Summer road trip: ‘Michigan’s County Courthouses’ offers a historic staycation

by University of Michigan Press on July 19, 2010

More book details John Fedynsky is a Ferndale attorney and author of the new book Michigan’s County Courthouses, which walks readers through the history and architecture of every county courthouse in the state, plus the home of the state Supreme Court.

Looking for a statewide staycation this summer? Consider making a tour of Michigan’s courthouses, he suggests. Their beauty and backstory can make every stop worthwhile.

“Michigan summers cry for the open road. Hit the road and experience Michigan’s eighty-three county seats. Each boasts a courthouse that is the pride of the local community.

“Michigan is a vast and varied land, its area second only to Georgia among states east of the Mississippi River. Its diverse set of back roads and county courthouses offers something for everyone, from the novice weekend warrior to the seasoned traveler, from the history buff to the professor of architecture.

“In Michigan’s County Courthouses, I chronicle the evolution in courthouse archetype. Begin with the pioneer cabin courtroom and end in the shimmering skyscraper, with various points in between. I sought out verifiable fact and local lore to weave compelling stories of courtroom intrigue, backroom dealing, jury determination, and judicial prerogative. From the whipping post in Monroe to the stagecoach robbery in Gogebic, courthouses run the gamut of Michigan history.

“Linger in Lapeer or Berrien Springs to witness preserved examples of quaint clapboard wooden courthouses dating back to the Toledo War. Fast forward to Grand Haven, Suttons Bay, and Grand Rapids to see three of Michigan’s newest, modern courthouses.

“In between, enjoy incarnations of castle-like fortresses boasting prominent clock towers, impressive statuary, and intricate architectural detail: Traverse City, Crystal Falls, Bellaire, Ludington, Houghton, the Soo, Ithaca, Corunna, Hastings, Howell, Adrian, Hillsdale, Charlotte, and Mason come to mind. Their booming bells bellow, beckoning both bedraggled barristers and bed and breakfast bohemians.

“For a taste of Hollywood flash and flair, go to Marquette. Its courthouse was a supporting character in Anatomy of a Murder, its gossamer copper dome cradling beautiful stained glass as it echoes an elegant era of prosperity and promise.

“For art deco, there are the towers of Bay City and Mount Clemens, as well as the fraternal twins of Caro and Alpena, which used different materials to build the same design. Experience the Tudor design of the Midland courthouse and marvel at whether Herbert Dow envisioned one big gingerbread house as he assisted in its creation.

“Off the beaten path, but decidedly worth the trip, is Eagle River on the south shore of Lake Superior, home to Michigan’s northernmost and least populated county. Nearby, the legendary Brockway Mountain Drive offers a birds-eye view of the rugged Keweenaw Peninsula.

“The open road calls. Read on, pedal on, walk on, or ride on down that road. Travel the back roads, visit a few courthouses, and ask yourself if your trip didn’t also transport you back in time. Michigan’s County Courthouses will take you there.”

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