1576 Straits Highway
P.O. Box 266
Topinabee, MI 49791
Ahh, September, the best month of summer. That's right. If you are a retired high school librarian, September is the best month. Don't get me wrong. I loved my job. But as a retired educator, I enjoy the luxury of an additional month of summer. Wonderful weather without the heat and humidity, and beautiful summer days without the crowds. Schools are back in session, and much of the regular population is absorbed with kids and fall sports. The perfect time for a road trip!
So on a beautiful Friday in September, I set out for a small dot on the map, a place far up north in Michigan. In fact, if it were much farther north, 30 miles or so, it would be in the UP. (That's Upper Peninsula for those of you not familiar with my fair state.) On this particular September day, a few hours' drive took me to the shores of beautiful Mullett Lake and a town called Topinabee. What brought me to this remote speck on the map? You see, this lovely town is home to one of the most charming little libraries I have ever set foot in.
What makes this library so special? Other than the fact that it is in a great location with a magnificent view of gorgeous Mullett Lake . . . with a beach . . . and a playground . . . and picnic tables. As if the location weren't enough, the Topinabee Library lives in an old railroad station. It doesn't get more nostalgic and charming than that.
Named after a revered Potawatomi Indian chief, Topinabee means “he who sits quietly.” How's that for a perfect library name? The town is rich with history, and the old railroad depot is a big part of it. Built in 1882, the station once saw as many as eight passenger trains a day bringing downstate travelers to the area for vacation. Passenger service ended in 1963, but freight trains continued until 1990. The last tracks were pulled up in 1994, and as I pulled up to the library and parked my car, I could see a gravel trail, all that remains of those tracks.
I entered the library to find Patricia King seated at the main desk. Patricia has been the director of this delightful library for about ten years and was a welcoming tour guide. She pointed out a host of authentic station components preserved in this antique structure, the original ticket window, for example. And in the stationmaster's quarters, visitors can still see the original wood stove that would have heated his home as well as an old safe that still houses railroad journals, logbooks, and mail books from days gone by. Occupying the same space are several internet computers providing today's visitors with an entirely different means of “travel.”
Kids are an important part of the Topinabee programs. One of my favorite spaces in this railroad library is the old baggage area, now a cheery children's section. And since the library enjoys such a scenic lakeside tourist setting, Patricia says that during the summer, the library typically sees 30 to 40 kids for an outside story time.
Summer is indeed a busy time in Topinabee, and this small library is very accommodating to visiting boaters and beach goers. A “Summer Read” section featuring uncatalogued paperbacks provides reading material without penalty for the occasional book damaged or lost during carefree days on the water. Puzzles are also available. And for the nominal fee of $1, DVD's can be rented.
On the library grounds, free WiFi is offered, 24/7. Several picnic tables with a view of Mullett Lake sit outside the library alongside the old rail bed, and across the way is a small playground and a sandy beach.
A unique, antique structure in a lovely lakeside setting, what more could a library connoisseur ask for? I came away from my visit with a souvenir Topinabee Public Library t-shirt proclaiming, "Life is great. Reading makes it better." I couldn't agree more. My advice to anyone lucky enough to spend time in the Topinabee area? The local library is well worth a visit.