Some small towns—I’d say most small towns, at least around here in northern Michigan—encapsulate small-town life and living: local ice cream shops usually called something great like the Cone Corral; cars pulled up side by side, windows down—their drivers catching each other up on the latest news; meanwhile, historical buildings that were once of great import and have remained beautiful, continue to stand. As soon as arrived to Reed City, I knew I’d found a perfect small town.
What drew me to Reed City were a couple of things: an abandoned air strip and a desire for new ground. I was scrolling through Instagram, as one tends to do, and came across a photo someone shared of an incredible mid-century structure—an abandoned airport called Nartron Field. I’m usually searching for new areas to photograph in and realized that I hadn’t traveled much farther than Cadillac, already about one hour south, in far too long. So off to Reed City I traveled.
An Abandoned Airport
After making the voyage south, I headed toward Nartron Field. While driving closer and closer, it began to come into view. It was incredible, even better than the photo that was shared on Instagram. The airport terminal was designed using colored rectangles along all the walls visible from the road, it was a photographer’s dream. The airport was the type of place that one could stay at all day, but my goal was to explore Reed City so onward I traveled.
Driving through town, it had the feel of a close-knit community. There was a downtown area that included a variety of businesses such as a Jeep-themed restaurant called the Seven Slot Grill. I didn’t partake but the aromas traveling from it were good. Judging from the history and town layout, Reed City was alive with train-traffic back in the day. A fantastically tall structure, the Reed City Feed & Supply, loomed large over the town center.
There were old motels, party stores and businesses that I couldn’t resist photographing. Across the street from a Yoplait factory was an exceptional structure—the building that once housed the Osceola County Herald. Working in newsrooms myself, I fully appreciated the bustle and talent that can only take place in a newsroom, even one as small as this. I was surprised at how well the lettering was preserved on the buildings exterior.
Few People, Many Sights
I saw five people, not counting those driving, while I walked around town. Such is the life of a small-town photographer though. The population of Reed City is just shy of 3,000 so a people-dense scene wasn’t anywhere near my expectation; also, it’s the quality not the quantity.
One particular structure, aside from Nartron Field, that had photo potential written all over it, was the Reed City Motel. On Google, the star rating it has received is a 2.4 from 22 reviewers. Everything from “…room full of potheads…” to “Worst place on this planet…”. These are some of my favorite places; they have character and “charm” that your Radisson or Hilton properties can’t even dream of achieving. Any motel or hotel that advertises Color TVs and/or Air Conditioning will definitely be a subject of my photography.
Just west of the motel was the town’s school that had a football field and surrounding track. Beyond the track was a church steeple which I framed as best I could on some 35mm negative film. Reed City has some history of Lutheran churches, as so many Michigan towns do, so a photo including a church seemed appropriate.
Not far from the motel, down the road and past the train tracks, was a large white house with a classic car at its side. To me, this embodied what any town can deliver: it may not be big or glitzy—thank goodness it’s not—but if you look, it’s authentic and genuine and that can be sure tough to find these days.
This small town offered an impressive amount history for its size; it could be felt on the checkered-buildings and narrow streets within its city limits. As sure as the Hersey River runs through it, I will travel to you soon Reed City, and to all of your Americana glory as well.