Tag Archives: Great Lakes

Port Sanilac

30 Oct

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Michigan’s thumb coast is often overlooked, underappreciated and ignored by potential tourists residing in southeast Michigan. Meanwhile generations of families have built or maintained cottages along the St. Clair River and Lake Huron, enjoying the deep blue water, numerous beaches, quaint towns, ice cream shops, restaurants and camping… not to mention the availability of bait on nearly every street corner in town. The thumb has its own unique culture. Free Press columnist Rochelle Riley recently gushed to readers about her visit to Marine City; with so much to offer, why don’t more Detroiter’s take advantage of  the close proximity of this water-wonderland? Today we’re headed about mid-way up the thumb coast.

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The Village of Port Sanilac sits snugly on the shores of Lake Huron. About 90 minutes northeast of downtown Detroit, it was originally a lumberjack settlement; the village is home to restaurants, beaches, marinas, the Port Sanilac Lighthouse (1886) and the oldest, continuously operating hardware store in Michigan, Raymond Hardware (since 1850). We’re in town for the Antique Boat Show and Vintage Festival. Old cars, boats and trailers fill Main Street, the harbor and the park. A steady stream of sandal-wearing pedestrians gravitate toward the activity; live music is playing in the distance, the aroma of food fills the air.

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Classic cars are parked on both sides of Main St. I follow Kris’s lead and walk over to the 1961 Dodge Phoenix, this one is white with a fire engine red interior, lots of chrome, glass and push buttons, great upholstery too.  The late 1950’s Galaxie Skyliner has a retractable top, it looks great in powder blue and white. Vehicles span the decades, there’s a beautiful Model A, I like the yellow wire wheels, the 1976 black Trans Am is a limited edition celebrating Pontiac’s 50th Anniversary. The metallic orange paint on the custom Chevy truck glows in the sunlight, the mid-60’s Ford Ranchero is pretty cool too.

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We walk directly down to the water, the lake is gorgeous today, people mill about checking out the antique boats. As usual, I like to read all the names; Chrissy, Alibi, Tight Lines, oh and a boat I think is stunning, Tiger Lily. We’ve been to a lot of these antique boat shows, many of the them have become familiar but I never get tired of looking. Chris Craft seems to rule the water in this area, all of that lovely wood, simple interiors, they truly are classics.

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I have lost Kris for the moment, then I see him on a dock, City Slicker has caught his attention. The long, black off-shore is a Stinger by Chris Craft; graphics in shades of red hug the sides, loop the arch and come to a point on the ‘hood’, not to be left out, bold stripes continue across the white upholstery, slick indeed… We pass more wooden beauties, larger cabin boats are further down in the marina, they have a nice turn out today, the weather is perfect too. Tables are set up by one of the buildings, model boats are on display; I can’t get over the detail! Replicas of boats from African Queen and Jaws get a lot of attention, I think they’re all pretty amazing.

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Members of Tin Can Tourists are set up in Harbor Park, not only are the trailers kitschy-cool, the owners let you go inside–I love that. Airstream, Shasta, Trotwood, just a few of the brands present today. Generally speaking, people who have vintage trailers seem to enjoy all things vintage; bicycles, furnishings, accessories, linens, electronics, they do a great job assembling items and incorporating them into their home-on-wheels.

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Many of the trailers have beautifully restored wood paneling, along with original features people add modern conveniences and their own personal touch. One of my favorites looks like a family room out of a 1950’s home decorating magazine. Mid-Century decor is probably the most prevalent. Theme’s are always popular too, the western one with the desert mural or the 70’s style with shag carpet.  Here’s something different, a newer motor-home (relatively speaking) with the original interior; dark wood, hammered copper tabletops, back splash and accents, stained glass inserts in the cabinet doors. I really like the leaf pattern on the couch and the tropical bedspread. The couple lives in the motor-home full-time, they travel from place to place like the wind.

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We drive over to The Portly Pig for lunch. The restaurant is located in a pretty blue house trimmed in white with orange accents. There’s a definite animal theme inside; meat, of course, is the main attraction. We order at the counter then have a seat near the large front windows, teal-colored walls remind me we’re right off Lake Huron. Large quantities of food arrive, I can’t wait to dig in. The Pork Stack is a generous heap of flavorful pulled pork resting on an amazing cornbread pancake topped with coleslaw and bbq sauce, every forkful is spectacularly delicious. Sharing table space is a side of fries and coleslaw, both excellent. They have full ice cream service too; cones, cups, malts, sundaes, not possible after the lunch we just had..

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At the public beach we park the car and take a walk on the pier, the scalloped edges are unique. It feels like we’re far out into Lake Huron; we watch sailboats and pleasure boats out for a cruise, wooden boats from the show are out enjoying the lake too. Swimmers, sunbathers and beachcombers are caught up in their surroundings, waves are rolling in, sunlight sparkles off the water, it’s like a picture in tourism brochure. You don’t have to drive all day and spend a lot of money for a trip to be a vacation, in Michigan you just follow the water.

Charlevoix The Beautiful

16 Jun

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We are in the picturesque town of Charlevoix nestled between Lake Michigan and Lake Charlevoix. We’re spending a few days checking out everything the area has to offer while staying in an Earl Young cottage. After breakfast the first thing we do is walk down to the beach, we have easy access as stairways are built into the bluff on the other side of the road from our cottage. The white sand is already warm, we discard our shoes and walk the shoreline. Lake Michigan’s sparkling water is still frigid, we take turns walking from water to sand. The water is so clear you can perfectly see rocks nestled into the bottom, looking out, the water changes shades from clear to turquoise to deep blue. Pleasure boats  skip across the waves, beach combers are preoccupied looking for the coveted Petoskey stone, paddleboarders head out into the lake. Sunbathers are already set up as we walk out to the boardwalk, the South Pier Lighthouse is owned by the city of Charlevoix, restoration has been ongoing, the Coast Guard still operates the light. From here we have a spectacular view of the lake and our surroundings, far to the left is the cement plant, to the right a fancy boat follows the Pine River into Round Lake; it’s staggeringly beautiful here.

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Next we amble towards town, we make a stop at the Charlevoix Historical Museum inside the Harsha House on State Street. This splendid Victorian home was built by Charlevoix businessman Horace Harsha, his daughter Irene married Earl Young. The house is decorated in high Victorian style, bright-colored, patterned wallpaper covers the walls, doilies are everywhere. There are 3 period rooms filled with graceful, decorative items, exquisite fireplaces, artwork created by local artists and pianos. The next section concentrates on the settlement of Charlevoix from the 1850’s through the 1880’s; we learn what life was like in this tiny lake town; the kind of businesses that were here, the modes of transportation. They have a working player piano, a huge safe from the Charlevoix Lumber Company and an Edison Gem phonograph, I especially like the weathered wood fish market sign, Kris is fascinated by the historic photos. The gift shop offers a nice selection of Charlevoix-esque things including books on Earl Young and his mushroom houses.

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In town we park on Bridge Street in the snug, 4-block business district. We make a beeline to That French Place, a quaint little creperie and ice cream shop to get a quick lunch. Studying the pastries in the glass case our hunger is apparent. We order at the counter from a chalkboard menu and grab the remaining table in the front window. Moments later our crepes arrive in cardboard crepe cones just like you would get on the street in Paris. The ham, egg and cheese is served in a buckwheat crepe, it’s delicious, the butter and sugar crepe— ok, butter and sugar folded up in a delicate crepe wrap, tres bon! This is a nice change from the standard menu offerings in town.

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Now we can take our time walking both sides of the street, we wander in and out of galleries, clothing boutiques home goods stores, shops selling Michigan themed items housed in cute storefronts. We grab an iced coffee from a corner bakery, fill a bag with dozens of different flavored taffy from The Taffy Barrel. Gourmet food shops such as Kilwin’s, American Spoon, Murdick’s Fudge and Cherry Republic are Michigan staples, I can’t resist stopping in no matter how many times I’ve been. The streetscape is so pretty; beautiful blue water, miles of Petunias and the drawbridge that opens every half hour. The year-round population of Charlevoix hovers around 3,000, that number swells dramatically in the summer months. This small town offers big-city conveniences such as a municipal airport, marina, skate park, farmers market, performance pavillion and waterfront parks. And one of the most beautiful natural harbors in the country.

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After eating and shopping we take a field trip a little south off M-66 to Castle Farms. I really didn’t know much about Castle Farms until I read a few things once we had our trip planned; intrigued by the story and photos we put it on our list of things to see while we’re here.The farm was built in 1918 by Albert Loeb, the acting president of Sears and Roebuck at the time. Loeb was fond of the stone barns and castles found in Normandy France, he decided to build his own French-inspired model dairy farm right here in Charlevoix. The farm was home to over 200 head of prize-winning Holstein-Friesian and 13 pair of Belgian draft horses. At one time the farm employed over 90 people and was the largest employer in the city; surrounding residents would come to the farm to buy milk, cheese and ice cream. Loeb would try out new farming equipment here to decide if Sears should sell it. It must have been quite a sight back in those days, all those cattle roaming around the castle…

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From the 1970’s to the 1990’s the property became a music theater and summer concert venue: Castle Farms Summer Music Theater. Rock was the main genre, big names like Alice Cooper, Ozzy Osbourne, Billy Idol, Stevie Nicks, Cheap Trick, Peter Frampton and Def Leppard all played here. Maybe you saw a concert here. In 2001 Linda Mueller purchased the property and began an extensive renovation of the property and buildings. What had been removed was rebuilt, what was here was restored, one of the largest model railroad layouts in Michigan was added in 2008. Today it’s a unique, lovely, wedding and event destination. Let’s go for a walk…

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We meander in and out of gorgeous stone buildings alongside  gardens organized by theme, a rose garden and a formal garden.  We get our first look at the model railroad, wow! G-Scale trains run on seven levels through tunnels, over bridges through hedges and past waterfalls. There are more than 60 trains that glide past little buildings, water towers, animals and people. An observation tower overlooks the railroad giving us a great view, guess what? Tracks line the inside of the tower, trains chug by making their way to the top.

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We traverse the grounds stepping into the Round Office with historic photos and blueprints of the farm, the Octagonal building was once used as an ice house. The Carriage Hall originally had open sides, it was used to house the Loeb’s wagons, carriages and cars. Two antique vehicles are on display along with showcases filled with toys from 1860 through the present. Each building houses one of the owners many collections such as glass, toys, royal commemorative pieces honoring royal families from around the world, wedding cake toppers, you get the idea. The original blacksmith shop is now the 1918 Museum featuring WWI memorabilia and items from the 1918 Sears catalog. Shelves of items such as toys, trains, hats, boots, plates and tools are displayed next to the actual catalog page description. WWI uniforms and posters are treasured collections of the owner.

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One space after another offers an elegant, opulent, dazzling space to hold a wedding or special event. Some such as the Great Hall have soaring wood-beam ceilings, stone walls, wrought iron chandeliers; the King’s Balcony overlooks the grounds. Each space is a little different in size and decor but all are awe-inspiring. Four towers were originally built as silos, original glazed tiles still line the silo walls; there’s a nice blend of old and new. Speaking of new, Norm the dragon found a home here in 2013 after being purchased in 2012 at ArtPrize, now he has his very own garden. We say good-bye to Norm, watch the ducks in the reflecting pond then make our way back to our cottage. We’re back at the beach in time to watch the sunset, what a magnificent one it is. Goodnight.

PORT HURON: I Saw the Light…..

14 Jul

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After a long, cold, winter we have consistently been rewarded with warm, sunny weekends. To us, summer = water; fortunately, living in southeastern Michigan, Lake Huron is just a short drive away. Today we are taking the scenic route, M-25, along Lake St Clair, around Anchor Bay then hugging the shoreline of the St Clair River, gorgeous! The ride itself is a treat, but we have more planned once we reach Port Huron. The city itself is the eastern most point in Michigan, it is also the eastern terminus of both I-69 and I-94. In the 1850’s the town was hopping because of the successful lumber trade and ship building, which in turn resulted in a picturesque downtown; Victorian style brick buildings line Huron Ave. In 1890 the world’s first international under-water tunnel was built here under the St. Clair River to connect the US and Canada, pretty fascinating stuff!

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The city is also home to the first lighthouse established in the state of Michigan: the Fort Gratiot Light Station. Built in 1829, it is the second-oldest lighthouse on the Great Lakes after Marblehead. Just north of the Blue Water Bridge, it resides on five acres that also include a lighthouse keeper’s duplex, fog signal building, crew quarters, former coast guard station and equipment building. In 2008, the Coast Guard closed the building to tours due to disrepair. Lucky for us the complex was transferred from the US Coast Guard to St Clair County Parks; with lots of money and hard work, restoration was completed in 2012, the building was once again opened to the public. We are here today to take a tour; we purchase our tickets in the gift shop, it is just the two of us so we get our own private tour, cool. Walking through the grounds there is much work going on, projects near completion as money allows. Our first stop is the fog signal building; a fresh coat of white paint covers the door and windows, the buildings are matching in red brick. Inside, our guide tells us a bit of history before moving on to the duplex building. Groups of 20 or more can stay overnight here; a friend of mine recently did a sleep over with her daughter’s Girl Scout troop. Tables and benches fill the main floor, pictures and newspaper articles hang on the walls, rows of bunk beds fill the upstairs space.

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On to the main attraction……This lighthouse actually replaced an earlier one destroyed by a storm; built of red brick and painted white, the 84 foot tower is newly bricked, it’s beautiful. The old circular cast iron stairway is very narrow, be careful as you make your way to the top, it’s kind of creepy/cool. We pass a few random windows on the way up, I can’t wait to see the view from the top. Emerging from the stairwell we walk through the doorway out into the open; a slender observation balcony rings the tower, the big lake is stunning! A sandy beach gives way to turquoise blue water, the deeper the water, the darker the shade of blue, straight across, apartment buildings rise from the shore in Sarnia. To the left, Lake Huron opens up as far as the eye can see, to the right sits the new Coast Guard Station, further on, the double span of the Blue Water Bridge and the entrance to the St. Clair River. The wind is gusty but it feels wonderful. Kris makes his way around the tower taking pictures; you get a complete lay of the land from this height, he even gets a pic of the light itself which was automated in 1933.

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We are having lunch at Fuel Woodfire Grill in downtown Port Huron. Housed in a building more than a century old, the restaurant serves Texas-style BBQ. The tin ceiling, brick and mortar are original, the hardwood floors have been restored. Decorated with vintage artwork of old fuel pumps and service stations, the place has a comfy, casual feel. The menu is full of things you’d expect to find like brisket, ribs and pulled chicken, they also serve up wonderful salads with house-made dressings, steaks and seafood…….did I mention their wide selection of craft beer? I am having a limited edition beer from a Michigan brewery, Kris takes a long pull and we decide to order another. The mixed green salad arrives, the honey white balsamic vinaigrette is delicious. Our server brings the entrée, sides and an extra plate, we taste as we divvy everything up. The brisket is outstanding as is the pulled pork, the jalapeno mac and cheese is excellent, it has a nice kick without being too hot. For the other side we took the sweet potato tots, oh yeah, shredded sweet potatoes with cinnamon, shaped into crunchy tater tots and deep-fried, they’re really good! 

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Good things are starting to happen in Port Huron; new restaurants are opening, a hotel is coming to the old Sperry’s department store space, things seem to be moving towards a more tourist-friendly destination, that’s great! Hey, they even have two places to get coffee, the Raven and The Exquisite Corpse, which is where we are going. Located at the other end of downtown in the Desmond District, the Exquisite Corpse and Gold Rodent Gallery share a space in a lovely historic building. The owner, an artist herself, has done an amazing job transforming the shop. Through the front door hardwood floors gleam, cozy seating areas combine with an extra-large table connecting the two spaces. Original artwork hangs on the wall, works are creatively displayed; we recognize some of the pieces from studios and galleries in Detroit. We walk through to the back and order coffee at the counter, this area also has its own entrance on the side of the building. Taking a seat at the big table we drink our coffee and nibble on chocolate covered coffee beans as we chat with the barista. The day has given us the illusion of being much further away than we actually are. Next time you want that Up North experience without the drive, give Port Huron a try.

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