Centers of Michigan

On December 8, 2016 · 2 Comments

For once I wasn’t looking for the geographic center of something, as problematic as that could be given various definitions. Not in Michigan. And for the record, the town of St. Louis claimed to be the "middle of the mitten." It moved to a spot a few miles north-northwest of Cadillac taking the Upper Peninsula into account. However, that was beside the point. Instead I came across two Michigan place names while searching for completely different things. Their similarities deserved closer scrutiny.

Center Line



Center Line, Michigan

Actually I started by investigating Warren, Michigan and I noticed a hole. A big one. A nice rectangle right in the middle of it (map). Naturally I drilled down and discovered the town of Center Line. The much larger city of Warren completely surrounded it. Center Line described itself as "a small close-knit community of 8,257 residents… nestled inside the state’s 3rd largest city"

Warren and Center Line both began as villages in a rural corner of Macomb County. However, Center Line incorporated first, becoming a city in 1936. Warren also started growing rapidly around that same time. Warren Township minus Center Line incorporated as a city in 1957. It simply exploded in population to the point that it completely overshadowed Center Line over the next couple of decades.

I also wondered about the name. There didn’t seem to be any line and it certainly didn’t seem to be the center of anything other than the city of Warren itself, which it predated anyway. The town’s website mentioned "several theories" which also meant nobody really knew the answer. The most plausible explanation seemed to be,

There were three Indian trails leading from the fort at Detroit to other trading posts in the northern wilderness. The first was the river trail which followed the river and ended at Port Huron; the second was the Saginaw trail and ended at Mackinaw at the Straits of Mackinaw. Through the center of the two trails, the Indians had beaten a trail which followed the "center line" [as observed] by the French.

The trail became Sherwood Avenue (map).


Michigan Center



Michigan Center, Michigan

Later I also discovered Michigan Center. Center Line and Michigan Center fell nowhere near each other. A good 85 miles (140 kilometres) separated them. Nonetheless finding a second Center in Michigan excited me. It doesn’t take much to get me going.

The name derived from the Michigan Meridian. Benjamin Hough surveyed the meridian in 1815, marking 84° 21′ 53″ west longitude. Settlers then moved into the area and platted Michigan Center a few years later in 1837. However, the meridian didn’t pass directly through Michigan Center. I measured it. The meridian ran between Michigan Center and the neighboring town of Jackson. I guess they figured it was close enough. Who would really know? Seriously.


Fort Defiance


Fort Defiance,  Defiance Ohio
Fort Defiance, Defiance Ohio. Photo by Tim Tonjes on Flickr (cc)

Then I went down a little tangent. I wondered why Hough followed such an odd longitude when he surveyed the Michigan Meridian. The line actually pointed farther south into a neighboring state. There stood Fort Defiance at the confluence of the Auglaize and Maumee Rivers (map). A town called Defiance, Ohio later grew up there.

General "Mad" Anthony Wayne built Fort Defiance in 1794.

Following the Battle of Fallen Timbers, Wayne utilized Fort Defiance as his base of operations. He ordered the destruction of all American Indian villages and crops within a fifty-mile radius of the fort… Until the War of 1812, Fort Defiance served as one of America’s western-most outposts in the Ohio Country and helped protect local citizens from American Indian attacks…

Fort Defiance also figured in the 1807 Treaty of Detroit. The United States negotiated the treaty with several Native American tribes, namely the Chippewa, Ottawa, Potawatomi and Wyandot. Land to the east of a line drawn due north of Fort Defiance came under American control. That’s why Hough needed to survey that line. It served briefly as an international boundary.

Michigan, Part 6 (Parting Shots)

On August 3, 2016 · 5 Comments

I wrote several articles about my Michigan trip and I still had a pile of ideas I hadn’t touched yet. They didn’t fall into common themes so I lumped all those leftover scraps together to finish the series. I hope everyone enjoyed — or at least tolerated — my ramblings from the latest journey. We’ll return to regular programming in a couple of days.

Interesting Concurrency


Lansing Michigan Interstate
Concurrent 96/69 in Lansing, Michigan
via Google Street View, September 2015

Highway officials defined a "concurrency" as a single stretch of road with two or more route designations. This happens all of the time on Interstate highways in the United States. Roads heading between different places converge, often near a city, and both numbers remain so drivers passing through don’t get confused. I noticed an oddity in the pattern in Lansing, Michigan. Interstate 96 ran across southern Michigan. Interstate 69 ran through the middle of the United States in several segments, from the Gulf of Mexico to the Canadian border. They joined briefly on the western side of a loop bypassing Lansing.

That portion created a concurrency for Interstates 96 and 69, each number the reverse of the other (map). I didn’t know if any other examples existed elsewhere, probably because I didn’t bother to look. Please let me know if anyone can find another one. It didn’t mean much although I still enjoyed doing a double-take when I spotted it.


Gerald Ford Museum


Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum

I went to another Presidential Library & Museum. It probably won’t become one of my regular lists although I’ll visit one if it falls along my route. I saw Woodrow Wilson‘s museum in March and Franklin Roosevelt‘s in May. Why not Gerald Ford?

I wondered what treasures might fill a museum dedicated to the presidential administration of Gerald Ford (map). He served as President for barely two years. Wilson guided the nation through the First World War, and Roosevelt brought the country out of a Great Depression and then the Second World War. They had plenty of material for a museum. Ford, well, he seemed like a nice guy from Grand Rapids who happened to be tapped as Vice President and became President unexpectedly when Richard Nixon resigned. His museum featured the expected Nixon connection and topics of the times such as the end of the Vietnam War. That still left a lot of space to fill. That’s probably why it included life-sized replicas of the White House’s Oval Office and Cabinet Room as they appeared while Ford served as President.


Muskegon Lighthouses

On the other hand, I continued to count lighthouse visits. I placed a couple more sightings on my lifetime list. I hadn’t really been thinking about lighthouses as I prepared for the trip so these were a nice surprise. We took a day trip to Muskegon to see the USS Silversides and the two lighthouses loomed over the harbor entrance. Certainly I could take a few moments to examine them a little closer.


Muskegon South Pier

The more impressive structure, and by that I mean the one that looked more like a traditional lighthouse, stood on the south pierhead. They called it the South Pierhead Light, not too creatively (map). See how that worked? Several versions stood there over the years and the current one began its service in 1903. It wasn’t open to the public most of the time, having fallen into a state of disrepair. Nonetheless it continued to remain an active light for navigation purposes. The Federal government transferred ownership to the Michigan Lighthouse Conservancy in 2010, a nonprofit organization that hoped to restore the structure. We only saw this lighthouse from a distance and moved on.


Muskegon South Breakwater

We got a much better view of the nearby South Breakwater Light (map). This required a little hike of about a half-mile (0.8 km) from the parking lot at Pere Marquette Park to the tip of the breakwater. The kids complained the whole time although they needed a little exercise. They couldn’t spend the entire trip playing Minecraft and watching YouTube (simultaneously) so I dragged them down the concrete breakwater for a close-up view of a pretty ugly lighthouse. They’ll thank me someday. The Michigan Lighthouse Conservancy owned this one too, and also placed it on its restoration list. South Breakwater Light came much later, 1931, long after the glory days of lighthouse construction. It filled a basic utilitarian purpose although it lacked a certain grandeur and elegance.


Sand Dunes


Saugatuck Dune Rides

Glaciers covered much of North America during the most recent Ice Age, some 16,000 years ago. Relentless pressure from accumulated ice ground into the underlying bedrock as glaciers advanced and retreated, creating fine sand and a rocky till. Winds blowing predominantly from the west pushed waves across Lake Michigan after the glaciers retreated, carrying this sand to its eastern shore. These natural forces created the "largest collection of freshwater dunes in the world" along Michigan’s shoreline.

Michigan had more sandy beaches than just about anywhere I’d been before. Some of the dunes reached hundreds of feet high. We didn’t make it to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore on this trip, although the Saugatuck Dunes (map) offered a nice proxy closer to our temporary home.


Zoos


John Ball Zoo

Keeping the peace on a family trip meant taking time for activities I might otherwise overlook. I enjoyed zoos as much as anyone I supposed, although I didn’t feel any great need to go out of my way to see them either. We visited two, the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo (map) in Ohio and the John Ball Zoo (map) in Grand Rapids, Michigan. That’s what my older son enjoyed so that’s how they found their way onto our itinerary. He wants to visit every zoo in the United States. He also wants to collect a map at each zoo he visits.

I can’t imagine where he inherited that relentless need to create lists and collect maps.


Articles in the Michigan Journey Series:

  1. County Adventures
  2. Breweries
  3. Rambling and Wandering
  4. Above and Below
  5. Do Overs
  6. Parting Shots

See Also: The Complete Photo Album on Flickr

Michigan, Part 5 (Do Overs)

On July 31, 2016 · 0 Comments

A Simple Observation

I checked the Twelve Mile Circle dashboard this morning. The 1,276th article posted on Wednesday. I still cannot believe I came up with so many different topics. I do know that my writing evolved since that initial post on November 6, 2007. Early articles contained few words. Now I delve farther into the details and average closer to a thousand words an article, although I post a little less frequently. Even so, I think the 12MC audience gets more writing from me at least by total word count.

As I look back nearly nine years, I sometimes regret that I covered many of the most amazing geo-oddities with so little explanation. The world held only so many truly weird geographic bits, probably a lot fewer than 1,276, and I explored them with barely a couple of hundred words. Sometimes I wish I could take a "do over," and erase what I wrote years ago, and replace it with something more deserving of the subject matter. However that wouldn’t be fair so I won’t try to change the past. On the other hand, the Michigan trip offered a great opportunity to create an addendum for the very oldest 12MC articles.


Lost Peninsula


Lost Peninsula

Michigan’s Lost Peninsula (map) appeared as the first real article on Twelve Mile Circle, one day after I posted a simple Introduction and Purpose. I don’t remember why I selected the peninsula for such a prominent position. I doubt I gave it much thought because I felt pretty skeptical that 12MC would last more than a few weeks. Exclaves always fascinated me and there stood an example of a chunk of Michigan that could only be approached by land from Ohio. Reader "Jim C." later visited the Lost Peninsula and provided a bunch of photos in 2009. I posted those in a follow-up article called Lost Again.

Briefly, the anomaly existed as a result of the bloodless Toledo War. Ohio and Michigan disagreed on their border because of conflicting legislation passed by the Federal government. They both claimed a narrow strip, although it covered 468 square mile (1,210 square kilometres) when measured across the length of their disputed border. Ohio blocked Michigan’s attempts to become a state because of their unresolved issue. The two rallied their militias and faced-off in what might best be described as a yelling match. Nobody fired a shot. President Andrew Jackson and Congress eventually sided with Ohio. Michigan ceded the Toledo Strip in 1836 and received the Upper Peninsula as a consolation prize; land considered basically worthless at the time. History proved that Michigan probably got the better end of the bargain.

I finally made it to the Lost Peninsula in person on the way to our ultimate destination in Grand Rapids. It seemed busier than I expected until I considered we’d arrived on the Fourth of July weekend. The peninsula included a large marina and I guess everyone wanted to get onto Lake Erie for the day. A gate separated the marina from the rest of the peninsula. A separate gate blocked access to its residential area. Normal visitors could cross the border, take a photo of the sign, eat at a waterfront restaurant and that was about it. Otherwise it was rather unremarkable.

They needed to trim the shrubs. The signs and markers will be unreadable in a couple of years.


Howder Street


Howder Street

I knew exactly why Howder Street (map) appeared as the third article on 12MC. No other street with my surname existed anywhere in the world, or so I thought. Years later I also found Dr. Howder Road in Pennsylvania. However, even then, Howder Street in Hillsdale, Michigan remained the only one named for someone verifiably related to me.

That article also received the very first comment on Twelve Mile Circle. It dropped onto the page barely three hours after I posted my story. I don’t know how the guy found it because I certainly didn’t have an audience then. He must have had an alert set to Hillsdale College on his newsreader or something like that. Even so I remember thinking that this was going to be easy. I’d write articles and comments would magically appear without any other special effort on my part. What blissful naïveté. Many of you write your own blogs (or used to) and would probably agree that it’s hard work. Right? If I only knew that then. It wouldn’t have stopped me from writing although maybe it would have softened the blow when the next batch of articles got little attention.

Today I’m used to the complete obscurity of 12MC so it doesn’t phase me. I write for myself on my own personal journey of learning and discovery. Visitors are always welcome.


A Little Tangent

Howder Street wasn’t the only bit of family history during my Michigan visit. My great-great grandfather John Howder died in Grand Rapids at the Michigan Soldiers’ Home. He led a difficult life, including two enlistments in the Union army during the Civil War. He survived some pretty brutal combat at the siege of Petersburg and in the Appomattox campaigns during his second enlistment. From research I conducted it seemed he abandoned his family after the war and headed to Michigan to become a lumberjack. We’ll never know if he experienced Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or if he was simply a jerk.

During his final years he suffered from dementia amongst other ailments, and died destitute at the Home in 1903 (map). It felt strange to walk down some of the same streets, looking at some of the same 19th Century buildings, that John Howder would have observed during his years there. I didn’t feel any need to search for his gravesite, although maybe I should have made more of an effort in retrospect. Maybe next time. Maybe another do over.


Articles in the Michigan Journey Series:

  1. County Adventures
  2. Breweries
  3. Rambling and Wandering
  4. Above and Below
  5. Do Overs
  6. Parting Shots

See Also: The Complete Photo Album on Flickr

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