Exploring the Past in Historic Traverse City

It’s easy to think about the past when you’re visiting impressive Michigan historical sites like Fort Michilimackinac or Greenfield Village. But every community has its own history, and sometimes it can be just as fascinating! Today, Mike Norton of Traverse City Tourism tells us what he discovered as he set out to learn about his adoptive hometown.

I admit it. When I first moved to Traverse City 36 years ago, I didn’t spend much time thinking about its history. Like most people who find themselves in this beautiful place, I was much more interested in its endless sandy beaches, its glacier-sculpted hills and lakes and all the outdoor adventures it offered.

As time went on, though, I began to realize that there’s more to Traverse City than those scenic and recreational qualities. Reminders of this area’s brief but dramatic past are scattered everywhere: lonely lighthouses, humble mission churches, workingmen’s taverns, quaint Victorian cottages and the grand estates of 19th century lumber barons. Fortunately, you can visit and tour many of these sites, just as I did!

Indian hunters and French traders were the first people to visit this place, and it was they who gave the region its name – La Grand Traverse – because of the “long crossing” they had to make by canoe across the mouth of the bay. But they were just passing through; even the native Ottawa and Chippewa people didn’t arrive as settlers until the early 18th century.

Photo courtesy of Traverse City Tourism

Old Mission Lighthouse – Photo courtesy of Traverse City Tourism

To learn more about those earliest arrivals, who call themselves simply Anishinaabek (“The People”) – take a drive up the Leelanau Peninsula to Peshawbestown, the headquarters of the 5,000-member Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians to visit the Eyaawing Museum & Cultural Center, which contains exhibit galleries and a store featuring traditional and contemporary artworks.

It wasn’t until 1839 that the Rev. Peter Dougherty established the area’s first permanent settlement at the tip of the Old Mission peninsula. The modern-day village of Old Mission still occupies Dougherty’s idyllic site: a place seemingly frozen in time, where many of the original structures are still standing and in use. Three miles to the north is the quaint Old Mission Lighthouse, built in 1870 to warn ships away from the rocky shoals of Old Mission Point.

By 1847 a small but growing community was forming on the banks of the nearby Boardman River. In 1852 the little sawmill town was christened Traverse City — but until the first road through the forest was built in 1864 it remained a remote outpost, accessible only by water.

Photo courtesy of Traverse City Tourism

Perry Hannah House – Photo courtesy of Traverse City Tourism

A good place to begin exploring this community’s beginnings is on Sixth Street in the city’s historic Central Neighborhood. Here, housed in the former 1903 Carnegie Library, is the History Center of Traverse City, which conducts 90-minute bus tours of the city’s most important historical sites. Tickets for this “Magical History Tour” are $15 for adults and $10 for seniors and children 12 and under.

Just across the street is the immense 32-room Perry Hannah House, built by Traverse City founder Perry Hannah in 1893. It’s a true showcase, with its beveled Tiffany doors, copper-clad turrets and intricate wood paneling. (A different wood was used in almost every room — appropriately enough for a man whose fortune came from the forest.)

A few blocks to the north is Front Street, Traverse City’s main street, and the immense white building that once housed the heart of Hannah’s 19th century Empire. Built in 1863, when it was known as The Big Store, it’s only half as large as it used to be – it once stretched for two blocks.

Screen Shot 2014-04-14 at 12.40.54 PM

City Opera House – Photo courtesy of Traverse City Tourism

After decades of neglect, Front Street has been extensively restored and is now a picturesque and pedestrian-friendly reminder of the city’s historical roots. Its tree-shaded sidewalks now border shops, restaurants and galleries that have made creative use of the Victorian buildings they occupy. One special landmark is the ornate 1891 City Opera House, recently reopened after more than $8.5 million in exquisite restoration work.

Not everyone in 19th-century Traverse City was a millionaire. The city’s west side, known as Slabtown, was home to millworkers and skilled woodcarvers, including a substantial community of Bohemian immigrants who built tidy cottages for themselves with slabs of scrapwood from the sawmills. Many of their homes are still standing, and so is Sleder’s Family Tavern, a 125-year-old establishment that’s still a favorite hangout for locals and visitors alike.

Photo courtesy of Traverse City Tourism

Sleder’s Family Tavern – Photo courtesy of Traverse City Tourism

After the lumber boom ended, the local economy turned to manufacturing and agriculture – potatoes, apples, and eventually cherries. But the city’s biggest economic windfall came in 1885, when it was designated as the site of the Northern Michigan Asylum, which became one of the city’s major employers and eventually housed a population several times larger than that of the town itself.

Today, the 480-acre site of the former hospital is known as the Grand Traverse Commons and is being redeveloped into a unique “village” of shops, restaurants, apartments and galleries. Developers are preserving both the castle-like Italianate century buildings that once housed staff and patients, while its lovely wooded campus has become a favorite place for hikers and cyclists.

As you can probably tell, I’ve made up for my initial ignorance by wandering around a lot of Traverse City’s historical site. But history isn’t just about big public buildings; some of this town’s most charming reminders of the past are in its lovingly-restored old homes and neighborhoods. Wonderful places for a stroll or a bicycle ride!

To learn more about the history of Traverse City, and for help with lodging, dining and other year-round fun, call us at Traverse City Tourism at 1-800-TRAVERSE or visit their Web site at www.traversecity.com

27156_4580575632833_1130134017_n - CopyFormer Coast Guardsman Mike Norton majored in history at the University of Michigan and spent 25 years as a newspaper writer and columnist in Traverse City. For the past decade, he’s been the media relations manager at Traverse City Tourism. He lives in the village of Old Mission.

How A Cocktail Napkin Crafted Michigan’s Largest International Beer Sampling Event

The World Expo of Beer in Frankenmuth is May 16 – 17, 2014. Today, guest blogger Blair Giesken and Go Great Lakes Bay tell us how a simple cocktail napkin helped set Michigan’s largest international beer sampling event into motion. 

Screen Shot 2014-04-09 at 2.39.12 PMThey say some of the best ideas start on cocktail napkins.  J.K. Rowling’s famous Harry Potter book series started on one. So did the idea for the flight route that later became the basis of Southwest Airlines. And the World Expo of Beer in Frankenmuth is no different.

This 2-day beer-centric festival of international proportion all began back in 1996 with one small sketch on a Bavarian Inn Roof Garten cocktail napkin and one big idea – to celebrate the beauty of spring in Frankenmuth.“In Germany, new seasonal beers are brewed and celebrated during their annual Maifests (Spring celebrations),” said Annie Rummel, who originated the World Expo of Beer and now serves as CEO of the Great Lakes Bay Regional CVB.  “We thought, why not honor the German Spring tradition with our own beer tasting event?”

And honor it they did. With the Great American Beer Festival in Colorado already highlighting domestic beer products and the strong relationship Frankenmuth already had with its sister city of Guzenhausen, Germany, the idea for this new beer-tasting event naturally evolved beyond local and domestic brews to embrace beers from around the globe.

As if coordinating an international beer festival for the first time wasn’t a tall enough order, Rummel and her talented team (along with countless community supporters) took the World Expo of Beer from a concept on a cocktail napkin to a full-blown festival in less than 5 weeks!

Screen Shot 2014-04-09 at 2.45.52 PMHoping to see a turnout near 5,000 people, the crew behind the first-ever World Expo of Beer could do nothing but smile and pull the tap that year as over 15,000 thirsty beer lovers streamed into the tents at Frankenmuth’s Heritage Park, commemorative tasting mugs in hand.

Each year, the Frankenmuth Jaycees and the entire community continue to welcome thousands to shout and sing “Ein Prosit” (German for “A toast to you”) and raise a stein in celebration of beers from around the world.  The festival has even expanded to tap into the hearts and minds of true beer connoisseurs everywhere, with great additions like the Fine Food & Craft Brew Pairing Event and Beer 101 “Basics of Beer” Course.

This year, the World Expo of Beer will tap countless kegs for the annual celebration – May 16th and 17th – bringing nearly 300 brews from the furthest corners of the earth (and right from our own backyards!) – to the tasting mugs of thousands.  Feeling thirsty already?  You can pre-purchase an admission package to this year’s festival with beer tickets included so you can skip the long lines!

Screen Shot 2014-04-09 at 2.47.11 PMLearn more about the World Expo of Beer, check out other things to do while you’re in the Great Lakes Bay Region, follow the World Expo of Beer and Go Great Lakes Bay on Facebook for updates on the free World Expo of Beer shuttle buses, and be sure to book your overnight stay nearby to cap off a day of tasting with a great night’s rest.  You’re going to need it!

Location: Frankenmuth Heritage Park – 601 Weiss Street, Frankenmuth, MI 48734 (just 500 feet from the Bavarian Inn Lodge)

Dates & Times: Friday, May 16th from 5-10 pm and Saturday, May 17th from 3-10 pm

Admission: $10 (includes a free commemorative beer sampling mug); Proceeds will be donated to charitable causes; 21+ only; Admission packages available here.

What unique brew are you most looking forward to sampling at this year’s event? 

Blair Giesken was born and raised in the Great Lakes Bay Region and now resides in Grand Rapids.

Before You Hit the Water, Cross These Items Off Your Summer Boating Checklist

With 3,200-miles of freshwater coastline, Michigan is a boater’s delight! Today, guest blogger Nicki Polan from Michigan Boating Industries Association provides some helpful reminders for prepping your boat for summer boating season in Pure Michigan. 

Even though I am grateful for this year’s snow and ice (because they are going to further improve our water levels), I’m still very happy to see it all go.  Clearing the deck of snow was number one on my spring checklist to start preparing for warmer weather.  It is done!  Choosing our boat launch day is usually number two.  With water level predictions up and warmer weather on the way, I hope to get through our checklist quickly.

Despite my rush to start the summer fun, I’ve added two new items to the list this year for a few reasons. Because we have a 13 year old son who is anxious to drive a PWC when he turns 14, we can save some money on our boat insurance, and I don’t want to worry about random safety inspections,  every boater should consider  adding these items to their summer boating checklist as well. The benefits are well worth the time invested, and will allow you to enjoy Michigan’s great waters worry-free.

1. Get a free safety inspection and become free from random boat stops for safety inspection.

20080712_Cherry_Festival_0137On February 23, 2012, Michigan’s Public Act 62 became law and clarifies conditions under which a peace officer may stop and inspect a vessel.  The new law states that boaters who have a “Safety Check Decal” displayed on their boat are free from random stops by marine patrol boats.  Decals are available to those who voluntarily participate in a U.S. Coast Guard Safety Check.  Lake associations and marinas can arrange for free inspection days with the Coast Guard or a boater can arrange for a free inspection directly with the Coast Guard on their website.  This new law helps both law enforcement and boaters.

2. Take a Boating Safety Class to save money and better enjoy your time on the water.

tubingThe more you know, the more you will enjoy your chosen recreation.  Even though in many cases it is not required, it is a good idea for everyone to take a boating safety class.  Plus, some insurance companies offer a discount to boaters who have a certificate.  Classes are usually held at convenient locations and can be as short as six hours for the basics or several days for those who really want to take it all in.  Depending on your age and what type of watercraft you are operating, you may be required by law. To understand who must take a boating safety class by law, and to find a class near you, visit the website.

Hopefully your list is short enough to add these two easy steps.  Additionally, if discovering Michigan boating is on your spring check list, everything you need to know can be found on at www.discoverboating.com.

See you on the water!

Where do you like to go boating in Michigan? 

Nicki PolanNicki Polan is the Executive Director of the Michigan Boating Industries Association and a Michigan State Waterways Commissioner.  Nicki is a working mother and lifelong boater, whose family enjoys boating in both Oakland and Branch counties.  Nicki enjoys sharing information about the benefits of the boating lifestyle, legislative issues affecting the boating industry, and the incredible and diverse boating and fishing opportunities available in our Great Lakes state.