Saturday, December 18, 2010

Touring Michigan - Manistee

We live on Michigan's crown jewel, Mackinac Island, but Michigan has plenty of other intriguing places to visit. Recently we took a bit of time away and I thought I'd share a few impressions of our trip.

We started in Manistee; named after the river which passes through it and according to legend it is an Indian word meaning "The Spirit of the Woods".

Just like Mackinac, Manistee was an outpost of the American Fur Company in the 1820's. Around this same time Manistee was considered one of the busiest commercial fishing ports on Lake Michigan.

On October 8, 1871, the same day as the great Chicago fire, the fire alarm sounded in Manistee. Monday found the city a scene of desolation and ruin. Over 1,000 men, women and children were left homeless.

Rock salt deposits were discovered in 1879 and salt continues to be mined today.

In 1885, there were forty sawmills cutting millions of feet of lumber annually and the city of Manistee a roaring, thriving community of 16,000 - about three times as many as today.

So, furs, fishing, fire, lumber and salt define the history of this lakeside town, which is today defined tourism.

We spent the night at the Ramsdell Inn, a delightfully renovated former commercial building. Built in 1891 as a bank, news reports of the time emphasis it's fireproof construction - memories of the fire of 1871 were still strong.

The renovation was incredibly well done, the architectural details of the past have been preserved and the modern code requirements kept as unobtrusive as possible.

Above the former bank vault is "Miss Manistee", a symbolic representation of the city and the men who made her what she is - she holds a civic key of salt crystals and a twig of pine. The background includes lumber piles, salt derricks and schooners and she is surrounded by Indians, voyageurs, a river driver, etc. This graphic representation of of the city's past has been carefully restored and preserved - it glows in the light.

Even in the winter, the downtown area is filled with antique shops, boutiques and galleries.

Check out this window display at the River Street Gallery

The figures and animals are life sized and formed of nothing more than corrugated cardboard - the detail and imagination is incredible. It was created by the owner's wife and will be moving to University of Dayton's Marian Library collection of creches.

A random ice sculpture (yes, I know, ice again!) in a parking lot - a leftover from a holiday party maybe?

Love the fish sculpture - the painted design is the markings of a Petoskey stone or fossilized coral.

A must see is the Manistee County Historical Museum, especially at Christmastime.

The vintage trains are amazing, and not just the trains themselves, but all the accessories that go with them - working fountains, gates, building, and people. I could have spent hours trying to absorb all the details.

Each year, the rooms upstairs are decorated for the season to reflect the customs of a specific ethnic background, this year was Swiss and French Canadian.

As is typical for most small local museums, they rely heavily on volunteers, and as one volunteer told us, they are a "stuff museum" - they need to work with the "stuff" that is donated to them. Often that can lead to some rather random displays, but I was impressed with the work here; everything was quite cohesive and they had done a great job of working with what was available, yet showing a good, reasonably accurate representation of the past.

So what do you think - any interest in more "Touring Michigan"?

1 comment:

  1. Yes, please! Because we are farmers, we "don't get out much". I've enjoyed the virtual tour of Manistee...