Three Oaks, Michigan is located in Berrien County in the Southwest corner of the state of Michigan. Three Oaks is a haven for those wishing a main street, corn-fed country farming community coupled with a thriving arts scene and some of the best dining and shopping found anywhere – a great illustration of this dichotomy are the odes renowned poet and former Three Oaks’ resident Carl Sandburg wrote to the local Three Oaks butcher shop.
The Acorn Theater in Three Oaks Michigan, approximately 70 miles from downtown Chicago and 60 miles from Kalamazoo, is housed in a turn of the century former corset stay factory (the conversion of this corset factory to performance space was recently the subject of multiple shows on HGTV). This beautiful building is now home to many performers of incomparable talent whose common bond is the creative experience shared between theater owners Kim Clark and David Fink; and a large, appreciative audience. The Acorn also houses a 1931 Barton theater pipe organ, and boasts a huge acorn sculpture in front of the building.
In 2001 Clark and Fink, residents of Chicago who also live in an apartment above the Acorn, bought the 101-year old abandoned corset factory. After nearly two years of construction, the facility re-opened in 2003 as the Acorn Theater, a 250-seat multi-disciplinary space used for high-quality professional performances and live theater.
The Acorn Theater produces approximately 45 separate shows each year that run the gamut from Absurd Post Modern Clowning to new works by TONY award winning Broadway creators. Music also holds a special place in the Acorn lineup: former seasons have featured internationally known rock bands including Jefferson Starship, Poi Dog Pondering, and The Cowby Junkies; folk legends such as Peter Yarrow, Richie Havens, Shawn Mullins, and Corky Siegel; rock icon Lesley Gore, pianist Jim Brickman, and opera star Nathan Gunn.
The Acorn Theater has shows most Friday and Saturday evenings, and is located at 107 Generations Drive, a road that runs behind the Post Office, which is located on Elm Street, the main street of Three Oaks.
About the Owners of The Acorn Theater:
Kim Clark: Clark is a writer and producer of television and film. In 2006 he ran for elected office as the Democratic candidate for United States Congress from the 6th district of Michigan. Prior to that, he served for several years as National Head of the Writing Programs at Chicago’s famous Second City in the Second City Training Centers. His students currently write for many television series such as Saturday Night Live, Conan O’Brien, and The Daily Show. Kim has served as Artistic Director at the Chicago Center for Performing Arts. He has written several produced plays including “Binding Arbitration” and “Girl Talk.”? Clark teaches Screenwriting at Chicago’s DePaul University and serves as the Acorn Theater’s Artistic Director.
David Fink: Fink holds positions as Chairman of the Board of the internationally-known Chicago Improv Festival, and Chairman of the Board of the Poetry Center of Chicago, affiliated with the Art Institute of Chicago. He serves as the Acorn Theater’s Producer.
History of the Acorn Theater Building:
Three Oaks, Michigan was well established as a rural trading center as far back as 1883. There was, however, no industry located in the town. Because of a strong conservative value system, the village had stymied most plans for expansion within the region. However, an event occurred at this time that would have a profound effect on the area and forever change the future of its inhabitants.
Turkey feathers — the bane of every farmstead cook — would be the one thing that would change the destiny of Three Oaks. In June of 1883, Edward K. Warren obtained patents on a new substance called “featherbone.” Made from the heavy quill feathers of the turkey, featherbone would revolutionize the women’s garment industry and transform Three Oaks into the center of a worldwide manufacturing conglomerate.
The process for making featherbone was published in an article in magazines and newspapers across the country in 1883, and was described as follows:
“The first thing is to strip the feathers of their plumage. Rollers with knives attached split the quills in half. Sandpaper rollers revolving rapidly remove the pith. Then, a series of interlocking knives reduce the quills to fiber. In this state, the material is fed into a machine that forms it into a strong fine cord; at the same time it is being wound with thread. In another machine, four of these tightly wound cords are wound together with thread, in such a manner as to form a flat tape.”
Almost immediately, the demand for featherbone surpassed even the expectations of Warren himself. His company, which had started with a workforce consisting of a foreman and five others, grew into a two-shift operation employing seventy-five full time workers within a nine-month period. Sales had grown from $7,000 the first year, to $80,000 the second and to a staggering $800,000 by June of 1886. Branch factories were started in Middleville MI, Porter IN, and St. Thomas, Canada. Branch offices were opened in major cities throughout the country as well as many foreign cities, thus making the Warren Featherbone Company a truly worldwide operation.
About the Town:
- Three Oaks, Michigan is a town of 1,829 people, about 850 homes. In 1998 a local art community began to emerge, still leaving Three Oaks the epitome of a small and traditional America Town.
- The Acorn Theater produces over 100 high quality live events a year.
- Every year Three Oaks appoints a paid Poet Laureate selected by some of America’s best artists. And each year they host the world largest Flag Day Parade.
- The town produces a series of professional summer-long free Park Concerts every year.
- The Vickers Theatre, a converted livery stable, shows only art films, and everyone —including local farmers, whose corn fields can be seen out the back doors of homes — sees subtitled movies (no other theater for 25 miles); they present more than 75 fine art films a year.
- Three Oaks acts as home to 30-50 visual artists and almost 20 performing arts groups, from classical musicians to fire-spinners. Every third Saturday the town has a street festival with fire spinners, artist’s celebrations, and walking musicians.
- Carl Sandburg lived and wrote poetry in Three Oaks. He penned odes to Dryer’s Butcher Shop. Carolyn Dryer still runs the Butcher Shop; it has been in her family for generations.
- Mark Hollmann (2003 TONY award winner for best new musical) chose Three Oaks as a “safe artistic haven” to work on his next project. Oprah Winfrey lived just outside of town for years. Allen and Lynn Turner, former Chairman of Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art, McCall’s Magazine and Hyatt Hotels live in Three Oaks, and Allen is know locally (and simply) as the farmer who runs Spring Creek Farms. Joan Cusack calls Three Oaks home.
- Colleen Froehlich’s is a businesswoman whose store, Froehlich’s, features home canned foods and strong artistic vision. Three Oaks also boasts wonderful shops, including European-style clothing and shops that are world-renowned for their collection of antique furniture. High end design stores include Ipso Facto and Trilogy.
- The Village of Three Oaks even boasts its own Harbor Country Radio station, FM106.7/Radio Harbor Country, opened in 2006, and dedicated to organizing, sponsoring and disseminating information on relevant social, cultural and political issues as well as fostering the appreciation of “The Arts” through outreach, education, community involvement, mentoring and programming. In addition to live broadcast, the station is available on-line world wide, at http://www.radioharborcountry.org.
- Restaurants in Three Oaks: Froehlich’s for light fare and baked goods, Viola’s for High Tea, The Elm Street Bistro, Nelson’s, Featherbone and more.
Visitors from Chicago can reach Three Oaks, Michigan, a great day or weekend getaway, by taking Highway 94 East to Exit 4-A, four miles East of the Michigan state line. Visit www.threeoaks.org for more info.
Accommodations: Go to www.harborcountry.com for a listing of hotels and Bed and Breakfasts in the area.