Belle Meade Plantation – The Mackinac Connection

A lavish plantation house in Nashville, Tennessee and the Wood Quarters at Fort Mackinac may not seem to have much in common at first glance, but they both served as homes for the same man, William G. Harding.

Harding

Harding

William’s father John Harding began constructing the Belle Meade plantation in 1820. Unlike other plantations focused on growing cotton and other crops, the farm became a center of the thoroughbred horse racing industry, especially after William assumed management duties in 1839. Racing brought Harding wealth and fame, which he used to support the secession of Tennessee as the Civil War approached. When Federal troops recaptured Nashville in 1862, they arrested Harding as a Confederate sympathizer. (more…)

New Photos of an Old Hospital

Mackinac State Historic Parks Registrar Brian Jaeschke recently acquired copies of several historic photographs of the 1860 Post Hospital at Fort Mackinac. The photographs were discovered in the digital collection of the U.S. National Library of Medicine in Bethesda, Maryland which has 150,000 historical prints and photographs.

Post Hospital From Gun Platform

Click the image to see a larger version.

The photographs, two of which are new to the MSHP collection, show the hospital as it appeared in the 1880s. The front view is taken from the upper gun platform and shows the south and west elevations of the building. In the foreground are the 6 and 12 pound cannon that were used by soldiers for daily salutes and ceremonial occasions such as the Fourth of July. Today’s cannon firing demonstrations take place in the same location. Beyond the gun platform is the walkway bridge that that provided access to the building through the front porch. Of interest is the system of gutters which collected and fed rain water into the cistern which is still in place in front of the hospital. Water was stored in the cistern as part of the fort’s fire protection system. (more…)

Portraits Put Face on Mackinac History

Portraits Put Face on Mackinac History

It’s fascinating that after fifty years of actively collecting materials related to Fort Mackinac history, we still discover new treasures. Our most recent “discovery” is two portraits of Colonel George Mercer Brooke who commanded the fort in 1832.

George Mercer Brook 1819

Portrait ca. 1819

George Mercer Brooke 1825

Portrait ca. 1825

While conducting research for a future publication tentatively entitled “Soldiers of Fort Mackinac: A Pictorial History”, Director for Mackinac State Historic Parks Phil Porter made contact with Colonel Mercer’s great, great grandson George Mercer Brooke, III, through Ancestry.com. Brooke, a retired United States Marine colonel, shared with me a photograph of a portrait of his ancestor painted c. 1819 in Boston. While the portrait is not signed, family tradition holds that it was painted by Gilbert Stuart, the famous early American portraitist. Mr. Brooke’s cousin, Theodore Brooke, provided an additional portrait of the fort commander painted c. 1825.

(more…)

Numerous Pets Hold Place in Mackinac History

Numerous Pets Hold Place in Mackinac History

Animals below Fort Mackinac

Grand: Several men and their dogs gather on the government pasture below Fort Mackinac. These soldiers are likely from the 23rd Infantry or belong to the Michigan state troops, who gathered on Mackinac Island for summer encampments in the late 1880s.

Many visitors to the Straits of Mackinac today bring their four-legged friends with them. It’s not unusual to see any number of pets out with their owners in Marquette Park on Mackinac Island or strolling along the shoreline in Michilimackinac State Park. (more…)

March 3, 1891: Funds Appropriated for Building a Lighthouse at the Old Mackinac Point Light Station

Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse plansOn March 3, 1891, almost two years to the day after authorizing the construction of a light station at Old Mackinac Point, the U.S. Congress appropriated $20,000 to build a light tower, keepers’ dwelling, barn, and oil house at the site. These new structures would join Old Mackinac Point’s fog signal station, which had been authorized in 1889 and completed in 1890. (more…)

Canadian Costume Reflected Lifestyle

French-Canadians adapted to the harsh climate of their new home with a variety of clothing, including coats called capots. Made from trade blankets, these simple coats were warm and practical, and proved popular with Canadians and Native Americans alike.

French-Canadians adapted to the harsh climate of their new home with a variety of clothing, including coats called capots. Made from trade blankets, these simple coats were warm and practical, and proved popular with Canadians and Native Americans alike.

Far from home and living in a harsh environment, the French residents of Michilimackinac and the rest of Canada were quick to adopt new styles of clothing. While French fashions remained popular for most people, many soldiers, voyageurs, and others who regularly interacted with Native Americans adopted their neighbors’ style of dress. Like Native men, voyageurs and soldiers on campaign frequently wore soft moccasins, breechcloths, and leggings. In 1749, Swedish traveler Peter Kalm noted that “the French [Canadians] dress as the Indians; they do not wear breeches.”

In warmer months, French voyageurs wore moccasins and breechcloths. The easily-removable leggings allowed them to jump in and out of the water as they hauled cargo around portages. Elaborately-woven sashes served as weight belts, protecting the men’s backs from injury as they carried loads over 100 pounds.

In warmer months, French voyageurs wore moccasins and breechcloths. The easily-removable leggings allowed them to jump in and out of the water as they hauled cargo around portages. Elaborately-woven sashes served as weight belts, protecting the men’s backs from injury as they carried loads over 100 pounds.

Other pieces of clothing were unique to French-Canadians. British trader Alexander Henry left a good account of the Canadian disguise he wore during his first secret journey to Michilimackinac in 1761: “I laid aside my English clothes, and covered myself only with a cloth, passed about the middle; a shirt, hanging loose; a molleton, or blanket coat; and a large, red, milled worsted cap.” The red cap (or tocque), blanket coat, breechcloth, and leggings were something of a uniform for French-Canadian men of the fur trade, and would have been seen regularly at Michilimackinac.

Behind the Scenes of New SSW Rowhouse Exhibit

While the construction on the South Southwest Rowhouse continues, our staff is hard at work developing the new exhibits that will be placed within the new building.

One half of the reconstructed rowhouse will feature an audio/visual presentation of the attack at Michilimackinac. Principal photography took place in the summer, but some additional shots were needed. What we’re shooting here is a re-creation of a meeting that took place in Charles Langlade’s house on June 3, the day after the attack. The surviving British prisoners (Etherington, Solomon, Henry, etc.) were all present, as was Fr. Du Jaunay. The meeting served two important purposes. First, Du Jaunay convinced Etherington that further resistance to the Ojibwa was futile and second, Langlade outlined his plans to protect the prisoners from their Ojibwa captors. Langlade personally secured the release of Etherington. He also sent word to the Odawa of L’Arbre Croche, who arrived shortly after and took the prisoners to the safety of their village. Henry became separated from the other survivors at this time, as he was taken into the home of his friend, Wawatam, for protection.

 

The photos were taken at Future Media in Okemos, Michigan.

Historic Views of Winter on Mackinac

As the new year begins and winter locks the Straits of Mackinac in its icy grip, today we look to a few historic views of winter on Mackinac Island. Click the images for an expanded version.

These soldiers from Fort Mackinac are bundled in Army-issued cold weather gear as they shovel a path down Fort Street sometime around 1890. Each man received a heavy wool overcoat as well as rubber boots, a fur hat, and mittens. Many of these men are wearing their winter hats, made from muskrat fur.

These soldiers from Fort Mackinac are bundled in Army-issued cold weather gear as they shovel a path down Fort Street sometime around 1890. Each man received a heavy wool overcoat as well as rubber boots, a fur hat, and mittens. Many of these men are wearing their winter hats, made from muskrat fur.

Main Street in downtown Mackinac Island is filled with snow in this view taken around 1900. Just like today, fewer people visited the island in winter, so the McNally Cottage boarding house (seen at far left) and Palmer House Hotel likely had few visitors when these boys played on the snow banks out front. Despite the snow, island residents may still have enjoyed parties at the town dance hall, visible just to the right of the Palmer House. Originally built as a roller skating rink, the dance hall became a motion picture theater by 1907. Today the building remains downtown, transformed into the Haunted Theater.

Main Street in downtown Mackinac Island is filled with snow in this view taken around 1900. Just like today, fewer people visited the island in winter, so the McNally Cottage boarding house (seen at far left) and Palmer House Hotel likely had few visitors when these boys played on the snow banks out front. Despite the snow, island residents may still have enjoyed parties at the town dance hall, visible just to the right of the Palmer House. Originally built as a roller skating rink, the dance hall became a motion picture theater by 1907. Today the building remains downtown, transformed into the Haunted Theater.

Lamps and Lenses: How Old Mackinac Point Shed its Light

What puts the light in a lighthouse? Until 1913, a single lamp provided the light for the beacon at the Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse.

This lamp is similar to the one used in the first decade of the lighthouse's existence. It  was eventually replaced with a brighter, electric light.

This lamp is similar to the one used in the first 20 years of the lighthouse’s existence. It was eventually replaced with a gas lamp and then an electric light.

This diagram shows how even a small amount of light from the lamp could be magnified using a number of prisms in a Fresnel lens. (Click to enlarge)

This diagram shows how even a small amount of light from the lamp could be magnified using a number of prisms in a Fresnel lens. (Click to enlarge)

Like most other lighthouses in the United States, Old Mackinac Point used a kerosene lantern not unlike those still found in many homes today. Keeper George Marshall’s duties included regularly fueling the lamp, as it burned over 5 ounces of kerosene per hour. A red glass lamp chimney originally produced a red light, helping sailors identify Old Mackinac Point. Both the kerosene lamp and red light were replaced in 1913, when the U.S. Lighthouse Service installed an incandescent oil vapor mechanism, which produces a white light similar to a modern camping lantern.

While the kerosene lamp itself shone brightly, a fourth-order Fresnel lens amplified the Old Mackinac Point light until it was visible to a distance of 16 miles. The lens contained a series of stacked magnifying glasses around its center, with each glass focusing the light from the one beneath it. Prisms ringed the lens above and below the magnifying glasses. These prisms caught and bent more light, focusing it into the central beam created by the magnifiers. The entire lens rotated around the lamp, creating a flashing signature (one flash every 10 seconds) unique to Old Mackinac Point.

French Fireplaces of Michilimackinac

Shown on the left are the ruins of the original fireplace for the South Southwest Rowhouse at Colonial Michilimackinac. To the right, a reconstructed version and part of a new exhibit.

Shown on the left are the ruins of the original fireplace for the South Southwest Rowhouse at Colonial Michilimackinac. To the right, a reconstructed version and part of a new exhibit.

The ongoing reconstruction of the South Southwest Rowhouse at Colonial Michilimackinac is an impressive undertaking. It’s the largest in the site’s history, the first in more than two decades, and when completed, will house two new exhibits.

One of the featured components of the new exhibit “France at Mackinac” are the ruins of the original fireplace from the structure constructed more than 250 years ago. This particular fireplace is one of the few remaining structures left standing after British soldiers demolished the fort in 1780-81. As part of one of the longest ongoing archaeological digs in North America, the remnants of the rowhouse and the fireplace were carefully excavated over a number of years from 1963 to 2007. Stone fireplaces such as this were found in nearly every house at Michilimackinac, but this is the only one that remains because it was covered and preserved in a hill of sand soon after the demolition.

Located in the west side of the building, the structure of this fireplace ruin  served as a model for Tom Smith and his crew from Ground Level Masonry to create a similar fireplace on the east end of the building, showing how the stone hearth would have looked when originally built around 1750.