Castle Museum
Travel Tips

Sightseeing in Your Hometown—even if it’s Smalltown, USA

Castle Museum, Image by Historical Society
Castle Museum, Image by Historical Society

Want to have a rewarding staycation? When flitting off to travel around your country and those of others, it can be easy to forget how much history is in your own hometown. I suggest taking a day to explore your city’s past. A staycation can be a lot of fun, but just like a destination vacation you need to plan a little to get the most out of your time. Here are a few tips to have a great staycation.

  1. Start by picking a few buildings that you find architecturally interesting. If you’re lucky, the building might be a public facility. If not, see if you can schedule an appointment. Churches, museums, bed and breakfasts, old government buildings, theaters, and clubs all make for great sight-seeing.
  2. Make a plan to sightsee in your city the same as you would a major tourist zone. I like to pick one or two museums, one historic place for lunch, and three-four buildings to survey from the outside (with perhaps a quick trip inside).
  3. Your trip will be richer if you are able to conduct a little history on the buildings first. Find out when they were constructed and then think about your city during that time. How did people make their living? What was your town known for? Where were the ritzy areas? Once you have a few historical basics down, you are ready to embark on an awesome trip around your town.

Things to do in Saginaw, Michigan, USA (population 50,000; location-middle of Michigan)


Hoyt Public Library, Wiki Images
Hoyt Public Library, Wiki Images

Although the city itself is economically challenged, the grandeur of many of the older buildings show that Saginaw was once a prosperous area. In the latter quarter of the 1800s, several men (and one woman) made their fortune running lumber and salt mills. Since workers poured to the area, businesses such as hotels, stores, and saloons also did quite well. One lumber baron, Jesse Hoyt, wanted to give back to the workers of Saginaw so he bequeathed funds to endow a public library.

A few years after Hoyt Library was finished, the federal government decided to build a new post office on the same block. At the time, the U.S. government was undertaking an initiative to have all federal buildings reflect the heritage of the area so the French chateau style was chosen (the French weren’t the first in the area, but the feds chose not to highlight the original inhabitants of the area—Native Americans). The Castle (as it is now called) with its slate roof, gargoyles, and turrets was a fitting accompaniment to the neighboring library. Currently, the Castle houses the museum of the Historical Society of Saginaw. As I walked up the stairs into the main hall with its travertine walls I felt like royalty. I remember as a child wanting to live there (confession: I still do). I find that local museums often have smaller, well-curated collections that take an hour or less to explore. Their manageable size make them ideal for a visit within an entire day of sightseeing. Although I can’t imagine visiting the Louvre and Versailles in the same day, I can easily discover a local history museum and a local art museum.

After leaving the Castle, I strolled around the area passing many lovely buildings—including the Temple Theater and the Saginaw Club (formerly the Saginaw Men’s Club).

Saginaw Club founded in 1889
Saginaw Club (1889)


For lunch, I had my pick of historical places. Many restauranteurs have refurbished buildings from the 19th century. Built in 1868, the Schuch Hotel serves up spirits and food in an historic atmosphere that harkens back to Saginaw’s lumber days. Alternatively, this might be a chance for you to pack up a picnic and enjoy a park, town square, fountain, or statue. It’s fun to be a tourist in your own town. When I’m in a major city, I often buy food for a picnic and sit somewhere picturesque, but I rarely do that at home. Your sightseeing day is your time to enjoy your city as you would one that is not your own.



Near the Schuch is Saginaw’s Water Treatment Plant. One might question how this got on the historical tour, but the picture should clear up that query. Built in 1929, this imposing structure shows that town planners wanted to draw on the greatness of other cultures with Roman arches and frescoed ceilings inside. I encourage you to think about the architectural styles used in your hometown’s buildings. What impressions were your town’s leaders trying to convey?

For the last stop of the day, I chose to visit the Saginaw Art Museum. The museum is housed in the former Ring Mansion, which was designed by Charles Adams Platt. The gardens are exquisite and the art shines, but the largest masterpiece in the collection is the building itself.

The Saginaw Art Museum (c.1903), Image by Chris Freyer
The Saginaw Art Museum (c.1903), Image by Chris Freyer

After experiencing the wonders of the art museum, I chose to do something else that I often do when travel—shop! Since historical buildings are often located in downtown areas, it is really quite convenient to explore some of the little shops that may surround those buildings.

Have fun exploring the history of your hometown! I would love to hear about what you uncover; tweet me @travelhistory1.

Check out our fabulous photographic prints on our Etsy shop for yourself or as a gift.



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