TRAVEL: There’s plenty to see and do in southern MichiganThere’s a lot to see in this part of Michigan, including the resort town of St. Joseph, with a picturesque coastline and bluff which overlooks the storied beaches and the North Pier inner and outer lighthouse stations. The town hosts several festivals, including Blossomtime in May, “Antiques on the Bluff” the first Sunday of the month from May to October, the Venetian Festival in July, the Reindog Parade in December.
By: By Luaine Lee, McClatchy-Tribune
DETROIT — It was a railroad without tracks. It was underground but traveled overland. It sped on without an engine, a timetable or dining car. But the Underground Railroad, which hastened escaped slaves from the South to freedom in Canada, is still evident, and you don’t have to go far to find it.
Slaves seeking freedom in Windsor, Canada, just across the Detroit River, trudged southern Michigan into Detroit. Aided by determined abolitionists (many were Quakers), these “railroad” passengers traveled by buggy, horse, wagon or foot. Detroit marked the end-of-the-road for these weary pilgrims.
The First Congregational Church of Detroit on Woodward hid refugees before they made their way across the water to Windsor. Today the church holds flight-to-freedom tours where you become a player in the drama. Reservations at (313) 831-4080.
Just 133 miles west of Detroit is the tiny town of Schoolcraft, and remains of the Underground Railroad network. Here sits the home of Dr. Nathan Thomas, a Quaker who fervently opposed slavery. He and his family scraped together food, clothes and transportation for refugees on their way to the next “depot.”
An estimated 1,500 escapees passed through this modest house. You can still see the trap door where the good doctor secreted some of the runaways from the bounty hunters.
The little white house is now a museum and open by appointment at (269) 679-4304.
The comely town of Niles was an important stop on the Underground Railroad, 33 miles southwest of Schoolcraft. The Fort St. Joseph Museum on Main Street displays a variety of historical collections including some rare drawings by Sitting Bull.
From here the freedom seekers made their way to nearby Cassopolis where many were allowed by the Quakers to settle on land for five years, working for pay. Between Cassopolis and Vandalia sits the Chain Lake Missionary Baptist Church, the oldest African-American church in Michigan. Alongside is the cemetery where both freed men and escaped slaves are buried. A tour can be arranged via www.swmichigan.org, (269) 925-7450.
Things to do and see
There’s a lot to see in this part of Michigan, including the resort town of St. Joseph, with a picturesque coastline and bluff which overlooks the storied beaches and the North Pier inner and outer lighthouse stations.
The town hosts several festivals, including Blossomtime in May, “Antiques on the Bluff” the first Sunday of the month from May to October, the Venetian Festival in July, the Reindog Parade in December.
For an elegant meal try the Bistro restaurant, (800) 875-6600, but for inexpensive family dining there’s Tim’s Too, Silver Beach Pizza and Clementine’s Too.
Three counties here are dubbed the “fruit belt of the world” and Stover’s Farm in Berrien Springs, just 15 miles south of St. Joseph, is one of the best.
Five generations have tilled this land here. And you can pick your own and save up to 70 percent. Open 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. except Sundays. www.stoversupic.com.
Northeast of St. Joseph is the town made famous by Glenn Miller, Kalamazoo (“zoo, zoo, zoo ...”). It houses one of the country’s most innovative museums, the Air Zoo, which offers everything that ever defied gravity in the most innovative way.
It features many interactive exhibits. You can run a bombing mission in a B-17, take a balloon ride, touch down on an aircraft carrier and experience the pull of lunar gravity in the Lunar Leap.
On display are all kinds of aircraft including the SR-71 Blackbird spy plane that was so cleverly constructed that it was invisible to radar.
Great restaurants in Kalamazoo include Zazio’s (where you can watch Chef John Korycki prepare your five-course meal), Bravo Restaurant and Cafe and Fieldstone Grill.
East of Kalamazoo is the city that cereal made famous, Battle Creek, the home of three cereal companies: Ralston Purina, Post and Kellogg. It was here that John Harvey Kellogg founded his health sanitarium and, with his brother, invented corn flakes.
You can visit the John Harvey Kellogg Discovery Center and see some of his fitness contraptions - like the foot vibrator, the chamber of lights and the mechanical horse.
Here the Kimball House Museum displays artifacts from ex-slave and lecturer Sojourner Truth.
South of Battle Creek is the town of Allen, the most concentrated group of antique malls in Michigan. The second weekend in August, U.S. 12 is the site of the longest garage sale in the state, 212 miles of collectibles strung along this rural route. For info go to www.us12heritagetrail.org.
Back in Detroit, you’ll find a bustling town overlooked by many tourists, but full of fascinating sights and soul food to sell your soul for.
The city boasts the oldest and largest marketplace in the country, the Eastern Market, with 125 vendors open daily except Sunday. Here you can buy everything from a plump melon to a Stickney table, imported cheeses to voodoo medicine.
Merchandise is housed by five historic sheds and if you hang around long enough, you can snag some real bargains at the end of the day. The market is open from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. and covers a marathon seven blocks.
Places to eat
While you’re here stop off at Roma Cafe, a historic site in its own right as the city’s oldest restaurant. Roma Cafe has been serving authentic Italian food for generations. You can still spot remnants of its speakeasy days. The atmosphere is so authentic you’d swear Tony Soprano is seated across the room. It was here that Jimmy Hoffa dined, as did Frank Sinatra, Liza Minnelli and Sammy Davis Jr. Prices are inexpensive too, and the pasta magnifico. (313) 831-5940.
There are other fabulous places to eat in Detroit. Just 12 miles north of the City Center is Beans & Cornbread, in the suburb Southfield. People line up to take home this scrumptious soul food. (248) 208-1680. In the mood for more elegance? Try the Motown Soul Food Cafe in the breathtaking art-deco Fisher Building downtown.
One of the largest concentrations of Arab-Americans in the nation is housed in nearby Dearborn, where you can try the succulent Middle Eastern food at Al-Ameer. Everything’s fresh. In a curious cross-cultural exchange, they buy all their produce from the Amish. (313) 582-8185.
For $8 you can visit the Detroit Institute of Arts, housing one of the nation’s best art collections and boasting a whopping $158 million renovation. Included here is a massive mural by Diego Rivera, arts works that range from Brueghel to Dali, antiquities, stained glass, and come March, the work of Normal Rockwell.
Another popular location is Berry Gordy Jr.’s Hitsville USA, where he established Motown Records. (NO photographs, they keep reminding you.)
If you don’t see anything else, a must-visit is The Henry Ford in nearby Dearborn. The Henry Ford is one of the most fascinating attractions in the nation, so vast you’ll need more than one day to see it.
It consists of the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village, as well as the Ford Rouge Factory Tour, an IMAX theater and the Benson Ford Research Center, which shelters more than 25 million rare documents.
Henry Ford made it part of his life’s work to acquire items of Americana that personified the nation’s indomitable spirit of innovation.
The Henry Ford Museum houses12 acres of American history: the bus where Rosa Parks took a stand; the limo which bore John F. Kennedy when he was assassinated; Buckminster Fuller’s innovative Dymaxion House; and the chair in which Lincoln sat when John Wilkes Booth took aim.
Of course, there’s every vehicle that ever rumbled on down the road and exhibits that reflect the American way of life from different eras.
Greenfield’s 90 acres include a replica of Thomas Edison’s lab, sitting on New Jersey soil brought from the original site. There’s the Wright Brothers’ Cycle Shop, Noah Webster’s home, George Washington Carver’s cabin and 79 other historic structures.
You can watch potters, weavers and glass blowers at work and dine on authentic historic food at places like the Eagle Tavern.
Even people who are lukewarm about museums will find this a lasting thrill. If there’s time, take in the Henry Ford Estate, an elegant 1915 home on the Rouge River where Ford built his own six-level powerhouse. It provided all the electrical needs of the estate and on one occasion powered 2,000 residents of West Dearborn.
One sight not to be missed in Detroit is the controversial artwork of Tyree Guyton called “The Heidelberg Project,” a block-long display of curious folk art made from people’s discards.
Trees are festooned with broken dolls, vacuum cleaners line up in formation, a boat marked “Noah” is piled with stuffed animals.
Distressed doors are fabricated into a living sculpture. Guyton’s family home since the ‘40s is here. He calls it the “dotty-wotty” house and it’s decorated with colorful dots.
Twenty-two years ago Guyton took one look at his decaying neighborhood and thought he had to make a change. “The Heidelberg Project,” on Heidelberg Street between Mount Elliott and Ellery streets, welcomes 275,000 viewers a year.