Red Arrow Highway

Traverse charming towns that reflect bygone years

I frequently settled back on our patio’s gliding bench to stare up at Holland Township’s tunnel of moss-covered maples, beeches and oaks soaring 15 stories high. They were aesthetically groomed by locals who make tree-trimming their living and pride; two men couldn’t wrap their arms around the base of these trees.

Like anyone else, my teenage days consistently had triumphs and downfalls — the many successes and failures that ring true prior to adulthood. I found solace in the trees’ beauty and oxygen, and the way the invigorating breeze of Lake Michigan shook their branches. I watched autumn gracefully saturate their leaves with brilliant rubies and fiery golds, and listened to squirrels scrimmage and crack open acorn trophies.

No matter what transpired in school or dance rehearsal, I had a sense of belonging. The Lake Michigan coast has a way of developing rapport that nowhere else can; the beaches, roads and local businesses were, and still are, my home. I would grow to become someone who remembered my roots, and impacted business, the economy, the environment and West Michigan Pike culture. Therefore, I was inherently interconnected.

Red Arrow Highway – Photography courtesy of AP Photography & Videography

As an adult, I explore much farther than my childhood backyard — but no matter how far I travel along Michigan’s west coast, the ambiance of lakeshore community overpowers the sand’s peppered coloration or distinct variety of finch. On a sunny mid-summer day, I adventured south along the West Michigan Pike to uncover how we are all affectionately linked to a history much more complex than the daily grind of our own lives. En route, I stopped by several eclectic businesses that offered a glimpse at the busy schedules of entrepreneurs and managers who thrive off the Red Arrow Highway’s modern traffic and historic appeal.

In the early 1950s, a proposal led the way in naming a portion of the West Michigan Pike to honor World War II soldiers — the Red Arrow Division and 32nd Infantry. The artery runs from New Buffalo to Kalamazoo, taking on several names in the communities it passes through, like Lakeshore Drive in St. Joseph; St. Joseph Street in Watervliet, Coloma and Lawrence; Main Street in Hartford; and Michigan Avenue in Paw Paw.

Along my journey, I observed how these Red Arrow Highway communities create a powerful entity that inspire the lakeshore’s character and ensure its continued vitality. Six businesses stood out to me in particular — not only for their products and services, but as icons destined to inspire fresh-coast culture for years to come.

After I was treated to views of Lake Michigan through breaks in the beeches and oaks, my first stop brought me to an all-suite hotel near the shores of Silver Beach.

The Boulevard Inn & Bistro

The Boulevard Inn & Bistro, St. Joseph – Photography courtesy of AP Photography & Videography

Located on a picturesque bluff overlooking the lake, The Boulevard Inn & Bistro in St. Joseph enchanted me with grace and charm. The seven-story 1987 hotel is spacious and beautifully renovated with marble floors, earth tones, rich wood accents and refreshing natural light that immediately put me at ease.

“We receive a mix of vacationers from Chicago, as well as business folk from a lot of different countries,” said Tyler Whitwam, the inn’s assistant general manager. From the heart of St. Joseph’s vibrant downtown, quiet suites offer scenic views of a tree-lined bluff park, Silver Beach and Lake Michigan sunsets.

“We want visitors to feel like they’re at home and taken care of,” Whitwam said. “We’re not pretentious. We want people to come in and have a good time. We’re so close to the beach and it’s such a great atmosphere for families and kids.”

Sarah Lupresto, sales and marketing manager, added, “We hope guests feel a sense of community. Our small town has a lot to offer, such as restaurants, wineries, distilleries and shops. St. Joseph is the perfect destination to relax and take in the spectacular views.”

Just off the main lobby, Whitwam and Lupresto welcomed me to Bistro on the Boulevard, which won Wine Spectator’s Award of Excellence for one of the best restaurant wine lists in the world. The restaurant offers upscale American cuisine made from locally grown ingredients. Both indoor dining and seasonal alfresco dining on a terrace offer lovely views of the St. Joseph lighthouse.

Haymarket Brewery & Taproom

Haymarket Brewery & Taproom, Bridgman – Credit: AP Photography & Videography

I wasn’t expecting much history when I arrived at Bridgman’s Haymarket Brewery & Taproom, but it came about as a welcomed surprise. The business was named after Chicago’s Haymarket Square, the site of the world-famous Haymarket Affair of 1886. That affair, which included a demonstration, riot and bombing, led to the creation of the eight-hour workday and May Day celebrations still held annually around the globe.

Peter Crowley, co-owner and director of fermentation, met his business partner John Neurauter in 2002, and Haymarket’s Chicago location opened in 2010.

“We decided we wanted to do a packaging facility with canning and kegging, so we needed more space than what we had in Chicago,” Crowley said. “In 2015, we started looking between Bridgman and St. Joseph for a piece of land to build on.”

Crowley knew he wanted the business to be near a highway exit and close to a main road. The old Michigan State Police post building on the Red Arrow Highway in Bridgman, which had been empty for three years, made the perfect fit.

As Crowley recounted his story in Haymarket’s merch room, he half-jokingly noted the windows were formerly outfitted with bullet-proof glass.

The business duo had to remove office walls, jail cells and other remnants of law enforcement.

“When we drove in and saw the land, old trees and how much grass there was, and a big, brick building, we were like, ‘Wow,’” Crowley said. “The Red Arrow Highway makes business convenient. You can leave Greenbush Brewing Co., then you’re at Transient Artisan Ales, then you’re here in a few minutes and Watermark Brewing Co. isn’t far. This is the main artery that links all the area’s breweries and wineries together.”

Bridgman’s Haymarket location has now been open for three years. Crowley guided me to the main taproom area, and although we were standing inside, it felt as though we walked outside. An enormous wall was pushed astray, and we overlooked families laughing, enjoying food and beer outdoors.

“I want visitors to feel like they’re at camp — we’re outdoorsy, chill, laid-back and fun,” Crowley said.

The Mathias and Imperial IPAs are Haymarket’s flagship beers, but the Pilsner is the No. 1 seller. In the summer, the Blood Orange Blonde Ale is the brewery’s big hit, which comes out every May.

Crowley has won more than 75 local, national and international brewing awards, including medals from the World Beer Cup, the Great American Beer Festival and the Festival of Wood & Barrel-Aged Beer.

Center of the World Wood Shop

Center of the World Wood Shop, Sawyer – Credit: AP Photography & Videography

I made my way to Center of the World Wood Shop in Sawyer, where co-owner Lorraine Hanover warmly greeted me upon arrival. She told me the woodshop has been in business since 1976, but her husband Terry has been a woodworker all his life. His father and uncle were carpenters, and he grew up around woodworking on a farm.

As Lorraine discussed the development of his craftsmanship, admiration beamed from her eyes. She pointed out his beautiful hand carvings on several bedroom dressers, desks and TV cabinets.

All of the hardwood Terry uses is harvested in Michigan, Indiana or Ohio.

“When I met him, he was teaching high school students industrial arts and photography,” Lorraine said. “He decided he needed to know more about life before he tried to teach anyone else. So, he decided to open a business for himself.”

At that time, Center of the World began as a woodshop, woodcarving school and store, all located in one humble room in New Troy. The shop’s name is derived from the town’s old Center of the World general store, which functioned from 1860 through 1970.

“When we were getting started, the business name had just become available because the Center of the World general store had closed, so we snagged the name and we’ve had it ever since,” Lorraine said.

She pointed out a sign in the main showroom that reads, “If you can’t find it at the Center of the World, seek no farther.” The same saying, she said, was on a sign in the original general store.

“This is now our third incarnation,” Lorraine said. “Now, Terry’s focus is furniture. Most of the furniture we sell is made by Terry. In the old days, I used to do the carving, too, but now I manage the store.

“Originally, about 80% of our customers were second-home owners who traveled the Red Arrow Highway on the weekends, but more and more local people are starting to shop here.”

The current shop, built by Terry in 1983, is surrounded by the hardwood trees that inspire his work. Terry designs and creates his heirloom-quality furniture and cabinetry with the assistance of Phil Mielke and Don Harvey, both dedicated craftsmen. But Terry’s personal touch is on every piece that leaves the shop.

Alchemy Art & Antiques

Alchemy Art & Antiques, Harbert – Credit: AP Photography & Videography

The peculiarities inside Alchemy Art & Antiques are items one wouldn’t suspect to find off the Red Arrow Highway. The shop is filled with vintage furniture, alluring knickknacks and tribal artwork. If I didn’t know better, I may have thought I was entering an art gallery or even a museum.

“If you’re looking for curious objects or historical artifacts from around the world, this is a remarkable place to see that,” co-owner Brandon Nelson proudly said. “This is — 1,000% — not a ma-and-pa antique place. Things here have a historical relevance; some of the items are museum deaccessions.”

Alchemy opened in 2016 after Coldwell Banker sold its building on the Red Arrow Highway. Nelson said it was nice to open a shop on the main thoroughfare, but it was really the building’s architecture he was drawn to.

Most of the items sold at Alchemy come from antique shows and auctions. He and his wife, Lisa, travel all around the country specifically seeking items to captivate their customers. They also are owners of Three Oaks’ Trilogy Antiques & Design, which has been selling items of similar sensibilities since 2008.

“We don’t sell a single thing anybody needs; it’s all vintage and antique curiosities, and historical fragments,” Nelson said. “There are some odd things here, but they’re not just randomly here. We have esoteric sensibilities.”

Nelson said his work is an investigation of his own interests and that he’s grateful for people who are intrigued by similar oddities.

“This area is remarkable — it’s tied to the Chicago arts community and the Chicago community in general. There are some amazing people who come through here.”

U.S. 12 Speed & Custom

U.S. 12 Speed & Custom, New Buffalo – Credit: AP Photography & Videography

The Red Arrow Highway is located between Detroit and Chicago, making the perfect location for U.S. 12 Speed & Custom. A car sits upon the shop’s roof — an uncommon characteristic that makes travelers like myself want to see what’s revving up.

“We’ve been in this building since 2011,” said owner Rocky Troxell, as he toweled his hands sheathed with auto fluids. “It was an automotive school back in the ’60s. The building worked out really well for what we are doing.”

Troxell’s father has a hot rod shop in Bridgman called Troxell’s Specialty Cars, about 12 miles north of U.S. 12 Speed & Custom.

“I grew up going to the dragstrip and swap meets,” Troxell said. “I fell in love with cars at a young age and always liked working on them.”

The shop started off with only Troxell and one other employee, but it has grown to employ eight talented auto buffs.

“We focus on hot rods, race cars and restorations,” Troxell said. “If someone brings in a car that’s not running correctly, we’ll work on that. We also can create a total-build from scratch — starting from steel on the floor. We have a full paint shop, and in the fabrication area outback, we build our own chassis.”

The shop’s main focus? Whether it’s a small or large job, the priority is always high-quality.

“That’s what sets us apart,” he said. “Unfortunately, we see a lot of jobs that have been started by other shops that we have to finish, which can be discouraging. It’s always better when we can start the project first. We have a lot of great artists here who have good visions on what a car is supposed to look like.”

Troxell’s team has put v8 engines on motorcycles, and even built a twin-Henney based on a Hot Wheels car a customer liked as a child. He expressed there aren’t as many hot rod shops as there used to be, so U.S. Speed & Custom has a large coverage area.

“I always hear, ‘Man, I can’t believe there is a place like this around here,’” Troxell said. “But being between Detroit and Chicago, this area seems to have a lot of people who are in love with cars. There are a lot of gear-heads on this stretch.”

Red Arrow Roadhouse

Union Pier

Red Arrow Roadhouse, Union Pier – Credit: AP Photography & Videography

Before I turned back north, I knew I had to stop at Red Arrow Roadhouse in Union Pier; it’s a consistent favorite among locals and vacationers alike. The restaurant is known for barbecue ribs, Great Lakes whitefish and roasted chicken. In the summer, co-owner and visionary Tim Trout gets a little more creative with fresh, local ingredients.

Bars and restaurants have always called the circa-1938 building home. Before Red Arrow Roadhouse, it was Don’s Bar, and before that, it was Wayne’s Club. Historic signs from the original businesses still perch on walls overhead, honoring guests as they eat.

“My husband, Tim, bought the building from Don nearly 32 years ago,” said Jennifer Trout, co-owner. “Tim wanted a restaurant that was casual with good, cooked-from-scratch food. It has become a really great local place and a tourist place as well.”

When Don and Norma Arnold closed their bar in 1988, no business in the area recognized the Red Arrow Highway name. Tim wanted to change that, as this specific building was an original tourist stop along the historic thoroughfare. Behind the restaurant, I could see the façade of an old six-room motel still standing.

“There are all these great cottages and rentals around here, so a lot of people come from Chicago and Detroit to spend the week,” Jennifer said. “We try to feed them as many meals as we can. A lot of people still take the Red Arrow Highway for the restaurants, antique businesses, winetasting rooms and breweries.”

Jennifer said she wanted the roadhouse’s guests to feel at home, and to walk away with an authentic Michigan experience. Afterall, the staff itself is made up of generations of families who call the area home.

“There’s one server now who’s going to college — and her parents put themselves through college working here,” Jennifer said. “One of our managers, Travis, has his mother and sister working here. We also have a couple servers who are sisters. Because it’s been nearly 32 years since we first opened, so many people who were young then got married, had kids and now the kids bring in their kids.”

Jennifer tenderly said her husband is the inspiration behind the menu — and that his creativity is what sparks continued business.

“The local people and long-time customers know about his creative talent. Our specials are called ‘Tim has been cooking.’”

After an eventful summer day, road signs with a red arrow insignia guided me back north to Holland Township. A smile adorned my lips as I recalled the accomplished characters I met who, like me, put down interconnected roots along the Lake Michigan coast.

Whether a manager of a charming hotel or a fermenter of simply great beer, an ardent antiquarian or a traveler like myself, the people found along the Red Arrow Highway and within Lake Michigan’s coastal communities are inherently linked to a beautiful story well worth a drive. Together, we create a linked community that will transcend our time and welcome Lake Michigan’s coastal generations to come.


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