Historical Houghton’s Ambassador Restaurant – Houghton – Michigan

The outside of the Ambassador, like Dr. Who’s TARDIS, quiet and unassuming on the outside, but step through the door and a different and unexpected world is revealed.

Houghton, Michigan in the Keweenaw Peninsula is easily one of the truly  historical cities in Michigan if not the midwest. Just driving down the streets takes one back 130 years. If it wasn’t for the cars, there wouldn’t be much difference. Many of the buildings are over a century old and still stand, used for businesses to this day.

Inside, many of the old buildings, the interiors have been modernized, but one is a marvelous step back into time. The Ambassador Restaurant is worth going to, simply to see the inside. It is colorful and antique while providing wonderful views. It is a place where the old town still lingers.

When walking into the Ambassador the colored lights and murals give a sense of wonder when coming through the door.

Built in 1898, the brick building is one block east of the Houghton Lift Bridge. From the outside, it almost seems like just any other place, but when you open the door, you step into a showcase of stained glass, murals, and woodwork. The back wall is lined with windows that provide expansive views of the Portage Canal, the Houghton Lift Bridge, and the city of Hancock, topped by the Quincy Mine hoist protruding into the skyline.

The back wall of the Ambassador is mostly window. The Houghton Lift Bridge can be seen through the window and the Jail Guard panel of the 3rd mural can be seen.

Though stained glass decorates the Ambassador throughout, it is the murals that adorn the walls and ceiling that capture the attention. The murals were originally painted as large oils on canvas and were commissioned by Joseph Bosch owner of the Bosch Breweries which were located in Houghton and Lake Linden. They were painted by a Mr. Rohrbeck and hung in the Bosch Brewery for several years. Eventually they came down and were hung in a bar that was east of the Ambassador called the Giltedge Bar.  Prohibition struck and the murals were taken down and stored away. The Ambassador was a known speakeasy during Prohibition called Hole in the Wall.

This is the first mural which appears above the bar. The gnomes are brewing their beer.

When prohibition was repealed, saloons reopened or at least brought cocktails out of the closet, and began remodeling and redecorating  the bars around town where the murals were rediscovered. Their next home was the Ambassador where they are now. The date of this is unsure, but it is believed it was in the 40s during a remodel.

This is the second mural that is across from the bar. The party is rolling and the drinking is heavy. Below it some of the stained glass windows are visible.

If looked at in the proper order, they tell a story. The first depicts gnomes brewing beer. They are stirring it up in a large cauldron like a witches brew. The second mural has the gnomes drinking the beer and partying hardy. The third shows them the morning after, hungover and spent, wiped out by their night drinking. A guard is outside so their drunk has ended with the lot of them locked up. This last mural has three separate panels and covers most of the west wall  in the dining room. The artwork is superb and it is done with an obvious sense of humor.

This is the third mural which adorns the dining room wall. It is actually three panels, but it is so big i could only fit the middle one into a picture. The jailer panel can be seen in another picture.

The Ambassador is a restaurant that has also won some accolades. Back in the 60’s they developed their own pizza recipe and has since won a place in Pizza Magazine’s Pizza Hall of Fame. Personally, I never knew there was such a thing. But hey, who am I to argue, the food is excellent and not overpriced.

The bar back wall, the Portage Canal can be seen through the windows as well as more of the stained glass above them.

Never been here? That needs to be fixed. Any trip to the Houghton area and Copper Country, should include a stop here. It is a taste of “old” U.P. that is so much more than just a meal. I stop here and have a beer just to look at the place. It never gets old.

There’s even a poem about the Ambassador:

COME FILL A BUMPER

On or about nineteen hundred and two, Mr. Rohrbeck was given a job to do.
With brushes in hand and gnomes in his head, he created the masterpiece on the wall above.
First home for the paintings was the old Giltedge Bar, east of here, but not too far.
Streets were of dirt, sidewalks of wood, hitching posts for horses, business was good.
Beer for a nickel, whiskey for a dime, sandwiches a quarter any old time.
Prohibition was next, and became the law, the Ambassador, a speakeasy, called “Hole in the Wall”
Paintings were rolled and stored away, for twelve long years in the dust they lay.
At last came nineteen thirty-three, the law was repealed and Bacchus was free.
Saloons and taverns opened their doors, folks danced, sang, and drank spirits once more.
The old bar was hauled out of its storage place, and the paintings were hung on the walls they now grace.
The artist, long gone, would be proud if he knew, that folks still enjoy them as much as they do.

 

Poem above taken from the Ambassador’s website. For more information about the Ambassador Restaurant, go to their website at https://theambassadorhoughton.com/

This mural is a small one near the door at the entrance to the restaurant.

Vintage Motorcycle Photos from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula

An early motorcyclist cruises through Manistique. I love the early biker clothing and the bike looks like an Indian.

I don’t have many of these, unfortunately. It is a very rare thing when I come across early vintage pictures of motorcycles here in the Upper Peninsula. As a biker, I personally enjoy early pictures like these and consider them a treasure when I find them. I currently have two which are quite fun. I thought I’d post them so everyone can get a smile.

The top picture was taken in Manistique and I believe the motorcycle is an Indian. I can’t positively identify it, so if someone can confirm this, I would appreciate it. This was taken as a postcard which has no date.

In the second picture there is a young girl wishing she could go for a spin on a vintage Harley Davidson. The name on the tank is clearly visible. This is from an album of vintage photos from Ishpeming. This little gem is a favorite of mine. We have all had that look on our faces the moment we sat on a motorcycle.

 

An Ishpeming girl tries an early Harley on for size. Looks like a pretty good fit. I’ll always wonder if she ever got to take it out.

I thought these would be fun since summer is upon us and the time of year to enjoy our motorcycles is now. Ride safely and be careful out there.

Review of True Tales, the Forgotten History of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula – Reviewed by Tom Powers from Michigan In Books

I received a copy of a review of my new book, True Tales the Forgotten History of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. It was written by Tom Powers whose blog, Michigan in Books, has been reviewing Michigan books for several years. The link to it is here: https://michiganinbooks.blogspot.com/2022/05/june-1-2022-post-79.html 

For those that don’t want to follow the link I present the review in its entirety below.

True Tales: the Forgotten History of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula by Mikel B. Classen.

“Even Michigan natives who know just a little about the Upper Peninsula are aware of how unique it is geographically and historically. It is a beautiful, wild, rugged, sparsely populated peninsula full of unforgettable scenic wonders that is equaled by its unique and often strange history. This work by Mikel B. Classen is a great introduction to the often remarkable and memorable history connected to the U.P. that in all honesty weren’t forgotten by the general public. They are historical stories they never even knew about.”

“Among my favorites is the account of the last stagecoach robbery east of the Mississippi which took place in the U.P. The robber called himself Black Bart and killed one passenger and wounded another. Then there’s the Great Lake pirate who operated all over Lake Michigan from his base in Escanaba.  I thought I knew all the relevant facts about the Ontonagon Boulder. I didn’t. It was a mass of pure copper the Native Americans worshiped, but the Hell with their beliefs. The boulder was transported to Washington where it was misplaced and lost for years. The boulder was the spark that lit the Copper Boom in the U.P. The author also writes of the prominent settlers to the U.P., throws in the odd shipwreck, and relates the story of a couple of castaways on Isle Royale. The two survived a winter on the island by eating bark, roots, and berries. The husband went crazy from hunger and his wife feared she was next on his menu.”

“Those who consider history boring need to read this book before doubling down on their misplaced judgement. The book is jam-packed full of interesting and arresting true stories tied to U.P. history.  All I can say is, another volume please.”

If you are interested in purchasing True Tales, it can be picked up on Amazon or it can be ordered through your local bookstore.

A Walk Among Giants – Estivant Pines – Copper Harbor – Michigan

We all like to take a walk in the woods. Trees towering over our heads and the wonderful smell of pine needles as the sun fights through the dense leaves creating the dappled light of the deep forest, is unlike anything else. Then add in some of the oldest trees in the Midwest, the legendary White Pines that were sought to near extinction by the lumbering companies. In the Upper Peninsula of Michigan there is such a place.

The Keweenaw Peninsula has no shortage of trees, their presence is everywhere their roots can gain a hold. Tall pines and oaks line the ridges and valleys throughout. Though breathtaking in their own right, 150 years ago much of the forest was removed for the progress of man and very little of the original forest remains. What we see now is the offsprings of the original wilderness. But, in a tract of land near Copper Harbor, Michigan, a small part of that original wilderness remains.

The Estivant Pines is one of the last stands of old growth pines left in the State of Michigan. Deep within the 500 acre tract which is administered by the Michigan Nature Association, are the much sought after towering old White Pines. There is a double loop trail that winds beneath these monsters of the wilderness making this walk in the woods unforgettable.

The first trail loop is 1 mile long and is called the Cathedral Grove loop. This hike goes through hardwoods and then meanders through 500 year old giant White Pines. Some of them are 125 feet tall. It is hard to comprehend the majesty of these trees until one is standing beneath them, looking up seemingly touching the sky.

The second loop, the Bertha Daubendiek Memorial Loop is 1.2 miles long. Bertha was the founder of the Michigan Nature Association. Pine, maple and oak grow along this trail with one of the pines having germinated as far back as 1695. Hiking both trails is about 2.5 miles, none of which is very rough. There are some ups and downs, but not overly strenuous.

Other attractions of the Estivant Pines is over 85 identified species of birds make the tract their home. This place is a bird watchers paradise. Also, this is a hiking only trail so meeting vehicles on the trail such as bicycles, isn’t happening here. There has been a recent boom in bicycling in Copper Harbor and many of the trails around the area are now multi-use.

To get to the Estivant Pines, drive to Copper Harbor in the Keweenaw Peninsula. In Copper Harbor, turn on 2nd street. This road will turn into Manganese Road. Follow this for 1.2 miles. On the left just out of Copper Harbor is Manganese Falls, it is well worth checking out. Turn left on Clark Mine Road. Public access to Lake Manganese is to the right, a beautiful spring fed lake, also worth checking out. Continue on Clark Mine Road for approximately 1.2 miles and turn right on Burma Road. Another half mile and you are at the parking area for the Estivant Pines.

This tract of land was originally owned by Edward Estivant who was from Paris, France. It was originally 2400 acres when Estivant purchased it. He eventually sold it to the Calumet Hecla Mining Company in 1947. Then in 1968 it went to the Universal Oil Company who purchased the land for logging and proceeded to cut 300 acres of it. The Michigan Nature Association stepped in and bought 200 acres of the remaining old growth in hopes of preserving a small portion of it. Local citizens worked with them to raise funds and organized a “Save the Pines” campaign. Even local school kids fund raised. In 1973 the Estivant pines was created. Since then more of the tract has been purchased and over 500 acres of the original 2400 is now in the hands of the Michigan nature Association.

The Estivant Pines is open to hiking and snowshoeing. This is a day use area, so there is no overnight camping of any kind. There is no cost to hike other than time. It is a worthwhile experience to walk among these old giants and is something that shouldn’t be overlooked while in the Copper Harbor area.

For more information, here are some websites:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Estivant_Pines

https://www.michigan.org/property/estivant-pines-nature-sanctuary

https://www.alltrails.com/trail/us/michigan/estivant-pines-loop

My book Points North reviewed by Midwest Book Review

I received a note that pointed me to a review of my book Points North. It was from the Midwest Book Review and written by Carolyn Wilhelm. I really thought it was nice so I wanted to share it here.

Oh, this book helped me reminisce about the days when I could do primitive camping, hear loons, see wildlife, go canoeing, and enjoy the outdoors with relative privacy. It covers history, fishing, boating, hiking, walking, camping, with detailed location information in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (U.P.). How many camping spots, a few or many? Tents only, or are recreational vehicles allowed? Are canoes or motorboats allowed? Is the fishing good? Is the park or camping area away from roads and noise? Where should a family go for a good day trip? What animals are usually seen around the campsites? Is it a good location for photographers? Where do the seniors stay? Are there accessible trails for those who need them? Where can people who want a grueling climb and a sense of accomplishment find a spot for that type of exercise?

Details like this are usually only known by locals. This illustrated travel guide lets us in on these secrets not usually shared to have the best vacation possible for a single day or longer. Classen must have spent many years experiencing all the U.P. offers and kindly shares this off the beaten path information.

Carolyn Wilhelm, Reviewer
Wise Owl Factory LLC
https://www.thewiseowlfactory.com

Points North is an award winning book; Best Independent Publication 2020 – Historical Society of Michigan, U.P. Notable Book – Upper Peninsula Publishers and Authors Association; that details 40 different destinations across all areas of the U.P. To purchase Points North, click here.

Bayliss Library – Sault Ste. Marie – Michigan – Historical Display

The display I created in the entrance case at Bayliss Library

For those of you that like the history that I post, must realize I have a sizable collection of Upper Peninsula historical items. Many of these are pictures that often are posted here, but I do have other items as well as some picture haven’t made it here yet.

2022 Great Michigan Read – The Women of Copper Country

Here’s a chance to check some of these items out. In conjunction with the Great Michigan Read – The Women of Copper Country, at Bayliss Library here in the Sault, I have displayed some Copper Country history in the glass case at the entrance of Bayliss Library.

Stereoview pictures of the Italian hall Disaster in Calumet, shipwreck and local scenes.

These will be on display throughout the month of February. If you are in the Sault, stop by the library and take a look.

The General Store in Eagle Harbor, Michigan

This is one of the only times I’ve put some of these in front of the public. For more information on Bayliss Library, go here: https://www.sdl.michlibrary.org/our-locations-and-hours/bayliss-public-library

Pictures of shipping copper during the copper boom.

Coming Soon! True Tales – The Forgotten History of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula

I have just finished the rough version of my new book. It is off to the publisher awaiting publication. Whew! It always feels like a long haul when you finish a book. Though I feel all of my books are worth a read, this one is special. If you are a fan of this website, then this book is for you.

In this book the romance is gone. It tries to show many of the true hardships and facets  of trying to settle a frontier that was sandwiched between three Great Lakes. There are stories from across the Peninsula from first hand accounts to revelations from the news of the time. As always there are heroes and villains. There are feats of great good and dirty deeds of the worst kind. There are adventures of the most extraordinary men as they struggle for the riches of the U.P. well before gold was discovered in California. There are accomplishments of those that braved the wrath of the Great Lakes in leaking ships and frozen waters. The intensity of storms killed thousands on land and lakes. Over 200 died in one season just between Marquette and Whitefish Point. Often the Edmund Fitzgerald is memorialized, but few remember the hundreds of wrecks before it. You will find some here.

These pages are populated by Native Americans, miners, loggers and mariners that consisted of Germans, Italians, Finns, Swedes, French and English. People came from everywhere looking for their personal promised land. Some to raise families, some to avoid the law or to start a new life. Some to get rich no matter what it took. The Upper Peninsula frontier called to all.

This book is the first installment in what will be a larger work that chronicles the rare and forgotten stories that make the history of the U.P. what it is. Through research and investigation I hope to bring back many of the tales that time and historians forgot.

The U.P. of today was created by individuals that rose up to meet challenges that broke lesser folks. Their mental and physical stamina was that of finely honed athletes accomplishing feats unheard of in the modern world. They hacked homes out of a dense wilderness and raised families with danger at every turn. Many of these feats have gone unsung throughout history and through this book many come to light.

It is my hope that the stories contained within this book not only celebrates the struggles of the individuals that first braved this formidable and raw land , but honestly portrays their efforts to overcome the incredible obstacles that stood in the way of the beloved peninsula we now know. It was once a very different place.

 

Little Lake Lost or What Happens When the Dam Breaks

Discovering a ghost lake in Mackinac County, Michigan.

Writing and photos by Mikel B. Classen

I hit the road today, with no particular destination. That means I’m really susceptable to signs pointing to nearly anywhere. It happened in Mackinac County. The sign said “Brook Trout Pond Landing.” I really do stick my nose into just about anything, so I headed down the two-track the sign indicated.

This is my first view, that made me go “What Brook Trout Pond?”

I drove about a quarter mile and there was a cul-de-sac that was still a bit mucky from the early season. I could see a small stream running, so I treked down the hill to the water, expecting to see a trout pond of some size. Off to my right there was a large opening in the woods.

The valley of the lost trout pond, it must have been more like a lake.

Across the way is a vast plain of what once was a lake. Apparently, whoever made the sign was using the term “pond” loosely. It fascinated me to think that all of this, not long ago, was under water. It didn’t take a genius to figure out that somewhere out there a dam broke. Likely the entire expanse was at one time created by beavers damming up the small stream that now wound through the former lake bed.

At one time, keeping its head above water, this rise would have been an island in the lake.

As I looked across the still boggy lake bottom to the far side, I saw a small hill with live trees on it. It had been an island at one time.  The ghost lake had been vast and would have been great to paddle. I could see lunch on the island. With a brook trout population spread out across this large a tract, this would have been teeming with waterfowl.

This is the spring that fed the now ghost lake. It flows as it always has.

I turned around and headed back. I followed the creek up stream for a few yards and came to a small pocket of water. I looked around to see where the stream went and quickly realized I was at the beginning, the source of what had been everything around here, a wonderful fresh water spring. I looked back at the stream winding through the brown of the dry lake bottom, running clear and cold. If the probable beavers get to work on the dam break, maybe in a couple of years, this could all be back to what it was. That is how nature works after all.

The forest surrounding the ghost lake is thick and lush, but the ground is boggy and hard to walk through.

 

Rails and Rivers – Tahquamenon Falls Train and Riverboat Tours

Tahquamenon Falls Train and Riverboat Tours – Alias “Toonerville Trolley and Tom Sawyer Riverboat Ride

Photos by Mikel B. Classen. Historical pictures courtesy of the Mikel Classen Historical Pictures Collection.

The Toonerville Trolley waiting at the dock for the Riverboat Hiawatha.

As long as I can remember, the Toonerville Trolley and the Tahquamenon Falls Riverboat Tours has been at Soo Junction 15 miles east of Newberry. There is a reason for that. The business is much older than I am. Since 1927, there has been a train and riverboat tour running from Soo Junction to the picturesque Tahquamenon Falls. This perennial U.P. attraction is nearly 100 years old!

Sailing on the Tahquamenon River is full of wonderful views of the river and the thick wilderness that surrounds it.

The train and riverboat tour has been a staple of tourists and locals over these many years and is continuing into the future. As a kid and an adult, I have enjoyed every minute of this excursion. The staying power of this method of getting to the Tahquamenon Falls, proves that I am not the only one.

One of the views of Tahquamenon Falls from the Riverboat Tours destination.

First, the Toonerville Trolley, a short track train that takes a rider through the Tahquamenon wilderness to the famed river. It is a  1/2 hour ride back to the Tahquamenon River and the waiting steamboat. The train ride is leisurely and fun. As the cars are pulled through the woods, there is a very good chance of seeing a bear. They throw food off the back of the train bringing them in, though both times I’ve taken the train in last few years, I haven’t seen one. I know many who have.

Early days of Toonerville Trolley around 1940. It looks much the same today.

This little train started as a spur around the turn of the century and was used for hauling lumber from the Tahquamenon River which was a major thoroughfare for logging. There was a sawmill set up on the shore in the spot where the train meets the riverboat. The mill ran until about 1925 when it was permanently shut down. A man by the name of Joe Beach, who was a conservation officer, used to run daily river patrols of the Tahquamenon River from Newberry. It was a 14 hour trip to the Falls and back. Since the only way to access the Falls was by river, the State Park that most use today didn’t exist, Beach was often asked to take people with him so they could see this wonder of nature. An idea was born. He would start a tour business, but he would need to shorten the time on the water.

The train in the early 1960’s

He remembered the short line at Soo Junction and was able to lease the line which was not being used any more. He created a contraption that would run the rails out of an old Ford Model T. It ran the rails back into old sawmill location where now a small boat was waiting to take passengers to the Falls. As business flourished and the number of passengers increased, they decided to install a narrow gauge railroad which were quite common for logging and mining. In 1933, they laid the narrow tracks inside the wide tracks and the Toonerville Trolley was born. The name Toonerville trolley came from a popular cartoon strip called Toonerville Folks, many of the passengers referred to it as a Toonerville Trolley and the name stuck.

The Riverboat “Tahquamenon.” This was the flagship of the Tahquamenon River Tours – 1940

Riding the riverboat is an awesome experience. Not only does it take you to the falls and a view you can’t get from Tahquamenon Falls State Park, but the ride is pleasant and comfortable. The trip is narrated by the Captain pointing out not only points of historical interest, but tales from the past wild days of the Tahquamenon and even points out any wildlife that is being encountered by the boat. The Tahquamenon River abounds with wildlife, especially water birds.

The Paul Bunyan, the smaller of the two ships, the pair would pass on the river running two tours in a day.

The riverboat ride continues a tradition that began with Joe Beach, but continues on in the same tradition. At first, the riverboat was only a barge and a tug, but they could take nearly 100 passengers. In 1937, they had a large boat built that would be dubbed the Tahquamenon. It had a capacity of 400 people and included a dance floor and a jukebox. The trip had been shortened by 5 hours and was still a 9 hour trip. In 1940 another boat, the Paul Bunyan, was built and could carry 200 passengers. They were able to run two tours a day with as many as 700 people. It was quite an operation and it ran that way until 1963. The ships were wearing thin, literally, their hulls had worn out. It was time for something new and it came in the form of the Hiawatha. A newer faster ship that could cut the trip to 6 ½ hours. The Hiawatha is still running today.

The Riverboat Hiawatha, the ship that is currently in use on the Tahquamenon River.

It is a comfortable and fun ship. My ride up and down the Tahquamenon was enjoyable. On board there is bathrooms and refreshments. A small grill provides food and munchies for a reasonable price along with beer and wine coolers. The cheeseburgers off this grill are great. (You can bring a pack lunch with you if you want, but why, when the food is great.) There are times I think about taking this just for that reason, but there is so much more. When you arrive at the riverboat dock at Tahquamenon Falls, there is a 5/8 mile hike to where the falls are. (It is NOT handicap accessible.) It is through the woods, up and down a couple of stairwells and you are at the falls. You are on the opposite side of the river from the State Park so the view is very different. You stand there next to the roaring falls feeling the mist and hearing the wild rushing of the water. It is easy to understand why Tahquamenon is called the Niagara Falls of the U.P.

The 5/8 mile hiking trail back to Tahquamenon Falls. Incredible scenery walking this and the woods smell is overwhelming.

This is a worthwhile adventure for the entire family. Currently you can just take the train trip and take advantage of the picnic area on the banks of the Tahquamenon River and then ride the train back. Personally I like to do the whole thing, the train and the riverboat, but since the boat trip is 21 miles and takes 6 ½ hours, it should be considered an all day affair. The train ride is 35 minutes one way. The prices are reasonable and this is the only way, other than personal craft, to see the Tahquamenon River upstream from the falls.

The hike back to the Falls is worth it. This is the view of Tahquamenon Falls as seen on the tour.

There is a reason this trip has lasted this many years, the Tahquamenon is a beautiful river and most of this trip has the appearance of Tahquamenon 100 years ago. It is easy to imagine the Native Americans paddling the river before logging took place. It was a main travel route for them.  Taking this boat on an upriver cruise is a tradition that has spanned generations, a tradition that is still carried on. I highly recommend this most wonderful of U.P. attractions.

The docking site at Tahquamenon Falls. The Hiawatha waits after the walk to the Falls. I was grateful they served cold beer, the perfect after hike refreshment.

For more information on the Tahquamenon Falls Train and Boat Tours click here: https://www.trainandboattours.com/

One of the many exmples of wildlife on the Tahquamenon River. I shot this from the deck of the Hiawatha Riverboat.