Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Port Huron: Be A Tourist in Your Own Town

Port Huron is a town that’s got tourism right! This Michigan town opened its doors on Saturday, June 6th with free admissions to all their attractions. Trolleys and buses provided transportation to the designated points of interest. Greeters at each attraction made visitors feel welcome. “Be A Tourist in Your Own Town” encouraged folks to take a tour, learn interesting facts, and have fun – for free!

Now, I do not live in Port Huron, but you could call me a temporary resident because my RV bus conversion happened to be parked there. And, as I often say, “Home is where my husband Ed parks it!” I felt welcome as long as I kept it quiet that I am cheering for the Pittsburgh Penguins, not the Detroit Red Wings, in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

In the north part of town, I visited the Thomas Edison Deport Museum. As a boy, Edison worked at the depot and he grew up on Lake Huron. The Depot Museum showcases the early life of this inventor. Ivory, life-size models show a young Edison as a schoolboy and at home concocting an experiment in the family kitchen. In a restored caboose, there’s a recreation of Edison’s printing shop and chemistry lab too. Interactive displays let visitors generate electricity to light up a model town or crank up a motion picture of The Sneeze. Most entertaining is the theater experience where we learn that Edison proposed to his wife using Morse Code and other pleasantly surprising bits about this witty man who filed patents for over 1,000 inventions. Amazing!

The Knowlton’s Ice Museum deceives you. From the outside, it looks so small. Once inside, the displays fill what was once a large furniture warehouse. This museum preserves and displays over 3,000 items used in the cutting, harvesting and selling of natural ice from Lake Huron. Special saws, ice tongs, ice picks, ornate household ice boxes, and antique ice wagons are on display. In addition to the ice industry artifacts, shelves of glass milk bottles and metal milk boxes line one of the walls. There are collections of license plates, wooden sculptures from Arizona, and ice buckets. One area holds a collection of dolls and baby buggies. There, in a protective case, stands an assortment of Shirley Temple dolls. I heard one little girl ask her mom, “Who is Shirley Temple?” The mom was too young to know so a volunteer replied to the question about this popular child actress of the 50s. Also in this museum mix are antique cars and old delivery trucks from the days when milk came in bottles delivered to your front door. One of the delivery vehicles is a famous 1930 Ford Model A used in the show The Untouchables. I wonder if the little girl asked about this too.

At Bean Dock, the Port Huron Seaway Terminal, I boarded three ships. The Bramble spent 59 years as part of the U.S. Coast Guard fleet in search and rescue, icebreaking and tending to buoys before being decommissioned in 2003. When first commissioned in 1944, the Bramble played a part in a significant experiment. The cutter participated in the first test of the effect of an atomic bomb on a surface ship. Surviving that ordeal, the Bramble became one of the first U.S. ships to circumnavigate the North American Continent. She traveled 4,500 miles on these partially charted waters back in 1957. With her traveling days done, the Bramble remains anchored dockside for visitors to enjoy.

The Highlander Sea impressed me with her high glossed deck made of douglas fir and mahogany and the thick rolls of compressed sails some measuring 3,580 square feet. The intricate lines of ropes made triangles against the blue sky. This gaft-rigged schooner was built in Essex, Massachusetts in 1924 and endured a long navigational history before becoming Port Huron’s flagship ambassador. At one time she could be chartered for sails. I can only imagine how wonderful that must have been to watch the crew hoist the sails and glide this ship across the water at her top speed of 15 knots.

A uniformed young man escorted me and a handful of other people through the Grayfox. Originally build in 1985 as a Torpedo Weapon Retriever (TWR), the ship was then known as TRW 825. The Navy used this ship for ten years to launch and retrieve test torpedoes and targets before retiring the vessel. Since 1998 and renamed the Grayfox, the ship has been commissioned for training U.S. Naval Sea Cadets – the largest Sea Cadet training ship in the United States. On board, young people between the ages of 11 – 17 learn about all aspects of shipboard operations. Our tour showed us the small bunks stacked in the sleeping quarters. We passed through a kitchen well stocked with huge cans of Campbell’s tomato soup. Equipment dominated navigation room. And, we were all tempted to put our hands on the ship’s nautical wheel and pretend we were captains.

Before I boarded the Grayfox, I asked a Cadet keeping a tally about the number of people who had come aboard that day. “You’re number 511,” he said with a quick glance at the clipboard. Only a few more had passed his sentry after me. The “Be A Tourist in Your Own Town” activities ended at 4 PM. As Tourist #511, I have now become an ambassador for Port Huron. What a great way to get people excited about what a town has to offer!

June 6, 2009

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