Presidents At Mackinac

Included in the rich fabric of Mackinac history, are the many threads connected to the presidency of the United States. As we celebrate the birth of George Washington today, we are reminded of the presidents who actually visited Mackinac Island, and those who came close.

President Gerald Ford and First Lady Betty Ford visit Fort Mackinac. 1975

President Gerald Ford and First Lady Betty Ford visit Fort Mackinac. 1975

James Monroe was the first president to visit Michigan Territory when he conducted an inspection tour of Detroit and the downriver area in 1817. While Monroe did not journey to the Straits, it was during his administration that the Borough of Michilimackinac (today’s City of Mackinac Island) was incorporated.

A young Gerald Ford in 1929 as an Eagle Scout serving at Fort Mackinac as part of the Governor's Honor Guard.

A young Gerald Ford in 1929 as an Eagle Scout serving at Fort Mackinac as part of the Governor’s Honor Guard.

Thirty-one years later, Abraham Lincoln, a member of the United States House of Representatives, came close to Mackinac while traveling from Washington, D.C. to Springfield, Illinois. Sailing onboard the sidewheel steamer Globe, Lincoln passed through the Straits of Mackinac in early October, 1848. It appears, from the reminiscences of Grace Franks Kane whose family owned the Mission House, that Ulysses S. Grant visited Mackinac Island sometime shortly after the Civil War.

Beginning in the early 20th century, several presidents were invited to consider Mackinac Island as a location for a summer White House. William Taft came the closest to actually visiting the island when he crossed on a train ferry from Mackinaw City to St. Ignace in 1911. Several other presidents, from Calvin Coolidge to Dwight Eisenhower received attractive invitations to consider Mackinac, but all declined.

Brian and James Dunnigan with President Truman and Michigan Governor G. Mennen Williams. 1955

Brian and James Dunnigan with President Truman and Michigan Governor G. Mennen Williams. 1955

Gerald Ford first visited Mackinac Island as a member of the inaugural Fort Mackinac Scout Honor Guard in 1929. Ford returned to Mackinac 46 year later as President of the United States. The only sitting president to ever visit the island, Ford’s trip generated many memorable activities including his arrival by helicopter in front of the Scout Barracks, touring Fort Mackinac, attending Sunday service at Trinity Episcopal Church, golfing on the Grand Hotel course, and sampling vanilla pecan fudge “fresh off the slab” at May’s Fudge.

Harry Truman and George H. W. Bush visited Mackinac following their years in the nation’s highest office. Truman visited the island in August 1955 as part of a fund raising trip for his presidential library. Bush arrived on September 20, 2005 to speak at the Forbes CEO Conference at Grand Hotel. Bush came close to the island during his presidency when he walked the Mackinac Bridge in 1992, the only sitting president to take part in the annual Labor Day event.

Both John F. Kennedy and Bill Clinton visited Mackinac Island prior to their presidencies. Kennedy traveled to the island in June 1960 to secure Governor G. Mennen Williams’ support for his candidacy for the Democratic nomination for the presidency. Clinton was governor of

Arkansas when he visited Mackinac in July 1987 during the Democratic Governor’s Association Conference hosted by Michigan’s Jim Blanchard.

There is no doubt that Mackinac Island, with its historical charm, natural beauty, and elegant resort amenities, will continue to draw politicians and attract those seeking and serving in our nation’s highest office.

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