Friday, July 25 — En route to Munising, Michigan, site of our overnight accommodations this evening, we drove through this quaint little town as we crossed the border from Wisconsin back into the U.P. [Upper Peninsula of Michigan].
Ironwood is on the Wisconsin-Michigan border on Hwy 2, just across the river from Hurley, Wisconsin – it’s at the westernmost tip of the U.P. While originally an iron mining town – thus the name – it’s known today for its downhill ski resorts including Big Powderhorn, Blackjack, Indianhead, and a couple of others.
I’m not quite sure what touched me about this little town…. In thinking about it, I guess I can come up with two reasons. The first is sentimental. This is the place I used to love to come to in junior high and high school with my school ski club to go skiing. Powderhorn and Indianhead were the BIG mountains worth leaving home at 4 o’clock on a Saturday morning to be on the slopes by 9 a.m. and get an entire day of skiing in before making the 5-hour trip once again to get back home. But in spite of the long haul, I would have come here every weekend if I could have back then – I loved skiing here….
The second reason is really sentimental, too. We stopped here for lunch when we saw the Uptown Cafe sign and saw that we could easily park Charley & Toad across the street. From the minute we walked in, I picked up on how kindly the waitress treated her customers, whose average age must have been about 70. Our lunches were a very good value for the money, as is often the case in small towns, and they included a free little cup of jello with a dollop of homemade whipping cream. Today the flavor was lemon.
When I commented on a couple of nice paintings on the wall, the waitress told me they came from a shop in the downtown area just a couple of blocks away where the shopkeeper had all kinds of wonderful artwork she had done, home goods, clothes, jewelry, little gifts, etc. She walked outside with me and pointed out where we should walk to go there [since I figured re-parking C & T would be tough] – how could we not go two blocks over to see this place?
In walking down the street, we passed the Memorial/Municipal Building and read about all the pride that went into building and maintaining this public facility. We strolled past many quaint little shops offering all sorts of goods and services. We saw a beautiful old building, then saw that it was a Carnegie Library – the oldest one in the state of Michigan.
And perhaps my favorite thing about the town up to this point, we wandered through and admired the sweetest little pocket park. I went into the store, and while I loved nearly everything in it, knew I wasn’t really there to shop. Not at all surprisingly, the owner/artist lady was very kind, as well. At this point, I’m thinking all of the people here are good!
We walked back to our parking spot and I went back into the restaurant to use the restroom one more time before taking off. By this time nearly all the lunch crowd was gone. The waitress asked me what I thought of the shop – I praised it, of course – and then she said, “I should have told you about Haiwatha,” then proceeded to tell me about the World’s Tallest Indian just down the street and around the corner – the other way from town.
Fred was ready to move on, but he knew from the expression on my face that now we had to go see this big Indian statue! So down the street and up the hill we drove until we saw him – Hiawatha, the Indian Chief. He is very big, as the photo shows – 52′ high; 18,000 pounds; made of fiberglass. [See in the photo I’m standing on his moccasin.]
So we snapped our photos and were making our way out of town when I saw it – another incredible piece of public art – this one, a mural honoring the local miners of this town. It was stunningly beautiful, this WPA-funded painting done in browns and blues. It covered the entire side of a building. Knowing I had to go see and capture this piece, as well, Fred stopped the RV once again so I could get out to have a closer look and take a couple of pictures. I was moved as I looked at this wall which served as more of a memorial, although it appeared that perhaps not everyone depicted on it is actually deceased.
Each miner is identified by name, the mine(s) in which he worked, and his birth, and some but not all, death years.
So here is Ironwood, with its population of somewhere around 5,000 residents. As we were driving away, I commented to Fred that I could see myself living here. I know I didn’t really mean that as there’s nothing for me way up here – not my friends, nor the things I want for the lifestyle I want. But it’s clear to me that this town has heart and soul and a work ethic and a rich history and nice, friendly, helpful people who would be good neighbors.
Which about wraps up the sentimentality. I guess that as I’m getting older, I long for a place like this that I will someday want to call home. A place where people are kind to each other. A place where civic pride matters. A place that honors its citizens and the hard work they do to provide for their families and their community. A place with old, beautiful churches and libraries and other municipal buildings.
A place like Ironwood, Michigan, where you can just pass through and dismiss it as a small old town… or, if you stop for lunch, then take a stroll, then go see what really matters, you ‘get’ it….