Photo Gallery Friday: McCourtie Park and its Cement Wooden Bridges
Photo Gallery Friday is a regular feature on Travel the Mitten that will help showcase photos from places where a few pictures just aren’t enough to show off everything.
One of Michigan’s most unique small town parks can be found in Somerset Center in Hillsdale County. McCourtie Park feature 17 bridges built with concrete made to look like wood, as well as intricate birdhouses, benches, fake trees, and more. While the house that once stood here is gone, legends about its ties to Prohibition and the mafia still live on. We recently had a chance to visit McCourtie Park, and today we share some pictures from our visit.
The Michigan historical marker near the parking area tells of the life of W.H.L. McCourtie: “Somerset Center native W. H. L. McCourtie (1872 – 1933) was introduced to the cement industry by W. F. Cowham of Jackson in 1897. McCourtie soon went to Dallas, Texas, where he made a fortune speculating in oil and established the Trinity Portland Cement Company. During the 1920s McCourtie returned to Somerset Center. In 1924 he acquired his family’s home and turned it into a community showplace. McCourtie sought to create a model town. He gave free white paint to any home owner that needed it. He also hosted the community’s annual homecoming celebration. Thousands of people came to “Aiden Lair” to witness stunt flyers and enjoy baseball, local musicians, dancing and unlimited refreshments. At the height of the Great Depression, McCourtie offered his estate as a place “Where Friends Meet Friends and Part More Friendly.”
It continues on its other side, detailing how the park’s bridges came to be: “The W. H. L. McCourtie Estate, may contain the country’s largest collection of el trabejo rustico, the Mexican folk tradition of sculpting concrete to look like wood. Around 1930, most likely inspired by work he had seen in Texas, cement tycoon W. H. L. McCourtie hired itinerant Mexican artisans George Cardoso and Ralph Corona to construct seventeen bridges on his property. The artisans formed the bridges with steel rods and then hand sculpted wet concrete to resemble planed lumber, rough logs, thatch and rope. Different species of trees can be identified. Two concrete trees that stand on the property continue to serve as chimneys for the underground rathskeller and garage. The McCourtie estate is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.”