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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.