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Archaeology at Old Mackinac Point

The station grounds as they appeared around 1918. The privy and oil house are located at right. Courtesy State Archives of Michigan
Restoration of the Old Mackinac Point Light Station includes not only the ongoing work at the lighthouse, but the restoration and reconstruction of support buildings and landscape features. As with all ground disturbing activities at Mackinac State Historic Parks, the impact on potential archaeological resources is a consideration.
The biggest archaeology project at Old Mackinac Point to date preceded the relocation of the barn back to its original location in 2005. The barn, actually used as a workshop, was constructed in 1892 along with the lighthouse. In 1929 it was moved to the east edge of the station to serve as a garage. When the Mackinac Island State Park Commission acquired the lighthouse property after its closure, they moved the structure to a maintenance area to be used for storage. When the decision was made to move it back to its original location, archaeological testing was carried out to look for remnants of the original foundation.
Brick piers from the original barn construction.
The barn originally sat on brick piers. After the barn was moved the first time, the lighthouse was connected to the Village of Mackinaw City sewer system, and a sewer line through the area disturbed most of the piers. Still, remnants of five piers, one intact, were located.
Excavation of the barn privy from 2004.
In its original configuration the barn had an indoor privy, which was accessed from the exterior for clean out. This was reconstructed in 2019 ( The brick vault was relocated and excavated in the fall of 2004. Privies are often rich in artifacts lost during use, deliberately disposed of, and thrown in to fill it at abandonment. Disappointingly for us, this privy had been cleaned out and filled with clean sand when the barn was moved. The only artifacts recovered were a clay marble in a corner and numerous fragments of window glass on top.
Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse grounds, April 2020.
Archaeological testing was carried out in 2013 prior to the reconstruction of the warehouse for use as the Straits of Mackinac Shipwreck Museum. The warehouse, the relocated original fog signal building, did not have a substantial foundation, and nothing survived archaeologically.
Brick vault for the free-standing privy.
Two smaller outbuildings, the oil house and a free-standing privy, are the next scheduled for reconstruction. Testpits for the oil house were excavated in 2008, but no traces were found. It was constructed on a concrete slab, which must have been removed. The brick vault for the privy was exposed in September 2013 to prevent its disturbance during the reconstruction of the warehouse. It was mapped at the time, but not completely excavated. Archaeological testing is scheduled for 2020 to determine if it was cleaned out at the time it was abandoned. This will provide another opportunity to glimpse remnants of the daily life of the lighthouse keepers and their families.