Michgander Monday: Eleanore Hutzel

Happy Women’s History Month! It might be almost over, but there’s still time for me to celebrate one of my favorite Michigan women: Eleanore Hutzel. If you live in the Detroit area, you might recognize her last name and wonder if she’s connected to Hutzel Women’s Hospital, a part of the DMC. Yep, that hospital was named after her. She was highly involved with that institution for most of her life. The hospital wasn’t the only place where she made her mark, however. She also started up a Women’s Division of the Detroit Police Department in 1922. Eleanore Hutzel was a fascinating woman who made a huge impact through her work caring for the women and children who needed it most.

Hutzel was born on September 8, 1885 in Ann Arbor. Little is known about her childhood. In 1910, at the age of 25, she moved to Detroit to study nursing at Harper Hospital and Women’s Hospital. Her work as a nurse made her more aware of the difficulties poor women faced, which led to her interest in social services. It wasn’t long before she moved to Chicago to attend the University of Chicago’s School of Social Services. After graduating, she returned to Detroit to serve as the Director of Social Services at Women’s Hospital. A true product of the progressive age, she used her position to champion a number of programs to help women and infants, particularly unwed mothers and their children.

Women’s Hospital started in 1868 with an “open door” policy, meaning that they accepted patients regardless of their ability to pay or personal situation. Initially, women unable to pay had to work off their debt, but that practice ended in 1916, soon after Hutzel returned. Hutzel worked largely with the Department of Dependent Mothers and Infants, which mostly served unmarried mothers  – in 1921 82% of the infants born under care from the department were “illegitimate” (a term that sounds unnecessarily harsh today but typical of the time). Besides maternity care, the department also operated Valley Farm Home north of the city, where pregnant women and new mothers in need of care and assistance could reside outside of the immediate time of delivery. These women were expected to use their time at the home to learn infant care, domestic skills and a profession they could use to support themselves once they left. The goal was not just to see these women through delivery of their child, but also to set them up for a better life. Another impressive program, particularly for the time, was the Detroit Bureau of Wet-Nurses. Started in 1914, the bureau’s goal was to provide wet-nurses and breast milk to infants that needed it. This program allowed nursing mothers with an oversupply to earn money by either serving as a wet-nurse or providing extra milk to the program, which then redistributed it to infants in the hospital or mothers unable to nurse. The wet-nurse part of the program proved unpopular, but the distribution of breast milk was very popular and demand increased yearly. Hutzel tried to spread the word about the program, its popularity and its benefits through an article in Mother and Child, a magazine published by the American Child Hygiene Association.

Her involvement with social services led her to a position on the board of the Girls’ Protective League, an organization that aimed to look after unsupervised women and children on the streets. This activity lead to Eleanore’s next major career change – to policewoman. She organized the Women’s Division of the Detroit Police Department to assist the police department with handling cases involving women and children. After a trial period of six months, the division became a full part of the department and Hutzel became its chief. She later wrote that changing conditions (presumably industrialization and the growth of cities) had started to bring large groups of women and girls to the attention of the police, and that they presented problems better handled by women than by men. Her vision of a policewoman’s role was closely intertwined with social services. She felt that police work with women functioned best when in full cooperation with a social services department, to which women and children could be referred for assistance and rehabilitation. Nonetheless, she understood the need for traditional police activities as well. In “The Policewoman’s Handbook,” published by Hutzel in 1933, she provides instruction in patrol work, investigation, criminal law procedure and more.

She also foresaw a number of issues for the policewomen themselves that are still issues for working women today. When discussing qualifications for policewomen, she states that they must be as well or better qualified than policemen. Cities with well qualified policewoman have accepted their role in policing society, while cities where the policewomen were less qualified have insisted that women cannot fulfill the role. She also advocated for equal pay for policewomen, due to the fact that they have the same qualifications and duties as the men. According to one survey in the 1930s, about half of the police departments with women’s divisions paid them less than then men, and another half (including Detroit) paid them the same.

Eleanore Hutzel never ceased caring about social issues or serving the people of Michigan. In 1953, after retiring from the police force, she was appointed to Michigan’s new six-member corrections commission, which took control of the state’s prison system. She also never entirely left Women’s Hospital. She served as a trustee for many years, and in 1965 the hospital honored her service by renaming itself Hutzel Women’s Hospital. Hutzel died in 1979 but her legacy lives on at Michigan’s only nationally recognized hospital devoted to women’s health. In 1999, she was inducted into the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame as recognition of her importance to Michigan’s history.

Do you have a favorite woman from Michigan’s history? Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter! The month may be nearly over, but we can celebrate women’s history all year long!


How to get to Canada: The Ambassador Bridge

Michiganders love to talk about our affinity with our neighbor to the north (and in some places, south). Canada may be a foreign country, but in many ways it feels like just another state because it is so close by to many parts of Michigan. Sure, it’s slightly harder to cross the border these days since you need a passport or an enhanced drivers license, yet many Michigan residents cross over often, to see shows, visit friends and relatives, to work, go shopping, or, if you are 19 or 20, to have a drink.

I swear, I'm just honoring my rum-running forefathers! Image from Wayne State University Virtual Motor City Collection

We’re just honoring our rum-running forefathers!
(source: Wayne State University Virtual Motor City Collection

But how do we get to Canada? Michigan is the only border state with no land crossings. Until the early 20th century, you would need a boat to get from Michigan to Canada. Today however, it is easier than ever. There are currently three bridges, one tunnel and two car ferries that will take a passport-bearing American citizen to Canada. These are located on the three rivers that narrow the gap between the US and Canada surrounding Michigan – the Detroit River, the St. Clair River and the St. Mary’s River. I’d like to eventually talk about this history behind all of the border crossings, but I also don’t want to make any promises I may not keep. So I will just start with the most interesting story, about the most well-known crossing: the Ambassador Bridge.

The Ambassador Bridge at night. (source)

The Ambassador Bridge at night (source)

The Ambassador Bridge is a Detroit landmark, lighting up the river and making for an impressive skyline. It might not seem like a terribly long bridge today, but it was actually the longest suspension bridge in the world when it opened in 1929. The 1920s saw a great deal of new construction in the city, including the Fisher and Penobscot buildings. The city was growing at a rapid pace, yet it had no easy way for residents to reach its closest neighbor, Windsor (a rail tunnel, built in 1910, helped with freight traffic). Many people from around the Midwest and east coast tried to make plans for a bridge, but none of the plans came to fruition. That is, until John W. Austin met up with Joseph A. Bower. The two of them hatched a plan for a privately funded bridge between the two nations. They raised the funding, and received approval from all the necessary authorities, except one. Detroit Mayor John Smith opposed the plan, and vetoed the project. He did not like the idea of a privately owned bridge, and it seemed like all was lost.

However, Bower knew his plan was popular, and so decided to fight the veto. He put up $50,000 to have a special election on the issue of the bridge. Soon, both sides were fighting for votes, with newspaper advertisements, endorsements from leading citizens, and radio ads. In the midst of all this, Mayor Smith was up for re-election. John C. Lodge, a supporter of the bridge, used the issue to launch his mayoral campaign, causing the two issues to be inexorably intertwined.

John Smith and John C. Lodge on election day

John Smith and John C. Lodge on election day (source: Wayne State University Virtual Motor City Collection)

Mayor Smith was ruthless in his campaigning, which turned out to be his undoing. The day before the election, he gave a speech on the radio condemning the bridge. After the speech, he ran into H. H. Esselstyn, the Commissioner of Street Railways and former engineer on the Belle Island Bridge. It turned out Esselstyn was planning to make a contradictory speech in support of the bridge. Incensed, Mayor Smith fired him on the spot. Esselstyn still made the speech, despite his shock. At the end, he told the listeners that due to his opinions, he had been fired from his position. The unprofessional behavior of the mayor turned even more Detroiters against him, and his side was walloped the next day in the election. The bridge won by an 8 to 1 margin. Later that year, Smith was defeated by Lodge for the mayoral primaries (although he would become mayor again in 1933).

Construction, which had actually slowly begun before the election, picked up in earnest. It was finished in just over two years (and ahead of schedule). Unfortunately, the bridge opened 21 days after the crash of the New York Stock Exchange, at the very beginning of what would become the Great Depression. Additionally, the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel opened in 1930, creating competition for the bridge’s traffic. The bridge endured a decade of financial troubled before things began looking up in the 1940s. Although passenger traffic was stayed low due to travel restrictions and gas rationing during the war, truck traffic increased greatly due to war manufacturing. Finally, the bridge was on solid financial footing.

Cars travel over the newly constructed Ambassador Bridge in the 1920s (source: Wayne State University Virtual Motor City Collection)

Cars travel over the newly constructed Ambassador Bridge in the 1920s (source: Wayne State University Virtual Motor City Collection)

Over the years, use has continued to grow, especially by commercial trucks. Many improvements have been made to the bridge to stabilize the now aging infrastructure and help manage the growing number of vehicles. Despite these changes, the current bridge is still not enough to handle the daily traffic from Detroit to Windsor. For this reason, a proposal was created in 2004 to build a  new bridge across the Detroit River, this one publicly owned. The proposal has been through multiple setbacks, including vehement opposition from the Ambassador Bridge’s current American owner, Manual “Matty” Moroun, but it has prevailed and preliminary construction has begun. In fact, just this week two huge obstacles to the bridge were overcome. It will surely be a while before the new bridge, named the New International Trade Crossing, will open – but when it does, Michiganders will have a whole new way to get to Canada, for whatever it is they want to do there.

toronto 007

Source: myself, on a trip to Toronto in 2006 (no, I didn’t buy anything there).

Two Anniversaries: Statehood and Snow

Happy January 26th! Today is a big day in Michigan history – it’s both Statehood day, when Michigan became the 26th state, and it’s the anniversary of the great Blizzard of ’78, one of the biggest snowstorms to hit the state. These two events have nothing to do with each other except that they are both part of Michigan’s past, which is reason enough to be featured on this blog!

Michigan’s statehood day came about a little over a month after the famous Frostbitten Convention, at which Michigan agreed to give up claim to the Toledo Strip in exchange for the western part of the Upper Peninsula along with statehood. The convention occurred on December 14th, 1836. By the end of the month, Congress had passed a statehood bill for Michigan. Then, on January 26th, President Andrew Jackson signed the bill into law, officially making Michigan the 26th state in the union. Seeking Michigan, the online presence of the Michigan Historical Center, has some great documents relating to statehood, including a 1835 letter from Andrew Jackson giving instructions for what Michigan would need to do to become a state, and the December 1836 Senate bill declaring Michigan a state. You should definitely add checking those out to whatever other statehood day celebrations you have planned – oh wait, you don’t celebrate statehood day? Is that just me?

First page of the Senate bill for Michigan's statehood.  See a better image here.

First page of the Senate bill for Michigan’s statehood. See a better image here.

Well, if statehood is a little too “4th Grade History Class” for you, perhaps you’d be more interested in some more recent history.  In late January 1978, Michiganders were already shivering through one of the coldest winters on record. Early in the week of the 22nd, a small storm dropped some snow on the region, routine for this time of year. However, something bigger was brewing for the end of the week. A storm that would soon be known as the Blizzard of ’78.

Actually, two small storms were forming in different parts of the country, both with extremely low pressure. Low pressure arctic air was being pushed down over the northern plains, while another low pressure system was forming in the south. As the latter system moved north on the 25th, temperatures started to warm up and Michigan began to experience everyone’s least favorite weather, freezing rain. However, when the northern system made it over to the Great Lakes, it quickly turned to heavy snow and the temperatures dropped rapidly. In Cleveland on the morning of the 26th, the temperature went from 44 degrees at 4 AM to 7 degrees by 10 AM. This mixing of systems also caused gale force winds across the region, as well as extremely low pressure (apparently, this rapid dropping of pressure is called bombogenesis, which might be my new favorite meteorological term). Many cities, even those far from the center of the storm, reported their lowest pressure in the century since they had been keeping records. Throughout the night of the 26th, many areas were in whiteout conditions. Air and land traffic ground to a halt.

The storm began to die down on the 27th, although digging out from the snow took much longer. Record snowfalls occurred across the state, with 19.2 inches at Grand Rapids, 19.3 inches in Lansing and 30.0 inches in Muskegon. Detroit and SE Michigan had less, due to the rain that started the storm here, only receiving about 8.2 inches.

C.R. Snider, Meteorologist in Charge at the National Weather Service in Ann Arbor had this to say about the storm:

“The most extensive and very nearly the most severe blizzard in Michigan history raged throughout Thursday January 26, 1978 and into part of Friday January 27. About 20 people died as a direct or indirect result of the storm, most due to heart attacks or traffic accidents. At least one person died of exposure in a stranded automobile. Many were hospitalized for exposure, mostly from homes that lost power and heat. About 100,000 cars were abandoned on Michigan highways, most of them in the southeast part of the state.” (source)

The storm had a huge effect across the state. Schools were closed for at least a week. Many colleges closed for the first time in their history, including the University of Michigan. The National Guard was called up to help those were were trapped in their homes. One rather amusing report even stated that Traverse City was “unofficially closed.”

The Blizzard of ’78 still ranks near the top of list of worst storms to hit Michigan, along with the White Hurricane of 1913. Unlike the 1913, however, 1978 is still within the lifetime of many Michiganders. There are many stories of adventure and misfortune during the storm all over the internet. I’m a bit too young to remember the blizzard, but when I asked my parents about it they told me that none of all the side streets around Detroit were plowed, and only two ruts for cars to drive in for days afterwards. If there were two cars going in opposite directions, one was going to get forced off of the ruts. While heading over to my grandparents’ house, driving in the ruts, they came upon another car, who nicely swerved off into the snow to let them pass. As they drove past the car, they realized it was actually my grandfather, and he was stuck! So they stopped to help push him out of the snow before all heading back to the house.

The blizzard also hit Ohio, where this excellent photo of kids having fun in the snow was taken. Courtesy of the Kenton County Public Library

The blizzard also hit Ohio, where this excellent photo of kids having fun in the snow was taken. Courtesy of the Kenton County Public Library

Do you have any great stories from the Blizzard of ’78? I’d love to hear them! Or, tell me how I should celebrate Statehood day next year………..I’m thinking a mitten-shaped cake, but I’m open to suggestions!

Museum Round Up: Year of Museums, Part II

2014, my Year of Museums, is winding to a close. In one way, it was a success – I definitely went to more than 12 museums this year. On the other hand, going to more museums did not encourage me to write more blog posts. It was actually a pretty poor year for blogging. Only 10 posts all year! Perhaps 2015 should be the year of blogging.

Well, for all of those out there dying to know, my list of all the museums I visited is below. As you can see, most of the museums are from two big trips: my road trip around Michigan in July and my trip to Washington DC in November.

The first 5, which I wrote about in Museum Round Up Part I:

Mabry Mill (Virginia)
Arab American National Museum (Dearborn, Michigan)
Detroit Historical Museum
Detroit Institute of Arts
Thumb Octogon Barn Agricultural Museum

Then in June, I hit quite a few museums around Michigan while on vacation:

Our first stop on vacation was in Grand Rapids, where we visited friends and drank some beer. We also made a trip to the Grand Rapids Public Museum. I highly recommend a stop here for anybody living in or visiting GR. The museum focuses on the history of the city and region, but it is so much more than your typical local history museum. For starters, it’s huge! There are three floors of exhibits, including many permanent and temporary galleries. The large scale is especially noticeable in the Galleria, an open space using all three floors to display large artifacts including a (replica) whale sculpture, a locally made bi-plane, and a large steam engine. The museum is also very modern in its interpretation of the local history. Rather than a simple timeline that starts with the founding of the city and continues with important events (mostly done by rich white men), you can visit individual exhibits on many aspects of the GR history, including the original Native American inhabitants, the many immigrant groups that make up the current population, and participation in the Civil War. Much as I loved all that, I also loved the nod to the museum’s past with a natural history exhibit designed like an old-fashioned “cabinet of curiosities.” Seriously, I loved this museum. I can’t wait for an excuse to go back!

Exhibits at the Grand Rapids Public Museum: Mammoth skeleton, view of the Galleria, Civil War Camp

Exhibits at the Grand Rapids Public Museum:
Mammoth skeleton, view of the Galleria, Civil War Camp

After a day in Grand Rapids, we took the SS Badger to Wisconsin, camped there for a few days, and then headed north to the Porcupine Mountains. Most of our time in the Porkies was spend hiking (and jumping into the freezing Lake Superior), but we also made a stop at the visitor center to learn more about the area. The visitor center is small, but provides some great information about both the geologic history of the area as well as more recent history, with a few small displays on copper mining in the area. It’s a great complement to the amazing views you will see while spending time in the Porkies.

Our next stop was the Keweenaw peninsula, where we made Houghton our home base for few days while we explored the area. In Houghton, we went to the A.E. Seaman Mineral Museum on Michigan Tech’s campus to learn all about rocks, both locally mined and from all over the world. I’ll admit, rocks aren’t really my thing, but I was pleasantly surprised by this museum. There was quite a bit about local copper mining, including a gigantic piece of copper taller than me. I also was excited to find some items from other places in Michigan, including some salt from the Detroit salt mines. The salt mines are on my (long) list of things to write about, as most people don’t even know they are there.

Sheet copper and halite (rock salt) from the Detroit Salt Mines

Sheet copper and halite (rock salt) from the Detroit salt mines

A little farther north of Houghton is Calumet, where we stopped in at the Calumet Visitor Center, a part of the Keweenaw National Historical Park. The Keweenaw “park” isn’t one site – it is a partnership of multiple historical sites in the area along with the National Parks System. The Calumet Visitor Center is the new home base of the park, with a museum on the region’s history as well as information about the different sites. The center was very informative, including exhibits on not only the development of the region based on the rise and fall of the mining industry, but also on the social aspects of life in the Keweenaw.

First floor of the Calumet Visitor Center

First floor of the Calumet Visitor Center

And at the tip of the Keweenaw, we spent an afternoon at Fort Wilkins Historic State Park, a living history museum that tells the story of Fort Wilkins, which was built in the 1840s to bring order to the newly populated mining towns in the region. The fort was only occupied for a few years before being abandoned, so the museum is able to focus on one point in history, rather than a broad range. It was interesting, but I have to admit we were a bit tired of copper mining history at that point!

Barracks at Fort Wilkins Historic State Park

In September, I decided to make a random visit to the Michigan Holocaust Museum (at the Holocaust Memorial Center). This moving museum does an excellent job of portraying the vibrant culture of European Jews in the era before World War I, and horrific destruction of the culture and people by the Nazis. The architecture of the museum itself helps to tell the story – exhibits on pre-war culture are on the first floor, and then you descend into the basement as the exhibits tell the story of the rise of Nazism and the ensuing Holocaust. This is a hard museum to visit, but it is an important one. We all know the history, but seeing the artifacts, hearing the stories of survivors, and gaining a better understanding of what exactly was lost makes the story more real, and hopefully ensures that it will never happen again.

If you are keeping count, I’m now at 11 museums for the year. It would have been easy enough to hit one more museum, but it was made even easier by a week long trip to Washington D.C. for work in November. While in DC, I managed to visit 6 more museums: the National Museum of Natural HistoryLibrary of Congress, National Postal Museum, National Archives, National Gallery of Art, and the National Portrait Museum. I won’t write a paragraph about each of these, as this post is already too long and they aren’t focused on Michigan history. My week in DC was fun for many reasons, including the opportunity to finish off my Year of Museums with a bang.

So how about you, readers? What museums did you visit this year? Which ones should I try to visit in 2015?

Michigan History in Washington DC

I spent the last week in Washington DC for a work event. Although I had to spend a lot of time working, I still managed to see a good portion of the city and its many museums (and finished off my Year of Museums – more on that later!). I tried to keep an eye out for Michigan history represented in our nation’s capitol, and I ended up with a few examples:

1) Upper Peninsula copper at the National Museum of Natural History

If you go through the NMNH’s Hall of Geology, Rocks, and Minerals, you will learn all about how rocks and minerals are formed, how they are categorized, and where they are found. The displays on copper include this large piece of solid copper found in a mine in Ontonagan, near the Keweenaw in the Upper Peninsula.  It’s great to see the resources of the UP get some acknowledgement. I also learned, in researching this blog post, that the museum has the semi-famous Ontonagon Boulder (3000 pound piece of float copper), but it is not on display. Too bad, I would love to see it!

Michigan Copper

Michigan Copper


2) Auto Industry

Of course, there are many items from Michigan’s most well-known industry around the city – especially from Ford! The National Postal Museum shows off a 1931 Ford Model A Mail Truck, one of the first custom built automobile bodies for the postal service. And when you walk in the front doors at the National Museum of American History, you come face to face with a beautiful light blue 1965 Ford Mustang, an example of the car’s first year of production. Less noticeable is a small painting of the Ford River Rouge plant, tucked away in the National Gallery of Art. Titled “Classic Landscape,” the 1931 painting by Charles Sheeler  is one of five he created on the same subject.  I recognized the factory instantly when I spotted the painting. It really stood out among the more traditional topics of portraits, landscapes and water lilies.

1931 Ford Model A Mail Car, Sheeler's Classic Landscape, 1965 Ford Mustang

1931 Ford Model A Mail Truck, Sheeler’s Classic Landscape, 1965 Ford Mustang


3) Lewis Cass and Gerald R. Ford at the U.S. Capitol

I didn’t actually make it to the capitol building on this trip, but I know that throughout the building are two statues from each state. Michigan is represented by Lewis Cass and Gerald Ford. Ford is actually a recent replacement for Zachariah Chandler, whose statue was removed to Lansing in 2011. I can understand why they wanted to include our only president, but I do wish they had replaced Cass instead. Chandler, who served as Mayor of Detroit, U.S. Senator and Secretary of the Interior, worked tirelessly to end slavery and promote civil rights for freedmen after the Civil War, as well as cleaned up corruption in the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Cass held similar positions, although about 50 years earlier – Governor of Michigan Territory, U.S. Senator, and Secretary of War. Yet his opinions on the rights of minorities were vastly different: he promoted popular sovereignty in regards to slavery in the territories and was instrumental in creating and implementing the Indian removal policy. Less Cass, more Chandler, I say!

Left to right: Lewis Cass, Gerald Ford, Zachariah Chandler (Photos from the Architect of the Capitol website)

Left to right: Lewis Cass, Gerald Ford, Zachariah Chandler
(Photos from the Architect of the Capitol website)


4) News headlines at the Newseum

The Newseum is a high tech museum of news just off the National Mall. Its News History Gallery, the largest of its many exhibits, features newspapers and other methods of conveying the news from the past 500 years. I took a look at the historic front pages it has on display, and found at least one relating to Michigan – this copy of the Detroit News from the Detroit Riots in 1967. A sad event, but one that is an important part of the both the city’s and the nation’s history.

The Detroit News

The Detroit News

I’m sure I missed plenty of other examples of Michigan history in DC. If you know of any, let me know in the comments – I’ll be sure to add them to my next visit!

Road Trippin’ Part II: The Porkies

After our short cruise aboard the S.S. Badger, we spent a weekend in Wisconsin camping with friends. But this isn’t a blog about Wisconsin history (no, your state does not look like a mitten), so we will skip over that. After that weekend, we drove north to the land that us Michiganders stole from Wisconsin, the Upper Peninsula (sidebar: it was very strange crossing into the UP from Wisconsin, as I am so used to going across the Mackinac Bridge to get to the UP. It doesn’t feel quite right to not go over any water!). Our first stop in da UP was Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, where we camped for the next two days. We spent the nights right next to Lake Superior and the days hiking Michigan’s only mountain range, the beautiful Porkies.

Mist over the mountains

Mist over the mountains

The Porkies get their name from the Ojibwe people, who lived throughout the upper Midwest. The Ojibwe named the mountains such because the ridges look like crouching porcupines next to Lake Superior.

Sadly, this is the only porcupine I saw...in a diorama at the visitor's center

Sadly, this is the only porcupine I saw…in a diorama at the visitor’s center

The Porcupine mountains have a fascinating geologic history. At 2 billion years old, they are part of one of the oldest mountain chains in the world! The most defining feature of the mountains is the 12 mile long basalt-capped escarpment that rises directly out of Lake Superior. On the other side of the escarpment is Lake of the Clouds, the most famous spot in the park and one of my favorite views in all of Michigan (and that’s saying something). If you are interested in a more detailed description of the park’s geology, check out this brochure from the Michigan DNR.

Panorama view of Lake of the Clouds

Panorama view of Lake of the Clouds and the escarpment

The mountains remained a fairly untouched wilderness until the 19th century, when a few attempts were made to start logging and mining operations. Between 1845 and 1910, 45 different copper mines opened in the park. None made enough profits to last long. One example is the Nonesuch Mine, the remains of which can be seen in the the southwest corner of the park. Nonesuch Mine opened and closed five different times between 1867 and 1912. Although copper can be found in the mountains, it was difficult to separate from the surrounding rock, which made all the mining ventures fail. Far more profitable were the mines to the east and north, particularly in the Keweenaw Peninsula – a topic I will cover in a different post!

Copper from the Porkies

Copper from the Porkies

Logging began in the 20th century, and stripped many of the easily reached pines along the shoreline. Logging the interior was more difficult, but some companies intended to try. In 1925, P.J. Hoffmaster, Michigan’s Chief of State Parks, proposed adding the mountains to the state parks system to protect them from continued logging. It took another 20 years, but in 1945 the Porcupine Mountains State Park was formed. Despite this designation,  attempts to industrialize and modernize the park continued. Copper mining was tried again in the 1950s, proposals were made for roads throughout the park, and there was even a proposal to dynamite the falls on the Presque Isle River to help fisheries. Finally in 1972, Michigan passed the Wilderness and Natural Areas Act, and re-designated the park as Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park (source). It is currently one of the largest wilderness areas in the eastern United States. There are very few roads in the park, instead it has over 90 miles of hiking trails, including a portion of the North Country National Scenic Trail. Much of the wilderness is still old-growth forest. In fact, the park is considered to be home to the largest northern hemlock-hardwood forests west of the Adirondacks. It is also home to a large variety of wildlife, including black bears. If you want to camp in the back-country, be sure to know how to use a bear pole!

The park is a beautiful retreat from the modern world. We had a great few days at the park, visiting Lake of the Clouds, the Presque Isle River and Summit Peak. We also spent some time at the visitor’s center, which contains a small museum about the park, its history and the current plant and animal inhabitants. Being in the far western portion of the UP, the Porkies are a loooong drive from SE Michigan, but they are definitely worth the trip. They should absolutely be a part of any UP road trip!

And finally, because I love a good collage:

Porkies Collage

Road Trippin’: The S.S. Badger

Back in June, My husband and I went on a road trip around Michigan and Wisconsin. While on the trip, I took about a bazillion pictures and kept thinking “this will be great material for my blog!” And yet here I am, over a month later, with not a word written about any of the places we visited. Unacceptable. I’m hoping to start changing that soon, starting with this post!

One of our plans for our trips was a weekend of camping with some college friends in Wisconsin. Rather than drive through Chicago to get there, we chose to take the S.S. Badger, a former rail car carrier-turned passenger car ferry that runs between Ludington, MI and Manitowoc, WI. The Badger is a fascinating piece of history. Built in 1953, it is the only coal powered ship still plying the great lakes. Its old-fashioned engineering makes it both a nostalgic throwback as well as an environmental concern. More on those environmental concerns later – first, a bit on the history.


The S.S. Badger

The S.S. Badger after landing in Manitowoc

The Badger spent most of its early days as transportation for railroad cars on the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway (C&O had bought out the Pere Marquette Railway a few years previously). In those days, the Badger was just one of many ships bringing rail cars across the lake. The practice started in the late 19th century, when it was discovered that it was more efficient to load railroad cars onto a ship than to drive them around the lake. By the 1950s, ships carried rail cars all over the lakes. When it was first commissioned, the Badger ran from Ludington to multiple Wisconsin ports, including Milwaukee, Manitowoc and Kewaunee. Fun fact: as you may have guessed, the Badger was named after the mascot of the University of Wisconsin. But don’t think there was any favoritism going on – a sister ship named for Michigan State University, the S.S. Spartan, was built at the same time.

The Badger in its heyday (source)

The Badger in its heyday (source)


Unfortunately for the Badger, changing transportation economics and technology spelled the end for the Lake Michigan fleet as rail car ferries became less profitable after mid-century. Most railways began slowing operations on the lake in the 1970s, and many closed up shop for good in the 1980s. The Badger was the last holdout, but was finally docked for good in 1990.

It didn’t stay docked for long, however. In 1991, Charles Conrad bought it (along with the Spartan and the S.S. City of Midland) and began work on refurbishing the Badger as passenger car ferry. Conrad grew up in Ludington and was the son of a former railroad engineer. He felt that car ferries were an important part of the lakes, and wanted to keep one running. And he was successful! The Badger returned to regular runs in May of 1992, and has continued providing trips across the lake for travelers ever since. It currently acts as a section of US-10 and ferries up to 600 passengers and 180 vehicles each run (not just cars – it takes semi-trucks as well!) Thanks to Conrad’s vision, an important piece of Great Lakes history lives on.

In line to get on the ship, you can see that it is labeled as part of U.S. 10

In line to get on the ship, you can see that it is labeled as part of U.S. 10

By the way, I’m not sure what happened to the City of Midland, but the Spartan lives on as a spare parts depot for the Badger. Tough luck, MSU.

The ship has captured the hearts of many who see it as a valuable historic landmark. In 1996, the Badger‘s propulsion system was designated a Mechanical Engineering Landmark by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. In 1997, it was named both a Michigan and Wisconsin Historical Site. Finally, in 2009, it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

And car ferry of the year in 2002, according to this plaque

And it was named car ferry of the year in 2002, according to this plaque

However, the ship has many detractors. Remember those environmental concerns I mentioned? There are a number of reasons why coal-powered ships are no longer the norm on the Great Lakes, and the damage to the environment is a big one. The process used by the Badger‘s propulsion systems creates a huge amount of waste, which is described by the EPA as a “coal-ash slurry.” This slurry has always been just dumped into the lake  – a practice that was considered acceptable in the 1950s, but not today. In 2008, the EPA began to crack down on the practice, and put pressure on the Badger  to either stop dumping in the lake or close down entirely. The owners asked for more time, and they were given until 2012 to find a solution. In 2011, it was clear that the ship wasn’t going to meet it’s deadline, and the EPA gave it another two-year reprieve, meaning that it needs to stop dumping ash by the end of the 2014 season – this year.

To be clear, this coal-ash slurry is no little matter. The ferry currently dumps about 509 tons of coal ash a year, while all other freighters that run on the Great Lakes dump around 89 tons combined (source)That’s a huge difference!

Fortunately, the ship’s owners have begun to make some changes. Last winter, they spent $1 million to install a new high-tech combustion-control system that is reducing this summer’s coal-dumping by 15%-20%. Next winter, they plan to spend another $1 million to install an ash-retention system that will keep the coal ash on board, allowing them to transport it to a landfill on land rather than dump it into the lake (or possibly even sell it for industrial use). These changes should allow the Badger to continue sailing with EPA approval. Some environmentalists still aren’t satisfied, stating that the smokey emissions from the ship are still damaging and that simply moving the ash to landfills isn’t solving the issue.

The Badger has become quite a contentious piece of living history in the past few years. Depending on which side of the issue you are on, this battle is either between environmental safety and a backwards old ship, or between a historic maritime landmark and an overzealous government. I have to say, as much as I love the Badger, I’m leaning towards the side of the environmentalists. Being able to ride a piece of history was great, but having clean lakes is more important. I’m glad they are starting to implement a solution. Hopefully the Badger will continue to delight travelers with a historic method of travel over Lake Michigan, with only one bit of history missing – the pollution.


It was a great start to our vacation!