Adventure #5: Glen Haven, Aral, & Jacktown

We survived the night in our seedy motel, which was all that was available in Traverse City on Labor Day weekend, and headed west, deeper into the Leelanau Peninsula.  We had a couple of spots marked on the map that we definitely wanted to see.

Our first stop of the day (after breakfast, of course) was Glen Haven, which is part of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.  Glen Haven isn’t the type of ghost town we traditionally visit; while it is an abandoned town, a few of the buildings are now maintained by the State and are on display for the public.  It’s part of the trails that run all through the area and makes a nice stop for hikers, bikers, or people just passing through by car, like us.

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The place has the old canning factory, which now houses several types of boats and lighthouse paraphernalia; it’s also a good place to get some literature about the area, and/or get a lesson on it from one of the park rangers.  There’s also a general store (which unfortunately was closed when we went) and a working blacksmith’s shop–there was a demonstration going while we were there.  Also, a few old houses, some of which have interesting signs discussing the home’s past.  It was definitely worthwhile to visit, if nothing else to take in that unforgettable view:

IMG_20170903_114806670.jpgWe may be a little biased, but Michigan dunes and lakeshores are honestly among the most beautiful in the world.  From this point, you can get a good look at the Manitou Islands–which we also read had some ghost towns on them, so next year’s trip is already in the making!

From there, we headed towards Aral, which we read about in a pamphlet at Glen Haven.  Unfortunately there isn’t much there.  It’s south of Empire, off of Esch Road…and apparently that’s all it is.  A road.  So nothing worth even taking a picture of, unfortunately.  We moved on.

Finally, we made one last stop in a place called Jacktown.  There is very little left of it here; the research we found is that this is just another one of those little company towns that sprung up with the growth of the lumber industry and the railroad, and died off just as quickly once the area was logged out and the railroad was dismantled.  It’s near Empire, in Leelanau county, although crossing the road takes you right into Benzie county.  To find it, we headed south on state road 677 and then turned left on Oviatt/County Line Road.  According to a few different online sources, there may be some old foundations of buildings still around in the woods, but we thought the better of exploring too much off road, since there appeared to be a relatively active lumbering site there, and there were sounds of gunfire echoing in the woods.  We stuck to locating Bland Cemetery, which is the only real remain of the town.

The cemetery is so tiny–only 18 interments on record, and not all of those appear to have stones.  The cemetery was established in 1868, and the last known burial here was in 1926, although the majority were in the late 1800’s.

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As usual, Issa tried to be helpful and take pictures of anything that needed to be added to Findagrave.com, but as previously stated, not all of the headstones were there, and all of those that were there had already been posted to the website.  On Findagrave.com, there appeared to be a lot of work done to really flesh out what we know about these people–death certificates, etc. were all uploaded, so it was interesting to read the entries.  One of the most fascinating ones we read caught our eye, for one thing, because of the name: Idonia Melvina Bolt Van Wormer-Verno.  I mean, how do you even fit that on a headstone?  Apparently you don’t, because it was nowhere to be found.  An elaborate write-up on her family tree is posted on Findagrave, and the last paragraph is the most intriguing:

Four days before her death, Melvina married Paul Verno, Sr.  He buried her in a secret location that remains a mystery to this day.

(This, after having having eight or nine children and then living as a widow for some time).

So, according to record, she is supposed to be in Bland Cemetery, but there is no marker with her name on it.  She was only 42 when she passed away.  None of her children, her first husband, nor her second husband are buried there.  A quick search located Paul Verno’s grave in nearby Empire, in the St. Phillip Neri Catholic Church cemetery.  Of course, he’s also listed there as having three possible wives, some of which were concurrent, so we’re unsure what the real truth is behind this family.  Some real intrigue, though!

Here are some photos of other stones we saw there.  Most were quite simple:

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Lots of Blands, Ames, and Huff families represented here.

As the sounds of rifles shooting in the woods were getting louder, we thought it was prudent to leave!  We made our way home, stopping in Cadillac at Mr. Foisie’s Pasties, which were excellent and we highly recommend them!  A bit of fudge from Gramma’s Treats in Baldwin might have also been consumed en route *smile*.

Overall, it was an excellent adventure–so much we saw and learned!  We can’t wait for the next one!

Adventure #4b: Idlewild and Marlborough

After our adventure in Nirvana, it seemed like the day was a complete success.  But as we continued west in search of the last small town on our list for the day, we saw a historical marker on the side of the road:

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We both looked at each other in complete disbelief.  How did we not know about this?  We’re both lifelong Michigan residents and had never heard of anything like this.  Another sign close to this one pointed the way towards a “cultural center and museum,” so we simply had to go investigate.

The museum there is small, but well-appointed and full of wonderful exhibits.  The ladies working there that day were incredibly friendly and even invited us to sit down and showed us a short film that was made by a Detroit news organization celebrating Idlewild–its founding, its heyday, and its decline.  The film looked to have been shot in the late 1980s and early 1990s, so they still had many people to interview who were still alive and had memories of visiting the resort.  There’s also a good write-up about it here by the Detroit Free Press.

Basically, this resort town was created in the early part of the 20th century as a place for African Americans to vacation (and entertainers to come and perform), as they weren’t welcome at mainstream establishments due to segregation.  Apparently, if you had any means at all, you spent your summers there and it was glorious.  Nearly every major African American entertainer performed there at some point, and there were multiple night clubs, as well as more family-friendly types of establishments, too.  After the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964, and entertainers were able to go to the more traditional spots–Las Vegas, Atlantic City and the like–the resort went into decline.  Now very few of the original buildings are there, and many are boarded up.  We didn’t venture towards the lake, as there were private homes there that some people do still live in and we didn’t want to intrude, but we did get a few pictures from the road:

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We spent a good amount of time chatting with the ladies in the gift shop and viewing all the artifacts they had on display.  It was unbelievable to us that we had never heard of this place that was so important to Michigan history, and that got us into a long conversation about race and privilege.  We thought deeply about how one man in the video we’d watched talked about how his mother would pack the car full of meals for the whole family as they made the trip north from Detroit in their car.  As a child, he’d said, he just thought it was being economical; as an adult, he realized it was because there would not have been any restaurants along the way that would have served them.  They ate in the car because they had no choice.  And at the same time, Detroit was booming largely because of the labor provided by blue-collar workers in automobile factories (many of them African American) and by the growing music industry (again, inspired by and built by African Americans).

The women working at the museum said that there are efforts at present to revitalize the area and build a community center.  It is still a very beautiful place, despite the closed-up buildings; it’s norther Michigan to a tee–beautiful woodlands and a lake.  It’s a place very much worth saving.

After we finished up in Idlewild, we continue west on M-10 to the town of Baldwin (not a ghost town–very much alive!)  As became a habit with us on this trip, we realized we hadn’t eaten lunch and it was 3:00 p.m., so we made a stop and ate.  We’d also been told by the Idlewild ladies to check out Gramma’s Treats, so we walked there from our lunch spot and were NOT disappointed!  Some of the best fudge EVER in so many flavors!  The orange cream was surprisingly delicious, and the more traditional chocolates were also amazing.  Gramma herself is also very kind and even gave us each a free homemade donut for the road (also delicious).  If you’re ever in the area, stopping by there is a must!

She also gave us some information on the next ghost town we were hoping to see, which was Marlborough.  She said the area used to be well open to everyone, and she’d gone there to play and party as a youth.  She thought it was probably all blocked off now, and unfortunately she was right.  We headed south from Baldwin to find whatever we could of the place, and all that we were able to see was the old cement factory, around which the whole town had been built:

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A Lansing-based radio station did an overview of the town, and also threw in directions to find it, which you can read here.  Here’s the thing, though; the article states that you can go through the woods to find more ruins, beyond what can be seen from the side of the road.  However, if you look at the pictures above, the KEEP OUT signs are clearly visible, as is the barbed wire fencing around the whole thing.  So I’m thinking Gramma knew what she was talking about; she also mentioned that the ground there is considered unstable from all the quarrying and blasting they did, getting materials for the cement plant.  So while we wouldn’t have necessarily been averse to trekking out into the woods in search of old buildings, it looked like it might have been more difficult (and come with legal consequences) than the author of that article imagined.

After all this excitement, we were quite exhausted!  Our plan was to check out some more spots in the Leelanau Peninsula, so we headed north to Traverse City.  We got the timing right and managed to see a Lake Michigan sunset (although unfortunately, it was a bit cloudy and rainy)!

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And then began our saga of finding the seediest, most out-of-date, crappy motel to be had in northern Michigan (let’s put it this way: we got half off the room rate because there was no heat), and putting aside our fears of being captured by a serial killer, we rested up for the next day’s adventure!

Adventure #4a: Brookside, Summitville, & Nirvana

We headed out bright and somewhat early on September 2, 2017 from Big Rapids, hoping to find some interesting spots on Highway 10.  There were several indicated on the map we accessed from http://www.ghosttowns.com, and we found one that wasn’t included on there–Nirvana (which is apparently pronounced by the locals such that the “van” rhymes with “can” rather than “con”–apologies to Kurt Cobain).

Brookside was more or less nonexistent; there was nothing even to photograph.  Summitville was similarly empty, except for a long, winding road that included several sandy hills:

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We drove down the road a ways, noting that only a few people were there apparently camping, and there were a couple of residences down a private drive–nothing visible from the road.  So we headed back to M-10 and proceeded west.  That’s when we found Nirvana.  And by “found,” I mean there was a sign that said “Nirvana” (which we missed the first time we passed it) and a boarded-up church.

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We thought there might be a cemetery near the church, so we hunted around on Google Maps and finally found it–Cherry Valley Township Cemetery, off of Knight Rd.

This was one of the odder cemeteries we’ve ever visited; for one, there were lots of missing stones, stones with missing dates (when the person is obviously no longer living), or strange stand-ins for stones, like this cinder block:

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Or a basket of fake flowers with a nametag in it.  Or just a plain wooden cross with no name on it.  That sort of thing.

There were many World War I veterans in this cemetery; we assume that’s when the area was still thriving.  There were some newer interments, but mostly older ones.  Family names like Fray, Avery, and several

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Then something really remarkable happened.  As we were getting ready to leave, an older couple came into the cemetery to tend a plot of graves.  They were very friendly, pulling up behind our car (since there’s only one drive, we asked if they needed us to move, but they cheerfully declined).  After a few minutes, they realized we weren’t there for any specific person and asked us, not in any kind of suspicious way, what we were up to.  When we told them, the older man got really excited and asked, “Have you ever heard of Andy Horujko?”  When we said we had not, he led us over to a grave and started to tell us quite the story.

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Andrew (Andy) Horujko was a World War II veteran who died in 2008.  He lived in the area and was known as something of a recluse.  He didn’t own a car, never married or had children, and they weren’t even sure he owned a phone.  He kept to himself, caring for some cattle on his property.  His claim to fame?  Walking from Anchorage, Alaska to the southernmost tip of South America back in the 1960s.

“Do you want to see his homestead?” he asked us.  Of course we did!

So we hopped in the car and followed them as they drove us even deeper into the middle of nowhere (because following random strangers into the mostly deserted wilderness to see an abandoned house is a perfectly rational thing to do).  We pulled up to a property that was lined with very close-planted pine trees, which formed a visually impenetrable wall.  Through the single opening in the driveway (such as it was, quite grown over), we could see a cabin-style house with the windows boarded up, a couple of barns and other outbuildings.

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Upon a little more research, we found out that his great walk across two continents wasn’t his only achievement.  He finished near the top of his class at Michigan Tech and worked as an aeronautical engineer for one of the Wright brothers, and he was a member of the Michigan chapter of Mensa.  So, a legit genius.  Apparently, his walk was meant to protest the automobile industry and the pollution it causes.  Here’s a press photo we found of him online: https://outlet.historicimages.com/products/dfpy12415

We also read this account from someone who met him later in his life, in what appears to be a rare excursion for Mr. Horujko: http://theportableschool.com/MMMDI/RealWalker.html.

This really gets to the heart of what we’re trying to do when we go on these adventures: we love to hear (and in this case, even see) the stories of our amazing home state–the more personal, the better.  We had never even heard of this man or his achievements, and all of a sudden we were standing in front of his house, learning about him from people who knew him personally (the older couple who led us to him were his neighbors and knew him as much as anyone did, given how much he kept to him self).

You’d think this would be the real feather in our cap and our way to end the day.  But even more was in store!  All this, and we hadn’t even had lunch yet!  We were passing through on M-10 trying to get to Baldwin, MI, in Lake county, so we could head south to another ghost town on our map, but we were quite pleasurably detained at a small place we encountered on the way called Idlewild…

Adventure #3: Delta Mills, Vickeryville, & Butternut

It took a year, but we were finally able to make it out again and travel our great state of Michigan in search of ghost towns (and whatever else of interest we managed to find).

Issa and Sara set out on September 1, 2017 in search of adventure and abandoned things.  Our first stop was Delta Mills, just northwest of Lansing.  Since Issa was born and raised in Lansing, this was a fun stop for her!

Unlike a lot of other places we’d been before, this one is not at all out of the way.  Lansing suburbs have encroached a great deal, and now Delta Mills is almost seamlessly connected.  To find it, take the Creyts Road exit off of highway 496 and head north until Creyts turns into Webster Road–then, make a right at Delta River Drive.  On that corner, you’ll see the closed up mechanic’s shop, and as you proceed down Delta River Drive, you’ll see an abandoned barber shop and general store.  The church, however, is still active and is a beautiful old building.

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There’s an historical marker on the corner of Delta River Drive and Ingersoll Road that notes where the old school used to be.  It’s since been torn down, unfortunately.  Just a few yards down Ingersoll Road is the Ingersoll homestead, which is a gorgeous white home.  Erastus Ingersoll was the founder of Delta Mills.

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Further down Delta River Drive is Hilltop Cemetery, which has so many familiar names if you’re connected with the Lansing area.  For one, the Creyts family (hence the name of the road) and of course the Ingersolls (note: we learned on this adventure, and the ones that followed that weekend, that “Erastus” was apparently a really common male name in the mid-19th century).  We also saw a lot of graves designated with the names “Throop” and “Jarvis.”  Issa recognized several of these names as teachers and classmates she’d had growing up in the Lansing School District.

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We learned a lot on this trip about funerary symbolism.  So many of the older graves had significant depictions on them–willow trees, clasped hands, palm fronds, doves, and also symbols attached to fraternal organizations, like the Odd Fellows.  The Cemetery Club explained a great deal to us!

The Michigan History project has done a wonderful job researching and writing up the history of Delta Mills (also known as Grand River City).  We found this website after visiting, and it shed so much more light on the area!

After we were done at Delta Mills, we headed northwest to Montcalm County to visit Vickeryville and Butternut.  These two are off of M-57, which we accessed by heading north from I-96 on M-66, then heading west on M-57.  Vickeryville is well-marked–there’s a sign from M-57 that points you in the right direction down Vickeryville Road.

The most obvious landmark is the Central Bean and Grain mill and accompanying storage shed, each on its own side of the road.  Both are open to the elements, although we wouldn’t recommend venturing in–for one thing, they’re private property; for another, the mill in particular doesn’t seem too safe to enter.  There was a light breeze as we walked around the perimeter, and even that was enough to cause parts of the mill to squeak and groan.

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Continuing further down the road, we found the old church, which is still active; there is also an Old Order Amish settlement nearby (which we didn’t photograph, out of respect).

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Then, it was on to Butternut!

This was one was tougher to find.  There’s less left, and it’s well off the main road.  We continued east on M-57 just a short ways from Vickeryville and turned left on Main Street.  We missed it the first time.  Doubling back, we turned west on a road that appears to have a few names…Google Maps calls it North Butternut Street, but the street sign disagreed.  It’s a short, dead-end road that actually sort of loops back and connects with North Street (perhaps unofficially, though…it was a moment of off-roading for us in Sara’s Prius!).  We found a large barn-like structure and an old mechanic’s shop, both heavily foliaged by this time.  There might have been more further down, but the road officially ended and was then marked as private property, so we kept out.

After this thrilling day, we happily continued northward and found lodging in Big Rapids.  Shout out to the Quality Inn for a) having a room available on Labor Day weekend, and b) having a really friendly staff!  Nothing fancy, but excellent customer service!

we wouldn’t recommend venturing in–for one thing, they’re private property; for another, the mill in particular doesn’t seem too safe to enter.  There was a light breeze as we walked around the perimeter, and even that was enough to cause parts of the mill to squeak and groan.

Continuing further down the road, we found the old church, which is still active; there is also an Old Order Amish settlement nearby (which we didn’t photograph, out of respect).

Then, it was on to Butternut!

This was one was tougher to find.  There’s less left, and it’s well off the main road.  We continued east on M-57 and turned left on Main Street.  We actually missed the remains the first time.  Doubling back, we turned west onto a small, dead-end road that seems to go by a few names–Google Maps calls it North Butternut St., although the street sign claims otherwise.  It actually connects and loops back onto North Street, although that may be an unofficial connection–we did have to off-road it a bit in Sara’s Prius!  We found a very large barn-like structure (we weren’t sure exactly what it was for) and an old mechanic’s shop.  Both were very overgrown, although the mechanic’s shop certainly looked newer.

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There appeared to be more if we continued on, but the road officially ended and became private property, so we kept out.

By this time, it was getting quite late, so we headed north to Big Rapids and found lodging for the night.  Shout out to Quality Inn–basic, no-frills facility with a really friendly staff!  We did begin to question our thinking of just getting a hotel room wherever we happened to land each night…it being Labor Day weekend and all…but thankfully this place had a room and excellent customer service to boot!

Adventure #2: Star City and Podunk

On our way home from Mackinac Island, Issa, Sara, and Issa’s mom decided it would be great fun to find more ghost towns, since we’d had such success with Pere Cheney.  We used a website we found that helped us identify a couple more that weren’t too far out of our way: Star City and Podunk (yes, Podunk).

Star City is west of Houghton Lake on M-55, about 5 miles.  Turning north on Star City Road, the cemetery is on the left, and the one remaining structure, an old school building, is a bit further down on the right.  The school building is located on private property, so we were only able to photograph it from the road without exploring much:

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The cemetery is easily accessible, though, and has both Civil War veterans and more recent burials as well.

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It’s hard to find much information about Star City’s origins or its demise, other than it was first set up with a post office in 1872 and called “Roy,” and later “Putnam” when the post office changed hands.  Then, in 1885, it was officially named Star City, and the name continued until 1923, when it was disbanded.  There is a story that the entire area was first known as “Starvation Lake,” after a trapper who was found dead in his cabin from apparent starvation.  Whether this is true or not is unable to be verified.

After this, we made our way south of Houghton Lake to the real, actual Podunk,  MI.  Located on the corner of Ziemer Rd. and Shearer Rd. off of M-18 in Gladwin County.  There’s even a sign!

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All that’s left here is an old school house in the middle of a field, and a former church that’s now a private residence (to protect their privacy, we didn’t photograph it–plus, it really doesn’t resemble a church so much anymore).

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Almost nothing is known about Podunk–its inception or its end.  The thought is that it may have started as a lumbering community, turned to farming, and then just petered out over time.  Some online commentators have said there used to be a dance hall in town for entertainment, but that’s about all there is to know!  There’s no cemetery attached to the community that we could find.

Adventure #1: Pere Cheney

Our adventures actually began last year (only this year did we decide that maybe, since we seem to be making a habit of this, we should blog it for others to read about) on September 9, 2016.  It happened a bit by accident; Issa, Sara, and Issa’s mom were heading up to Mackinac Island to participate in the annual run/walk around the island and stopped in Grayling for some delightful desserts from Goodale’s bakery.  Sara knew the area from years of camping there with her family, and is acquainted with the owners of the bakery.  Issa was idly checking Google Maps to see where they were and how far they had yet to travel, and noticed Pere Cheney on the map.  This was surprising, given that she’d just recently read about it in a news article discussing Michigan’s ghost towns.  Why would a ghost town still be on the map?

We never did get a satisfactory answer to that question, but our curiosity was piqued and we headed out to find it.

Pere Cheney is 2 miles east and 3-4 miles south of the Grayling exit off I-75.  It’s actually easiest to get off on exit 251, which is 4 Mile Road (south of Grayling) and then following Beasley Ave. and E. Railroad Trail.  It’s easily found by routing it on Google Maps.  Be prepared for a lot of overgrown shrubbery and sandy dirt roads!  It’s very much in the middle of nowhere.  Here’s what we found on the spot:

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In other words, a whole lot of nothing!

The story we dug up on the town of Pere Cheney can be found more fully on its Wikipedia page, but here’s the gist: it was formed in 1874 as a lumbering town, as so many small towns in northern Michigan were.  It was fully functional: a sawmill, a doctor, a hotel, and a post office, and of course depot on the Michigan Central Railroad.  At its peak, it was  home to roughly 1,500 people, but two rounds of diptheria in 1893 and 1897 and the decline of the lumber industry left only 18 people left by 1917.  The post office closed in 1912 and the site was officially abandoned by 1917.

There were no structures or foundations left to see; however, a cemetery still exists if you continue to follow the road away from the highway (it’s tricky–there are two roads, one on each side of the railroad tracks.  You want to be on the inner/right-hand side road, which is called Center Plains Trail).  One website claimed the cemetery was derelict; however, we found it to be in decent enough condition.  The grass was well-kept and people were clearly visiting and leaving flowers and tokens.  Unfortunately, there was evidence of headstone vandalism and stones that were outright missing.

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Sadly, there are many children buried in this place, and you can easily align their death dates with the diptheria outbreaks in the late 19th century.  Some families lost several children in quick succession.  It’s no wonder they’d feel compelled to leave and start over in a new town after such grief.  It was nice to see people leaving little toys and even a package of fruit snacks at the headstones of the children–we were glad to see they were being remembered, even if they no longer had family nearby.

On a side note, there is a local legend that the town was cursed by a witch, which caused its demise, and that she’s buried in the cemetery.  Others have claimed ghostly occurrences when visiting the cemetery.  None of these were observed by us on our visit, we’re happy to report!