Tag Archives: Michigan

Stagecoach Stopovers

I have been reminded during recent travels that the convenience of super highways and speedy travel are relatively recent occurrences. Only 150 years ago–a mere blip in the history of human travel–stagecoaches were considered a very modern means of transportation. They crossed the United States, from east to west and north to south, connecting cities and towns and outposts. However, places to clean up, dine, and spend the night were necessary, because transit took days and weeks.

On my trip to California and again on a more recent trip to Michigan, I relived a sliver of this history, stopping at two splendid examples of these stagecoach stopovers–one considerably more rustic than the other, but both remarkable — and both still serving food.

In California, it takes a fair bit of driving on a winding, mountain road to reach Cold Spring Tavern. Built in the 1860s, this is actually a complex of buildings that stood on what was, until 1963, the the only route over the mountains into Santa Barbara. (Hard enough to do in a car; can’t imagine doing it in a stage coach.) Today, while the buildings are still rustic, the menu is very upscale and quite pricey for dinner. I opted for lunch and enjoyed my buffalo burger immensely.

Cold Spring Tavern

Cold Spring Tavern

Cold Spring Complex

Cold Spring Complex

A much different experience was visiting the Stagecoach Inn, in historic Marshall, Michigan. This handsome Greek revival building is impressive even amid an entire main street of impressive, 19th century buildings. Constructed in 1838 and made an inn in 1846, it is the oldest continuously operating inn between Chicago and Detroit. Amusingly, while the rustic Cold Spring Tavern offers an extremely upscale menu, the externally elegant Stagecoach Inn offers simple, though very tasty, bar food. A hand-formed burger and wonderfully crisp sweet potato fries made a good lunch during a break in a long drive.

Stagecoach Inn, Marshall, MI

Stagecoach Inn, Marshall, MI

Come on in.

Come on in.

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Michigan’s Greenfield Village

I had long heard of Greenfield Village, but what I had heard hardly prepared me for the reality. It had been portrayed as a farm once owned by Henry Ford where Ford had installed buildings associated with his friends Thomas Edison and Harvey Firestone. While that is in fact true, it falls very short of telling the whole story.

Henry Ford's childhood was spent on this farm.

Henry Ford’s childhood was spent on this farm.

Greenfield Village is a sprawling collection of historic buildings, farms, trains, Model Ts, and horse-drawn wagons from across the U.S. and Europe, which offers an introduction to the way people used to live and, in some cases, the lives of some very important people in U.S. history. For the word lover in me, there was Noah Webster’s House, Robert Frost’s house, and the home and first school built by William McGuffy, of McGuffy’s Readers fame. Almost every building is the original, purchased and moved to the site by Ford — the few exceptions/recreations clearly noted as such. For the food historian in me, Luther Burbank’s birthplace and a recreation of George Washington Carver’s slave cabin (created from a description by Carver himself) gladdened my heart, as did the several farms and the Eagle Tavern, where one can dine on dishes from the 1800s. But I was delighted by everything. A chalet from Switzerland, a cottage from the Cotswold’s, an imposing jewelry emporium with massive clockworks from London represented Ford’s international interests. Demonstrating his love of invention were Edison’s Menlo Park complex, one of Edison’s first “Illuminating Companies,” the home and bicycle shop of the Wright Brothers, and a wide range of machines dating to the Industrial Revolution. And a lot more: print shop, gristmill, saw mills, plantation, windmill, and a long list of other historic homes. It really requires an entire day to explore even most of what this place has to offer, and probably a few visits to really take in everything (including the re-enactments of everything from cooking and plowing to short plays that bring to life events in the lives of those whose work or homes are there to craft workers creating once-common goods from glass, iron, tin, and wool).

McGuffy's School

McGuffy’s School

Then, if you have another day available, you can go next door to the Henry Ford Museum, often just called The Ford. The building covers 12 acres and has a collection that covers pretty much everything that happened from about 1850 to 1990. But that’s going to be another trip. This time, Greenfield Village was my focus — and though I stayed till it closed, I left already planning to return.

Cotswold Cottage at Greenfield Village

Cotswold Cottage at Greenfield Village

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Traverse City

Cherry Trees Bloom on Union Street, Traverse City

While I do love traveling to remote and/or exotic places, I am not beyond enjoying the delights found closer to home. Case in point: Traverse City, Michigan. It’s just two states over, and yet I never managed to get there until last year. Now, I’ve visited two years in a row, just returning about a week ago from my most recent foray. It’s an incredibly beautiful area, with verdant national forests, lush vineyards and orchards, and rolling hills, all surrounded by beautiful beaches and the sparkling waters of Lake Michigan. It also happens to be a world-class foodie destination. Good combination, I think.

Traverse City faces the water and is nestled at the base of two hilly, green peninsulas, the Leelenau and the Mission Peninsulas. When I speak of Traverse City, I am referring to this entire, sprawling area of woods, water, and wineries, not just of the city itself. However, the city’s downtown area is incredibly charming, streets lined with wonderful old buildings, all housing great shops and dandy eateries. Cherry trees decorate the sidewalks, so you can always tell whether the cherries in the surrounding orchards are in bloom or getting ready to pick. And that’s a big deal here. Traverse City and environs is the cherry capital of the United States, producing around 75% of the nation’s tart and sweet cherries. Continue reading

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