Tag Archives: Port Huron MI

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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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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