On US-12 in the town of Somerset Center is McCourtie Park. The park has some wonderful concrete bridges that span a little creek which flows through the park. A Historical marker tells the stories of these bridges and the park:
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.”
The W. H. L. McCourtie Estate may contain the country’s largest collection of el trabeio 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 rathskellar and garage. The McCourtie estate is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
What the marker does not tell is that the estate included an underground lair and during prohibition, it operated as a speakeasy and even Al Capone was said to have visited it. After McCourtie died in 1933 the estate changed hands a few times but the owners were not able to maintain the property and in 1987 the township purchased the property and razed the house. It is now a park and if you are ever in the area be sure to stop by and visit it.
P.S. There is a lot more to the story but I think I am writing about it in Volume 3 of my Lost In Michigan books. If you are wondering I started working on it and hope to have it available this fall (September 2019). I was busy working on my Camp Michigan book which you can see HERE
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