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US-23 From Sea to Inland Sea - Day 5

Across Mid-Michigan

Hello, Don Milne here, your ROADTRIP-'62 ™ traveler ready to hit the road again. This is the first of our ROADTRIP-'62 ™ routes, and we are still traveling US-23. In 1962 it ran from Mackinaw City, MI to Jacksonville, FL, and it still runs between these cities, 1444 miles today. We're at Flint, Michigan, four days down the road from the northern beginning point at Mackinaw City. We'll finally be on some freeways today, as many parts of US-23 were already freeways by 1962. However sometimes we'll still take the old road, because it is within 5 miles of the freeway. As always on this virtual roadtrip, if you see anything you like, get out on the road and enjoy it. A virtual roadtrip may be fun, but there's nothing like the real thing! And, at any time, click on an underlined word below to learn more about the places on the trip. Time to buckle up again and go back to 1962!

closed Supreme Donuts, Flint, Michigan
closed Supreme Donuts, Flint, Michigan

Let's start the morning with some donuts. We passed Supreme Donuts yesterday on old US-23, back in Flint. It was open the last time I came through here in 2005, but it's now closed. Lucky for us, there's another great old-fashioned coffee shop with good donuts: Donna's Donuts. Donna's began in 1962 with a location on Center Rd. and one on Bristol Rd., just east of Fenton Rd., which is the route of old US-23 that we're driving. It's still here and delicious too, as I've stopped in several times in 2010. Back southbound, we soon pass our friendly drive-in theatre again and head toward Fenton. I'll have a lot more to say about Fenton next week, when I take a big look at small towns. At the south end of Fenton we end up back on present-day US-23 for the first time since Standish. We've been driving the old road for over 85 miles! But we will actually have to use the freeway for some parts of the trip between here and the Ohio border, because they built the freeway right on top of the old road. We have to use the Owen Rd. interchange to get on the freeway here, though the old road continued south to the county line before becoming a freeway. Then we stay on the freeway for 10 miles, to just south of Hartland. If this were autumn, I'd get right back off at the Clyde Road interchange and head west a few miles! The historic Parshallville Grist Mill, built in 1869, is located here. Back in 1962 we would only have been able to buy some ground grain for animal feed there. But since 1969 it's been a cider mill. It is only open in the fall, so it's closed today.

At Hartland we get onto old US-23 again, and we can occasionally see the freeway from our car as we drive. Nearby is one of the few historical museums we could have visited in 1962, though it was in a different building. The Hartland Library housed the Florence B. Dearing Museum back then. It has since moved into the old Township Hall, so we could have stopped in to either building in 1962. I'm not stopping today, because we have much larger museums to visit later today. Reaching Brighton, we cross old US-16, Grand River Av. US-16 is no longer in Michigan at all because the last freeway piece paralleling old US-16 was completed in Michigan in 1962. The US-16 signs were removed later that year, so this was the last year we could have traveled that in Michigan. From this point south we will be crossing other US-numbered routes every day. Northern Michigan was mostly devoid of these routes because it is a peninsula, and the US-numbered routes were meant to be cross-country routes. You can't do that very well on a peninsula and consequently both US-10, which we crossed yesterday, and US-16 had to take a ferry across Lake Michigan to make them cross-country routes!

hot air balloons
hot air balloons

In Brighton, we have a choice of two different State Recreation Areas to go hiking in today. Brighton State Recreation Area is to the west, and Island Lake State Recreation Area is to the east of us. The entrance to Island Lake is far to the east and would better fit a Roadtrip-'62 ™ trip along US-16. So we'll visit Brighton State Recreation Area. However, Island Lake Recreation Area has the only balloon port in the Michigan State Park system. So if you're driving through the Brighton area in the early morning or late evening, you may see some balloons floating overhead! You probably would not have seen one in 1962 though, as private sport ballooning was not yet a hobby.

To reach the Brighton State Recreation Area, we take Brighton Rd. west from the center of town to Bauer Rd., then south to Bishop Lake Rd. where the trailheads are located. It's a highly varied area to hike in, as it has a combination of high, irregular hill ranges, with a number of lakes in the low areas between. The uplands include oak forest, thick hedgerows and open spaces, while the lowlands hold grassy marshes, shrub marshes and even dense swamps. The park has two hiking trails, but for those of you who brought bikes along, it also has mountain biking trails. Just like ballooning, in 1962 there was no sport of mountain biking, or the bikes either. But normal bicycling has been around for a long time, so I guess it's OK. If you hike instead, make sure you stay on the hiking trails or you will constantly be in the way of the bikers; those trails are well-used. And, if that's not enough variety, the park also has a full equestrian facility. There are 18 miles of trails, and a riding stable, in case you don't have a horse with you and would like to go for a ride. We go back to Brighton by the same route and then get right back on the freeway at the south end of town.

Old New York Central Railroad depot, Ann Arbor, Michigan
Old New York Central Railroad depot, Ann Arbor, Michigan

We stay on the freeway for five miles, because it's right on top of the old road, and we exit at Eight Mile Rd. Then we can travel old US-23 right to the Huron River. Here we stop at Argo Nature Area, just so we can walk on part of old US-23. You won't get many chances to do that! A few years ago the old bridge was still right next to the freeway. It's been replaced by a pedestrian bridge, but is still on the old route and is now part of a hiking path in the park. Today, trails offer beautiful views of the river south from the park. After checking out the bridge site, we get back on the freeway to cross the river, and immediately exit onto Business US-23 to go into downtown Ann Arbor. Lots to do here, so let's get to it. A left turn at Depot St. brings us to the old New York Central RR depot. This 1886 granite building is now the Gandy Dancer restaurant. When built, it was considered to be the finest station on the line between Buffalo and Chicago. Because I'm not eating here today, I'll just admire the building that was still in use as a depot in 1962. Right next door is the current Amtrak depot, so you can still catch a train here.

We're going to the University of Michigan campus to visit one of the museums. The Kelsey Museum of Archaeology is a different sort of place than your usual history or art museums. It houses a collection of nearly 100,000 objects from the civilizations of the Mediterranean in the beautiful gothic building, Newberry Hall. These artifacts are featured in two permanent galleries, and in a gallery with annual changing exhibitions. The museum recently constructed a new wing, adding to Newberry Hall which was originally built as a home for the Student Christian Association, in 1891. In 1928, the archaeological collections were moved into the building and the museum was officially named after Francis W. Kelsey in 1953. Besides the museum collections, the building also includes a magnificent Tiffany stained-glass window. There is no admission charge, although donations are accepted.

Fleetwood Diner, Ann Arbor, Michigan
Fleetwood Diner, Ann Arbor, Michigan

After the museum I'm hungry, so I'm going back downtown for lunch. The Fleetwood Diner opened in 1946 or 1947 as the Dagwood and was rechristened the Fleetwood in 1971. It's a steel and porcelain "kit" diner that was built in Toledo, Ohio, and it's a tiny place, so you may have to wait for a seat. It's a real old-fashioned diner that appears to have no additions other than the outdoor seating. Indoors, the white walls have been decorated by customers with hundreds of stickers! I go for their great house specialty: Hippie Hash! As I mentioned on a previous day, I like hash, and this is simply the best I've ever had. Lots of veggies including broccoli, on a bed of hash browns, with your choice of meats (even gyro meat is available), and sprinkled with feta cheese! It's big enough for two, buy I can't bear to share it. I hate to leave when I'm done.

I find we still have time for one more museum, so I'm trying the Exhibit Museum of Natural History, also on the UofM campus. Exhibits include displays on prehistoric life with the most extensive dinosaur exhibits in the state of Michigan. They also show Michigan wildlife, Native American culture, anthropology, geology, and have a planetarium. Much the same types of exhibits have been here for years, as University scientists have conducted research on the early history of our planet and unearthed mammoths in Siberia. There are even exhibits containing information from historic UofM research expeditions to Greenland in the 1920s and 30s. The Museum is open seven days a week, 357 days a year, so you almost can't miss it.

Ann Arbor Art Fair, Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1960
1960 Ann Arbor Art Fair, Ann Arbor, Michigan (photo from Joyce Jones Papers (1897-1980), used by permission of Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan)

If you drive through Ann Arbor in mid-July, do not miss the Art Fair! While it's now actually four different art fairs, they are all held together and cover miles of streets with art. The Ann Arbor Street Art Fair is the original and was established in 1960, so you could have seen the beginnings of this art madness back in 1962. The combined fairs now attract over 500,000 attendees from across the nation each summer. My only warning: if you really want to see everything, it will take all day.

Afterwards, but before leaving downtown, I'm buying a 1962 newspaper. Well, in my mind anyway. Let's pick the date of July 3, 1962. Today in history, The Democratic and Popular Republic of Algeria achieved independence after 130 years of French rule. Algeria has had a bloody history both during the fight against the French and continuing with the current struggle between the country's military and Islamic militants. That would have been headline news then, and Algeria has recently been back in our news today, as one of several countries in north Africa experiencing revolts or unrest. How about a little more history, this time related to where we are? For a famous University of Michigan graduate from 1962, we can look back on Lee Boysel, who did pioneering work in the field of metal-oxide semiconductor transistors and systems during a career at IBM, Fairchild Semiconductor and McDonnell Aerospace Corporation. He could be one reason you’re able to read about US-23 on your computer today!

Matthaei Botanical Gardens, Ann Arbor, Michigan
Matthaei Botanical Gardens, Ann Arbor, Michigan (photo courtesy UM Matthaei Botanical Gardens & Nichols Arboretum)

Before we leave, if you like flowers you have a choice of gardens to see. The Matthaei Botanical Gardens east of town, and the Nichols Arboretum right in the heart of town. The main conservatory at Matthaei was opened in 1960, so we could go there. But it's been a while since I’ve been to the Nichols, so I'm stopping there. It's a little hard to find; head east of the campus on Geddes Rd. and watch on the left side for the signs. This place is old, with the need for a university botanical gardens and arboretum originally identified in the University's 1817 Charter. The current arboretum design is by O.C. Simonds and dates from 1906. It contains hundreds of species of plants native to Michigan, as well as collections of plants native to other parts of North America. Nichols Arboretum is particularly known for its historic Peony Collection. It is also home to some excellent hardwood trees, with the oldest oaks ranging from 75-119 years old, and some hickories from 109-135 years old. All this and some wetlands along the Huron River too. You can find some great photos of the arboreteum at the Michigan Exposures blog.

Bearclaw Coffee, Ann Arbor, a former gas station
Bearclaw Coffee, Ann Arbor, a former gas station

In 1962, we could have filled up the car at the only split-level gas station I've ever seen. It was built in 1928 as a Standard Oil station, and designed by the local architectural firm of Fry and Kasurin. It resembles an English gatekeeper's cottage, which is fitting for the location it occupies on a point right at the entrance to the older part of Ann Arbor. It was closed in 1988 and sat vacant for several years, but today it's open as Bearclaw Coffee. We can't fill the gas tank, but we can fill our tank. Ann Arbor may also have been just the place for us to wash the car! Octopus Car Washes have been in business since the late 1950's providing brushless technology to keep those classic vehicles clean. There was one in Ann Arbor, but I haven't been able to find if it is still in business or even where it was back in 1962. But you can check out the photo of their great sign at Roadside Peek!

When we get back to the freeway on the east side of town, go past it and turn right on Carpenter Rd. and we will be back on old US-23. The route from downtown to here used to also be part of US-12. But when the I-94 freeway that paralleled it was completed in January of 1962, the state moved US-12 south to the route of old US-112. We cross that road in just a couple of miles so we can consider it a two-for-one if we're counting US-numbered crossroads. (And we are counting, aren't we?) Because of this change, we just miss crossing both US-12 and US-112 on their original routes, as US-112 is decommissioned forever. Unlike so many US-numbered routes that were just cut short when the interstate freeways were built, US-12 still goes from Detroit, Michigan to Lewiston, Idaho (and beyond now). It just changed locations in Michigan.

Ann Arbor, showing US-12 and US-112, from 1961 map
Ann Arbor, showing US-12 and US-112 (from 1961 Michigan State Highway Department map)

At Milan, I'm getting off the freeway because it's the end of the day for us. City Hall in Milan is an unusual building, but it's too late in the day to stop in. It's housed in the historic former power plant for the Ford Village Industries. Mr. Ford believed in small village industries, so he fostered many in a ring around his factories at Dearborn, Michigan. He is quoted that a worker would have an ideal situation if he could live and work in a rural community: "With one foot on the land and another foot on industry, the country and every family in it are soundly based."


Almost done for the day, we make a last stop before our motel, at the Milan Dragway. It's located just 4 miles east of the US-23 freeway and has been in operation since 1962. Milan Dragway is the only IHRA sanctioned drag racing facility in the Detroit Metro area. It offers a racing calendar that runs from April through October, most nights of the week, so tonight we'll see some action! Drag racing was a popular sport in the 1960s and my dad took us to see a few races. Two of my brothers later tried it for themselves. And by 1963, drag racing had also inspired a lot of good music. I couldn't find many racing songs clearly from 1962, but one we can listen to is a song about our Chevy Impala: "409" by the Beach Boys. By the next year Dick Dale, the Challengers and others had created a new genre based on fast cars. After the races, we'll make an ice cream and dinner stop at the Milan Dairy Barn. It's been here under several different names for many years. I'm told the berries on the sundaes are fresh, so let's try one. And, though we've had great entertainment and food here in Milan, finding some quiet, clean 1962 place to stay tonight will be tough. There's some nice new motels, and some rather run-down old motels, so take your pick. See you tomorrow on our ROADTRIP-'62 ™ journey along old US-23!


All photos by the author and Copyright © 2012, 2021 - Donald Dale Milne, except as noted.

All other content Copyright © 2012, 2021 - Donald Dale Milne.

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What's the weather in 1962?

Weather on June 14, 1962 for Milan, MI, from the National Climatic Data Center:

  • Low = 58°F
  • High = 77°F
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  • Mean Wind Speed = 6mph

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