Sunday, August 21, 2011

There’s still a little time left to make a great escape before the upcoming holiday;
you don’t even have to pay for gas!

The latest book by M. Chris Byron and Thomas R. Wilson will whisk you away for a wonderful journey into the past, in “Vintage Views Along the West Michigan Pike” (Arbutus Press, $35).

Subtitled “From Sand Trails to US-31” this over-sized pictorial volume covers significant territory and includes a brief introduction from well-known historian Leroy Barnett.

This isn’t a dry, boring, scholarly history book with detailed, mostly outdated, heavily footnoted information. Instead, it’s a thoughtfully created, attention-grabbing book that’s chock full of memorable images from old photographs and vintage post cards. It’s complemented by striking graphics from many colorful advertisements and travel brochures.

The first chapter provides excellent background history of the West Michigan Pike, showing how the scenic route was developed, constructed, expanded and promoted. It notes the initial importance of bicyclists and explores further growth from dirt roads to solid pavement.
Classic images abound, including photographs of old gas stations, long departed restaurants and tourist cabins. Unfortunately, many of the buildings shown no longer exist; many sites are long forgotten or barely remembered.

The trip along Lake Michigan’s eastern shoreline begins at Grand Beach and goes all the way up to Mackinaw City, with stops at every minor village, sleepy small town and bustling city en route.

Appropriate maps are also offered; areas like Benton Harbor, Saugatuck, Holland, Grand Haven, Ludington, Frankfort, Traverse City, Charlevoix and Petoskey are all well-represented.

The carefully-researched book also includes a list of illustration credits, a section of bibliography and sources cited and an index. The authors note: “We wanted to portray the sense of adventure and discovery that early motorists experienced along the pike.” They succeed in a grand fashion.

Byron and Wilson, longtime collectors of historic Michigan ephemera, postcards and photos, have turned their hobby into a fascinating endeavor. They have provided an enjoyable and much needed book that’s ideal for tourists, travelers, historians and local libraries.

Their earlier books, “Vintage Views of Leelanau County” and “Vintage Views of the Charlevoix-Petoskey Region”, won Michigan Notable Book Awards from the Library of Michigan. Their third book, “Vintage Views of the Mackinac Straits Region” was published in 2007.

Ray Walsh, owner of East Lansing’s Curious Book Shop,
has reviewed Michigan books and crime novels regularly since 1987.

This review was originally published by the
Lansing State Journal on Sunday, August 21, 2011.

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