Friday, 2 December 2016

The Spite Towers of Irish Hills

Standing atop a small knoll along the highway between Detroit and Chicago, the Twin Towers of Irish Hills in Lenawee County, in Southeast Michigan, was a beacon to weary travellers when it opened in 1924. The top of the towers are 1,400 feet above sea level, making them the highest point in southeastern Michigan. On a clear day visitors can see for seven miles around the beautiful green Irish hills and its many surrounding lakes.

The towers have an interesting history. In the early 1920s, a new outfit called the Michigan Observation Company was erecting 50-foot tall towers all around the state in order to boost tourism. It came to Irish Hills in 1924, and seeking to erect a similar tower in a high ground property next to the highway, it approached the property owner, a man named Ed Kelley, with an offer. But Ed Kelley wasn’t interested in commercializing his property, so he refused.
The determined company contacted Kelly's next-door neighbor, Edward Brighton, who owned the adjacent hill. Brighton agreed to the deal, and within months a fifty-foot tall wooden structure with a twenty-four feet square base was erected, just six feet away from Ed Kelley’s property. The observation tower opened with a gala celebration. During its first weekend more than 1,200 visitors ascended the stairs to enjoy the stunning views of the rolling landscape.

Ed Kelly was not pleased. To get even with the Michigan Observation Company, Kelly decided to build an almost identical tower on his own property just twelve feet away from the opposing structure. Only, his tower would be taller. The new tower went up in less than sixty days, and it was ten feet taller than the original.

The Michigan Observation Company responded by adding a second observation platform on top of their existing tower, raising its overall height to 64 feet. The company also named their tower “The Original Irish Hills Tower.” Mr. Kelly, not to be outdone, made his four feet taller bringing both towers to level. At this point, the Michigan Observation Company made it clear to Kelly that if he kept up the competition, they would demolish their wooden tower and erect a tower out of steel so large that Kelly’s efforts would be for naught. This ended the vertical one-upmanship. Instead, both started finding ways to bring visitors to their respective attraction.


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