Walker Tavern by Cletus Brooks
In the days when stagecoaches stopped regularly, Walker Tavern offered travelers a welcome break from the road. It still does. But today instead of food, drink and lodging, the tavern serves up a dose of Michigan history. Located at the crossroads of US 12 and M-50 in the green and rolling Irish Hills, Walker Tavern has been a wayside inn, a roadside tourist attraction and a state historic park.
After the Erie Canal opened in 1825, thousands of settlers flocked to the Michigan Territory. Two roads moved pioneers west from Lake Erie: the Monroe Pike, running from Monroe to Jackson, and the Chicago Road (present-day US 12). These two roads met at Cambridge Junction, which made it a great location for a tavern. However, travel was arduous. Roads were full of ruts, bogs and tree stumps. A stagecoach driver’s goal was to travel fifty miles in a day, but oftentimes there were complications. As one traveler in the 1830s pointed out, “As soon as we had entered the woods, the roads became as bad as, I suppose, roads ever are. Something snapped, and the driver cried out that we were ‘broke to bits.’”
Named after owners Sylvester and Lucy Walker, the tavern became a prosperous business and a thriving community hub. Two stages stopped there each day and at any one time there might be ten to twenty wagons lined up waiting for accommodations. Stagecoach driver Francis A. Dewey recorded, “Men of every class and condition of life from the earliest times would stretch out their day’s drive to reach the hospitable roof of the Walker’s hotel … People flocked in each evening to receive their mail and hear the news brought in from the east and from the west … Sometimes the crowd numbered 50 or 75 and oftentimes their drunken shouts resounded far into the night.” By the 1860s trains replaced stagecoaches as the fast and fashionable way to travel and the railroad line bypassed Cambridge Junction. Stagecoach driver Francis Dewey purchased the tavern and he and his family farmed the land for over fifty years.
Today, Walker Tavern Historic Complex is part of the Michigan Historical Museum system, and offers a variety of summer events-everything from Civil War re-enactments to vintage auto shows (that link has a lot more history, events, info and here’s a map).
You can check out a set of photos from the 2007 Civil War Weekend at the Walker Tavern Historic Site and (if you’d like to snap some pictures of your own) how about this:
The community is invited to come and enjoy a Farmers and Friends Picnic at Walker Tavern Historic Site Sunday, June 29. The full day of free family events is modeled after a community picnic held in the Irish Hills in 1908. There will be vintage baseball, old-time games, a farmers’ market and a potluck lunch. The festivities will begin at 10 a.m. and continue until 3 p.m. at Walker Tavern, located at the crossroads of U.S.12 and M-50. Just like in 1908, admission is free and worth twice the price. (read more)
For more on summer destinations see the current issue of Michigan History magazine. For information call (800) 366-3703 or visit www.michiganhistorymagazine.com.