The US – 12 Heritage Trail is a scenic destination that beckons the traveler to journey its winding roads, meet its people, explore its places and uncover its hidden treasures.
It took centuries to develop the US-12 highway. It began as the Sauk Trail, created by Native Americans, and later became the Detroit and Chicago Road. It was the road that connected man, commerce, culture and nature over the decades. It was designated as the US-12 Heritage Trail because of the historic background and attractions still present along the route.
The US-12 Heritage Trail was originally identified as the route from Detroit to the Village of Clinton. In 2004, the entire length of US – 12 was added to the designation.
Join us on a visual journey of the Heritage Trail through the Irish Hills and Brooklyn.
On June 9, 2004 the entire length of US-12 was designated as a Historic Heritage Route known as the US-12 Heritage Trail. Additionally, those community and cultural resources which border the existing US-12 have also been included within the designated corridor – namely, the Irish Hills and the Village of Brooklyn.
On US-12, the Davenport House across from Evans Lake, is a historic landmark on the eastern edge of the Irish Hills. The Davenport House was built in 1839 and used as a stagecoach stop. This site is on the National Register of Historic Places.
As you travel westward on US-12, the W.J. Hayes State Park appears on the north side of the road. The park, established in 1920, covers 654 acres and provides campsites, picnic areas, sandy beaches, swimming, and water equipment rentals.
On the south side of US-12 are the historic Irish Hills Towers built in 1924. They are a landmark of the area. A campaign to save the towers is in progress. This site is on the National Register of Historic Places.
At one time, the Irish Hills referred to a 1 1/2 square mile area of rolling hills and crystal clear lakes along US-12 settled by Irish immigrants between 1830 -1850. They built the historic St. Joseph Shrine Catholic Church in 1863. The Trabajo Rustico styled Stations of the Cross were created by noted cement artist, Ralph Corona, in the 1930’s.
A newly constructed memorial built in 2004 on the grounds of St. Joseph Shrine is called, An Gorta Mor Famine Memorial. It was built with a stone from the wharf used by early Irish immigrants when departing Ireland during the Great Potato Famine of 1846.
The Siam School sits on the corner of Person Highway and US-12. It was opened in 1862 and was named after Chief Siam, a Potawatomi Indian, who let his children attend that school.
The historic crossroads of US-12 and M-50 was named Cambridge Junction. On the northwest corner is Cambridge Historic State Park which is the site of the original Walker Tavern and the historic Hewitt House built in 1929 by Rev. Frederick Hewitt, who purchased the Walker Tavern site. On the southwest corner stands the Brick Walker Tavern newly restored as of 2013.
US-12 then referred to as the Old Sauk Trail and M-50 referred to as LaPlaisance Bay Turnpike intersected. This junction had become a major route in the 1830’s which resulted in a need for lodgings. In 1832 Sylvester Walker built Walker Tavern. The inn provided little comfort except for a place to sleep, eat and drink.
Walker’s business had become so lucrative that he built the Brick Walker Tavern across the street. The new brick building offered private rooms, a dining hall
and on the third story, a dance hall.
It is now privately owned.
St. Michael & All Angels Episcopal Church, just to the south of the Brick Walker Tavern was consecrated in 1858. All three sites located at Cambridge Junction are on the National List of Historic Places.
The Cherry Creek Winery, located in the historic Silver Lake School built in 1870 is the western landmark of the Irish
McCourtie Park, originally named “Aiden Lair” was the family home and surrounding property of William H. L. McCourtie. Around 1930, McCourtie hired two Mexican artisans, George Cardoso and Ralph Corona, to build 17 unique and whimsical concrete bridges on the 42 acre park, spanning the winding stream that flowed through the property using a technique known as el trabejo rustico, a Mexican folk art tradition where wet concrete is sculpted to look like wood. In 1987, the estate was made into a public park and in addition to the concrete sculptures contains three tennis courts, a fenced ball diamond, and a picnic area. Admission is free.
North of Cambridge Junction on M-50 is the Village of Brooklyn, known as the Heart of the Irish Hills. As you travel through the Village of Brooklyn, the historic buildings will unfold before your eyes. It is a mecca of small town shopping and history. The buildings still distinguishable for their historic outward appearance have not changed.
The Train Depot located on Monroe Street was constructed in the early 1870s and it was one of the only ways to enter and exit the village of Brooklyn unless it was horse driven. It was owned by the Detroit, Hillsdale, and South Western Railroad Company and connected Ypsilanti, Saline, Manchester, Brooklyn, Jerome, and Hillsdale.
The Cook mansion built with architectural plans from England and it included features unheard of at that time, such as a furnace. A.P. Cook came to Brooklyn in 1838 and proceeded to become a prosperous merchant and store owner, a railroad proponent, and the village president. The Addison P. Cook House is located on Chicago Street and is now occupied by the American Legion.
The Brooklyn Village Office now resides in the prior Brooklyn State Bank Building. It was restored to its original natural beauty in 2012.
The Cosmopolitan Hotel housed a livery stable, a bar in the basement and later during prohibition a “private club’. It continued to be used at a hotel for a many years. Later it was used as an office building and now is occupied by Angel’s Floral and Brooklyn Mid-Michigan ReMax Realty.
Brooklyn churches and faiths were abundant. St. Agnes Catholic Church was built in 1913. The Catholic Diocese of Michigan deconsecrated and gave this building to the village of Brooklyn in 1935 to be used as the Brooklyn Public Library. After a new library was built, the Church building was repurposed over the years as the Village offices, Chamber of Commerce, the Brooklyn Historical collection, and at the present it houses a local business.
The Village has had several influential land owners and residents through the years. Henry Ford of Ford Automotive Company purchased a Brooklyn gristmill in the early 1920’s for construction of a small factory in Brooklyn to produce small parts for his vehicles. Mr. Ford built several of these plants in small towns in order to utilize water-power mills by small bodies of water. Brooklyn was his 15th Village Industry Plant powered by a 66 horse-powered water turbine. It was in July, 1939 that the first products came off the line. In the mid 1960’s the Ford plant was closed and the building sold in 1967. The mill changed hands over the next decades. In 2014 it was purchased and is currently undergoing restoration. It will become The Old Irish Mill, an Irish themed destination spot featuring restaurants, vendors and recreational activities.
South of Cambridge Junction, on M-50 is Hidden lake Gardens. Over 750 acres of rolling land takes you on an adventure through nature under the direction of MSU‘s Horticulture Department. In addition to more than 6 miles of one-way paved drives, and a picnic area perfect for family time, there are nearly 10 miles of hiking trails to allow the visitor a closer look at the beauty the Gardens provides.
Today the Irish Hills embodies the entire 50+ lakes and hills region. The scenery has changed but the history abounds in the Greater Irish Hills Area.