Grosse Ile - Michiganís Only Island Township
Published: Sunday, March 1, 2020
By: Brian Loftus, Township Supervisor
Let me begin by thanking you for reading about Grosse Ile Township and welcoming you. As the Township Supervisor and an avid boater, I might just be shamelessly promoting my community while convincing you to come visit. I think we have a lot to offer, so I hope Grosse Ile will soon be your boating destination.
Grosse Ile Township, Michigan’s only island township, is hidden in plain sight at the southern end of the Detroit River. Although we are slightly off the main waterway, we are easily accessed by boat from Lake Erie or the Livingstone Channel. Be advised that all of our guest facilities are best accessed from the south to avoid delays at the two swing bridges that connect Grosse Ile to the mainland.
Waters Edge is our public marina, located just south of the Wayne County bridge, and offers transient berths, an excellent restaurant, restroom facilities, and a public golf course with a driving range. On most Thursday evenings, we offer an outdoor concert so a deck or lawn chair will be a bonus, or maybe just a blanket. You might catch a car show on a Tuesday afternoon, depending on how many of the Gearheads are in town.
Our Township is also home to three private clubs offering Inter-Lake Yacht Club and Associated Yacht Club reciprocal privileges; check with the Ford Yacht Club, the Grosse Ile Yacht Club, or the Elba-Mar Boat Club for transient availability and services. All have excellent facilities, restaurants, and welcoming members.
Because of our location, ours is a community rich in maritime history. The French explorer Cadillac landed here with a convoy of canoes in 1701, days before he founded Fort Pontchartrain at the present site of downtown Detroit. The cluster of 12 islands that form Grosse Ile Township was deeded by the native Potowatamis to Alexander and William Macomb (remember that name) in 1776, and since then Grosse Ile developed in parallel with the midwestern United States: from small family farms with a military outpost, then riverside cottages and exclusive waterfront mansions, later including a Naval air station, and now a residential community with a rural atmosphere that offers all municipal services and proximity to all that the redeveloping Detroit has to offer.
Bring your bicycles! Wherever you tie up, Grosse Ile is a bicycle-friendly community that has established a network of bike paths that can take you almost anywhere on the Island. If bikes are not part of your boating plan, GILift, a local ride service, can also take you anywhere in the area.
A great place to begin your visit is our business district, Downtown Grosse Ile, which lies along Macomb Street (the Macomb history again). After a short ride, start your day in one of Grosse Ile’s favorite breakfast spots: Kathy’s Café or Island Coney. Both boast great coffee and even better conversation.
If a unique vista intrigues you, stop at the east end of Macomb Street where you will find a lookout that peers over the river towards Canada. In front of you will be Stony Island, where most of the Livingstone Channel work was managed a century ago, and looking into the distance you will have a panoramic view from the Detroit skyline to the north down to Amherstberg (Ontario) and Lake Erie to the south. For the freighter enthusiasts, every vessel proceeding into the western Great Lakes will pass within a half mile of this location, so have your binoculars and recognition chart handy.
Head westward down Macomb Street, walking or riding your bike; there are ample bike racks and benches for stops along the way. You will find friendly neighbors on their porches and active ones walking their pooches.
Pop in the numerous gift shops for local treasures or souvenirs of your visit: Hawthorne & Vine for floral or eclectic goodies and Grosse Ile Pet & Garden Center to feel like you are in an up-north general store. If your timing is good, Michigan’s best bicycle museum, the Old Spokes Home might be open for a tour.
Lots of dining opportunities await. If ice cream is what you crave, Tasty Freeze scoops are the best, especially when enjoyed on their outdoor patio, central to the business district. At the end of your day, enjoy delicious cuisine and live piano entertainment at the Island staple, Perdino’s Fine Dining, or opt for good solid American food at Lloyd’s Bar & Grill, a tavern where everyone seems to know everyone. Bishop’s Cottage, a historic bed and breakfast, hosts music and light fare on Thursday evenings all summer, check on room availability if you want to steady your sea legs.
Downtown Grosse Ile also hosts fun outdoor activities all summer long; enjoy Movies in the Park on Friday evenings or Concerts in the Commons on Sundays. You won’t be a stranger for very long.
For those more adventurous, our municipal airport has a long history of contributions to aviation: from the original circular grass strip airfield to the home of the Curtis-Wright and the Aircraft Development Corporation, a Naval Air Station, and now returned to a municipal airport. Our Township Hall is located in the former NAS Grosse Ile Hangar One, and we house a museum with numerous artifacts from the Navy era. Interesting facts: a metal clad airship, the ZMC-2, was built here for the Navy, and after his rescue in the South Pacific, Lieutenant (Junior Grade) George H. W. Bush, accompanied by his new bride Barbara, was stationed here for a short period in 1945 as a TBM/TBF instructor pilot.
If your boat is feeling a bit too cozy, the Pilot House, the former Navy officers’ quarters, has been reopened as a unique hotel with some rooms offering kitchenettes. If you don’t care to cook, the Airport Inn, a classic tavern once a favorite of Navy pilots, is only a short walk away.
Surrounding the southeast portion of the airport is the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge, international because the refuge includes lands in Michigan and Ontario. Enjoy the quiet and view all sorts of waterfowl, eagles, deer, and an occasional beaver. Again, bring your binoculars if you have them aboard.
If you want to expand your tour farther, a ride up the west side of the Island, the windward side, will take you to Westcroft Gardens, the oldest family owned and operated farm in the state. Established on July 6, 1776, Westcroft is currently owned by the 7th generation of Macomb descendants and is operated by the 8th generation (the 9th generation recently made his arrival). Westcroft has a beautiful four acre botanical garden open to the public year round that boasts many varieties of azaleas and rhododendrons, including hybrids created here for our midwest climate and soils by former owner Ernest Stanton.
Farther north will take you past the site where Cameron Waterman successfully tested the first fully functional gasoline-powered outboard motor on the ice-filled Detroit River back in February 1905, and eventually patented in 1907.
Over on the leeward (east) side, you will find the Historical Society’s 1904 Depot Museum and Customs House, reminders of the days when rail was the preferred (and most practical) mode of transport to and from Grosse Ile. In the late 19th century, the Canada Southern Railroad crossed the Island, attempting to connect Chicago with Toronto, until the Michigan Central bought up the system. Rail service ended in 1924.
So, if your nautical travels bring you to the Detroit River, I hope I have convinced you to expand your horizons with a short side trip to nearby Grosse Ile. Some of the attractions mentioned are seasonal or limited so please check for hours of operation or availability. Your one-stop source for information is www.grosseile.com, our municipal website with links to most activities within the Township. High water is expected again this summer, so do call ahead to ensure slip or fuel availability. Wishing all safe travels and I hope to see you soon.
This article first appeared in the Spring Issue (Mar/Apr) 2020 of Great Lakes Scuttlebutt magazine.