When you think about the fishing industry, the east coast and upper west coast comes to mind. These places are the first that come to my mind when I think of the fishing industry. There is a little town in Michigan that also embraces that industry. Leland, Michigan brings a little bit of that fishing industry feel in their Historic Fishtown. You can walk along the docks along side several shanties and smokehouses. Inside these shanties are several gift shops, eateries and art galleries. As you walk along the decks you will see fishnets and buoys. You will see decorative items enhancing the cultural feel of the fishing industry. This historic town was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975. During the summer this area is packed with visitors. During the winter the fish town seems deserted as most of the shops have closed for the season. Winter is still a good time to visit this town.
I stopped by Leland as I was making my way up to Northport on M-22 on a cold February day. I had the parking lot all to myself. I ventured on the dock area toward the end of the Fishtown Docks. This is where the ferry also deports for the Manitou Islands of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. As I walked onto the dock I heard a splashing sound just beyond the end of the docks. To my surprise a couple otters were playing around. They stuck their head out of the water and then quickly disappeared beyond the National Park Service Ferry that was docked in the small channel. It was interesting to look out to the break walls beyond heading out into Lake Michigan. In the distance you could see the dark stormy skies over the big lake. It appeared that a snow storm was on its way towards the lakeshore fairly soon.
I continued walking on the dock up toward the small dam area just below the street within Downtown Leland. All the fishing decor and relics were still there frozen over in snow or were encased in a coating of ice. The shops were closed up and it was a far cry from the activity normally seen during the summer. The only thing that could be heard was the rushing waters crashing down from the dam. It is not too far off the mark of some of the east coast fishing towns that shut down during the winter season. Many of the shops and restaurants in these towns close up during the winter since business tends to be slow. It was a nice walk just to see some of the boats docked in the channel and not a person around. I walked through a small gated area leading up toward the parking lot. From there, I could get onto the overlook of the dam giving a great view of the channel, Fishtown and Lake Michigan in the distance.
My time at Fishtown during the winter was not extensive. I spent about 25 minutes just walking around and taking photographs there. It certainly did not have the activity as there is during the summer, but I was glad I had made this particular stop. Often we need to see things in a different way than what we are used to. The overall scene of the Historic Fishtown did not change much from the summer. However, the dynamic of what I saw did. Instead of a town packed with people, I saw a town that was desolate and tranquil. I walked away embracing the value of this historic part of this town.
The Port Oneida Historic District is one of the less traveled areas of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. This area continues north on M-22 into the Leelanau Peninsula. This is more of an area of countryside lands with old historic farms and houses. I have included this in one of the must see areas of a winter visit to Sleeping Bear Dunes for a reason. It is an area that you can explore and get lost in the history of the park. In some of the roads travel is difficult, but most of them are plowed out well. There are about 120 farms and homes in this district. Occasionally you will come across some old farming equipment in an empty field which is often an interesting subject to photograph.
Typically the best time to visit this area is during the summer. The houses tend to be open to the public and there is a festival in August where you are able not only to see the barns and houses up close and personal, but you are able to get a deeper grasp of the historic value with several park rangers and volunteers working providing demonstrations of the typical life during the late 18th century and early 19th century. However, I have found that from a photographic standpoint the contrast of some of these historic barns works well with the white snow cover. Being able to see this area during the winter season provides a little bit of a different perspective on the landscape. Here is a list of a few barns and places that I would stop by when visiting this area during the winter.
- Charles Olson Farm (pictured above)
- Dechow Farm
- Eckhert Farm
- Port Oneida School – The school is a historic school building, but is white and may blend in with white snow. It is worth a look though
- Thoreson Farm
- Brunson Barn
A few years ago, I read about a historical park just outside of Hastings, Michigan. The article described a small park with buildings replicating life in the late 1800’s. I had never heard of this park before, so on an warm August day my wife and I decided to take a look for ourselves. That day, we spent a few hours at this park going in and out of the buildings. It was as if we were witnessing the life and times that my Great Grandmother had always talked about; a life that seemed simple and carefree. After the initial visit I noticed on their website that they were having an event that showcased Christmas back in he late 1800’s called “Of Christmas Past”, and I knew this was something worth going to.
My wife and I took a tour around the historical village for this event. We walked into the Upjohn House/Administrative Office building and encountered Santa Claus sitting on a rocking chair awaiting for kids to come and visit. Nearby a man was cutting apple slices with an old apple slicer from the 1800’s and they were giving away cinnamon apple slices. We continued on making our way around the park. All the buildings were open, and you could wander through the buildings viewing what life was like in the 1800’s. Along the way we came across a few people dressed up in appropriate attire for the 1800’s giving out roasted chestnuts. We continued to the school building where someone was dressed up as an old school teacher and showing the kids various craft activities.
The general store area was open and we noticed a long line out the door. To our surprise they were giving out free bags of popcorn. It was nice to step inside this building because throughout the year this building can be locked up and the only way to view it is from the outside. The general store had replica items and goods that were often used and consumed in the late 1800’s. They also had authentic items that you would normally see in a historical museum, thus the reason why I believe they lock this building up often. We had to stand in line for the popcorn for a while, but it was worth the wait as we got an up close and personal view of some of these historical artifacts. Our last stop was the church. The church is what you would expect from the late 1800’s. This small church had two isles of wooden pews. Inside the church a brass band was performing Christmas songs. We sat inside the church for a while and enjoyed a small Christmas concert. The church was refurbished back in 2010, so it came as no surprise that the acoustics inside were better than I thought. It was really nice to sit back and relax to some Christmas music after walking around the park for a while.
Charlton Park is normally free to visit during most times of the year. However, during special events there is an admission charge. The “Of Christmas Past” event at Charlton Park costs $6.00 dollars for adults, and $3.00 dollars for children. When we went there, we spent a little over three hours there. The first time visiting you might find yourself there a little longer simply because there is a lot to see on top of the Christmas activities. When we went we had a great time. Christmas is always one of those times where you like to be swept back in time a little bit to enjoy the simpleness of life. Charlton Park’s “Of Christmas Past” not only takes you back in time, but provides a nice way to relax and enjoy the holiday season.
There are many small towns in the state of Michigan. Many of them have holiday festivals and events that draw in many members of the community. One that I enjoy going to year after year is in the small town of Ada, just outside of Grand Rapids. The Tinsel, Treats and Trolley event is held on the first Friday of December and provides opportunities for small businesses to reach out to all the visitors. It is a fun family oriented activity that gets you in the mood for the Christmas season.
The event starts with the annual bridge lighting ceremony. The Ada covered bridge is one of the few covered bridges in Michigan that gets decorated with lights during the holiday season. This bridge is impressive during any season, but is magical during the holidays. Once the bridge is lit up, several stores open up extended hours for shopping. Each store offers up cookies, fudge, candy, hot chocolate and many other Christmas snacks. Many of the stores are decorated up for Christmas. I love walking through these shops. There have been times where I have found something I wanted to take home with me. It is a lot of fun just strolling through these shops. The only drawback is with so many people, it does get crowded in some shops. As much as I don’t like the immense crowds, I have found the atmosphere is simply worth it all. The historical society and Ada Christian Reformed Church are open as well. Inside the church they have had snacks and many musical performances by the church band playing Christmas music. It is a nice place to stop in and relax just to catch a nice concert. The Historical Society building also offers treats, but is the place that you will run into Ms. Claus.
Trolleys provide transportation to various locations within the village. I would recommend riding the trolley just once for the sheer fun of it. If you cannot get on the trolley, don’t worry too much. The village is small enough that all points of interest are within walking distance from each other. Some of the sidewalk areas along the main streets are lined up with luminaries, so even the walk is rather pleasant. My wife and I have opted to make the walk from point to point over the last couple years just to experience the event a different way. While walking around from shop to shop it is not uncommon to see Santa Claus stop in the shops to say hello to the visitors. No matter what mode of transportation you use, I know that it will be a good time. I have always had fun at this event; my family has had fun at this event, and I have never heard any complaints about the organization of those putting this event on. Below is a link to the event. It will be on Friday December 2 which is coming up quickly. Take a walk. Take a ride on the Trolley. Enjoy some snacks and shopping. Most importantly, have a lot of fun and kick off the Christmas season