Rarely can a museum capture the imagination of all ages, yet immerse its visitors immediately. On a tip from a friend, I took a trip out to Charlton Park on the south-east side of Hastings, Michigan. This park is of local pride and not as well known in the nearby Grand Rapids metropolitan area. Basically, the old buildings of Hastings have been relocated to this single park like a wild game preserve. Along the banks of the Thornapple River, you will find the old Hastings Bank as well as the original town hall. Best of all, admission is FREE! Visit on a weekday and you will have the entire park to explore by yourself.
As you enter the old hardware store--and all the stores for that matter--make sure to look for the nuances of each shop. On the left of the hardware store is a large section of drawers. Wood workers will cringe thinking of the time and effort it took to fabricate each drawer on ancient equipment. It's truly a work of art. Also, look for the little things like the set of antique doorknobs in the back that customers could choose from.
The general store is inspiring. The trim on the ceiling is fancy and it is always fascinating to see some of the toys, foods, and other essentials that were available a century ago.
This park is so well done that I often felt like an intruder. I expected a Bonanza character to walk out of a store at any time and look at me like I was the unusual one. Six-shooters and spurs feel more normal than tennis shoes and t-shirts. The bank was closed when I visited. Make sure to call ahead and find out when they are open. They have a huge elk mount behind the teller's station. As I looked in the bank window, I could easily envision a teller with old fashioned clothes doing paperwork. As for the print shop, the simplest advice I can give is to take in the sights and smells.
The barbershop is the man's joint. I would love to have a shave done there. It's bright and looks ready for customers. I could see gents shooting the breeze, picking out their favorite cigar from the counter, and telling a whopper of a fish or hunting story.
When you walk through the doors of many of the buildings, prepared for a traffic jam at the entrance. I couldn't help but stop and stare at the grandeur of the moment. The scene will overwhelm the senses. Volunteers and staff have put in their time and it shows. It feels fully functional and ready to go for another day of teaching, working, or living.
Make sure to look at the Sixberry House closest to the river. On the right side of the house, you will find a vintage man-cave. Interestingly, the man who built it served under George Armstrong Custer. Fortunately, his service was not at Little Big Horn. The only Little Big Horn that he encountered is apparently with his chair.
The park has much more to offer than things listed here. The park also has a boat launch, spacious grasslands for some ultimate frisbee, wooded trails, and many events scheduled through the summer and some holidays. Check out their website here. Also, after a long day of exploring and walking, make sure you go visit another of my blog subjects just east of there, Moo-ville Creamery. There are plenty of learning opportunities for children and plenty of antiquities for collectors to admire. These buildings have seen their share of America's past. I cannot comprehend the meetings and quarrels that the original town hall may have had, the bright minds that came from the one-room schoolhouse, or the good, ol' fashioned, American work ethic that came from their rustic industries. At Charlton Park, let your imagination run wild.