By Scott Slagor, MHPN Communications Committee
Highways are dull. Even the most scenic of highways become monotonous after hours or, even minutes, and offer little insight to the communities they bypass. Have you ever found yourself wondering about the towns you pass on regular highway journeys to an annual family vacation, or wedding on the opposite side of the state? Do you have a hunger to understand the cultural identity of Michiganders and the state’s history? I have found myself wondering these things, and over the past couple years have developed a knack for finding historic gems off the beaten path across the state.
I actively post pictures of my journeys to Facebook, Instagram, and soon Twitter. I have gained numerous followers, and many want to know how I find these places. It is sometimes assumed I find these resources through my job, for which I travel often, but in reality I seek out historic places in my everyday life. The steps I follow are shared below so you can discover your own #michiganplacesmatter!
A Michigan Places Matter road trip does take some planning, if you know you have to be at a wedding shower 100 miles away in the early afternoon, budget a couple extra hours of travel time to take the side roads. You will be thankful for the extra time, it is easy to get distracted on these road trips, to linger on the Main Street shops and side street neighborhoods of the communities you pass through. Know ahead how much traveling you anticipate and which places you want to visit.
Google is Your Friend
Mapping your road trip isn’t difficult. You can simply type your destinations into Google Maps and click the “avoid highways” option. Many GPS units also have this option. I like to alter the routes by clicking on the map to make points, and dragging them to neighborhoods I want to include. Generally, I have found that there is an old State or U.S. road that will provide a direct route, and pass through historic downtown cores. Using the maps, I also investigate areas that are natural locations for historic places. In addition to old major roads, look for waterways and railroad tracks, such resources were natural places for unique industries and neighborhoods to develop.
Really, Google is Your Friend!
Before you visit a community, it is a good idea to see what places it values. I will often review my map and do an image or web search on the communities I plan to drive through. This may reveal places that are less obvious to a passerby, and will often cue you in on places to stop. For instance, I would not have found the William G. Thompson House and Gardens in Hudson, Michigan were it not for a Google search. The house is located several blocks off the main drag, and I would have missed it entirely were I not intentional.
Review Online Databases and Local Organizations
Databases are helpful in finding properties that have been designated. The National Parks Service has an online database that includes properties listed in the National Register of Historic Places. However, that website is currently out of commission and is soon to be updated. In the meantime, you can download a spreadsheet with all of the National Register listings. If that is too much of a hassle, I have found that Wikipedia usually has a reliable list of National Register listed properties, entered by county. By searching the community name and “historic preservation” or “history” the search usually turns up locally designated historic districts, or historic societies, which generally include broad range of places.
Bring a Camera, Share Your Photos
This last step is not mandatory, but preferred. If you find a great farmstead, or downtown streetscape, or manufacturing center on your trip, share it with the world! Upload your photo to social media, and use the hashtag #michiganplacesmatter to raise awareness of the beautiful places across Michigan. Your experiences will inspire others to seek out the beauty in historic places within their own town, and even travel to our beautiful state.
Now that you’re equipped with a methodology, get off that highway and explore! To view the previous road trips of myself and others, search #michiganplacesmatter on any social media source. If you have a particular place you want shared, you can contribute to this blog, email your entry to: firstname.lastname@example.org.