Tag Archives: Tashmoo

Harsens Island: Then and Now

16 Sep

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 Picture yourself at the foot of Griswold Street standing alongside the Detroit River; it’s 1926, you are wearing your Sunday best, you have an overnight bag in one hand and a ticket for the steamship Tashmoo in the other. You gaze out in the distance and see the elegant steamer approach; excitement fills your body. Once aboard you find a place to look out over the railing as the ship heads north; destination Tashmoo Park and the St Clair Flats, also known as Harsens Island. Roughly 2 1/2 hours go by, the scenery splendid along the way, the park is in sight. As you leave the ship you hear music playing, visitors dance under an immense pavilion, a group of men are playing baseball at the athletic field, picnickers eat sandwiches and drink lemonade, the beach is sandy, its crystal blue water inviting. Tonight you will be staying at the Grande Pointe Hotel, sitting atop the highest point on Harsens Island you can hardly believe your eyes! The hotel is stunning; think Grand Hotel (Mackinac Island), Victorian in style it has a 300 foot long veranda, the perfect place to relax and look out on the St Clair River. Inside there are 125 rooms, a dance hall, bowling alleys, billiard rooms and parlors; the cost, about $3.00 a day. From about 1900 to 1936 the White Star Line of steamers carried thousands of people  from Detroit to Port Huron with stops at Tashmoo Park, owned by White Star Line and the many hotels located on the island; Harsens was a summer paradise. The size of the hotels ranged from the 22 room Public House to the 150 room Star Island House; entertainment consisted of  dance floors and slot machines. Outdoors you could ride bicycles, play lawn tennis, hunt, fish and go sailing. Hotel Mervue had the largest dance floor on the flats. There were private clubs for the wealthy Detroiters, bars, restaurants and markets. Alas, there was one problem that led to the demise of many of these remarkable buildings: fire. Back in the day buildings were constructed of wood, combine that with being located on an island with no roads, and no fire department, a recipe for disaster. The Rushmere Club was the first large hotel to burn down in 1908; some of the hotels and clubs rebuilt, but the St Clair Flats area was never able to recapture the glory days of the past.

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It had been many years since our last visit to the island; we boarded the ferry in Algonac and crossed the North Channel. When we arrived on the island we turned right and followed Middle Channel Drive, the road that follows the shoreline; with few exceptions this area is mostly residential. As you look out into the water there are large areas of water and land that make up the St Clair River Delta; this is the largest freshwater delta in the world, the water glistens and is strikingly clear. The road ends, we turn around and go back the way we came, enjoying the view as much as we did the first time. This is how we remembered Harsens Island; pretty, but as a tourist, kind of dull….

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We started taking 154, the main road, out to the other side of the island, Kris noticed the smaller, but more scenic, North Channel Drive; we follow the water making our way to South Channel Drive. Suddenly we find ourselves skimming along the South Channel; charming cottages and beautiful historic homes on one side, sparkling turquoise water on the other, hmmmm maybe there’s more to this place than we remember….Remnants of the past are visible here. We arrive in the town of Sans Souci on South Channel Dr; an old grocery store is now the Sans Souci Market, this is the business district of the island. We see the old fire hall has been turned into a museum by the Harsens Island St Clair Flats Historical Society, we park in front and head in. The museum brings the islands past to life; photographs and postcards, dishes from the steamers, summer schedules of the White Star Navigation Co. are all on display. Maps of the Flats show the area in detail, memorabilia hangs on walls and fills up display cases.  It is absolutely fascinating to see. Volunteers from the historical society answer questions and tell stories of life on Harsens, many have lived here their whole life. When you come out to the island be sure and visit the museum, it’s wonderful and really gives you a sense of what a magnificent place this once was when people traveled from all over to come here.  

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We jumped back on South Channel Drive till it merged with 154, then headed to the Southernmost tip of the island, believe it or not at this point you’re about parallel with 14 mile road. The views of the channel and lake are beautiful; I bet the sunset view would be awesome. It was hot and sunny; it seemed every boater was out enjoying Muscamoot Bay, it was an amazing sight. OK, now we’re hungry! We had planned to have lunch at the School House Grill even before we got to the island, many people have told us to give it a try. Located just off the main road on Columbine Rd the tan-colored brick school was built in 1934; it was one of Michigan’s only 2-room schoolhouses until it closed in 2005. In 2009 the building was brought back to life as a restaurant and wine bar, much to the delight of residents and visitors alike. We entered through the back door, a few steps led to the lower level where the main dining room and bar is located. The space is airy and attractive, the exposed ceiling painted black. We took a seat at the bar and ordered cold beverages to quench our thirst as we checked out the menu; everything sounded good. The bartender answered our few questions and we were ready to order. The Tuscan salad was delicious; mixed greens with basil, sun-dried tomatoes, artichoke hearts and shaved Parmesan topped off with homemade cashew honey dressing. The Deli 101 sandwich was an Italian style  sandwich served on warm ciabatta bread, also very good. 

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Back in the Jeep we drove back to South Channel Dr for one more look at the water; we noticed Sans Souci Bar has a covered patio and tables near the shoreline, we are so there! We considered taking advantage of the cooler temperature on the patio, but couldn’t resist the water view provided by tables overlooking the channel. We sipped our drinks as we watched the passing traffic on the waterway; freighters, jet skis, and boats of various sizes kept our attention. The color of the water is remarkable here, we found ourselves asking why we hadn’t come back sooner.  Harsens Island is a great place to get away for a few hours without having to go very far. 

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DETROIT: Model T’s, BBQ & Beer

28 Oct

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Detroit has an impressive industrial history; from building ships and trains to stoves and of course, the automobile. The Ford Piquette Avenue Plant  built in 1904, is a City, State and Federal Historic Site and a National Historic Landmark. It is significant for several reasons; Here the Model T was designed and the first 12,000 plus produced, Ford Motor Company set the world production record by assembling 101 Model N’s, R’s and S’s in 1908 in a ten hour day, and this building is where the methods and ideas came about that would become the moving assembly line.The museum points out the importance of the building and the magnitude of what went on here and how it shaped history. The structure itself is over 67,000 square feet, there are three floors and 362 of the original 395 original windows are still in place. Ford did everything here from the drafting to the assembly.

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Start your tour on the second floor at the admissions desk; Guided tours are available or you you can grab a self-tour guide from the desk. View the video to put you in the mindset of Detroit 1904-1910. If you do the self guided tour be sure and read the information packet provided to fully understand the building and what went on here. I really like coming here, I think it’s so cool to be standing on the same floor as the likes of Henry Ford, James Couzens, John and Horace Dodge, William Durant and so many others once did. There are beautifully restored cars on display, they are all on loan, so you’re never sure what you will see that day. Check out the 2004 Ford GT, this is the actual car that set the world’s speed record that year. The museum makes changes through the season with different exhibits, they had just taken down the Fashion and the Automobile exhibit, we were disappointed we missed it. There is always something new in the works currently volunteers are reconstructing the Experimental Room exhibit, and a new Ford dealership exhibit will be installed soon. Two floors are open for you to wander through, it’s really fascinating and it’s the only early automotive factory in Detroit that is well preserved and open to the public. The museum closes for the winter, but you have until November 20th to visit.

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The sun was out and the temperature was pleasant enough to eat outdoors, so we drove over to Slows-to-go on Cass Ave for lunch. With the popularity of their Michigan Ave location and subsequent crowds this gives us hungry diners another option. With their recently installed outdoor wooden tables and benches you can eat right there if you wish. The menu is the same, as is the unbelievably delicious food.I highly recommend the Reason; tender and moist pulled pork piled high on Texas toast, topped with cole slaw and dill pickle strips, yum! The Mac & Cheese is always a good choice for a side, creamy sauce with a hint of heat, we ordered a side of potato salad too, good stuff!  I know it sounds crazy, but every time I eat here I am amazed at how delectable everything is. It was great to be sitting outside in October enjoying a scrumptious meal.

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For the last 5 Sunday’s the West Village neighborhood has opened a “Pop-Up” Biergarten called Tashmoo. Located on Van Dyke and occupying 2 empty lots it has been wildly successful. We finally had the opportunity to check it out, I’m so glad we did. As we drove down the residential area of Van Dyke, we knew we were getting close when we started seeing all of the cars parked alongside the street. What a perfect setting on a glorious Fall day; Mature trees line the street, beautiful homes grace the neighborhood, and a slight chill in the air. As you approach the fenced in lots the name Tashmoo is called out in bright red letters across the front, a series if patio stones lead you to the entrance where you must show your ID and receive one of those paper bracelets if you are going to drink beer.

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It was well organized, after you put on your bracelet proceed to the ticket table, tickets are $2 each, you trade them in to the bartender for a glass of your choice of several Michigan beers, easy. It was late afternoon and the Lions were playing at home, we made the right decision by going before the game let out. Tables and benches are made of 2×4’s, tables are topped with discarded doors, as is the bar itself. People were everywhere, communal tables were filled to capacity, dozens of folks were playing the Corn-Hole games, groups of friends were gathered together having a beer and catching up. We had our tickets in hand and made our way to the bar, thankfully the lines moved quickly. We tried the Founders Porter, and both found it enjoyable. What’s a Biergarten without food? No problem, there were two food booths; People’s Pierogi Collective was there serving up bite sized pierogi with your choice of Kraut, Potato or Sour Cherry filling, 3 for $5. We tried one of each, though all were delicious, I  was especially fond of the sour cherry. Corridor Sausage had their booth right next door and seemed to be very popular, offering a variety of sausages with unique toppings and meat and cheese plates that paired perfectly with your favorite beer. 

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This was my first Biergarten experience so I wasn’t sure what to expect, it was absolutely wonderful. The crowd was mellow, the name Tashmoo means “meeting place” and that’s exactly what it is; a place for friends to gather and a place where strangers sit down side by side and make new friends. Every age group was represented; toddlers sat on blankets atop the lush green grass, school age children tried their hand at Corn-Hole, and grown-ups played board games in the afternoon sun. This was the last Sunday for the season, I am already looking forward to next year.