JACKSON, Mich. (Michigan Back Roads) – Travelers heading west from Detroit or east from Chicago still enjoy the “Great Sauk Trail”, U.S. 12, and the beautiful Irish Hills. Near Onsted stand two nearly identical towers side by side. They are falling into disrepair these days, but how they came to be is a good story.
In the early 1900’s the Irish Hills were just as beautiful and popular as they are today. At that time Cambridge Junction was about as far as you could get on a day trip out of Detroit and still make it back home by dark. Edward Kelly owned land along the road and the Michigan Observation Company wanted to buy a bit of it with the intention of building a viewing tower. Mr. Kelly declined. His neighbor, Edward Brighton, agreed and a 50-foot-high tower was built on a high spot and opened in October of 1924. The grand opening was just in time for folks to travel out, pay five cents, climb to the top, and see the spectacular fall colors with brilliant blue lakes scattered throughout.
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The new tower was just six feet from the property line and Mr. Kelly was miffed because he thought it obscured the view from his house. To get even, he built a nearly identical tower just 12 feet from the original. What’s more he made his tower taller than the original, and the feud was on. The Michigan Observation Company raised their observation platform so it was equal in height to Kelly’s “Spite Tower”. Further, they let Mr. Kelly know that if this didn’t put an end to it, they would tear their tower down and build an enormous steel structure that would dwarf Kelly’s. That did it and for several years the competition was in finding unusual ways to attract visitors, even to the point of bringing in alligators and monkeys.
The towers were a very successful attraction. At one time as many as 50 buses per day were bringing tourists to enjoy the view. The site was open 24 hours per day at one time. By the mid-1960’s more than 2 million people had visited the towers. The advent of the automobile brought more visitors but also spelled doom for the towers. People could travel further, faster, and cheaper. Travelers headed for more impressive destinations. Various problems plagued a series of owners and by the mid-1980’s the towers shut down.
The Towers are near Cambridge Junction where 50 & 12 intersect.
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