Thursday, May 20, 2010

Walker Tavern - The Next Stop Along Michigan's Detroit-Chicago Road

I'd like to write about what I guess could be considered a kind of part two to the Eagle Tavern blog I wrote of a few months ago. This posting is about another local tavern from the 19th century, just down the road a ways from where the Eagle Tavern once stood. On the 15th and 16th of this month, I attended a Civil War reenactment on the grounds of Walker Tavern, and I was able to take quite a few pictures and gather some wonderful information as I toured this historic building.
Walker Tavern is still located in its original location on the historic Old Chicago Road' (U.S. 12) and has been restored to it's mid-19th century appearance.

A little bit of history:After the Erie Canal opened in 1825, thousands of settlers flocked to the Michigan Territory. Two roads moved pioneers west from Lake Erie: the Monroe Pike, running from Monroe to Jackson, and the Chicago Road. These two roads intersected at Cambridge Junction, which made it a great location for a tavern. From 1836 through 1855—when a stagecoach ride from Detroit to Chicago was a long and arduous five-day trip (I vehemently disagree with this statement. It was more like 10 to 15 days to get from Detroit to Chicago. I'm not sure where they got this info from, but it certainly is not true)—a favorite stopping place to change horses, relax, enjoy a meal, or spend the night was this farmhouse tavern. Purchased by and named after owners Sylvester and Lucy Walker in 1843, the tavern also was a convenient site for local political and religious gatherings.
Walker Tavern became a prosperous business and a thriving community hub. Two stages stopped there each day and at any one time there might be ten to twenty wagons lined up waiting for accommodations. One of the stagecoach drivers, Francis A. Dewey, recorded, "Men of every class and condition of life from the earliest times would stretch out their day's drive to reach the hospitable roof of the Walker's hotel ... People flocked in each evening to receive their mail and hear the news brought in from the east and from the west ... Sometimes the crowd numbered 50 or 75 and oftentimes their drunken shouts resounded far into the night."

However, travel was arduous; roads were full of ruts, bogs, and tree stumps. A stagecoach driver's goal was to travel fifty miles in a day, but many times there were complications. As one traveler in the 1830's pointed out, "As soon as we had entered the woods, the roads became as bad as, I suppose, roads ever are. Something snapped, and the driver cried out that we were 'broke to bits.' "
By the 1860s trains replaced stagecoaches as the fast and
fashionable way to travel and the railroad line bypassed Cambridge Junction. Stagecoach driver Francis Dewey purchased the tavern and he and his family farmed the land for over fifty years.
Today the tavern serves up a dose of Michigan history. Still located at the
crossroads of US 12 and M-50 in the green and rolling Irish Hills, Walker Tavern has been a wayside inn, a roadside tourist attraction and is now a state historic park.

If you recall reading from a previous blog about the Eagle Tavern I wrote, "There is a story told of a stage that left Clinton's Eagle Tavern for the west one morning loaded with passengers. The road was very muddy and the coach had managed to get a mile from the village. The passengers walked back to the inn to spend the night, and early the next morning returned to the coach. During the second day it got three miles from Clinton. Again, the passengers returned to the Eagle Tavern. On the third day the coach must have reached another tavern, for the passengers did not return. "
That other tavern would have been Walker Tavern, which was the next stop for these very patient travelers.

As if roaming the inside of Walker Tavern wasn't interesting enough, on the way home, while we were driving through the town of Clinton - around 12 miles east of the Walker location - I noticed a state historical marker that made me wonder...could it be? I pulled over and my assumption was correct: the marker showed the exact original spot of the Eagle Tavern (known also as The Clinton Inn when Henry Ford first purchased it), now, of course, relocated in Greenfield Village! How cool was this? I had now traveled the same road as the stage coaches did all those years ago.

Oh, I know, millions travel upon it yearly. But, I wonder how many actually think about the road that they are driving upon, with all its twists and turns and hills, and just how treacherous and uncomfortable a journey it was back in the days before the automobile. My thoughts did a little drifting as I rode along the U.S. 12 Heritage Trail, imagining what it was like back then.
Yes, I was also paying very close attention to my driving as well, lest any of you think I wasn't!

It never ceases to amaze me just how much history still stands and is within a short drive of my home. And, with the internet, it doesn't take much effort to find wonderful social history, the kind that makes the buildings seemingly come to life.
So many stories to be told...are you listening?

(all photos except the historic marker were taken at Walker Tavern)

If you are interested in learning even more about Michigan's Taverns, please click HERE for a more in depth posting)



MC said...

The Walker Tavern Historic Complex is a lovely, quiet respite from our loud and busy everyday lives! I hope everyone reading this will visit soon and take a walk through is a special place! :-)
You can find their events listed at: or look for other fun things to do in Lenawee County! Have fun!!

MC said...

The Walker Tavern Historic Complex is a lovely respite from our busy everyday lives! I hope everyone reading this will visit soon and take a walk through is a special place! :-) You can also find their events listed at: or look for other fun things to do, in Lenawee County! Have fun!!

Natalie said...

Yes, I am listening! Well written...

Thank you kindly for another interesting installment,
Natalie in KY

Historical Ken said...

I appreciate you kind comments Natalie! They mean a lot!