WRITER | LISA BECKER CAMPBELL
PHOTO | SHIAWASSEEHISTORY.COM
The Curwood Collection
“A grizzly wounded by a gunshot had ensnared his huntsman by surprise on a narrow mountain ledge. Sudden death seemed the hunter’s inevitable fate…,” wrote author James Oliver Curwood.
Over a century ago, this frightening, true scenario led the huntsman to change his life. Curwood abandoned hunting for sport and eventually penned a best-selling novel, The Grizzly King. The novel became one of Curwood’s many worldwide bestsellers, and major movie deals led him to become a millionaire. His wealth enabled Curwood to build an elaborate writing studio fashioned after a French chateau in Owosso. Ultimately, this castle led to the establishment of the Curwood Collection, a group of historical buildings counted among the richest collections in the Midwest today.
The castle was completed in 1923, and Curwood wrote a number of his later works there until his death in 1927. By design, the writing studio did not even have a kitchen. Instead, the chateau included a large gathering space for entertaining guests on the lower level and a winding staircase leading to the studio in a tower overlooking the Shiawassee River.
Today, the Castle Museum includes an original writing desk from this studio among its displays. The collection’s additional buildings are the Woodward Paymaster, a 120-year-old furniture store; the Comstock Pioneer log cabin, a one-room structure believed to be the first cabin built in Owosso in 1836; and the Amos Gould house, established in 1843 by a statesman credited with over 40 years of public service in Owosso who also contributed to the development of the state of Michigan.
The Curwood Collection also features a museum, whose strategy is to “educate and engage audiences in appreciating the past and helping visitors find relevance to their lives through a diverse and progressive program of collections, exhibitions, and educational initiatives,” according to the museum’s website.
Curwood’s life is celebrated each year with a festival presented by the City of Owosso Historical Commission. Centered around the castle, the celebration began in 1978 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Curwood’s birth. The annual Curwood Collection Festival is held the first full weekend in June each year, so it is slated for June 6 – 9 this summer.
The festival commemorates Curwood in particular as well as Owosso’s heritage in general and provides a weekend of entertainment. It has grown to three full days of events and activities for the entire family, including a talent show, a children’s parade, a pet show, a writing contest, arts and crafts, a flea market, a carnival, parades, tournaments, and a whole lot more.
About James Oliver Curwood
Considered one of America’s greatest authors of his time, Curwood was born in Owosso in 1878. He lived in the community for most of his life but left for brief stints to study at the University of Michigan and to work at a newspaper in Detroit. He returned to Owosso with his family in 1891. In 1907, he began a career solely of literary work and was earning his living as a novelist one year later. The Grizzly King was published in 1916. In 1989, the book served as the basis of the movie The Bear.
A lifelong love of writing and nature are common themes of many of his novels, many of which were adventures set in the Canadian north. During the 1920s, his books were among the most popular in North America. In total, he penned 33 novels, which are estimated to have been read by over 7 million people during his time. Many became bestsellers worldwide and were made into movies.
Curwood is also recognized for being an early advocate of environmental conservation and as a pioneer in American movie-making. He is credited with over 236 movies based on his novels, short stories, serializations, and movie scripts.
The Curwood Collection
224 Curwood Castle Drive, Owosso MI
Owosso Historical Commission
515 North Washington Street, Owosso MI
The Castle Festival
212 South Washington, Owosso MI