John Geisler to speak about U.S. 12, the Old Sauk Trail 2.11

Posted in 2009 February

John Geisler had a fascination with roads and where they led ever since he was a child growing up in Morenci.

Once he retired from his career as a professor at Western Michigan University, he returned to that curiosity with the highway and took a closer look.john.geisler.jpg

He’ll present some of his findings Tuesday at Stair Public Library when he talks about the Old Sauk Trail.

Don’t expect a boring lecture, Geisler said.

“I’m not a historian,” he said, “and it’s not a lecture type of presentation.”

The title of his talk should make that clear: “From Pathways to Expressways: A Quixotic, Queer, Quaint, Clever and Whimsical History of the Sauk Trail (U.S. 12) from Detroit to Chicago.”

And if that’s not enough, he describes the program “as told by a quaint and quixotic former resident of Morenci” who shows clever slides at the whim of the presenter.

He won’t work his way through a stack of note cards; it’s just a light and entertaining talk coming from his memory.

There are many interesting stories behind the hundreds of major roads in America, and U.S. 12 is no exception.

“It’s still the shortest route from Detroit to Chicago,” Geisler said. “It’s not the fastest, but it’s the shortest.”

The Sauk people had a connection to the British, Geisler said, and they traveled from Illinois to Detroit each year in the late 1700s to receive gifts.

From the first paths forged out of the wilderness to the well-worn trail and finally an early road, the old Sauk Trail served as an important route for travel.

It was the chief road between Detroit and Chicago before construction of the I-94 interstate.

After Geisler retired from teaching graduate level counseling courses at Western, he decided to become a student again.

“I’ve had an abiding interest in roads and highways ever since I was a kid,” he said. “What I’ve done is to continue my education.”

Many retirees just sit and listen in, but not Geisler. He wants the tests and a grade. In a Michigan history class, he decided fulfill a project assignment by exploring his interest in roads.

Michigan highways became his goal, but it didn’t take long to discover he was biting off far too much.

“I soon learned that one road was enough and I chose the old Old Sauk Trail.”

Geisler’s presentation Tuesday, beginning at 7 p.m., will incorporate slides that show highlights of the road from its start in downtown Detroit, the communities it passes through and the attractions along the way.

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