Frankenmuth, Michigan


In Frankenmuth, Michigan, they channel their German heritage to great advantage.  The community embraced its roots and architecturally transformed itself to look like a Bavarian village.  This started in the 1950s in a move to increase tourism.  The result today is a town with the look and feel of a theme park, and it’s been successful.  Frankenmuth now has over three million visitors annually.


To learn some background about the area, we started our visit at the Frankenmuth Historical Museum.  It’s a small museum, but very nicely done.  We left with a good understanding of the German immigration to Michigan.

The town’s original settlers came from Mittelfranken in the Franconia area of Germany (south-central part of the country).  They arrived in the United States in August 1845, and named their colony Frankenmuth by combining the name of their home region, Franconia, with mut, the German word for courage.  It was to be an exclusively German Lutheran area, loyal to the Mother Country, and speaking the German language

To make a living, many of the immigrants became farmers while others, who were businessmen and craftsmen in Germany, continued on with their same trades in flour, lumber, and woolen mills.  They also produced cheese and sausage, and of course, beer.  Today many of these products still drive the local economy.



Just down the street from the museum is the Bavarian Inn with its shops and restaurants.   There’s a fine bakery in the lower level.

Be sure to catch one of the Glockenspiel shows in the bell tower on the south side of the building.  Four times a day the thirty-five bell Glockenspiel plays German and American music.  That’s followed by a performance of the Pied Piper with wooden figures on a track and stage, like a giant cuckoo clock.


While you’re at the Bavarian Inn, you can eat some hearty German fare at one of their three restaurants.



Or across the street is the well-known Zehnder’s of Frankenmuth.  They can seat 1500 people and offer all-you-can-eat family style chicken.


In that neighborhood you’ll also find the Holtz Brucke (“wooden bridge” in German).  It’s a 239-foot covered bridge that spans the Cass River.  As expected, its architecture has a Bavarian twist. It’s relatively new as covered bridges go; the dedication ceremony was held in September 1980.  You can drive or bicycle through or walk across on the pedestrian walkways on either side.



If you like festivals, you may want to visit during the annual Oktoberfest.  In 1996, Frankenmuth’s Oktoberfest became the first to operate with the blessing of the original Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany.  And for the first time in history, the famous Hofbrauhaus brewery in Munich exported their beer to the United States.  Because of that connection, Frankenmuth’s Oktoberfest was moved to September to coincide with the opening of the Munich event.  (In 2017, the Frankenmuth Oktoberfest will be held September 14-17th in Heritage Park.)

After the fall events, it’s time to think about Christmas.  A popular business in town is Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland.  It’s considered the world’s largest Christmas store, and you know there’s serious square footage when they hand you a map as you walk in.  The building is the size of five and a half football fields.  Over 50,000 items fill the aisles, but ornaments are displayed in categories like santas, snowmen, cats, etc., so it’s actually fairly easy to find something.

Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland


St. Lorenz Lutheran Church is another reminder of the German heritage in Frankenmuth.  This beautiful, historic church was constructed in 1880, and has a soaring, 167-foot spire.  Tours are available during the week or attend a Sunday service.  On the second Sunday of each month, a service is offered in the German language.

The Frankenmuth motto says: Built on Tradition, Made for Memories.   You’ll enjoy visiting “Michigan’s Little Bavaria.”





The Lincoln Highway

Summer is the favorite time for road trips, and decades ago, the Lincoln Highway was the great American driving adventure.  It was the first coast-to-coast route across the country, spanning from New York City to San Francisco.


It started back in 1912 when a businessman named Carl Fisher, who was involved in the automotive industry, had the grand idea to map out a highway across the nation.  He gathered together his fellow industrialists and they proposed “a continuous improved highway from the Atlantic to the Pacific, open to lawful traffic of all description, without toll charges, and to be a lasting memorial to Abraham Lincoln.”

While earlier names such as “The Coast-to-Coast Rock Highway” and “The Ocean-to-Ocean Highway” were considered, it was eventually named the Lincoln Highway in memory of our sixteenth president.  Promoters thought a patriotic slant would offer more appeal to the general public.

An association was formed, and by September of 1913, the route was made public.  It passed through 13 states and covered 3,389 miles.


It should be noted that the Lincoln Highway was not a specific road building project – it was a marketing project.  It used signs and guide books to get people out on the road where they would spend money.   Travelers could expect to drive on wagon trails, around fences, and through small towns on Main Streets.  Fisher and his fellow promoters envisioned the automobile and highways changing Americans and their lives.  It did.

1928 Lincoln Highway Markers

By the mid 1920s, named roads such as the Lincoln Highway were converted to numbered highways.  Route 66 was established in 1926 and became one of the most famous roads in American history.  The Lincoln Highway, affectionately known as the “Main Street Across America.,” began to fade away.  The last big event associated with the Lincoln Highway was held in September 1928.  At that time, Boy Scouts across the nation placed nearly 3,000 markers at sites along the route.

A renewed interest in the Lincoln Highway occurred in the late 1980s and early 1990s.  The Lincoln Highway Association was revived and plans were made to celebrate the 100th Anniversary in 2013.  A new generation of travelers who were tired of the generic interstate routes were re-discovering the small town charms of the Lincoln Highway.

There are excellent history lessons on this road.  One example is Gettysburg, Pennsylvania where the highway takes you right through the heart of the downtown area.  A few blocks away is Soldiers’ National Cemetery; there President Lincoln delivered his famous Gettysburg Address in November 1863.

Lincoln Highway Marker in downtown Gettysburg, PA
Soldiers’ Cemetery & Gettysburg address site

The Lincoln Highway also has some lighter stops along the way.  Fort Cody Trading Post in North Platte, Nebraska, is full of road kitsch and other souvenirs.


And standing tall in the stockade area of the fort is Muffler Man.  He’s been made over to honor Chief Crazy Horse.



It’s fitting that Illinois, the Land of Lincoln, has many noteworthy sites.

In Geneva you’ll find a vintage gas station that has been re-purposed into a bank.  The business was originally a Pure Oil Station, built in 1937 in the English Cottage style.   Notice the clever way the former service bays have been changed over to drive-up windows.



The Illinois Lincoln Highway Coalition decided to paint murals and install gazebos along their 179 miles of the Lincoln Highway.  There are a total of thirty-five murals and sixteen gazebos, each telling a specific story about the highway.  You can visit the Illinois Lincoln Highway website to get a complete list.  The mural below is located on a building at the corner of Lincoln Highway and Seventh Street in DeKalb.


Although the Lincoln Highway wasn’t about building roads per se, the Lincoln Highway Association secured donations to fund “seedling miles.”  They went into a community and put down a mile of concrete road.   Promoters wanted to show the public the advantages of good roads and to rally support for government sponsored or private paving beyond that seedling mile.

Gazebo in Malta, Illinois

In 1914, the very first seedling mile was laid in Malta, Illinois, a small town just west of DeKalb.  Today there is a gazebo at Kishwaukee Community College to tell the story of this project.

After the Lincoln Highway Association was re-activated in 1992, a site in Franklin Grove was designated the National Headquarters in 1996.  Interestingly enough, this former dry goods store was built in 1860 by Harry Lincoln, a distant cousin of the president.

Lincoln Highway National Headquarters, Franklin Grove, Illinois

Another unique road stop is De Immigrant Windmill and Cultural Center in Fulton.  It sits on the banks of the Mississippi River and marks the last Lincoln Highway community in Illinois before crossing over into Iowa.  The windmill was built in the Netherlands , taken apart, and re-assembled in Fulton.  Dedication ceremonies were held in May 2000.  You can tour the site and purchase flour ground in the windmill.



Today, the Lincoln Highway still allows travelers an opportunity to see interesting landscape and experience history.  A detour off the interstate promises to be worth the extra time!