A view showing Main Street on Mackinac Island looking south.

Preservation: Puzzle Pieces to the Past

Mackinac Island is endearingly cherished among visitors for its placid atmosphere that seemingly evades the changing tides of time. From the Anishinaabek belief that tells the story of Mackinac as Earth’s origin land to the cinematic portrayal of time travel set on Mackinac in Somewhere in Time to horse-drawn drays carrying Amazon packages, the island possesses an unyielding autonomy from the effects of time. Consequently, Mackinac Island demonstrates a unique propensity for preservation and it is the Mackinac State Historic Park’s honored duty to uphold the island’s tradition of conservation. An integral component of this responsibility are the park collections. By preserving artifacts, archives, and material culture, the collection pieces together the past to narrate Mackinac Island’s story. While seemingly trivial to a visitor’s Mackinac experience, the collection is fundamental to ensuring that the island’s treasured history is commemorated for the enjoyment of all for years to come. Yet this commitment to preserve Mackinac Island for generational enjoyment is not a modern concept.

A view showing Main Street on Mackinac Island looking south.

William H. Gardiner’s photo of Main Street on Mackinac Island. 

 In 1896, photographer William H. Gardiner established a “Photo and Art Studio” aimed at penetrating the souvenir market that emerged as a direct result of the island’s burgeoning tourism industry. Gardiner initially set up shop on the corner of Main and Fort Streets until relocating next door above Fenton’s Bazaar; today both studio spaces constitute Doud’s Market. Gardiner captured the essence of Mackinac Island and preserved its visual history through his photography. His products included keepsakes, such as postcards, hand-tinted photos, and portraits, that memorialized a visitor’s time spent on the island. Gardiner’s photos depict the island’s most unique and treasured attractions, such as Arch Rock, Sugar Loaf Rock, and Main Street. Similar to the collection’s commitment to conservation, Gardiner’s images preserve special moments in Mackinac’s history for reminiscing and nostalgic wonder. The collection and Gardiner’s parallel dedication to preservation can be most explicitly seen in one of Gardiner’s downtown depictions.

Fenton's Bazaar on Mackinac Island.

Fenton’s Bazaar, the location of Gardiner’s studio. 

 At the beginning of the twentieth century, Gardiner stepped out on the balcony of his studio and, struck with inspiration from Mackinac’s vivacious downtown, immortalized a buzzing afternoon on Main Street. This image excellently captures the key components to a day on Mackinac, including a car-less atmosphere, military tradition, and bustling businesses. Some of the storefronts highlighted in the image are Fenton’s Bazaar and Bailey’s Drug Store. These businesses were pillars of Mackinac’s economy around the turn of the century. Dr. Bailey, the son of the surgeon general at Fort Mackinac, served his community as the assisting surgeon and pharmacist, ensuring the health and longevity of Mackinac’s people. Fenton’s Bazaar was a one-stop shop for soldiers, islanders, and visitors alike for all the necessities for life on the island; Fenton’s even introduced the island’s first soda fountain! Fortunately, these businesses and their immense impact on Mackinac’s daily life are remembered beyond Gardiner’s image.

Bailey's Drug Store on Mackinac Island.

Bailey’s Drug Store.

 The collection has preserved numerous Bailey’s Drug Store bottles, which represent Dr. Bailey’s committed service and contribution to Mackinac’s medical history. Additionally, the collection possesses an American flag that flew above Fenton’s Bazaar. This flag, which watched over Main Street and witnessed the ebbing and flowing of countless visitors, encapsulates Mackinac’s continued reputation as “America’s Summer Place.” Also in the collection is an image of downtown that is a near copy to Gardiner’s aforementioned photograph. Yet the picture was taken decades after Gardiner’s and is the work of another artist. Taken from the same angle, this picture illustrates a similarly hurried downtown speckled with visitors, carriages, and storefronts. Comparing this image to Gardiner’s, the atmosphere of downtown remains unchanged, yet the storefronts have clearly evolved. For instance, the New Murray stands as the latest addition to the collection of hotels, souvenir shops, and restaurants that line Main Street. Meanwhile, a stroll down Main Street today will still evoke the same timeless ambience found in Gardiner’s image.

Another image of Main Street on Mackinac Island looking south.

Looking down Main Street. 

 Although shop signs have changed, Mackinac’s timeless energy endures. Similar to how Gardiner captured the views of Mackinac to commemorate a visitor’s special experience, the collection plays a crucial role in maintaining Mackinac Island’s abiding charm. Yet preserving history goes far beyond the sweet nostalgia of family vacation postcards. The collection pieces together the past like a puzzle by linking artifacts to moments somewhere in time in order to write the story of the island for the enjoyment of generations to come.

 

A covered cave on Mackinac Island

Mysterious Mackinac Caverns

“It is absolutely beyond my power in a letter like this to give you a proper delineation of the objects seen in this extraordinary cave.” J.M.W.  (July 1855)

An unknown cave in a black and white photo taken on Mackinac Island

Photo of unknown Mackinac cave by C.E. Kelso, named “Hanging Rocks” in Legendary Lore of Mackinac (1901)

 The natural wonders of Mackinac Island have drawn people to its rocky shores for thousands of years. Described as “one mass of limestone,” the island first emerged after the last ice age, about 11,000 years ago. Post-glacial lakes gradually sculpted Mackinac’s durable breccia, forming arches, sea stacks, cliffs, and caves. Features such as Arch Rock, Sugar Loaf, and Skull Cave, have been renowned for centuries and are visited often.

 Just beneath the surface, however, are stories of fantastic discoveries, now long forgotten. While the Musical Well once captivated listeners, its tunes had fallen silent by 1845. Scott’s Cave, where “the giant Goliath might stand erect,” was destroyed in the early 1950s. Fairy Arch has fallen and Wishing Spring no longer invites visitors to its “fragrant, fairy grotto.”

 Most enticing of all are tales of large caverns beneath the island’s surface. In 1892, Harold Corbusier, son of the post surgeon, explored a winding cavern with a small party, including several soldiers. With the aid of ropes, they were lowered about 20 feet, making their way to “a large chamber with branches leading away in different directions.”

“Another Mammoth Cave Discovered”

A painting of Mackinac Island with Fort Mackinac prominently shown.

Cropped portion of “View of the Town of Mackinaw,” first printed in May 1855. Likely drawn by Major Thomas Williams, 4th Artillery Regiment

 The greatest discovery reportedly occurred in July 1855, when sensational news broke of a newly-discovered cavern on Mackinac Island. The original account was penned by J.M.W., a correspondent of the Detroit Tribune. Reprinted in newspapers from coast-to-coast, the find was often compared to Mammoth Cave in Kentucky.

 “The day before yesterday, a tremendous storm sprang up,” he wrote, “accompanied by the fiercest thunder and lightning I ever witnessed … Streams ran through the streets, tearing them in ridges; and the little board race at the Garrison gate roared and threw the spray like a young cataract; rocks, stones, and gravel were displaced in quantities from the brow of the bluff.

 The following morning, boys in going along the base of the Fort hill, east of their stables, found that several large masses of rock had been displaced by the rain and rolled down from their original beds. One large one was noticed, having left an opening of some 4 feet by 10. Some of the boldest of the boys immediately explored as far as the light would admit. The report spread far and near and many people soon came and examined the entrance. Finally, a party of gentlemen and ladies was organized to explore the opening the following morning …

 The party of ladies and gentlemen before alluded to, having provided themselves with lights, cords, arms and eatables, entered the new-found opening. The entrance is small, not being over four feet high by ten feet in width, descending gradually after passing through a long and rather narrow alley surrounded on every side by stalactites and small crystals of calcareous spar, which glittered in the torch-lights like diamonds. We after some time entered a dome or amphitheater; we stood transfixed in astonishment. The dome is 350 feet in length by 240 in width, and in most places 180 feet in hight [sic.]; the whole lit up by our numerous torches, yielded a splendor and beauty not to be described … On the parade ground north-east of the fort a cannon was discharged, and a slight tremulous jar was felt, accompanied with a very faint rumbling sound.

A drawing of the entrance of Scott's Cave.

Scott’s Cave entrance, drawn by Alfred Waud in 1853

 After passing through alleys, looking down here and there into a deep abyss, and viewing in haste temples, palaces and chambers, and having also stepped over a small swift stream of cold clear water, we finally, after some slight work, guided by a dim light in front of us, excavated a place large enough for one to pass through, and found ourselves in Capt. Scates’s [Scott’s] Cave; thence we stepped into the beech and maple grove which surrounds that opening; from here we walked to Dousman’s farm-house, where the ladies found carriages for home. The time occupied was five hours, and the computed distance traveled in the cave was a trifle over three miles.

 It is absolutely beyond my power in a letter like this to give you a proper delineation of the objects seen in this extraordinary cave. If the first chamber through which we passed excelled in splendor, beauty and brilliancy of the diamond ornaments, produced by the lights and torches, they were thrown far in the back ground by the superior grandeur and sublimity of the apartments which we subsequently passed after reaching the first amphitheater. More of this when I shall have again the pleasure of seeing you.”

Unsolved Mystery

 Could this cavern of wonders really exist on Mackinac Island? Was this story an accurate account, a fanciful exaggeration, or even fabricated entirely? Elsewhere, J.M.W. noted, “The inhabitants and strangers, as I am informed, say that large caves must and do exist, from the mumbling sounds heard when heavy carriages pass over the island. Scull Cave, [Scott’s] Cave and Devil’s Cave are renowned, which are believed now to be outlets of others of greater magnitude.”

A covered cave on Mackinac Island

Entrance to Mackinac’s underground world

 This theory was supported by Eleanor Bussell in “The Story of Mackinac’s Caves,” from the July 8, 1948, edition of The Island News. One resident she interviewed claimed there were once up to 29 caves on the island. She wrote, “One particular place known as Hell-Hole Cave located on the path along the West Bluff was covered over years ago. If this old story is correct, it must have been the only subterranean cave on the Island.”

 As you explore the island’s wild side, imagine hidden wonders which lie beneath your feet, deep below the rocky surface. Perhaps a future rain storm or winter rock slide will uncover the entrance of a new marvel under the Wonderful Isle, making new headlines in the 21st century.

Meet the Mackinac State Historic Parks Dray Team

One of the most magical noises on Mackinac Island is the morning *clip* *clop* of horse hooves on the pavement as the busy days come to life. Horses are a huge part of the island’s allure. Something a lot of people may not think about is the fact that the horses aren’t only here for show or tourist charm. In reality, a lot of what these horses do, specifically dray teams, is what allows the island to function as well as it does.

Mackinac State Historic Parks' dray horses, Holiday on the left and Dex on the right.

 Dex on the left, and Holiday.

 Mackinac State Historic Parks is no exception. The organization is a machine with many parts, and each position allows the park to function season to season. You have your interpreters, park operations, and even some interns in the mix, among others. But one position that can be overlooked is that of the “dray horse.” A dray is a four-wheeled flat cart that is pulled by a horse, sometimes multiple, depending on the load. The state park has its own dray team that works 5 days a week, 8 hours a day, just like the rest of the park employees.

The Mackinac State Historic Parks Dray horses in their pasture.

The team in their pasture.

 Meet Dex and Holiday. These two strong boys do a LOT for the parks. This is their first season working for MSHP, but they already know their way around the island, having been here in previous seasons. They are both Belgian Draught Horses, and as one of the most muscle-y breeds out there, they were built to work. They’re fueled by three cans of oats a day, and lots of treats (of course!).

 Just like people, the two of them have their own personalities. Holiday is a wise old man. He keeps the team calm. Dex is younger, and has a little bit more fire. Dex is the get-up-and-go type, while Holiday likes to take things a little easier. This was hard for them at first, but they have figured out how to balance each other out at the perfect pace to do their job.

Holiday with his human helper, Eric.

Holiday and Eric.

 Our brave steeds don’t work alone. Every team needs a coach, and this is where dray driver Luis comes in. Luis also has an assistant, Eric. These two men have a deep love and respect for Dex and Holiday. They spend hours a day not only driving the horses and doing their own jobs, but also caring for them, feeding them, and just giving them attention. Basically, Dex and Holiday are like their 1500 pound dogs.

Dex the horse with a special July 4 hat on his head.

Dex celebrating the Fourth of July.

 Dex and Holiday’s main job, along with their drivers, is to keep the park in top shape. This means picking up trash, delivering supplies, and other maintenance. On an island with no cars, this job becomes that much harder. The dray team makes it much more manageable for their human counterparts.

 They have day-to-day surprises, and have even survived a dray crash! Don’t worry, they handled it like champs, and weren’t even spooked. Luckily, there was no damage done to either dray. They are also natural models, as Luis and Eric explained that tourists take pictures of them throughout the day. The team is up for the challenge though, and they know how to pose for a camera. They have even been featured as special guests in some staff pictures at one of the Mackinac Island inns!

A picture of Doug the horse.

The third horse team member, Doug.

 We also can’t forget about Doug and his driver Juan. These two cover the off days for Dex and Holiday, because horses are human too! Wait…but anyways, these two contribute a lot to the park’s quality, doing the same job as Dex and Holiday.

The Mackinac State Historic Parks Dray team walking on M-185.

The Dray team at work.

 While the dray horses aren’t at the forefront of MSHP’s operation, they are so crucial to its upkeep. So next time you’re around, Dex, Holiday or Doug would never say no to an apple or carrot as a thank you for everything that they do for the parks and the island! They can be found in the pasture on their off-days, as long as it isn’t rainy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cattle grazing in what is now Marquette Park, in front of Fort Mackinac, on Mackinac Island.

The Cattle of Mackinac Island

“There are more cows in Mackina than in any other place of its size in the known world; and every cow wears at least one bell.”

A painting depicting Fort Street as a dirt road, with Fort Mackinac to the left and grazing horse and cattle to the right.

Cattle & horses are depicted grazing the government pasture in this 1838 scene by French naturalist Francois, comte de Castelnau.

 Much has been written about the Battle of Mackinac Island, which took place between American and British forces on July 18, 1814. Often disregarded, however, are bovine witnesses to the melee which occurred that summer’s day on pasture and woodlots of Michael Dousman’s farm. This is their story.

The King’s Cattle

 During the autumn of 1779, Lieutenant Governor Patrick Sinclair began transferring the British garrison at Fort Michilimackinac to Mackinac Island. At the time, local residents included the “King’s Cattle,” kept for providing fresh beef and dairy products. Construction on the island began that winter, with cattle driven over the frozen straits before spring. On February 15, 1780, Sinclair wrote, “…two Canadians are preparing Post & rail fence to enclose a fine grass Platt of about thirty acres for the King’s Cattle which will be sent to the Island before the Ice breaks up.”

Cattle grazing in what is now Marquette Park, in front of Fort Mackinac, on Mackinac Island.

Cattle grazed the public pasture below Fort Mackinac from 1780 until the early 20th century. Photo by the Detroit Publishing Co. (ca.1900)

 This “fine grass Platt” is a rolling plot of land, west of and below Fort Mackinac. For well over a century, it was known as the government (or public) pasture. In 1901, the Mackinac Island State Park commission leased the parcel to the Grand Hotel for use as a 9-hole golf course.

 In addition to provender, trained cattle served as working oxen. On July 30, 1780, Sinclair complained to his superiors, “… endeavors to secure this Garrison have been retarded for want of working Cattle, Tools, the materials and Rum.” That November, two cows were added to the island’s herd, transported from the mainland aboard the armed sloop, HMS Welcome.

Dousman’s Farm

A cow grazing on Mackinac Island.

A jersey cow poses for the camera of William H. Gardiner (ca.1905-1915)

 American troops took control of Fort Mackinac in 1796. Civilian arrivals included Michael Dousman, who established a large farm on the northeast corner of the island. On July 17, 1812, British troops conscripted Dousman’s oxen to haul their cannon across the island, leading to an American surrender. In 1814, those same oxen presumably bore witness to the bloody battle between American and British forces, which took place on Dousman’s hay fields.

 Michael Dousman filled island contracts for fresh beef, hay, lumber, and firewood for nearly 50 years. Several accounts noted his herd numbered about 20 head of cattle. In 1852, Juliette Starr Dana stopped for a visit, writing, “… we came to a large farm with oxen, outbuildings & everything in New England Style. We went to the house & asked permission to rest, which was which was granted very kindly by the woman of the house who handed each of us a large bowl of rich milk cold as ice, which proved very refreshing.” In 1856, Michael Early bought the property and continued maintaining a dairy farm.

Mackinac’s Meandering Cattle

An 1890 view of Mackinac Island from the East Bluff, showing cattle grazing in the park.

View of town with cattle grazing on the East Bluff,
Photo by Lieut. Benjamin C. Morse Jr. (1890)

 Other local residents also owned cattle, which often roamed at will, grazing as they pleased. In September 1835, Chandler R. Gilman spent a rustic night in a local boarding house. “This morning I waked very early,” he wrote. “At dawn heard the morning gun from the Fort, and soon after a clattering about the house; and the noise of cow-bells under the windows gave us notice that the world was astir … There are more cows in Mackina than in any other place of its size in the known world; and every cow wears at least one bell.”

 Wandering cows posed challenges for decades. Once Mackinac National Park was created in 1875, a new law barred cattle from running loose at night. Two years later, Captain Joseph Bush posted a notice that all stray cows would be put in a pound until reclaimed by their owners. Like most early park regulations, these proved difficult to enforce.

A family posing with their children, dog, cow, and kitten at the Sergeants' Quarters, behind Fort Mackinac on Mackinac Island.

A family poses with their children, dog, cow, and kitten at the former Sergeants’ Quarters, behind Fort Mackinac. Photo by William H. Gardiner (ca.1905-1915)

 A turnstile was installed at the bottom of Fort Mackinac’s south sally ramp to deter four-legged visitors from sauntering to the top. Fanny Dunbar Corbusier, wife of the post surgeon, arrived in April 1882. She recalled, “People on foot usually climbed the long flight of steps that were the shortest way up to the [officers’] quarters, and a cow once chose this route, climbing until she reached the parade ground, some one hundred and twenty steps up.”

The Cow-Bell Nuisance

 Free-ranging cattle failed to amuse Illinois congressman, William Springer. His family spent the summer of 1884 on the island, contemplating leasing a lot and building a cottage. The following spring, he informed Captain George K. Brady they had decided to spend summers elsewhere. He wrote, “Owing to the ‘cowbell nuisance’ Mrs. Springer did not get the rest desired … and as a result has been in ill health the entire winter.”

A wandering cow grazing near Sugar Loaf rock on Mackinac Island.

A wandering cow grazing near Sugar Loaf

 Arthur Fisk Starr, on the other hand, delighted in the noisy situation. From 1883-1890, the “merry charioteer” ran the most celebrated carriage service of the national park era. Starr’s Chariot led tours across the island, full of “fun, philosophy, and unwritten history.” After stopping at Lover’s Leap, a guest wrote, “No drive could be more beautiful. A pause was made at a point where several roads meet. This is Cow-Bell Point. The drowsy tinklings lull the distant folds … It is said that at Cow-Bell Point the bells can be heard no matter on what part of the island the cows are.”

 Likely, you won’t encounter a single cow on your next Mackinac Island visit. As you wander, imagine a time when lowing “moos” and tinkling cowbells were defining features of the Wonderful Isle. Listen closely, and you just might catch faint echoes from this bygone era.

 

A picture of a fragment of a clay pipe with a Dutch company makers mark on it.

The Season Continues

A picture of a fragment of a clay pipe with a Dutch company makers mark on it.

Fragment of a white clay smoking pipe stamped with a maker’s mark. 

The first half of the 2023 Michilimackinac archaeological field season has flown by. The cellars continue to yield interesting artifacts. In addition to the gaming die found during our opening week (Our 65th Season Begins! – Mackinac State Historic Parks | Mackinac State Historic Parks (mackinacparks.com), an unusual white clay smoking pipe bowl fragment was recovered from the north edge of the central cellar. White clay pipe fragments are fairly common, but they are usually plain. This one was stamped with a maker’s mark. The motif is a jumping deer. It was used by a series of Dutch pipemakers in Gouda from 1660 to at least 1776. This is a reminder of the worldwide trade networks of which Michilimackinac was a part.

A reconstructed ointment pot.

With pieces recovered this year, archaeologists have been able to reconstruct this ointment pot. 

 In the southeast cellar, the most interesting artifacts have been plain white tin-glazed earthenware ceramic sherds. These were able to be matched with some sherds from last season to form an ointment pot. This is the second ointment pot we have been able to reconstruct from the southeast cellar.

A person holding a King's 8th Button.

Pewter button from the 8th Regiment. 

 We also have been working in the northern section of the excavation. At the beginning of this season, most of this area was in the layer of rubble from the 1781 demolition of the fort. Interesting finds from this area include part of a stone smoking pipe bowl, two gilt sequins and two pewter buttons from the 8th Regiment. These are the soldiers who demolished the fort.

 In some areas all the demolition rubble has been removed, revealing the north wall trench of the building cutting through beach sand. This is easier to see in the west end of the house because a tree was planted in the east of the wall trench in the early twentieth century. While the location of the fort was never forgotten, its interior layout was.

A photo of the north wall, with a dark area showing where trench was.

The dark area in the photo reveals the north wall trench of the building. 

 The 2023 archaeology season continues through August 19. Visitors to Colonial Michilimackinac can watch archaeologists uncover history seven days a week, weather permitting, until then.

 

A logo for the 125th anniversary of the Mackinac Island Automobile Ban.

Celebrating 125 Years of Mackinac Island’s Automobile Ban

A logo for the 125th anniversary of the Mackinac Island Automobile Ban.

Celebrating 125 years!

There are so many things that make Mackinac Island special. A cannon blast coming from the Revolutionary War-era fort every morning to wake the island up. The smell of fudge tempting you as walk down Main Street. The natural beauty that is Arch Rock. Lilacs bursting throughout the island in early June.

 However, it’s the distinct lack of something that most people might point to as being the thing that makes the island special.

 “Mackinac Island is famous for many things, but the century and a quarter-old ban on motorized vehicles is truly at the top of why it is such a special place,” said Mackinac State Historic Parks Director Steve Brisson.

 2023 marks the 125th anniversary of the automobile ban on Mackinac Island. As the story goes, in 1898 the first horseless carriage made its way to Mackinac Island via ferry boat and the first encounter between horse and “horseless carriage” was said to be chaotic. In response, businessmen engaged in the carriage industry filed a formal petition with the Village Common Council. They stated that the use of automobiles on Mackinac Island would be a danger to “the lives and property of petitioners and their patrons and to all others who use the streets and roads of this village.” Protection of the island’s historic environment and the carriage businesses serving tourists were a priority for locals and business owners alike. A resolution was made the same day the petition was delivered, effectively banning all automobiles in the Village of Mackinac Island.

 The Mackinac Island State Park Commission followed suit in 1901, banning automobiles within Mackinac Island State Park.

 “The Mackinac Island State Park Commission has been honored to work with and partner with the City of Mackinac Island for more than a century on the ban on automobiles,” Brisson said. “We continue to partner with the city to enforce this ban that is crucial to maintaining the heritage of Mackinac Island.”

An 1886 Benz Motorwagen.

The 1886 Benz Motorwagen. Photo courtesy Gilmore Car Museum.

 Mackinac State Historic Parks is celebrating the occasion with special events the weekend of July 21, complete with an 1886 Benz Motorwagen on the island. It was a vehicle very similar to this that got the wheels in motion (no pun intended) for the ban on automobiles.

 The weekend will begin with a ceremonial “re-banning” of automobiles on Mackinac Island. The Motorwagen will take a short drive down Market Street to Mackinac Island City Council before Brisson and Mackinac Island Mayor Margaret Doud reaffirm the ban. This event will begin at 7:00 p.m.

 The “horseless vehicle” will also be on display outside Fort Mackinac at the Huron Road Pavilion from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Saturday, July 22, and Sunday, July 23. A member of the Gilmore Car Museum will provide interpretation and visitors will be able to take pictures. On the evening of July 22 an invite-only event, presented by Mackinac Island Carriage Tours, will take place at Fort Mackinac officially commemorating the ban on automobiles on Mackinac Island.

 Mackinac State Historic Parks has partnered with the Gilmore Car Museum, located outside Kalamazoo, to being the Motorwagen to the island.

Book cover for Phil Porter's book, "Where Horse is King."

Where Horse is King: Mackinac Island’s Automobile Ban, by Phil Porter.

 Former Mackinac State Historic Parks Director Phil Porter has written a new vignette on the automobile ban: Where Horse is King: Mackinac Island’s Automobile Ban. It provides the complete background on the restriction on automobiles, including efforts over the years to get around the ban or repeal it. The book is available at all Mackinac State Historic Parks museum stores.

 In addition, a special commemorative logo has been developed and can be found on merchandise at Mackinac State Historic Parks museum stores, as well as on the license plates found on carriages throughout the island.

 In addition to Mackinac Island Carriage Tours, the special weekend celebrating Mackinac Island’s ban on automobiles has been made possible by Mackinac Associates, friends preserving and sharing Mackinac’s heritage.

Trekking Through Nature: A Journey Along some of Mackinac Island’s Best Trails

For us, there’s nothing much better than an early morning or evening hike, especially when those hikes take you through the North Woods and feature views overlooking the sparkling waters of the Straits of Mackinac. Welcome to Mackinac Island State Park. Many tourists, travelers and people from all walks of life journey to this timeless island for the food, fudge and historical sites. However, the incredible trail system within and around the island are not to be missed. More than 80% of Mackinac Island is parkland – containing more than 70 miles of incredible hiking and biking trails to explore. Whether you’re an avid outdoor enthusiast, or a novice looking for a pretty view, there is something for you within the park. We’ve compiled a list of five favorites – some very popular, some lesser known. Read on for some inside information to make your visit to Mackinac Island all the more enjoyable!

A sign for Tranquil Bluff Trail on Mackinac Island.

Tranquil Bluff Trail.

A clearing through some trees showing blue sky and blue water on Tranquil Bluff Trail on Mackinac Island.

One of the gorgeous views on Tranquil Bluff Trail.

 The trail you can’t miss:

Tranquil Bluff (~1 hour and 30 minutes)
DIFFICULTY LEVEL: Moderate

 Tranquil Bluff Trail most certainly lives up to the name. This winding tree covered pathway borders the eastern edge of the island. It’s serene with spectacular views of Lake Huron on your right and a lush forest on your left. Tranquil Bluff is a truly unforgettable experience. We recommend going on the trail in the early hours of the morning, right as the forest wakes up. Listen closely and you’ll hear the singing of chickadees, warblers and the occasional wail of a loon from the lake. For this hike bug spray is recommended, and hiking shoes are a major plus as there are several steeper slopes to traverse.

 

 

Skull Cave on Mackinac Island.

Skull Cave on Mackinac Island.

View of trees, water, and an island from Fort Holmes on Mackinac Island.

One of the views from Mackinac Island.

 For a good workout:

 Fort Holmes Loop (~30 minutes)
DIFFICULTY LEVEL: Hard

From Fort Mackinac continue onto Garrison Road until you reach Skull Cave. Then make a right and follow signs for Fort Holmes/Point Lookout. You will soon approach a wooden staircase on your left. This is where the workout begins! After climbing several flights of steps catch your breath while enjoying one of the most beautiful views on the island. Fort Holmes is perched atop a hilltop providing a 360-degree view of the surrounding topography (including Round Island and Bois Blanc Island). Hawks and turkey vultures fly close by so make sure to keep an eye out for them! Also take some time to explore Fort Holmes. No ticket is required for entry! After your visit at the fort continue onto Fort Holmes Road until you reach the cemetery. Then make a left and continue back down to the Fort Mackinac!

A set of stairs found on Pontiac's Trail on Mackinac Island.

Pontiac Trail.

Yellow wildflowers along Pontiac Trail on Mackinac Island.

Wildflowers on Pontiac Trail.

Best views of Mackinac Bridge:

Pontiac Trail (~15 minutes)
DIFFICULTY LEVEL: Easy

Pontiac Trail may be short, but it has the longest panoramic view of Mackinac Bridge. The trail offers a spectacular array of picture-perfect shots. Every angle captures the sparkling water, flowered trees, and gleaming bridge in the distance. You can also spot ferries passing to and from the mainland! If you descend the staircase to the water’s edge, you’ll find one of Mackinac Islands prime sunset watching locations.

 

 

Tall trees on Leslie Avenue.

Tall trees on Leslie Avenue.

A yellow ladyslipper along Leslie Avenue on Mackinac Island.

A ladyslipper found along Leslie Avenue.

Most scenic hike:

Leslie Avenue Loop (~1 hour)
DIFFICULTY LEVEL: Moderate

A local favorite that has a direct connection to Mackinac’s military history! Soldiers cut this trail in the 1870s and named it after Captain Leslie Smith. From Arch Rock look for the wooden sign that says Leslie Avenue and begin your journey. The trail is narrow but paved so no hiking shoes are needed. However, don’t let the paved trail fool you because along this path you are still very much surrounded by nature. Beautiful maple, pine and oak trees create a brilliantly green canopy overhead. White, purple and yellow wildflowers line the trail, and a symphony of birds will make you feel like you are the only one on the island! It’s a hike you cannot miss.

Signs at the beginning of the Mackinac Island Botanical Trail.

Start of the Mackinac Island Botanical Trail.

For the botanists/naturalists:

A White Pine with a sign in front of it located along the Mackinac Island Botanical Trail.

Michigan’s state tree, the White Pine.

Mackinac Island Botanical Trail (~30 minutes)         DIFFICULTY LEVEL: Easy

This hike will take you on a true learning journey! A massive sign reading Mackinac Island Botanical Trail is the start of the trail. As you traverse the path, signs placed throughout will give you insight into the common and scientific names of the trees that grow on the island. Meander along this trail and you’ll eventually reach Arch Rock. From here you have several potential hiking routes. Turning left will lead you onto Leslie Avenue, continuing straight will lead you down a flight of stairs to Lake Shore Boulevard and turning right onto Huron Road will take you to East Bluff. I recommend walking along East Bluff for the most picturesque views of the lake and Round Island’s Lighthouse. From East Bluff you can take a sharp left turn back down to Main Street. You can also continue onto East Bluff until you reach Fort Mackinac.

These are just a few hikes to be found on Mackinac Island. We hope you enjoy them, but always encourage you to find your own favorites –  there is no wrong turn! Happy Trails!

 

Lilac Scented Memories

Newly-discovered accounts of Mackinac Island’s lilacs from the 1840s.

A lilac bush.  Blooming lilacs are now just a memory for the 2023 season. These sweetly-scented flowering shrubs typically bloom between mid-May and mid-June in northern Michigan. For many years, the earliest known reference to lilacs on Mackinac Island was by the famous author and naturalist Henry David Thoreau. Suffering from tuberculosis, Thoreau visited the island from June 30 – July 4, 1861, with Horace Mann Jr., a seventeen-year-old budding botanist and loyal traveling companion. Thoreau’s unpublished journal emphasizes the lateness of spring, recording about 30 species of trees and shrubs and more than 75 varieties of herbaceous plants and wildflowers. Thoreau noted, “No corn or only green corn. Strawberries (both kinds) hardly ripe here & scarce.” He also observed “apple in blossom … & lilac.”

 Recently, two earlier accounts of Mackinac Island lilacs were discovered, both from the 1840s. On a trip from Xenia, Ohio, William Mills penned a letter home on July 3, 1847. Published in the Greene County Torch-Light on July 15, his longer column concludes,

 “But lest I become too prosy, I will finish with a glance at the particularly interesting and picturesque locality of Mackinac … We reached here about sunrise this morning and all walked upon the island and inspected whatever of interest came our way. Mackinac is on the 46th degree of latitude, some 450 miles north of Xenia, and now the fresh blooming lilac and opening buds of the apple tree, too plainly told the chilliness of a late spring … We had some invalids among us when we left home, but there are none on that list now, if hearty appetites and a full flow of playful spirits are considered the signs.”

A photo of William Mills.

William Mills (1814-1879) Credit: Antiochiana Collection, Olive Kettering Library, Antioch College

 Interestingly, William Mills was a founder of Antioch College, whose first president was the noted American educator, Horace Mann. Their families were undoubtedly familiar, with Horace Mann Jr. attending the school in 1859, just two years before his own trip to Mackinac Island.

 Currently, the earliest known account of Mackinac’s lilacs was written June 18, 1845, by “J.I.M.” an unknown correspondent from The Boston Post. His visit was described in rich detail through a series of letters, reprinted that July. After securing comfortable accommodations at the new Mission House hotel, he spent several days exploring the island’s natural wonders. “Jim” penned a goodbye note aboard the steamer Madison as it pulled from the harbor. He wrote,

 “Adieu, beautiful island of Mackinac! … Farewell to your rocks and caves, your shady walks and stony beach, your clear air, sweetened by the lilac and apple trees but just in blossom – your delicious trout and white fish, and the kind hospitality of your people! all, farewell.”

 Local lore places the origins of Mackinac Island’s lilacs even earlier than the 1840s. Today, the oldest known trees are about 200 years old, placing them among the eldest specimens in the nation. If treated with care, the island’s clear air will be sweetened by lilacs for centuries yet to come.

A sketch from 1827 showing Ste. Anne's Church on Mackinac Island with Magdelaine LaFromboise's home adjacent to it.

What’s in a Name?

Throughout the summer season, Mackinac Associates, the friend’s group for Mackinac State Historic Parks, hosts several member events. These fun seasonal events bring together people who share a love for preserving and sharing Mackinac’s heritage.

 Mackinac Associates biggest event of the year is the G. Mennen Williams Mackinac Celebration. Since 1989, this event continues one of the premiere happenings on Mackinac Island for Mackinac Associates members. But, why is this event named after G. Mennen Williams?

A photo of Prentiss Brown, G. Mennen Williams, John F. Kennedy, and an unidentified man on the Mackinac Bridge.

Prentiss Brown, G. Mennen Williams, John F. Kennedy and an unidentified man standing on the Mackinac Bridge. Photo from the University of Michigan Library Digital Collections, HS17694

 The G. Mennen Williams Mackinac Celebration is a tribute to Gerhard Mennen Williams, Governor of Michigan from 1949-1960. Sporting his signature green bow tie with white polka dots, Williams developed a solid reputation in politics and a notable love for the Straits of Mackinac. One of his most noteworthy accomplishments during his time as governor was his support for the construction of the Mackinac Bridge. Built to link Michigan’s Lower and Upper Peninsulas, the Mackinac Bridge was completed in 1957.

 Just one year later, Governor Williams’ love of historic preservation and Mackinac Island’s rich history inspired the 1958 legislation giving Mackinac Island State Park Commission the authority to finance its historical programs through the sale of revenue bonds. Governor Williams also played a key role in bringing together local leaders, historians, and politicians to support the restoration of Fort Mackinac.

A photo of Brian and James Dunnigan standing next to President Harry Truman and Michigan Governor G. Mennen Williams in 1955.

Brian and James Dunnigan with President Harry Truman and Michigan Governor G. Mennen Williams on Mackinac Island in 1955, during President Truman’s fundraising trip for his presidential library. Photo MSHP

 After completing five gubernatorial terms, Williams was later elected to the Michigan Supreme Court in 1970 and he served as Chief Justice from 1983 to 1986. In 1988, G. Mennen Williams passed away on February 2nd in Detroit, Michigan at the age of 76. He was laid to rest in the Protestant Cemetery on Mackinac Island.

 In July, Mackinac Associates hosts a small private event for high-level donors, sponsors and partners, and Legacy Society members called the Laframboise Donor Reception. This reception is named for Magdelaine Laframboise, a woman of Odawa and French-Canadian descent, who played a leading role in the affairs of Mackinac Island during the first half of the 19th century.

 After her husband Joseph was murdered in 1806 while on business in the Grand River region near present-day Lowell, Michigan, Magdelaine took control of the fur trading company and continued its success. For the next 12 years, she wintered in the Grand River Valley, collecting furs from trappers. Each spring, she supervised the transportation of the furs to Mackinac Island. Magdelaine Laframboise successfully influenced the ways of the newly arriving American businessmen, government agents, military and missionaries to the Straits region.

A sketch from 1827 showing Ste. Anne's Church on Mackinac Island with Magdelaine LaFromboise's home adjacent to it.

A sketch of Ste. Anne’s Church adjacent to LaFramboise’s home circa 1827. Photo MSHP

 In 1822 Magdelaine, then 41 years old, decided to retire on the stunning shoreline of Mackinac Island, where she built a very fine home. There she entertained dignitaries, military officers as well as many of her native American friends and family members. On his famed visit to the United States, French aristocrat and diplomat Alexis de Tocqueville visited with Magdelaine upon his arrival to Mackinac Island.

An 1880s view of the home of Magdelaine LaFramboise.

This view, ca. 1880, shows Magdelaine LaFramboise’s house with the addition of a small porch. Photo MSHP

 Magdelaine started the first formal school on Mackinac Island, in her home, and encouraged William Ferry to start his mission school. She also assisted Father Mazzuchelli in starting a Catholic school. Her daughter Josephine married a captain at Fort Mackinac, Benjamin Pierce, brother to Franklin Pierce who would become the 14th President of the United States. When Ste. Anne’s Church was looking to relocate on the island, she donated a portion of her land adjacent to her home to the church, and a new Ste. Anne’s Church was constructed there. Magdelaine became known as “The First Lady of Mackinac Island” for her charitable work and the many visitors she welcomed into her home. Magdelaine Laframboise died April 4, 1846, and was buried beneath the altar at St. Anne’s Church on Mackinac Island. The Laframboise home remains on Mackinac Island still today, now known as Harbour View Inn.

A photo of Harbour View Inn on Mackinac Island.

The home of Magdelaine LaFramboise has been renovated and adapted for use as the Harbour View Inn. Photo MSHP

 These special events hosted each year by Mackinac Associates are named for people who shared a desire to protect and preserve the history and culture of the Straits of Mackinac. They bring together dedicated members, friends who share the same passion to protect and preserve this beautiful place. For information on how to join Mackinac Associates and be a part of preserving and sharing Mackinac’s heritage, please visit www.MackinacAssociates.com.

A bone or ivory gaming die recovered at Colonial Michilimackinac.

Our 65th Season Begins!

The archaeological excavation at Colonial Michilimackinac, showing the east wall of the central cellar.

The east wall of the central cellar.

 On May 30, the archaeological crew arrived to begin the sixty-fifth season of archaeological excavation at Michilimackinac. We are continuing to excavate a traders’ house unit within the Southeast Rowhouse. This summer we will be focusing on structural features: the two cellars and the north wall.

A bone or ivory gaming die recovered at Colonial Michilimackinac.  In both the central and the southeast cellars, remnants of the wood cellar walls are currently being exposed. The most interesting artifact of the season, so far, has been a six-sided gaming die found in the northern part of the central cellar. It is made of ivory or polished bone. Unlike the bone die found in this house in 2010, the pips on this die are in the standard pattern with opposing sides adding up to seven.

An overview photo of the archaeological excavation, showing surrounding historic buildings at Colonial Michilimackinac.

You can see the stump in the right of the excavation in this overview of the site.

 We expect to find evidence for the north wall of the house in our northern tier of squares. Currently the crew is excavating the layer of rubble from the 1781 demolition of the fort in this area. Unfortunately, they have to work around the stump of a tree planted in 1910 before the layout of the fort was known.

 The excavation is located in the center of Colonial Michilimackinac. Guests can watch history being unearthed every day (weather permitting) through August 19. Follow this blog or MSHP’s social media channels for updates as the season progresses.