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.
So, 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.
The 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.