Book reveals history of Detroit’s forgotten streetcars


Capital News Service

LANSING — Detroit once was home to the world’s largest municipally owned streetcar enterprise, an industry with a history stretching from the city’s early founding through the 1950s.

Now a new book, “The Thirty-Year War: The History of Detroit Streetcars, 1892-1922” by Neil Lehto, provides an in-depth look at the origins and development of that public transportation system.

Lehto is an attorney representing Michigan townships and villages in cases involving public utilities, with a focus on telecommunications. Before he was a lawyer, Lehto cut his teeth working for a Royal Oak newspaper while attending Wayne State University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism.

The combination of municipal law and journalism fueled his desire to write the book.

“I had the occasion to write an article about the renewal of the Detroit Edison franchise in the city of Berkeley,” said Lehto, who lives there. “And I became curious about public utility franchises and their regulation because it seems to be kind of peculiar.” Continue reading

Poet researched Great Lakes’ wrecks for new collection


Capital News Service

LANSING — A 200-pound ship’s radiator interrupted a funeral in 1922 when it plunged from the sky and into the Falk Undertaking Parlors on Military Street in Port Huron.

It came from the Omar D. Conger, a ship blown to pieces when its boiler exploded while docked at Port Huron.

“That part is accurate! It happened! And that’s just bizarre!” said poet Cindy Hunter Morgan, an assistant professor of creative writing at Michigan State University. “When I read that, I thought, I’ve got to build a poem around that.”

And she did. From that poem: Continue reading

Course for 5K goes over and under airport runway


Capital News Service

LANSING — Runners, lace up. In October, you’ll get the chance to race on an actual airport runway, and maybe duck under a 747.

Talk about creative land use. The Gerald R. Ford International Airport recently announced plans for a 5K race on Saturday, Oct. 7.

“It’s a bucket list-type thing,” said Tara Hernandez, the director of marketing and communications at the airport.

Post-9/11, people probably didn’t think they’d have opportunities to do stuff like that, she said. Continue reading

Childhood interest in Great Lakes freighters grew into book


Capital News Service

LANSING — Power is clear in every curve and edge of the freighters that cut through the blue-gray waters of the Great Lakes.

It’s a familiar sight to those living within view of the shipping industry that plays such a key role in the region’s economy.

And it’s one that fascinated Frank Boles, who grew up in Lincoln Park and fed his interest in large cargo ships during childhood trips to Bishop Park on the Detroit River.

“I realized early on that I did not have the stomach to be a good sailor,” Boles said. “Roller coasters persuaded me of that. I admired them from afar.” Continue reading

New book paddles through history on canoe


Courting on Grand Canal in Belle Isle Park in the Detroit River, with Detroit, Michigan, on one side and Windsor, Ontario, on the other, c. 1900. Note the Victrola mounted in the canoe in the foreground. Image: Detroit Publishing Company Collection, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Courting on Grand Canal in Belle Isle Park in the Detroit River, with Detroit, Michigan, on one side and Windsor, Ontario, on the other, c. 1900. Note the Victrola mounted in the canoe in the foreground. Image: Detroit Publishing Company Collection, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.


Capital News Service

LANSING — Before everyone had a car, young lovers made out in canoes.

In the early 20th century, Michigan’s Belle Isle Park on the Detroit River was one of a few hot spots for the “canoedling” fad. Couples could rent or buy canoes especially designed for courting. The front seats in these canoes faced the rear, so the couple could look at each other while paddling. A Belle Isle suitor could outfit his canoe with a Victrola record player, rugs for the floor, backrests and pillows to keep his lady comfortable. Continue reading

Old bikes get recycled into burgeoning rental programs


Capital News Service

LANSING — As the number of abandoned bikes grows on college campuses, bike rental programs flourish.

In New York, abandoned bikes are recycled or trashed. In Denver, they are auctioned and the proceeds go to the city’s general fund. Elsewhere they are donated to charities.

In Michigan, some colleges are recycling them into bike rental programs.

The University of Michigan and Western Michigan University have programs stocked with brand new bikes. Some universities such as Grand Valley State and Michigan State University save money by reusing bikes left behind by students.

Abandoned bikes are an excellent resource to get a bike rental program started, said Tim Potter, sustainable transportation manager at Michigan State.

“It’s a very cost-effective, environmentally-friendly way to start up a bike program and perhaps grow it into a full-on bike center,” Potter said. “People really start to get behind it when you can show some activity.” Continue reading

State groups dispute how downtowns spend special millages


LANSING– A dispute between the state groups representing counties and downtowns has erupted over the way tax money is spent.

Michigan Association of County officials say some special millage tax dollars that could be spent on senior citizens, veterans and other causes get diverted into a popular tax strategy for helping downtowns.

A five-bill package was recently introduced in the House of Representatives to improve the oversight and transparency of groups capturing this tax revenue. Cosponsors are Reps. Lee Chatfield, R-Levering; Lana Theis,R- Brighton; Amanda Price; R-Park Township; Pat Somerville R-New Boston; and David Mature, R- Vicksburg.

The issue is over Tax Increment Financing, called TIF for short.

“Downtowns support the bulk of economic development, so this is a powerful tool to provide a way for the county as a whole to give back to downtowns that sustain their communities,” said Kent Wood, director of government relations for the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce and the Northern Michigan Chamber Alliance. “And there’s not a lot of tools we’ve got left in the toolbox.” Continue reading

Ancient mounds show how people lived before Columbus


Capital News Service

LANSING — Down a narrow rural road in southwestern Michigan, an empty corner has neatly mowed grass and two tiny rolling hills.

The mounds would likely go unnoticed if not for a small historical marker that most drivers pass without slowing.

But hidden beneath the unremarkable ground lie answers to Michigan’s ancient past.

This and similar earthworks sites tell us how ancient hunters and gatherers interacted with their environment in a time before written language documented how they lived. Unlike the majority of mounds across Michigan, these survived development, agriculture and human curiosity.

The Sumnerville Mounds in Cass County’s Pokagon Township, a short distance north
of the Indiana border, date to sometime between the first and fourth century, according to archaeologists. Continue reading

Flint through different lenses


Capital News Service

LANSING — I got to know Scott Atkinson in a Land Rover rattling through the Australian Outback.

That was in 2004 when he was a student in my study abroad class.  I figured him for Hemingway-like aspirations. Within days of our arrival, he bought a kangaroo-hide hat that rocked an Indiana Jones vibe.

He wrote about our Aboriginal guide, a man who sought his ancient roots – connections that had been severed by a government policy that produced what is now called Australia’s Stolen Generation.

“He may not yet be Hemingway, but the kid knows a good story,” I thought.

Still does.


“Happy Anyway: A Flint Anthology.” Credit: Belt Publishing

A dozen years later, Atkinson, a former Flint Journal reporter who now teaches writing at the University of Michigan-Flint, has compiled an anthology of stories about America’s industrial Outback.
Continue reading

Retired zoologist reveals unseen life through his art


Capital News Service

LANSING — James Atkinson’s art draws inspiration from a plethora of microscopic life found in a single drop of pond water.

The St. Clair County artist paints from still images taken from videos of organisms that the retired zoologist shoots through a microscope. Filming the critters began as a way to engage students during his teaching career at Michigan State University.

Painting came toward the end of his 43-year academic career, he said. “I wanted to get people in general to realize how beautiful these creatures are, so I decided to start painting.”


Artist James Atkinson prepares to video microscopic organisms. Credit: Josh Bender

Capturing microscopic fauna in a way that shows their relationship to the larger environment requires a keen eye that blends scientific and artistic skills, he said.
Continue reading