My Town Monday: McCourtie Park (Field Trip!)

We’re taking a field trip today, out of Livingston County. We’ll leave the county on US-23, heading south. Somewhere south of Ann Arbor, we’ll get off the e-way and get on US-12. This old road used to be THE route from Detroit to Chicago. Now, most folks take I-94 and bypass this two lane winding road. So, most of the towns and tourist attractions on this road are kind of like that town in the movie Cars, kind of sad. There’s no good route to any major city and most of the buildings are in increasing states of disrepair.

But, along this road, in a little place called Somerset Township, there is a place called McCourtie Park. This little park used to be the estate of Cement Tycoon William H.L. McCourtie. In the early 1930s, after amassing his fortune, he turned his 42-acre estate, once called Laiden or Aiden Lair into a one-of-a-kind showcase.

He had two spring-fed pools/ponds. One was for swimming and the other was stocked with trout.

He also built an ‘apartment rathskeller’ into the side of the hill to entertain friends. It had a paneled bar, a poker room, and six once-heated garages. A rathskeller is a below-ground bar or tavern.

This area is rumored to be haunted. My batteries died when I tried to take a second picture… evidence of paranormal activity…? More likely, it’s just my stupid rechargeable batteries acting up. They have a long history of dying shortly after arrival at the photo-taking location.

The only part of the apartments visible from the road are the two chimney’s he had constructed to look like trees. He wanted the chimneys to blend into the estate’s natural landscaping. And, oh yeah, they’re sculpted from concrete. Complete with detailing.

But the best part of the park are the bridges. Impressed by the sculptures he saw elsewhere, Mr. McCourtie commissioned two men, George Cardosa and Ralph Carona to make the bridges in the style of el trabeio rustico, the Mexican folk tradition of sculpting concrete into faux wood. There are seventeen bridges across the stream. Each is painstakingly carved from cement to look like logs, planks, even rope.

Another bridge.

This is just amazing.

All cement!

Below is a slideshow of all 17 bridges. Click here to visit the Picasa Web Album (same photos as the slide show.)

Lastly, there are two bird mansions– well, these things are huge!– one holds 192 birds and one holds 288. Sadly, like the rest of this once-magnificent location, the bird houses are in need of repair.

The park changed hands repeatedly after McCourtie’s death and was in disrepair when the Somerset Township Recreational Authority got it’s hands on it in 1987. They mowed it and cleared the area, put in picnic tables and fenced the ponds. At one time the land was home to a herd of buffalo!

Now the bridges are being painstakingly repaired by Melinda LaPresto and the little park gets a handful of visitors that have traveled down old US-12.

It seems almost a shame to me that so few people even know about this– and other lovely little places tucked away on those old pre-expressway roads. [Insert appropriate profound commnet regarding speed, life, or travel.]

Check out Travis Erwin’s blog for more My Town Monday posts.