Grosse Pointe, MI
Published: Wednesday, May 18, 2011 7:00 am
By: Nancy Nall Derringer, GrossePointeToday.com
From the water, there's little about Grosse Pointe to catch the eye of a passing boater. No picturesque hills, no cozy harbor, not even much of a point. Come too close to its graceful waterfront mansions in anything drawing more water than a rowboat, and you're likely to run aground.
But find a dock, unload the bicycles or call a cab, and one of Michigan's most inviting upscale communities will welcome you as a visitor. And by the end of it, you'll likely have made new friends.
Like most of southeast Michigan, the area was Indian country before it was settled by the French explorers who gave it its name. The "fatpoint" emerges into wide, shallow Lake St. Clair and served as farmland before it was discovered by the newly rich industrialists of the early 20th century, who found it a lovely "country." Many of their opulent waterfront homes are gone, replaced by a new generation of luxury. As you explore the area, you can still see many signs of its recent and distant past, which blend seamlessly with modern amenities. Today, the geography is divided into five separate municipalities: Grosse Pointe Park, City of Grosse Pointe, Grosse Pointe Farms, Grosse Pointe Woods and Grosse Pointe Shores.
Visitors who arrive by water have a variety of options.There is no public marina within the Pointes proper. Those with yacht club memberships can make advance arrangements with the Grosse Pointe Yacht Club (www.gpyc.org) which asks for an e-mail from the home-club manager saying visitors are members in good standing. Just a few hundred yards south, Crescent Sail Yacht Club (www.crescentsail.com) provides the same reciprocity with the same advance notice. As a strictly sailing club, they prefer guests be the same. Bayview Yacht Club (www.byc.com), in the Detroit River just below Grosse Pointe, also has guest docks. Call ahead for permission and procedures: 313-822-1853.
For the non-member, there are several nearby commercial marinas that welcome guests. Immediately north, in St.Clair Shores, is Jefferson Beach Marina (www.jeffersonbeachmarina.com), 586-775-9470. Just south, not far from Bayview, is Harbor Hill Marina (www.harborhillmarina.com) in Detroit, at 313-331-6880. There are others, as well.
Exploring Dry Land
Once ashore, visitors will find the Pointes to be easily explored by car or bicycle. Traditional street grids mean few roads carry heavy traffic, and there's always a less-traveled one going the same direction that's safe to cycle on. While close to the water, consider a ride, or ask your cab driver to take you, along Lake Shore Road. Not all of it runs within sight of the lake, but from Grosse Pointe Farms to the Grosse Pointe Yacht Club, it offers some of the prettiest sightseeing the area has to offer – not only of lakefront homes but of boats, freighters and waterfowl.
If you're in the area around Independence Day, consider staying for the Grosse Pointe Farms fireworks, which are launched at the lakefront and are best viewed from the water.
Farther south on Lake Shore, the road runs back from the water and passes by the Grosse Pointe War Memorial (www.warmemorial.org), 32 Lakeshore Dr. Once the home of the Russell Alger family, this Italianate mansion now serves a twofold purpose, as a memorial to veterans and a community center. It's the site of year-round activities and events, including summer concerts on its wide front lawn, Veterans' Day and Memorial Day ceremonies, and many others.
Further inland, you'll find several shopping, touring or exploring destinations worth a visit, including:
The Edsel & Eleanor Ford House (www.fordhouse.org) is the graceful Cotswold estate built and occupied by Henry Ford's only son and his family. The home and grounds have been pains takingly maintained, and are open to the public for tours, both guided and self-guided. The Cotswold Cafe, located in an outbuilding, offers lunch and dinner at reasonable prices, and includes beer and wine. 1100 Lake Shore Rd., Grosse Pointe Shores
The Provençal-Weir House (www.gphistorical.org/proweir.html), owned and operated by the Grosse Pointe Historical Society, is believed to be the Pointes' oldest surviving residential structure. It was built in c. 1823 by an Indian agent/farmer, and housed two generations of his family. It has been relocated from its original site, and restored with period furnishings by the historical society. It's open one Saturday a month, and offers group tours by appointment. 376 Kercheval Ave., Grosse Pointe Farms
The Hill (www.thehillgp.com), the name given to the Farms' shopping district, runs between Muir and Fisher Roads on Kercheval Avenue, and true to its name is on the only elevated land in the Pointes. Restaurants and small shops dot its length, and it can be easily explored in an hour or two.
A few blocks farther south and west on Kercheval is The Village (www.thevillagegp.com), a similar shopping and dining district, in the City of Grosse Pointe. It's a bit bigger, with restaurants, shops and, if you need to re-provision your vessel, a full-size Kroger store. It's also the site of special events during warm months, including a Thursday-night summer concert series, sidewalk sales and other activities.
Keep heading down Kercheval and you'll hit the commercial district in Grosse Pointe Park. If you arrive on a summer Saturday morning, you'll find the West Park Farmer's Market (www.theparkgp.com), the only one in the area, in full swing, offering fresh produce and items from local craftsmen and small businesses.
Turn west on most streets and you'll end up on Mack Avenue, a major commercial thorough fare; you can find anything from gourmet take-out to spare parts for a piece of broken rigging on its several-mile stretch.
Whether you come ashore on a mission or just to meander, you'll find much to catch your interest in Grosse Pointe.
For more information, contact the Grosse Pointe Chamber of Commerce at 313-881-4722, www.grossepointechamber.com.
Written by: Nancy Nall Derringer, GrossePointeToday.com
**Photos Courtesy of: Larry Peplin/GrossePointeToday.com