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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What is with these Rising Lake Levels?

The Great Lakes water levels have both seasonal changes and long term changes.

In a normal year the water level of Lakes Michigan and Huron rise and fall about 11 inches. The high usually occurs in July and the low in February. The melting snow and spring rains cause the levels to rise until mid-summer. Then the water levels slowly drop as the water warms and evaporation takes place. When fall and winter arrive, the rate of evaporation increases, because the water is warmer than the cold dry winds from the northwest. The quicker the ice forms and the more lake it covers, the sooner the drop in water level is reversed. By February the lake level usually stabilizes before it rises again in the spring. (more…)

Digging up the Past, All in a Day’s Work

Visitors to Michilimackinac get to interact with archaeologists uncovering little bits of history every day during the peak season. What they are observing is only part of the process. For every day we spend excavating, we spend two or three days in the lab trying to figure out what it all means. Following each season, a preliminary report is written, summarizing the season’s findings.

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Mackinac State Historic Parks 2014 Collections Review

The Mackinac Island State Park Commission accessioned over 120 gifts and 67 purchases to the state park historic object and archival collections in 2014. The items represent a board spectrum of Straits of Mackinac history covering topics such as shipwrecks, the Mackinac Island Scout Service Camp and businesses in Mackinaw City and Mackinac Island.

Many of the donations were given to the park for the new Straits of Mackinac Shipwreck Museum at Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse. Diving gear including a dry suit, pants, boots, gloves and air tank were donated to show how diving was done in the 1970’s. From the S.S. Cedarville, a station bill represents the most recent tragedy in the straits and safety gear including a lifeboat oar represents equipment found on ships to save lives. Purchased were a ships compass and radio to tell the story of navigation and communication on the lakes. (more…)

Mackinac Island’s Winter Frolic: 1940

So, what’s the island like in the winter?

Winter-Frolic-CoverA question asked by multiple generations of Mackinac Island summer visitors who conjure visions of bell-strewn, horse-drawn sleighs, pristine snow frosting bushy pine trees, and island streets filled with peaceful solitude rather than boisterous masses. While modern transportation has made an island winter visit somewhat more doable in recent decades, the “Winter Frolic” of 1940 provided an opportunity to see “Mackinac covered with snow” 75 years ago this month.

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Lace and Buttons: More than Just Decoration

Dressed in their madder red regimental coats, black hats, and white underclothes, the soldiers of the 8th Regiment who served at Michilimackinac in the 1770s may have looked quite similar to other British troops fighting in the American Revolution. Their uniforms, however, were unique, marked by distinctive buttons, trim, and lace tape. (more…)

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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