Tag Archives: Pure Michigan

PORT HURON: I Cover the Waterfront

5 Jun

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It’s hot! When Mother Nature turns up the heat Port Huron is a great escape. Known as the Maritime Capital of the Great Lakes, Port Huron offers waterfront parks, beaches, a river walk and breathtaking views of Lake Huron on 7 miles of shoreline. We drive straight to the Thomas Edison Parkway, this is where the St. Clair River and Lake Huron meet, the iconic Blue Water Bridge provides a spectacular backdrop for photos as it connects the United States to Canada. We park the car and begin our walk toward the bridge; it’s a gorgeous, sunny day, a cool breeze blows in from the lake. Fishermen have baited their poles and locked them into place, a bell will signal them if there’s activity on the line, a net is kept close by in anticipation of catching a big one. We pass the lightship Huron, once a floating lighthouse, now a museum ship. Power boats wearing fancy paint jobs zip by at speed, there’s some pretty big ones out here today. The girls on the Jet Ski look like they’re having a blast. 

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Signs are posted here and there along the riverwalk filling us in on interesting facts about the area. Did you know Port Huron is located at the 43rd Parallel? That means when I am standing here I am actually closer to the Equator than I am the North Pole. Thomas Edison moved to Port Huron with his family when he was 7 in 1854, the St. Clair River is 39 miles long, oh, and the water that flows through the Great Lakes ends up in the Atlantic Ocean. You can also read about native fish, shipwrecks and sacred grounds. A Coast Guard boat is keeping an eye on all of the activity, a diver down flag bobbing on the river’s surface tells us a scuba diver is looking for sunken treasures below. A train moves slowly down the waterfront track, I bet it just came from the Domtar paper mill. The anchor is from the John S Martin which sank in 1900. A monument dedicated in remembrance of the Great Storm of 1913 stands on the other side of the train tracks; 19 ships and 250 lives were lost in the storm, an additional 50 ships were damaged. On the north end of the parkway is my favorite statue, the Blue Water Maiden, she was moved here in 2010 and greets all who travel the waterway.

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The Midwest Sculpture Initiative (MSI) has put together a sculpture exhibition along the riverwalk for the last 3 years. Ken Thompson, an artist and sculptor himself, formed MSI to provide innovative exhibitions that feature outdoor sculpture throughout the midwest. Let’s take a look. I stand in one place and look out over the open-space gallery, bright colors, geometric shapes,rusty, shiny, large forms and goats fill my sight. In no particular order Kris and I traverse the landscape to see each piece. 6 metal forms are grouped together to form Old Orchard, I think they’re apple trees. Crescent Song has a coyote howling at the moon, I follow the sound of wind chimes to Madame Butterfly, look at all the butterflies gathered around her head, she looks happy.

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Each sculpture has a plaque with the name of the piece, the name of the artist and the price, some names are obvious; Curves, Falling Pyramids, R&B. I like the colors of Red Green Construction, I totally follow the yellow bounce of bouncing ball. A close look at the goats reveals found objects integrated into the sculpture; chains, wrenches, a hood hinge, what do you see? Icarus is a complex piece, a figure hangs by delicate fingers from a bar, unattached wings to the sides, the expression somber. There’s a horse on a rainbow and a whimsical figure named Daphne who has a tree growing from the top of her head, I bet the kids love to play on the Morning Glory Whisper Bench II. If you like sculpture be sure to check out MSI’s website to see other exhibitions in the midwest. If you’re looking for more Michigan art, check out the MI Amazing Art Tour app, available for iPhone and android. 

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We’re having lunch downtown at the Port Huron Office Center building. Rix’s Roof Top restaurant owned and operated by a local family, is located on the 6th floor, this is actually the old Fog Cutter space, ring a bell? The elevator takes us to the top floor, the dining room is surrounded in glass, chandeliers of electric candles glow dimly, ceiling panels are black, the floor is dark, the decor is the panoramic view outside the windows. We’ve arrived during Happy Hour, well drinks are just $2. When the cocktails arrive we place our order, we watch freighters pass while eating warm bread slathered in butter. The burger and steak bites arrive together as we requested, the food is good; steak bites are tender, burger is prepared well. The service was great and the view unbeatable.

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The Exquisite Corpse Coffee House opened in 2012, last December new owners Maggie and Nathaniel took over and have really made the place their own. The space is beautiful, warm, welcoming, the coffee is excellent; they have added baked goods, light sandwiches and bagels to the menu. Art is still in the front part of the space, works are by local artists, a counter in the front window allows patrons a glimpse of the goings-on outside. Choose a seat at the large community table or relax in a comfy chair, play one of the many available board games with friends.

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There’s always something going on in the coffee shop these days; ballroom dancing lessons, yoga, magic shows, music and hypnosis demonstrations.  We’re here for the coffee and the company. We drink our cold brews as we catch up on the latest Port Huron news; they’re making progress on the new City Flats hotel, new businesses are coming soon, Boat Night is July 13, the Port Huron to Mackinac Race is July 14, the International Boat Show is September 14-15. We prefer coming on just an ordinary day, the water is always blue, the breeze is cool, the food is good and the people are friendly.

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Highland: Pony Up…

15 Mar

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You may be surprised by the rural feel and amount of open space that still exists in Oakland County. Townships such as Highland, Milford and White Lake are home to sprawling horse farms and pastures, horse trails and training facilities. We’ll be spending the next few hours driving down natural beauty roads as we visit 6 locations on the Highland Equestrian Conservancy (HEC) Barn Tour. The mission of HEC is to conserve and protect the natural resources while preserving the rural character of and equestrian heritage in and around Highland MI. We purchase our tickets at the Huron Valley Council For The Arts, we are given a map and a tour booklet, the barns are further apart then we expected, it’s about 56 miles from first to last. We better get started.

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Our directions lead us into a Milford subdivision, we must have taken a wrong turn, we continue on the street, wait a minute there it is, Berwyck Saddle Club. That’s pretty cool, they built the sub around the saddle club. Riders have access to Berwyck Bridle Trails, Kensington Metro Park and Proud Lake State Recreation Area. The property has in indoor and an outdoor arena, a clubhouse and 43 stalls. As we approach the barn I stop to pet a couple of miniature horses, they’re so cute. Inside the stable we walk the long corridor, friendly horses peek out of their stall looking for some attention, each of them has their name posted where I can read it and call them by name. A black horse is being groomed, he looks as though he’d rather be outside. We wander over to the indoor arena, nothing going on right now.

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Next up is the Miracle Ranch and Rach Riding Academy; all styles of riding are taught here: Western, Trail, English, jumping, vaulting and Western Dressage, a demonstration is about to begin. Visitors gather in the arena, a girl dressed in a black and red costume appears on a black and white horse. Music plays as the horse circles the arena, she stands up on the horses back and does tricks, how does she stay up there? The audience applauds. Next up is a group of 4, the horses are wearing gold, the girls are in casual dress. This time the horses are doing the choreography. Music from the movie Frozen plays as horses trot, gallop and move to the rhythm of the music, moves are coordinated like synchronized swimming, it’s fascinating to watch. When the routine is finished the horses exit the arena and so do we. Outdoors a rider is practicing  jumps, she looks like she’s having fun. We walk through the stable, it’s empty right now, we head out the back to find the animals eating lunch and enjoying the afternoon sun.

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We drive through pretty countryside on our way to Karner Blue Stables in Highland Twp. We find an old hay barn, indoor and outdoor arenas, pastures and forested land, it’s picturesque. A horse farm and training facility, there are horses all over the property. I’m excited to have a chance to get up close to these magnificent animals, they are extremely friendly, lowering their heads so I can pet them. Once you pet one the others come over to see what the human has brought; the absence of carrots, apples or sugar cubes send some of them back to eating grass while others are happy for the one on one  attention. There’s an observation and tack room, a plate of warm chocolate chip cookies is offered to guests. This facility offers lessons, training and boarding.

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We travel from Highland to White Lake to Fenton visiting Tristan Manor, where 50 years ago the first symposium for the United States Dressage Federation was held bringing trainers from Europe to Michigan. Check out the rusty, old Ford tractor, I love the wheat on the emblem. In the distance I can see Sugden Lake; what beautiful countryside.

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Equinox Farm, a certified in Technical Large Animal Emergency Rescue works with first responders and veterinarians to safely rescue livestock from mud, ice, trailer accidents and barn fires. Lots of ponies here, they all seem content on this lovely day. The landscape is serene; the rolling hills of Highland in the distance.

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Carole Grant’s facility on Pleasant Hill Dr. Situated on 40 rolling acres she has 19 stalls, a feed room, tack room, wash stalls, grooming areas, hot walker, large indoor ring, 2 outdoor rings, all with state-of-the-art footing. It’s quite a place! The wood on the barn and stable has acquired that perfect gray, weathered look; bright red cannas and marigolds flank the sliding doors. Inside, the wood reminds me of knotty pine, it has a quaint feeling, it’s amazingly tidy for a stable. A white horse has big black patches on its coat, chest and neck, the main is braided; she even poses for the camera. Standing on the concrete walk on the side of the stable we have a panoramic view of the land, it’s so peaceful. In 2006 Highland Township was recognized as Michigan’s 1st Horse-Friendly community.

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We cross the border into Livingston County to the tiny hamlet of Parshallville. The name sounds straight out of Disney or Dr. Seuss doesn’t it? It was actually named after founder Isaac Parshall. It’s been a busy day and we could use a little pick-me-up, cider and donuts will do the trick. Historic Parshallville Cider Mill on North Ore Creek started life as a flour mill known as Success Flour oh, about 145 years ago. After that it was Tom Walker’s Grist Mill grinding grain for animal feed; today it is a charming cider mill. This is one of the few remaining water-powered mills in Michigan. Heirloom apples, local honey, apple pies, cider, spiced donuts, caramel apples and cider slush are available for purchase. We take our slush and warm donuts outside and sit near the creek. We eat to the sound of falling water, every once in a while a breeze rustles the leaves, donut-scent fills the air. This is perfect.

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DETROIT: New Center Vintage

1 Mar

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A few times a year A Detroit Flea takes over the Jam Handy building on East Grand Boulevard; we’re excited to check it out. The building itself has lived several interesting lives, if my digging is correct here’s what I found. It was built in 1919  as the Maranatha Baptist Tabernacle, then in the late 1920’s the building was home to the Bellows-Claude Neon Co. factory. Bellows refers to Mr. L. F. R. Bellows, a licensed manufacturer of Claude neon tube electric signs and Claude refers to George Claude of France, the man who invented Neon lights. It was here that the neon signs were manufactured for Olympia Arena, the GM Building, the Penobscot Air Beacon and the Ambassador Bridge. An article in the February 1929 Detroit Free Press describes the sign like this, “Two main towers emblazoned on the sky in fiery letters 6 feet high, nearly 400′ above the river will be the words Ambassador Bridge.” Wow! Not long after, Henry Jamison Handy (Jam Handy), a 1904 Olympic bronze medalist swimmer, turned the building into a film studio making industrial, educational and commercial films. He made over 7,000 films for the armed services during WWII, he was hired by GM to make short training films, he did 1965’s “Detroit: City On The Move”, a promotional film for the City of Detroit. Jam was contracted as the Chicago-Detroit branch of Bray productions, he produced animated films–that’s cartoons to you and me.

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On this gloomy Saturday the white terracotta building sits non-nonchalantly on the boulevard, its blue marquees blank. It has been turned into an event space; weddings, parties and today a Flea Market. The wooden entry doors are unlocked, the lobby greets us with long tables of homemade food; snacks, hot food and baked goods, yum. At this community flea market vendors bring their own tables and decorate their space as they wish; all it costs is the donation of a baked good. There’s a buzz in the air; music plays in the background as we traverse the space, they have everything here. Vintage clothing fills multiple racks, the old guitars are cool, metal tins, typewriters and sewing machines rest on tables. Shoes, cowboy boots and old-fashioned suitcases are neatly stacked on the floor. Some people have a knack for arranging items into attractive displays. Beautiful old linens mingle with kitchen items, jewelry and perfume bottles join purses and matchbooks on a gold tablecloth.

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The building is pretty interesting too; we walk on old wooden floors, decaying sound-deadener clings to brick walls, there’s a lot going on in the ceiling–check out the skylights. I look through boxes of books, smile at board games I played as a kid, admire antique glass pieces and try to think of a reason to buy them. Flea markets are exciting, there’s such an array of items you never know what you’ll find. Need an old VCR, ceramic ash tray, money bag or a funky 70’s tunic? I know just the place…

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On to the Fisher Building, since the new owners of  have taken over the building has come alive; renovations, new shops, a bakery and people wandering about in awe. You have got to see this boutique, The Peacock Room, 3,000 sq. ft. of pure elegance. Check it out. Walls are cool shades of blue and cream with plenty of gold trim, the ornamental detailing in the plaster is stunning. Opulent crystal chandeliers hang from the barrel-shaped ceiling. Look at that wreath pattern on the upper section of the walls, beautiful pastels all hand-painted by Theresa DeRoo of Paintwork Detroit; it’s a magnificent space.

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Crossing the threshold is like being transported to a Parisian boutique. The formal dresses are as lovely as the space they inhabit; bridal wear, gowns, shawls and jackets for that very special occasion. Clothing hangs on racks that seem to disappear into the walls, built-in display cases exhibit new and vintage items. Mannequins wear flirty vintage-style dresses, tables, racks and glass cases offer glamorous jewelry; handbags range in size from petite hand-held to over the shoulder bags. The shop has an assortment of fun socks, greeting cards, candles and gift items. The merchandise is well curated, everything looks hand-selected, displays are extremely attractive; Rachel Lutz (owner) has really outdone herself. If there was absolutely nothing in the space I’d still come here just to admire the surroundings! It’s hard to believe all of this was covered up for years when this was a bank. 

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Shopping always makes me hungry, let’s eat. Down the hall and to the right from The Peacock Room is the newly-opened City Bakery. This is their first location outside of New York City and Japan; it seems they have a thing for old buildings. The white-painted space is drenched in sunlight, be sure to notice the beautifully embellished plasterwork. We walk to the counter to see what’s on the menu today, there isn’t really a menu (yet), large bowls are filled with colorful salads and pastas, muffins, cookies and scones fill serving platters. This is how it works, everything is the same price, pick out the items you want, then choose the size of bowl you desire. Small bowls are $5 and hold one item, medium bowls are $7, large are $10, you can mix as much or as little of anything you want in the larger bowls. We’re having a small roasted brussel sprouts with bacon and dates, and a medium rice noodle salad with carrots and peanuts with a scoop of the butternut squash salad, it’s all delicious! Everything is made from scratch in the kitchen below the bakery space. You can’t come to City Bakery and not get the hot chocolate…have you ever had Spanish hot chocolate? This stuff is the best; rich, thick, deeply chocolate, like drinking warm chocolate pudding, it’s heavenly.

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Our last stop in New Center is blvd beat; a fun, quirky, vinyl record, vintage shop on Woodward. Hours are kind of hit-or-miss, we’ve lucked out today. This is one of those fun places where you can buy anything from a vintage apron to a rare vinyl pressing of some obscure band. I love the white ball lights that dangle from the ceiling, hhmm, I wonder what hides beneath those ceiling tiles; the floor is still terrazzo.

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Record albums have the largest footprint in the store, I don’t know anything about the collectability but the cover-art is super-cool. Items are grouped into eye-catching displays, pieces from different decades hang out side by side. They have an eclectic variety of clothing, home goods and knick knaks; hey, my mom used to have one of those chairs that open up for storage. Hats, handkerchiefs, throw pillows with Mod patterns, so much to explore. Vintage photographs, a stereo, loads of VHS movies. Pop, Mod, Mid Century, Art Deco, funky; everything is priced reasonably. Nothing we have to buy today but we’ll be back, shops like this are like traveling through time.

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Michigan: Thumbin’

4 Jan

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 Since we’re stuck in a deep freeze right now, let us take you back to a warm, sunny September day in Michigan’s thumb…It’s the end of summer, sunshine and warm temperatures suggest otherwise; it’s a perfect day for a road trip in the country. Heading north we drive past picturesque farms; cornstalks have been picked clean, cows and horses graze under a powder blue sky. Located in the northwest region of the thumb, the city of Gagetown has an architectural gem known as the Thumb Octagon Barn. This historic structure was built in 1924 by a Mr James Purdy, when he was traveling out west he had seen similar barns in Iowa, when he arrived home he hired local builders George and John Munro to construct the barn. George and John consulted with the local mathematics teacher to help them with the calculations needed to build an octagon-shaped building. The barn is just beautiful; painted white with deep green roofs, it’s quite a sight! Each of the 8 sides measures 42′ 6″ and is 24′ high, it has a 3-stage roof, the first level is the longest and sports a dormer on each of the 8 sections, each dormer has a 9-lite window, the second level has more windows and a much shorter roof leading to the third level, the cupola, where we have more 9-lite windows; there are 288 individual window panes in the barn roof. Evidence of a lightning rod system still exists.

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Walking toward the barn we notice a tour has just begun, we join the others and are brought up to speed. The interior is quite spectacular in its own octagon way; you can see all the way to the top, sunlight filtering in from all those windows, narrow ladders are built into the structure, boxed-in ducts make up the ventilation system, the circular track over the loft area is for the hay car system. The ground floor of the barn is a poured cement foundation 4′ high that supports a 20′ high timber-framed wall. All of the timbers came from on-site, the land was dense with Tamarack trees, the Munro brothers cut the trees into timbers and used them to build the barn. Mr Purdy owned a lumberyard in Gagetown which provided the rest of the wood. The perimeter of the barn on the lower level is original, the silo is gone, the old tack room is now the welcome center. They have some great photographs of the barn when it was new and what it looked like when the Friends Of The Thumb Octagon Barn took it over. You know the story, the property had gone into foreclosure in 1990, the Michigan DNR bought the property from the bank to be incorporated into the Gagetown State Game Area. The buildings were in such bad shape they likely would have to be demolished. Local citizens stepped in, formed the “Friends” and saved the Purdy family homestead. The DNR allowed the friends to have all of the buildings and 10 acres of land.

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Our guide points out notable parts of the structure, he tells us stories about Mr Purdy and what Gagetown was like in the late 19-teens and 20’s. I won’t bore you with a lot information but I do want to share this: James Purdy joined his father at the Bank of P.C. Purdy and Son at the age of 21, James went on to become the bank president; his bank was 1 of only 2 banks in the state of Michigan to remain solvent during the Great Depression. Afterwards Purdy met with other bankers and formulated a plan where the government would insure the investors money, supported by President Franklin Roosevelt, the FDIC was born. Moving on. The Octagon Barn is now an agricultural museum; artifacts, farm equipment, butter churns, and milk separators are on display, oh look, there’s a crate from Stroh’s Ice Cream. There’s a nice saddle in the stables, the wooden model of the barn is amazing.

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We move on to the house, it was actually built before the barn; the Purdy’s moved into their 15-room, Craftsman-style bungalow in 1922. Our guide takes us through the rooms, the master bedroom is on the first floor and has its own attached bathroom. I really like the natural stone fireplace in the family room, the Craftsman style really shines in this area; thick wooden beams on the ceiling, book cases that flank the fireplace, wide wood frames around the windows, the french doors that lead to the dining room. A showcase holds dozens of Mrs Purdy’s diaries, she documented her life from 1895-1954. Her grandson preserved, then donated them to the “Friends”; they were helpful during the restoration. The kitchen has a built-in ice box and a big blue stove, the pantry holds spices and staples every household needs. Upstairs there are 7 bedrooms, each has a transom window, there is a full unfinished attic. There’s a porch on every side of the house except the south side. The large, covered front porch hosted many dances back in the day. 

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We follow the brick-pillard porte-cochere out to the garage, a blue car bears a Dodge Brothers emblem. Mr Purdy built his own powerhouse on the property, nobody is sure of the exact date. The 12×20 ft ornate brick building has been restored, the 32-volt DC Delco light system allowed the Mr Purdy to be self-reliant by providing electricity for his personal needs, he joined the Detroit Edison grid in 1938. The Purdy’s sold the farm in 1942 and moved back to the city of Gagetown. We are told this is the largest wood-structure octagon barn in the United States, it really is impressive, come up and see it sometime.

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We drive northwest past fields of windmills, acres of crops and yellow patches of ragweed, reaching Caseville in time for a late lunch. Thumb Brewery on Pine Street is the perfect place for dining Al fresco. The patio is full so we grab a table on the porch, having eaten here several times we know what we’re going to order, all I have to do is check out the beer menu. We’re ready when the waitress arrives, she returns quickly with an oatmeal stout for me and a hard cider for Kris… that really hits the spot. The BBQ Chicken flatbread has shredded chicken, bacon, yellow peppers, onions, cheddar-jack and a spicy BBQ sauce on a crisp flatbread–a great combination of flavors. We take our time eating, we have no schedule, it feels good to relax.

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In Michigan you are never far from a big, beautiful body of blue water, in this case it’s the Caseville Harbor on the east shore of Saginaw Bay. The Caseville Pier extends 1800 ft. out into the bay, it’s gorgeous! Boats enter the bay through the mouth of the Pigeon River, there’s a steady stream of boating traffic this afternoon. We walk to the end of the pier. The surface of the water is sparkling like diamonds, wispy clouds paint the sky, fishermen head out to try their luck, sailboats glide by, to the right we see a sandy beach. Are you feeling warmer yet? I will leave you now with that picture in your mind, you’re welcome. 

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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”.