Friday, May 2, 2014

The Historical Structures of Crossroads Village

Welcome to
~Crossroads Village~
Please watch your step.
Walks, streets, and floors
replicate those of the 1800's
and are uneven.

(from the brochure of Crossroads Village)
The entrance way to Crossroads Village

Recently I wrote about the wonderful open-air museum Old Sturbridge Village, which is located in Massachusetts. I've never been to Old Sturbridge Village but I very much enjoyed the photos a friend had taken and I felt the need to write about it.
I also hope to actually visit the place one day.
And I'm always writing about Greenfield Village, of which I visit quite often (click HERE to see a blog I have dedicated to it).
For this week's posting I'd like to write about the structures situated inside another open-air museum, this time located near Flint, Michigan called Crossroads Village.
I've written previously about Crossroads and of how authentic looking it is with the dirt roads, wood plank sidewalks, and all of the grassy areas, but I have never written about the historic buildings that make up the museum here on my Passion for the Past blog.
So, that's what I decided to do.
I suppose this could be part of a continuing series on open-air museums...after all, I do hope to visit Colonial Williamsburg next year!
Anyhow, for Crossroads, let's begin with a notation from the official Crossroads Village web site:

Tiny plumes of smoke rise from the boiler at the Master Cider Mill and drift silently over the wooden walks and dewy grass. Down the street, a woman walks among her gardens gathering flowers in her apron and waves to the gentlemen at the sawmill, who are turning huge logs into planks. There’s a game of checkers just starting at the barbershop, and musicians backstage at the opera house are tuning up their voices for the first show of the day.
The century-old grinding stones at the Atlas Mill are turning wheat into flour for the day’s bread, while a little girl learns to crochet and her mother admires a hand-made quilt. Eager passengers slide onto their seats in the wooden coaches of the Huckleberry Railroad as the conductor calls out, “All aboard!”
Most of the 35 buildings here were moved – brick, board and stone – to this magical place at the edge of Mott Lake. Many came from just a few miles away. In this peaceful setting, they have been preserved, furnished and put back into use, so you can experience first-hand what life was like in a small village in Michigan in the late 1800's

Thus begins our journey to and through that wonderful little historic village that few are aware of, Crossroads Village.
The history of Crossroads goes back to the late 1960's when people living in the Genessee County area, situated around an hour north of Detroit, were concerned that so much of their local history was being torn down. There was also the realization that the rural crafts, skills, and equipment of a century earlier was also being lost to time, so a proposal to build a museum dedicated to farming life was proposed.

Eventually, the concept of merging farm life with rural 19th century village life came to the forefront and, by the summer of 1973, the County Board of Supervisors adopted the idea of creating a rural country town, common in the last half of the 1800's. With the Bicentennial fast approaching, plans for this Crossroads Village evolved from the common characteristics of the rural villages that used to dot Genessee County as shown in the 1875 Atlas of Genessee County.
By the time it's grand opening dedication took place on July 4, 1976, just over a dozen buildings had been relocated onto land adjacent to the C.S. Mott's Children's Farm - land that had been given to the people of Genessee County by the C.F. Mott Foundation.
It now has over 30 structures.
What makes Crossroads so unique is its authenticity - it has dirt roads, wood-plank sidewalks, an actual period train and train cars, and, well, just has the look and feel of stepping into the past, moreso, dare I say, than the modernized cement curb and sidewalk look of Greenfield Village (though the presentations at Greenfield Village's structures are excellent).

So, come with me and let's take a tour of this tucked-out-of-the-way open-air museum.
We'll begin with the Davison Train Depot.
Built in the late 19th century as part of the Grand Trunk Line, the Davison Depot (originally from Davison, Michigan) has been beautifully restored and even retains its original colors. Being that Davison was not a regular stop but a "flag stop" (that is, the train would only stop if a passenger wanted to get off there or if there was a passenger who wanted to board from there, in which case a flag would be posted to let the engineer know to stop), many times the mail would be tossed off of the moving train in mailbags if there were no passengers.
This locomotive, the Rio Grande, was built in 1903 and is coal-fire steam. It used to haul freight in those early years, but more recently has found a home at Crossroads. The coaches used here vary in age, but many were made in the 1890’s.
The train ride is fine and scenic, and it's very easy, with the constant rocking of the car, to take a quick nap as you roll through the country side.

Now it's time to enter the Main Street.
So, just a quick historical bit to get you in the mindset:
Nineteenth century America was still very much a rural society, though after the Civil War it was in a transitional period from rural to urban as migration from the countryside began its movement in earnest.
It’s in this last half of the 19th century that Crossroads Village centers on, and of the movement that took place during this time.
Main Street can be literally defined as the principal street in a village, town, or city, and Crossroads shows this well. Some of the main streets in America grew to become major thoroughfares, as we see in the current largest cities across the land, while others retained their small-town atmosphere as the towns and villages remained small, usually in a more rural setting.
Let's read about the main street that Crossroads Village has restored:
Our first building on this not-so-busy thoroughfare, the Horton-Colwell Building, was built in 1869 by Dexter Horton and David Colwell in Fenton, Michigan, and it housed many businesses over the years, including a post office on the first floor from 1869 until 1883.
Churches, schools, and fraternal organizations used the 2nd floor Opera House. General Tom Thumb, famous through Barnum, once appeared there in 1879, as did Lily Langtree, the famous opera singer. Prices for the entertainment was twenty five cents for adults and fifteen cents for children.

And here is a "walking view" of Main Street. Does this scene not just take you through a portal through time?

Built in 1878 by Townsend North in Vassar, Michigan, the bank became the 1st National Bank of Vassar in 1883 and then, in 1901, the State Bank of Vassar. By 1926 the bank had moved to a new building and this old building was used mainly for storage. It was moved to Crossroads Village in 1978.

The walk in vault and the decorative teller's cage are original equipment of the bank

The second floor of the bank was used as an apartment at one time. It now shows what a dentist office of the late 19th century looked like, though this structure never actually housed a dentist office.

The "operatory room" of the dentist office above the bank.

Situated directly across the road from the Horton-Colwell building inside Crossroads Village, this early 1870's Georgian-Colonial style structure was originally known as the Williams House, and later the Schirmer House, after the family's that owned it.
At one time it also included a post office.
It's now known as the Attica Hotel.
William and Betsy Williams, with their 14 children, were the original owners. They settled in Attica, Michigan in 1851, William being in the lumber business. He had built a sawmill on Williams Lake (now Grass Lake).
Being the savvy businessman, he and a neighbor financially enticed the Port Huron & Lake Michigan Railroad to construct their line by their mills by contributing $17,000 to the railroad.

~This structure was moved to Crossroads Village in 1981 and restored in 1986.
Why it’s called a hotel is beyond me, for I have found nothing that states it ever was a hotel. Hmmm...maybe it seemed like a hotel due to the 14 kids...

Just a bit down from the Attica building we find what could very well become my favorite building inside the entire village if they would open it up for people to enter more often:

The Mason Tavern.
Daniel Mason, a native of New Hartford, New York, before immigrating to Michigan, built this structure as a stagecoach inn and tavern around 1850. It soon became a popular stagecoach stop along the route of the Flint and Fentonville Plank Road Company, which was established in 1849.
From 1853 to 1871, Mundy Township's first post office was also housed here. The tavern and post office continued to operate until shortly after the Flint and Pere Marquette Railway came to the area. In 1879, Mason sold the property and moved to Flint, where he died in 1880.

This is an exact replica of the 1880's doctor's office where Dr. Julius Barbour practiced his medicine in Bristol, Indiana.
Originally from the Flint, Michigan area, 14 year old Barbour enlisted in the army during the Civil War and studied medicine during his tenure there. Afterward, he attended schools to learn both general medicine and homeopathy (herbal cures) as well. The Flint Academy of Medicine banned homeopaths from practicing in the area, which was why Dr. Barbour, in 1879, moved to Indiana, where he lived until 1908.

An office visit was usually fifty cents to a dollar. But, most doctors would also accept a chicken, ham, or other food instead.

The Manwaring Building, now used as a print shop, was built sometime between 1830 and 1850 on Main Street in Dryden, Michigan. Greek revival in style, it was used as a dry goods store and later a bakery & ice cream parlor.
It was relocated to Crossroads Village in 1980.

John Hess of Iosco County originally owned this sawmill, which he purchased from a mail-order house in 1895. Because it was a portable model, he could mount it on a wagon.
During the later part of the 1800’s, portable sawmills reached the height of their popularity, for there was a tremendous amount of plank road construction in rural areas such as Iosco and Genessee Counties. The timber that was removed when the land was cleared for the road was converted into planking on the spot, so no costly and time-consuming shipments to the standing mills was needed.
It was also cheaper for farmers to hire a portable mill operator to come out and cut some of his trees into lumber than to haul trees into town to be cut by the standing mills.

The Atlas Gristmill: The founding father of Atlas, Michigan was Judge Norman Davison, who arrived there in 1831 from Livingston County, New York. He cleared the land and built a house for his family as well as a sawmill in 1833 and a gristmill in 1836. It remained in continuous use as a gristmill in its original location until 1943 and was moved to Crossroads in 1980.

The Atlas Mill from another angle. Note the slew center right.
The presenter in this building does a phenomenal job in showing  just how this old gristmill works. Yes, the entire building really does shake when he opens the slew to allow the water to rush threw to turn the under-shot water wheel, which, in turn, turns the grinding stones.
We’ve purchased flour ground right here at this mill. Great quality!

Once part of a barn as a horse stall, this 1860-built shack is now used to show the blacksmith trade of the 19th century. And Crossroads does have a working smithy throughout the summer season.

This ice house came from a farm near Holly, Michigan. There is no information about this particular building such as its age, but one doesn't see too many ice houses anywhere, so for that reason alone this is pretty cool.
Ice Houses, by the way, were used to store ice cut from a nearby pond or lake during the winter freeze and would hopefully last well into summer by being well insulated with sawdust.

This cider mill, built in the 1880’s, was used to make cider and wine from the late 19th century through 1974 when it was donated to Crossroads. It is still used to demonstrate cider making from 130 years ago.

Built roughly in 1830 in Dearborn Township, this cabin once belonged to John and Elizabeth Salter, hence the name Salter Log Cabin. The Salters, immigrants from Prussia, were farmers, had no children, and practiced a plain and frugal life even by standards of their day. This cabin was never expanded or changed except for plastering the walls and adding clapboard siding during the 40 years they lived there.
In 1929 Henry Ford had this structure placed inside his newly built Greenfield Village in time for its grand opening in 1929. At the time he had it listed as Log House and then Pioneer Cabin.
In 1995, Greenfield Village donated it to Crossroads Village and it is now the oldest building there.

Built in 1854 by carpenter John Buzzell for his own family, this was the first building moved to the land on which would become Crossroads Village. It is a fine example of Greek revival architecture and was a typical middle class home of the period. It was the oldest standing wooden structure in Flint at the time of its relocation in 1969. If it had not been moved, it most certainly would have been razed.
John and Kathryn Buzzell had three sons here.

One of the things that stands out to me at Crossroads Village is seeing back yard water pumps that were plentiful in the last part of the 19th century.

The Eldridge home originally stood at the northeast corner of Stanley and Genesee Roads, though the exact date of construction is not known. It’s figured to have been built around 1860.
John Eldridge, his wife Annie may, and their three children were living here in the 1870’s. John was a farm hand who hired out to the more affluent farmers in the area. His daughter Caroline , in her aging years after her Civil War husband died, returned to the home in 1932 where she lived until her death in 1854.

Jackson Fox built this Italianate style home in 1876 at the corner of Carpenter and Branch Roads. Jackson and Melissa Fox were prosperous farmers who had ten children.
And this is why they built such a large house.
Jackson lived in this house until his death in 1899 with Melissa remaining there afterward, as did future generations until a grandson and grand daughter donated it to Crossroads Village in 1975.
Something very cool about this house is the descendants of the Fox's still visit the place every-so-often, and they've been willing to share the family stories to help make the house come alive.

(From the The Flint Journal Monday December 29, 2008)
Jackson Fox Jr., his wife Katrina Schuur-Fox and his brother, Steve, stood around a table Monday in the 132-year-old house, eyeing an ancient land deed from when their ancestors bought the property.

The deed was dated from 1837 and said "United States government" on the top.

"Isn't that neat?" exclaimed Schuur-Fox as she peered at the document.

All around them was family history. There was the parlor room with wood floors where the family used to gather around for years.

Next to the parlor was the dining room where they used to have Sunday dinners and Thanksgiving. There were the pictures of the original owners, Jackson and Adeline Fox, and their 10 children on the walls.

The family gathered for Jackson Fox Jr.'s 60th birthday. The house now is located in Crossroads Village.

Jackson Fox Jr. of Kalamazoo is the original Jackson Fox's great-grandson.

The elder Fox built the house, which originally was located at Carpenter and Branch roads in Genesee Township, in 1876.

Jackson Fox Jr. said it is rare to have so much family history.

"I don't think many people could ever point to a home that belonged to their great grandparents, let alone set foot in it," he said. "It's a way to connect to your ancestors."
How true that is!

The Coldwater Chapel.
This church was built by the Cohoctal Evangelicals in 1889 in Cohoctal Township in Livingston County. The first services here were conducted in German. In 1968 it became the Salem United
Methodist Church until the congregation disbanded in 1972.
It was moved to Crossroads Village in 1977 and reopened to the public in 1978.
This is a beautiful church in a beautiful setting, as you can see. However, I am a bit miffed that Crossroads does not have a cross anywhere in sight. This is because, as I was told, they do not want to offend anyone of non or different beliefs.
This is a church, and obviously a Christian church, and an old historic church such as the Coldwater Chapel represents the fact that the church and religion was the center of all village life in the 19th century.  Please allow it to be presented as such.

And if you should ever acquire a building of another religious belief, I would hope that you would allow them to display their symbols as well.
If anyone gets offended by walking into what is obviously a historic religious building and seeing objects pertaining to that belief, then they are only looking to cause trouble.
Case closed.
Okay, I’ll get off my soap box now.

The Stanley school was built on Bray Road just south of Stanley Road in Flint in 1883. The school was used in this location until 1963. After it closed it was used for storage.
It was named for Sherman Stanley, who settled in the area in 1835.
The building was moved to Crossroads in 1975.

The Wisner Carriage barn was built in 1878 by Judge Charles H. Wisner to house a few horses and carriages. It was moved to Crossroads Village in 1973, otherwise it would have been torn down due to the construction of the I-475 freeway.
Wisner’s father was the 12th governor of Michigan before his death in the Civil War.

The Calkins Barn was built by Edmund Calkin in 1884 in Clayton Township, Michigan upon 200 acres of land he had acquired. His farming included plum trees, beehives, and shopshire sheep.
This barn was rebuilt at Crossroads Village by way of an old-fashioned barn raising utilizing quite a bit of help from Amish craftsmen.
It now houses numerous carriages as well as farming equipment.

For these next few pictures I would like to share "scenes" - photos showing the authentic 19th century look of Crossroads Village, which is second to none. The only thing missing are horses and actual use of farm land.
This picture was taken in the summer of 1863. Well, okay, the summer of 2013, when a few of us traveled to Crossroads while wearing our period clothing. They used to have an awesomely authentic Civil War weekend there, but due to varying reasons (none, I’m sure, that I would think of as good or reasonable) they cancelled the event. So, we have our own event there (click HERE to read about our excursion there that summer).

I stood at the door of the Fox house looking toward the Buzzell house for this photo. Wouldn’t you love to live in a village like this? One day…

From the Buzzell house looking toward the Fox house (on the left).

That’s the cider mill on the right.
We’re looking toward the Eldridge house, hidden by the trees, in this photo.

Coming from the gristmill, we can see the outskirts of town. That’s the Mason Tavern sitting there on the left.

The ‘roots” of Crossroads Village was to be a museum dedicated to farming life. Well, then, they need to begin plowing, harrowing, and planting to show just what it was like over a century ago. Unfortunately, they don’t show it at all, though there are beautiful gardens at a few of the homes. But they really should have a full-fledged working farm here, especially when one considers it is supposed to be a rural 19th century village. Let’s not lose sight of the original vision.

Well, at least you can watch them milk a cow once or twice a day, which is pretty cool for those who do not have an opportunity to see this.

And then the sights of town come into view.

Does Crossroads Village have its problems? Yes, a few - no place is perfect. I will address one complaint here: for the thirty + years that I have been visiting Crossroads, I have never seen a guidebook with info and photos, only a brochure with a few lines written about each structure. That's where much of the information you've read here came from, along with a presenters guide that was given to me that is not available to the general public (it's only for their presenters). I feel this needs to be rectified, for this Village deserves more than a simple brochure as a souvenir.
But perhaps my biggest complaint is that they need to work on their Village presentations. Aside from the Gristmill operator, printer in the print shop, and the men who work around the train depot (who all do a super job, by the way!), the presentations inside the houses leave much to be desired; their clothing, their canned speech, and the way they present in general really needs work.
It's sad to walk into the beautifully restored houses only to find there is virtually nothing going on to bring the house alive in a historical manner; just someone standing there giving their spiel.
By the way, I am not necessarily saying the presenters aren't good, only that they need better facts, accurate period clothing, and training to learn how to present to the public. 
Wouldn't it be great to see cooking on the wood stove?
Wouldn't it be great to see the homes come alive with period activity (besides needlepoint or crocheting. Really? You have to know that people did much more than that back then!)?
Wouldn't it be great to see a working farm in a rural community?
But I suppose that's what happens when a non-historical entity such as the Genessee County Parks & Recs runs such a place, which is the case here.
To some this may be nit-picky. But for me and so many others it's history and it deserves to be presented well and as factual as one can do with the current knowledge available. Crossroads is an awesome Village and it deserves much better than the way it is now being presented.
But I will still visit, for, as noted above, it's the feel of this village one gets while walking around where it really shines; the lay out is just so authentically Victorian Americana, you know?
A sort of an immersion for the senses.
These three dudes do it right! The best of the best!!

So, is it worth your while to visit Crossroads? You betcha! Even with my complaints, I definitely recommend it (and I do have my own issues with Greenfield Village as well, which I have addressed, lest you think I am only picking on Crossroads).
Their address is:
6140 N Bray Rd, Flint, MI 48505
They are generally open June through August from Wednesday until Sunday (check their website out HERE for further and updated information).

When all is said and done, we here in southeast Michigan are truly blessed with having two major open-air historical museums within two hours of each other.
For those out-of-towners who cannot make it to either one, I hope my postings help you to enjoy them vicariously through the information and photos posted.
By the way, all photos here were taken by me. And I have hundreds more, many taken of the interior of the buildings.

We'll save those for a "part two."



Musings of a Creative Writer said...

Beautiful pictures! I would love to see these. How far away are these sites from Detroit?

Historical Ken said...

It's approximately 90 minutes north of Detroit. Well worth the drive.

Historical Ken said...

Greenfield Village is about 15 minutes from Detroit.

the bee guy said...

Amd this is the reason my wife and I would make the 1:20 minute drive to Greenfield Village rather that the 30 minutes to Crossroads. Although the kids do like going there during Halloween and Christmas.

Roxanne Rhoads said...

The problem with Crossroads not having better presenters is that a large majority of them are all volunteer. There's not a lot of training or provisions for accurate time period clothing- and like with anything else that depends on grants and donations to stay up and running- having enough money to run it "properly" always seesm out of reach.

And a budget for booklets about the history of the place just doesn't seem to be there (though if they had a good writer, books could be made easily- thanks to places like Amazon and sold in the general store)

Historical Ken said...

Thank you Roxanne. I appreciate your comment.
It really is unfortunate that Genesee County doesn't put more money toward this gem. And have more historical events (Civil War, Rev War, etc) and less on children's entertainment.

Unknown said...

I worked at Crossroads when the trees were small and there were fewer buildings- 1977-1979. I was part of the theater troupe that presented plays and "robbed" trains. We hauled our own water, rode horses and, just like 19th Century actors, mooched some fresh-made bread. On foggy days, the coal smoke would drift through town while the whistle of the locomotive or the sawmill would echo in the damp air. Although I moved on to a life in the wilds of Wyoming, I remember those Crossroads days fondly.
B "Buck" Scigliano