Curwood Castle: A Literary Shrine
A unique destination
A short distance from Lansing--and definitely worth the trip--is a unique home built by author and environmentalist activist James Oliver Curwood in the early 1920's. It is actually a miniature castle that at first seems more at home in Europe than in contemporary America. Surrounding it in a park like setting are an authentic log cabin and a suspended foot bridge across the Shiawassee River. Together, they form an excursion into a romantic past that is long gone from this hectic era. It is reminiscent of other literary meccas, such as Washington Irving's "Sunnyside", north of New York in the Hudson River valley. Curwood was a prolific enough author--having published thirty-three books--and he also bore a resemblance to a contemporary, Jack London, in several ways. Both loved adventure and set their stories in Canada and the far north. Both died young, in their forties. Both achieved a measure of financial success from their writings, and had their novels and short stories turned into Hollywood films. Although not as politically radical as London, Curwood was able to realize his dream of an ideal home on the banks of the Shiawassee. His castle in Owosso is the result.
The castle is a replica of one that is typical of French manor style, as might be found in the Loire valley or elsewhere--for example Normandy-- in France. There is just a hint of English half-timbre style in the back. The castle's exterior walls are of yellow stucco interspersed with fieldstones that Curwood selected himself, topped with a slate roof. Several turrets are found at he corners of the building, one of which Curwood used as his personal writing studio. The interior is a series of large and small rooms connected with winding staircases in the turrets between floors. One of the large rooms was used to receive guests, including Hollywood producers and agents eager to make deals with Curwood for rights to turn his works into films. Today, they serve as a museum showcase for his furniture and mementos of his era.
Beyond the Castle
Located near the castle are two other interesting historic structures. One is the Comstock log cabin, built in 1836. Erected by Judge Elias Comstock as a home for himself and his wife, it was originally located elsewhere but was finally relocated here after being moved three times! Comstock was a merchant, school teacher, judge and county clerk. The other interesting feature--besides the well landscaped park-- is the suspended footbridge over the Shiawassee. Four stone pillars hold the suspended span, which can sway in a strong wind. Indeed, although his stories were set in a distant world, some of the moody atmosphere which must have inspired Curwood can still be felt in this area today.
The Culture of Curwood
As interesting as the castle and other structures are, they have given birth over the years to a curious aftermath that can best be described as the "Culture of Curwood". Today, it is customary for his hometown to honor one of Owosso's more famous sons with a four day festival, always held in early June. Parades, fireworks and entertainment highlight this annual salute to this unique author. It is unclear what Jim Curwood would have made of all this, but one suspects that he would have been proud.