Lansing, Michigan, exists today as the unlikely culmination of a series of quirky incidents that began with two unscrupulous brothers. These men plotted what they called Biddle City in a flood plain just south of today’s downtown. Unsuspecting buyers in New York purchased lots, only to discover that they were worthless. Many of these pioneers then chose to settle to the north in what was then a dense forest. This quiet village remained tiny until 1847, when Michigan’s state politicians could not agree on a new centrally located capital. Unable to reach any other compromise, an aggravated House of Representatives selected Lansing, inaugurating growth and prosperity for the city.
Lansing became a key hub for the automobile industry after Ransom E. Olds founded his Olds Motor Vehicle Company in 1897. Although car building remained the principle industry for decades, modern Lansing enjoys a more diverse economy, yet retains the quaint atmosphere of its neighborhoods. Downtown is dominated by the National Historic Landmark capitol building, with its stately white facade and colorful rotunda interior.
One of the best ways to discover some of the historic sites and buildings in Lansing Old Town, just north of downtown, is on foot. The Old Town Commercial Association provides both print and MP3 versions of its walking tour. Among Lansing’s historic sites is the Turner-Dodge house in the Old Town Historic District. James and Marion Turner built the home in 1858, and their son-in-law and daughter, Frank and Abby Dodge, later enlarged it. This Classical Revival home is itself on the National Register of Historic Places, as is the entire Old Town district. The area emerged from a shifting economy in the late 20th century to draw a plethora of art galleries and theatrical and musical performance spaces, including Creole Gallery, which serves as all three.
Music is a big attraction of the revitalized Lansing Old Town. Free weekend festivals allow everybody to revel, starting with BluesFest, which features both local talent and nationally known performers in August. Artists at JazzFest, a September event, play original compositions never before performed at another festival. The lively sounds of polka drift through the air the following month at Oktoberfest.
Blending history and fun for its passengers, the Michigan Princess riverboat chugs down the Grand River for lunch and dinner cruises. This 110-foot-long restored sternwheeler, which first plied the waters of the Grand in 1888, is Michigan’s only triple-decker. After renovations that included a new hull and an extra deck, the Michigan Princess was rechristened in 1991. Entertainment options vary from Big Band tunes and retro Disco nights to a murder-mystery cruise.
Other attractions in the Lansing area include the Meridian Historical Village and the Nokomis Native American Cultural Learning Center. At the village, tourists explore an 1860s farmhouse and an 1880s schoolhouse, among other 19th-century relics. Hands-on exhibits at the Native American center teach guests about the People of the Three Fires, or the local tribes—the Ojibway, Ottawa and Potawatomi.