards explain what’s inside the tanks, illuminated fish and starfish mingle with dangling lights overhead–in here, everybody is a kid. The Coral Reef tank is burgeoning with colorful fish, a Morey eel and Cownose Rays with 2-foot wingspans. The fish in the Dangerous and Deadly tank really do look creepy! 117,000 gallons of freshwater fill the 32-foot-long acrylic tunnel featuring fish from the Amazon.

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Room to room, section to section we go seeing the Frog Bog filled with exotic frogs, Gator Alley, where Snowflake and Snowball, 2 White American Alligators live–be sure and check out Mighty Mike at 14 feet, weighing 800 pounds. Snakes, lizards and a fabulous Panther Chameleon all call the aquarium home. The otters are sleeping when we show up at Canyon Falls, bummer, people of all ages are checking out the Turtle Corral, you can even touch a tortoise. Scuba Santa is putting on a show in the theater area, this is one of the largest windows to view the giant shark tank. For us the seamless acrylic tunnels are the main attraction; it’s a strange feeling to be surrounded by sharks, sting rays, and a variety of marine life. Everybody takes the same photograph, the shark swimming directly overhead, it’s fun to watch. Where the other fish and turtles seem mildly amused by our presence the sharks just give us that cold, dead stare as they glide by.

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The Jellyfish Gallery is pretty cool, more than 100 jellyfish from around the world capture our attention with their unique shape, the way they move inside cleverly lit tanks.Then there’s everybody’s favorite, the penguins! Penguin Palooza is home to 5 species of cold-weather penguins, they’re so much fun to watch. Newport Aquarium now offers a walk along the top edge of the shark tank, the shark tank overlook. Here you can view 2 dozen sharks, 4 exotic shark rays, 2 sting rays, and more than 300 fish. If you are so inclined you can even cross the “shark bridge”, a 75-foot long v-shaped rope bridge strung across the tank.We try and get to the aquarium every couple of years, there’s always something new, and we’re never disappointed.

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Outside the rain has let up, we make our way to the Newport On The Levee Riverwalk and take in the view. Here we overlook the mighty Ohio, after days of rain the water level is high, multiple bridges criss-cross the waterway, to the right Mt Adams rises above downtown Cincy, skyscrapers dot the skyline. Next we leave the city of Newport, cross the Licking River and arrive in Covington KY. Founded in 1815 this is the largest city in Northern KY. There are 16 historic districts; gorgeous neighborhoods include Licking-Riverside, Mainstrasse Village and Wallace Woods– the area is steeped in historic structures. St Mary’s Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption is located on Madison Ave, we’re going to tour the building, c’mon in.

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 First a little history. Construction on the building began in 1894 and ended in 1915. The sanctuary was designed by Detroit architect Leon Coquard, inspired by Notre Dame in Paris. Vaults, columns and walls of the nave, transept and apse were finished in 1897. January 1901 the second stage of construction concluded, funds were depleted. A plain brick wall closed the nave and plain glass windows were installed for the dedication January 27, 1901. Once more funds were raised; the facade was completed in 1908, stained glass windows were installed in 1910, the interior beautification was finished in 1915. Churches obtain the title of Basilica because of their antiquity, dignity, historical importance or significance as a center of worship; St Mary’s was elevated to the rank of Minor Basilica in 1953. There are 35 minor Basilicas in the U.S. and 4 Major Basilicas in the world–all in Rome.

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No description I can give will do justice to this incredibly beautiful church, in a word, it’s breathtaking. Once inside my eyes are drawn 81 feet upward, the height of the arched Gothic ceiling, it’s incredible. I take in fluted columns, organ pipes and magnificent stained glass windows–81 of them, made in Munich Germany. The grandest one fills the north transept at 67′ tall and 24′ wide.  I want to walk around but my feet seem glued to the floor; I look from side to side, top to bottom, I take in the altar, rose windows, light reflects off polished marble floors. The interior is 180′ in length, transepts extending on either side give the entire edifice the shape of a cross with the apse forming its top. Kris calls my name, bringing me back to the moment. Each of us wanders aimlessly, the lighting is tricky for photos but Kris has captured some nice ones. It’s late December, red and white Poinsettia decorate the church, a nativity is set up near the altar, miniature white lights are strung on evergreen trees.

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I walk the length of the nave to the Baptistry, 4 different types of Italian Marble were used in the construction of the octagonal font in 1934; the marble pattern of the center aisle was put in at the same time.  Mural paintings are the work of Covington artist Frank Duveneck and were placed on the chapel walls in 1910. There are 14 mosaic stations of Christ’s Passion and death made up of 70,000-80,000 tiny porcelain ceramic tiles with gold and mother-of-pearl highlights crafted in Venice, the detail is amazing. Chandeliers hang from long chains though most of the light is provided by the windows. We walk up and back the center and side aisles, we amble in and out of the 4 different chapels, gawk at the Appalachian Oak pulpit, the altar table with its relief sculptures of wheat and grapes, the oak cathedra (Bishop’s chair) painted in the coat of arms of the current bishop.The carved Baldachino (think of it as an architectural canopy) over the altar features 16 prominent saints, 7 patrons of preachers surround the pulpit. You are free to come and experience St. Mary’s Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption yourself, it’s open daily.

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After a little rest and relaxation at the hotel Kris and I take a walk down to an area by the river called The Banks. Newly opened and located between the Great American Ballpark and Paul Brown Stadium, you will find a variety of restaurants and bars. Inspired by the beautiful evening, we walk over to the John A Roebling Suspension Bridge, this was the prototype for the Brooklyn Bridge–it looks just like it. Pedestrian friendly, we decide to walk across the bridge to Kentucky and back, stopping mid-point to take in the dazzling panoramic view. Having jump-started our appetite we decide to have dinner at Moerlein Lager House  on the riverfront. The Christian Moerlein Brewing Company started in 1853 in Cincinnati’s Over The Rhine (OTR) neighborhood. Christian was a Bavarian immigrant noted for brewing hearty European beers. His beer’s popularity extended all the way to Europe and South America. Prohibition forced the closure of the brewery. In 1981 the Moerlein brand was re-intorduced to Cincinnati, the company was bought in 2004 by beer baron Gregory Hardman. 

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The restaurant is loaded with Moerlein artifacts from old beer cans and bottles to corkscrews, glasses and signs. The place is huge, modern, with lots of glass taking advantage of its ideal waterside location. The beer menu is endless. I order a Christian Moerlein Shiver Chai Porter, Kris chooses the Kentucky Bourbon Honey Ale, both of us are satisfied with our choices. Mine has a hint of spices–cinnamon, nutmeg, maybe clove. The BBQ Nacho plate is huge; layers of corn chips smothered in white queso, pickled jalapeno, lettuce, pico, sour cream and guacamole. Good food, good beer, good scenery and good company….. I can’t think of a nicer way to end the evening.

 

 

Dayton: Looking Back….

13 Jan

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Somehow we manage to find a little of Detroit wherever we go. We are in Dayton Ohio at America’s Packard Museum, also known as The Citizens Motorcar Company. This is the world’s only restored Packard dealership operating as a museum and the only full-time museum dedicated exclusively to the Packard Motorcar Company, its products and philosophies. The museum is housed in an original dealership built in 1917, there are over 50 automobiles on display throughout the Art Deco showroom, service department and pavilion. Packard was an American luxury automobile, the first was built in 1899, the last in 1958. In 1903 the legendary 3,500,000 sq. ft. Packard Plant built on over 40 acres on E. Grand Boulevard in Detroit opened, designed by Albert Kahn (who else), it was considered the most modern auto manufacturing plant in the world; skilled craftsmen practiced over 80 trades in the building. Today the long abandoned plant is owned by Fernando Palazuelo, developer and CEO of Arte Express, he has big plans for revitalizing the building, check out the website for more information on The Packard Plant Project.

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We park on the street in front of the museum building, inside the showroom we purchase tickets from a woman who then tells us a little about what we’re going to see. The cars in our immediate vicinity are magnificent! There’s a 1932 Packard Twin Six convertible with coachwork by Walter M Murphy, so elegant in cream with red accents and black running boards–this one was built for Michigan’s own Gar Wood. A black beauty with a boattail is a 1936 Fernandez Darrin Speedster, notice the single step below the door in place of running boards. It hits us that there are no ropes around the cars, you can walk right up, look in the windows, admire them up-close. There’s a gorgeous tan and chocolate-colored model by the front window and another convertible in deep yellow; each is unique and has its own hood ornament selected by the original owner. In addition to automobiles the showroom has neon signs, vintage photographs hang on walls, glass showcases contain Packard artifacts, there are still salesmen desks and customer seating.

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Back in the Service area the parts counter still stands, shelves hold original Packard replacement parts. Antique diagnostic equipment, vintage pedal cars and engines share the space with additional Packards in two-tone green, burgundy, black, silver and red. There are hard-tops, convertibles, seats are leather, dashboards, grills and fenders are highly stylized.  Between 1924-1930 Packard was the top-selling luxury brand of automobiles, in 1928 the company grossed $21,889,000–wow! Packard introduced the first modern steering wheel, they were first to produce a 12 cylinder engine, they made the first passenger car with air-conditioning; their tagline was “ask the man who owns one”. At a time when a Oldsmobile Runabout cost $650, a Packard started at $2,600. At one point they had markets in 61 countries, in 1931 Japan’s royal family owned 10 Packards.

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The next building holds even more cars, the Packard library, filled with manuals, catalogs and advertisements and the large stone piece that says “Packard 1907” from the plant here in Detroit. Walls are covered with photos and a historical timeline of the company. The Gray Wolf, one of the most famous cars of early racing, attracts a crowd. Engineered and driven by Charles Schmidt in 1904, at a cost of $10,000, the speedster set two land speed records at Ormond Beach FL. There are Caribbean models from the 50’s, I love the combination of white, pink and black, a Woody is packed for a roadtrip, a couple of Studebaker’s join the mix. We check out an old race car, a 1948 Henney Landau hearse, a gorgeous Art Deco model and more. There are aircraft engines, a military vehicle, an antique gas pump and scale models…so much to look at, so little time.

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Our next stop is Woodland Cemetery, this is where Dayton’s aviation heroes, inventors and barons of business are laid to rest. Opened in 1843, this is one of the oldest ‘garden’ cemeteries in the country, it’s also recognized as one of the areas finest arboretums—many of its trees are more than a century old. There are 200 acres of rolling hills, a Romanesque gateway, chapel and office were completed in 1889. We are here to visit the graves of the Fathers of Modern Aviation, Wilbur and Orville Wright. The brothers successfully achieved the first powered, sustained and controlled airplane flight on December 17, 1903. They subsequently became successful businessmen filling contracts for airplanes in Europe and the United States. Wilbur died in 1912 at the age of 45 of typhoid fever, Orville sold the company in 1915.

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We drive down narrow lanes past beautiful monuments belonging to families named Bader, Reibold and Willoughby. We pass Greek Revival mausoleums, obelisks, rugged boulders, bronze statues of men, stone angels and Art Nouveau  gravestones. The road climbs to Lookout Point, the highest point in Dayton, we stare out over the city, Lookout Tower provides a spectacular view. At last we reach the Wright gravesite, a simple gravestone is engraved with the Wright family name. There Wilbur, Katharine and Orville rest side by side, brick pavers surround the site, a series of flagpoles is the only thing that makes this particular spot stand out from the rest. We note the same names we have seen elsewhere in the city: John Patterson of NCR, George P Huffman of Huffy Bicycles, George Mead of Mead Paper and writer Erma Bombeck. Living in Detroit and traveling through states like Ohio and Pennsylvania we see the impact the movers and shakers of the Midwest had on this country; we put the world on wheels, put men in flight, created magnificent cities from the wealth of inventors and the labor of the working man. It’s pretty amazing.

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We are having lunch at Flyboys Deli in Oakwood, a residential city just south of Dayton. Worth noting: Orville Wright lived here, his stately home still stands at the corner of Harman and Park, John Patterson (NCR) also called Oakwood home. I read the menu while standing at the counter, the server at the register makes a few suggestions, making our decision easier. In addition to food the deli also serves beer, as we sit at the table and wait for our food I peruse the drink menu and settle on a Rhinegeist Panther Porter–good choice by me! Rhinegeist Brewery is located in Cincinnati. In no time our food arrives; The Wright is a roast turkey sandwich with cranberry-orange chutney, herb cheese, lettuce and tomato on multi-grain bread and a side potato salad, both are delicious. We take our time eating and relax a bit before jumping back in the Jeep……next stop Cincinnati.

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Road Trip: Dayton

6 Jan

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Weekends are made for adventures. Often we have only 2 or 3 days at a time to get away, making Ohio an obvious destination. In about an hour we can be looking at Masterpieces at the Toledo Museum of Art, in under 3 hours we can be walking around Westside Market in Cleveland, just over 3 hours gets us to Historic German Village in Columbus where we can roam quaint neighborhoods with brick streets and sidewalk cafes. Today we are headed to Dayton, about a 3 1/2 hour ride from the D; it’s just the first stop on our extended getaway spanning the time between Christmas and the New Year. The Jeep is loaded and ready to go, climb in and come along as we explore southern Ohio.

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We haven’t spent much time in Dayton, we’ve visited the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, which is pretty awesome; this time we’re hitting the streets of downtown Dayton, first stop 2nd Street Market. Who doesn’t love a market? Local vendors selling fresh produce, baked goods, wine, chocolate and handmade items line the interior of this historic block-long building. Built in 1911 for B & O Railroad the former freight house was saved from demolition and renovated in 2001, giving the market a year-round presence. Home to about 50 vendors the rustic space is quaint, holiday decorations make it festive today. We stroll the single aisle, grabbing a peanut butter cookie along the way, checking out Ohio-centric items. Artisans offer goods such as jewelry, leather pieces, Alpaca sweaters, scarves and hats, some good old-fashioned Maple syrup. Light seeps through roll-up glass doors, it must be wonderful to have them open in the summer. Cafe tables are full of diners enjoying a snack or lunch from one of the many food stalls.

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A short drive away is the Oregon District, a historic neighborhood and business district in the heart of downtown Dayton. Art displays and colorful graffiti fill the space between the market and the district. The city of Dayton is on the banks of the Great Miami River, the Miami-Erie Canal opened in 1829 bringing wealth and prosperity to the city. The 12-block Oregon Historic District is Dayton’s oldest surviving neighborhood, homes range from simple the architecture of early German settlers to the mansions of prominent citizens on Jackson Street. It has just started to drizzle, we grab our umbrellas and set out for a walk. Red brick Victorian’s and Queen Anne’s grace the streets along with Italianate, Federal and Greek Revival styles.

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Large covered porches are common, quite lovely. Stained glass windows are surrounded by ornate window pediments, gorgeous wooden doors welcome visitors. Here it is common practice to paint the brick, giving owners a wide pallet to choose from; blue, gray, taupe and red all make an appearance. One of the most unusual was a red-brick-beauty decked out in fanciful white trim, a center section of the house is inverted, kind of like a reverse turret, haven’t seen that before.We make our way to the business district, we stop in at Press Coffee Bar to have a coffee and dry out. The space has an open airy feel to it; light wood accented with a painted tin ceiling adds character. The shop roasts and serves Wood Burl Coffee. We order at the counter, before we know it were back outside, cups in hand, meandering down 5th Street.

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5th Street is the heart of the Oregon business district between Patterson and Wayne. Here historic architecture is brought to life with restaurants, bars, galleries and shops. The vintage glass display in the front window of Jimmy Modern draws us inside, a Tulip table and chairs set, fabulous light fixtures and Mid-Century Modern furnishings bring smiles to our faces. The shop has a wonderful array of lighting, furniture, glassware and accessories. Old-fashioned lamp posts line the street, most buildings are three-stories tall, tables and chairs are holding out for one more nice day in front of a cafe; businesses are locally owned. We traverse both sides of the street, in and out of shops, lingering the longest in vintage stores Feathers, Eclectic Essentials and Clash.

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Back in the Jeep, we drive to Carillon Historical Park, a 65-acre park and museum built in 1940 containing historic buildings and exhibits telling Dayton’s history from 1796 to the present. Getting out of the car we direct our attention to the 151 foot-tall Deeds Carillon, an Art Moderne style carillon tower built in 1942. Ohio’s largest carillon it has 57 bells and from May to October you can catch a live concert every Sunday. Currently it is draped in lights for the holidays, it must be quite a sight when it gets dark. Inside the Heritage Center Museum the history of Dayton unfolds in exhibits featuring the people and manufacturers that developed the city in the early years. One of the first exhibits features old-fashioned cash registers, you know, the kind you see on all those antique and picker shows. These are amazing. Turns out John H Patterson founded the National Cash Register Company right here in Dayton Ohio, he was the maker of the first mechanical cash register. These stunning cash registers are found throughout the museum, I have to stop at each one and marvel at the different cabinet styles, the press down keys, the patterns on the brass, bronze and nickel models; fine scroll, wide scroll, fleur-de-lis and Art Nouveau, they are magnificent!

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I read placard after placard trying to take it all in; I recognize names like Patterson, Deeds and Kettering from street and building names in town. Dayton has a pretty impressive resume, Huffy, Delco, Frigidaire, NCRC all called the city home. Manufacturing was huge; Kramer Brothers Foundry, Dayton Malleable Iron Co., Dayton Wright Airplane Company, General Motors Engine Plant, just to name a few….. The museum is fascinating, so well done, so enjoyable to visit. Full size displays of automobiles, appliances, toys, novelties, bicycles, even a carousel. The Ohio-made Carousel of Dayton Innovation is truly one-of-a-kind, in addition horses you can sit on a cash register-style bench, a bicycle, streetcar or locomotive, gaze at hand-painted murals depicting the Wright Brothers, all to the sound of 1930’s tunes, very cool. 

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Historic Cleveland

19 Nov

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It’s a beautiful day in Cleveland Ohio. We take advantage of the mild November temperatures and head downtown to do our own architectural walking tour. With the Jeep tucked away in a nearby parking structure we can take our time checking out the city without having to worry about feeding a meter. Our first stop is Marshall Frederick’s Fountain Of Eternal Life, also called the Cleveland War Memorial Fountain, Peace Arising From The Flames Of War, at Veterans Memorial Plaza. The inscription reads: IN HONORED MEMORY OF THOSE WHO GAVE THEIR LIVES FOR THEIR COUNTRY. This is one of my favorite Marshall Frederick’s fountains; four groups in Norwegian emerald pearl granite 4′ x 12′ represent the four corners of the Earth, in the center a 35′ bronze human figure stands on a ball reaching toward the sky. The water is shut off for the season but when it’s on it makes this an even more incredible sight.  It’s placement on the southernmost end of the Mall affords incredible views of prominent buildings such as Public Square, Key Tower and Terminal Tower.

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Over on Superior we admire the exterior of the Cleveland Public Library main library building. After decades of moving around in and out of temporary and rented spaces, this building was built solely for the Main Library in 1925. It’s one of those magnificent buildings you just stop and stare at; detailed carvings, sconces, leaded glass windows all hint to the beauty found within. Before we go inside here are a few interesting things I’ve learned about the library. This was the first large public library to allow individuals to select their own books directly from the bookshelves, at other libraries only a librarian was allowed to do so. This library was a big deal to the community, by the 1930’s more than 12,000 individuals walked through its doors daily. Today the CPL circulates one of the largest and most extensive collections in the country with nearly 10 million items. After years of decline the building was completely renovated in 1999 to the tune of $24 million. Ok, now we can go inside.

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The entrance hall is flat-out gorgeous! There’s so much eye candy, my eyes don’t know where to focus. Straight up, a terrestrial globe made of pearl art glass glows softly, it’s based on one of the first maps depicting the early Americas done by Leonardo da Vinci. In the lobby, a barrel-vaulted ceiling is decorated with fine stencils representing the arts, writing and learning; looking back toward the door a brass clock is flanked by mythological griffins. Fantastic bare-bulb torchieres illuminate the lobby, it seems everything is marble including the main stairway and balustrade. Brett Memorial Hall is your basic reading room–you know, marble walls, coffered ceiling painted in rose, blue and gold; even the wool rugs match the colors and patterns of the ceiling. Travertine marble makes up the perimeter of the floor, this helps absorb sound echoes. Murals fill the upper walls, The City in 1822 by William Sommer was done in 1934 under the Public Works Art Project (PWAP), others were done in the late 1970’s, the bronze bust of Brett is original to the room.

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On the 2nd Floor the main attraction is a PWAP mural which depicts Cleveland’s waterfront in the 1830’s. Donald Bayard’s Early Transportation is as pretty today as it was in 1934, I enjoy the vibrant colors. The 3rd Floor is home to Fine Arts and Special collections, it’s our favorite floor. Here there are more paintings commissioned for the PWAP, exhibit cases in the corridor are made of wrought iron created by the Sterling Bronze Co. in 1925, we find materials related to the visual arts, musical scores and books and collectibles. The reading room is stunning; blue and gold floral designs decorate the ceilings, bare-bulb chandeliers light the space, doorways are surrounded by marble, doors are leather-covered. Large windows look out over the city, from here we have a birds-eye view of the Fountain of Eternal Life, the Mall, First Energy Stadium, and Lake Erie.

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There’s a lot to look at like the John G White Chess and Checkers Collection; Chess sets are made of delicately carved wood, stone, figures, even Salt and Pepper shakers. To celebrate the 150th anniversary of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland a special exhibit is on display until December 31. The Cleveland Digital Public Library on this floor opened last February; a touch wall, digital lab and Preservation department connect the past to the future; the first commissioned PWAP mural by Ora Coltman, Dominance of the City (1934) hangs here. A giant mosaic tile Globe rests in the 4th Floor lobby, pretty cool. Suddenly music fills the air, as we descend the staircase we find a group of musicians has gathered at the top of the 3rd Floor, it seems they are warming up for a wedding that will take place here shortly. The sound follows us down to the main floor, it’s magical.

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Outside we realize we are just across the street from The Arcade, we pop in whenever we’re in the area. Built in 1890 and financed by the likes of John D Rockefeller, Marcus Hanna and Charles F Brush, this Victorian-era structure is magnificent! Workers are setting up for a wedding so we just do a quick walk-through–this place is an architectural treasure. Built by the Detroit Bridge Co, this is two 9-story buildings joined by a 5-story arcade with a glass skylight that spans over 300 ft, impressive. The detail is mind-blowing, every surface is decorative, it’s elegant, opulent, stunning–this is what an early shopping mall looked like in the US back in those days, and it is one of very few left.

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Our architecture and history tour continues with the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument in Public Square. Opened on July 4, 1894 this monument commemorates the American Civil War. The grand structure is imposing, awe-inspiring; four bronze groupings on the esplande depict battle scenes of the Navy, Artillery, Infantry and Cavalry. American flags rise up from each corner of the structure, today they flutter in the breeze. A 125′ column is topped with a statue of the Goddess of Freedom, defended by the Shield of Liberty, breathtaking.

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Inside the Memorial Room the names of 9,000 soldiers and sailors from Cuyahoga County OH who perished in the war cover tablet walls. Elegant stained glass windows, exquisite brass chandeliers, intricate marble floors have all been recently rehabilitated. Bronze relief sculptures honor significant moments and people, medals and personal items fill glass cases. A large column wears 6 bronze bands listing the names of 30 battles in which soldiers from this county fought, it’s all very humbling. 

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The day has passed quickly, over in Hingetown we stop for a bite to eat before driving home. Juke Box is one of those comfortable neighborhood joints where you can hang out with friends, grab a bite to eat, enjoy a craft beer and enjoy music from a rotating jukebox selection. It’s late afternoon so the place is quiet, the menu selection offers pierogi, sausage and kraut, the varieties of each are endless. We’re starving, so we decide quickly; you get 3 pierogi for $7 with two dipping sauces. We choose the potato, cheddar and farmers cheese pierogi with sour cream and creamy dill sauces, stellar choice. The special of the day is a sausage sandwich, ours is a beer brat topped with sauerkraut, grilled peppers and onions with spicy mustard on a crusty roll, yum! 

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It’s been a great weekend in Cleveland, we’re always discovering something new. Only three hours from Detroit, it’s one of our favorite places to go for a quick getaway. Now get out there and have some fun!