So Many Events in June

June is shaping up to be an exciting month of special events within Mackinac Island State Park and over at Colonial Michilimackinac, in Mackinaw City.

 To start, Mackinac Island State Park and Fort Mackinac will host a number of activities in conjunction with the 75th annual Mackinac Island Lilac Festival, June 9-18. To kick off the festivities for the week, the reigning Lilac Festival Queen, Clara Chambers, will fire the ceremonial opening cannon at Fort Mackinac on Friday morning, June 9.

 Starting Saturday, June 10 and running through June 18, admission to The Richard & Jane Manoogian Mackinac Art Museum, located in beautiful Marquette Park in front of Fort Mackinac, will be complimentary to all guests on Mackinac Island. Visitors are encouraged to explore A Mackinac Day, the juried exhibition located in the changing gallery on the second floor, and the new portraits of Arent and Rebecca DePeyster located on the main level of the museum.

 Also throughout the festival, inside Fort Mackinac, the interpretive staff will feature an exclusive tour. At 1:00 p.m. join the staff as they bring guests out onto the porch of the Wood Quarters for a discussion of the soldier’s garden, what is now Marquette Park, home to the most famous of Mackinac’s lilacs. General fort admission is required for this tour.

A guest helping to fire the Fort Mackinac cannon.  Additionally, Mackinac State Historic Parks is teaming up with the Mackinac Island Tourism Bureau to give a visitor to fire the closing cannon of the day on Saturday, June 10, Friday, June 16, and Saturday, June 17. Visitors must be on the island to enter, and simply need to fill out a card at the Mackinac Island Tourism Bureau booth on Main Street.

 Other special events for the Lilac Festival include:

  • – Saturday, June 10: a showing of The Wizard of Oz at dusk inside Fort Mackinac. This is a free event, open to all.
  • – Monday, June 12: Creating the Village of Mackinac Island tour, which will guide guests through downtown Mackinac Island, laying out how the Village of Mackinac came to be. This is a free event with donations welcome; tour starts at 5:30 p.m. at Winderemere Point. Tour led by MSHP Interpretation Coordinator Jack Swartzinski.
  • – Tuesday, June 13: Mackinac in the 1830s tour, where guests will experience a walking tour of downtown Mackinac Island discussing the community in the 1830s and highlighting the role various agencies had at the time; tour starts at 5:30 p.m. at The Richard & Jane Manoogian Mackinac Art Museum. This is a free event, with donations welcome, led by MSHP Chief Curator Craig Wilson.
  • – Wednesday, June 14: Governor’s Summer Residence tour, 9:30 a.m. – 11:30 a.m.; Artist-in-Residence Workshop, Station 256 Conference Room, 7:00 p.m.
  • – Saturday, June 17: Lilacs and Warblers Birding Adventure! This unique guided adventure will allow visitors to search for spring songbirds while walking among the thousands of gragrant lilac blossoms and up the hill into the park; tour starts at 9:00 a.m. at the Father Marquette Statue in Marquette Park. This is a free event, led by MSHP Park Naturalist Kyle Bagnall.
  • – Saturday, June 17: Guests will have a guided opportunity to explore Mackinac Island State Park’s newest interpretive pathway, the Hardwood Nature Trail. Starting behind Fort Mackinac, guests will walk about ¾ mile to a woodland loop, all the while looking for wildflowers, songbirds, and other wildlife. This is a free event, with donations welcome, led by MSHP Park Naturalist Kyle Bagnall. Begins at the Fort Mackinac Avenue of Flags at 1:00 p.m.

 The world famous Lilac Festival Grand Parade concludes the Lilac Festival celebration, on June 18. Fort Mackinac interpreters will march in the parade, and a special cannon firing will kick it off at 4:00 p.m.

 Outside of the daily tours at Fort Mackinac, all events are free to the public, and donations are welcome.

 Colonial Michilimackinac will host two events of its own in June: Maritime Michilimackinac, June 10, and Wit and Mirth: Leisure and Recreation During the Fur Trade, on June 17.

 Colonial Michilimackinac was a major hub for the Great Lakes Fur Trade, and its location where Lakes Michigan and Huron meet was crucial to its success. Maritime Michilimackinac will focus on Michilimackinac’s maritime history, as the interpretive staff discusses and demonstrates the many different ways Michilimackinac’s historic residents interacted with and worked on the water.

 Special programs will take place throughout the day, including a Weapons on the Water Demonstration at 11:00 a.m. and 3:30 p.m., a program showcasing what a Voyageur crew would eat at 12:00 p.m., and, at 2:00 p.m., a look at the boats and canoes of Colonial Michilimackinac out on the water. A full schedule can be found by clicking here. 

 Even in the Great Lakes wilderness, the historic residents of Michilimackinac knew how to have a good time. Join the interpretive staff June 17 for “Wit and Mirth: Recreation at Michilimackinac”, a day full of entertainments that will allow guests to play games of skill and chance, take tea with the neighbors, hear historic poetry, laugh at jokes, and more.

 Special programs during the event include card games at the Soldier’s House, a literature program, voyageur games, dice games at the Merchant’s House, and our famous tea program. A complete schedule can be found by clicking here. 

 All special programs are included with regular admission to Colonial Michilimackinac.

 Other events on Mackinac Island include the open house for A Mackinac Day, the juried exhibition at The Richard & Jane Manoogian Mackinac Art Museum.

 There’s always something special about being able to spend a day on Mackinac. The sun seems to shine a little brighter. The sky seems a little bluer. Even days where things don’t go to plan can seem perfect. Everybody has their “Mackinac Day.” We encourage artists working in all media to share with us their artistic visions of what A Mackinac Day means to them.

The Richard and Jane Manoogian Mackinac Art Museum.

 This event is open and free to the public, and is co-sponsored by Mackinac Associates, the Mackinac Arts Council, and Mackinac State Historic Parks.

 On June 24 Mackinac Associates will host its biggest event of the year, the G. Mennen Williams Mackinac Celebration. This members-only event is one of the premiere events taking place on Mackinac Island throughout the summer. For information on how to join Mackinac Associates and purchase tickets for this event, please visit their website.  

Historic Interpreters at Fort Mackinac loading a bronze cannon.

Opening Fort Mackinac

Soldiers marching on the Parade Ground at Fort Mackinac.

Historic interpreters learning to march during training at Fort Mackinac.

Every year tens of thousands of guests will visit Fort Mackinac and experience the sights and sounds of the fort, from its beautiful views of the harbor and village below to the sounds of rifle and cannon firing demonstrations and the presence of the historical interpreters. Each year these interpreters bring something a little different, not just in their charm or style but sometimes by the way they approach the great history of Fort Mackinac. This year is no different. Our interpretative staff has been hard at work these last few weeks learning not only the classic programs of Fort Mackinac but a few new programs too.

Historic Interpreters at Fort Mackinac preparing to fire rifles.

Training with Springfield 45-70 Rifles.

Before their arrival on Mackinac Island, the interpreters spend many hours reading from various sources to learn the history of Fort Mackinac. Once they arrive, they immediately set to work, using this knowledge in training and practice sessions before working in front of the public. They spend many hours getting acquainted with the Springfield 45-70 Rifle, the focus of our rifle demonstrations, and its importance in the U.S. Army’s evolution to a much more modern military in the late 19th century. They will also spend a few hours marching and drilling on the parade ground, just as the soldiers of the 1880s would have, making sure they can replicate these maneuvers for the many guests participating in our Rifle and Drill Program every afternoon.

Historic Interpreters at Fort Mackinac loading a bronze cannon.

Learning how to load and fire the iconic Fort Mackinac cannon.

The interpreters will also learn how to present our cannon firing demonstrations, speaking to the cannon’s ceremonial role at Fort Mackinac, marking the beginning and end of the soldier’s day. These “salute shots” were also fired for holidays like Memorial Day – known then as Decoration Day – and the Fourth of July. Interpreters will also spend the necessary time learning how to safely load and fire the cannon for our demonstrations, which is a high point for any interpreter, whether new or returning. The interpreters will spend even more time going through our many walking tours and programs, ensuring they can present these programs engagingly and accurately. This is especially important with our new programs, like the Soldier’s Equipment and Quartermaster Storehouse program and, later this season, the Dress Parade Program and Evenings at Fort Mackinac walking tour.

Fort Mackinac staff working in an office space learning about the fort and its history.

A peek behind the scenes – being a Fort Mackinac interpreter isn’t just work at the fort.

For all the time the interpreters spend out in the fort practicing, they spend double the time inside, reading and studying material and learning the best practices of historical interpretation. All of this is done to provide our guests with the best possible experience with the hope that they feel comfortable and engaged and walk away with a feeling that their time at Fort Mackinac, as with any of our sites, was worth it. Public interpretation can lead to a lifetime interest in history and the world. We hope you will be able to join us this year and experience the many programs with offer. Click here to learn about tickets. 

A wooden maple sugar mold.

Maple Taps at Mackinac

A wooden maple sugar mold.

Maple Sugar Mold
(Canadian Museum of History, 71-359)

For countless generations, Anishinaabek residents have gathered sap from sugar maple trees each spring, boiling it into pure maple sugar. Near the Straits of Mackinac, historical accounts show maple sugaring was especially common at nearby Bois Blanc Island and at L’Arbre Croche, along the Lake Michigan shore. It takes 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup, which can make about 8 pounds of sugar. Typically, granulated sugar was packed into containers (mokoks), fashioned of birch bark, sewn together with spruce roots. Maple treats were also packed into wooden molds and decorative bark containers, sold for the local tourist trade. Mind-boggling amounts of maple sugar were produced annually at the straits, with records of more than 200,000 pounds (100 tons) being shipped by Mackinac traders at in a single season.

 As the month of April 2023 winds down, Michigan’s maple sugaring season has already come to a close. When maple buds start to open, sap turns cloudy and assumes a bitter taste. As temperatures remain above freezing both day and night, pressure also drops inside trees, causing sap to slow and taps to dry up completely. Historically at Mackinac, colder weather usually persisted later into spring. Most seasons, the straits would not be ice free until mid-April, when ship traffic could finally resume. In the woods, maple sugaring season would often last through April, or even into early May.

A large sugar maple near the Fort Mackinac Post Cemetery on Mackinac Island.

Sugar Maple near Mackinac Island’s Post Cemetery

 While most sugaring was done nearby, at least a few maples were tapped on Mackinac Island in the early 1880s. On April 28, 1883, Fort Mackinac’s post surgeon, Dr. William H. Corbusier, instructed his four young sons (along with those of Captain Edwin Sellers) in the age-old practice. Their mother, Fanny Dunbar Corbusier, later recorded the special memory. She wrote, “Father instructed the boys how to tap the sugar maple in the woods, collect the sap, boil it down over an open fire, and test it to learn when it was ready to crystalize into sugar. The pleasure derived by father and sons was very great. One day they tapped eleven trees and caught four gallons of sap.”

 The perspective recorded by their 10-year-old son, Harold, was somewhat more candid. He wrote, “The Sellers boys and we went into the woods at the foot of the hill on the west side of Fort Holmes to gather maple sap. We ate our lunch out here. We taped eleven trees and brought home four galons of sap and would of had more but we wasted a great deal.” One can easily imagine the sticky adventure as eight boys, the oldest just 12 years of age, attempted to collect sap and perform the slow practice of transforming it into sugar. Today, large sugar maples still grow on the west side of Fort Holmes hill, not far from the Post Cemetery.

The headstone of Captain Edwin Sellers at the Fort Mackinac Post Cemetery on Mackinac Island.

Capt. Edwin Sellers headstone

 Less than one year later, on April 12, 1884, Captain Edwin Sellers was laid to rest under the shade of Mackinac’s maples. In early April, Fort Mackinac’s beloved commandant fell ill, suffering a sudden and severe bout of pneumonia. “We all loved him,” wrote Captain Charles Davis, “and there will ever remain in the hearts of his friends a recollection of his manly worth, earnest devotion to duty, fidelity in friendship and generous sympathies that will serve to keep his memory cherished so long as one remains.”

 During your next visit to Mackinac, stop at the Post Cemetery and look for the final resting place of Edwin Sellers. Perhaps the maples growing nearby were tapped 140 years ago by eight rambunctious boys. Listen closely, and you just might hear faint echoes of sweet laughter amidst the rustle of sugar maple leaves.

Preserving History and the Natural Beauty of the Straits

Enchanting. Relaxing. Magical. Mackinac evokes so many memories and images of a special place that has allowed individuals and families to create memories and unique experiences. In managing more than 80% of Mackinac Island and the properties at Michilimackinac State Park and Mill Creek State Park, Mackinac State Historic Parks has the unique ability to protect and preserve our most treasured natural and historical resources in the Straits of Mackinac. And through the park’s friends’ group, Mackinac Associates, you can be a part of preserving these wonderful resources for generations to come, too.

 Since 1982, Mackinac Associates has provided over $3 million of support for Mackinac State Historic Parks with funds raised through membership fees, sponsorships, and fundraising campaigns. These funds have supported an expansive and remarkable list of projects both large and small in every area of Mackinac State Historic Parks operation. Gifts made through Mackinac Associates make possible the interpretive programs, publications, new and renovated exhibits, natural history education, and park improvements that visitors enjoy every year.

 How can you be a part of preserving and sharing Mackinac’s heritage?

  1. A cannon firing demonstration at Fort Mackinac. Become A Member

 Mackinac Associates members are passionate about preserving the rich history and natural beauty of the Straits of Mackinac and can treasure the fact that they have a direct hand in helping to protect, preserve, and present Mackinac’s rich historic and natural resources.  There are two branches of membership – Annual Members and Heritage Season Pass holders.

 Annual members receive a wide range of social and education benefits, including:

  •  Unlimited admission to all Mackinac State Historic Parks sites during the operating season
  • 15% discount at all MSHP museum stores and on the Forest Adventure Experience at Mill Creek
  • Guest admission passes at a reduced rate
  • One-year subscription to Curiosities, our newsletter
  • Invitations to Mackinac Associates member-only events and free admission for annual members to special MSHP events and programs such as Fort Fright and A Colonial Christmas

 Heritage Season Pass holders enjoy free admission at all Mackinac State Historic Park sites for two adults and children or grandchildren under age 18 during the current season. Heritage Season Passes expire October 31 of each year and do not include the additional benefits available to annual members.

 Learn more about available member benefits and how to become a Mackinac Associates member today: https://mackinacassociates.com/benefits

  1. Make a Donation

 Every dollar has an impact. Mackinac Associates helps fund projects both large and small and this past year was no exception with nearly $200,000 in projects sponsored across Mackinac State Historic Parks sites and operations, including:

  • -Continuation of the McGulpin House Dendroarchaeology Study
  • -Purchasing of supplies for the blacksmith shop at Colonial Michilimackinac and the repurposing of a barn building to move the blacksmith shop outside fort walls to a more historically correct location
  • -Updates to the Dr. Beaumont Museum exhibition in the American Fur Company building
  • -Colonial Michilimackinac Southwest Rowhouse addition design plan
  • -Sign upgrades and replacements for Mackinac State Historic Parks
  • -Electrical upgrades for Schoolhouse building in Fort Mackinac
  • -Replacement circuit panel in Hill Quarters
  • -Touchscreens within exhibits at Fort Mackinac and Colonial Michilimackinac
  • -New projector for Fort Mackinac Post Hospital
  • -Funding for The Richard & Jane Manoogian Mackinac Art Museum annual art contest prize money
  • -Support for Mackinac State Historic Parks’ education outreach programs

A trail at Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park.The dendroarchaeology study at the McGulpin House.

Entrance to the Dr. Beaumont exhibit at the American Fur Co. Store. A blacksmith at work at Colonial Michilimackinac. With your help, we can continue to support the programs, projects, and park improvements throughout all Mackinac State Historic Parks that will be impactful for many years to come. To make a donation and see other projects we have funded, visit https://mackinacassociates.squarespace.com/current-completed-projects.

  1. Leave A Legacy

 In managing more than 80% of Mackinac Island and the properties at Michilimackinac State Park and Mill Creek State Park in Mackinaw City, Mackinac State Historic Parks has the unique ability to protect and preserve the most treasured natural and historical resources in the Straits of Mackinac. Through the Mackinac Associates Legacy Society, you can help us preserve these wonderful resources for generations to come. Common considerations when thinking about planned giving include remembering Mackinac Associates in your will, designating our organization as a beneficiary, or the gift of retirement assets or stocks. If you have already remembered us in your estate planning, please let us know so that we can extend our gratitude and provide the recognition you deserve.

 Join us in this partnership to ensure future generations will be able to visit and enjoy our special place: https://mackinacassociates.squarespace.com/current-completed-projects.

  1. Support Our Wish List

A view of Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse.  If you enjoy the interpretation and programs at Mackinac State Historic Parks, we support an ongoing wish list of items requested by staff for the Parks’ gardens such as plants, seeds and tools, period-appropriate clothing and accessories for our hard-working interpreters, equipment for our blacksmiths, carpenters, and fort soldiers, and publications for the Keith Widder Library. Items on our wish list usually range between $50 and $300 and represent supplies that we can always use more of as we continue our interpretive programs and demonstrations throughout our sites.

A historic interpreter watering flowers at Colonial Michilimackinac.  A gift of any size can fulfill a tangible and essential need, to help us fulfil our current needs, visit https://mackinacassociates.squarespace.com/fund-a-need.

 Mackinac State Historic Parks has the unique ability to protect and preserve our most treasured historic and natural resources in the Straits of Mackinac. Thanks to the generosity of members, donors and sponsors, Mackinac Associates has provided over $3,000,000 in support of programs, projects and park improvements since its inception. Through Mackinac Associates you too can be part of preserving these wonderful resources for generations to come. To learn more, visit https://mackinacassociates.com/.

A Closer Look at the Collections: Cameos

One of the next major projects for Mackinac State Historic Parks will be the reconstruction of a unit on the Southwest Rowhouse at Colonial Michilimackinac. To prepare, MSHP staff have been going over the archaeological records and artifacts from the 1960s, when the unit was originally excavated. Today, our Curator of Archaeology, Dr. Lynn Evans, is looking at a cameo ring recovered in 1962.

Archaeology in Review: Brass Scale Weights

Weight found in the central cellar.

Among the unusual finds from the 2022 Michilimackinac archaeological field season were two brass scale weights. They were found in the cellars of the trader’s house.

Nested cups found in the vicinity of the church/blacksmith shop in 1959

 The weight from the central cellar was a cup from a set of nesting weights. Of the fourteen brass scale weights ever found at Michilimackinac, all but two are from nesting weights. These are a series of nested cups plus a small solid trapezoidal disc which nests in the smallest cup. The best example of this is three nested cups found in the vicinity of the church/blacksmith shop in 1959. They were fused together in a fire. Over the years four other cup weights have been found. Based on differences in the angle of the sides at least two sets of weights are represented. The recovery of four of the small disc weights indicates a minimum of four sets. The weights are scattered around the fort, with an additional weight from the church, three from the barracks, three from the south southwest rowhouse, one from the southwest rowhouse and one from the Rue de la Babillarde in the southeast quarter of the fort.

 The cup found in 2022 weighs approximately half of an apothecary dram. It fits into a larger cup weight found in the nearby Rue de la Babillarde. Discs from the barracks, southwest rowhouse and south southwest rowhouse fit into it. We initially interpreted the symbol stamped in the cup as a fleur-de-lis, but further investigation reveals that it is more likely the crossed arrow and key of Nuremberg. Nuremberg was a center of scale making in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

 The weight from the southeast cellar is unique so far. It is trapezoidal, but much larger and heavier. It weighs an ounce and is stamped “GR” surmounted by a crown. This is almost certainly a reference to King George and indicates British use.

 The other unique brass scale weight found at Michilimackinac is a small square stamped ½ dram. It was found near the barracks wall in 1959 and is on display in the “Treasures from the Sand” exhibit at Colonial Michilimackinac.

 What were brass scale weights used for? The small weights are commonly referred to as apothecary weights. It is possible that the weights found in 2022, and the one found in the Rue de la Babillarde were used by Surgeon’s Mate David Mitchell who lived in House D of the Southeast Rowhouse. That would not explain the other scale weights found throughout the fort. It is possible that some of the others were used by merchants to weigh coins or other small but valuable items.

 In his December 31, 1778 inventory of his personal possessions, John Askin listed:

a Weighing Beam

a smaller Ditto

a Comn Weighing Beam old at ye Bakers

a Sett of Cast Weights

Baking at Colonial Michilimackinac.

 The first two weighing beams may have been small balances that would use small weights like this. The last one would have been larger in keeping with the larger measures used by bakers.

 You can see a large weighing beam in action during the special Askin’s Men and Women at Michilimackinac weekend August 5-6, 2023. The two scale weights recovered in 2022 will be on display in the “Current Archaeology at Michilimackinac” case in the Visitor’s Center when Colonial Michilimackinac opens May 10, 2023.

Irish Ingenuity at Mackinac

“There is a clear suggestion of a Celtic origin in the name that heads this sketch,

and some experiences in the early life of Mr. Doherty show him possessed of a large

 percentage of the spirit of independence and self-reliance that is characteristic of the Irish people.”

 Men of Progress: Embracing Biographical Sketches of Representative Michigan Men. Detroit (1900)

 Alfred James Doherty was born May 1, 1856, in New York City. His grandfather captained an ocean liner, immigrating to America from the north of Ireland. A.J.’s father, Michael, worked as a lumber dealer along New York’s East River, specializing in cutting and marketing ship timbers. The Doherty family eventually settled in western New York state, where they operated a profitable farm and raised many children.

Portrait from Men of Progress (1900)

 In 1876, Alfred married Alice Gleason, and the young couple set off to make a life in the west. In 1878, they settled in Clare, Michigan, in the midst of the state’s booming lumber industry. Of modest means, A.J. first found employment in a sawmill, working in every department, from piling lumber to scaling logs. Their four children, Floyd, Frank, Lyda, and Alfred Jr., were raised in Clare and would grow up to love Mackinac Island.

 With seemingly endless energy, Alfred held many positions over the next decade, including store clerk, teacher, insurance agent,  stock farmer, and owner of a hardware store, selling supplies to lumber companies. In 1892, he became general manager of the Clare Woodenware Co., and by 1900 ran the Clare Electric Light Company. He also served as local manager of Michigan Bell Telephone.

 Renowned for his “business hustle and ever present smile,” nearly every Michigander would eventually hear of Mr. Doherty. From 1901–1906, “Bellwether Doherty” served three notable terms as State Senator, being a leading member of the Michigan Republican party. He later served on the State Board of Agriculture, the Public Domain Commission, as superintendent of the Michigan State Fair, and as a long-standing trustee of the Michigan State Agricultural College (now Michigan State University).

Mackinac Island’s Municipal Water, Light and Power Company, by William H. Gardiner (bef. 1915)

 In 1911, A.J. Doherty became owner of the Municipal Water, Light and Power Company on Mackinac Island. It was a family business, with sons Fred, Frank, and Alfred Jr. each serving various roles for nearly two decades. Originally constructed in 1901, the main building was located along the island’s eastern shore. From there, water was pumped from Lake Huron to a reservoir at Fort Holmes, where gravity-fed pipes distributed it to island locations. In his 1916 report, Names of Places of Interest on Mackinac Island, Michigan, Rev. Frank A. O’Brien boasted, “Mackinac has a fine sewer system, as pure a water supply, and as perfect lighting and electrical service as any place in the country.”

Mackinac Specialty Co.

 In 1916, A.J. Doherty combined his boundless energy, agricultural knowledge, and forestry skills in the Mackinac Specialty Company. His signature product was “Mackinac Balsam Balm,” designed for medicinal use. Made from the clear resin of Balsam Fir trees, various balms, decoctions, and tinctures have been made from this fragrant liquid for centuries. Balsam Fir is one of Mackinac Island’s most abundant evergreens, especially common along the shoreline.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Other products, including a “fumigated nest egg” and an eight piece kitchen set, were intended to make life easier on the farm and in the household. With Doherty’s many other business interests, the Mackinac Specialty Company was a short-lived venture, only lasting a few years. Their family legacy, however, would continue to be felt by the Mackinac Island community.

The Doherty Cottage (Geary House), on Mackinac Island’s Market Street, as it appeared in 1970.

 For many years, the Doherty family lived seasonally on Market Street, next to today’s Beaumont Memorial. Now known as the Geary House, the structure was originally built about 1846 by Irish immigrant Matthew Geary, a prominent citizen of 19th century Mackinac Island. Placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971, the structure was restored by Mackinac State Historic Parks, but is not open for public tours.

 The 1920s were a busy time for the entire family. Alfred Doherty Sr. served a term as mayor of Clare and built the impressive Doherty Hotel, which opened in April 1924. The hotel featured a banquet hall, ballroom, automatic elevator, billiard room, laundry, display rooms for traveling salesman, barber shop, and even a public library. The local paper boasted, “Residents of Clare are free in their assertions that for its size, there is no better hotel in the state.” Nearly 100 years later, the business is still owned by the Doherty family and is a defining feature of the Clare community.

 Near the end of the decade, the Dohertys sold their interests in the Municipal Power Company to a New York City firm and brothers Alfred Jr. and Frank helped form the Mackinac Island State Bank. The bank opened October 25, 1928, with Alfred serving as vice president and Frank working as cashier. Frank also became a beloved member of the Mackinac Island Civic Association, a forerunner to the current Chamber of Commerce. The association published an island guide book in 1927, and purchased the large American Fur Company buildings on Market Street in 1930. Frank’s wife, Sarah, served as custodian of the city-owned museum for many years.

 Senator Alfred J. Doherty died in Clare on September 27, 1929. The following year, Frank B. Doherty passed away, on October 23, 1930, at his home on Mackinac Island. The island community mourned his passing, lowering flags to half-mast as tribute. A special note in his obituary reads, “Mr. Doherty was a genial and attractive personality and popular with all classes. The island surely mourns the death of one who has eagerly and conscientiously promoted the interests and material progress of Mackinac Island.”

 

 

Herbert Benjamin examining a horse and carriage in the 1950s.

Herbert Benjamin and Blacksmithing on a Changing Island

Since Europeans settled on the Straits of Mackinac, a few distinct economic eras have affected people’s lives. Aside from the fur trade, tourism has had the most significant impact on Mackinac Island. Tourism affected the entire island, not just the hospitality industry. Islanders adapted to change as the busts and booms of the tourism industry affected their daily lives, and newcomers to the island would bring their skills to improve the community.

A portrait of Robert H. Benjamin.

Robert Benjamin, the founder of the Benjamin Blacksmith Shop.

 After buying the Star Blacksmith in 1885, Robert Benjamin brought his young family to the island for the first time—those first two seasons on the island were very difficult, with little financial gains. Blacksmithing was still a common occupation in the 1880s. Still, it was slowly beginning to decline with industrialization and cheaper, ready-made metal products. What saved Robert’s shop was one of the most ambitious construction projects on Mackinac Island to this day, the construction of Grand Hotel in 1887. Grand Hotel provided Robert with the work he needed to get his struggling shop off the ground and establish his family as a part of the wider island community.

Herbert Benjamin working at the blacksmith forge, taken in the 1950s.

Herbert at the forge, ca. 1950s.

 Robert’s son Herbert would take over the shop in 1900 after Robert was elected Sheriff of Mackinac County. Working in the blacksmith shop for the next 65 years, Herbert witnessed significant changes not only on the island he lived on but also in the kinds of work he did. A blacksmith in the 19th century could count on a steady stream of horses and farming equipment coming through their shop to make money. Working as a farrier, shoeing horses, or creating and repairing tools for everyday work, blacksmiths were common in any city or town. By the early 20th century, cars rapidly replaced horses, and mass-produced tools became the norm. Herbert remained one of the few full-time blacksmiths in the United States thanks to the auto ban on Mackinac Island in the late 1890s. Even on an island with an abundant supply of horses to shoe, it would not be enough to keep Herbert in business; he had to expand his range of work as new technologies and businesses came to the island.

Herbert Benjamin examining a horse and carriage in the 1950s.

Herbert examining a horse and carriage, ca. 1950s.

 Tourism on the island grew significantly following World War Two. The 1950s and ’60s brought even more people visiting the island every summer. New businesses and institutions became a part of the fabric of Mackinac Island, and Herbert would do business with nearly everyone. Herbert shoed horses from Carriage Tours, Gough Stables, the MRA, and many summer cottagers and islanders. He expanded his work to do carriage repair, patent leather work, small engine repair, and even sharpening lawn mower blades. When Mackinac State Historic Parks set about restoring the Biddle House in 1959, Herbert provided $95.00 worth of restoration work.

 Herbert occupied a rare position as a village blacksmith well into the 1960s, long after most blacksmiths had closed their doors and retired. He finally retired in 1965 at the age of 82. His retirement marked the end of a regular village blacksmith on Mackinac Island, though farriers still work there. Following his death in 1967, Herbert’s family donated the shop and its contents to Mackinac State Historic Parks. In addition, the shop was moved from its former location on Benjamin Hill, on the west end of Market Street, to its current location, next to the Biddle House.

A costumed interpreter working as a blacksmith talks with guests at the Benjamin Blacksmith Shop.

A Blacksmith Interpreter in the shop today.

 A blacksmith still works in the shop during the tourist season, from May to October. Though they aren’t shoeing horses, you can often see them working as Herbert did in the 1950s and ’60s on many projects. They use these projects to talk about the changing environment of blacksmithing in the mid-20th century and how Mackinac Island preserved an industry that had once been ubiquitous worldwide for thousands of years. So, on your next visit to Mackinac Island, be sure to stop in at the blacksmith shop, take in the sights and sounds, and learn even more about the changes in blacksmithing and the uniqueness of Mackinac Island. The Benjamin Blacksmith Shop is open from May 12 – October 8.

Mackinac at the Museum (1798)

On February 28, 1798, an article in the Greenfield Gazette detailed plans for an exciting new museum. A veritable “cabinet of curiosities,” the institution would be housed at Deerfield Academy, in Deerfield, Massachusetts. Today, the organization is one of the oldest preparatory schools in the United States. Their eclectic collection included donations from Dartmouth College, Boston area museums, and “many curious articles from many private gentlemen and ladies.”

A portrait of Joseph Priestley by Rembrandt Peale

Joseph Priestley, by Rembrandt Peale (c.1801)

 The late 18th century was a pivotal time in the development of scientific understanding. The “tree of knowledge” flourished during the Age of Enlightenment, with new discoveries by curious scientists, including Benjamin Franklin, William Bartram, and Joseph Priestley. Science also became more accessible as everyday citizens attended popular lectures, read printed works, roamed public gardens, and patronized museums.

 Joseph Priestly, an influential chemist, wide-ranging educator, natural philosopher, and radical theologian, epitomized this spirit of discovery. Priestly published and lectured often, becoming a close friend and collaborator with Benjamin Franklin. Deerfield Museum founders were  influenced by his advice, writing, “Dr. Priestley, in his lectures, shows the importance of such collections, as they respect history; and as the natural history of America is yet very imperfect, gentleman may be of essential service to it, by depositing specimens of minerals the skins of peculiar animals, or whatever may appear to them uncommon…”

 Which Mackinac wonders would you pick to display in this “infant museum” of early America? A unique specimen of Mackinac limestone? Animal pelts from the world-renowned fur trade? The delectable whitefish, or a 70-pound Mackinac trout? A closer look at this fascinating assemblage reveals the following curiosities:

  • Petrifications [fossils] from different parts of the country
  • Stone tools, clay pots, pipes, a bow and a number of arrows
  • Crystals and ores
  • Several fish hooks and lines
  • A spoon and a comb, made by Pacific Island inhabitants, visited by Captain Cook
  • The saw of a sawfish
  • A tooth of the spermaceti whale and jaw of a mackerel whale
  • The jaws of a Shark, with the teeth
  • Bills of a toucan and a pelican
  • The head and egg of an ostrich
  • A puffing fish, a coney, and sea wolf
  • A centipede of the West Indies
  • A young alligator and the egg of the albatross
  • Rare insects and reptiles, including a two-headed snake
  • “Nuts from Michilimackinac, called by the natives Pickens – and Indian rice from the same place”
A beaked hazelnut growing along the trail at Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park.

Beaked hazelnut growing along the trail at Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park

 “Nuts from Michilimackinac, called by the natives Pickens,” likely refers to fruits of the hazelnut tree. The word pecan originates from the word pakan, meaning “hard shelled nut” in the Algonquian language family. Spelled with many variations over eastern North America, the word translates as bagaan in Anishinaabemowin, spoken by Ojibwe and Odawa people in the Mackinac region. A member of the birch family, there are 15 species of hazels in North America. Beaked hazelnut (Corylus rostrata) grows in the North Woods at Mackinac. In his 1912 botanical report, Charles K. Dodge noted they were common in “rich open ground from Bay County to St. Ignace and on Mackinac Island.”

A painting of people gathering wild rice from 1853.

Gathering Wild Rice, by Seth Eastman (1853)

 Wild Rice is one of the few staple grains native to North America. It belongs to a genus of tall, aquatic grasses of the genus Zizania, which thrived in marshes throughout the upper Great Lakes. Anishinaabek call the plant manoomin. In Ojibwe culture, its importance rises beyond a rich food source, with many related stories, symbols, and ceremonies associated with its use and harvest. While wild rice grew in the eastern Upper Peninsula it was never overly abundant here, often being traded from Green Bay. Draining of marshes and impaired water quality greatly reduced its range in the 20th century.

 In 1800, a large birchbark canoe made its way from Lake Huron to Peale’s Museum in Philadelphia. Founded in 1786 by artist Charles Willson Peale, the institution is considered the most important museum of early America. Peale’s expansive collection featured portraits of prominent individuals, natural history specimens, and cultural artifacts from around the world. The canoe was donated by Dr. Charles Brown, U.S. army surgeon at Detroit, who paddled it to New York. Constructed at Saginaw Bay by “an Indian woman,” the lightweight craft measured 23 feet long, 4 feet in breadth and 26 inches deep. Canoes were indispensable for transportation on the Great Lakes, plying rivers and lakes throughout the U.S. and Canada, including the Straits of Mackinac. It was said the donated craft “carried six persons and 1,200 weight of baggage across the Lakes.”

 The next time you visit the straits, consider which items might be fit for a museum of the 22nd century. Would your futuristic exhibit feature a slab of petrified fudge? A bicycle with pedals? Or fragrant blossoms of a lilac tree? Whatever change may come over the next century, we can rest assured that Lake Huron waters will lap against the rocky shore, welcoming visitors to Mackinac as they have since time immemorial.

Artifacts stored at Mill Creek.

Archaeological Collections Management at MSHP and the IMLS

Mackinac State Historic Parks has been conducting archaeological excavations at its sites for over sixty years. This has resulted in the recovery of over one million artifacts and reams of field notes, maps and other documentation of the excavations. Because excavating a site destroys it, preserving these artifacts and records is a crucial part of MSHP’s stewardship mission.

Field books stored in the Keith Widder Library in the Petersen Center in Mackinaw City.

Archaeological field records stored in the Petersen Center in Mackinaw City.

 For many years the artifacts were housed in Lansing, while the records were stored in Mackinaw City. Paper records were microfilmed, with the microfilm stored in a separate location as a physical back-up copy. Today the paper records are scanned instead.

 In the mid-1990s, MSHP purchased a computerized collections database package. We subsequently received a grant from the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) to enter all the archaeological artifact catalog information into the database. Three data entry clerks were hired for two years to accomplish this task. The biggest gap in the initial data entry project was that the artifacts were still in Lansing, so their exact storage locations could not be entered.

Archaeological artifact cabinet in the Petersen Center in Mackinaw City.

Archaeological artifact cabinets in the Petersen Center.

 With the completion of the Petersen Center in 2001, the archaeological collections were moved north. The vast majority are housed in the Petersen Center, but building materials, such as chinking and nails, which have less strict climate control requirements, are stored at Mill Creek. Once the collection was moved north, staff attempted to update the database with location information, but the task was too big to complete alongside other duties. In 2010 another IMLS grant was secured to hire three inventory assistants. Over the course of two years, they physically inventoried and updated the database record for all the Michilimackinac archaeological artifacts housed in the Petersen Center.

Artifacts stored at Mill Creek.

Building materials stored at Mill Creek.

 While the Michilimackinac collection makes up the majority of the archaeological collection, major excavations have been carried out at Fort Mackinac and Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park as well. Last year MSHP received another IMLS grant to inventory and update records for the Mill Creek artifacts and some of the Fort Mackinac artifacts. This grant will also include inventory and re-housing of a portion of the architectural artifacts stored at Mill Creek. This project began in October 2022 and will continue through August 2025.

Staff member Alex Michnick inventorying items.

Alex Michnick inventorying Mill Creek ceramics.

 These grants have assisted MSHP in fulfilling the preservation aspect of its mission. By making the archaeological collection more accessible to staff and researchers, they also have made presenting the results of our archaeological investigations easier as well. Archaeological artifacts are exhibited to the public at all MSHP sites providing a tangible connection to the lives of the people who lived and worked at the sites in the past.