By Steve Ellis
I grew up in Pontiac, and over the holidays, spend time with my family visiting some of the small towns north of there.
Fenton, on US-23, south of Flint, is a charming little village with many historic buildings and houses.
Our favorite breakfast spot is The Laundry, a very eclectic restaurant in an old laundry building. The décor is fun and funky with the tables and chairs made up of a colorful collection of old 1950’s dinette sets. The menu is a little pricey but well worth it. Water is left on your table in tall, clear wine bottles. The restaurant also serves lunch and dinner and specializes in Michigan craft beers.
My girlfriend Jackie’s favorite store in Fenton is The Iron Grate. It is housed in an old brick building and with two floors of very unique jewelry, clothing, handbags, home décor, books, toys and clothing for children.
The Iron Grate was established in 1980 and brings “big city chic to small town America.” It is owned by Londoner Elizabeth Dickens and her daughters, Tara and Kirsty
We love browsing Yesterdays Treasures, a fun antique store in a colorful old building. I once noticed the large safe and asked what the building was originally used for. The owners told us that it was once the office for a very old lumber yard that, among other things, once built screen doors for the White House. They also told us to take a look at the famous “mouse-proof” house that is in the Guinness Book of World Records for having a foundation several feet thick to keep out mice.
The Fenton Fire Hall, Kitchen and Taproom (located in a refurbished fire hall originally built in 1938) is a great place for lunch.
Holly, located southeast of Fenton, offers historic downtown streets, lined with antique stores, restaurants and the Detroit Model Railroad Club located in an old movie theater.
My sister and I had a very tasty breakfast at the Bittersweet Cafe last summer.
Carrie Nation, who during prohibition days traveled the country with an axe, smashing up bars, once came to Holly (August 29, 1908) and did her damage. This is now celebrated in an annual Carrie Nation event at the historic Holly Hotel, a funky old building full of antiques. George and Barbara Bush once dined here.
Sadly, the Holly Hotel, and some nearby buildings, were badly damaged in a fire last summer and are in the process of being rebuilt.
Years ago, with so many trains stopping in Holly each day, the bars and saloons that lined Martha Street were the scenes of lusty brawls and battles almost daily. So many people were injured in the fights in front of the Holly Hotel that the locals nicknamed Martha Street “Battle Alley,” the name that is still used today.
Just off I-75, about 45 minutes north of Detroit is Clarkston.
When I was young, this was a sleepy little town off Dixie Highway that we passed through on the way to I-75 to head up north. Over the last several years, it has been transformed into a very prosperous, busy community.
Fortunately, Clarkston has retained its small-town charm and the picturesque downtown and has a handful of great stores and restaurants. Two very popular eating and drinking establishments, the Union Woodshop and The Clarkston Union (in an old church), draw folks from quite a distance. Essence on Main is a popular gourmet food and gift store and the Olde Village Café serves a great breakfast.
So the next time you are over in the Detroit area, head north on I-75, get off the highway and experience some great small towns.