Michigan, Part 4 (Above and Below)

On July 27, 2016 · 0 Comments

It wasn’t always easy finding sites that appealed to every member of the family during our Michigan trip. I searched high and low, from way up in the sky to deep undersea, for our little day trips during our week away from home. Local roads took us to three different places in three distinct directions all within close range of our temporary base in Grand Rapids. Each of the sites featured a connection to the Second World War, coincidentally enough.

Kalamazoo Air Zoo

Kalamazoo Air Zoo

An hour drive due south brought us to Kalamazoo and its wonderfully named Kalamazoo Air Zoo. I hoped my frequent visits to Washington DC’s Air and Space Museum wouldn’t taint my perception so I tried to keep an open mind. I needn’t worry. The Air Zoo held its own. Incredibly, a government did not operate or fund this museum. It sprang from the collection of private citizens, Sue and Pete Parish. They started small with just a few planes in the 1960’s.

It was becoming clear that Sue and Pete wanted to share their enthusiasm about World War II airplanes with people who enjoyed these historic flying machines. Then a friend made them an offer they couldn’t refuse: start a museum, and he would give them his Grumman Bearcat.

The building on the edge of Kalamazoo’s airport eventually filled with exhibits, leading to another building and then an annex (map). It took most of a day for us to tour everything in depth. This would also be a great $100 hamburger for people into such things. The Air Zoo website included fly-in directions.

Holland’s Windmill

Windmill Island

An easy half-hour drive southwest of Grand Rapids brought us to the city of Holland. The name reflected the expected immigrant story.

Persuaded by religious oppression and economic depression, a group of 60 men, women, and children, led by Albertus C. VanRaalte, prepared for their 47-day trip from Rotterdam to New York. VanRaalte intended to purchase land in Wisconsin, but travel delays and an early winter caused the group to layover in Detroit. After hearing about available lands in west Michigan, VanRaalte decided to scout the territory. They reached their destination on February 9, 1847 on the banks of Black Lake — today’s Lake Macatawa.

One couldn’t blame the town for capitalizing on on its heritage by creating Windmill Island Gardens. This well-manicured park featured a 1761 windmill called De Zwaan (the Swan), moved from the Netherlands to Michigan in 1964 (map). Many Dutch windmills fell into disrepair especially during World War 2 when they often served as signal towers, drawing enemy fire. The town acquired a particularly dilapidated specimen from Vinkel in Noord Brabant and restored it to its original condition. The Netherlands would never allow such a valuable cultural icon like this to escape its territory today.

De Zwaan functioned perfectly on a wind-swept plain along the Macatawa River, on the edge of town. A local resident, Alisa Crawford, then learned how to operate the windmill. She finished her training in the Netherlands and "is the only female member of the Dutch milling guild, Ambachtelijk Korenmolenaars Gilde." She grinds white winter wheat grown in western Michigan and offers it for sale at Windmill Island.

Visitors also get an opportunity to walk to the top of the Windmill with great views in all directions.

USS Silversides

Silversides Museum

Another day we drove to Muskegon, also nearby heading northwest this time for about forty minutes (map). Here we found the Silversides Museum. It seemed like a strange name for a submarine until I saw that it came from a certain type of fish resembling a smelt. Then it made perfect sense. The USS Silversides served with distinction during World War 2. She launched and received her commission just a few days after the bombing of Pearl Harbor and served through the entire war. Her crew earned numerous distinctions,

Silversides received twelve battle stars for World War II service and was awarded one Presidential Unit Citation for cumulative action over four patrols. She is credited with sinking 23 ships, the third-most of any allied World War II submarine, behind only the USS Tang and USS Tautog.

It seemed incomprehensible for me to imagine that sixty people lived aboard this vessel. I pushed my way through its length into increasingly claustrophobic quarters, through tiny hatches between watertight compartments. Bunks stacked atop bunks in ever corner and crevice. Privacy simply did not exist aboard a Gato-Class submarine. Submariners also faced horrific survival rates throughout the war although only a single crew member died in combat on the Silversides. She earned a nickname, the Lucky Boat.

The museum included more than just the submarine. It also featured a US Coast Guard Cutter, the McLane plus an entire museum building filled with exhibits.

See Also: The Complete Photo Album on Flickr

Michigan, Part 3 (Rambling and Wandering)

On July 24, 2016 · 3 Comments

I enjoyed walking through Grand Rapids, Michigan early each morning before most people crawled out of bed. It offered opportunities to explore quiet corners at my own pace and discover sites that I bet most visitors never would have noticed. Naturally I put my own geo-oddity spin on things, observing peculiarities that fit the offbeat themes of Twelve Mile Circle.

Why Grand? Why Rapids?

Fish Ladder Park

Long before I arrived I wondered how Grand Rapids got its name. I couldn’t see rapids, grand or otherwise, as I scanned satellite images of the city. It took a little searching although I uncovered an explanation eventually from the Grand Rapids Historical Commission, quoting from a 1913 source.

This sharp fall or decline in the river bed at Grand Rapids is disguised because of the power canals on each side of the river which take up the water and carry it through many factories and out through numerous tail races, so that the name "Grand Rapids" is not suggested any more by the present appearance of the river.

The Grand River running through downtown Grand Rapids fell about 17 feet between current-day Sixth Street and Wealthy Street, a distance of about 1.7 miles (2.7 kilometres). Modern controls masked the drop with a series of terraced ledges. Nonetheless, the elevation truly dropped. I observed this for myself at Fish Ladder Park, a brutalist contraption that let migrating fish push upriver past one of the higher drops (map).


I didn’t realize that Grand Rapids placed so much pride in its logo until I walked around town awhile. I noticed it everywhere.

\City Logo

Lots of street signs included the emblem on their left sides, placed before to the name of the street. It seemed to be a geographic representation to me. I interpreted the blue line as the Grand River, perhaps with the squiggled portion noting the "rapids." Maybe the yellow circle represented a larger metropolitan area radiating from the city center in all directions?

That red blob became a Rorschach test. My geo-centric brain figured it could signify the original historic city boundaries or something. My son the animal lover thought the left knob could be a fish tail symbolizing fish swimming through the rapids. Notions like that filled my mind during those early morning walks. I daydreamed little non sequiturs, a wonderful way to get away from everything mentally and clear away the complexities of modern life.

More Logo!

Manhole Cover

Look, the logo even appeared on manhole covers, trash cans, and city vehicles. I tried to ignore them after awhile even though it became increasingly difficult as it appeared in even more places. Also I learned that maybe I had a thing for manhole cover designs, following on my discovery last year in Nantucket (photo). I’ll have to pay more attention in the future.

The whole mystery could have been solved if I’d simply searched on the Intertubes where the answer hid in plain site. Instead I preferred to wander around the city hoping to figure it out on my own, only to forget all about it as soon as I got near a computer. Silly me.

La Grande Vitesse
La Grande Vitesse; photo by Russell Sekeet on Flickr (cc)

The city clearly said,

The City of Grand Rapids’ logo was designed by Joseph Kinnebrew, an internationally-recognized sculptor and painter. It incorporates a yellow sun, blue river, and a red representation of the "La Grande Vitesse" sculpture by Alexander Calder, which was erected in downtown Grand Rapids on Calder Plaza in 1969.

I let that be a lesson to myself. Next time I will act on my curiosity immediately instead of waiting until I returned home to research an article. I passed within maybe two blocks of the Calder sculpture (map) and never saw it. That became a big missed opportunity. I would have made an effort had I known about it.

The Original Boundary

1850 Boundary

Grand Rapids remembered its past. I didn’t find the entirety of its original 1850 boundaries during my morning strolls although I discovered a couple of them. One ran down Eastern Avenue Southeast (map). From its name and placement relative to downtown, I assumed it must have been the original eastern boundary although I couldn’t see a street with that name on an 1853 map that I found online. Wealthy Street also featured similar boundary signs and that vintage map did reference it by name as the city’s southern border.

Wealthy Street seemed oddly named. It was nice although it hardly seemed wealthy. Certainly other streets in Grand Rapids featured many more stately homes constructed during the second half of the Nineteenth Century. Grand Rapids Magazine provided the answer.

Jefferson Morrison was a merchant in the early days of Grand Rapids. He named two streets in the city: one to honor himself (Jefferson Avenue) and one to honor his wife, Wealthy (Wealthy Street). Mrs. Morrison’s unusual first name proved to be somewhat ironic, as the family went into serious debt after building an extravagant house between modern-day Ionia and Monroe avenues.

Wealthy didn’t describe a street as much as it described a woman who stayed Wealthy even if she no longer remained wealthy, and the street remained Wealthy long after people forgot about Wealthy Morrison.

Why would parents name their child Wealthy? That mystery, alas, remained unsolved.

The Inexplicable Sign

Weird Parking Sign

Then I found the inexplicable sign on Eureka Avenue, a short one-way street through a suburban neighborhood (map). Residents couldn’t park on the eastern side of Eureka Avenue on odd days during the winter months, except for several hours in the evening. A similar prohibition applied to the western side on even days. I figured it must have been related to snow removal. Hopefully most people living on Eureka Avenue had driveways. Moving parked cars from one side of the road to the other every day for five months of the year would get old after awhile. Also, no other street seemed to have this prohibition. I pondered that one for awhile too.

See Also: The Complete Photo Album on Flickr

Michigan, Part 2 (Breweries)

On July 20, 2016 · 4 Comments

Most people seemed confused whenever I mentioned Grand Rapids, Michigan as our vacation destination this year. They could understand a holiday at the seashore or in the mountains or going traveling abroad. A mid-sized Midwestern city specializing in consumer manufacturing seemed considerably less intuitive to them. Then I revealed the true reason, its great concentration of amazing breweries. Slowly over time I’ve added cities that beverage connoisseurs considered the best beer destinations in the United States, places like Asheville, Bend, San Diego and the Puget Sound. Grand Rapids became my latest acquisition.

I realized that only a small sliver of the Twelve Mile Circle audience shared this passion. Readers should feel free to wait a couple of days until the next article if that’s the case. I also sprinkled a few interesting nuggets completely unrelated to brewing into the kettle for those who wanted to stick around anyway.

Founders Brewing

Founders Brewing Co.

One cannot mention Grand Rapids breweries without referencing Founders (map). I could not underestimate the positive contributions Founders brought to the city since its inception barely twenty years ago. Many credited this single brewery with sparking a broad revitalization that transcended its entire social fabric.

Thirty years ago, most people in the area of Grand Rapids, Michigan, steered clear of its desolate downtown. Back then, residents lived in the outlying residential neighborhoods, a suburban sprawl supported by endless strip malls and IHOPs… And at the center of what’s now known to many as "Beer City, USA" is Founders Brewing Company… it has almost singlehandedly established its culture.

I couldn’t vouch for what Grand Rapids used to be like, although I certainly saw that the current scene had a lot to offer beyond the large number of breweries that came to follow. We rented a house for the week in a quiet residential neighborhood constructed at the turn of the last century, east of downtown. We walked nearly everywhere, or grabbed an Uber when we felt lazy, visiting many popular sites within Grand Rapids including a number of its breweries.

Great Lakes Brewing

Great Lakes Brewing Company

We stopped overnight in Cleveland, Ohio on the drive up to Michigan. That let us visit another titan of craft brewing, Great Lakes (map). It dated to 1988, practically ancient for that wave of breweries that rose to challenge the Budweisers, Millers and Coors of this world. One of my friends in the industry told me to look for the bullet hole. Bullet hole? Right. The vintage 1860’s Tiger Mahogany bar at Great Lakes supposedly had a bullet hole in it. I noticed someone marked it with an appropriate flag once I arrived in person. BANG. Funny.

Great Lakes brewed a well-regarded Vienna Lager called Eliot Ness, named for the prohibition agent who battled Chicago’s mobsters in the late 1920’s and early 1930’s. He led the Untouchables, a nickname earned because they supposedly could not be bribed by gangster Al Capone. However the labeling of the beer wasn’t intended as an ironic statement about a crusader battling bootleggers.

Ness came to Cleveland after prohibition ended in 1933 and later became the city’s Safety Director where he rooted-out public corruption for several years. He often sat at the same bar that became part of Great Lake’s brewpub decades later. That’s why the brewery named a beer for him. Great Lakes claimed that the bullet hole may have come from Ness himself. Meanwhile the Cleveland Police Museum said that "Ness was known to rarely carry a weapon" It might not even be a bullet hole for all I knew. Still, it made for a good legend.

The story of Ness took a sad turn. He succeeded too young and couldn’t maintain it. He lived only 54 years, becoming a hard drinker with a string of failed jobs and marriages.

Bell’s Brewery

Bell's Brewery

Less than an hour south of Grand Rapids, in Kalamazoo, stood an even earlier icon of craft brewing. Bell’s Brewery (map) opened all the way back in 1985. Bell’s named its flagship American IPA, Two Hearted Ale. Aficionados considered Two Hearted Ale "world class" and the second best beer in the nation according to Zymurgy, the publication of the American Homebrewers Association.

I never pondered the unusual name before. Two Hearted Ale derived from "the Two Hearted River in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula." This was a short river draining into Lake Superior and known for its exceptional recreational fishing. A young Ernest Hemingway borrowed the name for a two-part short story he wrote in 1925, "Big Two-Hearted River." At least one source claimed that the name of the beer drew inspiration from Hemingway’s story.

Bell's Two Hearted Ale
Bell's Two Hearted Ale by William Clifford on Flickr (cc)

It’s a tale about change and acceptance, about dealing with ones own experiences and making the best of them. The fish on the bottle references a part of the story where our hero is struggling with a big fish only to have it get away. Later on he catches two medium size fish and learns to be content with just that.

I managed to structure a search query that sidestepped Bell’s and Hemingway to uncover the river’s etymology. The United States Geological Survey published "The origin of certain place names in the United States." In Volume 8, Issue 197 (1902) the USGS said, "Two Hearted river in Michigan. An erroneous translation of the Indian name Nizhodesibi ‘twin river’." Now we know.

New Holland Brewing

New Holland Brewing

We also visited New Holland Brewing (map) in Holland, Michigan about a half-hour southwest of Grand Rapids. I’ll have more to say about this town in a future installment so I’ll keep it brief here. My wife considered its Dragon’s Milk bourbon barrel aged Imperial Stout as one of her favorites for the last several years. Obviously she also greatly enjoyed the Reserve version aged with raspberries and lemon zest on draught at the brewpub the day we visited.

I Got the T-Shirt

Grand Rapids Brewsader

Grand Rapids understood the economic value of beer tourism and offered a passport program. Anyone who visited 8 of the 23 area breweries that existed during the summer of 2016 earned a free Beer City Brewsader T-shirt. I got my passport stamped at the 8 closest breweries and earned a shirt. I did something similar during my visit to Bend, Oregon, too. These challenges meshed well with my compulsive need to count things.

Overall we visited 14 breweries during our journey:

  • B.O.B’s Brewery (Grand Rapids, MI)
  • Bell’s Brewery (Kalamazoo, MI)
  • Brewery Vivant (Grand Rapids, MI)
  • Draught Horse Brewery (Lyon Twp., MI)
  • ELK Brewing (Grand Rapids, MI)
  • Fat Head’s Brewery (Cleveland, OH)
  • Founders Brewing (Grand Rapids, MI)
  • Grand Rapids Brewing (Grand Rapids, MI)
  • Great Lakes Brewing (Cleveland, OH)
  • Harmony Brewing (Grand Rapids, MI)
  • HopCat (Grand Rapids, MI)
  • Mitten Brewing (Grand Rapids, MI)
  • New Holland Brewing (Holland, MI)
  • Smokehouse Brewing (Columbus, OH)

I think I should emphasize — as I have in the past — that responsible behavior underpinned this quest. While we tried a lot of breweries, we spread it over a ten-day period and stuck to samplers, those small taste-sized glasses. In total we had the equivalent of maybe one or two beers at each location, often combined with a meal. It was about the quality not the quantity.

What beer city should we visit next?

See Also: The Complete Photo Album on Flickr

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