Sunday, February 21, 2010

My Town Monday: Brighton's Four Corners, part 1

Main Street in Brighton intersects Grand River and forms a well-known and ever-changing intersection. This set of posts will look at the every changing buildings.

Today, a CVS sits on the corner, set back from Grand River with the parking lot in front. A Murray's Auto Parts store and a Sushi Zen share the location.

But a hundred and fifty years ago, this location-- on the Northeast corner of the intersection-- was the spot where the Eastern House (or Hotel) sat. The Western House sits by the railroad tracks on the other end of the down town-- all three blocks of downtown. Eastern House sat along the Grand River Trail, where the stagecoaches and wagons traveled, even before their was a railroad.

The hotel was constructed in 1850, the same year that Grand River was made into planked toll road. When built, the hotel was called the Brighton House. It was sold in 1892 and became known as the Eastern House.

Anyway, the Eastern House was more than just a hotel. For many years, it was one of the gathering places in Brighton. It was two stories, plus a basement. A sign out front (hard to make out in the photos) says it's 48 miles to Lansing and 40 to Detroit. Livingston County is the midway between Michigan's biggest city and it's capital.

The hotel building burnt down New Year's Day, 1926.

And something else sprouted in the spot.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

My Town Monday: From Farm to Suburb

Once upon a time, much of South East Lower Michigan was trees. Shortly after that, it was farm fields and small towns. This image shoes the little town of Hamburg. Today, Hamburg itself is still a little town. But it is surrounded by suburbia (or at least a version of suburbia.) Strip malls and subdivisions have replaced nearly all the farm fields in this little area.

This aerial view is from about the 1930s. The number 3 marks the historic church in down town Hamburg. (Still there.) The main street of Hamburg runs along in front of that street (connects #2 and 3). Follow it northerly (to the left side of the photo) through the line of trees and around the corner. The road goes off into farm fields.

By contrast, this image was poached from Google Maps. All developed—well, except the little town of Hamburg. The pink dot is downtown Hamburg.

Interestingly enough, Hamburg was platted to be a much larger town.

But it never really grew, despite having two rail road lines and two train depots. It just never became more than a little farm town.

The Mill Pond (and the Mill) are gone from Hamburg. All that’s left are two streets, and a few houses. Even the little grocery store left (though a new one may be/ have gone in.) Hard for a local little store to compete with one of those big chain stores.

It’s interesting to track the changes over time. Sometimes I wonder what Hamburg was like, once upon a time, before it was just a bedroom community tucked away off the main road.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

My Town Monday: Brighton Mall... including the answer to a riddle

The Brighton Mall is nestled in the corner of Grand River and I-96. Built in the 1970s, it was, once upon a time, a "real" mall, with the shops opening on the inside and you had to walk from store to store instead of the strip-mall (or "open air" malls) of today where people really and truly do drive from one store to another. Sorry. Moving on…

The Brighton Mall was anchored by K-Mart, which had its own entrance. It was also home for many years to the Little Professor Bookstore, a locally owned bookstore. Over time, including by the time I became a resident in the area, there wasn't much to the Brighton Mall. Eventually, it was redeveloped into a Strip Mall. It's now got only a couple big-box stores.

The K-Mart is now a Sears Essential, which is neither a K-Mart or a Sears and I've never found it much good for shopping.(The low number of customers in that stores seems to indicate others share my opinion of this concept. Especially when it's an hour drive, tops, to a real Sears store out in Novi. Distracted again. Anyway, other stores include Marshall's, Jo-Ann Fabrics and a sporting goods store. Two other strip

malls have been added, including one that has Best Buy and PetsMart.

One of the interesting features of the Brighton Mall, though, is that it's below grade. To enter the Mall from Grand River, there is a rather significant ramp. Here's a shot with Panera Bread showing just how high Grand River is over the Mall parking lot. Curious. Not something I ever really though much about. It was just How Things Were. Until one day, while I was reading through some local history snippets, I found the reason why.

During the 1960s and early 70s when I-96 was being constructed, the road crews came through Brighton. Since Grand River was (and is) a major thoroughfare, of course the decision was made to build an overpass so I-96 would go over top Grand River. Well, that's an awful lot of dirt to pile up. Can you guess where this is going?

>Yeah, the man who owned the farm there sold the DIRT to the state for construction of the I-96 overpass. They dug it out and left something of a hole in the ground. Well, this hole in the ground did not prevent the soon after sale of the LAND to a company interested in building a mall alongside the new entrance/ exit ramps on I-96.

These sort of stories are exactly why I LOVE local history.