James Oliver Curwood and Curwood Castle — History and Tour with 061821 update

On Wednesday, June 2, 2021, I drove to the first special place (that I haven’t seen yet) from a book I bought a few years ago, called, “Lost in Michigan,” Curwood Castle in Owosso, MI.   The Castle was built in 1922-1923, long after Curwood was famous, as a writing studio and as a place to meet with people.  Let’s start with the man who was born in Owosso, Michigan and was laid to rest there.

resized curwood in his first suit 060221

James Oliver Curwood in 1902, in his first suit bought after being hired by the Detroit News-Tribune. He worked for the paper until 1907.

from wikipedia:  James Oliver Curwood (June 12, 1878 – August 13, 1927) was an American action-adventure writer and conservationist. His books were often based on adventures set in the Hudson Bay area, the Yukon or Alaska and ranked among the top-ten best sellers in the United States in the early and mid 1920s, according to Publishers Weekly. At least one hundred and eighty motion pictures have been based on or directly inspired by his novels and short stories; one was produced in three versions from 1919 to 1953. At the time of his death, Curwood was the highest paid (per word) author in the world.

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Curwood’s writing desk as a child

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Curwood’s bibliography.

Over 180 films based on or inspired by Curwood’s novels and short stories have been made!  For a list of them, see here.  If you go to youtube and put his name in the search box, you’ll see a lot of movies and audiobooks.   I asked the lady at the castle if his books were similar to Jack London’s books and she said yes and that Curwood was more popular than London when they were both writing.

Curwood was an internationally famous author and took a tour of Europe and saw many castles.  He decided he wanted a castle of his own.

resized blueprint of the castle 060221

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resized plaque on registry of historical places by dept of interior 060221

resized plaque about curwood castle literary heritage site 060221

Before we go inside this magnificent building, you’ll notice “his work with conservation” on the plaque.  Reading about Curwood in the building exhibits, it talks about a transformative experience he had while out hunting.

from shiawassee history website:

Curwood was an avid hunter until about ten years before his death. While on a hunting trip in the Rockies, he saw a large bear he called Thor. He tried to shoot him three times in three weeks. One day as Thor approached him, he slipped and fell, breaking his gun. The bear reared up before walking away. Curwood turned from hunting for trophies to championing the cause of wild things.

Afterwards, in the book, “The Grizzly King,” (1916) he wrote:

The greatest thrill is not to kill, but to let live.

shiawassee history website goes on to say:

His philosophy was to lead to his active campaigning for the preservation of Michigan’s natural resources. He wanted to limit or even close hunting seasons, including the season for spikehorn deer and was always interested in stocking streams and game preserves, as well as reforestation. On January 1, 1927 he was appointed to the Michigan Conservation Commission. He was also instrumental in planning and building the Shiawassee Conservation Club. Unfortunately, after his death most of the measures he had fought for were revoked.

Although Curwood wanted to live to be 100, a freak incident while fishing in FL, where he was stung by an unidentified creature through his wading boots, led to a lingering infection that ended up killing him in 1927 at the age of 49.

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James Oliver Curwood sculpture (2016) by Ryan (and Nathan) Leslie.

In 2010, Ryan Leslie, a born-and-raised Owosso sculptor, had a dream of creating a life-sized sculpture of Curwood.  He made a small bronze model and then went on a mission to get enough donations to create the life-sized one.  Unfortunately Ryan passed away before his dream could be realized.  His brother, Nathan, carried on until enough funds were donated to make it happen.

According to the Owosso Independent article:

While researching Curwood for inspiration for the sculpture, Ryan came across the tale of the time Curwood purportedly was fishing with a small fly rod and caught a sunfish. While reeling in the sunfish, a large pike ate the sunfish and Curwood was able to pull the pike out of the water. This is the design that Ryan chose for his sculpture.

OK time to go inside.  There are 4 floors total:
1) the basement, which has exhibits on other famous Owossoans, Frederick Frieseke, 1906 World Champion West Side Indoor Base Ball Team (yes, baseball was two words!,) Thomas Dewey, and Felix Schlag.

2) the 2nd floor, which is the main reception area, with chairs, couches, a fireplace; an area to meet and greet others.  You go up a few steps to Curwood’s writing room/landing in the turret.

3) the 3rd floor,  which is also in the turret, has the display for the writing desk his father made for him as a child

4) the 4th floor, which is also in the turret, has all of the photographs, the blueprint for the castle, newspaper and magazine articles about the author, etc.

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This little bench is the very first thing you see when you walk in. To your left you walk up stairs to the 2nd floor. To your right are stairs going down to the basement. I went left when I heard the museum person say, “Is someone there?”  It costed $5 admission, which I was happy to pay.

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This is one of the first things you see in the reception area (2nd) floor.

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Moosehead over the fireplace on the 2nd floor. It seems contradictory that a dead animal’s head is on the wall in light of Curwood’s 1916 watershed experience, but oh well… This is a large room with very tall ceilings as you can see (imagine.) I wish I would have taken more pics of the room but there wasn’t much in there besides old-looking furniture.

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This is Curwood’s writing room, with the sounds of the river behind him for inspiration.

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This goes from the writing room and up  to the area with the childhood writing desk.

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These lead up to the 4th floor and are quite narrow at the top.

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This is a window on the stairway that looks over the roof of the main reception area.

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One of the portholes on the 4th floor. So neat to find a bird’s nest up here and to see Curwood’s sculpture from here.

Sorry to say I didn’t take a lot of pics in this room as they were mostly cases with photos and written information on the wall.  Then it was time to go back downstairs.

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A shot of the staircase going down. Much more nerve-wracking to go down the stairs as they are pretty steep and narrow.

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After having a nice chat with the lady who works there, Denice Grace, who has read all of Curwood’s books and knows a LOT about him, I learned that this bridge was built much later, but it’s still very nice. It wobbles when you walk on it too! It’s called the Shiawassee Heritage Bridge.

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Curwood Castle on the banks of the Shiawassee River, taken 060221

I’ve got other pics I took of a neat cabin on the property as well as an arts center next door (that I couldn’t go inside of because they were closed) but I’ll possibly do another on them at some point.

I hope you have found this post about the man and his castle as interesting as it was for me to go there and have a look around.

 

Sources:
(c) photos taken by me at Curwood Castle and the grounds

wikipedia Curwood Castle
wikipediaon Curwood
shiawasseehistory.com
about the sculpture:  owossoindependent.com

UPDATE 061821:

I just finished reading The Grizzly King, the novel that includes Curwood’s life transforming experience mentioned above. Read my review here

9 Comments Add yours

  1. Sadje says:

    Very interesting place. Loved reading about Curwood. Thanks for sharing

    Liked by 1 person

    1. msjadeli says:

      Thank you, Sadje, and my pleasure.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Sadje says:

        You’re welcome my friend

        Liked by 2 people

  2. badfinger20 (Max) says:

    What a super cool place…it would be wonderful to live there. I like the writing room and small stairs…really cool. Thanks for sharing Lisa!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. msjadeli says:

      Glad you enjoyed the tour, Max. I would love to live there also. Owosso is a nice town, what I saw of it. Oh! I forgot to put the freaky part in my post. Although my decision to go there was *completely*random* I learned that the whole town is gearing up for the annual Curwood Festival that honors him! What are the odds that I visit at exactly the right time for his festival. It’s this weekend.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. badfinger20 (Max) says:

        Never forget the freaky parts Lisa! lol… I would not leave if I lived there.
        That is really cool…sounds like fate wanted you to be there .

        Liked by 2 people

  3. memadtwo says:

    What a wonderful building! And thanks for all the historical context. Amazingly, I had never heard of him before. (K)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. msjadeli says:

      Yes it is. Built to last. I hadn’t either until I came across him in the book.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. memadtwo says:

        It’s 8nteresting how people who are so well known in their lifetimes can disappear. And vice versa of course. Fame is a slippery thing.

        Liked by 2 people

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