Transportation history at the Sloan Museum

by Bob Hoelscher 18. October 2013 20:04


Antique Buick with AC Spark Plug plant sign in background

Recently I attended a program by the fine Flint Symphony Orchestra, which performs in a concert hall located in the Flint Cultural Center. Those planning a visit to the popular, Bavarian-themed community of Frankenmuth nearby would be well advised to also consider making a stop at this excellent museum.

The museum tells the story of Flint as a center for the production of vehicles and equipment to meet the nation’s transportation needs. Beginning with log-hauling gear and wagons, area factories were soon producing large quantities of horse-drawn carriages, which ultimately led to the city playing a major role, arguably second only to Detroit, in the development of America’s automobile industry. Not only was General Motors founded here, but Flint was home to a number of historic car makes, including the Whitney, its much-better-known successor, the Chevrolet, as well as Buick and such closely-related products as Fisher Bodies and AC Spark Plugs.

Permanent displays and colorful dioramas link the founding and growth of the city and the daily lives of its residents with the factories and products which they made, and cover such other developments as the organization of labor, sit-down strikes, floods, racial tensions, plus the conversion of plants to the production of wartime materiel. Also featured are a variety of temporary exhibits. “Space, a Journey to our Future,” is scheduled from January 25 to May 4, 2014, in collaboration with NASA. 

The Buick Automotive Gallery maintains a rotating display of the museum’s collection of historic vehicles, and a special Truck & Bus Exhibit will run from October 26 through March 30, 2014.


Explaining the historic auto assembly process


"Return of the Dinosaurs" temporary exhibit


Sit-down striker exhibit

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Three Especially Worthwhile Tour Inclusions

Old Mission General Store

by Bob Hoelscher 18. October 2013 19:58


Antiques, pastries, old-time candies, etc.

On a recent trip to Michigan, I took an excellent scenic drive north of Traverse City past handsome wineries, cherry orchards, a lighthouse and palatial summer homes. For my money, the highlight of the entire trip was a stop at the Old Mission General Store, at 18250 Mission Road. 

Established as a trading post for the local tribe in 1839, the original building was moved from the beach to the present roadside location about 1870. Inside I found the most eclectic collection imaginable of antiques, memorabilia and products for sale, even a traditional pickle barrel. Picnic tables are available outside. I knew that this was the “real thing” when I spotted the 1905 ferry schedule posted on the wall!         

Since 1999, the General Store has been owned and operated by Jim Richards, formerly a professional actor, and his wife Marci, the store’s ninth owners. As he did for me and my friends Dave and Ginny Behn while we enjoyed a tasty meal on the front porch, Jim, a most erudite and entertaining fellow, will be happy to regale your group members with fascinating tales about the store’s history. He talked about Henry Ford’s recommendation of the facility as an ideal “combustion engine destination spot.” 

In addition to Ford, past customers have included John D. Rockefeller, Thomas Edison and John Burroughs, as well as Presidents Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson and Warren G. Harding. It’s a list that I was happy to be included in.


The pickle barrel


The "spirits" counter


An amazing array of unusual items for sale

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Three Especially Worthwhile Tour Inclusions

Victoria's Craigdarroch Castle

by Bob Hoelscher 12. October 2012 20:48



Just about everybody who visits Victoria, British Columbia, to see the sights is sure to head for the magnificent, world-renowned Butchart Gardens. Having toured the gardens many times in the past, however, I decided to seek out a different Victoria attraction to explore on my most recent trip there in September. 

Just a short distance east of the downtown area is the sandstone-faced Craigdarroch Castle, built between 1887 and 1890 for coal baron Robert Dunsmuir, the wealthiest man in British Columbia at the time. This imposing Victorian landmark sits atop a hill overlooking the city and the Strait of Juan de Fuca with floors of splendid woodwork, stained glass windows, ornate furnishings and 17 fireplaces. In fact, it took five railcars to ship the Castle’s 2,128 individual oak panels from Chicago. Unfortunately, Dunsmuir died just months before construction was completed, so his wife Joan, three daughters and two orphaned grandchildren were the only family members to live in the mansion and original 28-acre estate.   

Upon Joan’s passing in 1908, the Castle, its contents and surrounding property were divided among nine heirs. Over the years the hospital was converted into a hospital for veterans in WWI, Victoria College, the Victoria School of Music and the Society for the Preservation and Maintenance of Craigdarroch Castle.

Since the Conservatory departed in 1979, the mansion has been operated solely as a historic house museum, and the monumental task of tracking down artifacts for the restoration of the house began in earnest. Today most of the rooms have been painstakingly furnished with period antiques, some of them original. The result is a most impressive attraction sure to fascinate anyone with an interest in historic mansions of the Victorian era or the privileged lives of those who amassed immense fortunes from the industrial transformation of North America.


Oak-paneled main staircase


Downstairs parlor


English billiard table

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Visit Victoria, British Columbia

History on the banks of Lake Geneva

by Brian Jewell 18. July 2009 02:12

 

There’s nothing like traveling in Europe to shake up your perspective on history.

In the United States, we get excited about things that are 200 years old; in the West, where some states have yet to celebrate their centennials, even newer items and places get the historic treatment. But visit Europe, where cities and buildings have stood for over a thousand years, and you begin to see the past along a different timeline.

A classic example is Switzerland’s Chateau de Chillon, a castle built by French dukes in the 800s. Sitting atop a bluff on the banks of beautiful Lake Geneva, this castle was lived in and expanded by nobility for over 1,000 years – the last residents moved out in the 1800s.

The castle was made famous by the English poet Lord Byron, who wrote about it in his popular work “The Prisoner of Chillon.”  During our tour of the castle, we visited the dungeon, where as many as 250 prisoners were held at one time, and saw where Byron carved his initials into a stone pillar.

The tour of the large castle afforded us interesting glimpses into the lives of people who lived there.  We saw the artwork and furniture that was created for them centuries ago, and much of it is still beautiful today. A full-time staff of curators and maintenance personal works to make sure the castle is preserved in its original state.

Along the way, our guide also pointed out how the inhabitants dealt with more mundane affairs, such as cooking and bathing.

“We often think that in the middle ages, people were very dirty,” she said. “They were not – they were very clean. They washed their hands and faces often, and took baths just about every day.”

Nobles, she explained, had baths in their homes, while commoners used public bathhouses. It was only after the bathhouses became frequent spots for illicit rendezvous that that Catholic church ordered them closed, and spread the rumor that contact with water was dangerous.

When  you do a little bit of digging, history is always more interesting than you expect.

 

 

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