History of the Fort Mackinac Tea Room

Patrons enjoying lunch with a view, ca. 1965. Note the colonial-style uniforms worn by the waitresses.

Patrons enjoying lunch with a view, ca. 1965. Note the colonial-style uniforms worn by the waitresses.

The Tea Room has been a memorable part of a visit to Fort Mackinac for decades. Located in the historic 1780 Officers’ Stone Quarters it provides a place of refreshment in a quaint atmosphere with the added bonus of the best view of any restaurant on the island. 

The interior of the east dining room, ca 1925 showing the recently installed ceramic tile floor and chandelier.

The interior of the east dining room, ca 1925 showing the recently installed ceramic tile floor and chandelier.

The lower level of the Fort Mackinac Tea Room under the porch of the Officer's Stone Quarters, ca. 1925. Several examples of the unique benches and tables are today preserved in the park's collection.

The lower level of the Fort Mackinac Tea Room under the porch of the Officer’s Stone Quarters, ca. 1925. Several examples of the unique benches and tables are today preserved in the park’s collection.

The Fort Mackinac Tea Room has been continuously operated every summer since 1958. However, the first tea room dates back 40 years earlier. Although records are scanty, there are references to the Park Commission allowing the Red Cross to operate a tea room as a fund raiser to support the war effort in 1918. How long this initial incarnation lasted is not clear. It was in operation in the 1920s, as documented by photographs. By this time it was likely managed by a private concessionaire, not the Red Cross. The photos attest to the remodeling of the lower floor of the Stone Quarters for use as a dining room, in the original kitchens and bathrooms of the officers’ quarters. Features added then, such as the ceramic tile floors and light fixtures, are still in place today.

Over the following years records remain slim, but several references in the Park Commission minutes attest to the fact that a tea room was operated for periods in each of the following three decades, even during the height of the depression. It was always a concession. In 1934 it was granted to a Miss Linton. In 1941 Miss King and Mrs. Roberts held the concession, the minutes noting that the commission would receive $100 – “the same as last year” – and agreed to provide ice. In 1951 and 1952, the concession was granted to Mrs. Matilda McKrill. In this case the tea room was operated, at least partly, out of the Wood Quarters “canteen,” next door to Stone Quarters.

Tea Room menu from the 1960s.

Tea Room menu from the 1960s.

Apparently the tea room was closed by the end of 1950s, for when Dr. Eugene Petersen arrived as head of historic programs, Commission Chairman Stewart Woodfill asked him to revive the operation. The first concessionaire, Peer Gynt Holtkampf, had a different vision of how the Fort Mackinac Tea Room should function from that of Mr. Woodfill and only lasted a few years. A Mrs. Peters took over in 1961 and was succeeded by Mr. Harigs Markevics in 1964 and Mrs. Rex Orr in 1967. Robert Hughey took over in 1969 and Mr. and Mrs. Robert Sposito in 1978. Grand Hotel has been the concessionaire of the Tea Room since 1988.

The Tea Room, ca. 1990.

The Tea Room, ca. 1990.

Whether you’re seated outside under a yellow umbrella on a summer’s day, or gathered inside around one of the oldest working fireplaces in the Midwest during a crisp autumn morning, the Tea Room remains a charming place to revive or build your Mackinac memories.

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