Glen Haven and Glen Arbor


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June 14th 2018
Published: June 14th 2018
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The Maritime Museum at Glen Haven
The Villages, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Empire, Michigan

If Monday was a day with Nature, yesterday we absorbed Culture. There are two ‘settlement’ villages in the park that are restorations of communities that existed starting in the 1800s. They are in the northern section of the park and we had to drive about a half-hour to get there.

Our first stop was at the Maritime Museum at Glen Haven. This is a setting of a couple of buildings from the days of the U.S.L.S.S., one of the organizations that preceded the Coast Guard. The United States Life Saving Service was the organization responsible for responding to shipwrecks and attempting to save people. This is the organization that coined the motto, supposedly to promote bravery, ‘You have to go out, but you don’t have to come back.’ We saw evidence of this organization last year when we visited Cape Lookout National Seashore in North Carolina.

Here at Sleeping Bear Dunes, they have two buildings that help you understand things. One is the boathouse where the equipment for the service was stored, including replicas of the tracks they used to launch the boats into the water. The boathouse contains two boats of different types, for different conditions. It also had a cart that they used for wrecks closer to shore, near enough to fire buoys from a mortar-like device that could be used to drag drowning people into shore. The other building was the keepers house and quarters for the seven person crew. The building houses exhibits that describe the practices of the service and the shipping industry that often needed them.

It is, at first, a little strange to imagine life-saving services on the Great Lakes in the interior of the United States. We think of the coast guard in terms of the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean and their responsibility for protecting our shores and the shipping lines around them. But it is an expression of just how big these Great Lakes are that the network of lighthouses and L.S.S. Sites in the Great Lakes is as big as it is.

In the first place is just how much shoreline we are talking about. I read last night in Egan’s book that the Great Lakes and the islands in them have more than 10,000 miles of shoreline. If that number doesn’t register well with you then
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The BoatHouse at the Life Saving Station
consider that the combined United States shoreline of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans is less than that!. (Now we share Great Lakes coast mileage with Canada, but still, there is still a huge amount of coast to protect just in the U.S. Great Lakes area.)

The second factor I realized looking at these exhibits is that these waters, although lakes, can be just as problematic as our ocean coastline. In fact, some 6000 ships have wrecked in some way or another on the Great Lakes, many of them in water so deep that they haven’t been found. Just in the Straits of Manitou, which are about ten or fifteen miles of water between this part of Michigan and the two Manitou Islands, nearly 100 ships of various sizes have sunk. So these are not only huge lakes, but they can also be very dangerous. And hence the need for a network of coast guard facilities. The restorations at Glen Haven help you understand that.

The other part of Glen Haven is the company town, located about a mile east of the maritime museum. In the late 1800’s, R. H. Day built a place where he controlled everything. Originally
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How they Rescued Shipwreck Survivors
a lumber mill, he later branched out into other industries, including bringing cherries and other fruit into the area. (This part of Michigan is now known as a center for cherry production.). The town he built had all the amenities of housing, education, and recreation. Although several of the buildings were closed on Monday, you still get a good sense of the town and how it operated.

After Glen Haven, we drove east and north a bit up to the farming community of Port Oneida. This is the largest farm in the park system still operating as a farm. We drove past it, but, getting tired and a little warm, we didn’t spend much time there.

Instead we returned to Glen Arbor, the quaint ‘tourist town’ right in the middle of these two units of the park. Joan bought a scarf, and we also ate lunch at the Western Avenue Bar and Grill. Prices are high, as you might expect, but its not bad as a place to refresh. Afterwards we came back to the campground. Tired, and with a big day today, we retired early.

Our morning started with an interesting twist. As we were drinking
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Life Saving Service Crew Quarters
coffee at the picnic table at our campsite, an older gentleman with a bushy beard and long black hair approached us. Pointing to the license plate, he asked what part of New Mexico we were from. We told him, and he replied that, in earlier days, he had been a doctor for the Navajo Indians in Gallup. We talked for a bit and then he just sort of invited himself in ‘Can I have a seat?’. Not wanting to be rude, we made room for him at the table.

For almost two hours, he told stories. He was of Native American origins and this area of Michigan is where his roots were - he was Ojibwa and Chippewa blood. We talked at length about how Native Americans are in danger of losing not just their homelands (which are really already gone), but their heritage as well. He lamented how kids these days seem to be more interested in their devices than they are in their own history. The oral histories that make up so much of Native American culture, are disappearing because not enough people have an interest in recording them.

But with this guy, oral history is
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Blacksmith’s Shop at Glen Haven
in no danger of being lost. For two hours he told us story after story about his people and his life and the traditions here in this part of the country. Although he delayed our departure considerably, and shortened our day, he still made a valuable contribution to our experience here. One of the things the park does not treat really well is the Native American heritage here. Yes, they explain the origin of the ‘Sleeping Bear Dunes’ name, and there is a brief exhibit of some of their artifacts at the visitor center. But there is nothing equivalent to the maritime museum explaining the ways of the Chippewa before white man got here. We whiteys seem to think that human events begin only when we arrive - and that’s just another myth we use to justify our unusually cruel and egotistical behavior.


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Clear Waters of Lake Michigan


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