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Ten things you probably didn’t know about Livingston County

Sure, you know that KISS once performed an epic concert in Hartland back in 1975. And you know the greatest second baseman in Detroit Tigers history grew up in Fowlerville. And you know we have a town here called “Hell.”

You might know some of the fascinating things about Livingston County, but there’s no way you know all of them.

In that spirit, then, here are Ten Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Livingston County:

Babe Ruth (left) fishing at Island Lake in Brighton.

1. Babe Ruth was once arrested and taken to court in Howell

It’s been widely reported through the years that Babe Ruth, the greatest baseball legend of all time, used to spend a lot of time fishing at Island Lake in Brighton.

What isn’t widely known, though, is that one of those fishing trips landed him in trouble with the law.

According to newspaper accounts at the time, the Bambino was arrested and taken to court in Howell in June of 1926 for the high crimes of fishing out of season and taking undersized fish. Step aside, Bonnie and Clyde!

Not surprisingly, it was something of a spectacle in Howell when the Babe showed up at the Livingston County Courthouse. Thankfully for him, the charges were dropped on a technicality.

2. Frank Zappa learned to shoot a gun in Hartland

Back in the 1970s, one of the hottest rock bands in America, Grand Funk Railroad, hung out at a farm in Hartland Township owned by the band’s leader, Mark Farner. The farm, known as “The Swamp,” included a recording studio.

In the summer of 1976, Grand Funk Railroad recorded an album in Hartland called “Good Singin’, Good Playin.’ ” The album was produced by the rock legend known as Frank Zappa.

Zappa spent the summer of 1976 in Livingston County working on the album, and it was during that time that he learned how to shoot a gun. And according to Farner, he loved it. Farner told the story thusly in an interview:

“I went over to the farmhouse and I got a .44 magnum. All he wanted to do was shoot a can like they did in the movies. So we put some beer cans out there, and I talked him through how to do that first shot. How to squeeze and not jerk the trigger, let it be a surprise, and he hit the can. He freaked out. He just wanted to stay out all day shooting the gun.”

You’ll find the full story here.

Frank Zappa (second from left) and the Grand Funk Railroad guys, horsing around at the Swamp in Parshallville during a studio session.

3. There isn’t a single building here that’s taller than three stories

It’s true. As fast-growing as we are, and as big as we are in every other way, we’re still small-towny and rural when it comes to this. There isn’t a single building here that’s taller than three stories.

There’s one that’s close – the Citizens Insurance building on M-59 in Howell has a quasi-fourth story – but that doesn’t count.

Livingston County is the 10th-biggest county in Michigan, and we still don’t have a four-story building.

Former Gov. George Romney’s gravesite at Fairview Cemetery in Brighton.

4. Former Gov. George Romney is buried in Brighton

It was a huge deal in these parts back in 1995 when the funeral of former Gov. George Romney took place at Fairview Cemetery in Brighton.

It was a total shocker when the family revealed that Romney wanted to be buried here, because he had no ties whatsoever to the area. He lived in Bloomfield Hills and served in Lansing. There was some speculation that he picked Brighton as his final resting spot because it was midway between those two places.

Another interesting fact: When his funeral took place at the cemetery, his son Mitt (future governor, senator and presidential candidate) did not speak. Instead, it was his other son, Scott, who delivered the eulogy.

All told, there are three former governors buried in Livingston County. Kingley Bingham and Edwin B. Winans are the others.

5. There used to be a topless bar in Pinckney

Those who were around in the 1970s no doubt remember this well.

The place was the Anchor Inn on McGregor Road, and when it made the decision in the early 1970s to become a topless “go-go bar,” it caused a huge controversy in the community.

Half the Anchor Inn was a rock bar, the other half was a topless bar.

It eventually went away following a tragic fatal car accident in 1977. Six underage boys were killed after drinking at the bar. It closed soon after.

The Orr Theatre in downtown Fowlerville, 1954.

6. There used to be a movie theater in downtown Fowlerville

The Orr Theatre was only around in the 1940s and 1950s, and it was located on Grand River Avenue, on the western side of where the hardware store is now.

The Orr had about 270 seats and played all the big films of the day. According to the newspaper ads back then, the theater’s slogan was “Modern in Every Way.”

Satan’s Hills in 1962.

7. There’s a subdivision here called “Satan’s Hills”

Most of our subdivisions have words like “Oaks” and “Pines” and “Valley” in them. We also have one with the word “Satan” in the title.

And you can probably guess where it is.

Yes, Satan’s Hills is a small subdivision just north of Hell, in southern Putnam Township. The street that winds through Satan’s Hills is called Angel’s Pass (have to balance things out), and the first homes went in back in 1962.

Ski jumpers pose in front of the Brighton Ski Jump in the mid-1930s.

8. There used to be an enormous ski jump in Brighton

We’re not talking about the snowboard jump at Mt. Brighton. We’re talking about a real Olympic-sized ski jump.

As we detailed in this story, the Brighton Ski Jump was located on Flint Road, and it was only around for three winters – from 1935 to 1937. It was built by a legendary ski jumper named Henry Hill, and in its short heyday, it attracted thousands of fans each weekend in the summer to watch the competitions.

9. Alice Cooper once performed at the Fowlerville Fair

You know that a lot of famous folks performed at the fair during the years, but you probably thought most of them were country acts like the Oak Ridge Boys and Tanya Tucker.

A whole bunch of others also performed in Fowlerville, though, and the most fish-out-of-water one was probably Alice Cooper. The famous shock rocker performed at the fair in 2003, (For a list of all the acts who performed at the fair through the years, click here.)

As you’ll see from this 2003 letter to the editor, Cooper’s act was apparently not without some controversy.

10. Three Oscar-winning actors have filmed movies here

Can you name them? Time’s up. Here they are:

Adrien Brody was here the longest. He spent a month or so in Howell back in 2008, filming the stoner comedy “High School.”

Hilary Swank came to Howell soon after that to shoot some scenes at the Livingston County Courthouse for her 2010 film “Conviction.”

And Robert De Niro was here for a few hours in 2009 to shoot one quick scene for “Stone,” which took place right near the Unadilla Store.

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6 Comments

  1. Opps, missed the Holiday Inn Express by the Brighton Cinema and the Holiday Inn Express by Costco, both active businesses in 4 story buildings, wow Bubby you need to get out and about in the county!

  2. You forgot the movie Aspen Extreme filmed on top of Mt. Brighton… Funny part was they talked about making snow, yet all the trees on Bauer Rd. still had leaves on them….

  3. You missed it on #3, Buddy you need to take a ride to the I-96 Latson Rd. interchange, there in all of it’s unfinished glory sits the counties next Hampton Inn, all 4 stories of it!

  4. I miss you. The LCP is no more or at least of no value. I do listen to WHMI although I live in Orlando.

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