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Grand Haven, Holland & South Haven, Michigan

getaway-chicago logo Sun, surf, sand, lots of restaurants, museums, preservation and congenial relaxation, sums up a visit to Grand Haven, Holland and South Haven, Michigan. Lured by “off season” hotel rates (an Alan thing), the Getaways Guys returned to these three communities in March 2010. Mr. Midwest Expert (Alan) was in familiar turf. Aside from Grand Haven in 2009 and Luddington in 1974, Neil, hadn’t been really north of Benton Harbor.havens1

Nestled (buried) in dunes, the Havens and Holland are significant for reasons other than “fun-in-the-sun." Associated with leisure and tourism, the three have interesting historical narratives and are enthusiastic about preserving their cultural and historic identities.

In Grand Haven, the Guys visited the Tri-Cities Historical Museum at 200 Washington Avenue, a treasure trove of artifacts and ephemera tracing the growth and development of Grand Haven, Ferrysburg and Spring Lake. In the restored Akeley Building (1871), an intelligent and beautiful adaptive facility, history lives. Accompanied by Dennis Swartout, the congenial and informative Director of the Tri-Cities Museum, the Guys also visited an auxiliary site, a restored Grand Trunk Railway depot (1870), another excellent example of historic significance and preservation.

havens2Southward, Neil and Alan toured the Holland Museum at 31 West 10th Street in Holland. A former post office built in 1914, this Beaux Art structure became the Holland Museum in 1992. Its main floor is dedicated to a mind-boggling collection of artifacts and ephemera illustrating Holland’s pre-1847 roots and its growth following the arrival of its Dutch citizenry. This floor presents Holland’s intimate relationship to Lake Michigan, its early reliance on the timber and its developments in manufacturing and agriculture, from pickles to pianos. The second floor is reserved for a remarkable array of Dutch art from the mid-17th to the early 20th century. havens9Along with fine examples of period furniture, books and some earthenware, the main attractions are its paintings. Portraits, landscapes, seascapes, still life and genre scenes predominate. While Neil was studying the landscapes and genre scenes with great interest, Alan was engrossed in books (once a librarian, always a librarian).

havens7Even further south, the Getaway duo found the Liberty Hyde Bailey Museum at 903 Bailey Avenue and the Michigan Maritime Museum at 260 Dykeman Avenue, both in South Haven. The Maritime Museum has a compelling facility devoted to wood boat building and restoration, staffed by volunteers steeped in the intricacies of bending and shaping wood for nautical use. This intimate museum is well worth the price of admission.havens4 The volunteers are friendly and open to inquiries about the nature of their work. Not “just interesting ," the Liberty Hyde Bailey Museum is a challenge to find (perseverance required). The site is the former homestead of the Bailey family and the birthplace of the eminent horticulturist, Liberty Hyde Bailey (1858-1954). Bailey was a child of the frontier, who discovered nature while exploring the environs of South Haven with his Potawatomi pals. The late Dr. Bailey founded the School of Horticulture at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York and made important contributions to science of horticulture. Neil knew nothing about Bailey, Alan (of course) knew all about him! Supported by the City, the LHBM is striving to improve its holdings of Bailey artifacts and its visibility. Much has been accomplished and more remains to be done. An ambitious endeavor with an important agenda, the LHBM will benefit from greater visitor support.

havens5Grand Haven (1835) was originally a fur trading outpost (c.1790s) owed by John Jacob Astor (1763-1848), America’s first millionaire. When the fur trade evaporated Grand Haven turned to lumber. Led by the visionary Rev. Albertus C. Van Raalte, Holland (1847) was settled by Dutch immigrants seeking a better life and religious freedom. In an inhospitable location (swamps and dense forest) and unfamiliar with logging (forests had disappeared from the Netherlands centuries earlier), the Dutch learned to cut timber, too. Meanwhile, South Haven (1850’s) was mainly a lumber settlement from its beginnings.

With lumber gone by the latter 19th century, the Havens and Holland turned to agriculture and horticulture, producing vast quantities of fruits and berries. Grand Haven and Holland also became furniture making centers. South Haven became a major Great Lakes port. Today, along with light industry, fruit and berries continue to support these respective economies.

havens6Tourists began arriving more than a century ago. Lured by beaches, dunes, Chicago’s proximity and scheduled Lake Michigan steamers, day trippers and vacationers literarlly arrived by the boat load. The steamers disappeared long ago (some sank), replaced by the automobile. Of the three towns, South Haven has a unique distinction. From the 1920’s until the early ‘60s, South Haven was often referred to as “The Catskills of the Midwest," a robust Jewish vacation destination. In Holland, the Guys observed another (latter day) cultural oddity, a robust St. Patrick’s Day parade in once doctrinaire Dutch Reform Holland. Neil thought it a hoot. Alan didn’t get it.

havens8While in Grand Haven, the Guys investigated the Great Lakes Naval Memorial and Museum in Muskegon, too. For the curious about the role of submarines in the Pacific Theater during WW II, the GLNMM is required. The big attraction is the U.S.S. Silversides (SS-236), a highly decorated and successful survivor of the Silent Service

Both Havens and Holland offer a plethora of bed and breakfasts, hotels and motels. Since Neil had a free night coming, the Guys elected to stay at the Holiday Inn on the waterfront in Spring Lake, just across the river from Grand Haven. They were surprised to find a congenial bar and restaurant, Jack's, with great food at reasonable (very for Chicagoans!) prices. On an earlier trip, Neil and Alan dined at Porto Bello in Grand Haven's former Story and Clark Piano Factory — excellent Italian dishes and and another good find. In South Haven, they had lunch downtown at Clementines, a charming place in a renovated 1897 bank building, that serves great sandwiches (Alan liked the Calamity Jane and Neil the Mustang Sally). May 2010


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