Other Downtown Attractions
The River of History Museum (209 E. Portage Ave.) uses St. Mary’s River as the framework for telling the story of the region’s history. Life-sized dioramas depict things like Native Americans spearfishing in the rapids and a French fur trapper’s cabin. The museum incorporates lots of sound in its displays: dripping ice from melting glaciers, roaring rapids, and Ojibwa elders passing down legends.
After watching the big Great Lakes boats, the Museum Ship Valley Camp (501 E. Water St., 906/632-3658, hours vary, $19 adults, $10 children 6–16) gives you a chance to see what it was like to live and work aboard a giant steamer. This 550-foot steamship logged more than a million miles on the Great Lakes, hauling ore, coal, and stone on the Great Lakes from 1907 to the mid-1970s. Now, it’s permanently docked five blocks east of the Soo Locks.
Visitors can tour the pilothouse, engine room, main deck, crew quarters, coal bunker, and more. Throughout, the ship has a number of aquariums and maritime displays, some better than others. Most popular: a display on the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald, including two tattered lifeboats found empty and drifting on the lake. All in all, it’s well worth a couple of hours. Make sure to stop at the museum shop, housed in a separate building next to the parking lot. It has an excellent selection of maritime books and videos.
Like most observation towers, the Tower of History, four blocks east of the Soo Locks at 326 Portage Avenue, is sort of an ugly blight on the landscape—a 21-story stark concrete monolith—but with a wonderful 360-degree view of the twin Soos, the St. Mary’s, Lake Superior, and forests rolling off in the distance. Rather than being stuck behind windows, you get to enjoy the views from an open-air deck. (Bring a jacket!) The tower also includes a few small exhibit areas and a theater showing documentary videos. Yes, there is an elevator to the top. Curiously, the tower was originally built as a bell tower for the neighboring church—a project that went, uh, slightly over budget.
by Laura Martone from Moon Michigan, 3rd Edition, © Avalon Travel