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My Town Monday: Railroads & Growth

In someways, it seems clear that railroads were instrumental in the growth of some towns.

Looking at the towns in Livingston County one can see some interesting differences.

(Here’s a map for reference.)

Howell started small, but saw a great deal of growth towards the end of the 1880s. In 1871, a railline was put in that connected Detroit to Howell, then onwards through Fowlerville and Lansing. Around that same time, Howell managed to get a second line running through the town, this one connected Ann Arbor with points North. This line runs pretty much along the same line that I-96 runs.

Howell was and is the biggest town in Livingston County. It has the largest downtown area. And I’m not talking to modern suburban retail shopping land sprawl. I’m talking honest to goodness, old-time downtown area.

Brighton is the second biggest town, and it sits on the same East-West railroute (now the CSX railway) as Howell. From what I can tell, Brighton grew slower. The main rail station and main destination seemed to be Howell. Brighton’s growth may have come later when auto travel became more popular and US-23 was built (in one or more forms!), running North/South along Brighton between Saginaw and Ann Arbor.

Hartland was a small village for a very long time. It is not near to any railways– one would either have to travel to Holly or to Brighton and make their way overland to reach Hartland. Hartland’s also not along any rivers. When US-23 was constructed as a limited access highway, the ramps were built north of the town at Clyde Road and south of the town at M-59. The M-59/US-23 junction has been growing with weeds– I mean, urban retail mall sprawls in recent years, but technically, it’s not really the village of Hartland, only part of Hartland Township.

Fowlerville was and is a small town, mostly rural. It seems that it was too far from Lansing for folks, (and WAY too far from Detroit.) The same railline through Brighton and Howell runs along Fowlerville, but it stayed a small town. Still a fair amount of farming up there, but too far from most jobs, I think.

Pinckney and Hamburg have both similarly remained small towns. These two towns were along the now-gone Grand Trunk Western railroad, that ran from Detroit to Jackson. There’s some evidence of the Pinckeny/ Hamburg seeing largely recreational travel. People from the cities would come out to Zukey or one of the many lakes. Many, many of the houses that were built along the lake shores are tiny, tiny houses built during the twenties. Perhaps many of them were just summer houses for the people getting out of the cities?

Hamburg had two stations, one for the Grand Trunk Western and one for the Ann Arbor rail, but remained a tiny town near the Huron River. Even now, the down town portion is reached by turning off the main road, M-36 and going around a 90 degree bend.

Today, Hamburg has been growing with suburban development. Pinckney, however, has seen only limited development.

The trains still run, occaisionally. They’re no longer any contributing or detracting factor to development. Well, of course the low-income housing is wedged next to the tracks. It’s interesting to travel out to Hartland, Highland and points east and notice the distinct lack of railways.

Clearly the lack of railways didn’t hinder growth as metro Detroit oozed it’s way east. Now, clearly it’s the proximity of major highways that helps or hinders growth. But one has to wonder why places like Hamburg never boomed– it had rails and the Huron River.

Come back in the next couple weeks to find out more about the history of Livingston County’s railroads.

Travis Erwin collects the My Town Monday folks in one place.

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My Town Monday: John Pinckney’s Problem

In 1834, John D. Pinckney left his home in New York. He traveled up the Erie Canal to Buffalo, New York, then took a steamer up Lake Erie to Detroit. From there he taveled to Salem, Michigan (southeast of South Lyon, east of Whitmore Lake.) He left his family with his father who lived in Salem, then went on into the wilderness of Livingston County to begin clearing the land he’d purchased and make a home of it.

It kills me to think that this chunk of suburbia was once covered with trees instead of overpriced site-condos and SUVs.

John D. Pinckney’s property was on the eastern edge of Howell Township. He was one of the first settlers in the Howell Township area. This area was also where “Livingston Centre” was established as the temporary county seat. His homestead was near the shores of Thompson Lake, “far north” of the Grand River Trail. The Grand River Trail was the only real “road” at the time, though it was certainly more a winding trail between trees than a road as the folks coming from New York would have been used to.

John D. Pinckney’s house was pretty typical of the time, a single room log house. The house did not have windows, doors or floor. Blankets covered the window and door holes and a fire would be lit to keep the wolves away. In December of 1834, he brought his family up to live in that house. His family at the time included a wife and two young daughters.

Being in the center of the county, and one of the first folks with a permanent residence in the area, John D. Pinckney was compelled to provide shelter and accommodation to many land seekers. Apparently, his house was the one the increasing number of land seekers were looking for as they made there way to Livingston Centre, and more importantly to the wild lands west and north of Howell Township. According to the 1880 History of Livingston County, Mr. Pinckney was not inclined towards providing these services.

One has to think that a man who would move his family to the middle of, well, nowhere, miles from civilization is probably a bit of a recluse. Which then makes sense that he wouldn’t have been too happy with having to house these newcomers who happened across his place on their trek.

The place that travelers realled needed was Amos Adams’ tavern house (aka the Eagle Tavern), not far from Mr. Pinckney’s house. This tavern initially was the county-seat building.

In 1835, the Eagle Tavern was built, with Pinckney selling some of his land for it. He was kind of pushing for a place for travelers to stay… probably so they’d stop crashing at his one-room place with him, the wife, and the daughters.

In November 1835, two fellows, Edward Brooks and Flavius J. B. Crane, purchased the chunk of land that would be organized into the Village of Howell. They platted the lands and recorded such in Wayne County (where Detroit is.) This prospective village was then given the name Howell, the same as the township that it’s in. And thus ended the name Livingston Centre. From then on, it has been Howell. First Village and now city.

Not a very big city, mind you. Nothing taller than three stories. Though, I bet John D. Pinckney wouldn’t care for what Livingston Centre turned into. Somedays, I don’t either.

NOTE: The answers to last weeks question are in the comments– click here.

My Town Monday was started by Travis Erwin. Check his place out for more towns.

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My Town Monday: Old Brighton High School

The title’s not quite right, really, but it’s the best I can come up with for the building. Currently it’s called the BECC building (for Brighton Education and Community Center.) That’s what I’m going to refer to as because that’s what it is to me. =)

Situtated at the top of the hill just east of town, at the corners of Main Street and Church Street is the building that once was Brighton’s High School.

Originally built in 1928, the BECC building replaced the Union School. The Union School was the first brick (and thereby “permanent” school built in the Brighton area.) Previously, classes had been held in houses rented or frame buildings, which seemed to have a problem with burning down.
The BECC building cost $140,000 to build. The first graduating class had eight students. In 1966, 133 students graduated from the school.
The school opened to 341 students in the fall of 1928. The school was hailed as being “thoroughly modern” and “exemplery in design and curriculum.”
You can see from these old pictures (poached from Brighton Area Centenniel and Old Brighton Village books, both produced in the mid-1970s for the, well, the Brighton Centenniel) that the original building consisted of the one section as contained in the first picture.
Including the tall smoke stack.
In 1953, classes for the high school started at 8:30am (which is my kind of start time!) Lunch was between 12:20 and 1:19. The school day endd at 3:12pm. The school year that fall staretd on September 11 and got out June 4. Students had to purchase their text books, but could get credit for turning in the books from the previous year. Easter was a TWO DAY recess.
In the modern pictures, you can see some things have changed. The front steps and flag pole seem to be missing, for starters. And the trees are bit bigger these days. Even in the middle of Februrary when it’s bitter cold.

In 1950-1, a wing was added to the North end of school to house a shop.
The gym was tacked onto the South end the same year.
In 1954 and 1957, a Junior High was added to the school. From what I can tell, the high school and junior high were housed in the same building for several years.

In the mid-sixties, Brighton began building a new High School down the road. The old High School first turned into a middle school, then later when a new middle school was built, the BECC building got it’s current purpose. The New High School, which is still the current Brighton High School opened in 1966. The school has spread out over the years, addding on several times to it’s current (and in my never humble opinon, bloated) size of 2200+ students.

Crrently, the BECC building houses administrative offices, a preschool/daycare program and the alternative/ adult high school. Though the last item is the least known of all part of the Brighton Area Schools. Many people have lived in the area their entire lives without knowing that there is a successful alternative high school program in the area.

While doing some research on the BECC building, I came across two articles.
The first reported the results from a survey of Brighton elementary shcool students. This study found that the students were lacking basic skills and didn’t like school.

The second article was imploring high school students who had enjoyed working their summer jobs to come back to high school in the fall, rather than dropping out to continue working.

Can you guess the dates of these two articles? Heck, I’ll narrow it down– pick one of the following decades for each article.
1950s 1960s 1970s 1980s 1990s
(Answer in the comments)

The more things change, the more they stay the same…

My Town Monday is the brain-child of Travis Erwin.

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My Town Monday: Kensington

There is no Kensington, Michigan. Not anymore.

Especially not since I-96 was put in through what did remain of the village of Kensington.

But there used to be a little village along the banks of the Huron River, just north of South Lyon and west of New Hudson.

The name survives with the Kensington Metro Park that’s off I-96. And in Kent Lake. Apparently Kent is a shortening of Kensington since Kensington was too long for local people to say in everyday conversation. They used the longer word in print, and the shorter word in speech. The shorter version was attached to one of the local lakes. (And you thought laziness was a new phenomenon!)

In the 1840s, Kensington rivaled the other local towns like Milford and New Hudson, and had a hotel, a sawmill, the standard stores, a bank, and a Baptist Church (pic below).

It was the bank that put Kensington on the national map. Or so it’s told in the Brighton Bicentenniel (published 1976.) The promoters of the Kensington Bank issued a lot of unbacked currency and unloaded it for land and merchandise around Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Then two officials took off with the remaining assests.

On top of that, merchants in Kensington became known for not paying their bills. In Eastern wholesale circles, the town became proverbial. When a wholesaler had an uncollectable account, he said: “The good have gone to Kent.” (There’s that Kent again, rather than Kensington! I don’t get it… Kensington’s not that hard to say. Anyway, back to history…)

Below is the Kent Bank. It was made of red brick, which was really popular during the 1830s and 40s when much of Livingston County (and surrounding areas) were sprouting. The Bank stood until about 1920 or so.

Unfortunately, the tales of Kent Bank have been lost with time. Many people don’t even realize that there’s nothing left of the town. Or that there was a town called Kensington. Or some of the other little towns that doted the landscape, about a day’s trip in between.

When you look at an old map, like one of Livingston County, there were little towns at a lot of the major road intersections. These towns were usually far enough apart from each other that folks could walk or ride a horse on a day excursion into town for the things they needed. As travel became easier, most of the tiny settlements disappeared, with just a few of the bigger towns becoming the place that people went.

Kensington was on the Grand River Trail (now called Grand River Ave) between Brighton and New Hudson. But, long before the railroads went in and far before cars, and even before the Civil War, Kensington was already dying as a town. Most of the structures were gone before the start of the Civil War. Maybe it was because of the bank?

Old Kent Bank (now 5/3 aka the Borg Bank) does not appear to have any relation to the defunct Kent Bank. There is a Kent County on the western side of Michigan, and Old Kent Bank began in that area. Or so they say… 😉

My Town Monday is a blog event started by Travis Erwin. Since he’s off galavanting and gambling, Barrie Summy is hosting the Links.

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My Town Monday: Early Days

Livingston County, Michigan saw settlement starting in the early 1830s. There were two big factor’s contributing to the settlement of Southeast Lower Michigan (yes, we really call it that, to differentiate between the Lower and Upper Penninsulas. It’s a Michigan thing.)

One factor was the Erie Canal. With the opening of the Erie Canal, there was a faster, safer route between New York and the Midwest, particularly Michigan. At the time, Michigan Territory was part of the old Northwest Territory. Ohio and Indiana Territories had been carved away and began their bids for statehood before Michigan.

The Erie Canal opened in 1825. Michigan was not the first destination of choice for folks heading West. Some idiot surveyors had declared that Michigan was all swampy and unsuitable for farming. So, for some reason, the farmers avoided the state, settling instead across Ohio, Indiana and into Illinios.

Finally, someone got a clue and re-surveyed Michigan. The state was not all swamp.

Why so many heading West? Free land. After the War of 1812, the Federal Government was giving away 160 acres of free land to the veterns. By the time Michigan was resurveyed and discovered to be good land, the folks running Michigan territory didn’t want to *give* the land away anymore. So they sold it. But people still came in droves to Michigan.

People got off the ferries at Detroit. They settled the areas around there (like where Patti Abbot lives) before heading further west. Livingston County was entered from the south, as people came from the town of Ann Arbor north to the uncharted wilderness of Livingston County. There were no bridges in Livingston County in the 1830s.

The early settlers recorded in the 1880 History of Livingston County that they had to clear a lot of trees in order to plant their farms. That’s one thing that hasnt’ changed in this county– people still think that trees are in the way. =(

The only major thoroughfare at the time in Livingston County was the Grand River Trail, which connected Detroit with the capital-to-be Lansing. When Michigan became a state, the capital was made in Lansing. This immediately boosted Livingston County’s population and business as Howell, the center of the county, is the half-way point on the Grand River Trail between Lansing and Detroit.

Funny story about Lansing. When the first folks to buy land in Lansing showed up, they learned something about the land they had bought sight-unseen. The land was a floodplain. Most of the the land was actually underwater. They’d been swindled. The city of Lansing started as a con. And, since it is the state capital, the cons have only continued.

My Town Monday brought to you by the letters “TRAVIS ERWIN“. From links on his page, you can travel the world without leaving your computer. No TSA hassles, no airplane food, and no crowds. My kind of travel. =)

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My Town Monday: Mill Pond Walkway

The Mill Pond in Brighton MI, is part of Ore Creek. On one side is the Imagination Station, a massive play structure. The Tridge crosses the Mill Pond and there’s a reason it’s call the Tridge and not just a mere bridge. It’s a three armed stucture. Two arms merely link the two sides of the Mill Pond. The third heads off to the Mill Pond Walkway.

The walkway heads along the banks of Ore Creek. At the start of the journey, though, there’s a side detour. If you look closely in the picture below, you can see a little white building in the background.

That’s the Dairy Queen. Luckily the City of Brighton was wise enough to put in an actual paved path the DQ rather than have people just trample over, through, and around whatever might have been in the way. You can’t stop people from going to Dairy Queen.

Before the Mill Pond walkway, some teens would actually hop the cemetery fence (bad) just to get their treats.

The Walkway makes it’s way down Ore Creek, running behind businessess about a quarter mile.



There are little seat jutting into Ore Creek. Where one might stop, eat their ice cream and watch the wildlife.

Like the albino ducks… that are repopulating quite well at the Mill Pond.




There’s also some mighty large fish. I dont know how well this picture will come out, so try clicking for a larger view. It’s a massive fish! People do fish off the walkway. It’s usually rather quiet.

For better or worse, most of the kids and noise are back at the Imagination Station. Though, I think it’s a shame if they never made their way down the Mill Pond Walkway.

Ore Creek sneaks under Grand River Avenue.


And it’s at Grand River that the Walkway ends. There is a sidewalk through town, of course, but it’s stuck a stark contrast to the quiet of the Walkway. All along, it doesn’t feel like you’re walking through the main part of Brighton. There’s the backsides of business, but it’s quiet. You hear birds. Watch the languid flow of Ore Creek. Trees cast dappled shadows on the ground. And there’s the smell of a river.

It’s almost jarring to come around the last corner on the Walkway to the sound of trucks and cars.

To my surprise, I actually managed to take a picture between the traffic on Grand River. Grand River is one of those main roads that is never wholly empty. Five lanes of impatient traffic.

On the other side of Grand River is the Marsh and Swamps that are part of the rest of Ore Creek. A waterway that is seeing at least a little care and protection.

It’s too noisy. I’m going back to where it’s quiet.

Travis Erwin is slacking on his own My Town Monday post today, but he’s corraling the links for the rest of his entourage. Visit his page for links. And while you’re there, read a few of his posts. Aside from being the creator of My Town Monday, he’s a funny man and a good storyteller

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My Town Monday: The Imagination Station

When I was little, there was a small playground on the shore of the Mill Pond. It had tall swings, a big slide, and a merry-go-round before those things were contraband. It was sufficient for playing while Mom was milling about the Farmer’s Market looking for vegatables. (Oh joy.)

Once the bookstore moved in to one of the shops on the Mill Pond, that had more appeal to me.

Actually, the tall white thing that looks nice for climbing is just a piece of art. A scultpure purchased by the city the same time as the Nake Guy. I’ve never spotted a kid climbing it, but I surely would have. Seems like they should have picked something that didn’t look like playground equpiment next to the Imagination Station.

Okay, without further ado, the Imganation Station is a 10,000 square foot wooden play structure.



It has towers, tunnels, several slides, swings, a zip line, steering wheelse, a wooden Caterpillar, climbing ropes, and more.

10,000 square feet of playing, climbing, swinging fun. The only downside is it’s often crowded. But I’ve been there more than a few times during twilight hours to run and romp. When I won’t knock over kids.

One evening when we were just dating, Hubby and I went out to the Imagination Station– one of the first signs he had of my … eccentricities. We played tag. Being more than 3.5 feet tall, I would have been better suited to staying on the tops of the towers where the sky’s the limit. Instead, I decided I’d hide in one the dark lower levels. No more than a few feet down, I nailed my head on a support board. The stars came out… and I didn’t really want to play anymore.

It gets better– as we were leaving, a cop came roaming around to make sure that, ah, no one was in the park after it closes at 10pm. It was 11 or 12 at the time. Hubby still makes mention that this encounter with the local police should have been a warning sign to him that I was trouble. =)


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My Town Monday: The Mill Pond

Situtated in the center of Brighton, is the Mill Pond. This pond was formed on Ore Creek a tributary of the Huron River. Once upon a time a mill was set up on the river, using the water power to work.

Sometime in the 1950s, it was decided that something needed to be done with the old Mill Pond. At the time, the pond was just a kind-of rock lined, filthy, body of water in town. Eventually, it

was turned into something of a local attraction.

It’s got sloped cement walls, abundant wildlife, a fountain, and the Imagination Station. (Like a playground but way better! But that’s for a future week.)

Across the center of the Mill Pond is the Tridge. It’s a three-way bridge.

It’s a good place to feed the birds from. The birds in the Mill Pond are so accumstomed to being fed, that they nearly swarm strolling people. Without the beating of wings and such, but it’s pretty amazing to see a flock of twenty ducks or geese swimming at someone who happens to be standing on the Tridge. Even if there’s no food being dropped into the water.


I remember, not so long ago, that there used to be little gumball-like machines on the shore of the Mill Pond that dispensed corn for feeding the wildlife. They’re gone now, and I have to think it would be because folks wouldn’t want the wildlife dependent on people at the Mill Pond.








Clearly, though, living in the Mill Pond, as opposed to a regular pond, is a little different for wildlife. A couple years back, I recall spotting just ONE albino duck. Well, that duck has been getting busy. There are now quite a few albino and part albino ducks in the Mill Pond. Anywhere else, and I have to think these would be an oddly colored dinner for somebody.








More wildlife. The ducks and geese seem to live more or less harmoniously. As you get on the other side of the Tridge, the Mill Pond is more of a natural waterway.

Since these pix were taken in late spring, there were quite a few fuzzy and “ugly” ducklings around.

There’s a swan or two on the Mill Pond from time to time as well. But they don’t usually play by the peopled end of the pond, choosing instead to hang out on the other side.


The Gazebo, on the shore of the Mill Pond, is used for all sorts of events. It’s a gathering place, convenient to town and parking. And peaceful– as peaceful as an oft-visited place in downtown can be. Even if it is the downtown in a little city like Brighton.

I know “city” is based on population, but to me, it seems impossible that Brighton is a city. Ann Arbor– that’s a city. Howell, maybe. But not the little town of Brighton.

The Mill Pond drains under Main Street. There once was a damn here, but it was taken out a few years ago. For a long, long time I wondered where the water went. In high school, I decided it must just go into the sewers, which seemed wrong to me.

Well, that conclusion was wrong. On the other side of Main Street, there is a large city parking lot. Beyond THAT is where Ore Creek comes out in a little creek that continues it’s path, eventually going under the CSX railway and emptying into Brighton Lake.

With all the birds that call the Mill Pond home, one ever present feature that can’t be overlooked is the bird poo.

Birds poo a lot.

The city cleans the sidewalks regularly, but one is still advised to watch for wet droppings and wash their shoes upon returning home.

For years, the Mill Pond has been an attraction in downtown Brighton. A park has always sat on the shore. I’m just old enough to remember the park with the big metal slide (yeah, that would take off some skin on summer days), the swings, the merry-go-round (remember when those weren’t an Evil that had to be eradicated?)

But, that park is gone. Instead, Brighton has the Imagination Station. Oh man, that place is AWESOME! Even though I nearly got a concussion because I’m just a wee bit larger than the intended patrons. Next week– the Imagination Station.

Don’t forget to see Travis Erwin for other My Town Monday posts. Travel the world from your computer. No motion sickness or lost luggage.

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My Town Monday: The Naked Guy

In Downtown Brighton, there is a Mill Pond. This mostly man-made structure is a scene of tranquillity.


And a scene of controversy.











Because on this shore is THE NAKED GUY.




And he doesn’t have any clothes on!

You could see his “willy”, his “wiener”, his “unmentionables”– his penis. (Man, I could totally go on… there are so many names for this one piece of anatomy it’s crazy.)

If he really had them, of course.

The statue is about as well-defined as a Ken doll. Not quite androgynous, but barely lumps.

But, nonetheless, there were protests and outrage (OUTRAGE!) that this statue was placed here, purchased by the City of Brighton from a local art show.

The outrage was that this sort of nudity was profane. Furthermore, these uptight prudes– I mean, ah, overreacting busybodies, um, anyway… these folks were upset that the statue was facing Main Street.

This group of outraged citizens wrote angry letters to the paper. They went to the city council. In the end, they lost. Because there’s really nothing lewd about the statue. Aside from the fact that there’s not even any penis or balls to speak of on this statue, the city council (and much of the community) decided that neither the general public nor any kids would be scarred from seeing the statue.

Unfortunately, at the time the community didn’t realize that this was only the first kerfluffle a small group of local folks would make about ‘decency’ and ‘morality’ on a small quest to impose their beliefs on others. These folks also protested thongs in the window of the new local Victoria’s Secret. They also had a fit when the Intimate Ideas sex shop opened in Brighton. Luckily, this groupd has been distracted of late. Hopefully they’re teaching their own kids how to be good, responsible citizens who are respectful of other’s beliefs even if they disagree.

The Naked Guy, or Decision Pending as he was dubbed by the artist, still stands on the shore of the Mill Pond. Still mooning the folks at the Mill Pond and flashing the drivers on Main Street. In broad daylight. But most people don’t even seem to mind.

Go see Travis Erwin for more My Town Monday Posts.

–>I plan to do posts on the Mill Pond and the Imagination Station in the following weeks.

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My Town Monday: Local Books

Today is supposed to be a special My Town Monday where participants read a book set in their town and talk about it. I liked the idea, and I’m going to read all about where the other My Town Monday posters live and the books written there. (You should to– go see Travis Erwin for links.)

However I didn’t find any books set in Livingston County, Michigan. There are several local history books, which I would give my left arm to actually own… the historical societies printed them but don’t have them anymore.

Elmore Leonard lives in Whitmore Lake last I knew. His mystery stories were set in Detroit, apparently since he grew up there.

Michael Moore hails from Flint. I’m told that one of my aunts used to work for him delivering the first paper he printed.

Steve Hamilton wrote the Alex McKnigt series set in the Upper Peninsula. And I’m sure there are other Michigan-based stories.

But nothing seems to be set in Livingston County. Not yet, at least.

For now, the only stories I know of set in Livingston County are my own. “Assortment of Bullies,” “Failing Mark,” & “Pleasure Business” (see links–>) are clearly set in Livingston County. There are others that, well, as the author, I know they’re Livingston County stories, but there’s nothing in the text to convey that.

Perhaps it’s because there’s nothing particularly distinctive or noteworthy about this area. It’s your pretty average place. It does have a little itty-bitty hamlet called “Hell” (yep, Hell, Michigan is in Livingston County… I’ll have a post on that some day soon!)

I think the average-ness is what makes it a perfect setting. This is “Anytown, USA.” It’s also the setting I use in my Bo Fexler novel. In my novel, I refer to the local places (and the local weather trend of winter returning univited for an encore in March.) It could be any small city, any county that suffers from lopsided, speedy growth. You may not be able to find it on the map of Michigan unless you know where to look, but at the same time, it could just as well be any other place.

Do other readers like the idea of a story set anywhere? Or do you prefer traveling to some other city, with recognizable landmarks?

As a reader, I’m a little of both. As a writer, I write what I know. And I know Livingston County.

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