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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Numerous Pets Hold Place in Mackinac History

Numerous Pets Hold Place in Mackinac History

Animals below Fort Mackinac

Grand: Several men and their dogs gather on the government pasture below Fort Mackinac. These soldiers are likely from the 23rd Infantry or belong to the Michigan state troops, who gathered on Mackinac Island for summer encampments in the late 1880s.

Many visitors to the Straits of Mackinac today bring their four-legged friends with them. It’s not unusual to see any number of pets out with their owners in Marquette Park on Mackinac Island or strolling along the shoreline in Michilimackinac State Park. (more…)

March 3, 1891: Funds Appropriated for Building a Lighthouse at the Old Mackinac Point Light Station

Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse plansOn March 3, 1891, almost two years to the day after authorizing the construction of a light station at Old Mackinac Point, the U.S. Congress appropriated $20,000 to build a light tower, keepers’ dwelling, barn, and oil house at the site. These new structures would join Old Mackinac Point’s fog signal station, which had been authorized in 1889 and completed in 1890. (more…)

Canadian Costume Reflected Lifestyle

French-Canadians adapted to the harsh climate of their new home with a variety of clothing, including coats called capots. Made from trade blankets, these simple coats were warm and practical, and proved popular with Canadians and Native Americans alike.

French-Canadians adapted to the harsh climate of their new home with a variety of clothing, including coats called capots. Made from trade blankets, these simple coats were warm and practical, and proved popular with Canadians and Native Americans alike.

Far from home and living in a harsh environment, the French residents of Michilimackinac and the rest of Canada were quick to adopt new styles of clothing. While French fashions remained popular for most people, many soldiers, voyageurs, and others who regularly interacted with Native Americans adopted their neighbors’ style of dress. Like Native men, voyageurs and soldiers on campaign frequently wore soft moccasins, breechcloths, and leggings. In 1749, Swedish traveler Peter Kalm noted that “the French [Canadians] dress as the Indians; they do not wear breeches.”

In warmer months, French voyageurs wore moccasins and breechcloths. The easily-removable leggings allowed them to jump in and out of the water as they hauled cargo around portages. Elaborately-woven sashes served as weight belts, protecting the men’s backs from injury as they carried loads over 100 pounds.

In warmer months, French voyageurs wore moccasins and breechcloths. The easily-removable leggings allowed them to jump in and out of the water as they hauled cargo around portages. Elaborately-woven sashes served as weight belts, protecting the men’s backs from injury as they carried loads over 100 pounds.

Other pieces of clothing were unique to French-Canadians. British trader Alexander Henry left a good account of the Canadian disguise he wore during his first secret journey to Michilimackinac in 1761: “I laid aside my English clothes, and covered myself only with a cloth, passed about the middle; a shirt, hanging loose; a molleton, or blanket coat; and a large, red, milled worsted cap.” The red cap (or tocque), blanket coat, breechcloth, and leggings were something of a uniform for French-Canadian men of the fur trade, and would have been seen regularly at Michilimackinac.