GTPulse Weekend Planner: Autumn on Old Mission

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When I was a kid, I found myself unwittingly a passenger on many random outings. Errands, tag-alongs, and a whole lot of “are we there yet?” road trips. After all, when you’re a kid, most things you do are as an unwitting passenger. But, at some point during my life, I started to enjoy it. Even if you weren’t in the driver’s seat, tagging along meant a break in the routine, and to a kid, that was exciting. I think it was my Mom who fueled my love of leisurely drives. She could make any trip an adventure simply by taking the road less traveled. Driving home from my grandparents’ house, she would ask if we wanted to take the short-cut or the long way. Each time, backseat votes were cast and I was always happy when the long way won.

A change of scenery was sometimes exactly what we needed. A little extra time with windows rolled down, waiting for the radio DJ to play our favorite song.

I can’t tell you the first time I was on Old Mission Peninsula. It may have been as a passenger in my Grandma’s station wagon during an all day garage sale campaign. I can, however, tell you the first time I drove myself along the winding roads of Old Mission.

It was fall and I was a newly licensed teenager. We started in Beulah, myself and a friend, aimlessly driving while listening to music. Before we knew it, we were in Traverse City and decided to take my old Jeep Cherokee on an unscheduled peninsula drive, down Peninsula Drive. We eventually found M-37, taking it all the way to Mission Point Lighthouse.

In the fall, Old Mission Peninsula feels like magic. It’s almost like something out of an Andrew Wyeth painting, with historic farm houses dotting the landscape of rolling hills and incredible views.

And, its history is as rich as a glass of wine produced from its land.

In fact, Old Mission was the first permanent European settlement in all of Northern Michigan, thanks to a minister by the name Peter Dougherty, who built a school and started missionary work on the peninsula, prior to moving to Omena to start a new church. When the new church started, the peninsula mission became known as the Old Mission. Many historical sites still exist, like the Dougherty Mission House, along with plenty of modern stops, like then ten wineries that encompass the Old Mission Wine Trail.

Recently, my husband and I needed a little local escape. We found ourselves driving along the winding roads of Peninsula Drive. If you’re looking for a change of scenery, just get in the car and enjoy the beauty of the 18 mile silver of land that is the Old Mission Peninsula.

Sunday Drive Stops:

Wineries:

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There are wonderfully versatile wineries along the Old Mission Peninsula that highlight the distinct wines made in Northern Michigan, including Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Grigio, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Gewürztraminer, sparkling varieties and the prestigious ice wines. The Old Mission Wine Trail has made it easy to download your trail map.

Mission Point Lighthouse:

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Although the lighthouse is closed due to COVID-19, the Mission Point Gift Shop is open most weekends through November from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. But, most importantly, the views and scenery at the lighthouse are free. The picturesque lighthouse is surrounded on three sides with thickly wooded trails, with the fourth side overlooking the waters of West Grand Traverse Bay. The lighthouse was built after a large ship hit a shallow reef and sank just in front of where the Mission Point lighthouse now sits. The shipwreck prompted Congress to set aside $6,000 to construct a lighthouse, but the project wasn’t completed until 1870 due to the Civil War.

Mission Table/Jolly Pumpkin:

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One of my favorite stops along an Old Mission day trip is the Bowers Harbor property. Built in the 1880s, the Inn was a favorite summer retreat for Chicago lumber baron J.W. Stickney and his wife, Genevieve. Legend has it, Genevieve, a woman who long suffered from health complications associated with obesity, had an elevator installed at the inn to make it easier to travel the multiple floors. Mr. Stickney hired a nurse to care for his wife, but that nurse soon became his mistress. Genevieve hated the nurse, and anxiously worried that Stickney would leave her his wealth when he died. Unfortunately, Genevieve’s fears were realized when Stickney left his riches to his mistress and only ownership of the Inn to Genevieve. The situation drove Genevieve into severe depression, prompting her to take her own life by hanging herself from the rafters of the elevator shaft she had installed. For decades, staff and guests of the Inn have sworn her presence remains at the Inn, as lights have flickered and pictures have fallen off the walls. Some even swear seeing a blurry figure of a female appearing in vacation photos. Witnesses of Genevieve have even appeared on Unsolved Mysteries.  In 2006, the property was purchased by Jon Carlson and Greg Lobdell who made it their personal mission to protect the Inn and its history. In 2010, the property reopened to the public as Mission Table at the Bowers Harbor Inn. Although Mission Table is currently closed for regular dinner service, it is available for private events. The Jolly Pumpkin restaurant, also located on the property, is open daily from 12 p.m. to 8 p.m. Pro Tip: Try a pizza! Any pizza, although I prefer a classic with roasted tomato sauce, mozzarella, fresh basil and hand sliced pepperoni.

The Old Mission Inn:

If you’re looking for more than a day trip, be sure to book a room at the Old Mission Inn. At 151-years-old, the Old Mission Inn is the oldest continually operated bed and breakfast in the state. Bruce and Angie Jensen, along with their son, Tyler, purchased the Inn in 1998, and have dedicated their lives to preserving its historical significance while providing top notch service to guests. The rooms are spectacular, and the Inn has a long hall of history, which includes photos of early life on Old Mission. Relaxation comes naturally, with amazing views and rocking chairs lining a long veranda. Pro Tip: The Old Mission Inn fills fast during its May 1 through October 31 season. Be sure to book well in advance!

Views:

Look just about anywhere on Old Mission Peninsula, and you’re going to see something beautiful. But, the scenic overlook views are second to none. Don’t miss the Old Mission Scenic Overlook, at the Peninsula’s halfway point along M-37 between Bonobo Winery and Chateau Grand Traverse.

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