Fort Mackinac and the Mackinac National Park

Lt. Calvin Cowles, along with Lt. Benjamin Morse, surveyed the National Park in 1885.

Lt. Calvin Cowles, along with Lt. Benjamin Morse, surveyed the National Park in 1885.

This year, the National Park Service celebrates its 100th anniversary. By 1916, the Mackinac National Park had already passed into and out of existence, its fate linked to the fortunes of Fort Mackinac.

After Congress created Yellowstone in 1872, Senator Thomas Ferry introduced legislation to create a second park on Mackinac Island. In addition to the island’s attractive history and natural features, the U.S. government already owned much of the island as part of the Fort Mackinac military reservation and the soldiers stationed at Fort Mackinac could act as caretakers. As a result, the park would cost almost nothing, which Ferry knew appealed to the tight-fisted Congressmen of the 1870s. After two years of campaigning, President Ulysses Grant created the Mackinac National Park, the second park in the country, on March 3, 1875. (more…)

Fort Mackinac’s Marksman

Fort Mackinac’s Marksman

By the 1880s, Fort Mackinac had little military value, instead serving primarily as the headquarters of the Mackinac National Park. However, the fort’s garrison still practiced critical military skills such as marksmanship, and the detachment of the 23rd Infantry stationed at Mackinac ultimately produced some of the finest sharpshooters in the entire U.S. Army. (more…)

New Historical Marker Commemorates the Rear Parade Ground and Scout Barracks

New Historical Marker Commemorates the Rear Parade Ground and Scout Barracks

On July 25 the newest Michigan Historical Marker will be formally dedicated. It will be the twenty-first marker on the island.

Fort Mackinac from the north, ca. 1890.  The baseball field can be seen at center left, with the grandstand at extreme left.

Fort Mackinac from the north, ca. 1890. The baseball field can be seen at center left, with the grandstand at extreme left.

The rear parade ground north of Fort Mackinac is a distinctive Mackinac Island landscape, an integral part of the operation of Fort Mackinac for both military use and, beginning in 1885, as a baseball field. After the closing of the fort in 1895 the Mackinac Island State Park Commission maintained this historic landscape, including the baseball field. The barracks for the Mackinac Island Scout Service Camp was built here in 1934. The new, double-sided marker commemorates both the historic landscape and the Scout Barracks.

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Mackinac’s Field of Dreams – The Fort Mackinac “Never Sweats” and Vintage Base Ball

Mackinac’s Field of Dreams – The Fort Mackinac “Never Sweats” and Vintage Base Ball

“The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good, and that could be again.  –Terrence Mann – “Field of Dreams”

The large, grassy field behind Fort Mackinac has served many purposes since the end of the Civil War.  It has been a drill field for soldiers, a playground for scouts, and a great place to canter a horse.  But the one constant on that field for nearly a century and a half has been baseball.   Fort Mackinac soldiers established the first ball field on this site in the 1870s and continued to develop and improve the field until the fort closed in 1895.  Local residents and summer workers played baseball at the “fort ball grounds” in the early 20th century.  Since 1934, when Civilian Conservation Corps workers built the nearby scout barracks, boy and girl scout troops from across Michigan have played ball on the same field during the summer months.

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200 Years of Peace Commemorated at Mackinac

200 Years of Peace Commemorated at Mackinac

On July 18, 1815, peace returned to Mackinac Island after three years of war. At 2:00 in the afternoon on that day 200 years ago, British troops, some of whom had helped capture Fort Mackinac in the opening days of the War of 1812, peacefully returned control of the island to American soldiers and the United States. Now, two centuries later, a series of special events will culminate in the dedication of a new peace garden on Mackinac Island, celebrating the lasting peace between the United States and Canada.Mackinac Island Peace Garden

To mark the end of the bicentennial of the War of 1812, Mackinac State Historic Parks is hosting several events on the weekend of July 18-19. War of 1812-era demonstrations will take place at Fort Mackinac throughout the weekend, and living historians from around the Great Lakes will recreate the transfer of Fort Mackinac from British to American control at 2:00 PM on Saturday, July 18, exactly 200 years after the original ceremony. This event is included with admission to Fort Mackinac. This historic day will conclude with the dedication of the Mackinac Island Peace Garden at 7:00 PM. (more…)

Small Fort Plays Big Role in Mackinac History

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Major Charles Gratiot visited Mackinac Island in 1817, using his trained engineer’s eye to carefully record the design of Fort Holmes in these detailed plans. The fort’s blockhouse, walls, and gun platforms are clearly visible on Gratiot’s drawings.

When American troops returned to Mackinac Island following the War of 1812, they inherited a new piece of defensive architecture from their former British enemies. In addition to Fort Mackinac, the Americans also acquired a small fort on the island’s highest point when they arrived in 1815. Although the British originally named the post Fort George, the Americans quickly renamed the fort to honor Major Andrew Holmes, who had been killed in battle on the island in 1814. For the next few years, Fort Holmes played an important part in the daily routines and duties of the American soldiers stationed on Mackinac Island. (more…)

World War I Helps Start First Exhibits at Fort Mackinac

One hundred years ago, as the First World War raged in Europe, the Mackinac Island State Park Commission began the long process of creating museum exhibits to share the rich history of the Straits of Mackinac region. Although the United States would not enter the war until 1917, the conflict would eventually play a role in the commission’s first permanent exhibits.Exhibit

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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.

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