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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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 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
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 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
I selected Michigan for our summer holiday this year. I won’t pretend that the drive was fun or easy although depriving greedy airlines of revenue certainly enhanced the appeal. I described my distaste for airlines before and I reveled in the many hundreds of dollars I denied them with this trip and several others over the years. We loaded the Family Truckster and pointed our sights northwest on a track towards Lake Michigan.
I considered multiple factors before choosing Michigan. I always want to go someplace I haven’t covered in depth before. It needed to have interesting hooks. It needed to be low-hassle, with room to stretch out. It needed to interest the rest of the family while indulging my geo-geeky curiosity. The southwestern corner of Michigan met many of those criteria, and I will describe what we found in subsequent articles. County Counting always fell high on my list and that may have been the most important factor this time around. I’d skirted edges of Michigan previously although I’d never pushed deep into its interior.
Maybe it was the second most important factor. I’ll save that for next time. Subscribers to the 12MC Twitter feed probably already guessed the other major reason based on my frequent tweeting as I rolled along.
Grand Rapids became our home base for the week. We took the fastest route available on the way up, shooting along the Pennsylvania and Ohio Turnpikes into Michigan, and staying overnight in Cleveland along the way. I gained no new counties during this initial leg until we passed Detroit. We arrived in Grand Rapids the second day and radiated from there on side trips, filling in much of southern Michigan with county captures.
Only once did I make a specific effort to prevent a doughnut hole. I noticed that none of our daily excursions went through Barry County (map), southeast of Grand Rapids. It fell within a ring formed by Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, Battle Creek and Lansing with no major highway running through it. I got up early one morning for a half-hour drive to fill the void. I spared the rest of the family. I’m sure sure they appreciated sleeping more than the possible irritation of leaving a stranded county behind. Somehow they didn’t feel the same pain.
We came home via a longer route, swinging south and staying overnight in Columbus before cutting through West Virginia. I picked up a bunch of new counties. I’d also never seen Ohio’s Appalachian corner either. Who knew Ohio had mountains? I plan to keep Ohio’s Hocking Hills on the list of places I want to see again someday, and them visit in a more proper manner.
Schoolcraft and Cabinets
Two distinct forces contributed to the designation of Michigan counties. Henry Schoolcraft named many of them in the mid Nineteenth Century, a curious case I discussed in Schoolcraft Daze. He made them up, drawing from pseudo-Native American etymologies blended with Latin, Greek or whatever else came to mind. The Schoolcraft counties included Alcona, Allegan, Alpena, Arenac, Iosco, Kalkaska, Leelanau, Lenawee, Oscoda and Tuscola. I captured Lenawee and re-visited Allegan.
Michigan also contained the Cabinet Counties. The Michigan Territory hoped to curry favor with President Andrew Jackson in a border dispute with Ohio involving the Toledo Strip — I’ll talk about the Strip a little more in a future installment so hang on — and named a bunch of its southern counties for Jackson and his Cabinet:
- Barry: Postmaster General
- Berrien: Attorney General
- Branch: Secretary of the Navy
- Calhoun: Vice President
- Cass: Secretary of War
- Eaton: Secretary of War (prior to Cass)
- Ingham: Secretary of the Treasury
- Jackson: President
- Livingston: Secretary of State
- Van Buren: Secretary of State (prior to Livingston; later Vice President and President)
My final count of Cabinet Counties lacked only Cass by the time I finished the trip. I’d captured Berrien and Van Buren previously, and hit the other seven for the first time during this latest excursion. Incidentally, while Jackson signed a bill making Michigan a state in 1837, the Toledo Strip went to Ohio. The county name pandering failed to produce its desired result although Michigan did get the Upper Peninsula as a consolation prize.
Grand Rapids in Kent Co., MI (my own photo)
I did well during this exercise, tallying initial visits in three different states.
- Sixteen in Michigan (Barry, Branch, Calhoun, Clinton, Eaton, Hillsdale, Ingham, Ionia, Jackson, Kalamazoo, Kent, Lenawee, Livingston, Muskegon, Oakland and Washtenaw)
- Seven in Ohio (Athens, Delaware, Hancock, Hocking, Marion, Washington and Wyandot)
- Three in West Virginia (Doddridge, Ritchie and Wood)
That came to a respectable Twenty Six new counties.
The Counties that Got Away
I could have visited more, and in fact that had been my original plan. Several years ago I visited Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and I thought the kids would enjoy it. However they were simply too tired from our relentless touring to drive another six hours in a single day. We hung around Grand Rapids that day instead. I willingly abandoned the opportunity to capture seven counties to preserve family peace. I took that as a sign I needed to visit again someday!
See Also: The Complete Photo Album on Flickr