Friday, November 21, 2014

Petoskey and Charlevoix in the Off Season

Not too long ago, my boyfriend Greg and I took a mini vacation to Mackinac Island (Mackinac Island Mayhem), the UP (Shipwrecks in the UPLakenenland and Snowbound in Marquette), and various places around Northern Michigan (Hartwick Pines State Park).

We finished our trip in Petoskey (peh-TAHS-kee), staying at the famously (and happily) haunted bed and breakfast Terrace Inn. Greg was beyond delighted by the place. The wooden stairs were uneven and tilted to one side (in some places quite dramatically), but it was comfortable, and had quite a bit of old charm. It would have been nice to have spent more time there relaxing, and I could be persuaded to stay there again. We stayed on the top floor above, but not in (to my knowledge) a room that had many reported incidents. There is an entire binder kept by the Inn documenting reports of hauntings and other strange happenings, though numerous attempts on our part and by the staff to locate it ended in failure. Every year, the Inn hosts a paranormal weekend around Halloween, which, sadly, we were destined to miss.

A very short drive away is downtown Petoskey, a much larger area than I think either of us was expecting. Yes, there were a number of kitschy, artsy souvenir shops, the kind you usually find in beach resort towns, but there were also a number of bars, restaurants, breweries (we loved Beards), and totally normal year-round stores that one expects to find in a city. (There is a full-sized JC Penney! Not in a mall!) It was nice to find a functioning downtown, and not just a tourist trap. In some tourism books, we saw the downtown area referred to as the "gas lamp district," though we never quite sussed that out.

We did find the statue of Ignatius Petoskey (aka Petosegay - spellings were not exactly set back then), the Ottawa-French metis merchant and fur trader who founded the original village. He looked like a formidable guy, contrasting with the rather genteel surroundings.

Fun trivia: Singer-songwriter Sufjan Stevens, though born in Detroit, grew up in Petoskey. You know who else has strong ties to Petoskey? Ernest Hemingway. Plaques abound of where Hemingway did this, which buildings served as inspiration for which scene in which story, etc. Hemingway spent his summers growing up in the Petoskey region, returned to recover there after being wounded in war, and placed many of his stories there. The city is very, very proud of him.

On our way out of Petoskey, we made a stop in Charlevoix. (Pronounced SHARR-luh-voy. "Oi" is pronounced "oy," not "wah" in French-Canadian. We see this also in "Detroit," which was once - and still is in French-Canada - pronounced "duh-troy." I assume the British added the "t" sound, which is only fair considering there is a "t" there. Michigan was French territory before it was English, so we have a lot of French names. Also many Ottawa and Chippewa names, hence Petoskey and Michigan respectively.)

Charlevoix is another summer tourist town. It also has its quirks. Our first stop was Castle Farms, the history of which is far too long for me to post here. Nowadays, it is predominantly used as a wedding venue (they have multiple rooms designed for this purpose), but it also is a great way to spend an afternoon! The various gardens are well-maintained and delightful, many with a fairy tale theme (this is a castle, after all). The pond around back was populated with a hundred water fowl. Or more. It was difficult to count with them all running at me for food scraps. I haven't been mobbed by that many ducks since I lived with Kimmy in Southport!

Part of what makes Castle Farms a great place to bring kids is the massive train set that you can actually climb in and around. There are also chess boards all over the castle of varying sizes, including at least one with pieces 3 feet or so tall. I would have loved running around this castle as a child! You pay a fee to get in, and are then handed a map with numbers and you are allowed to wander from place to place, following the numbers of the self-guided walking tour or not. While we were there, there were no weddings so we went everywhere, but if there is a wedding going on, obviously you are expected not to crash it.

We chatted with one of the receptionists upon leaving and she asked if we'd heard of the Mushroom Houses. I had, but totally forgotten where they were, and Greg had not. Excited, she ran over to get us a brochure and told us all she knew about them making the Mushroom Houses designed by Earl A. Young our next destination. (After a brief stop for lunch.) No, they are not shaped like mushrooms per se. The homes do seem to grow naturally out of the surrounding environments making use of both natural materials and what people like to call organic shapes. There is a lot of roundness to the homes.

Unfortunately, I don't have any pictures of the Mushroom Houses (so click the link above!!). They are private residences, so I didn't want to disturb anyone, and we just ended up cruising around and gawking from the privacy of our own car. (One guy was definitely giving us the stink eye from his front lawn.) Though the houses may be fancy (albeit quite small in some cases) and probably go for a pretty penny nowadays, they were designed to be affordable at the time. In our brochure, Young is quoted with "There is no use paying rent when you can buy a home at the prices I have places for sale for." Maybe not the most profound statement, but you get the idea.

If you've ever wanted to live in Snow White's cottage or a Hobbit Hole, start stalking the Mushroom Houses now. I don't know this for sure, but I doubt they go on the market often, and when they do, it probably takes some special connections to get inside one. (This has been my experience with the Frank Lloyd Wright homes that are still private residences outside Kalamazoo. The Meyer May House in Grand Rapids is open for tours, though, and it is fantastic.)

And that concludes our Northern Michigan Adventure. I don't know what I will talk about next week. Maybe burlesque. Come back to find out!

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