If we were taking our Great Lakes tour back around the turn of the century,
our boat would enter the harbor at Munising to be welcomed with a concert
by the local high school marching band, which met all the many tour boats.
Today welcomes are quieter. When eastering boats pass Au Train Point and
sail into the bay they enter what Grace Lee Nute calls, "one of the
safest and most commodious harbors on the waters of the west." The
bay, with Grand Island stretched across its mouth for protection from the
open lake, is indeed quite safe. But earlier sailors still had to actually
make it into the harbor. A number of vessels, including the sidewheeler
Superior , the steel steamboat Kiowa , the steam barge Smith
Moore , and half-a dozen others, didn't. Today their scattered remains
form the Alger Underwater Preserve, a favorite destination for divers.
Today's town of 3500 residents is welcoming. Hills on three sides
form a cozy, natural bowl with the town nestled at its base. In her Country
Roads Press book, Country Towns of Michigan, Doris Scharfenberg makes it
clear that she is infatuated with the place. Especially its food. She describes
the home cooking at local restaurants (no reservations necessary), the deli
specialties at Lefebreve's Fish Market, and the town's dessert emporium
featuring "the ice cream of your dreams."
Munising is a working town, quietly concerned with the business of staying
a little bit ahead of the game. The Victorian architecture of a town can
often be an indicator of its financial success, or lack of it. Galena, Illinois,
is a treasure trove of Victoriana, because it was too poor to tear it down.
Munising was too poor to get much of it to begin with. Speculators laid
out the place on the site of former encampments of the Chippewa, in the
1850s. The ubiquitous promoter Peter White built a blast furnace here in
1867, but the failure of charcoal iron manufacturing that decade dragged
down his efforts. The 1890s brought a boom-let of tannery and sawmill operations.
Even though Munising never got rich from either endeavor, the sawmills supported
a small woodworking industry; wooden bowls are still one of the town's best-known
products. As with many towns of the Great Lakes, tourism has come to the
rescue. The visitors, up to 200 of them, come each summer day to hike the
hills, view the surrounding cliffs that tower several hundred feet out of
Lake Superior's waters, dive her wrecks, and to eat that ice cream.
As we continue eastward out of the bay, past Au Sable Point, we find that
Munising has saved her best for last. Here wind-and-water-sculpted rock
cliffs serve as a canvas, where minerals splotch the sandstone and dolomite
with a wide variety of red, blue, white, and green tones, stimulating the
imagination like cloud formations of stone - the Pictured Rocks National
For Classical ninety-one five, this is David Minor
Grace Lee Nute - Lake Superior (Indianapolis, Bobbs-Merrill, 1944)
Doris Scahrfenberg - Country Towns of Michigan (Castine, Maine, Country
Roads Press, 1994,
© 1999 David Minor / Eagles Byte
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