MICHIGAN, the Wolverine State

What to see

Zeeland - Holland Nederlandse dorpen
Mackinaw City de Mackinac Bridge
Manistique Siphon Bridge - Kitch-iti-kipi
Fayette State Park
Sault Ste Marie Soo Locks
Frankenmuth Bronner's Christmas Wonderland - Frankenmuth City
Flint - Lansing Flint - Alfred Sloan museum - Buick - GM Truck Division
Auburn Hills Walter Chrysler museum
Fair Lane the Ford estate
Ford Rouge the Ford Rouge Factory Tour
Greenfield Village Greenfield Village museum
Article General Motors corporation | Henry Ford | Walter Chrysler
Other pages other states | articles

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This is an extract of what to see in this state, with small photos. You will find the full description, history and full-sized photos, in my e-book View America: North East - Part 1

In the travel series View America, North East - Part 1 covers Michigan and Wisconsin. It is not a traditional travelogue, but a non-commercial and more or less objective chronicle of an in-depth exploration of these states. Each state is described with its own brief historical background and its main sights, tourist attractions and points of interest.

My book does not describe lodgings, restaurants or entertainment, except where these may interact with the narrative. It is illustrated with more than 100 full-sized photos.

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MICHIGAN is also called the Wolverine State, because of the importance of wolf fur for the initial trading posts. It is the only state that is made up of two separate peninsulas. The two peninsulas were connected by a ferry service, and in 1957 a bridge was built over the Straits of Mackinac. The state borders on four of the five large lakes (the Great Lakes), and derives its name from Lake Michigan. Michigan is a corruption of the Algonquin word "michigama" or "large water".

In 1837, Michigan became the 26th state to join the US. Its capital is Lansing, and the largest city is Detroit. The state has about 10 million inhabitants, with a density of 68 inhabitants per km2, but half of the population lives in the Detroit metropolitan area. Its surface is approximately 250,000 km2 and it has more than 11,000 lakes. Until 1870 Michigan was almost entirely forested, which has been reduced to 53% at present.

During the colonial period, Michigan's sole economic activity was fur trade. In the early 1800's the fur trade was gradually replaced by agriculture and timber. Around 1840 the mining industry developed, particularly the iron and copper mines. The fishing industry was almost entirely wiped out, when along with the ballast water of large ships around 1937 the lamprey was accidentally discharged in the Great Lakes. This parasite had no natural enemies and it gradually but completely supplanted the local species. By 1952 the lamprey had even advanced into Lake Huron, before a selective poison was developed that was not detrimental to other fish.

By 1870 Michigan was number one in timber production, and several carriage-making hubs developed in Lansing, Pontiac, Flint and Detroit. Detroit became the birthplace for the automobile industry, with the Big Three; General Motors, Ford and Chrysler.

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Holland is a small but very good-looking town, with an exquisite Main Street. But it also contains the Dutch Village, which is a reconstructed old-Holland village, extremely well done, nostalgic and quite extensively documented. It simply breathes peace and quiet, has many colorful flowerbeds, looks very fresh, and the people are very friendly. A great visit!

Holland 1 Holland 2
Zeeland : the Dutch Village 1 Zeeland : the Dutch Village 2



The Water Tower wells (in Indian they are called Kitch-iti-kipi) are located in Big Springs. They are underground, or should I say underwater springs, located in a fifteen-meter deep lake.

A self-operated wooden raft brings you to the middle of the lake. The water is so transparent that the bottom and the welling movement of water are clearly visible in the sand. More than ten thousand gallons per minute come up through the limestone, driven by the pressure of the water in the surrounding hills !

Next to this interesting phenomenon, one can also admire formidable lake trout swimming about, some of which are about 32 inches long (80 centimeters)!

Manistique : Kitch-iti-kipi 1 Manistique : Kitch-iti-kipi 2

Fayette : State Park - ghost town

Fayette State Park contains a Ghost Town, an ancient village where between 1877 and 1891 iron ore was melted. We visited the iron mill, the kilns where charcoal was made, the quays and several buildings that have been reconstructed.

It is most interesting to see the ancient kilns and to discover how they worked. The crushed ore was mixed with limestone and charcoal, and then the whole lot was set on fire in a kiln. Through the heat, the limestone removed the impurities and silicates from the iron ore, and what remained was more or less pure pig iron or iron blocks, next to slag or junk. After 1891 the iron mill was closed, since by then the coal-heating process had been invented, which instantly relegated the use of charcoal to the history books.

Fayette : ghost town 1 Fayette : ghost town 2
Fayette : ghost town 3 Fayette : ghost town 4

Sault Ste Marie : the Soo locks

Sault Ste Marie : the Soo locks 1The principal attraction in this town are the Soo locks. The St Mary's river connects Lake Superior and Lake Huron, and every year some 11,000 ships use these locks to go from one lake to the other. Some of the ships are smaller craft, but others are three hundred meter long giants, that typically transport iron ore, coal, grain and stone. During our visit there happened to be such a mastodon in the lock, the Indiana Harbor. The ship had a scant 30 inches (75 cm) of free space between the walls and its sides ...

The Soo Locks were built to bridge the 23 feet (7 m) difference in water level between Lake Superior and Lake Huron. At the end of the 1700's a first lock was built here, but it was destroyed during the war of 1812. The two world wars were the main incentive why there was always enough money to build, rebuild and extend these extraordinary locks, which are now the largest in the world!

A private American company built new locks in 1853, and in 1855 they were transferred to the state of Michigan. In 1881 they were handed over to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, that added severalmore locks, and managed them until now. An additional advantage of these enormous locks is the hydro-electric plant, that produces a considerable amount of clean and renewable energy.

Sault Ste Marie : the Soo locks 2 Sault Ste Marie : the Soo locks 3


Bronner's Christmas Wonderland

The name of Frankenmuth is a translation from the German "the Franks' courage". The first highlight of the city is Bronner's Christmas Wonderland, which is the world's largest Christmas store. Every year two million people visit this store.

The store is open 361 days out of the year, and it only closes its doors at Christmas, New Year, Easter and Labor Day. To get the customers into the Christmas mood, the half mile-long access road (800 meter) is decorated with 100,000 Christmas lights! The sales surface covers an area of 7.5 acres (3 ha), on a property of almost 27 acres (11 ha).

It is truly a Mecca for the ladies, who can stroll for hours at leisure through the uncountable offerings, and pick and choose among the many thousands of glass ornaments, balls, ribbons, stars, electric lights, nativity scenes, flocking and so on. Woe though to the poor husband, who doesn't find a spot to rest his aching feet...

Frankenmuth : Bronner's Christmas Wonderland 1 Frankenmuth : Bronner's Christmas Wonderland 2
Frankenmuth : Bronner's Christmas Wonderland 3 Frankenmuth : Bronner's Christmas Wonderland 4

Frankenmuth City

In 1845 Frankenmuth was founded by German Lutherans from Bavaria, that had crossed the ocean to convert the Chippewa Indians. According to the very enthusiastic documentation, the current five thousand city residents go to any length to preserve their German heritage. Just incidentally, this approach also happens to be excellent for business...

The city is extremely well maintained, and beautifully decorated in Bavarian motifs. There is a nice German-style shopping complex, a boat to make a tour on the river, two large family-restaurants, the Bavarian Inn (1856) and Zehnder's (1888), and a picturesque main street with more shops. A nice and peaceful setting, and definitely worth a visit!

Frankenmuth city 1 Frankenmuth city 2
Frankenmuth city 3 Frankenmuth city 4


Alfred Sloan museum (General Motors)

After some research and with the help of our GPS, we eventually ended up in the Alfred P. Sloan museum. It presents an overview of the history of Flint's most successful car manufacturer, General Motors.

Flint : Alfred Sloan museum 1 Flint : Alfred Sloan museum 2

Buick Gallery and Research Center

The nearby Buick Gallery and Research Center is actually more of an antique garage, in which some twenty-five cars are stashed somewhat haphazardly. The collection is certainly noteworthy as to Old Timers, it unfortunately includes only very few of their younger top hits.

Flint : Buick Gallery 1 Flint : Buick Gallery 2
Flint : Buick Gallery 3 Flint : Buick Gallery 4

Video : Flint, Michigan

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Auburn Hills: Walter Percy Chrysler museum

The Walter Percy Chrysler Museum in Auburn Hills is most remarkable. It presents several movies about the life of Walter Chrysler and the evolution of his company. The basement contains a fine collection of antique Mopar Muscle cars. With nostalgia we admired a beautiful 1970 Dodge Challenger.

Chrysler remains best known for the lush forms of the rich limousines from the 30's, the remarkable 30-feet-long 1950's Imperial parade Phaetons, and of course for its extraordinary Mopar Muscle Cars from the 60's. This museum is most definitely worth a visit!

Auburn Hills : Chrysler museum 1 Auburn Hills : Chrysler museum 2
Auburn Hills : Chrysler museum 3 Auburn Hills : Chrysler museum 4

The Henry Ford

One of the most important attractions around Detroit, and more specifically in Dearborn, is the birthplace of Henry Ford, and an overview of his life and works. A visit to Dearborn starts with a guided Tour of Fair Lane, the Ford Estate. The next point on the agenda is The Henry Ford, the nation's largest indoor-outdoor history museum complex. It consists of several parts; the Henry Ford Museum, Greenfield Village, the Ford Rouge Factory Tour, the Henry Ford Imax Theater, and the Benson Ford Research Center. The most spectacular part of "The Henry Ford" is undoubtedly the Ford Rouge Factory Tour.

Fair Lane, the Ford Estate

The guided Tour of Fair Lane, the Ford Estate, starts with a movie about the life of Henry Ford. In 1915 Henry Ford built this hyper-modern mansion. During its construction he integrated every possible gadget and technical innovation, something that he was really fond of.

Between 500 and 800 workers labored mightily for over a year on the house, and since the surface was flat farmland, all the trees and shrubs had to be planted. Just the landscaping took another six years! Nevertheless, the result of this large-scale landscaping is simply beautiful. There is a small river that allows sailing, there is a lake that was specifically oriented to show a beautiful sunset on the estate's terrace, and extensive gardens, where Clara Ford could enjoy her botanical hobby.

Fair Lane : the Ford estate 1 Fair Lane : the Ford estate 2

Fair Lane : the Ford estate 3

Fair Lane : the Ford estate 4

In 1952 the Ford Company bought the house and used it as offices and storage, which certainly not benefitted the interior... In 1957, the house and much of the land was donated to the University of Detroit, but apparently they do not seem to dispose of the necessary funds to return the Estate to its previous glory.

Fair Lane : the Ford estate 5 Fair Lane : the Ford estate 6

Ford Rouge Factory tour

Historic driving tour

The origin of the name ‟Rouge‟ is not mentioned anywhere, but we discovered that the factory was built near the Rouge River, and so the link becomes obvious.

Ford Rouge Factory tour

The first part of the Tour is the Historic driving tour. At the time of our visit, photography or even taking notes was not allowed. As a matter of fact, the windows in the bus were covered with special "solar" films, that made photographing impossible.

The bus drives ten miles to the factory, and every point of interest along the way is commented.

Through the unending line of fences, we saw a monstrously large factory, to which all sorts of raw materials are brought in by sea and land, with trains, boats and trucks. Ford actually owned his own coal mines, iron mines, steel mill, plate mill and paint factory. He made everything himself !

the River Rouge plant

Before Ford came up with the idea of the Assembly Line, assembling a car took on average 92 hours. His inventive processes immediately reduced this time span to twelve hours. Since the sales price remained unchanged, his profit multiplied by ten!

After he built his new factory, the duration of the assembly continued to decrease until at present barely ninety-two minutes are needed to assemble an entire car.

In 1908 Ford had 400 workers in his service. In 1913 (after he doubled their pay) that number increased to 14,000, and in his top-period around 1930 he employed more than 100,000 workers.

the River Rouge plant

the Observation Deck tour

During the Observation Deck Tour, the inevitable Ford Public Relations most emphatically praises the "invention", instead of the construction, of the largest Living Roof in the world.

the largest Living Roof in the world

This very large roof surface (almost 10 acres or 40,000 m2) was executed as a so-called Reverse Roof. A layer of insulation is applied over the waterproof covering, and everything is ballasted with a heavy covering of gravel and sand. After a while, moss or even grass can grow in the ballast, which explains why the roof is "alive"...

However, this roofscape concept has been around for centuries, and more in particular since roofing on flat roofs was executed with layers of tar and paper or cardboard on a wooden or cork surface. These waterproof layers did not adhere to the understructure, and had therefore to be weighed down with ballast.

Since then the materials have obviously been modernized, and modern insulation has improved quite a bit since the use of cork, but the concept, the advantages and the shortcomings remain exactly the same as in the 1600's...

Video : the Living Roof

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Ford Greenfield Village

Greenfield Village

Greenfield Village is a large museum-park that contains many homes, farms and workplaces. These seem to have been planted at random. The visitors can take a ride in an ancient Model T or Model A, take a cruise on the lake in a paddle boat, drive around the park in an old steam locomotive, ride a horse tram, or take a joyride on a vintage carousel.

Ford Greenfield Village 1 Ford Greenfield Village 2
Ford Greenfield Village 3 Ford Greenfield Village 4

Video : Greenfield Village


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