Tag Archives: Bluewater Region

Port Huron Pleasures

29 Jul

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It’s HOT! We need to escape the city, Port Huron provides a perfect waterside respite. Today it’s 10 degrees cooler here with the breeze coming off the big lake. We’re at the Vantage Point Farmers Market that takes place along the St. Clair River from May-Oct 29. This Michigan-only market features fresh produce, gourmet products, art and plants, along with a splendid view of the river and Canada. We park at the end of the lot facing the Black River, the promenade begins here; native plants fill elevated beds, a brick fireplace kicks out heat in cooler temperatures, picnic tables provide pedestrians a place to watch the boats go by. There’s a line at the Fresh-cut Fries truck, others have opted for ice cream, a double dip is certainly in order today. 

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We reach the row of white canopy tents, tomatoes, squash, lettuce and cucumbers are plentiful. You can buy Honey, Maple Syrup; Green Barn Winery is giving out samples. Pasta and jars of red sauce mingle with dog treats from Fritz’s Bone Appetite, Gielow pickles and bison meat. There’s a nice variety of produce, baked goods and ready-made foods from Brownwood Farms and Great Lakes. Power boats, jet skis and sailboats are out playing in the water, the Huron Lady II is out for a cruise, freighters come and go to Lake Huron. An announcers voice comes from speakers, he tells us about the current freighter in view, where it’s headed what she’s carrying, how cool! Ears of corn are selling quickly, squash come in a rainbow of colors, cherries are sweet or tart varieties, all sizes and shapes of eggplant are represented. Perennials, trees and flowering shrubs congregate at the far end of the market; the hot pink Phlox is gorgeous, purple cone flower, Shasta daisy and tiger lilies are waiting to be planted in someone’s yard. 

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We dip into the Great Lakes Maritime Center, a little air-conditioning will be nice. People fill tables and chairs arranged along the front windows, some are eating lunch from the deli, others sip on cold drinks, the donuts look delicious. Videos and displays tell stories of the Great Lakes, this is the headquarters for BoatNerd.com, a live underwater camera provides us with a view of whats going on under the St. Clair River. The center documents historical events such as the sinking of the SS Edmund Fitzgerald; near hurricane-force winds and waves up to 35 ft sent the ore-carrying vessel 530 ft down to the bottom of Lake Superior on November 10, 1975, is the song playing in your head now? Mine too. The floor is covered in a wave-patterned carpet, a map showing all of the shipwrecks in the area is inset. Display cases are filled with all things Great Lakes; ship models, rocks, diving equipment and memorabilia.

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Back outside we take a leisurely stroll on the Blue Water River Walk. This entire stretch of shoreline was given to the St. Clair Community Foundation by local philanthropists James and Suzanne Acheson in 2011. Since that time the 1-mile stretch of land has been cleaned up and transformed into a public park where native plants flourish and a naturalized shoreline welcomes visitors. We are on the pedestrian trail, the old railroad ferry dock once used to help transport goods back and forth to Sarnia Ontario Canada in the early 1900’s has been restored and turned into an observation deck. We look out over deep blue water, a cabin boat is out having fun, another freighter makes its way to Lake Huron, a few white, puffy, clouds are clustered together in an otherwise clear sky. The shoreline is dotted with tiny beaches and secluded landings, one is at lake level, I stand still and let the waves wash over my feet, cooling me off. Butterflies draw nectar from flowers, shrubs bear groups of fuzzy red berries. Placards teach the public about the structures, plants and wildlife found in the St. Clair River ecosystem. I had no idea mink lived here…

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The fishing pier is just south of the US Navy ship Grayfox, we have the pier to ourselves, the panoramic view is stunning, relaxing. Public art shows up in the form of a 7-foot-tall iron horse named Sugar, a 1,000 lb metal sturgeon named Stella Clair, a mural featuring native fish covers the River Rats Club building. Black-eyed Susan’s, Queen Anne’s Lace and milkweed stand in the foreground of the river. Wetland restoration is ongoing and currently fenced off; the ducks don’t seem to mind. This is part of the Bridge to Bay Trail System which continues to grow and improve every year. 

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My growling stomach reminds me it’s time to eat. We drive over to Freighters Eatery and Taproom located in the Double Tree Hotel (formerly Thomas Edison Inn) on the riverfront. The large restaurant has a perfect view of the Blue Water Bridge, St. Clair River and the entry into Lake Huron, in other words, it’s perfect.  We sit by the window, the menu is filled with locally sourced items, they use Michigan vendors and suppliers whenever possible. Appropriately so, a freighter passes as we wait for our meal, diners take photos from the patio, it’s a big deal for someone who’s never seen it before. Our Mesa Chopped Salad arrives; crisp greens are tossed in chipotle ranch dressing, blackened chicken, grilled sweet corn, peppers and fried garbanzo beans, tortilla strips join the mix, yum! We also have a side of salt and pepper fries, they’re really tasty. When we’re finished we head out to the boardwalk; from under the bridge we watch cars zoom by going from one country to another, sailboats fill the Lake Huron horizon.

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Back downtown on Quay St. The Alley Room has just opened for the evening, a cocktail sounds good about now. Although the same owner has had the place for years, it has undergone several incarnations. Currently the menu consists of pizza, sliders and a good meatball sandwich (so I’ve been told). The attractive, rustic interior features an antique tin ceiling, brick walls, wood floors. We sit at the bar, the Moscow Mule is on special, sounds good to me, Kris is in the mood for an Old Fashion, they don’t have all the ingredients so he makes do with what they have. A couple of friends arrive unexpectedly, what a nice surprise; we strike up a lively conversation as we finish off our cocktails. Outside, the sun is low in the sky, the temperature has dropped, giving us more relief. We’re lucky to be surrounded by such beautiful water here in Michigan, Port Huron is less than 70 miles from Detroit making it a quick and easy escape from big city to sandy beaches. There’s only so much summer left, what are you waiting for?

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ALGONAC: Got Wood ??

8 Jul

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We are in the riverside town of Algonac MI, the Michigan chapter of the Antique and Classic Boat Society is hosting their annual boat show “The Annual Plant Jamboree, Where It All Began” at the Algonac Harbour Club. Michigan has a rich boating history, 4 of the major builders originated here: Chris Craft in Algonac, Century in Manistee, Gar Wood in Marysville and Hacker Craft in Mt Clemens. Since we are in Algonac, it seems fitting to give you a little background on Chris Craft. While I share the story with you sit back and relax, look at all of the beautiful boat pictures and imagine yourself out on the water in a magnificent, restored wooden power boat, cold drink in hand, soaking up the scenery. 

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The significance of Chris Craft and Algonac go hand in hand. It was here that sport and power of power boating began. Over a century ago Christopher Columbus Smith took the first Chris Craft boat out onto this exact spot to go fishing, in 1881 he enlisted the help of his brother Hank to build boats full-time. In 1915 Smith’s boat “Miss Detroit” won the Gold Cup, earning the right to bring the event to Detroit. Garfield A Wood (known as the Gray Fox of Algonac) purchased the boat in 1916 and went on to win the Gold Cup 6 consecutive times, making Algonac the home of powerboating. In those days America was a powerhouse, we could build anything, we were champions of speed and power, we were unstoppable. The Chris Craft family built and maintained the boating empire over several generations, for many years the company was the region’s largest employer, it supported the United States wartime effort with their marine technology. The original water tower and a factory building still stand on the grounds of Algonac Harbour Club. We peek into the old factory, today cars are parked inside, if these walls could talk…

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So here we are in 2016, Algonac is still referred to as the home of power boating, the Venice of Michigan, boating is a way of life here. Residents drive their boats through turquoise-colored canals the way you and I drive through neighborhood streets. Fisherman are in pursuit of Pickerel, leisure boaters skim the water through canals out to the largest freshwater delta in the world, the St Clair Flats, Harsens Island, Muscamoot Bays and the St Clair river. Go north and you’ll spill out into Lake Huron, south will lead you through Lake St Clair, the Detroit River and eventually into Lake Erie. Michigan is special for its spectacular waterways, just look around and you’ll see why.

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Making our way through the marina we pass one beautiful boat after another, registration cards use terms such as woody, skiff, runabout, utility and cruiser. Mahogany gleams under layers of varnish, American, Canadian and Chris Craft flags waver under a cloudless sky. Interiors are upholstered in solid blues, greens and red and white stripes, some have separate seating compartments while others are wide open, dashboards are decked out with gauges, the sun reflects off sparkling chrome. I love the name plates and badges especially the red, white and blue Super Sport, a boat named Tiger Lily catches my eye, what a beauty in light wood and yellow stain. The houses across the canal are dolled up for the summer, petunias spill from large pots, decks look BBQ-ready, what a quaint area to call home.

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We follow the narrow walkway, wooden boats tied to deck cleats bob on tiny waves made from passing boaters, everybody wants to have a look. Some boats look ready for a fishing excursion while others display picnic gear, the vintage water skis are super-cool. The water craft range in size from tiny fishing boats to ocean-going, I overheard one woman say they came up from Florida to be in the show today, the cabin boat she’s on certainly looks like it’s up to the voyage. Engines bear names like Mercury, Chrysler Marine and even Cadillac, chrome horns rest on bows. At the other end of the marina fiberglass boats from the 1960’s and 70’s wait for their turn on the lake; they wear bright colors, metal flake paint and cool racing stripes, James Bond would look perfect behind the wheel.

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August 25-28 2016 will be the 100th running of the Gold Cup Races on the Detroit River, there will be a display of woody boats belonging to the members of the Antique and Classic Boat Society. Looking for something a little more laid back? Head up to Port Huron September 9-10 for the Blue Water Antique and Classic Boat Show. Don’t forget the annual Parade of Lights on the Clinton River in Harrison Twp. August 6.

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Waterfront dining is a must on a day like today, we follow M 29 north to Mc Rae’s Big River Grille. To the left the bar area pays tribute to Vernor’s; walls are covered in vintage wooden crates, a large yellow sign takes up real estate on one side. The dining room is huge, the length of the room is a wall of windows overlooking the glistening St. Clair River. We place our order and sip on cocktails as we watch boats cruise up and down the river. Our food arrives, we dig into the Sweet Honey Chicken Sriracha Flatbread, a little sweet, a little spicy; banana peppers, pineapple, bacon and cheddar cheese. The Coconut-battered Chicken Strips are crunchy and delicious. This is how a summer day should be, a picturesque drive along the water, gorgeous old wooden boats, dining on the river, perfect!



Blue Water Memories

25 Mar

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It’s no secret that Detroit is the Motor City, most of us know Ford and Dearborn go hand in hand, Flint built Buicks, Lansing was home to Oldsmobile and Pontiac started off in…..yeah, Pontiac. Some may even remember Packard and Hudson, but I’d bet very few people realize that nearly 200 different auto manufacturers have called Michigan home. Today we’ll take you up to Marysville and show you one of them at the Wills Sainte Claire Museum. Back in the 1920’s Wills Ste Clair automobiles were built here near the banks of the St. Clair River, I recently made mention of Mr. Wills in the Automotive Hall of Fame post; he was Henry Ford’s chief engineer and was the one who designed Ford’s infamous blue oval logo. In 1919 he left Ford to manufacture his own automobile; he moved up to Marysville and got to work, his first vehicle rolled off the line in 1921. C. H. Wills was a man of great ambition, not only did he set out to build the highest quality of automobile possible, he also purchased 4,500 acres of property in Marysville to create the “City of Contented Living” for his employees. The company operated here from 1921 to 1926, poor economic conditions eventually took their toll, the “city” never came to fruition  and the company folded; the factory had produced more than 12,000 vehicles in that time. Mr. Wills remained in the automotive field, in 1933 he joined Chrysler, he was a true visionary.

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Today is the second Sunday of the month, the museum is open from 1-5, inside there are about a half-dozen other visitors roaming the space; new vehicles have been added since our last visit. This place is loaded with great Wills Ste Claire memorabilia;  photos of the factory, literature, owners manuals, and items from Wills days at Ford, be sure and take a look at some of his paychecks. There is a small seating area where you can watch a film giving a brief history of the company, very interesting. To the right is “Harold’s Garage”, built by volunteers it takes us back to the days when these luxurious vehicles rolled off the line, complete with a vintage gas pump. The museum has the largest collection of Wills autos anywhere, they are real beauties; body styles range from touring and roadsters to five and seven passenger sedans. The first model produced was the A-68, it came with a V-8 engine, had 67 horsepower and cost $3,000, expensive for sure! Available colors had names like Lady Mary Maroon, Newport Blue and Liberty Green, so elegant sounding. Towards the back they have re-created a showroom from back in the day, rumored to have been owned by the Dodge family, this stunning example of the luxury automobile in red rotates on a platform; running boards are wide, the front of the vehicle is open, the back enclosed, fenders are glossy black, all models are adorned with the Grey Goose hood ornament. As well as restored cars, the museum houses quite a few in “as found” condition, how cool !

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We drive further north following the shoreline of the St. Clair River into Port Huron, time to stop for lunch. The Atrium Cafe and Ice Cream Parlor is truly a unique environment to have a meal or a hot fudge sundae. The building itself is from the 1890’s, built from brick street pavers it has had many incarnations through the years including time as a grocery store, drug store and fruit market. The current owners have been lovingly tending the building since 2008; after completely renovating the interior it was refinished and furnished using architectural artifacts from Port Huron’s demolished Victorian homes. As soon as we cross the threshold we are taken back to the days when everything was carefully and beautifully made. The dining room resembles a Victorian parlor, old photos and paintings tucked into antique frames hang on the walls, stained glass windows, a tin ceiling, oak panels and miscellaneous do-dads complete the atmosphere. We are seated in the atrium, with its rescued seats and gorgeous light fixtures it looks as though we are in an old-time movie house, well sort of…The room has many references to old films like playbills and film reels, so cool! The breakfast items grab our attention, so we go with it and order the stuffed french toast: multi-grain bread french toast with a layer of honey cream cheese and fresh blueberries in the middle, delicious! The special was a breakfast sandwich; scrambled eggs, ham and cheese on a large, flaky, buttery croissant, yum! Did you ever notice how good food tastes even better when eaten in an attractive setting?

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Tucked in a nearby neighborhood is the Port Huron Museum; constructed in 1904 by steel magnate Andrew Carnegie the building originally served as the city’s public library. I love visiting regional museums, they provide a unique glimpse of daily life in each individual area. Galleries are spaced out over several floors; we paid our admission and began to browse. The original entry way is quite lovely, a beautiful circular lobby with a mosaic floor welcomes us, stairways leading both up and down flank each side, smooth columns are intermittently spaced around the circumference. From here you can see the glass floor of the mezzanine and a colorful skylight. The first floor is used for special exhibits, today Byte by Byte, The Story of Computer Innovation occupies both galleries. The exhibit begins with the earliest of computers: manual adding machines. We move forward in time, Nova Systems computers are huge, we take a look at examples of Eclipse, Wang and then into modern time with familiar names like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, it has been an amazing transformation through the years. The glass floored mezzanine level shares the history of the Blue Water Area from the days of the Native Americans to the days of Fort St. Joseph and Fort Gratiot. Did you know the first international railroad tunnel ever built was right here in Port Huron under the St. Clair River? This level is full of great photographs of people and events of the late 1800’s and early 1900’s; we see storefronts and churches, the National Guard Camp, trains, ferry’s and of course the Blue Water Bridge.

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The second floor is a great place for kids because there is a lot of stuff they can touch, a plus for grown-ups too. The Marine Gallery has great models of wooden schooners, photos and mementos of the amazing Great Lakes passenger boats, and an awesome pilot house and cabin from a ship. A glass case displays examples of nautical knots, a large piece of rope hangs to the side so you can give it a whirl yourself…good luck with that. Check out the antique diving helmet oh, don’t forget to ring the bell before moving to the next space. The St. Clair River has always been  home to stunning, expansive residences, the next room is finished with wood paneling from one such home, the Whiting home located in St. Clair. Originally purchased in England the paneling graced the walls of that home until it was torn down in 1964, fortunately for us it was installed in this room in 1973. The rest of the items such as delicate glassware, ornate china and furnishings came from Henry G Mc Morran’s home Deerlawn. This is one of my favorite areas in the museum! We wound our way through the rest of the displays, passing through the music room and its impressive collection of 1900’s era instruments. The museum’s collection includes over 15,000 objects and archival items relating to the history and culture of the Blue Water Area and is definitely worth a visit!

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