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History with a fizz


Vernor estate in Arcadia Township celebrated, remembered in book


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The grand Vernor’s estate in Arcadia Township is a significant part of the community’s history and lore.

July 23, 2008
ARCADIA TWP. — It was distinctively 'Detroit,' but there's a lot of local history swirling around every glass of Vernor's ginger ale

Widely accepted as the nation's oldest soft drink—invented in 1866 by Detroit pharmacist James Vernor, there were likely dozens of barrels of the crisp, gingery beverage always on hand at 'Arcadia Ridge Farm,' a home away from home for a couple generations of the Vernor family.

The sprawling fieldstone estate, which included a pumphouse, barns and other outbuildings, was a sort of 'tourist attraction' for residents back in the day.

It's history has now been brought to life in an Images of America book titled 'Vernor's Ginger Ale.'

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The author, Keith Wunderlich, unveiled his creaton at a book signing at the township hall in Lum on Sunday. About 100 people turned out to revel in the history—and in the Vernor's ice cream floats served during the event.

"The Vernor estate is a big part of Arcadia Township history," says longtime clerk Sharna Smith. "It's really exciting to be a part of this project."

Indeed, Smith's excitement and contribution to the book are now a part of history. Her efforts to provide photos and information are acknowledged by the author.

Smith's journey began a couple of years ago during the planning of Arcadia Township's 150th anniversary celebration.

She was putting together a pictorial history, and the Vernor estate was a big part of it. She got in touch with James Vernor IV, who was happy to send original photos of the grand old estate.

"He just sent loads of wonderful pictures he found and entrusted me to copy them," Smith says.

So when Wunderlich was researching his book, Vernor IV put him in touch with her.

"I'm just excited that somebody else was as excited about the history of Vernor's," Smith says.

The excitement was catchy. Smith began receiving calls and comments from people who remember the estate.

"Older residents remember taking family drives by the estate," Smith says. "And residents and their families worked for Vernor's as caretakers and farmed the land."

Remnants of the Vernor mark on the local landscape still remain, Smith says, though they're harder to find.

"The area has gotten overgrown a lot," she says, referring to trees and vegetation.

The estate burned in 1943, and claimed the life of local caretaker Otto Williams who perished in the fire.

Eventually, the state of Michigan acquired the 3,380 acres of land in 1956 and it's now part of the Lapeer State Game Area.

In its heyday, the estate hosted Vernor parties and conventions, including a memorable event in 1932.

According to a Dec. 15, 1932, issue of 'National Carbonator and Bottler,' James Vernor Jr. hosted about 20 beverage industry bigwigs at a 'pre-convention party.'

During their stay, the entourage participated in a duck hunting exercise, which was "an unqualified success—from the standpoint of the...wild ducks, that is."

The adventure is described as follows:

"Due to some misunderstanding, which was never fully straightened out to the satisfaction of anyone, (a guest) was successful in bagging quite a number of these delectable birds, although the entire party agreed that none of the wild variety had been harmed. By a strange coincidence, the entire supply of tame ducks was completely obliterated. This caused the host some little concern for a while, but he finally comforted himself with the thought that at least none of the horses had been shot..."

Though the duck hunting adventure is just a sliver of Vernor's lore, much of it will remain in the minds and hearts of area residents, Smith says, including herself.

"I've had people calling and saying they just remember walking several miles to see the estate, and taking drives past it with the family," she says. "It was a simpler time, and that's what people around here used to do."

Wunderlich's 'Images of America: Vernor's Ginger Ale' is available at the Book Shelf in Lapeer.

If you have memories of the estate you'd like to share, contact Smith at 810-724-6565.

If you're interested in joining a club for Vernor's enthusiasts, visit the Vernor's Ginger Ale Collectors Club at www.wowway.com/vernors/

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