Tag Archives: Thumb

The Thumb: Be Cool…

21 Jul

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It’s in the mid 90’s… again; we scan the weather forecast, looks like the Lake Huron breeze is going to help us out, low 80’s on the thumb coast. We point the car north and aim for the tip of the thumb, in less than 2 hours we’re looking at the beautiful blue waters of Lake Huron. Kris zig zags his way north and west to Caseville Rd, we make a right on 25, this is where the view gets really good. The lake is gorgeous, a kaleidoscope of blues and greens, cars fill cottage driveways, beach-goers have their arms full carrying towels, coolers and floating devices, I swear I can smell Coppertone in the breeze. We follow the shoreline north and slightly east, public parks and beaches are in high demand today. We catch glimpses of the lake between cottages; many look like they were built in the 1950’s, others are new and stately like something from HGTV. We reach Port Austin, park and walk out to the lake. The town is buzzing with tourists, lines form at restaurants and cafes, we have something else in mind.

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A short drive from downtown Port Austin on Grindstone Rd leads us to The Tap Room At Bird Creek Farms. The 40-acre farm grows alfalfa for local dairy farmers, vegetables, strawberries, raspberries, edible flowers; their largest crop is garlic. The large white farmhouse has an inviting wrap-around porch, pretty planter boxes and colorful hanging pots; all of the activity is out back. The covered deck plays host to a corrugated metal bar, mismatched bar stools and tables; a brief menu lists today’s food offerings, a chalkboard lists beverages. Kris is drinking B Nektar’s Zombie Killer, I’m having Blake’s Flannel Mouth; crisp and cool it’s perfect for a day like today. Before long cardboard serving cartons arrive filled with Sausage Gravy Poutine Fries, traditional BBQ Pulled Pork Tacos and Baja Tacos. Everything is very tasty, they even manage to keep the fries crispy under all that yummy gravy. 

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Continuing our lakeside journey we drive on to Grindstone City. In the mid 1800’s two companies operated out of two quarries producing grindstones; by 1888 the population rose to 1500 people. Unable to survive the Great Depression the companies folded. There are two buildings left in the Historic District, one of them is the 3-story grain mill, the other is Rybak’s Ice Cream Store built in 1884 by Capt. A.G. Peer. Visitors sit on benches placed on the deep front porch when we arrive, each has their hands full eating humongous ice cream cones. The building is charming in that very old-fashioned way; floors creek, black and white photos line the walls, antique lights illuminate the space, posts are quite decorative. There are a variety of items for sale, candies, cards, gifts and notions; I’m here for the ice cream. I study the list of Guernsey flavors and choose the mint chocolate chip, it has some kind of dark chocolate cookie chunks in it too, it’s sooo good! I have to eat it quickly before it all melts.

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White Church Gallery is just across the street, I meet Kris inside. The building is a simple white church with red-trimmed Gothic-style windows. Inside purple paint covers the walls, a mix of old and new light fixtures hang from the ceiling; the way the light is coming in right now everything seems to glow. In the front room a gorgeous Art Nouveau cabinet is used to display the works of Michigan fine artists. We wander around on wide-plank floors looking at photography, lovely jewelry, life-like paintings, stained glass and  attractive wooden bowls.

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We are headed south and east on 25 passing through Historic Huron City. This was a lumber town back in the mid 1800’s, several of the original buildings still remain, they are maintained through the Lyon Phelps Foundation. The buildings are open to tour on Saturdays in July and August from 11 am – 4 pm. The Pointe Aux Barque Lighthouse is next. The original lighthouse was constructed of stone taken from the shores of Lake Huron in 1848,the light keepers house was separate from the tower. This area was complete wilderness back then, winters were rough, storms were wicked. The weather and a fire took their toll on the building, a new structure was built in 1857, this time living quarters were attached to the tower. The light is still in use making it one of the oldest, continuously operating lights on the Great Lakes.

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The house and tower have been completely restored, it’s now a museum open to the public and it’s free. Let’s go in. We walk around in the house where the light keeper lived, rooms are tiny, I like the turquoise stove in the kitchen. Artifacts are on display; models of ships, books, newspaper articles, blueprints of the building and a lens. The sleeping quarters are upstairs, there’s an old wood-burning stove to keep the family warm and a pitcher and bowl for washing up. You had to maximize space so rooms were multi-purpose, beds share the space with a sitting area and desk. Back on ground level we learn more about the history of the lighthouse and the people who lived here. 

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Outside we walk around the grounds, in 1875 a Class A lifesaving station was built south of the house, it was the first lifesaving station on the Great Lakes. In 62 years of service the crews performed over 200 rescues. Walking toward Lake Huron I stop and read the signs telling us about shipwrecks and storms, the Great Storm of 1913 also referred to as the “White Hurricane” is legendary, it was a blizzard with hurricane-force winds. It killed 250 people, destroyed 19 ships and stranded 19 others. Today the lake is calm and beautiful, bluish-green water laps at the rocky shore, trees cling to the coast line, wildflowers grip the sandy soil, the water is clear to the bottom. Kris traverses the rocks, you can see how they’ve broken away from the shoreline. Notice their unusual coloring, almost like they’re rusty, moss covers the ones closest to shore, it’s slippery so he has to be careful. Meanwhile I stand on shore looking out into infinity.

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25 leads us through Port Hope and Harbor Beach, the beaches, lake and piers are shrouded in swimsuit clad visitors. We stop in Lexington to get something cold to drink, to our delight the Cadillac House Inn and Tavern is open. The building has been completely renovated back to its 1859 glory. When it opened July 4, 1860, it was such a big deal they celebrated with a parade and a steamer ship brought guests all the way from Detroit for the occasion. The 3-story Italianate structure has never looked better! We enter the building and are greeted with a blast of cold air, the dining room is busy, guests are in a waiting area to be seated. There are empty bar stools at the bar, perfect. Kris orders a craft cocktail with Gin, blueberries and lemon, I’m having a Kalamazoo Stout. I like the simple interior; antique-looking lights, wide moldings and wood beams. It feels good to sit back, cool off and enjoy a drink. It’s nice to see people embracing the old Cadillac House once again. It’s been a full day of Lake Huron adventures, we’ve enjoyed good food, good booze lake breezes and unbeatable views.

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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