Village of Middleville

If you’re willing to be “evidence-driven” you’ll find yourself being taken in directions you did not expect. I find that when I’m researching and writing history and when doing photography. When I don’t let myself force the topic, the research, or the story, and instead stay curious about what I’m seeing, I end up going down unexpected paths. And I often produce something more interesting than I intended. That happened yesterday.

I went to the Middleville, a village of 3500 people southeast of Grand Rapids, to photograph. For the past few weeks, I’ve been photographing rural and small-town West Michigan. It seems to have a solid economy. There’s manufacturing, notably a large Bradford White plant that makes hot water heaters. It’s farm country. And there’s a lot of recreation.

The town itself is on the Thornapple River, and I saw people putting in kayaks near the village’s “downtown.” Nearby are the Middleville State Game Area and the Yankee Springs State Game and Recreation areas.

The icon for the city is a stagecoach. Most people probably think American West when it comes to stagecoaches, and rivers and railroads when it comes to Michigan. But stagecoaches were a standard mode of production. And Middleville, founded in the 1830s, was a stop on the area’s stagecoach line.

The downtown has several restaurants and shops, as this first set of images reveals. The buildings have been renovated more than once, I’m sure. But you can see their age a bit more clearly in a back alley.

As usual, I made sure to look for some reflection images using shop windows. The first one is one of my favorite images of the day. I took the second because of the mountain bikes reflected in the window, as an indication of village’s recreation economy.

There are some lovely old homes in the area just outside the business district. Here are pieces of two homes with features that caught my eye.

The images perhaps fit the idea that small town America is characterized by patriotism and faith. The stereotype is not quite accurate. “Rural and urban respondents are equally likely to attend a religious service once a week — or to never attend. Rural areas, however, have a higher share who attend more than once a week,” according to one poll. And rural and small town areas tend to be more conservative on moral-cultural issues. But cultural divides between urban and rural America are complex.

The unexpected images from Middleville were of a small church, Most Holy Rosary Catholic Church. It’s masthead says, “Tridentine Latin Mass ~ Catholic ~ Sedevacantist.” It’s part of a traditionalist Catholic movement that has broken from Rome, not recognizing any popes since Vatican II as legitimate. “Sedavacantist” means “the chair is vacant,” is in the “Holy See” being empty. Most Holy Rosary is part of the Congregation of Mary Immaculate Queen (Congregatio Mariae Reginae Immaculatae – CMRI). Most Holy Rosary also operates a school, Saint Philomena’s Academy, part of the Marian Congregational Schools operated in association with CMRI.

It’s a lovely old church. My eye was drawn particularly to the small statue of St. Francis of Assisi, seen here behind a larger statue of Mary, mother of Jesus. The CMRI’s refusal to recognize Rome, its ordination of bishops independent of Rome, and creation of its own schools strikes me as interestingly akin to Protestant fundamentalism. Doubtless, like seceders in any context, they do not see themselves as having left Rome so much as Rome having departed from the true faith.

I hope you enjoyed the images. The past week and this coming week look to be nice. Enjoy August and the last few weeks before schools start up again. Stay safe out there. COVID19 is more dangerous than ever, with the Delta variation highly transmissible (comparable to the common cold and chickenpox in how readily it spreads. If you’re vaccinated, the possibility of getting infected is higher than with previous COVID19 variants. Vaccinated people tend to have mild, often symptom-free cases. But we can nonetheless spread it to others who might not be vaccinated. So, it would be good to wear a mask in public whether or not you’re vaccinated, to protect yourself and others. (Sermon done.)

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