Until this weekend, I’d gone by Saranac a bunch of times, while driving between Lowell and Ionia. And I’d biked through it once or twice. But I’d never stopped. This weekend, with my current project of photographing in small towns and villages near Grand Rapids, I spent part of a morning and early afternoon there. I mostly stayed in the business district area of the two, as usual. But I also drove through a few neighborhoods.
The houses are what you might expect. Some grand old brick, stone, and wood-faced homes from the heyday of the town in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. They look like what you’d find in the “Heritage Hill” area in Grand Rapids and many other communities in Michigan. Some older, more working-class and lower middle-class homes from the early to mid-twentieth century. And “recently” built homes (the 1970s and later). There clearly was post-World War II growth in the town. The “recently” built homes include several low-cost apartment complexes. Saranac, like many small Michigan towns and villages, has a public housing commission; adequate affordable housing is not just an urban issue.
One of the things that draws me to these towns is the older buildings in the downtown, business district area. There were lots of people around, some at the small farmer’s market near the Grand River, others at the barbershop, hardware store, gas station, bait and tackle shop, or post office. Some people were just out for walks and exercise.
Here are a few of my favorite images of older buildings. The colors in a couple of the buildings drew my eye, especially the barbershop. As in previous weeks, I’ve processed the images with a Polaroid-style; I did not use the 1×1 square format this week, however, is it did not suit these images. I mostly stuff to a 3×4 format.
Behind the main drag was some parking and a metal fabrication business. (The property looks to be for sale. I wonder if the business folded or moved.) The graffiti drew my eye as did the colors and architectural features behind a couple of small businesses.
I also did some images of reflections in windows. Here are a few that worked pretty well, I thought. The weather was hot, bright, humid, and a touch hazy, and I processed the images to convey the weather.
I did several images as “portraits” of building faces, making them for different reasons. With the church–River of Life Free Methodist Church–I imagined the generations of people who have worshipped there and how the building might have looked many decades ago. The barn, just south of town, was about the basketball hoop. I love old barns, the color and texture of the wood, etc. But I wondered what it looked like when the hoop was new and wondered about the kid(s) who shot baskets there. There three orange-red garage doors belong to the Saranac fire department. I liked the symmetry and also imagined what the building might look like in 50 years when it is an “older” building.
Finally, I did a couple of shots of scenes driving into town. Coming from the west, on Riverside Drive (Grand River drive, before that, from Ada to a ways past Lowell), the party store greeted me.
Coming from the south, on Morrison Lake Road, which becomes Bridge Street in town, two signs drew my attention. The view of the guy on the motorcycle heading towards the party store (if that’s where he was actually going) feels like Americana to me. The cross “done up” with American flag details reflects the mixing-up of nationalism and Christianity shaping American politics today.
The name of the local high school teams–“Redskins”–feels out of time. And indeed, the decision of the Washington Football Team to get rid of its historic name because of the term’s racist history has led Saranac to again reconsider its teams’ name. A few years ago, in 2016, Belding high school changed its name to “Black Knights.” In 2015, Saranac’s school board chose to continue with its name in a 4-3 vote.
It’s hard to avoid politics these days. The two signs fight generalizations/stereotypes about the conservativism of rural areas and small towns versus progressive cities. The generalizations work if you look at who wins elections in rural versus urban districts. But there always are people who do not fit the stereotypes.
In any case, Saturday’s heat and humidity felt like the “dog days” of summer. The rising number of Delta-variant COVID19 cases are now at levels not seen since February. Maps of COVID19 “hot spots,” shifting from pale yellow to orange and dark red across the country, as case numbers rise, make it look like a wave heading towards Michigan. More people are now seeking vaccinations, which is good. I’ve also seen a few more people with masks on at stores in the past week. So stay cool and stay smart out there. Protect yourself and others.