July 7, 2014
The entrance into the St. Claire River from Lake Huron had long been deemed of strategic importance. Named after General Charles Gratiot, the engineer in charge of its construction, the Fort Gratiot military outpost was established at the entrance to the river in 1814, and ensured the security of vessels making the passage.
With the surge in vessel traffic on Lake Huron in the early 1800’s, the need for a lighthouse to guide vessels into the river and away from the shallows at the River entrance became a matter of increasing importance. In response to this need, Congress appropriated $3,500 to construct a lighthouse “near Fort Gratiot, in Michigan Territory” on March 3rd of 1823.
The contract for construction of the lighthouse and keepers dwelling was awarded to Captain Winslow Lewis of Massachusetts. Lewis was the inventor of the patented Lewis Lamp, which the Fifth Auditor had universally adopted as the primary source of illumination in the nation’s growing inventory of lighthouses. A staunch supporter and ally of the Fifth Auditor, Lewis had branched out into the business of lighthouse construction, and as the frequent low bidder, was being awarded a growing number of contracts to fulfill the nation’s need for navigational aids on the East Coast.
Lewis sub-contracted the construction of the tower and keepers dwelling that would become known as the “Fort Gratiot Light” to Mr. Daniel Warren of Rochester New York. Work commenced on the structure, but appears to have been running far beyond the scope of the original bid, since Congress appropriated an additional $5,000 for the project’s completion on April 2, 1825.
With the completion of construction on August 8th of that year, Fort Gratiot Light held the honor of becoming the first lighthouse in the State of Michigan.
Read on for much more including a couple of old photos of the light.
Many more Michigan lighthouses on Michigan in Pictures!
February 26, 2014
Ice Harvesting, Shooting Cakes into the House, photo courtesy Detroit Publishing Co / Library of Congress
There was a time when the winter ice harvest was as critical as any other harvest, allowing folks in Michigan and elsewhere to enjoy & keep fresh food in summertime. Knowlton’s Ice Museum of North America in Port Huron is dedicated to chronicling what was once a huge industry for Michigan that is now almost forgotten. They explain:
Michigan was one of the main sources of ice harvesting because in those times people cherished the clear hard ice harvested from the beautiful Great Lakes. In the winter months farmers would make money to feed their families by working on the ice fields (rivers, ponds and lakes). Using primitive ice tools they would scrape snow off of the field, measure ice thickness, and saw ice cakes or blocks of ice.
The 300 lb. blocks would then be loaded onto horse drawn flat-bed type wagons and moved off the ice field. The horses hauled the load to stick built ice houses created along rivers and lakes where the ice was stored until the summer months when it could be sold. The ice was stacked and packed inside the ice house. Sawdust was used for insulation and placed in between layers of ice. Some ice houses stored over 1,600 ton of ice. The work these men did each long day was dangerous and cold. Once a luxury, ice became a common household and business commodity by 1900. The ice delivery man would weigh ice blocks and deliver ice by horse drawn covered wagon to homes and businesses. Each order was carried into the home and placed into the top shelf of an ice box to keep food fresh.
We found the above photo from the Detroit Publishing Company via Emily Bingham’s excellent Found Michigan website that has a really nice article about ice harvesting in Michigan. Also check out an article about ice harvesting and ice saws from the Greater West Bloomfield Historical Society.
September 17, 2011
The other day I came across a new website called WhatWasThere. This innovative project ties historical photos to Google Maps and Google street views so you can see what was there. You can browse around a map, zooming in and out and then click on photos. The site lays them over the Google street view and lets you fade the old photo to reveal what’s there now!
Unsurprisingly, Detroit has the best coverage so far, and it’s pretty cool to see how sites like Woodward Ave looking north at Jefferson (location of the Spirit of Detroit) or Griswold Street have changed. Water Winter Wonderland (a cool site in its own right) has a sweet shot of the interior of the Princess and says that the Princess Theatre was shuttered in 1922 and located at 520 Woodward. That’s the present site of the old Comerica Bank HQ. At another of my favorite sites for old photos, Shorpy, you can get this photo bigger and even buy a print!
Here’s the link to WhatWasThere for Michigan. There’s not a whole lot of photos to be found (yet) outside Detroit, but one of the coolest things is that you can add your own historical photos, so the site is only going to get better. There are some definite gems though – be sure to check out Grand Rapids City Hall, the seriously cool looking Lansing Masonic Temple at the site of Cooley Law School and the not very much changed Front St in Marquette. A surprising hot spot is Port Huron – check out Sperry’s Department Store to get going.
March 3, 2010
Wikipedia says that the USCGC Bramble (WLB-392) is one of the 39 original 180-foot seagoing buoy tenders built between 1942-1944 for the United States Coast Guard. Bramble is currently a museum ship, part of Port Huron Museum. The museum’s page on the USCG Cutter Bramble says:
The Coast Guard Cutter Bramble was commissioned in 1944 at a cost of just over $925,000. Following World War II, the Bramble participated in “Operation Crossroads,” the first test of an atomic bomb’s effect on surface ships, at Bikini Island. In 1957, along with the cutters Spar and Storis, it headed for the Northwest Passage, traveling through the Bering Straits and Arctic Ocean. Traveling for 64 days through 4,500 miles of partially uncharted waters, the vessels finally reached the Atlantic Ocean. These three surface vessels were the first to circumnavigate the North American Continent, an ambition mariners have had for more than 400 years.
In 1962, the Bramble transferred to Detroit to perform the missions of search and rescue, icebreaking, and law enforcement throughout the Great Lakes, in addition to aids to navigation. In 1975, the Bramble reported to Port Huron. The cutter’s areas of responsibility included eastern Lake Erie, southern Lake Huron and Saginaw Bay, and maintaining 187 buoys, one NOAA weather buoy, and three fog signals. During winter months, its capabilities as an icebreaker enabled it to escort ships through ice and assist ships in distress. The Bramble was decommissioned in 2003 to be used as a museum.
June 22, 2009
The sculptures are located at McMorran Place in Port Huron where they explain that noted sculptor Marshall Fredericks:
…designed these over-life sized figures for the NIGHT AND DAY FOUNTAIN outside of the McMorran Auditorium in Port Huron. The fountain is beneath the 22 ft. diameter sculptural clock, which was also designed by Fredericks. He chose time as the theme of the auditoriums exterior ornamentation because the donors of the building put great value in punctuality. In keeping with the long tradition on western art, the sculptor personified time with figures representing night and day.
Check out more work by Marshall Fredericks on Michigan in Pictures.
March 23, 2009
I got all excited that the 60,000th photo had been added to the Absolute Michigan pool on Flickr, but when I researched it, I found that there’s a terrible tragedy associated with it. The Detroit News relates that the events of December 11th, 1971 that resulted in the deaths of 22 workers.
Construction of the tunnel had begun in the spring of 1968 and was plagued by controversy, mishaps and plan changes from the start. The tunnel was to go five miles under the lake off Port Huron through bedrock to access fresh water for metropolitan Detroit. It was to be capable from the beginning of pumping 400 million gallons of pure drinking water per day to a thirsty Detroit, later expanding to 1.2 billion gallons to meet the demands of a rapidly growing area. The $120-million project was only three weeks from completion at the time of the blast.
“I don’t remember much about the explosion,” said one of the survivors, Richard Green, then 27. “I thought an air line broke, but it pushed the hell out of me. It seemed like a bomb. I was on top of the form (for concrete pouring) and the next thing I knew I was flying through the air.”
Be sure to check this photo out bigger too!
October 4, 2008
Lansing, Detroit, Grand Rapids, Flint, Traverse City, Marquette and Kalamazoo are by no means all of Michigan’s cities (or even the largest). Each, however, seems to be an anchor for its region – a center to which people look to for culture, entertainment and commerce.
October 13-15, 2008, lovers of cities large & small from Michigan and all over the country will head to Detroit for the Creative Cities Summit 2.0 (CCS2), an exploration of what our cities could become and how we can work to make them. Organizers have chosen Detroit, a city so deeply forged in America’s industrial fires that it’s been devastated by the flickering of that flame. I’m headed down there and will try to bring some of the ideas back to you through Absolute Michigan – I hope that some of you can join me there.
The Photos (left to right)
- Downtown View – Lansing, Michigan by Mario.Q
- Motor Within a City by SNWEB.ORG Photography, LLC.
- Partly Cloudy by GR58
- Old Flint (HDR) by Hemicuda82
- Traverse City, Michigan by farlane
- View from Mt. Marquette by fastbird232
- The Kalamazoo Radisson by bill.d
Creative Cities Summit 2.0 in Detroit on Oct. 13-15, 2008
CCS2 will present a dynamic and engaging conversation about how communities around the world are integrating innovation, social entrepreneurship, sustainability, arts & culture and business to create vibrant economies. Full conference registration is $300 for the two and half day event, and there’s also a “no frills” registration that is only $100. There’s also a free “Unconference” at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MOCAD) on the 12th for designers, urban planners, civic leaders, entrepreneurs, artists, students, community leaders to explore and discuss what’s possible for Detroit.
Keynote speakers include:
- Bill Strickland, MCG-Bidwell Corp.
- Richard Florida, Author Who’s Your City
- Charles Landry, Author The Art of City Making
- John Howkins, Author The Creative Economy
- Dean Kamen, Inventor, DEKA
- Majora Carter, Sustainable South Bronx
- Doug Farr, Architect and Author Sustainable Urbanism
- Ben Hecht, Pres. & CEO Living Cities
- Tom Wujec, Fellow, Autodesk
- Carol Coletta, CEOs for Cities
- Giorgio Di Cicco, Poet Laureate, City of Toronto and Author, The Municipal Mind
- Diana Lind, Editor, Next American City magazine
Breakout sessions on topics such as:
- Race and the Creative City
- Cities, Universities & Talent
- Marketing, Media and the Creative City
- Measuring New Things – ROI in the Creative Economy
- Creative (Small) Cities
- New Ideas in Urban Amenities
- Community Vitality: The Role of Artists, Gays, Lesbians & Immigrants
- Midwest Mega-region: How the Midwest Can Compete
- Transportation Innovation for Cities
- Making the Scene: Music & Economic Development
Much (much) more at creativecitiessummit.com.