Tag Archives: Historical Museum

MONROE: Looking Back

9 Dec

monroe 116 (1)

Today we find ourselves in the historic town of Monroe MI. Located about 25 miles south of Detroit, 14 miles north of Toledo, the city is best known for the Battle of the River Raisin in the War of 1812. It’s also the boyhood home of Civil War hero Gen. George Armstrong Custer. Other famous natives include Christie Brinkley (born here in 1954), Valerie Harper, Paul W Smith of WJR and Kaye Lani Rae Rafko, Miss America 1988. La-Z-Boy and Monroe Shocks and Struts started here and remain here today. Kris and I find the best way to get a feel for a city is by visiting the local history museum, let’s go.

monroe 070 (1)

monroe 067 (2)

monroe 007 (1)

The Monroe County Historical Museum is housed in the former Post Office, this stately building was built in 1913 on the old homestead of Maj General George A Custer. We use the back entrance, the first thing we see is the Monroe Shock Absorber display. A large case is filled with advertisements, endorsements, memorabilia and promotional items. A detailed timeline takes us through the history of the company and the men who started it; Monroe products are included in the collection. The main space is one large room with exhibits that line the walls. We learn about Fred J Routledge, marksman and inventor who designed and developed the “Mo-Skeet-O” backyard trap shooting system. You can check out the Trap Thrower, Hand Trap Thrower and a Remington-Routledge Shotgun. In addition to manufacturing Mo-Skeet-O components, Routledge specialized in choke-bore for small-caliber shotguns.

monroe 005 (1)

monroe 057 (1)monroe 040 (1)

monroe 019 (1)

The museum is in the process of decorating for Christmas, pretty trees draped in garland are seen throughout the space. A lovely mural “Romance of Monroe” hangs high on a wall, it was painted as part of the PWA project for the post office back in 1938, good to see they kept it. Framed maps of Monroe from the 1800’s fill a small hallway. We take the elevator to the second floor, we are greeted by numerous Christmas trees, the atmosphere is festive. This level is dedicated to The Custers, one of the largest public exhibitions of Custer artifacts. It begins with the romance of George and Libbie (Elizabeth) and follows their life, George’s national fame during the Civil War, his death and Libbie’s crusade to his lasting legacy.

monroe 030 (1)

monroe 020 (1)monroe 022 (1)

monroe 037 (1)

There are many personal items like their family bible, photos, furniture and mementos. We see George’s letters, uniforms, boots and medals; we follow his momentous occasions to Custer’s last fight. Libbie was responsible for getting the statue of her husband designed by sculptor Edward Potter, dedicated by President Taft in 1910 erected in Monroe; be sure and see it when you’re in town. We loop around, ending up back on the first floor at the La-Z-Boy exhibit, love the cool recliners on display. Kaye Lani Rae Rafko has her own little section; photos document her life from baby to beauty queen, they even have her crown. In the 1940’s the Port of Monroe steamship took passengers from Monroe to Put-In-Bay Island Park, they have some great posters and trinkets from back in the day.

monroe 045 (1)

monroe 041 (1)

monroe 055 (1)

To complete our Monroe history lesson we drive over to the National Park Service River Raisin National Battlefield Park. Here’s the description from the website: “River Raisin National Battlefield Park preserves, commemorates, and interprets the January 1813 battles of the War of 1812 and their aftermath in Monroe and Wayne counties in SE Michigan. The Battle resulted in the greatest victory for Tecumseh’s American Indian confederation and the greatest defeat for the U.S. The resulting rally cry “Remember the Raisin” spurred support for the rest of the war.” We start in the visitors center, here exhibits, maps, military items and recreations tell the story of the battle that ensued just outside the door.

monroe 077 (1)

monroe 079 (1)

monroe 084 (1)

The British had taken Detroit, there were two battles at this location to retake the city, both were bloody defeats. The event that spurred the rallying cry “Remember The Raisin” happened January 23, 1813, the day after the battles of Frenchtown (Monroe) that resulted 387 Americans killed, 500 taken prisoner. After sunrise the killing and scalping of Americans resumed; Native Americans killed 30-60 American wounded prisoners as a means of revenge. It is at this point US strategy shifts from a land war to a naval war; if you remember your American history you’ll recall US Adm Perry defeated the British fleet on Lake Erie, a turning point in the war. Outside we follow a paved pathway that leads from one historic marker to another, each gives us a description of what took place on this spot; infantry campsite, battles, skirmish line, reading them gives me the chills as the information sinks in. Learning about it in school is one thing, but standing here, looking around, makes a deep impression. 

monroe 096 (1)

monroe 087 (1)

We’re cold and we’re hungry, we head over to Public House on Monroe Street. If the building looks vaguely familiar it’s probably because this used to be a Big Boy, that’s where the similarity ends. The restaurant is a regular stop for us anytime we’re on our way back north from a southern MI or out-of-state adventure. We’re seated in a booth in the comfortable dining room, we briefly scan the menu, we’ve made up our mind on the ride over. The service is always friendly, our glasses never empty. Without delay our food arrives; the Southwest Hash is a mix of potato, green pepper, onion, and chorizo topped with 2 over-easy eggs and a side of wheat toast. The flavor combination is outstanding, the eggs perfectly cooked, I love this dish. We’re also having the Banana Caramel Nut waffles; tasty silver dollar size Belgian waffles smothered in caramel sauce and bananas, sprinkled with walnuts, so, delicious! The sweet a nice contrast to the savory dish. The menu covers Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner; everything is made in house from soups and salad dressings to desserts, they have a nice wine list and serve  Interurban Ale from Arbor Brewing Co. Check it out next time you’re in the area. We’ve just had a sampling of what Monroe has to offer, there’s so much more to explore, we’ll be back.

monroe 103 (1)

monroe 097 (1)

Haven Hill

7 Sep

Haven Hill 098 (1)

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.

Haven Hill 008 (1)

Haven Hill 013 (1)

Haven Hill 012 (1)

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.

Haven Hill 023 (1)

Haven Hill 016 (1)

Haven Hill 026 (1)

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.

Haven Hill 074 (1)

Haven Hill 067 (1)

Haven Hill 066 (1)Haven Hill 061 (1)

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.

Haven Hill 055 (1)

Haven Hill 039 (1)

Haven Hill 035 (1)

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.

Haven Hill 057 (1)

Haven Hill 046 (1)

Haven Hill 048 (1)

Haven Hill 085 (1)

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.

Haven Hill 093 (1)

Haven Hill 101 (1)Haven Hill 089 (1)

Haven Hill 100 (1)

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. 

Haven Hill 107 (1)

Haven Hill 110 (2)

Haven Hill 114 (1)

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. 

Haven Hill 128 (1)

Haven Hill 119 (1)

Haven Hill 131 (1)

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.

Haven Hill 151 (1)

Haven Hill 150 (1)Haven Hill 140 (1)

Haven Hill 145 (1)

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.

Haven Hill 138 (1)

Haven Hill 136 (2)Haven Hill 133 (1)

Haven Hill 134 (1)

HAMTRAMCK: Food Week Fun !

6 Nov

hamtown 088

 From goods and services to the food we eat, these days we are all being encouraged to “Buy Local”.  Cities big and small are making it easier to do just that! Hamtramck recently hosted their very own Food Week, home to many affordable and diverse restaurants, the food scene in Hamtramck is flourishing. Nikita Santches of Rock City Pies, has just opened a full service restaurant on Joseph Campau called, what else, Rock City Eatery. Not to worry, in addition to lunch and dinner, he is still making his incredible selection of outstanding pies. The eatery has taken over the old Maria’s Comida space, completely redone, we hardly recognized the interior; dark floor, particle board wall, silver ceiling, crystal chandelier and a poster of Iggy Pop, the place has a casual, hip vibe. Serving plates are vintage and mismatched, as are the tables and chairs.  Our waiter arrives with mason jars, a bottle of water and menus, reading over the selections, it’s hard to decide–everything sounds appealing. I was surprised to learn they also have a liquor licence, we ordered a cocktail to go with our sandwich. Before we know it our Un-Kosher Brisket sandwich arrives; tender braised brisket, apricot schmear, melted Gruyère and Manischewitz onions, so tasty and delicious, served with a side of yummy potato salad, it really hit the spot. It is impossible to resist a piece of Rock City’s Butterscotch Bourbon Pecan Pie, so just give in and enjoy, it’s wonderful!

hamtown 015hamtown 003

hamtown 011

With time before our tour of Hamtown Farms, we stop in at the Hamtramck Historical Museum down Joseph Campau a little way. In its early stages, exhibits currently fill the front area only. Photos, memorabilia, antiques and more reveal Hamtramck’s rich history. Located next to the Polish Art Center, the 8,000 sq ft space was formerly the city’s first department store. Maps date back to 1874, a clock from Max’s Jewelry Co. hangs on a wall, if you’ve never seen a real prohibition-era ‘still’, here’s your chance. Large pieces such as a 1925 hand crank phonograph, a wringer and antique stove take us back in time. Dodge Main drew thousands to the area, changing the face of the city. Trunks, trophies and uniforms add a personal touch, new displays are being added all the time. Open Saturday and Sunday, admission is free, come check it out.

hamtown 021

hamtown 029

hamtown 031

In its second year, volunteer run Hamtown Farms resides on nine vacant parcels of land on Lumpkin near Holbrook. Here we find a small orchard and working farm; raised beds are brimming with vegetable plants, young Paw Paw, Cherry and Pear trees have yet to bear fruit. A large group of people have gathered for the short tour and history of the farm. Our guide, Michael explains how after years of picking up trash, disposing of old tires and mowing the vacant land the community came together to create this welcome green space. Walking through the grassy area Michael points out a Paw Paw Tree, the fruit of the tree is said to taste like a mix of mango and banana, they are looking towards the future when the Paw Paws on site will provide fruit for the community. Raised beds line a gravel area, some are private, belonging to residents, others are for community picking; plants are heavy with ripe, red tomatoes, Swiss chard is tall  and colorful, cornstalks have a few remaining ears. A long row of sunflowers is eye-catching, petals range from pale to deep yellow to copper, all with fuzzy looking brown centers. Hamtown Farms is currently in negotiations with Hamtramck’s Emergency Financial Manager to permanently acquire the parcels, looks like it may be a tough fight. I encourage you to go to their website and read more about it. 

hamtown 035

hamtown 058

hamtown 071hamtown 037

Back on Jos Campau the pop-up Biergarten is just getting underway in the empty lot next to Lo & Behold. We drop into the shop to see what’s new, owner Richie Wohlfeil has assembled an eclectic array of items for sale. A section of the left wall is covered with old 45’s, next to that, milk crates stacked 5 high hold more items, cardboard cut-outs of Space Invaders hang from the ceiling, handmade shelves support rows of vintage books. You’ll find mid-century furniture, sheet music, art work, movie posters and cool old clothes, but mostly you’ll find old records; Johnny Cash, Sarah Vaughn, The Kingsmen, oldies, rock-n-roll and of course Jazz. It’s a great shop to come wander through or catch a live performance of a local band.

hamtown 101

hamtown 105

hamtown 100hamtown 103

We exit the store and find the Biergarten up and running, patrons hold plastic cups filled with beer from local breweries. Tables are large wooden spools turned on their sides, votive candles are at the ready when darkness comes. We order at the make-shift bar, the bartender tells us she is a Hamtramck resident and gushes with fondness for the city. More and more folks in their 20’s and 30’s are making the city their home. With such a diverse food culture, more restaurants and a new coffee shop on the way, affordable housing and a renewed energy, I can see why!

hamtown 121

Grosse Ile

9 Nov

bbbb 250

Residing in the south end of the Detroit River with Michigan to the west and Ontario Canada to the east is Grosse Ile. Purchased in 1776 by William and Alexander Macomb from the Potawatomi Indians it seems the island is relatively unknown to the general masses, I’m guessing the current population of just over 10,000 people prefer it that way. Grosse lle is one of those places we love to take a drive to from time to time; from West Jefferson Ave pay your $2.00 and cross over the toll bridge that has welcomed folks to the island since 1913. As soon as you are on the island you will notice life takes on a slower pace here; made up mostly of residential and open spaces Macomb Street is the only district zoned for business and where residents go to shop, gather, eat and visit the Post Office.

bbbb 374

bbbb 365

bbbb 363
                                                                                                               Sunday was another gorgeous Autumn day, perfect for a drive to and around the island. Coming across the bridge we noticed dozens of swans taking in the sunshine. Off the toll bridge we made a right turn and followed scenic West River Drive along the shoreline. It’s hard to decide what direction to look; on one side is the beautiful blue water and what remains of the last bit of fall foliage, on the other side are lovely homes, some of which have been enjoying this panorama since the 1800’s. We made a left on Groh to head to the other side of the island but were distracted by a sign that read “Alpaca’s”. Located at the NE end of the Grosse Ile Municipal Airport is the Gibraltar Bay Alpaca Farm. I’m never one to turn down an opportunity to visit with animals, so Kris pulled into the parking lot and we went to check it out. The extremely friendly owner greeted us at the gate and asked if we’d like to see the Alpaca’s, we said yes, he led the way. He took over from the original owner 12 years ago and has a visible fondness for these animals. Some are his, some are boarded there; each one has a name and it’s own distinct personality. We started with the boys, boys and girls are kept apart and each have a large area in which to graze and roam. As we got closer to the gate a few curious Alpacas came over to see what we were all about; these animals are striking, large eyes surrounded by long lashes give them a gentle appearance, they are mild mannered and these boys in particular seemed to enjoy the attention from us humans. Next it was over to the girls section. The girls were a little more nonchalant, they would look over at us, some would walk towards us, and then go back to what they were doing. They are sheared on the farm by the owner, he gives each one a little different look that fits their character; it’s easy to pick out the glamour girls! There were a few youngsters running around, they are a bit more apprehensive, and just adorable. What a cool experience just to be there among these docile creatures. Don’t leave without visiting the gift shop, there is some wonderful Alpaca merchandise for sale. The farm is open daily from 10am to 5pm and is definitely worth seeing.

3

bbbb 279

bbbb 289

We continued east on Groh to East River and made a left, this is where many of the elite built homes for Summer or year-round living. One of my favorites is the Victorian Wedding Cake House, located on East River between Parkway and Macomb, you can’t miss it… it’s stunning! The architectural styles vary from the very old to the very modern, somehow each looking like that’s exactly where they belong. Whatever your taste, I’m sure you’ll find something that appeals to you. If you look closely you can catch a view of the Detroit skyline in the distance. The people who built and lived here combine to create an amazing history of the island.

bbbb 349

bbbb 334

bbbb 347

bbbb 316

bbbb 337

Next stop the Grosse Ile Historical Museum; housed in the former Michigan Central Grosse Isle Depot building this tiny museum retains it’s historical charm inside and out. Since 1969 pertinent items reflecting life on the island have been stored and displayed here, it’s kind of like visiting your grandparents or great aunt. Take a little time to really look around, volunteers are happy to answer your questions and even make suggestions as to what to see while on the island. I always enjoy a little local museum, it makes me feel as if I know a place a little better for having stopped in.

bbbb 296

bbbb 297

bbbb 299

The day was flying by and we were past due for lunch, the business district was mostly closed down on a Sunday so we drove back over to West River to eat at Sharky’s Tavern. Located south of the free bridge, it’s across the road from the river and the closest thing to riverfront dining you’ll get. The casual restaurant seems to be a meeting place for locals to hang out, have a few beers and catch up. The menu has a nice selection of salads, sandwiches, and their famous Walleye Chowder. It was too nice a day to order soup, it somehow puts me in the mind of cold weather. We actually thought it was nice enough to eat out on the patio, but being November it was closed for the season. We ordered typical lunch fare; a club sandwich and the Traverse City salad. There’s something so appealing about a club sandwich, and this one was good, just the right amount of everything, and perfectly cooked crisp bacon. Our waitress couldn’t have been nicer and the service was great. Before returning home, we took one more lap around, soaking up the picture-perfect views. Grosse Ile, an island getaway just a half hour south of The D!

bbbb 360