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History and Stories from McCourtie Park, Somerset, MI

Posted by Dawn DuBois on May 2, 2011 at 8:23 PM

  McCourtie Park is a fascinating place. Having grown up close to it I have spent a lot of time there, doing anything from ghost hunting, to letterboxing, to sledding and picnicking. If you haven't been there, I suggest you try to make a trip, it is a certain unique experience.

  I had posted in the pictures section and the personal accounts section of the experiences that seem paranormal I have had there, but here I would like to add a few articles and some information on the place in general. Hopefully we will doing a further investigation there this summer.

 

 

McCourtie Park

Garden creates fantasy out of cement!

SOMERSET CENTER -- As dusk approaches and the winds ruffle the autumn leaves, their shades of gold and red casting a kaleidoscope of colors in the bubbling brook that winds its way through McCourtie Park, you might catch a glimpse of a woman dressed in a long blue gown moving quietly across a bridge.

Or is she wearing black? Ghost hunters disagree on the color of her dress, but the suggestion of a gentle ghostly presence is just one of the unique features of this roadside park in the tiny hamlet of Somerset Center, just east of Lenawee County’s Irish Hills.

W.H.L. McCourtie, owner of the now-defunct Trinity Portland Cement Co., in Cement City, along Highway 127, had a fondness for concrete and whimsy. His estate, known as Aiden Lair, was the perfect place to create a fantastical garden. It looks like a fairy tale run amok. Cement chimneys created to look like tree trunks rise out of an underground rathskeller built into the side of a hill where McCourtie (known as Herb to his friends) played poker with such Detroit bigwigs as auto baron Henry Ford.

Local lore says tunnels ran underground here, perfect for bootleggers to smuggle liquor for those all-night poker games. A total of 17 cement folk art-style bridges cross the meandering stream on the 42-acre property.

These unique sculptures, called El Trabejo Rustico, Spanish for rustic work, were created by Mexican artisans Dionicio Rodriquez and Ralph Corona of Texas. McCourtie had made it rich as a Texas oil man before returning home to Somerset. Also known by the French term, faux bois, or fake wood, it's a complex process of shaping, molding, staining and adding texture to the concrete so it looks real.

For years almost a forgotten technique, this early- to mid-20th century folk art is now enjoying a resurgence in interest.

Built in the early 1930s, each bridge is unique and beckons walkers to cross over and into wooded glades which, in the fall, are ablaze with color. One bridge, surely a home for hobbits, has the look of a thatched cottage, albeit a cement one.

A simpler bridge is designed to resemble an old-fashioned swinging bridge, the cement scored to replicate ropes and wood; planked seats, also out of cement, invite visitors to stop halfway across and rest.

Weeping willows crowd the sides of the stream, dripping long, feathery branches onto the waters. Secret glens offer seating and elaborate birdhouses, including several tall purple martin houses that can shelter more than 200 birds.

Interestingly, this place of enchantment, located just off Highway 127, on historic US 12, now designated as a Heritage Trail, often is empty, though it is just off the highway. Maybe gnomes have stolen the signs marking it as a park, so look for street signs. It is on the northwest corner of US 12 and South Jackson Road. After turning north off of US 12, take the unmarked road on your left.

There is no admission fee, and, if you're lucky, you may catch a glimpse of the wandering ghost, referred to, affectionately, as The Lady in Blue.

Jane Ammeson is a freelance writer based in southwestern Michigan

Press News Service - Grand Rapids Press

Sunday, September 16, 2007

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Here is a great link to the park, with driving directions and stories:

http://www.spiritsociety.org/report.php?HauntID=2

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McCourtie Park (The Bridge Park) Somerset, Michigan

Neighborhood: 12715 East Chicago Road

Somerset Center, MI 49282

McCourtie Park got its nickname 'The Bridge Park" from the key attractions of the park: 17 bridges that span the stream meandering through the park. Each bridge is its own unique design and no two bridges are exactly alike. Visitors to McCourtie Park can wander the 42 acre estate crossing the stream on the bridges or can set and enjoy nature including the variety of birds attracted to the park by the elaborate bird houses on the grounds.

It isn't however the number of bridges or the natural setting that makes McCourtie Park so unique. It is rather the bridge construction. While the bridges appear to be built from rough trees, planed lumber, heavy rope, and thatch the bridges are in reality nothing but steel rods and concrete. There is no wood at all used on any of the 17 bridges in the park.

McCourtie Park, the 'Bridge Park,' is named for the once owner of the property William H. L. McCourtie. McCourtie first came familiar with cement by W. F. Cowham of Jackson, Michigan in the late 1800s. Shortly after that McCourtie went to Dallas, Texas where he made a sizable amount of money by speculating in oil. In the 1920s McCourtie returned to his family estate in Somerset Center which was at that time named "Aiden Lair".

It's believed that during his time in Texas McCourtie discovered el trabeio rustico, (Spanish for rustic work) the Mexican tradition of sculpting wet concrete to make it look like wood. Around 1930 McCourtie hired

McCourtie Park (The Bridge Park) Somerset, Michigan

Neighborhood: 12715 East Chicago Road

Somerset Center, MI 49282

United States of America two Mexican artists George Cardoso and Ralph Corona to construct the bridges that now decorate the W.H. L. McCourtie Estate. The two 'trees' that stand guard at the front of the property are also constructed by the same el trabeio rustico method and serve as chimneys for the underground rathskeller (an underground tavern) and garages.

Stories Connected to Aiden Lair, The McCourtie Estate, and The Bridge Park:

1) Rumor not proven - in the mid-1800s Aiden Lair was one of the stops for slaves escaping to Canada.

2) Story fact, William McCourtie offered white paint to anyone in Somerset Center to paint their houses in an attempt to beautify the town.

3) The McCourtie Estate rathskeller was frequented by Detroit automobile manufacturer Henry Ford who would join McCourtie for all night poker parties.

4) Fact the McCourtie estate is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

5) Rumor - that the same tunnels used to aid freedom bound slaves were also used for running bootleg liquor during the prohibition period in Michigan.

The most talked about story connected to McCourtie Park is "The Lady in Blue". Yes, the Bridge Park in Somerset Center, Michigan has a ghost. While she is referred to as the Lady in Blue some have said she's wearing black not blue but all say she's a beautiful lady in a long dress that wanders the grounds. Reports say the Lady in Blue has been seen around the rathskeller and drifting across the bridges in the park. There has to this point been no suggestion as to who she might be or why she roves this peaceful bridge park.

Besides the 17 bridges at McCourtie Park, Somerset Center, Michigan you will also find a large pavilion, picnic tables, and outdoor grills. Other amenities at the Bridge Park include tennis courts, playground equipment, a ball diamond, and outdoor restrooms.

Located on US-12 between US-127 and Coldwater the Bridge Park is situated on the northwest corner of S. Jackson Rd. and US-12 the unmarked entrance to McCourtie Park is off S. Jackson Rd. The park is about 10 miles west of Brooklyn, Michigan, 20 miles south of Jackson, Michigan, and 30 miles east of Coldwater, Michigan.

Other attractions near McCourtie Park include Michigan International Speedway (MIS) just south of Brooklyn, Meckley's Flavor Fruit Farm less than a mile north of the park on South Jackson Rd, and numerous quaint

McCourtie Park (The Bridge Park) Somerset, Michigan

Neighborhood: 12715 East Chicago Road

Somerset Center, MI 49282

United States of America antique shops in Somerset Center. There are several very nice lakes within a few miles of McCourtie Park among them Lake LeAnn and Somerset Lake. Numerous motels and campgrounds can be found in or around Jackson and Brooklyn, Michigan.

On the sign at the front of McCourtie Park in Somerset Center, Michigan are the words 'At the height of the Great Depression, McCourtie offered his estate as a place "Where Friends Meet Friends and Part More Friendly."'

 

By:Faith Draper

Categories: None

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3 Comments

Reply Crystal Parney
4:45 PM on March 6, 2013 
Hello, my name is Crystal Parney. I am a writer and I am researching McCourtie Park for my next novel. My novel is based in the mid 1920s, during the height of the jazz age and prohibition. I want to use McCourtie Park and the legends surrounding the park as backdrops in my story. I've been digging around and finding small quantities of information. I was curious if anyone on this particular site could help me. Thanks so much!

Crystal Parney
Reply Jeff Allen
11:43 PM on September 1, 2013 
Crystal Parney
[/Crystal Parney]
Reply Jeff
11:48 PM on September 1, 2013 
Hi Crystal I lived there when I was a kid you can contact me if you like