Sunday, July 22, 2018

Detroit Institute of Arts

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   Like most art museums in large cities the Detroit Institute of Arts was started by a few local citizens. Major contributors of money and art included the Dodges, Firestones, Fords, and Scripps. The wealth generated by the auto industry allowed them to amass a large and amazing collection creating a museum with over 100 galleries and 66,000 works of art. We visited for four hours and only saw half of it!

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  The museum is accessible.

  Parking where RVs will fit is available on the street. The meters max out at 2 hours but accept more money when the time is up. Museum  42.35914, -83.0652

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Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Heidelberg Project

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  When Artist Tyree Guyton, who grew up on Heidelberg Street in East Detroit, returned to his old neighborhood in 1986 he decided to do something about the abandoned houses and discarded processions. He, his grandfather, and neighborhood children sifted through the rubble. Guyton swept, painted, and arranged. The entire street became an art installation.

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  Not everyone appreciated the effort. Four of the houses were bulldozed by the city. At least 12 houses suffered some damage from arson. Guyson has dismantled pieces as they deteriorated and built new ones so it’s an ever changing project.

   An art house and sculpture garden at the west end of the street are the creations of artist Tim Burke.

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   The sidewalks are rough and in spots the art has taken over a bit. It may be necessary to wheel along the street but there isn’t a lot of traffic.

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  Park on the south side of the street only. Project  42.35856, -83.02166

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Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Detroit Historical Society

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   The museum galleries cover different aspects of Detroit’s history but they are somewhat disjointed and there isn’t an easy flow from one exhibit to the next. City streets are located on the lower level. Early history, the auto industry, and Detroit musicians are on the first floor. The second floor has an underground railroad exhibit and a special exhibit on the 1968 riots.

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   Most of the museum is accessible but some of the sidewalks on the city streets are too narrow. A few exhibits have high thresholds.

  Parking where RVs will fit is available on the street. The meters max out at 2 hours but accept more money when the time is up. Museum 42.35962, -83.06706

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Monday, July 16, 2018

Ford Piquette Avenue Plant

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  The Model T was Henry Ford’s 8th car design. All eight models were assembled at the Piquette Plant but the Model T is the one that changed history. It was designed in a “secret room” on the 3th floor. The Model T was rugged, had a high ground clearance, a flexible frame, and springs that allowed a lot of wheel movement, all helpful characteristics for driving on the often muddy, dirt roads. It was so popular that 15-million were built between 1908 and 1927.

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  Most were not built at the Piquette plant because the company quickly outgrew the building and manufacturing was moved to Highland Park in 1910. Even so the plant played an important role in Ford automobile history. This is where Henry Ford and his men experimented with the assembly line by pulling a chassis on skids until the axels and wheels were installed. Parts were attached as it moved through each work station. It took a few years to perfect but by 1913 a car could be built in 90 minutes. The price of a Model T dropped by more than 50%, making it affordable to almost everyone.

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  Two floors of the factory are filled with early Fords and other Detroit area cars. Take the guided tour or wander around on your own. A short video is shown before the start of each tour. Ford’s office and the “secret room” have been reconstructed on the third floor.

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  Wheelchair access uses the original freight elevator that delivered finished Model Ts to the storage yard. A phone number is posted so that an employee can be called to operate it.

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  Parking is on the street or in a gravel lot right across from the museum. If you’re adventuresome take a walk around the block to see the abandoned Fisher Body Plant and a very cool deserted rowhouse. Museum  42.3686, -83.0651

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Sunday, July 15, 2018

Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History

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  Photographs of the exhibits are not permitted so I’ll try to give a good description of them because this museum is quite unique and worth visiting. Life size displays put visitors in the scene as they travel through time starting in an African village market, and moving onto to traders bargaining for human captives, to a coastal fort where new captives were held, to the hold of a ship sailing across the Atlantic, to a slave auction block, to the underground railroad, and freedom after the Civil War, jobs in the northern factories, and a street of black owned businesses. Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglas, Sojourner Truth, and local leaders are highlighted with their own exhibits. Story boards at each scene give detailed historic information.

  The museum is accessible. An elevator and two small lifts provide access to all galleries.

  Parking where RVs will fit is available on the street. The meters max out at 2 hours but accept more money when the time is up. Museum  42.35973, -83.06105

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Saturday, July 14, 2018

Hipcamp and Food Field

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  I was looking for a place to stay close to downtown Detroit when I saw Hipcamp mentioned on CRVLing. The concept is similar to Airbnb but rustic – tent camping, primitive RV camping, yurts, and cabins, Every site is different so you must check carefully before booking. Prices run from inexpensive to more than we’d ever pay. :-D

  There aren’t many camping opportunities close to Detroit but I found a nice place on Hipcamp that is only 4.5 miles from the Cultural Center Historic District where all of the museum are located and about 8 miles from the center of downtown. It’s an urban farm started by a couple of young guys in 2011. It’s shady, green, peaceful, and somewhat isolated from the neighborhood streets by tall maple and oak trees. There's a little traffic noise from the freeway. Some streets in the surrounding area have empty lots and boarded up houses but on other streets, the houses are all occupied and well cared for.
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The hosts are friendly and busy with the farm work. Most of the produce is already promised to customers who participate in a weekly food box program but we did buy some fresh zucchini and lettuce. The parking area is small so our 25’ motorhome is about the limit.
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  We drove through Detroit a few years ago so the deterioration of the neighborhoods north of downtown didn’t shock us too much. It’s a problem with no easy solution that started in the 1950s when the big auto companies moved to the suburbs. White workers moved to the suburbs. Black workers were unwelcome in the new communities and stayed in the city. The population of the city dropped by 2/3 from a high of 1,800,000 people. Houses and businesses were abandoned. Many of them were set on fire. The city has torn down others but clearing out all of the abandoned buildings is a huge job that will take years. That being said we drove all over the city for four day using surface streets between I – 96 and I-75 and didn’t feel unsafe.  We would definitely visit again and stay on the farm again too.  Food Field  42.38532, -83.1033
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Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Henry Ford Museum

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  In 1914 Henry Ford began collecting historic artifacts, particularly items used by ordinary Americans in small towns and on farms. He also collected machinery that showed the progress of the industrial revolution. A few years later he added houses and buildings that had a personal connection or meaning to him. In 1929 a large museum was built to house the artifacts and the buildings were arranged to form a small town called Greenfield Village. None of this was open to the public as Henry wished it to be used as an experimental, hands-on, learning by doing, free school for local children. There is still a school on the museum grounds but due to many requests the museum and village were opened to the public in 1933.

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  This is really an amazing museum. Ford collected one of a kind items, the first or last to be manufactured, pieces that have an important place in history - an unbelievable amount and variety of things. Themed galleries include agricultural equipment, huge generators and pumps, early airplanes, and all types and eras of vehicles. The exhibit With Liberty and Justice For All follows the quest for freedom from the Revolutionary War to the Civil Rights Movement.

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The buildings in Greenfield Village have also been grouped by theme. Businesses are on Main Street, family homes on Maple Lane, Edison’s buildings on Christie Street, Ford’s shops on Ford Road, and a circle of working craft shops at the Craftworks. Costumed interpreters are stationed at all of the buildings. We found that most of the interpreters are not knowledgeable on the history of the buildings, the time period that they represent, or the people who lived in them - a bit disappointing because of the incredible events that have occurred in these buildings. The workers in the craft shops were all very good though.

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   It’s hard to know how much time to plan for a visit because there are so many things to see in the museum and the village plus there’s a giant screen theater and a Ford truck factory tour. The museum ticket packages don’t make it any easier. Although they will save you a few dollars they’re good for one day only. There is way too much to see in one day. Even if you go fast it takes at least a day for the museum and another for the village. Since we read everything, talk with the interpreters, and generally go very slowly we bought a Companion Membership (two people) which is good for a year of unlimited visits to the museum, the village, and the theater. Do not order a yearly pass online if you are traveling because it will be delivered to your house.

  We ended up visiting for seven days for about four hours each time. We watched all three of the movies. We did not go on the factory tour, get a ride pass, or take the Insider’s Tour. We skipped the factory tour because it isn’t a guided factory floor tour but a self guided catwalk view of part of the factory. We’ve been on enough of both types of factory tours to know there is a big difference between the two. I caught bits of the Insider’s Tour as groups moved through the museum and unless you are very pressed for time it can be skipped. We did not get the ride pass because most of the rides are not accessible.

   Most of the museum is accessible. The Dymaxion House, the combine, the Model T, the train cars, and Rosa Park’s bus, which can all be entered, are not accessible. A few of the hands-on exhibits are not accessible.

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   The sidewalks of the village are accessible but access for the village itself is very poor. Most of the family homes have steps but no ramps.  Other buildings have thresholds that are a couple of inches high. These could be fixed easily but it appears that little thought has been given to access so expect to find accessing the buildings difficult if not impossible. Most of the buildings in the crafts area are accessible. The train is accessible but the other rides require a difficult transfer.

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   Handicapped spaces are located at in the first parking lot on the left as you enter the property. Small RVs may fit however a designated RV parking lot is on the right past the village entrance. It’s a bit of a walk/roll from there to both the museum and village but the curb cuts and sidewalks are in good condition. Museum  42.30424, -83.22789

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