June 9, 2015
The Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore tells the rich tale of the ghost town Aral:
Aral was located on Lake Michigan where Otter Creek empties into the Lake just south of Esch Road, a few miles south of Empire, MI. Today this is one of the most popular swimming beaches in the Lakeshore, but in the 1880s, Aral was a booming lumber town!
When the United States acquired land, it first had to be surveyed before it was made available to individuals. In the summer of 1849, Orange Risdon was one of the surveyors assigned to the area around Grand Traverse Bay. In 1853 soon after he finished the survey, Risdon and his wife, Sally, bought 122 acres where Otter Creek emptied into Lake Michigan.
The US Civil War began in 1861, and to induce able-bodied men to join the Union forces, the US government offered $100 bounty to men who enlisted. By 1863 the bounty was increased to $300, and finally a draft was instituted. An interesting provision of the draft act allowed drafted men to avoid service by hiring a substitute or by paying $300. One of the men receiving draft notice was Robert F. Bancroft, who was married and 30 years old. He chose to take advantage of this provision by hiring a German immigrant to take his place as a soldier, but interestingly he followed his replacement to the battlefield. Instead of carrying a gun, he brought his camera and became one of the first battlefield photographers.
Following the war, the veterans returned home, and Robert Bancroft settled with his wife Julia and daughter Anna in Traverse City. He began buying land in Platte and Lake townships as investments and in late 1864, he bought the 122 acres from Orange and Sally Risdon of Saline, MI.
Bancroft cleared 20 acres and built a log cabin for his family to live in. Then he planted some black locust trees and an apple orchard around the cabin. Lumber speculators soon arrived looking for stands of white pine. Most of the forest in this area was hardwood, but there were some stands of white pine inland from Otter Lake. By the late 1870s Daniel Thomas bought a 5-acre parcel on Lake Michigan south of Otter Creek, but he decided to build a house across the road from the Bancroft’s. Lumber speculators were on their way north as the forests near Grand Haven and Muskegon were harvested.
…By 1883, the lumber business was booming and the town was growing. A post office was required. The community was known as Otter Creek – the “Krik” by locals. When they applied for a post office, their name was rejected because there was already an “Otter Creek” in Michigan. “Bancroft” was the next suggestion, but again the name had already been used. One of the workers suggested the name “Aral” because of the beautiful Aral Sea in Europe. Locals continued to call it Otter Creek though. Dr. Frank Thurber was named the first postmaster. Keep his name in mind, for he too would play a central role in the murder.
Murder you say? Indeed – read on for lots more…
June 8, 2015
These fish heads are located at Newaygo’s Riverside Park. No idea why, but if you want to check them out, Roadside America has the location.
June 2, 2015
Mackinac State Historic Parks page on Colonial Michilimackinac says that:
French soldiers constructed the fortified community of Michilimackinac on the south side of the Straits of Mackinac in 1715. The community grew and prospered over the coming years as Michilimackinac became an important center of the Great Lakes fur trade. Every summer, thousands of Native Americans and French-Canadian voyageurs gathered at the post, which served as transfer station for furs trapped in the western Great Lakes and trade goods shipped in from eastern cities such as Montreal and Quebec. Michilimackinac came under British control in 1761, but the fur trade and community life remained relatively unchanged.
Fearful that the post was vulnerable to attack by American rebels, the British disassembled the fort and community and moved it to Mackinac Island in 1779-81.
One factor in the move may also have been an event that happened 252 years ago on June 2, 1763. The fort was captured by Ojibwa & Sauk warriors who gathered to play a huge game of baggatiway. Elizabeth Edwards of Traverse Magazine wrote a great article about the massacre that begins:
Under an unusually hot sun on a late spring day on the Straits of Mackinac, British Major George Etherington, commandant of Fort Michilimackinac, was suffering from an acute case of cultural blindness. And there was no excuse for it. Relaxed at the sidelines of a rousing game of baggatiway (similar to lacrosse) outside the fort, the major should have seen the danger signs in this Ojibwe versus Sauk contest of sweaty, half-naked bodies painted with white clay and charcoal.
The 30-year-old officer was born in the colonies, and most likely grew up on stories of Indian uprisings. He’d even served in the just-ending French and Indian War, in which the English had wrested control of North America from the French—a victory that had put this previously French fort in Etherington’s care. Though the major had been raised on American soil and had fought on it, he was still English. And in that country, a battle was a battle, and a sporting event was a sporting event.
Perhaps that explains why the major missed the clues…
Joel adds that almost every building at Colonial Michilimackinac is a reconstruction, with only two or three minor exceptions. View his photo background bigtacular and see more from the fort and surrounding area in his Straits of Mackinac slideshow.
May 16, 2015
Dan Austin of Historic Detroit has an excellent article on the Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory on Belle Isle that begins:
If Belle Isle is Detroit’s crown, then the Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory is its brightest emerald, full of brilliant green ferns, palms and cacti and plant life from all over the world.
The conservatory, opened in the center of the island on Aug. 18, 1904, the same day as its next door neighbor, the Belle Isle Aquarium. Both were designed by Albert Kahn, who for the conservatory turned to Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello for inspiration. It sits on 13 acres and features a lily pond on its north side and is fronted by formal perennial gardens on the west. These gardens are home to theLevi L. Barbour Memorial Fountain. For the first 51 years of its existence, the building was known as simply the Conservatory or the Horticulture Building. Today, the Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory is the oldest, continually operating conservatory in the United States.
The building covers about an acre and has five areas, each housing a different climate, and features a north wing and a south wing and a 100,600 cubic feet dome 85 feet high to accommodate soaring palms and other tropical plants. The north wing houses hundreds of cacti and desert plants, and just beyond that is a room packed with ferns from floor to ceiling. The south is home to hundreds of tropical plants and the Children’s Christian Temperance Fountain. The collection also includes perennial gardens and displays of annuals. The show house, remodeled in 1980, features a continuous display of blooming plants.
Definitely read on at Historic Detroit on for how the Conservatory got its name and became home to the largest municipally owned orchid collection in the country. There’s also a great historic photo gallery.
Here’s the official site for Belle Isle Conservatory. The hours are Wednesday-Sunday, 10 AM – 5 PM and the Belle Isle Aquarium is open Saturdays and Sundays as well.
More spring wallpaper on Michigan in Pictures.
May 14, 2015
John McCormick aka Michigan Nut shared this gorgeous shot from the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore showing Lake Superior at its calmest.
PS: John’s Pictured Rocks gallery will knock your socks off!
May 2, 2015
April 25, 2015
Last weekend the Freep reported that the delicate biosphere that characterized Isle Royale National Park is about to fall apart. The wolf count is down from nine last year to only three, and Michigan Tech ecologist John Vucetich says he wouldn’t be surprised if none remain next winter.
“What’s really important here is not the presence of wolves, per se,” Vucetich said. “But the wolves need to be able to perform their ecological function — predation. Predation has been essentially nil for the past four years now.”
That’s led to a 22% increase in the moose population for each of the past four years, he said, taking the island population from 500 to 1,200 moose. An individual moose consumes up to 40 pounds of vegetation a day.
“One of the most basic lessons we know in ecology, wherever creatures like moose live, you have to have a top predator,” he said. “If you don’t, the herbivore can cause a great deal of harm to the vegetation.”
… Vucetich and his colleague at Michigan Tech, Rolf Peterson, both support a “genetic rescue” of the island’s wolf population — bringing in wolves from elsewhere to bolster island wolves and help facilitate breeding. The U.S. Forest Service is studying the concept, but that process may take years. If the remaining wolf population doesn’t survive, and the Forest Service ultimately approves of the plan, it may mean creating a whole new pack on the island.
I think that this poses very interesting questions about our role in the ecosystems we seek to preserve. Are we to watch what happens and not interfere like a kid watching an ant farm or a Star Fleet team, or do we accept the responsibility of our decision to preserve and seek to maintain the natural balances and populations? As our climate changes, we will no doubt be called to make these decisions more and more frequently as flora and fauna lose the ability to survive in the places we have set aside for them.
THE URGE. Walk 40 miles in two days searching for a lover that may not even exist. Return home to parents and siblings the next day. The life of a dispersing wolf, unsatisfied.
It’s a great series featuring images by George Desort, Rolf Peterson, John Vucetich, and Brian Rajdl along with text by John Vucetich and Michael Paul Nelson. Click to see this photo bigger on Facebook and then use your left arrow to page through them.
Definitely visit isleroyalewolf.org for lots more about the predator/prey balance of one of Michigan’s most fascinating places.