Wednesday, September 10, 2014

On to Michigan and the Fayette Historic Town Site

After dodging some bad weather leaving Wisconsin, we made our way to Rapid River Michigan and several days of seeing Stonington Peninsula, along with some other great Michigan treasures, like Fayette Historic Town Site.

This 19th Century, well preserved town, was most industrious.  They manufactured charcoal pig iron here from 1867 to 1891, along with lime.   Now in a State Historic Park, visitors can take a walking tour among 20 original structures, including eleven buildings with museum displays and plenty of scenic views of this harbor town of yesterday.

Located on the southern side of the Upper Peninsula on Big Bay de Noc, Lake Michigan, Fayette was at its peak the most productive iron smelting operation in the area. Shortly after the Civil War, this company town grew up around two very large blast furnaces, charcoal kilns, a lime kiln, and a large dock.

About 500 residents lived here, and during its peak in population, half were children. The laborers and skilled tradesman produced over 225,000 tons of pig iron during its 24 years of activity, all splitting up just over $5,000 in payroll each month, They used hardwood from the forest for fuel, and quarried limestone from the bluffs in the harbor to purify the iron ore.  It would be short lived due to the exhaustion of hardwoods, and the Jackson Iron Company closed its Fayette smelting operations in 1891 when the market declined. Although some residents stayed and farmed, many left Fayette.

In 1882 the company announced it would build a lime kiln to manufacture lime used in mortar for masonry, chinking for log houses and plaster for interior walls. The excess was sold to Escanaba, which was a two day trip by stage, or 3 hours by boat across Big Bay de Noc.  In the winter, when the lake froze, residents could ride a stage sled across to Escanaba.

Fayette's central business district separated the have from have nots. Trademen and Supervisors along with their families lived in comfortable frame houses, while simple log homes were taken along the hill, road and shoreline by the unskilled laboring class on the other side of town.

Take a walk on Slag Beach, which was an industrial dump site, where glass like slag, or cinder, mixed with iron can still be found. The Jackson Iron Company used the furnace waste product as a road base and fill material. The beach also served local residents as the landfill, and Fayette was known for not being a "tidy" town.

We found the walking tour great!  You'll want to allow for a couple of hours to see the entire town and its surroundings.  Along the tour you'll find a reconstructed Charcoal Kiln that was used to make fuel for the large furnaces still standing. By the mid 1880's there were over eighty charcoal kilns in the area run by the company.

You'll also see the ruins of the company store, which like many others, was described by one resident as a "pluck me".  The store was destroyed by fire in the 1900's, but it's limestone frame remains tall on the shore of the harbor.

We found this historic park well worth the price of admission to see a bit of history at your own leisure. They've done a great job of maintaining and reconstructing the buildings that are left, with plenty of information to give you a real sense of what life was like here.  For more information see their official website HERE.

See our stay in this area, including our experience with Monarch Butterflies at Peninsula Point Lighthouse, the ghost town of Stonington Point and more via our Photo Blog HERE.

While in this area we stayed at Vagabond Resort just outside of Rapid River, MI.  This is an older RV Park, and though it looks a little run down, we found the management and WIFI to be excellent!  Very helpful and friendly atmosphere, although we probably wouldn't choose this park without the Passport rate.  (Around $27 normal, $13 Passport).

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Fond du Lac to Milwaukee

On our way from Fond du Lac to Milwaukee, we stopped at the Dheinsville Settlement just outside Germantown.  It's an historic 1850's original German settlement with several of the older buildings still standing, including the 1862 Christ Church, an 1854 Hotel, along with a few others. The settlement dates back to 1842, and it was a good stop for a quick fix of history.

Another quick stop found us in Menomonee Falls. A suburb of Milwaukee, it was
established in 1892 on the Menomonee River, which the city has damned creating a water fall. The downtown area has kept it's historic charm despite the influx of population from the city over the years.

The region around the confluence of three rivers, the Milwaukee, Menomonee and Kinnickinnic, into Lake Michigan, was originally inhabited by several Native American tribes, including the Fox, Winnebago, Potawatomi, Ojibwe, Sauk, Menominee and Mascouten. European missionaries and traders were passing through by the late 17th and early 18th century. French Canadian Alexis Laframboise established a trading post here in 1785.

The rivers saw the first official European settlements around 1818, with French Canadian explorer Solomon Juneau establishing Juneautown. It was in competition with two others that formed quickly after, Kilbourntown and Walkers Point.

Leading up to 1840 these settlements went through some intense rivalries that culminated in what is now known as the "Milwaukee Bridge War". Mainly between Juneautown on the east side of the Milwaukee River, and Kilbourntown on the west side, the trouble began when Kilbourntown tried to isolate Juneautown to make it more dependant on them. A planned bridge over the river threatened Kilbourntown's plans, and in 1845 Byron Kilbourn, founder of his settlement, destroyed part of the bridge under construction.  Two smaller bridges were destroyed by men of Juneautown in an attempt to cut off Kilbourn from the east and south side.  It was after this that they decided the best way forward would be to make better efforts to cooperate, and in 1846 the three settlements united into one city as Milwaukee.

The name Milwaukee comes from a Native word meaning "Gathering place by the water", and was known in the early days as Milwacky, Milwarck, Milwauki and even Melleorki.

German immigrants made up a large portion of Milwaukee's early growth. So much so that clubs and societies created here made a lasting impact on American life.  Did you know it was the Germans that created Kindergarten? They also incorpoated sports, music and art into regular school curriculums. By the turn of the 20th Century, Germans made up a third of Milwaukee's population.

Polish immigrants too had and impact on the city, especially in its churches, with steeples that dot the skyline providing some beautiful views with breathtaking architecture. Milwaukee boasts the fifth largest Polish population in the U.S. to this day (around 45,000), but it was as high as 100,000 in 1915.

Other nations' immigrants were also attracted to the city on Lake Michigan, and by 1910 Milwaukee was tied with New York City as having the largest percentage of foreign born residents in the U.S.

In 1960, with a population 91% white, the city was one of the largest in the United States at almost 800,000. However it's population began to decline by the late 1960's as many moved to the burbs, and by 1980 it only had around 630,000 residents.  With it's historic districts and rich immigrant history, the city survived and is on it's way back through re-vitalization and efforts to attract new business. The city saw a population increase over the past decade, it's first since 1960.

Today the city is home to the headquarters of six Fortune 500 companies including Harley-Davidson, Joy Global, Rockwell Automation, Johnson Controls, Manpower, and Northwestern Mutual. Other companies based here including Briggs & Stratton, Master Lock, GE Healthcare and others.

Railroads helped shape the cities future as well, with Milwaukee becoming the largest shipper of wheat in the world in 1862. This of course brought the 'suds'.  Milwaukee was at one time the leading producer of beer in the world, home to four of the worlds largest breweries; Schlitz, Blatz, Pabst and Miller. It has since declined in this regard, but is still home to the major brewer Miller Brewing Company, the second largest in the U.S. Coors also has a brewery in Miller Valley, the oldest still-functioning major brewery in the country. You may recognize some of these brewery's as they were used as the backdrop in many scenes of the popular sitcoms Happy Days and Lavern and Shirley, which were set in Milwaukee.

We couldn't take a brewery tour at Miller Valley due to some electrical problems during our visit, however we especially enjoyed our time around the old Pabst Brewery with it's many buildings abandoned for years. It gave us a glimpse of the past we wouldn't have just months from now, as these old buildings appear to be slated for demolition soon.

There is a lot to see and do in this city, whether touring the famous brewery's, enjoying the many attractions downtown, or even a dip in Lake Michigan on one of the beaches. Oh, and of course there is baseball and the Brewers (I know, there are other sports here too).  Depending on your cup of tea, this could be a weekend long adventure, or you could just be a drive through history buff like us and spend a day taking in the architecture and sites. We don't normally do large cities and like to write about the smaller places in American History the most, but what ever your taste, there is something for everyone in Milwaukee.

After traveling up the lakeside for a while we headed back making a stop in historic Cedarburg. Founded in the early 1840's by Irish and German settlers on Cedar Creek, they have carefully preserved the city's original structures and the downtown looks much as it did over a hundred years ago. In fact, more than 200 buildings of historical significance remain in the town, and remain in use as shops, homes, museums and more.

Industries here included a woolen mill, lumber and flour mills, a nail factory and a brewery, all which prospered after the railroad arrived in 1870. Although it's area population is around 11,000, Cedarburg has kept it's old world charm and we could tell it was a favorite stop for tourists which crowded the shops downtown during our Labor Day weekend visit.

See our visit to the Milwaukee area in images and read more about the history, including that of the famous breweries, in each photo's description via our Photo Blog HERE.

While in this area we stayed at Fond du Lac County Fairgrounds in one of their 18 full hookup sites. $20 a night, and only a few other campers there.  Not a place if you are into scenery, but was great for our purposes.  No wifi, but we had excellent AT&T data here (4Glte).  Fond du Lac has a lot to see and is fairly large compared to what we typically do.  The downtown has a market on certain days, and there's lots of history in this area.  Appears it is sometimes difficult to get into a spot at this fairground. As of this writing you really need to arrive when they are in the office.  If not, you may be without a key to unlock electric and water. We were lucky as there is Donny, a great RV'er that stays there a lot and actually was given the key to help others with.  He had to leave though for the weekend and we saw more than one camper pull up and leave shortly after.  We were told in the office that they are considering upgrading their on-line reservation system and campground next year with new procedures that will eliminate this problem.