Not wanting to leave any U.P. stone unturned, I scouted 83 miles of US Highway 2 between Manistique and Naubinway, where it parallels Lake Michigan on the south side of the Upper Peninsula. The highway was originally used as part of two Indian trails before European settlers came to the UP.
I started today’s adventure at Fayette State Park near Manistique. Once a bustling industrial community which manufactured charcoal pig iron for Great Lakes steel companies, Fayette State Park is in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan in the “banana belt” area.
In the mid-1800s, shipping iron ore from the Upper Peninsula to the foundries was an enormous cost. The solution was to build a blast furnace close to the mine where the ore could be smelted into pig iron before shipping. The town had to be close to ore docks, have a natural harbor, and be near the limestone and hardwood forests that were needed to smelt the iron ore.
Fayette Brown, the Jackson Iron Company agent who chose the site, turned Fayette into the Upper Peninsula’s most productive iron-smelting operations. Fayette had two blast furnaces, a large dock and several charcoal kilns after the Civil War. Nearly 500 residents lived in the town that existed to make pig iron.
During 24 years of operation, Fayette’s blast furnaces produced a total of 229,288 tons of iron. The smelting operation closed in 1891 when the charcoal iron market began to decline. Today attractions include a visitor center, museum exhibits, and a 26 station walking tour. Scheduled tours and the visitor’s center don’t open until mid-June.
I only had time for a brief stop in Manistique on the way to Naubinway, however if I had time I would have enjoyed spending a day there. Besides having a statue and claiming to the “Home of Paul Bunyan”, there is Kitch-iti-kipi Michigan’s largest crystal clear fresh water spring that I’d like to see. Also the Seul Choix Point Light, and a two-mile shoreline boardwalk that leads to Manistique’s Breakwater Light. I’m sorry I ran out of time. I’ll have to visit again someday.
My US2 destination was The Garlyn Zoo. The zoo was started as a family farm/zoo in 1994 and is a small, intimate family run zoo nestled in the woods along the shore of Lake Michigan. It’s a child-friendly atmosphere that would make a fun rest stop if you were in the area. There was a cool breeze while I was feeding the goats.
Which brings me back to the “banana belt” phenomenon. The southern side of the Upper Peninsula is referred to as the “banana belt” because during the winter winds blowing off Lake Superior warm up while moving over the peninsula, keeping the south side warmer than the north rim. This trend reverses in the spring when a strong southerly wind prevails off Lake Michigan acting like an air conditioner for the south side of the Upper Peninsula. This effect was very noticeable when I was at the Garlyn Zoo the temperature was 48 with a stiff southerly wind. When I arrived home it was a warm 74!
I don’t have enough time to report U.P. history in its entirety. However, I don’t want to leave readers asking the questions on everyone’s mind: Why would people fight over this land with horribly harsh winters and lack of vegetables? Why is the Upper Peninsula part of Michigan when it borders Wisconsin NOT Michigan?
The Toledo War. During the early 1800s there was a conflict between Michigan and Ohio (and I don’t mean a football rivalry). At that point what is now Wisconsin was part of the Michigan Territory. At the end of the “Toledo War” Ohio was granted Wisconsin and Michigan became a state, including the U.P. This was a huge financial victory for Michigan because the Upper Peninsula was a vast region of resources including lumbar, copper and iron ore. Considered to have produced more mineral wealth than the California Gold Rush, the Upper Peninsula supplied 90% of the United States copper supply by the 1860s and was the largest supplier of iron ore by the 1890s.
Now you know the story. The Upper Peninsula is a fascinating natural resource worth visiting.