Sun, surf, sand, lots of restaurants, museums, preservation and congenial relaxation sum up a visit to Grand Haven, Holland and South Haven, Mich. Lured by off-season hotel rates (an Alan thing), the Getaways Guys returned to these three communities in March 2010. While associated with leisure and tourism to most Chicagoans, the Havens and Holland have interesting historical backgrounds and are enthusiastic about preserving their cultural and historic identities.
In Grand Haven, the Guys visited the Tri-Cities Historical Museum in the restored Akeley Building (1871) at 200 Washington Ave. It houses a treasure trove of artifacts and ephemera tracing the growth and development of Grand Haven, Ferrysburg and Silver Lake. Down the street, there is also an auxiliary site, a restored Grand Trunk Railway depot (1870), and another excellent example of historic significance and preservation.
Southward in Holland, Neil and Alan toured the Holland Museum at 31 West 10th St. A former post office built in 1914, this Beaux Arts structure became the 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, from its early reliance on timber to its developments
in manufacturing and agriculture, from pianos to pickles. The second floor is
reserved for a remarkable array of Dutch art from the mid-17th to the early 20th century. Along with fine examples of period furniture, books and some earth-
enware, the main attractions are its paintings. Portraits, landscapes, seascapes,
still life and genre scenes predominate. Neil was especially impressed with the landscapes and genre scenes.
Heading even further south to South Haven, the Getaway duo found the Liberty Hyde Bailey Museum at 903 Bailey Ave. and the Michigan Maritime Museum at 260 Dykeman Ave. The Maritime Museum is a compelling and intimate facility devoted to wood boat building and restoration, and staffed by volunteers steeped in the intricacies of bending and shaping wood for nautical use. The Liberty Hyde Bailey Museum is the former homestead of the Bailey family and the birthplace of the eminent horticulturist Liberty Hyde Bailey (1858-1954). Mr. Bailey was a child of
the frontier, who discovered nature while
exploring the environs of South Haven with his Potawatomi pals. Later, he founded the School of Horticulture at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. and made important contributions to the science of horticulture. Alan (of course) knew all about him. With city support, the LHBM is striving to improve its holdings of Bailey artifacts and its visibility.
Grand 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, the community 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, the Dutch learned to cut timber, too. Meanwhile, South Haven (1850s) was mainly a lumber settlement from its beginnings.
With lumber gone by the late 19th century, the towns 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.
Tourists began arriving more than a century ago, lured by beaches, dunes, the proximity of Chicago, and scheduled Lake Michigan steamers. The steamers disappeared long ago (some sank), replaced by the automobile. Of the three towns, South Haven has the unique distinction of being referred to as “The Catskills of the Midwest,” a robust Jewish vacation destination. In Holland, the Guys observed another (latter-day) cultural oddity, a rollicking St. Patrick’s Day parade in once-doctrinaire Dutch Reform Holland. Neil thought it a hoot. Alan did not get it.
Both Havens and Holland offer a plethora of bed-and-breakfasts, hotels and motels. The Guys stayed at the Holiday Inn on the waterfront in Spring Lake, just across the river from Grand Haven. They were surprised to find Jack’s, a congenial bar and restaurant with great food at very reasonable prices. On an earlier trip, Neil and Alan dined at Porto Bello in Grand Haven’s former Story and Clark Piano Factory – hearty Italian dishes, and another good find. In South Haven, they had lunch downtown at Clementine’s, a charming place in a renovated 1897 bank building. It serves great sandwiches (Alan liked the “Calamity Jane” and Neil the “Mustang Sally”).
Editor’s Note: The authors maintain a free website, www.getaway-chicago.com, which offers recommended outings to nearby destinations that are often overlooked, but of genuine interest and delight.