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Harbor Scene at St. Joseph

St. Joseph and Benton Harbor, Michigan

getaway-chicago logo Here’s a place for a day, a weekend or a vacation. With beaches, turn-of-the-century inns, restaurants, shops (antiques too!) and some pretty interesting art, it’s just 90 miles from the Loop. Staying at the rustic Lakeside Inn (www.lakesideinns.com) in Lakeside, MI, the Getaway Guys and their wives (Holly and Carol) recently made St. Joseph, MI and its Krasl Art Center an overnight getaway-chicago destination.

stjoseph1Where the St. Joseph River meets Lake Michigan, St. Joe and its neighbor, Benton Harbor (named for the father of American artist Thomas Hart Benton) have shared a fate not uncommon along the shores of the Great Lakes; they’ve known boom and bust. But, of the commercial engines (past and present) once supportive of these local economies, tourism in St. Joseph is very much alive and well. Because enough late 19th and early 20th century architecture has been preserved intact and/or through creative adaptive use, St. Joe offers an appealing combination of history and fun. However, the Getaway Guys (and Gals) didn’t journey to the eastern shore of Lake Michigan just to shop (plentiful) along State Street, to gobble chocolates (delicious), to consume ice cream (equally irresistible), or to check out the eight-ton Dahlgren (1864) cannon (only 21 survive).  Nor did they go just for the Maids of the Mist fountain (1873), the poignant (but theatrical) Fireman’s Monument (1898) or The Doughboy (not Pillsbury) Monument dedicated on November 11, 1930 along St. Joseph’s pleasant Lake Boulevard. They really wanted to take in the Krasl Art Center (www.krasl.org).

stjoseph2A jewel seemingly in the middle of nowhere, the Krasl is not big, but is intimate and intelligent. Of about 11 exhibits  presented during a season, the Guys (and Gals) were lucky to take in three simultaneously: Papercutting by Beatrice Coron, Painting by Martin Weinstein and Mixed Media Mechanical Reliefs by Alan Rosas. Neil was interested in Rosas’s work, thought provoking and amusing combinations of autobiography and social realism a la Red Grooms. Holly preferred Coron’s mind boggling urban social commentary in silhouette format and the Barneys thought Weinstein’s impressionistic works with surreal qualities better than Neil and Holly’s picks (Family Feud?). In addition to its exhibition mission the Krasl maintains an expanding collection of contemporary sculpture and it sponsors a very impressive biennial sculpture invitational, among other things. Around since the early 1970s, the St. Joseph Art Center became the Krasl Art Center in 1979, named for George J. Krasl who along with wife Olga were avid supporters of the arts in and around St. Joe including the Art Center.

stjoseph3Another venue for art is the Box Factory (www.boxfactoryforthearts.org) where the atmosphere is less formal and more bohemian. Consisting of exhibition space and artist’s studios (among other things), this example of adaptive use is a “must stop” in St. Joe. Last, but not least two fascinating kernels of St. Joe-Benton Harbor history to investigate are the Israelite House of David and Mary’s City of David.  Not unlike Bishop Hill, IL, both communes were built on  religious fervor and diminished by scandal

stjoseph4Just about every getaway destinations is a place having a success, a failure or an almost was story; St. Joseph-Benton Harbor isn’t an exception.  In 1911 the Upton brothers established the  Upton Machine Co. (Whirlpool) in Benton Harbor. Five years before the Wright Brothers flew their plane, Augustus Herring on October 11, 1898 flew a motorized contraption for seven seconds over St. Joe’s Silver Beach. It didn’t have a steering wheel and that’s how North Carolina became First in Flight.

For dining the Guys and Gals had an evening meal at Timothy’s (269-469-0900) which is located in the Gordon Beach Inn in Union Pier. The atmosphere and service was very nice and the food good and plentiful. May 2007

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