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« Detroit Dive Bar Tour with Inside Detroit | Main | Cranbrook Institute of Science »
Tuesday
May262009

The St. Mary's Fair & A Bit Of History

We, like over 100,000 others, attended the St. Mary’s Polish Country Fair this past weekend. The fair originated in 1972 but didn’t really become what it is now until the mid-80’s when they expanded the fair and added the carnival rides.

The weather was perfect and the smell of sauerkraut wafted through the entertainment tent while we listened to the cover band 2XL. There certainly is fun for all ages with the carnival rides and games, Vegas and bingo tents, live music, and tons of yummy Polish food. It seems odd, however, to write about an event that won’t happen again for another year. So, that isn’t what I’m going to focus on.

You see, I kind of grew up on this campus. My brother went to Orchard Lake St. Mary's Prep and my parents were heavily involved in the Mom and Dads Club. One year my parents were in charge of the fair and another year they were presidents of the club. They, and the other parents at the time, are the ones that added the rides and the arts and crafts (which are no longer a part of the fair).

Between my parents endless meetings and my brothers sporting events, I spent a lot of time on this campus. It was quite cool to be 14, boy crazy, and one of the few girls to be able to roam the campus. I felt like a VIP and even stayed in the dorms during the fair when my parents were running it. This year, however, my husband and I wandered around not knowing a soul.

The GaleriaSo, while we were at the fair I took my husband on a tour of the campus. Before the Polish Seminary of Detroit purchased the campus it was the Michigan Military Academy. Many of the existing buildings date back to this era including the “Castle” (1858), the academic building (1890), the Engine House (1889), the Barracks (1884), and the Old Gym (1896).

I remember my brother telling me about tunnels under the school and that Apple Island was an Indian burial ground. At the time, I wasn’t sure if he was just trying to scare his little sister or act cool. The Michigan Military Academy did install a network of tunnels that connect these old buildings. If the academy was attacked the tunnels would provide access around campus. When we returned from the fair, I asked my brother if he had ever been in the tunnels. He admitted that once they found access to the tunnels from the Old Gym but got scared and didn’t venture further. The tunnels are now used for utilities.

Apple Island sits in the middle of Orchard LakeThe island in the middle of Orchard Lake is Apple Island; it’s three-eighths of a mile long and a quarter mile wide. Apparently, it is quite unique to have an island this large in a lake the size of Orchard Lake. Native American Indians were definetly on the island and Chief Okemos was born on the island, so most likely there are burial grounds here as well.

The island was first purchased in 1827 and in 1850 two future kings of Hawaii, Kamehameha IV and Kamehameha V, visited it. I’ve never been on the island but the Greater West Bloomfield Historical Society does offer tours of the island every May.

Overall, the campus is a great place to take a walk and snap some pictures. It is not nearly as large or austere as the Cranbrook campus but it certainly has its own charm and history.

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Reader Comments (8)

We've driven past this campus many, many times...but we've never been on it. Lots of interesting stuff about the campus and the area's history. Thanks!
You can always do a post about the fair to preview it next year. I always keep a few topics back in reserve...which is standing helping me keep things going this summer :)

May 26, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDominique

You should really stop by the campus this summer, it's kind of nice when the students aren't there. There are plenty of places to park, near the grotto, the dorms, or the fieldhouse.

Thanks for the tip about previewing it next year, that's a great idea.

May 26, 2009 | Registered CommenterBecks Davis

What a great batch of pictures. I especially like the "Duck Pond" pix. We'll definitely have to take a ride out there this summer. I like to drive along the lake when I go from Commerce Road to Orchard Lake Rd.

May 26, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTim

Thanks Tim, coming from you that means a lot! I like the duckies too.

May 26, 2009 | Registered CommenterBecks Davis

Noticing your photo of Orchard Lake and Apple Island I am reminded of a little adventure we had back in the 1950's. It was an overcast winter day when several of my little pals and I trekked across the Orchard Lake ice to Apple Island to explore and have lunch. We found a couple building foundations, which were interesting, but we were actually looking for the grave of Chief Pontiac who, as we understood it, was buried there on the island very many years earlier. We discovered nothing remotely like a burial spot, but the thought that we may have been treading on hallowed ground gave us a feeling of reverence and respect for the one whose name was attached to so many things; i.e., Pontiac, the city, Pontiac, the lake, Pontiac, the Trail, Pontiac, the industry and the automobile. Chief Pontiac must have been a great man. But alas, on Apple Island we discovered not a trace of him.
So we built a fire and proceeded to eat our lunches. Everyone brought their own food: some had sandwiches and one kid had a can of Campbell's vegetable alphabet soup. Having forgotten to bring a can opener, he figured if he just warmed the soup in the fire it might make the metal softer so he could knock a hole in the top with a rock or sharp stick. The rest of us watched munching on our sandwiches until suddenly the can of soup began jiggling, slowly at first, then progressively faster and more violently until someone sensed danger and yelled for everyone to take cover. Good thing he did. We scattered and hid behind nearby trees just in time to hear a loud BANG! as the soup can exploded. What a mess: vegetables and macaroni letters were everywhere. Never did find the can. Perhaps someday a future archeologist will uncover the Great Chief along with the more puzzling blasted apart can and scratch his head in wonder.

July 16, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterampete

I am polish and have never been to the fair. I know Chris Chelios's son went to Orchard Lake St Mary's. I still have never been.

July 16, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJamie Favreau

Ampete,
Thanks for sharing that story. It's nice to hear personal reflections on a place many of us have never been to.

July 18, 2009 | Registered CommenterBecks Davis

Nice story, thanks for sharing. My birthday, June 11, is a celebration of Kamehameha in Hawaii, and I'm Polish as well as Native American. Six degrees of separation!

May 25, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJennifer Richmond

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