Tuesday, June 23, 2009

A Blog Worth Repeating

This time of year folks are planning summer (and even autumn) vacations.
Last November I wrote a blog entitled "If You Seek History, Look About You," pointing out all of the wonderful history that we have in southern lower Michigan.
I'd like to repeat it here in case a blog follower or two might have missed it when first printed and may be interested in visiting a state that is much more than cars and industry:

"A Night to Remember" Bed & Breakfast in Lexington, Michigan

If You Seek History, Look About You
What people never seem to consider when they think of Detroit or southern lower Michigan is history.
Well, what most folks don't realize is that we have plenty of history all around this area. More than you may know.
In fact, I would put our collection of historical institutions against most other states - well, except maybe for the east coast. They seem to have the corner on pre-20th century American history. But, for the north central region of the U.S. (sorry - I don't consider us the 'midwest' - north central is more accurate), I don't believe you will find another area with more history.
First off is Greenfield Village the open-air museum in Dearborn. It's probably the most famous in the U.S. - right up there with Colonial Williamsburg. I have written plenty about GFV so, if you are interested, please see my blog dedicated to to the museum at http://gfv1929.blogspot.com/

Connected to Greenfield Village is the Henry Ford Museum, second only to the Smithsonian for historical artifacts, including the actual chair Abraham Lincoln sat in when he was shot by Booth at the Ford's Theater. It also has hundreds of old-time cars, a few full size locomotive trains, many carriages, period guns, furniture from long ago, wood stoves, a 1940's diner, camping gear once belonging to George Washington...

...there's so much to see - it's a full day's visit or more to just visit the museum! I will eventually have a blog on the Henry Ford Museum. (for more on the Henry Ford Museum, please click here The Henry Ford Museum)

About an hour and a half north of Detroit, in Flint, is Crossroads Village. Crossroads is another open air museum, although on a much smaller scale, but, in many ways, more accurately depicted than Greenfield. It has dirt streets rather than cement paved streets, wood-plank sidewalks rather than cement paved sidewalks, and is more accurate in its portrayal of mid-19th century life in that it has a very rural, small-town atmosphere. It has a 'downtown' area, numerous Victorian houses, a working gristmill, an icehouse, a carriage barn, church, school, a working blacksmith shop, and a 45 minute train ride.
An immersion experience for sure - - -

- - - - Crossroads Village is truly a worthy trip back to the 1880's. Here's my site in progress dedicated to Crossroads http://crossroadsvillageofflintmichigan.blogspot.com/

A little closer to Detroit - Mt. Clemens - has the Crocker House Museum. Run by Kim Parr, this shining example of Victoriana at its best is a very busy place indeed. Ms. Parr, historian extraordinaire, keeps this beautiful and authentically furnished 1869 house hopping throughout the year as numerous activities, including Wallow and Wassail at Christmas time, a mourning presentation in the late summer/early fall, teas, home tours, and a number of other events take place that bring the past to life.

Folks in period clothing help to keep the atmosphere correct at many of these events here at the Crocker House. Kim has a passion for history and it shows.

Historic Fort Wayne, in downtown Detroit, is a true gem in the heart of the city that very few folks think about, much less visit. Built in the 1840's, this actual fort never saw any battles; however, it was the place that most soldiers in lower Michigan, from the Civil War era through Vietnam, were mustered into service. Imagine being able to visit a place right here in Michigan that has a major Civil War connection! The officer quarters, the barracks, sallyport, guard house - all are still there as they stood in the old days, ready for visitors to take a walk through. The sallyport is my particular favorite part.

Some restoration is still needed but many local historians and preservationists have donated their time and money - and continue to do so - to keep this true historic gem alive. You, too, can donate to keep this part of Detroit history alive.
By the way, during the summer (this year July 11th and 12th), a Civil War muster takes place.
Here is a link to visit the Fort Wayne site: http://www.historicfortwaynecoalition.com/

Traveling about an hour and a half west of Detroit, another small collection of historic buildings are waiting to be visited by the public, Waterloo Farms. A log house, a bake house, an icehouse, a granary, and a mid-19th century farmhouse (among a few other buildings) help to show what farm life was like in Michigan 150 years ago. Throughout the year the group that runs Waterloo Farms holds various events, including one for the American Indian, a pioneer days, and a Christmas gathering.

Near Greenfield Village and the Henry Ford Museum is the Dearborn Historical Society collection of buildings, including the Commandent's Building, restored to its 1833 - 1875 appearance as well as the Gardner House, built in 1831 and is the oldest structure built in Dearborn that is still standing. It is furnished to a mid-19th century appearance.

To visit these buildings will cost you nothing but donations are accepted. It is worth the trip to see these few original Dearborn landmarks - my wife and I did and the tours of each building together totaled about two hours. The historical society has done a fine job in the restoration of these beautiful old structures.
Here is another link where more information can be found: http://www.cityofdearborn.org/departments/historicalmuseum/faq.shtml

Traveling two and a half to three hours outside of the metro-Detroit area is another historic village called Charlton Park, and this is located in rural Hastings, Michigan. Similar to but smaller than Crossroads Village, Charlton Park is home to mid-19th century Michigan structures, including a 19th century few houses with period furnishings, a barber shop, a general store, a church, bank, school, a cooper shop, a blacksmith shop, and a small mainstreet collection.

As I have only visited the Charlton Park during Civil War reenactments, I don't know if the docents are in period clothing or not, but don't let that stop you from visiting this place. The (mostly) 19th century homes and buildings are well worth the scenic drive.
Check out there informative site: http://www.barrycounty.org/parks-and-services/charlton-park/

If you enjoy driving, taking a ride on US 12 from Detroit to Chicago - heck, even Dearborn to Jackson - is well worth your time and gas. Traveling through authentic 19th century towns where many original structures still stand gives one the opportunity to see this stage coach road as it once was...well...in a way. It is a modern street now, with modern autos zooming by. But, while driving along, stop and visit some of the Victorian towns along the way. One of the best restored buildings on the trip is Walker Tavern, at the junction US 12 and M 50. This restored 1836 tavern, still in its original location, is open for walk throughs telling the story of all taverns and stage coach stops along US 12 - well worth it. It is a part of the Cambridge Junction Historical Society http://www.michigandnr.com/parksandtrails/details.aspx?id=440&type=SPRK collection of farm buildings as well as the Inn itself.
US 12 has other historic stopping points as well. And if you love antiques, these small towns have plenty of antique shops. Visit the site dedicated to this "Chicago Road."
Traveling about two and a half to three hours north along the very scenic shoreline of Lake Huron, near the tip of the thumb, you will find another small but authentic historic village called Huron City, where most of the original late 19th and early 20th century buildings are still there as they stood a hundred plus years ago, including the seven gables house, a general store, a log cabin, a church, and the nearby Point Aux Barque lighthouse, among other structures.
Tours are given during the summer season. I have never taken the tour, but I have walked around the buildings and, I believe, the next time I am out that way I will take the official tour.
Their official website is: http://huroncitymuseums.org/
By the way, on your ride up to the tip of the thumb, please visit the Victorian Villages that dot the shoreline: Lexington, Croswell, Port Sanilac, Forester, etc.

Now, I know that throughout the local communities there are many historic structures - train depots (Holly and Mt. Clemens have two beautifully restored depots), schoolhouses (my hometown here in Eastpointe has a restored schoolhouse from 1872), log cabins, and other pieces of history - that belong to (or are cared for by) the various historical societies, and they are very happy to give tours. And, many of the smaller towns and cities throughout the area, such as Romeo, Mt. Clemens, Port Huron, Saline, Holly (the list could go on), all have beautiful original historic structures (Wolcott Mill in northern Macomb County comes to mind http://www.rayhistory.org/ ), Victorian homes and even mansions still standing and restored.

One town, Marshall, Michigan near Battle Creek, even has a yearly historic home tour. I have never taken the tour myself but friends who have say it's excellent! Here's a site in case you want to get more information http://www.marshallmich.com/hometourbro02.html

I realize I haven't even touched on the northern towns and villages of Michigan, such as Mackinac Island and the town of Mackinaw at the tip of the mitt. I haven't been there in many years, but I am centering today's blog on places I have personally visited within the last few years. When I do travel that far up north, however, I will give a full report.

I also know there are many historical places in the area that I have missed, and I apologize if I missed your site (especially if I've been there!).
I hope this has helped some locals to visit their local history and may entice out-of-town history lovers to come to Michigan for a historical visit. Or even seek out historical sites in their area.
No, I don't work for a travel agency - I just like to pass along historic info and places to visit for those interested.

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