Marne

With the first real snow on the ground and in evidence in this these photographs, I decided that I’m getting close to ending my summer and fall series on small towns in West Michigan and the surrounding area. It’s near time to find a new theme for the winter months and perhaps time to shift from color to black and white as well.

Marne is about 15 minutes west of Grand Rapids, on I-96. Like Byron Center, last week’s subject, Marne is an unincorporated community, though the township offices are in it. Marne feels like a village, because the central business district, with restaurants and shops, is small. There are extensive small to mid-size business areas to the north (on the other side of I-96) and to the south of the village center. The population was over 3100 according to the 2010 census. Marne has several churches, though it no longer has a school. Still, even if it’s scattered nature gives it a village feel, and even if it’s technically “unincorporated, it functions as a town.

I wondered about the name, thinking about the World War I battles of the Marne. I was right. Originally the community was called Berlin, reflecting the influence of German settlers in the area when the community started. It got a Post Office in 1852 and was surveyed in 1857. Anti-German sentiment in World War I led to the name being changed to Marne, after the Second Battle of the Marne, where the Allies faced the last major German offensive in July and August 1918. A French force, with American, British and Italian aid, defeated the Germans.

Given the patriotic origins of its name, it seems appropriate that Marne today is festooned with flags and symbols of its contributions to America’s wars. The flag, a moment of open sky, and the warm light caught my eye as I parked. I got the image of the flag and utility poles from inside my car.

Beside the World War II era M114-155mm howitzer in the image below is a covered area dedicated to American veterans. The Sons of Marne American Legion (Post 376) brought the howitzer to the park in 2002. It’s another indication of the significance of how service in U.S. wars shapes patriotism in Marne.

The image below of a café shows off a popular local business, but also civic life and history. The building once was the local depot for the Grand Rapids, Grand Haven & Muskegon interurban railroad. Today, in addition to the café, it houses the local Lions club.

The modest business district in the center of Marne has a several restaurants, shops, and other small businesses. The first three images below are of the same building, with its classic Midwestern architecture. Notice the Freemason symbol in the upper left of the building in the first image. I’m not sure if this was because a member of the Freemasons built it or because the Freemasons once used the building. The restaurant in the fourth image left me curious about its menu, given its name, The Pickle Back.

There was nobody on the street when I took the image below of reflections in a window. I included it because it shows off a bit of the town and because the business was established in 2020, the year the COVID-19 pandemic started and has survived. It’s called the 1914 Collective and is a home goods store that features knick-knacks, clothing, seasonal decorations, furniture, etc.

In Marne, as around the country, patriotism has taken a sharp, sometimes crude turn, at least for some residents. The “Let’s Go Brandon” sign is popular on the far right today as code for “F**k Joe Biden.” This meme is a sign that what used to be “far” right rhetorical style has become more mainstream.

We’ll see how many more weeks I continue with the small town theme. At least one more is coming. As winter approaches, stay warm, stay dry, be smart, and stay safe. Local hospitals have been boarding COVID-19 patients in their ERs on occasion in the past month, they have so many. And Michigan looks to be the worst state in the country for COVID-19 numbers at the moment.

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