April 20, 2009
The Wikipedia entry for the Irish Hills Towers says that these wooden observation towers were constructed along US-12 in the Irish Hills region in northern Lenawee County as the result of a curious competition along the lines of the skyscraper frenzy in New York:
In the early 1920s, the Michigan Observation Company sought places of high elevation to erect fifty foot high enclosed platforms to boost tourism. In southern Michigan, a tower was placed atop Bundy Hill in Hillsdale County, Michigan and officials sought a knoll in the heart of the Irish Hills in Lenawee County. A farmer who owned half of the knoll, Edward Kelly, turned down the company’s offer to purchase his portion of the land. The adjoining land owner, Thomas Brighton, consented the sale of his plat, and construction of the Irish Hills Observatory commenced.
The opening of the Irish Hills Observatory was announced by The Brooklyn Exponent in September 1924. In a gala celebration on October 4 and October 5, hundreds of people ascended the hill and tower to gaze upon the rolling landscape and crystal blue lakes in all directions. Kelly seemed spited by the exploitation of the MOCs venture, and protested by erecting his own tower. By the end of November, 1924, his own observation platform was in place, just feet away from the MOCs structure, and several feet higher.
The Michigan Observation Company responded by adding a second observation enclosure to the top of its own facilities, now designated as the “Original Irish Hills Tower”. Kelly proceeded to add a raised platform to his “Gray” tower (named as such because of its gray-painted exterior), an act which brought the two edifices to an even height. The MOC informed Kelly that if he attempted to compete with more height given to his tower, they would tear down their own and construct a metal observatory so large that Kelly’s efforts would be nullified. He conceded, and turned his efforts instead to drawing more revenue to his creation.
In the 1950s Frank Lamping purchased both and added a gift shop. The towers closed in 2000.
Here’s a cool postcard from the 1930s of the view from Irish Hills Towers, a sweet photo from Matt Callow and a few photos showing different views of the towers. You can see the location on Waymarks.
More Michigan roadside attractions from Michigan in Pictures!