Tag Archives: Pure Michigan

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.

LANSING: Old Town & More

14 Jul

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We are in Michigan’s capital city, Lansing, interestingly enough, Detroit was originally the capital of Michigan. Due to concerns over Detroit’s location, such as its proximity to Canada and the desire for a more central location, Lansing became the capital in 1847. The city became an industrial hub with the founding of Olds Motor Vehicles in 1897; factories produced auto bodies, wheels and parts, Lansing produced Oldsmobiles until 2004. The city also manufactured plows and other agricultural tools; the Lower Village Town, now called Old Town specialized in making these tools, the oldest of Lansing’s villages, the first home in was built here in 1843. Factories closed, jobs disappeared, beautiful Victorian buildings were abandoned,Old Town fell on hard times. As is the case with many urban areas across the country these days, new life has reclaimed this charming district, turning it into a destination with public art, eateries, boutiques and galleries. Let’s look around.

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We park on Turner, fancy gold lettering fills a windowpane advertising the Creole Coffee Company, inside, diners scoop up forkfuls of shrimp and grits, biscuits and gravy, eggs benedict. We approach the counter, order two cold brew coffees to go and check out the space while we wait. Vintage signs hang on exposed brick walls, antique-looking lighting illuminates the dining area. This restaurant is part of the Potent Potables Project, a group of 3 men changing the face of dining in Lansing. This establishment serves breakfast and lunch daily from 8 am – 2 pm, oh, and the coffee rocks. Walking to the end of the block we notice murals and sculptures, at the corner we make a left on Grand River.

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Up a ways at N. Cedar is Preuss Pets, the coolest pet shop we’ve ever been to and always worth a visit. The 22,000 sq. ft. building is jam-packed with gerbils, ferrets, guinea pigs, reptiles, fish and birds. Displays are creative like the lime green, blue and orange school bus with the frog at the wheel or the red convertible atop the aquarium supplies. I look around from cage to cage, the gerbil is taking a break from running on his wheel to get a drink, little brown bunnies are taking a nap. The fish section is huge, colorful fresh and saltwater fish glide through the water, each aquarium is unique, you can buy live coral, the shapes and colors are amazing. A small parrot is doing gymnastics on his perch, canaries sing songs, a cockatoo greets me with a ‘hello’, I bid him farewell and we’re off. The Old Town General Store is filled with Michigan goodies from beer and wine to gourmet food and merchandise. Metro Retro is a collection of funky items both new and vintage, the old Glamour magazine covers made into wall hangings are neat-o. 

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Architecture is purely Victorian, lovely buildings with ornate brick and trim make up the streetscape, hanging planters overflow with petunias that perfume the air, banners give a shout out to Old Town. We make a left at the Brenke Fish Ladder, built in 1981 it allows fish swimming up the Grand River to bypass the dam. The river is also a popular spot for fishing, catfish, carp and sunfish all call the river home. The Lansing River Trail invites pedestrians to stroll alongside the mighty Grand, Michigan’s longest river; looks like the turtles are sunbathing today.

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Back on Turner we head to Meat BBQ for a late lunch. Seated on the patio we sip on cold soft drinks under the afternoon sun, a large platter of nachos arrives: tortilla chips bear the weight of pulled pork, bacon, brisket, bbq sauce, cheese, onion, tomato, jalapeno, avocado and a drizzle of sour cream, Dee-licious! Though the nachos really would have been enough we added on sides of blue cheese potato salad, yum, and sweet and spicy cole slaw, good. The bar at The Creole is open and it’s Happy Hour. The restaurant doesn’t open until 5 pm, so we have the place to ourselves. Kris orders an Old Fashion, it’s the French 75 (champagne, lemon, gin) for me. We nurse our cocktails in the charming, air-conditioned, New Orleans-like space; the bartender tells us about the building which is over 100 years old. The Creole takes up the other side of the Creole Coffee Company and is also under the Potent Potables group. The lease actually states the walls cannot be changed, they are the work of former Creole Gallery owner Robert Busby, love that! We talk about Old Town, Detroit, food, craft cocktails and the Detroit City FC, a good time was had by all…..

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Next we pop in and out of independent shops that line the district; Craig Mitchell Smith has a beautiful array of glass art pieces, we walk through to Bradley’s Home and Garden with its modern furnishings, Lead Head Glass terrariums, Tessino jewelry and Lori Mitchell figures. October Moon is a great gift shop with a little bit of everything; specialty food items, linens, dishes, handbags and unique cards. Lamb’s Gate Antiques is filled with a wide variety of cool pieces; lamps, dishes, collectibles, furniture, toys– I like the sweet old ceramic figurines.  We have come full circle, the Jeep awaits.

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Our last stop for the day is the WJ Beal Botanical Garden on the grounds of MSU in East Lansing. Founded in 1873 I read that this is the oldest, continuously operated, university  garden in the country. Prof. Beal established the garden as an outdoor teaching and research laboratory. We are on campus following W Circle Dr, we park near the library, Beaumont Tower looms in the distance. Walking past the fountain we come to the entrance of the garden, the metal gate and surrounding fence look straight out of a fairy tale. A pergola offers shade to visitors and plants alike, benches invite passing pedestrians to sit for a while. Grassy paths run between garden beds, plants are planted in collections of economic, systematic, landscape and ecological groupings–I honestly don’t know what any of that means, but they sure are pretty to look at!

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Familiar flowers like Phlox, Bee Balm, Cosmos, Allium, Foxglove are in full bloom, a leafy shrub is covered in small, white flower balls, bees are busy at work collecting pollen, the butterflies are crazy about them too. Flowers vary from spikes and individual clusters to cone-shaped and narrow-petals; all stages are represented from bud to finished bloom. A mirror-like pond reflects the attractive surroundings, dappled sunlight reaches through trees onto the well-maintained lawn. We spy a bunny in the shade having an afternoon snack, a butterfly reading a plant label, daylillies in assorted colors and a gazebo offering us a panoramic view of the grounds; a peaceful respite tucked away in the big city. We’re keeping our eye on Lansing, so much happening in Old Town, businesses are starting to get a foothold in the new R E O Town district too, we’ll keep you updated.

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MICHIGAN: Coasting…..

24 Jun

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It’s our last full day up north, we’ve got things to do! We pack up the Jeep with beach towels, food, cold drinks and head toward Sturgeon Bay.  After a picnic lunch we cruise through tunnel of trees on our way to Harbor Springs; we park by the water then explore the quaint little town on foot. More than a century old, this waterfront community was once a thriving port-of-call for steam ferries and passenger ships carrying people from Detroit and Chicago to Little Traverse Bay. At one time a lumber mill, gristmill and toothpick factory took up real estate at the head of the harbor. Today beautiful historic structures grace the community, people come from all over to enjoy swimming, sandy beaches, boating, fishing and golfing.

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The downtown business district follows the course of the bay, boutiques, bakeries, restaurants and galleries fill cute little storefronts. We meander in and out of shops selling designer fashions, glassware, cookware, artful pieces and home goods. The whimsical entrance at Boyer Glassworks draws us inside, a bevy of colorful glass pumpkins in orange, purple and blue fill gallery shelves. At Knox Gallery beautiful paintings line the walls, most impressive are the life-sized, phenomenally detailed bronze works. In the outdoor sculpture garden, bronze children hold hands and laugh, I really like the donkey, kinetic sculptures are active. We grab a cookie at Tom’s Mom’s Cookies on Spring Street, yum! Houses with roomy porches rest on hills, a red-brick church is adorned with Gothic windows, the hexagonal-shaped house was built in 1890 by Ephraim Shay–the guy who invented the Shay locomotive, the most widely used geared steam locomotive, the old Bar Harbor neon sign is cool. The view of Little Traverse Bay is exceptional, the water a deep blue today; we watch a sailboat glide past.

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Going south on M 119 we then turn west on 31, Stafford’s Bay View Inn is our landmark, making a left on Encampment, we are now in Bay View. Founded in 1875 the Bay View Association of the United Methodist Church  is nestled into 337 terraced acres featuring more than 30 public buildings, nearly 450 cottages and 2 inns that have been in operation since the early 1900’s. Originally formed as part of the Methodist Camp Meeting movement, it is now part of the Chautauqua movement. Educational programs of lectures and music began in 1886, in time programs for children and classes were added. By the late 1800’s Bay View Association had a Chautauqua series summer university attracting tens of thousands of visitors to the “intellectual and scientific culture and the promotion of the cause of religion and morality.” During this time the early “tent city” was transformed into the lovely Victorian resort community you see today.

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The best way to experience Bay View is to stroll the shady, tree-lined lanes, taking in gingerbread laden cottages finished with crisp white trim, screen doors and lacy curtains. Each cottage is a different color; sunflower yellow, navy blue, white, grey. Rocking chairs and wicker furniture fill expansive porches, baskets of flowers hang from fancy trim, red geraniums fill a flower box. A sky blue beauty literally matches the sky today, the third floor of the turret is open to the outdoors, the view must be spectacular. Grand cottages are reached by concrete steps built into the hill, fish scale siding, ornate railings and gobs of spindles adorn the residences. Leaseholders are here from May through October, the community is closed November through April and the cottages must be vacated.

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Our walk continues, we pause at the Happiness Is….. cottage decked out in bright yellow, orange and green, just looking at it really does make you happy. American, state and college flags shift in the breeze, many cottages are in the hands of third and fourth generations of a family. We come to the cottage I consider the Queen of all the Victorians, you can see it from 31, it’s this rambling, gorgeous, burgundy and cream doll house plastered with fine Victorian details, the wrap around porch is stunning. In the campus area all is quiet at Evelyn Hall and the John M Hall auditorium. A small group of tuxedo and gown wearing teenagers have gathered at the Terrace Inn. The front doors are open, we follow the trail of concrete stairs to the lobby, tonight is the local prom, it’s being held in the 1911 restaurant inside the Inn. The room is magnificent; the wooden floor gleams, columns are wrapped in white lights, wooden beams criss cross the ceiling, crystal chandeliers glow, they’re going to have a wonderful time.

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Although the Bay View Association is only open to Christians, all of the programs are open to the public including the nationally renowned Music Festival which has been running for over 100 years. You are welcome to attend Sunday morning worship services, weekday religion and life lectures and musical performances.  There’s a real sense of tranquility here, folks work in their garden, sit in a comfy chair drinking lemonade, everybody waves or says hello. The view of the bay is stunning. It’s exactly the way I imagine summers were a century ago.

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A little further west is Bay Harbor. For more than 100 years, a cement plant and mining operations filled over 1,200 acres and 5 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline; industry left leaving a no-mans land of vacant, scarred property some described as a moonscape on Little Traverse Bay. In 1993 David V Johnson began the task of turning this forgotten land into one of the most luxurious residential communities in existence, it became the largest land reclamation project in North america. You’d never imagine it to be anything other than the extraordinary, year-round resort we see today. The greater community is made up of low-density neighborhoods, nature preserves, a marina, golf course and business district, all on the water’s edge. The Village Hotel offers boutique hotel rooms with a panoramic view of the bay. A small shopping area includes high-end boutiques, eateries and a coffee shop. The water is a deep turquoise, perfectly landscaped homes are carved into the natural setting, it looks like a postcard.

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After a little r & r back in Charlevoix at the Earl Young cottage we are renting, we follow the tribe of sunset worshipers to the beach. I never tire of a Lake Michigan sunset, no two are the same. Sitting on a brick wall we watch as the sun descends, a lone wooden boat passes in the horizon. As the sun drops out of view the sky takes on the warm hues of summer; splendid, dazzling, memorable, as this whole trip has been. We close the night out in town at the Bridge Street Tap Room. Offering 32 taps of Michigan craft beer it takes us a few minutes to decide. Kris is having Short’s Soft Parade and I’m drinking Right Brain CEO Stout. We have fun thinking back over the last few days; the beautiful sights, tasty food and friendly people have made this a trip to remember.

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Marine City: Sweetness OD

10 May

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If you haven’t been to Marine City in a while (or ever) you need to put it on your list of places to visit. This quaint city along the west bank of the St. Clair River has a newly vibrant downtown that includes restaurants, boutiques, antique shops, waterfront parks, a public beach and two live theatres. There’s even a car Ferry that will take you across the river to Sombra, Ontario Canada. Roughly 50 miles northeast of Detroit it’s perfect for a quick escape from the hustle and bustle of the city.

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Today we are seeing a matinée performance of Roald Dahl’s Willy Wonka at the River Bank Theatre, first we’re having lunch at the Marine City Fish Company. We arrive before the theatre rush; the eatery specializes in local fresh fish, house made pasta, house-smoked ribs and smoked salmon. We’ve selected the BLT: house-smoked brown sugar bacon, white cheddar, tomato, greens and  creole mayo on a grilled french roll. The bacon is crisp, the brown sugar and creole seasoning work well together, yum. The smoked salmon salad starts with a generous portion of baby greens, onion, tomato, cucumber, gourmet cheeses and of course, the house-smoked salmon; the cherry vinaigrette is a nice touch. When we’re finished I notice there isn’t an empty seat in the place. There’s still time before the show, let’s go get dessert.

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The Sweet Tooth moved into its new location earlier this year, the larger space allows the chocolates to be made on-site and includes a rentable room for parties. The man behind the chocolate is Marine City’s own Candy Man, Todd May. Todd has transformed the shop into a Wonka wonderland! Candy bars wear Wonka labels straight out of the movie, other Wonka candy varieties are nestled together on a table display. Whirly Pops and Unicorn Horn suckers are a rainbow of colors, big glass jars hold jaw breakers, suckers and gumballs. Big wooden cases display vintage candy signs and retro candy from the 50’s-70’s.

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On the left side of the shop glass cases display handmade chocolates from truffles, barks and clusters to turtles, toffee and pretzels dipped and sprinkled a half-dozen different ways; a dazzling array of bulk bins line the other wall. The Sweet Tooth also sells Michigan’s own Hudsonville Ice Cream, that’s what I’m having, if I can just decide which flavor….. In the meantime Kris decides on toffee and a chocolate dipped Nutter Butter, I order a scoop of Sleeping Bear Dunes Bear Hug in a cup, best decision I’ve made today. Deep chocolate ice cream, thick caramel swirl and chocolate covered cashews, delicious.

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When we’ve finished we walk down Water Street three doors to the River Bank Theatre. Originally the Marine Savings Bank, the brick and stone building was constructed in the early 1900’s. The structure was converted to a theatre seating 179 patrons with tiered and box seating; the vaults and architectural details remain, love that. Wonka has taken over the theatre, framed posters of lickable wallpaper hang in the lobby. Bank vaults are visible, fascinating to be able to look at them up close. Heading to the theatre entrance we’re handed programs and shown to our seats.

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We’re sitting in the last row, we have a wonderful overall view of the space; decorative plaster has been restored, fancy medallions and highly detailed moldings surround the interior. Two staff members from The Sweet Tooth hold old-fashioned cigarette-girl-type-boxes filled with Wonka bars on stage, patrons stand in line for Nestle Crunch, Reese’s and Cookies and Cream bars (wrapped in Wonka labels, of course) in hopes that they might be the lucky recipient of a ‘golden ticket’. Before the show starts winners raise their hand, they each receive a Sweet Tooth gift card.

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The lights dim and the show begins, Willy Wonka emerges from box seating, as he descends the staircase to the stage he sings Pure Imagination and our ride to the Wonka factory begins. The sets are colorful, creative and downright fun, all of our favorite golden ticket winners are here, audience members can’t help sing along to songs ingrained in our memories– The Candy Man, I’ve got a Golden Ticket, I Want It Now, etc. Oh, I can’t forget the Oompa Loompas, elementary-aged children dressed in white overalls, orange-faced, wearing green wigs, singing and dancing—adorable. As all good stories go, they all lived happily ever after. In the wise words of Willy Wonka “If you want to view paradise, simply look around and view it. Anything you want to, do it.” Now get out there and have some fun! 

Along The St. Clair…..

22 Sep

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We are driving up M-29 to the city of Algonac, the water speed capital of the nation. You may not know this but Algonac is the birthplace of America’s supremacy in powerboat racing. The city played a leading role in shipbuilding;  from sailing cargo ships to large pleasure-craft, racing boats and landing craft, including the craft used in the Normandy landing. This is where Chris-Craft was born; in 1927 Chris-Craft was recognized as the world’s largest builder of mahogany-constructed power boats. Between 1921-1932 Christopher Smith (Chris-Craft) and Garfield Wood built 10 Miss America’s in Algonac. Gar Wood established the world water speed record of 124.91 miles per hour in 1932 in the Miss America X.

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Just last summer the Algonac-Clay Historical Society opened a Maritime Museum right on St Clair River Drive in a building donated by Fifth-Third Bank, let’s have a look. The 8,300 sq ft space is loaded with nautically themed displays; several boats are set atop water-like flooring, easels display photos, brochures and newspaper clippings, walls are covered in framed boat designs, photographs and flags. Placards tell the stories of the boats; Winning Ticket was won in a local raffle in 1949–check out the vintage Vernor’s cooler. The Aqua Lady is a cool 19 ft Sports Express Cruiser made by Chris-Craft in 1958 as a kit boat. The inside looks surprisingly roomy; a 2-burner stove, storage and banquettes surrounding a table, pretty cozy! Last Gar is a gorgeous wooden boat with an interesting tale to go with it. Outboard motors, racing boats and a showcase filled with trophies are at our disposal, I learned that Gar Wood won the coveted Harmsworth Trophy 8 times.

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On display is a boat dashboard; covered in gauges, shifters, controls and a steering wheel, visitors take a turns being captain. Further on we find another Chris-Craft Kit Boat, this one built by the Algonac High School shop class, next to it is a boat from 1909, both look brand new! There are model ships, a workbench with tools, more literature and facts on Chris-Craft manufacturing. Engines and replacement parts give us insight on what we cannot see ordinarily, it’s fascinating to be able to see the boats up close, there’s so much detail.

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Outside, we make our way to the riverfront, the 1800 ft long boardwalk offers benches that overlook the lovely blue water. We sit and watch as the City of Algonac ferry transports cars across the St. Clair River to Canada and Walpole Island; pleasure boats zip across the water under the afternoon sun. Time to head north. Back on M-29 we pass the house that Gar Wood once lived in; I like being able to connect the past to the present.

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We are having lunch waterside at Anita’s Riverfront Grille in Marine City. The patio is host to picnic tables with umbrellas that hug a view of the river, colorful flowers and vines topple over the sides of planters, live music is provided by a singer playing guitar. We sip on cold drinks as freighters float downriver, swimsuit-clad boaters skip over the water’s surface in speedboats, smaller boats take a more casual approach, checking out the shoreline as they pass. Our Combo Platter arrives, we waste no time digging in. The wet burrito has a chunky sauce with beans, very tasty, The chicken enchilada and soft taco disappear quickly as does the rice and beans. 

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Today we are visiting the Mariner, a former movie palace built in 1927. The current owner completely restored the building which is now home to the RMS Titanic exhibit and multi-use venue that houses fine models, historical items, antiques and art. A new period marquee welcomes visitors, a 1917 popcorn machine and peanut roaster reside in the lobby area, 46 original 1930’s style mohair theater seats have been installed along with antique light fixtures. The place is pretty amazing. We begin our visit in the galleries; each one displays the finest quality models of automobiles, ships, aircraft and locomotives, the detail is unbelievable. America-themed posters hang on the walls, shelves are lined with books, there’s a jukebox, a transparent clock tower with a bell and a cuckoo clock. Case to case we study miniature war ships, farm equipment, engines and machinery, all are available for purchase. 

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The main attraction, of course, is the exhibit: Titanic – The Building Of An Icon. First a quick review: The Titanic was built at the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast, it was the largest passenger steamship in the world at the time. On April 14, 1912 the Titanic struck an iceberg, broke into 2 pieces and sank in 2 hours and 40 minutes. In 1995 the builders of the Titanic approached Fine Art Models (of Marine City) to build the “builders model” of the Titanic. “One very important fact surrounding this model is that by agreement with Harland and Wolff, this model would never be displayed with the artifacts brought up from the Titanic gravesite. Furthermore, the exhibit of this model would never be seen as an effort to profit from this tragic event.” The model has traveled to museums and charitable events across the United States, raising over $5 million to date for non-profits and charitable organizations.

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The 18 ft, 1500 lb Titanic model is housed in a glass case, it is the centerpiece of the gallery. We walk around looking at actual photos of the interior and exterior of the ship, reading placards, getting our fill of information before really examining the ship. Completed in 2002, it took 7 years to build the model; artisans worked directly with the original builders, using original drawings. The decking is real wood, so is the deck furniture, the entire superstructure is constructed of brass, 3,376,000 rivets (yes, that’s 3 MILLION) are all placed in their correct location, it boggles the mind. Looking at the model it’s easy to imagine the excitement the passengers must have felt boarding this remarkable vessel, I can almost picture well-dressed couples, strolling arm-in-arm on deck. The story of the Titanic has captured the attention of people all over the world for decades, what an incredible opportunity this is to see the legendary ship (in miniature, of course) up close, to take it in, knowing its ultimate fate.

MARSHALL: Cool Old Stuff !

24 Dec

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We are navigating west across the mitten to the charming hamlet of Marshall. Home of the nation’s largest National Historic Landmark Districts, in the Small Urban category, over 850 buildings are included in the landmark; the city has been referred to as “a virtual textbook of 19th century American architecture”, the heart of the Midwest’s “Prettiest Painted Places” and one of America’s “Dozen Distinctive Destinations”, that’s quite a reputation. Money to build such enviable structures came as a result of the Michigan Central Railroad, Patent Medicines Industry and agriculture; did you know Marshall lost out to Lansing as Michigan’s state capital by 1 vote? We have tickets for the 35th Annual Candlelight Walk, there’s plenty of time to explore before then.

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We park on W Michigan Ave, the streetscape is straight out of the 19th Century; buildings are constructed of brick and stone, each one distinct, wires strung from one side of the street to the other support miniature lights and decorative garlands, wreaths hang from light posts; it could be a scene in a Hallmark Christmas movie! At one time 18 general stores lined the main street, 16 of them served liquor by the glass, seems like a good idea to me….. Strolling down Michigan Ave we duck into The Mole Hole, Scott Smith is playing the Barton Theatre Organ, Christmas melodies fill the air, the gift shop is brimming with holiday decorations. Winter villages in showcases resemble Marshall itself, trees are bejeweled with ornaments and lights, snowflakes, candy canes and Santas fill shelves.  Shoppers gather around the organ, it’s fascinating to watch the organist at work; hands fly across the keys, feet pump pedals, resulting in the one of a kind sound that can only come from a pipe organ. A glass pane in the wall allows us to watch the pipes at work. 

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Down the street an old Rexall Drug Store sign piques our interest, a historical plaque informs us that Hemmingsen Rexall Drug Store was founded in 1855 and has provided more than 100 years of continuous service. At another pretty storefront belonging to a dentist, two giant molars are mounted to the facade, we walk into the tiled exterior foyer to look at the old-fashioned dental tools and accessories on display in large windows—my teeth hurt just looking at the stuff! At a little antiques shop, groupings are arranged by color, it’s very eye-catching. Items span the decades from the old metal toy trucks and tractors to the late 70’s, fun!  Serendipity is just the kind of boutique a group of girlfriends would love to shop; gourmet food, original artwork, tea accessories, serving pieces, decorative items, my friends and I could easily fill a few shopping bags. 

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Close by, a trio of blue bar stools are attracting attention in the front window of Amazing Grace, the kind of funky vintage shop Kris and I enjoy investigating. Mannequins are dressed up in interesting attire; clothing, furniture, lighting, accessories, figurines and loads of other unique items are for sale. Up on the second floor we get an up-close look at the stunning tin ceiling, painted white, for some reason it reminds me of a wedding cake. Kitchen items, souvenir pennants, quirky hats, rotary telephones and even a few parasols make this an awesome place to look around. The shopping district enjoys a nice variety of businesses and museums all housed in buildings more than 100 years old, there are 45 historical markers and plaques in the city, preservation has always been a priority in Marshall.

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On the sidewalk ahead a sign advertises the American Museum of Magic, it’s the largest magic museum in the United States open to the public, who knew? The Victorian-style building is gorgeous, inside we pay the $5 admission and begin to wander around; I, like most folks, have always been fascinated by magic, Houdini, Thurston, Blackstone and Henning are all familiar names. From the famous to the obscure, the museum celebrates magicians and their magic. Pale yellow walls are plastered with heralds, hand bills, window cards and show bills. Devices, apparatus, photos and artifacts cram display cabinets and fill floor space. Probably the most popular is Houdini’s “Milk Can” and “Overboard Box”, amazing! Clare Cummings, who was “Milky the Twin Pines Magic Clown” donated most of his magic tricks to this museum as did Blackstone who was from Michigan. We move slowly from one area to another, there’s much to read and look at; crates, trunks, cabinets and costumes used in illusions, they even have one of those long wooden boxes where the magician saws the beautiful assistant in half, it’s so cool to see them up close. We climb the stairs and follow the narrow hall into another exhibit area, there’s a performance space with seating, more cases filled with memorabilia, masks, souvenirs and everyday products that came with mail-in offers for magic tricks, hey, they have Pen & Teller’s suits. Harry Blackstone’s mummy case rests on the floor, a placard explains how the trick worked. The collection does a splendid job introducing us to magicians, illusionist, hypnotists, their tricks, their stories and entertains us as well.

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Marshall is also known as the home of Schulers Restaurant & Pub, a century-old, family owned eatery in a former a hotel, it’s one of those must-go-to places. We step inside the historic building and find it bustling with people; it’s a Saturday in December, this is the perfect gathering place to meet friends and family. A small section is devoted to retail sales of Schuler’s own baked goods and pantry items from other Michigan businesses. We are led to the dining room, handed menus and the infamous cheese and crackers are left on the table. I think it was a tie between Kris and I as to who got to the crackers first! As we nibble we take in the quaint room; checkered cloths cover tables, Poinsettia are placed throughout, a fire roars in the large stone fireplace, historical murals and photographs cover the walls. Throughout the space quotes like “It matters not how a man dies, but how he lives”, “Music is the universal language of mankind” and other famous sayings are painted on the wooden beams; some are witty, others, thought-provoking, it’s wonderful! The fourth generation of Schuler’s currently run the business that turned 100 in 2009, that’s an accomplishment.

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Just as we finish the salad our veggie burger arrives; the patty is made from quinoa, black bean, oats and cilantro, we asked for ours on the homemade focaccia, topped with horseradish mayo, guacamole, onion straws, tomato and fresh greens, it’s outstanding! Truly delicious, it could be one of the best veggie burgers we’ve ever had. Our server asks us if we’d like to see the dessert menu, what the heck. We find two items particularly appealing, ask the server her opinion, then give in and order the Signature Pecan Ball. She’s back in a flash with a large ball of vanilla bean ice cream rolled in roasted sweet pecans, drenched in hot fudge (and on her suggestion) hot caramel. I am taking a slight pause here as I revel in the memory of the awesomeness…………..

We’re just going to sit back and relax for a while before moving on to our next activity. In the words of Bernie Wolf, “Take time to play–it is the secret of perpetual youth”.

Grand Ledge: Fall Fun!

26 Nov

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Once upon a time, in the sleepy little village of Grand Ledge MI, a man by the name of John Burtch had an idea; he built a one-story plank hotel, launched the steamer Dolly Varden and invited the public to discover the beauty and wonder of seven little islands residing in the Grand River; the Seven Island Resort was born. In 1877 Mr Hewings purchased the resort and launched the steamer Gertie, gone was the little hotel, replaced by the more elegant Island House Hotel, complete with a ballroom on the second floor. In addition, amenities such as rowboats, bath houses, hammocks, swings and croquet grounds were added; there was even a mineral spring on one of the islands. In 1886 Julian Mudge took possession of the resort, money was spent freely on a new dam, an addition to the Island House hotel, a causeway was built to join Second and Third island. Mr Mudge built a 3-story pagoda-like tower called the Roundhouse, the first roller coaster in Michigan was constructed over the water, starting at Second island and finishing at Third. Second island was the centerpiece of activity with the hotel, picnic area and fountain, while Third was home to the casino which hosted first run musicals and Vaudeville shows.

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Yes folks, thousands of tourists came by train to this tiny resort town; side-wheel riverboats steamed up and down the river, it was the most popular resort in all of lower Michigan. In 1888 Grand Ledge became the second city, after Lansing, in MI to get electric lights. Eventually the resort became less popular, people now owned cars and could drive to other destinations. In the 1930’s the property was sold to the city, the hotel continued to be used as a community building for another 20 years, sadly none of the original buildings exist today…. In 1976, with the addition of a new gazebo, the island began to be used for festivals and activities such as the annual Color Cruise and Island Festival. Which brings us to today.

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It is the second full weekend in October, the sky a powder blue umbrella overhead, the sun warms our faces as we walk from Main Street to the Island. We purchase tickets, walk across the wooden bridge and find ourselves surrounded by activity. On the right a group of llamas seem to be people-watching from their fenced in area, I stop and say hello, music plays as a group of ladies tap dance in front of the gazebo, a table of cupcakes and baked goods is tempting. An asphalt path straddles the island from one end to the other, we pause at the tip and drink in the panoramic view; nature has begun painting leaves of hardwood trees in red, yellow, orange and gold, the Grand Princess riverboat floats past on the calm Grand River. We take our time walking from the far end, a group re-enacts pioneer days; dressed in period clothing they are cooking over an open fire. A pile of animal skins and a turtle shell rest on a table, examples of items such as clothing and pouches made from the skins lay nearby. Dried fruits, nuts, peas and grains are some of the foods pioneers depended on for survival. The petting zoo is popular this morning, kids of all ages are holding bunnies, petting goats and sheep. A blacksmith invites visitors to watch as he demonstrates how to make a nail, a woman at a loom weaves fleece into yarn, an antique fire truck is on display. Further up locals have set up booths selling arts and crafts, I watch as a woman hand weaves a basket, one artist carves animal faces into walking sticks, a different blacksmith has utensils, hammers and hooks for sale, a man and woman are performing a folk song now at the gazebo. 

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The Grand Princess is getting ready for her next excursion, we purchase tickets and climb aboard, there are two rail-side seats available on the second level, which we gladly claim. A guide will narrate as we navigate the narrow river, she begins with some History; Grand Ledge was named after the river itself, sandstone ledges line the riverbanks are composed of Eaton sandstone and quartzite that was deposited 250 million years ago; these ledges are geologically significant in lower MI. Above the trees we see the bright blue water tower, pedestrians enjoy a river side stroll, up ahead an ancient-looking railroad bridge crosses the river, it is still used today, trees reflect on the river, the view is picturesque. Private homes are built to fit the landscape, wooden stairways are like switchbacks leading down to the water, Coho salmon pass through twice a year. The boat stops at Fitzgerald Park, some of the passengers will get off here and walk back to the festivities, the rest of us stay aboard and enjoy the peacefulness and gorgeous scenery the boat affords us.

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Back on land, it is lunchtime, we passed a rustic looking place in town earlier, so that’s where we’re headed. The Log Jam Inn has one of those old-fashioned signs hanging out front that screams Americana, the building resembles a log cabin both inside and out. The restaurant is doing a brisk business today, thanks to the festival. We are seated in a booth near the door, Kris looks at the menu, I look around. I notice a charming stone fireplace, a Spartans banner hangs nearby (we are only 10 miles west of Lansing), walls are wood panels, each table is adorned with a cute little lamp, shades look like they are made of birch, ours is a canoe that holds the S & P. Our meal arrives, the turkey sandwich is served hamburger-style on a bun, piled high and topped with lettuce, tomato and a side of honey mustard it is satisfying, the portion of fries is generous, good thing because they are excellent.

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Time to get a closer look at the ledges; we drive over to Front Street and park in the lot for Oak Park, here climbers are allowed to scale the 60 ft high ledges. We follow the path down to the river’s edge, the water is on our right, towering ledges on our left, fallen leaves are scattered about. The sandstone quartz ledges are golden in color some of the edges are dark, tree roots resemble hands, their fingers tightly gripping the rock, here and there a trail of crystal clear water springs from the rock, making its way to the river. In some places you can see the layers of sandstone, to me it looks like the inside of a Butterfinger, in one spot the rock has worn away forming an overhang above the path, the sun dances off the river creating a reflections upon the rock face. We come across a group of climbers securing their ropes getting ready for their ascent, two canoes are carried by the current down river. The scenery is stunning here; the autumn leaves of the trees, the golden sandstone are mirrored on the surface of the water. Large rock pieces lay broken in piles, we climb over and follow the path to its end. Once again we are in the park, we pause at the look-out one last time before heading home.

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