Archaeology at Fort Mackinac – Provision Storehouse

The “Store House” is the structure labeled “I” on the west end of the fort on this drawing from 1796. Credit: Historical Society of Pennsylvania

One of the largest archaeological excavations to take place at Fort Mackinac was at the site of the original provision storehouse. This excavation was carried out during the summers of 1981-82 by University of South Florida field schools directed by Dr. Roger T. Grange Jr. These were part of the commemoration of the bicentennial of Fort Mackinac. Dr. Grange’s final report was published as Number 12 in the Mackinac State Historic Parks’ Archaeological Completion Report Series (Excavations at Fort Mackinac, 1980-1982: The Provision Storehouse – Mackinac State Historic Parks | Mackinac State Historic Parks (mackinacparks.com) and was the basis of this blog post.

 The provision storehouse is an unusual structure because is has been excavated twice, in two different locations. It was originally built by British soldiers just inside the water gate at Michilimackinac (on the south side of the straits) in 1773. Being a relatively new building, it was moved to Mackinac Island when the garrison was relocated in 1781 and appears on early maps of Fort Mackinac.

 The mainland site was excavated in 1959 and the storehouse reconstructed in 1961. Today it houses the orientation film at Colonial Michilimackinac.

Scissors from the early American occupation.

Leather shoe parts from post War of 1812 deposit.

 On the island, the structure served as a storehouse through the first British occupation (1780-1796), the first American occupation (1796-1812) and the second British occupation (1812-1815). After the War of 1812, it was converted into a barracks, with workspace for military tailors and shoemakers, and a hospital. Its use as a hospital (1815-1827) overlapped with the service of Fort Mackinac’s most famous post surgeon, Dr. William Beaumont. A portion of the storehouse appears as a log structure next to the 1827 hospital painted by Mary Nexsen Thompson shortly before it burned down days before completion.

Microscope lens, possibly used by Dr. Beaumont.

Mary Nexsen Thompson painting of 1827 hospital with portion of storehouse. Credit: William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan

 A completely new hospital building was constructed in 1828, over the middle of the storehouse/1827 hospital, but oriented north-south instead of northeast-southwest like the original. A portion of the west end of the provision storehouse behind the 1828 hospital was the area of the archaeological excavation. No remnants of the provision storehouse are visible today, but you can stand on the original location while touring Fort Mackinac (opens May 4, 2023). You can also visit the reconstruction of the original provision storehouse at Colonial Michilimackinac (opens May 10, 2023) and learn more about Dr. Beaumont’s work at the American Fur Co. Store & Dr. Beaumont Museum in downtown Mackinac Island (opens June 3, 2023).

 

What’s New for 2023?

As the calendar flips to the new year, the Mackinac State Historic Parks crew is busy preparing its historic sites and parks for an exciting 2023 season.

 “We are excited to welcome visitors to experience our parks and numerous attractions,” said Steve Brisson, Mackinac State Historic Parks Director. “We have added a variety of new exhibits and programs over the last few years, and our staff is busy preparing to have everything ready for our spring openings.”

2023 marks the 125th anniversary of the automobile ban on Mackinac Island. Mackinac State Historic Parks will mark this occasion with a special event on July 22, complete with an 1886 Benz Motorwagen on the island. The “horseless vehicle” will also be on display outside Fort Mackinac during the day on July 22. A special commemorative logo has been developed and will be found on merchandise at Mackinac State Historic Parks museum stores, as well as on the license plates found on carriages throughout the island. A new vignette, written by former Mackinac State Historic Parks’ Director Phil Porter, will also be published for the anniversary.

“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,” Brisson said.

Staying on the island, Fort Mackinac opens for the 2023 season on May 4. The museum store and theater have swapped spaces, with the store now in the Commissary and the theater now in the Soldiers’ Barracks. The swap is part of a larger interpretive plan for the barracks which will happen in stages in coming years. The Fort Mackinac Museum Store will continue to feature publications, apparel, and one-of-a-kind souvenirs.

Additionally at Fort Mackinac, a new program titled “Soldier’s Gear and Quartermasters’ Storehouse” will allow visitors to see what soldiers would have been issued at Fort Mackinac in the 1880s and how that had an impact on their daily lives. Classic programs, such as the rifle and cannon firing demonstrations, will feature fresh perspectives. Other programs will highlight the changing face of Fort Mackinac, the historic residents who called the fort home, a look at Mackinac as a national park, the role women played at the fort, and what happened in the evening at Fort Mackinac.

“We hope to display the unique mix of the military culture and tourism at Fort Mackinac in those last years of Mackinac National Park,” explained Jack Swartzinski, Mackinac State Historic Parks’ Interpretation Coordinator.

The Tea Room at Fort Mackinac, operated by Grand Hotel, will feature new menu items for the 2023 season, and, as always, will feature one of the most stunning views in Michigan. Perhaps the way to make a Fort Mackinac visit most memorable is firing the opening cannon salute, which is available to one guest daily. More information can be found here.

Elsewhere on Mackinac Island, the McGulpin House, one of the oldest residential structures on the island (built in 1790) and a rare and excellent display of French Canadian domestic architecture, will receive brand new exhibits for the 2023 season. The Biddle House, featuring the Mackinac Island Native American Museum, shares the continuing store of the Anishnaabek on Mackinac Island, with daily interpretive programs and engaging exhibits. The Benjamin Blacksmith Shop, located next door to the Biddle House, is a working blacksmith shop that dives into the 1950s and the changing culture of workers on Mackinac Island. The American Fur Co. Store & Dr. Beaumont Museum received a new exhibit in 2022. Admission to all of these sites is included with a Fort Mackinac or Historic Downtown Mackinac ticket.

At The Richard & Jane Manoogian Mackinac Art Museum, located in front of Fort Mackinac in Marquette Park, a new juried art exhibition will debut on the second floor – “A Mackinac Day.” 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.” The gallery will be on display from May 12 – October 8. An art attendant, new for 2023, will guide guests through the museum and provide a better understanding of the art and artists who have created art inspired by the Straits of Mackinac. Additionally, eight artists-in-residence will stay on Mackinac Island throughout the summer. Each artist will host a special, free workshop on the second Wednesday of their residency.

The Biddle House, featuring the Mackinac Island Native American Museum, Benjamin Blacksmith Shop, and The Richard & Jane Manoogian Mackinac Art Museum open for the 2023 season on May 12. The McGulpin House and American Fur Co. Store & Dr. Beaumont Museum open June 3.

Special events at Fort Mackinac and Mackinac Island include Twilight Turtle Treks on January 7, February 7 and March 7; the Fort2Fort Five Mile Challenge May 13; the annual Vintage Base Ball game July 29; special activities for July 4; special history evening programs including a guided tour of Historic Downtown Mackinac as it would have looked in the 1830s and a tour highlighting the creation of the village of Mackinac Island; special nature and birdwatching tours; night sky programs at Fort Holmes and Arch Rock; bike tours looking at Mackinac’s forgotten features and the War of 1812; and much more. More information can be found at mackinacparks.com/events.

The year 1780 will be explored at Colonial Michilimackinac, in Mackinaw City, where mischief and mayhem reigned. 1780 saw this isolated British outpost become a scene of paranoia, military mischief, and, from a certain point of view, mutiny. A special daily program will explore this spirit of dissention and disobedience that destabilized Michilimackinac’s garrison.

Other programs throughout the day explore the rich history of the site and showcase how it was more than a military outpost. Get an up-close look at the merchandise that passed through Michilimackinac during the height of the fur trade; explore dining culture at a Merchant’s House; learn about the enslaved community at Michilimackinac; explore the 5,500 square feet of gardens during an engaging tour; have tea at a British Trader’s home and dive into the complexities of British society; find out what civilians and soldiers were up to; and, of course, feel the power of Michilimackinac’s weapons with musket and artillery firings.

The Mackinac State Historic Parks’ archaeology program will enter its 65th season in 2023. Work will continue in House E of the Southeast Rowhouse at Colonial Michilimackinac. Archaeologists will be out daily (weather permitting) during the summer months. Guests will have the opportunity to see the most recent finds at Colonial Michilimackinac with a new “Recent Excavations” display inside the Colonial Michilimackinac Visitor’s Center.

Guests now have two opportunities to fire weapons at Colonial Michilimackinac: an opening cannon blast, at 9:30 a.m., or they can fire the full complement of weapons at Guns Across the Straits. Reservations for either program can be made by calling (231) 436-4100. More information can be found here.

Special events at Colonial Michilimackinac include exhilarating “Fire at Night” programs, deep dives into Michilimackinac’s maritime history, a celebration of the King’s Birth-day on June 4, a look at Askin’s Men and Women at Michilimackinac in August, a moonlit Michilimackinac evening, the ever-popular Fort Fright, and A Colonial Christmas. More information can be found at mackinacparks.com/events.

Colonial Michilimackinac opens for the 2023 season May 10.

“Colonial Michilimackinac will continue to provide an interesting and unique look into the early history of the Straits of Mackinac in 2023, and we invite you to explore Colonial Michilimackinac and the exciting history of the great lakes fur trade,” said LeeAnn Ewer, Mackinac State Historic Parks’ Curator of Interpretation.

The ongoing restoration of Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse continues in 2023, as an oil house will be reconstructed on the property. The last few years have seen several gallery openings at the lighthouse – the Straits of Mackinac Shipwreck Museum, a Science and Technology Exhibit, and the Marshall Gallery on the extensively renovated second floor. Throughout the day guides will sound the Fog Signal Whistle and provide tours of the lighthouse tower. Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse opens on May 11.

Programs at Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park feature daily demonstrations of a reconstructed 18th century sawmill. With the smell of fresh sawdust in the air, the awesome power of the water never fails to impress as the mill springs to life, fed by the pond and ever-flowing currents of Mill Creek. Near the workshop, sawpit demonstrations and historic farming programs highlight what life was like beyond the sawmill more than 200 years ago. On the wild side, guests will make new discoveries as wildflowers bloom and wildlife flourishes along 3.5 miles of nature trails. Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park opens for the 2023 season May 12.

A streamlined Forest Adventure Experience, formerly the Adventure Tour, features the Forest Canopy Bridge, Eagles’ Flight Zip Line, and Treetop Discovery Climbing Wall. Forest Adventure Experiences are available beginning June 9.

“The story of Mill Creek links all MSHP sites together,” said Kyle Bagnall, Mackinac State Historic Parks’ Park Naturalist. “Whether you’re watching sawdust fly in the sawmill, soaring down the zipline, or perched on the treetop discovery tower, you’re sure to experience Mackinac’s natural and cultural wonders in many unique ways.”

Every museum store will feature new items inspired by the site they represent. The Official Mackinac Island State Park Store, inside the Mackinac Island State Park Visitor’s Center, will continue to have new items inspired by the historic and natural elements of Mackinac Island.

Most major projects were funded, in part, by Mackinac Associates.

 

 

Fort Mackinac soldiers clearing a path in front of Fort Mackinac in the 1880s.

Winter for the Soldiers at Fort Mackinac

 Wintering on Mackinac Island has always been a desolate and isolated affair. For much of its history, many well-off merchants, fur traders, and other entrepreneurs would leave the island during the winter months. The soldiers stationed at Fort Mackinac though did not have this luxury and found ways to sustain themselves during those harsh months. Soldiers kept busy through various trainings and responsibilities but were often left with the harsh reality of winter in Northern Michigan. Looking at the men of the 23rd United States Infantry, companies E and K, we can see how the soldiers and the army tried to adapt to their Mackinac Island home as winter resources slowly improved.

Fort Mackinac soldiers clearing a path in front of Fort Mackinac in the 1880s.

Soldiers at Fort Mackinac clearing path in Post Garden, 1880s.

 The daily routine of Fort Mackinac changed as the days got colder. In November of 1887, Captain Greenleaf Goodale issued General Order 97, moving the first assembly of the day from 6:00 am to 6:30 am. In this same General Order, less time was allocated towards drill, and more time for fatigue duty for clearing paths, chopping firewood, and general maintenance. The high snow fall on the island could make company and battalion level drill almost impossible, and subsequent orders show a greater focus on smaller scale drills, like signal drill, school instruction, and litter-bearing for the post hospital. The garrison still conducted bi-monthly musters but these were often moved indoors in order to compensate for winter weather. In order to make up for this lack of consistent and high-quality drill, Captain Goodale directed the garrison to conduct regular battalion and company drill as soon as the weather turned warm again. He also assigned recruits to drills created especially for them to make up for lost time in winter.

Plans for a shooting range, gallery and gymnasium from 1889.

Plans for the Shooting Gallery, Drill Room and Gymnasium, which would never be constructed, 1889.

 Throughout the 1880s, the United States Army put a large focus on marksmanship skills. This program required soldiers to visit a rifle range at least twice a week over the four-month training season. Outside of the season soldiers were expected to take indoor practice, called Gallery Practice. Soldiers used 7-10 grains of black powder with modified rounded bullets (much different than the 70 grains of black powder and conical shaped bullets soldiers typically used) and shot at small, metal plates, over 30 to 50 feet. The main purpose of this practice was to improve the soldier’s trigger discipline and aiming skills. Fort Mackinac received a grant from the Army in 1887 to buy targets and lease the island’s ice rink, though it seems the soldiers never used the ice rink and stuck to practicing in the Post Barracks. Gallery Practice seems to have been one of the more effective trainings the soldiers conducted during the wintertime, as is reflected in the high number of Marksman and Sharpshooter designations earned at Fort Mackinac.

 Not only were prescribed drills and trainings inhibited by winter weather, but also the kinds of free time activities the men could enjoy. This became a concern amongst the command staff at Fort Mackinac, as the soldiers not only spent much of their time drinking but also getting out of shape. The snow made it impossible for sports like baseball to be played. The healthiest activities for soldiers to participate in were, as Assistant Surgeon C. E. Woodruff wrote, “those sports requiring expensive apparatus, as snows-shoes and toboggans.” Both Woodruff and Captain William C. Manning recommended building a gymnasium and drill hall on the Fort grounds, but these plans were ultimately denied.

The John Jacob Astor Hotel on Market Street, 1885.

The John Jacob Astor Hotel on Market Street, ca. 1885

 In their loneliness, soldiers drinking downtown risked embarrassing accidents. According to the Cheboygan Democrat, soldiers started their own “social club” in the Astor Hotel in December of 1887. Soldiers could often get a pass to go downtown to one of the saloons, leaving the army vulnerable to embarrassing drunken antics by the men. Luckily, the Army had already been looking to reduce this risk by creating “Post Canteens.” There soldiers could drink and socialize within the walls of their station under the watchful eye of their offices, served by a bartender who had to follow the Army’s regulations. In the winter of 1889, soldiers of Fort Mackinac converted the old wood quarters into a post canteen. This post canteen reduced the public incidents of the soldiers, but it did nothing to relieve the heart of the problem.

 The isolated nature of the island still plagued the men. Soldier’s still lacked activities that kept them active throughout the winter, which not only hurt their personal health but also their skills as soldiers. Unfortunately, due to the nature of Fort Mackinac’s military importance, they did not see the improvements some other stations would during this time. The soldiers of Fort Mackinac in the 1880s  had to do as many of their predecessors had, stay as warm as possible, and wait for the warm and beautiful return of summer on the Straits of Mackinac.

A Fort Mackinac cannon in winter.

Fix Bayonets!

 Throughout Fort Mackinac’s military history, British and American soldiers were issued bayonets to complement their shoulder arms. Bayonets allowed a firearm to double as a stabbing weapon and a pike. Additionally, soldiers advancing with fixed bayonets could be a powerful psychological weapon, frightening the enemy into fleeing before contact. By the 1880s, however, bayonets had lost much of their tactical usefulness. Nonetheless, American soldiers stationed at Fort Mackinac and elsewhere continued carrying these secondary weapons, and the bayonets of the late 19th century reflect an interesting time of transition for the U.S. Army.

 When the army adopted the new Springfield .45-70 rifle in 1873, a new bayonet came with it. Featuring an 18-inch long triangular blade, the Model 1873 bayonet utilized a rotating clasp to lock onto the front sight at the muzzle end of the gun barrel. From 1873 to 1878, bayonets were specifically produced for use with the new rifles. However, officials in the War Department, always eager for ways to reduce costs, realized that the government still had large stocks of surplus Model 1855 bayonets. These older weapons, produced in huge quantities to supply federal troops during the Civil War, were designed to fit .58 caliber rifled muskets. Fortuitously, officers at the Springfield Armory devised a method of cold-swaging the larger sockets of the 1855 bayonets down to fit the .45 caliber barrels of the 1873 rifles. The older bayonets could thus be utilized at little cost to the government, and no new bayonets were produced after 1878. So large was the stock of 1855 bayonets that it took a decade for the armory to finally run out of them.

 When the old bayonets were finally expended in 1888/89, the army officially adopted a ramrod bayonet. A sharpened metal rod carried within the stock just under the barrel (the traditional location for a ramrod on all earlier muzzleloading weapons), the ramrod bayonet could be extended beyond the muzzle and locked in place. This eliminated the need for soldiers to carry a separate bayonet and scabbard, since the bayonet was already integral to the rifle. The army experimented with ramrod bayonets for most of the 1880s, continually tinkering with the design and issuing small numbers of the weapon to soldiers for field testing. In 1886, Co. K of the 23rd Infantry, stationed at Fort Mackinac, received rifles with ramrod bayonets for evaluation.

 As bayonet designs evolved, so too did the scabbards to carry them. Although the ramrod bayonet eliminated the need for a separate scabbard, those weapons were not in general service until the middle of 1890. As a result, most soldiers carried their bayonets in metal scabbards hung from their belts through the 1880s. Initially, scabbards for the 1873 bayonet featured a leather frog, which simply looped over the 1¾-inch wide waist belts issued beginning in 1872. However, as soldiers increasingly preferred to wear wider cartridge belts for field service, these scabbards were no longer compatible. As a result, in 1889 the army finally adopted a new scabbard design featuring a long, thin brass hook in place of the leather loop. The hook could still easily be worn with the narrower 1872 belts, but could also be used with a woven cartridge belt.

 Even as the Army continually refined and experimented with bayonet designs, general officers and regular soldiers alike increasingly questioned the utility of the bayonet in an age when troops were trained for exceptionally long-range marksmanship. Noting that in combat the bayonet functioned only as far as a soldier could reach, Commanding General of the Army William Sherman stated that “my experience teaches me that one side or the other runs away before arm’s length is reached.” Sherman and other officers suggested that the bayonet be declared obsolete and dropped from service, but stopped short of pressing the issue as he believed bayonets might still be useful in highly specific circumstances such as riot control. In the 1870s and 1880s soldiers were deployed to suppress civil unrest, usually linked to strikes and other labor actions, and officers felt that bayonets allowed troops to “safely” disperse crowds without firing on them.

 If you would like to see original bayonets up close, feel free to ask our interpretive staff at Fort Mackinac. They carry original bayonets (to go with the original .45-70 rifles used daily for demonstration) and are happy to answer questions about them, as well as the rest of the unique uniforms and equipment utilized by the U.S. Army during the 1880s. This was a time of change and experimentation for the army. If you would like more information, or an opportunity to buy tickets to Fort Mackinac and our other museums, please visit our website.

Something Extraordinary – (Thank You, Sergeant Wingard)

The masthead for the Detroit Gazette.

The Detroit Gazette printed Wingard’s story on November 22, 1822

 On November 22, 1822, the Detroit Gazette reprinted a remarkable tale which captivated readers across the country. Originating in New Orleans, the account first appeared in the Louisiana Advertiser that September. The story was eventually printed by dozens of newspapers in at least 16 states, and the nation’s capital. It was a story which began eight years earlier, during the Battle of Mackinac Island.

 A short version from the Nov. 13, 1822 edition of the Gettysburg Compiler reads, Something Extraordinary. On the 15th of August at New Orleans, a musket ball was extracted from the body of Mr. J. Wingard, where it had remained since the 4th of August, 1814; when it was received at the battle of Mackinac, under Col. Croghan. When extricated, the part flattened by the bone was covered with a black crust, which on being dried and set fire to, exploded with a white flame similar to fresh powder, with the exception of a sulphurous [sic.] smell, from which it was entirely free.”

 Reading this improbable tale raises many questions. Who was J. Wingard? Did he really carry a musket ball (and powder) in his body for 8 years, from Mackinac Island to New Orleans? How did it happen, and what happened to him? A closer look provides some answers to this forgotten soldier’s sacrifice.

Sergeant James C. Wingard

 British forces captured Fort Mackinac during a surprise attack on July 17, 1812. More losses followed, including the surrender of Detroit in August. In January 1813, the Battle of the River Raisin, near Monroe, Michigan, resulted in a bloody and decisive British victory. The stinging defeat decimated the Kentucky Volunteer Militia and 17th U.S. Infantry. The battle gave rise to the cry, “Remember the Raisin!”

 When the news reached Kentucky, 4,000 proud Kentuckians volunteered to fight. On May 11, 1813, James C. Wingard joined the 1st Company of the 17th Regiment of U.S. Infantry as a sergeant. Upon enlistment, he was 34 years old and employed as a carpenter. Born in Maryland about 1779, Mr. Wingard stood 5’11’’ tall, with gray eyes, dark hair, and a fair complexion.

Colonel George Croghan

Lieut. Col. George Croghan led the American attack on Mackinac Island. Croghan Water Marsh is named in his honor.

 Aided by fresh Kentucky forces, Americans recorded victories in late 1813, including the recapture of Detroit. The following summer, they were ready to retake Mackinac. A letter from Detroit, written July 3, 1814, reads, “The expedition against Mackinaw will set out the first fair wind up the river; the whole commanded by the brave colonel G. Croghan and major Holmes. Their command will consist of about seven hundred men…They calculate on serious business, before we get possession of the place.”

 Delayed by a headwind, all five American gunships finally entered Lake Huron by July 13. To meet them, Sergeant Wingard led his company with other foot soldiers from Detroit to Fort Gratiot, at Port Huron. An expedition member wrote, “The land forces arrived here yesterday, having marched by land fifteen miles through a very ugly and wet country without even a path the greater part of the way.” After troops boarded the ships, the flotilla embarked on its fateful journey north.

The Battle of Mackinac Island

 American forces, commanded by Lieut. Colonel George Croghan, landed near the north shore of Mackinac Island on August 4, 1814. The battle which ensued lasted little more than an hour, but cost the Americans 75 casualties, including 13 killed and seven who later died of wounds. Injured men, along with the body of fallen Major Andrew Hunter Holmes, crowded on the U.S. Sloop of War, Niagara. On August 11, they set sail toward Detroit, including Sergeant Wingard, who carried a British musket ball lodged in his pelvis.

After the War

 Despite serious injury, Wingard remained enlisted in the service. In October 1814, he received a furlough (leave of absence) in Cincinnati, Ohio. Records indicate he was “debilitated by a wound” at the time. Sergeant James Wingard received his discharge from military at Newport, Kentucky on May 6, 1815. Thereafter, he settled in Hamilton County, Ohio, with his wife, Elizabeth.

Map of a 160-acre lot granted to James C. Wingard in Arkansas

1822 Survey map of Wingard’s 160-acre land grant in northern Arkansas.

 After the war, Mr. Wingard received an invalid pension, authorized by the U.S. Congress for wounded veterans. Initially, pensions were granted to injured commissioned and non-commissioned officers and to heirs of soldiers who died during the war. On April 16, 1816, Wingard was placed on the pension roll with an annual allowance of $30. He later received two increases, eventually earning $96 per year for his injury sustained on Mackinac Island.

 Congress also authorized land grants for War of 1812 veterans. At first, military bounty lands were limited to districts in Arkansas, Illinois, or Missouri. On March 27, 1819, Wingard applied for a 160-acre tract in northern Arkansas Territory. His claim was granted January 28, 1822.

A Beautiful White Blaze

 On August 15, 1822, James Wingard was placed on a surgeon’s table in New Orleans, Louisiana. Over the years, previous attempts failed to extract the lead lodged in his pelvic bone. When it was finally removed, doctors noticed a mysterious dark crust on its flattened surface. Being dried, the substance was scraped onto a glass plate. The longer story concludes, “a part of which…was put on a strip of white paper, the end of which was set on fire, and no sooner had the fire come in contact with the supposed powder than it exploded with a beautiful white blaze, much to the consternation of all the gentlemen present: a second trial was made with equal success.” The story fails to mention that Mr. Wingard died that day, at 43 years of age. His pension record simply notes, “Died the 15th August 1822. Original Certificate of Pension surrendered.”

 Two hundred years ago, the incredible tale of Sergeant James Wingard, a survivor of Mackinac Island’s most terrible day, was the talk at dinner tables across the nation. As families gather this Thanksgiving, may we give thanks for all veterans, even those whose stories are forgotten. Their collective courage and sacrifice provide freedoms we now enjoy, and all too often take for granted.

3 historically family-fun festivities highlight full event calendar at Mackinac State Historic Parks

A visit to one of the Mackinac State Historic Parks provides educational opportunities for the entire family. Better yet, it inserts you into history, producing experiential fun that divulges memories of the past to create lasting family memories in the present. When in season, no matter the time you explore one of the six historic sites there are ample activities to discover, from firing the iconic Fort Mackinac cannon to zip-lining 50 feet above Mill Creek. However, a full event calendar delivers additional, unique experiences to plan an adventure around. Below are three events that highlight how Mackinac State Historic Parks offers can’t-miss historical escapades, two of which occur outside the summer season — a time you may not typically consider a trip to the area.

 Vintage Base Ball on Friday, July 23rd

 No, that’s not a typo: it’s “base ball” with no spaces. Since 2003, Mackinac State Historic Parks has hosted a 19th-century style “base ball” game at the ball field behind Fort Mackinac — the oldest continually used ball field in Michigan!

 This year’s matchup pits the Mackinaw City Boys against the Fort Mackinac Never Sweats. The Never Sweats honor the legacy of the Fort Mackinac team comprising of soldiers from the mid-1880s, which used the moniker.

 The game acknowledges the style, rules, and atmosphere of the era, which features barehanded play, “gentlemen’s rules,” underhanded pitching, players fined for smoking cigars on the field, old-timey cheering and more.

Get ready to say play ball Friday, July 23rd from 6:30 to 8pm. Admission is by donation.

 Fort Fright on Friday, October 7th and Saturday, October 8th

 Come October, Colonial Michilimackinac showcases how history can be frightfully entertaining. This long-time staple event kicks off the Halloween season through Colonial Michilimackinac’s haunted transformation. It’s the biggest event hosted by Mackinac State Historic Parks and provides an opportunity for guests to experience the site at night paired with an ambience set through eerie folklore.

 Lanterns guide you through an array of storytellers, fortune tellers, and legendary creatures like werewolves and witches for a folklore lesson loaded with thrills and chills. This spooky good time also features bonfires, cookies, candy, cider and other treats found throughout the grounds. Families can experience an entire evening of entertainment backdropped by the resplendently lit Mackinac Bridge.

 Conjure the frightful fun 6:30-9:30pm on Friday, October 7th and Saturday, October 8th. Tickets become available online in September.

 A Colonial Christmas on Saturday, December 10th

Historic Interpreters getting ready to celebrate Christmas at Michilimackinac In December you can jingle all the way to Mackinaw City for A Colonial Christmas. ‘Tis the season for holiday traditions of the 17th and 18th century to come alive at Colonial Michilimackinac. Amble through lantern-lit paths to hear accounts of the first Christmas at Mackinac in 1679 and traditions of historic residents.

 You can simply have a wonderful Christmastime perusing the fort as storytellers share German, French and Native American holiday customs. The warm, welcoming Christmas spirit at the event includes craft-making, games, and holiday snacks throughout the fort.

 Have a holly jolly Christmas at Colonial Michilimackinac on Saturday, December 10th from 4-7pm. Tickets will be available online later this year.

 These are only a few of the festivities that compose an eventful calendar throughout the six sites of Mackinac State Historic Parks. With entertainment that ranges from movie nights to artist residencies to various educational demonstrations like Maritime Michilimackinac, there’s bound to be something that interests every family member. This year our full event calendar returns, and we can’t wait to provide plentiful merriment and compelling history to numerous visiting families.

 View our entire event calendar here.

 

 

 

 

 

Dr. William Beaumont and Alexis St. Martin

Dr. William Beaumont served at Fort Mackinac from 1820 to 1825.

On June 6, 1822, a shot rang out inside the American Fur Company’s retail store located on Mackinac Island’s Market Street. When the smoke cleared, Alexis St. Martin, a young French Canadian voyageur, lay bleeding on the floor. Although the exact cause of the accident has been lost to history, the immediate results were abundantly clear: St. Martin was grievously wounded, with a large hole blasted into the left side of his abdomen and the interior of his stomach exposed. Although St. Martin was not expected to survive, store patrons sent word to fetch Dr. William Beaumont, the post surgeon at Fort Mackinac and the only physician on Mackinac Island. Arriving minutes after the accident, Beaumont made St. Martin comfortable but judged his wound to be mortal. The doctor had St. Martin carried to the post hospital in the fort. To Beaumont’s amazement, St. Martin survived, and under the doctor’s care began healing. Together, Beaumont and St. Martin embarked upon a journey of scientific discovery that continues to shape medical care today.

Dr. Beaumont’s book.

 As St. Martin recovered from the accident, the wound slowly healed. However, instead of closing, the hole into his stomach fused to his abdominal muscles, creating a permanent opening. Beaumont realized this presented a unique opportunity to observe the digestive process inside a living person, and at the urging of the surgeon general of the army began making informal notes about what he could see inside St. Martin’s stomach as it worked to digest food. These initial observations occurred at Fort Mackinac in 1824, but grew into a series of formal experiments carried out periodically at other posts until 1833. By the time the final experiments concluded, Beaumont had gained a much clearer understanding of the human digestive process, publishing his findings as Experiments and Observations on the Gastric Juice and the Physiology of Digestion. Although other physicians and scientists had previously contributed to our understanding of how our stomachs work, St. Martin’s injury allowed Beaumont to make critical observations about the mechanical and chemical processes which occur during the digestive process.

The entrance to the new exhibit at the American Fur Co. Retail Store & Dr. Beaumont Museum.

 To mark the 200th anniversary of the accident that set Beaumont and St. Martin on their path of discovery, a new gallery exhibit is being installed in the American Fur Company Retail Store. Opening on June 4, this new exhibit tells the story of the accident and subsequent research that transformed Beaumont into the “father of gastric physiology.” Admission to the new exhibit is included with tickets to Fort Mackinac and the Mackinac Island Native American Museum at the Biddle House. We hope you’ll join us soon to see this exciting new addition and learn more about Mackinac Island’s own contribution to medical science.

Mackinac Associates: Celebrating 40 Years of Supporting Mackinac State Historic Parks

The first edition of Curiosities, the Mackinac Associates newsletter

 In the late 1970s several Mackinac Island cottagers met with Eugene Petersen, then Director of Mackinac State Historic Parks, to discuss creating a private organization to help support state park programs and initiatives. In 1980, the Mackinac Island State Park Commission gave its blessing for the creation of a non-profit membership organization. On August 22, 1980, the Commission passed a resolution to recognize and name Mackinac Associates – a group dedicated to sponsoring projects to benefit the needs of the historic sites under their jurisdiction.  The group held its first event in 1981 and in 1982 Mackinac Associates received their official 501(c)(3) non-profit designation.

 Forty years later, Mackinac Associates has supported an expansive and remarkable list of projects thanks to the incredible growth and support of the organization by its members and their dedication to the group’s mission: “Friends preserving and sharing Mackinac’s heritage.” What started as a group of a dozen local residents and friends of the park has grown into a friend’s group that today is made up of more than 2,000 members. Mackinac Associates’ members can be proud that they are part of an organization that supports needed projects in every area of museum operation, and make possible interpretive programs, publications, exhibits, natural history education, park improvements and more.

As the highest point on Mackinac Island, Fort Holmes served as an active part of the island’s defenses between 1815 – 1817.

 Thanks to the generosity of Mackinac Associates members and donors, Mackinac State Historic Parks has been able to fulfill its mission of preserving the cultural and natural resources of the Straits of Mackinac. Looking back at the past forty years, Mackinac Associates has provided over $2,000,000 in support. Funds raised through membership fees, sponsorships, and fundraising campaigns go towards assisting efforts in preserving the rich history and natural beauty of the Straits of Mackinac. This includes Mackinac Island State Park, which encompasses over 80% of Mackinac Island, Michilimackinac and Mill Creek State Parks in Mackinaw City, and all the buildings and sites contained within those boundaries.

 Mackinac Associates biggest financial assistance to date has been $250,000 in support of the reconstruction of Fort Holmes on Mackinac Island. Fundraising for the reconstruction started in conjunction with the bicentennial of the War of 1812 and the project was completed in 2015. The reconstruction of Fort Holmes continues to shine as a primary example of the work Mackinac Associates members, donors, and sponsors have done over the years in support of Mackinac State Historic Parks.

Exhibit inside the Biddle House

 Other major projects have included $130,000 for the creation of the Mackinac Island Native American Museum at the Biddle House, and this year, $40,000 for the redesign of the Dr. Beaumont Museum inside the American Fur Co. Store. The exhibit, in commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the accidental shooting of French-Canadian voyageur Alexis St. Martin, recognizes Dr. Beaumont’s famous experiments and the scientific process related to the digestive system, as well as the effect it had on St. Martin.

 According to Mackinac Island State Park Director, Steve Brisson: “It’s not just the financial support that we’re thankful for. Knowing there is this group of people that are so supportive of our mission is hugely gratifying and a big part of what makes Mackinac Associates special.” Mackinac Associates helps fund projects both large and small, such as providing a historically accurate anvil for the blacksmith shop, funding for the production of the Shipwrecks of the Straits video shown at Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse, and accessibility scooters that are more durable and can handle the gravel and sand at Colonial Michilimackinac and the trails at Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park.

Mackinac Associates help bring students on site where they can be a part of seeing history come alive.

 In addition to park projects, Mackinac Associates has supported the Mackinac State Historic Parks’ Education Outreach program since its creation in 1988 and has provided over $700,000 for education outreach programs. Through Mackinac Associates support, interpreters have visited more than 250,000 children in classrooms across Michigan, engaging and entertaining them as they learn about the important history and natural history of the Straits of Mackinac. In 2020, this fund also allowed for Mackinac State Historic Parks to provide a virtual option for outreach highlighting the park’s historic sites with online exhibits, exciting videos, educational materials, and more. Mackinac Associates also has been able to use this fund to provide grants to a number of schools each year to visit Mackinac State Historic Parks in person.

Members watch the screening process at the behind-the-scenes archaeology program in July 2021.

 Exclusive after-hours programming and events has also been a favorite of Mackinac Associates members. Every year in August, the Mackinac Associates Annual Business Meeting open to all membership presents the current business of the organization and allows attendees to meet candidates for the board. It also allows for fun and engaging programs each year just for members. In the past programming has included learning how to play cricket, meet authors of Mackinac State Historic Parks publications and discuss their works, and enjoy presentations from partners such as Eric Hemenway from the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians.

 As we look back on the 40-year history of Mackinac Associates, it is incredible the amount of support the organization has given Mackinac State Historic Parks, and the projects that have been accomplished thanks to this dedicated friend’s group.  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.  If you have a fondness for Mackinac Island and the Straits of Mackinac, we hope you will consider showing that support by joining Mackinac Associates to help make the next 40 years just as successful as the last.

 

5 Things For Kids to See at Historic Fort Mackinac

Visiting historic Fort Mackinac on Michigan’s Mackinac Island is less of a lesson in history than it is an experience of it. After all, guests don’t so much learn about history by walking around quietly and reading stuff on the walls as they do step into that history for a completely interactive experience.

 No wonder kids love the fort so much!

 Of course, adults enjoy Fort Mackinac, too, whether they’re history buffs or not. Some visitors just come to see the incredible views from the bluff, go shopping in the museum store and have lunch at the Fort Mackinac Tea Room (which has an amazing kids’ menu, by the way).

 But while people of all ages have fun at Fort Mackinac, there are a handful of exhibits that are especially entertaining for kids.

Here are five places to see on a visit to Fort Mackinac with the family:

  • Kids’ Quarters – Located in the Officers’ Stone Quarters, which dates to 1780 and is the oldest surviving building in all of Michigan, the Kids’ Quarters is one of the newest exhibits at Fort Mackinac. The exhibit space features hands-on displays and interactive games that give visitors of all ages a look at what soldier and civilian life was like at Fort Mackinac. For example, there’s a dress-up area where kids can try on uniforms from all eras of the fort’s history and a music area where guests can listen to the music that was played at Fort Mackinac.
  • Post Hospital – The way people live has changed a lot over the past 200 years, and perhaps medical practices have changed as much as anything. That’s why it’s an eye-opening experience to check out the “Military Medicine at Mackinac: 1780-1895” exhibit at Fort Mackinac’s Post Hospital. You can see what it was like for soldiers and civilians at the fort to go to the doctor, and there’s a lot of interactive gadgets for kids to play with including microscopes and stethoscopes.
  • Guardhouse – While Fort Mackinac was “a desirable station” for many soldiers who lived there in the 19th century, everybody didn’t always get along with each other even during times of peace. A visit to the Guardhouse offers a glimpse into military justice at Fort Mackinac. For example, you can hear actual court martial cases and feel like you’re right in the same room as the accused. It’s pretty interesting to find out some of the things that soldiers were put on trial for in the 1800s!
  • Drill Program – Back in 2022 after a two-year hiatus during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Drill Program invites visitors of all ages to participate in basic soldier drills on the Parade Ground at Fort Mackinac. Can you march in a straight line? Turn about-face 180 degrees? The Drill Program is an engaging way to experience history at Fort Mackinac. And it’s especially fun for kids, who often are better at the drills than their parents!
  • Reading Room – New for 2022, the Reading Room at Fort Mackinac offers guests an immersive experience in the educational aspects of life as a soldier in the 1880s. Visitors can page through newspapers of the time or use interactive touch screens to scan through the kinds of periodicals that Fort Mackinac soldiers read. Both kids and adults can step back into history and get a sense of why the Army thought it was so important to have Reading Rooms at its forts in the late 19th century.

 There are 14 original buildings preserved at Fort Mackinac, and each of the rest of them also have something of interest for kids. There’s a movie in the North Blockhouse that puts visitors amid the confusion, fear and drama of the British capture of Fort Mackinac during the War of 1812, for example, and period settings and galleries in the Office that showcase the training and duties of Fort Mackinac’s officers.

 Both kids and kids at heart also love watching and hearing the daily cannon blasts from Fort Mackinac. In fact, kids and other visitors ages 13 and up can even sign up to fire the Fort Mackinac cannon on the morning of their visit!

 Fort Mackinac opened for the 2022 season on May 3 and will welcome guests daily through Oct. 23. Buy tickets here for your entire family to visit to Fort Mackinac this year.

View from the Tea Room

A Perfect Day in Mackinac Island State Park

There’s no wrong way to enjoy Mackinac Island. But what would a perfect day look like if you spent it ONLY in Mackinac Island State Park? Here are some ideas and a sample itinerary to help you start planning your Mackinac Island State Park trip:

Fire the Cannon at Fort Mackinac

A soldier at the cannon platform at Fort Mackinac Start your day off on Mackinac Island with a blast! Every morning, from May to October, one lucky individual gets to fire the first cannon volley of the day at Fort Mackinac. Firing the Fort Mackinac cannon involves going through the very same steps the fort’s soldiers took many years ago. You will load and prime the cannon, then wait for the signal, and … fire!

 Be sure to book this unique experience in advance by calling our office, (906) 847-3328. More information about this unforgettable opportunity can be found on our website.

 Keep your Fort Mackinac ticket handy, as you’ll need it again later.

Take a Hike Through Mackinac Island State Park

 After the excitement of firing the cannon, take some time to enjoy Mackinac Island’s more serene sights. There are more than 70 miles of trails and paths in Mackinac Island State Park with extraordinary limestone rock formations, breathtaking lake views, and beautiful wildflowers to discover along the way.

 To get started, exit Fort Mackinac through the Avenue of Flags and start towards Anne’s Tablet Trail. Within the wooded surroundings, you will find the gazebo from the movie Somewhere in Time starring Jane Seymour and Christopher Reeve, and filmed mostly on the island. Upon arriving at Anne’s Tablet, you will find a bronze plaque honoring author Constance Fenimore Woolson. Mackinac Island is the setting for her 19th-century novel, Anne. The view from Anne’s Tablet is one of many amazing overlooks on Mackinac Island.

 Continue along Garrison Road past the Rifle Range. Here on this 600-yard range, Fort Mackinac soldiers practiced shooting at targets located on the side of the hill below Fort Holmes. After a few turns, the road will straighten and lead you to Skull Cave. This is the cave in which British merchant Alexander Henry, in his recollection of the event, hid during Pontiac’s Uprising in 1763. Make sure you read all about Henry’s experience in our Historic Mackinac Island Visitor’s Guide. A few hundred feet ahead you will see three cemeteries including Mackinac Island’s Post Cemetery, the final resting place for Fort Mackinac soldiers, their families, and local officials. The earliest known burials in the Post Cemetery date to the mid-1820s.

Fort Holmes At the north side of the Protestant Cemetery, Fort Holmes Road come in from the right. When you are going up, be sure to make a stop at Point Lookout where you will see Sugar Loaf, a limestone rock formation rising 75 feet from the forest floor. Take the stairs if you want a closer look at Sugar Loaf or continue the summit to Fort Holmes. Fort Holmes sits atop the highest elevation on Mackinac Island with spectacular views of Lake Huron, Round Island Lighthouse, and the Mackinac Bridge. Take your time touring Fort Holmes and learning all about the War of 1812 and the spot’s historical significance.

Cave of the Woods

Cave of the Woods on Mackinac Island.

 After leaving Fort Holmes, follow the road to the left for the most direct route back to Garrison Road. Experienced hikers may want to continue straight down to British Landing Road. Beyond a large clearing, featuring the Mackinac Island Airport, State Road branches to the left. Make sure you spot the short trail that leads off State Road to the Crack-in-the-Island and Cave in the Woods. While these geological formations may not be as well known, it is still worth discovering. That being said, if the hike to Fort Holmes was enough for you, it might be best to return to Fort Mackinac at your own leisurely pace.

Explore Fort Mackinac

 After traversing the interior of Mackinac Island, it is time to return to Fort Mackinac! More than just a military outpost, Fort Mackinac served as a home for soldiers and their families. It eventually became the headquarters for Mackinac National Park, where tourists to the island visited the great fortress on the bluff, much like they do today. Take your time exploring the 14 historical structures which feature exhibits explaining everything from military training, medical treatments, and family life within the fort.

 While the historic aspects of the fort are fascinating for adults and older kids, everyone will get a kick out of the daily demonstrations provided by costumed interpreters.

Have Lunch at the Tea Room

View from the Tea Room

The view from the Tea Room at Fort Mackinac.

 Once you are done exploring Fort Mackinac, take time to relax at the Tea Room located on the porch of the Officers’ Stone Quarters. The Officers’ Stone Quarters is the oldest public building in Michigan and provides the best view of any restaurant on the island along with offering a wonderful menu.

The Tea Room has been a memorable part of a visit to Fort Mackinac for decades. Whether you are craving a delicious lunch or a quick refreshment, grab a spot on its terrace and just relax. Reservations are not required but can be made by calling Grand Hotel at (906) 847-6327.

Discover Historic Downtown Mackinac Island

 After finishing tasty refreshments at the Tea Room, take the South Sally Ramp or the stairs from the Tea Room to Market Street. Just one block over from busy Main Street, visitors can step inside several historic buildings. The best part – these historic sites are included with your Fort Mackinac admission!

 First stop on your list is the American Fur Co. Store & Dr. Beaumont Museum. 2022 marks the 200th anniversary of Dr. William Beaumont’s famous achievement. Make sure you talk to the historical interpreter to learn about the building and the significant medical breakthrough that happened here, and explore the brand new exhibit. Right across the street is the McGulpin House. This house is one of the oldest private residences in Michigan. Built in the late 1700s, the house is an excellent example of early French-Canadian architecture. Look inside and imagine what it was like to live on Mackinac Island in the 1820s.

 Continue further down Market Street to Biddle House, featuring the Mackinac Island Native American Museum. The Biddle House has two exhibits inside the house, as well as a parlor restored to its historical appearance, that will tell the story of Agatha and Edward Biddle, the Anishnaabek of northern Michigan, and the critical decade of the 1830s. Stay and listen to stories from several members of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians and Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians.

Working at the Benjamin Blacksmith Shop Within the same area, you can visit the Benjamin Blacksmith Shop. This shop is maintained today in a similar fashion to how it was in the 1950s, during the latter years of the Benjamin’s ownership. There you can watch live demonstrations and learn about traditional blacksmithing techniques. If you are looking for a cool souvenir to take home, ask the blacksmith if they have anything available from small nails to giant dinner bells.

 Once you complete everything on Market Street, make your way to The Richard & Jane Manoogian Mackinac Art Museum. Nowhere else does a collection of Mackinac-related art and photography come together to tell Mackinac Island’s story. Multiple galleries focus on fine and decorative arts throughout the years – from hand-beaded Native American garments and 17th and 18th-century maps of the Great Lakes to one-of-a-kind pieces from the height of the island’s Victorian era. If you are visiting with kids, then they will love the hands-on activities at the Kid’s Art Studio as well!

Bike Highway M-185

Arch Rock Since cars are not allowed on Mackinac Island, one of the most scenic ways to take in the natural beauty is by bicycle. Bring your own bicycle or rent one from one of the many bicycle shops located on Mackinac Island. M-185 encircles the island, and is the only state highway where cars are banned. The 8.2-mile loop will take about one hour to complete at a leisurely pace, but you will definitely want to plan more time for stops. Make sure to start at “Mile Marker 0” located in front of the Mackinac Island State Park Visitor’s Center.

 There are many historical and natural sights to see during your bike ride. If you do not want to bike around the entire island, there is one spot you do not want to miss. Arch Rock is one of the most famous rock formations on the island. You will see a pull-off area with bicycle racks and benches on the east side of M-185. It is a steep 207-step climb to Arch Rock, but the views are worth it!

 If you continue the M-185 loop, another popular stop is British Landing. This location has several historical markers, picnic tables, and great spots to take photos of the Mackinac Bridge. Do not forget to visit the British Landing Nature Center during your stop. Experience the wildlife, plants, and geology of Mackinac Island in this interactive nature center. Inside you will find a large cedar tree trunk, native animals on display, and more information about the natural history of Mackinac Island. Also, there are 24-hour accessible restrooms, a water fountain, tables, benches, and a bike repair station if needed.

 Once you get your second wind, continue riding your bike through downtown Mackinac Island to complete your 8.2-mile journey.

Picnic in Marquette Park

 End your fun-filled day in Mackinac Island State Park relaxing at Marquette Park. This beautiful greenspace at the foot of Fort Mackinac is where soldiers in centuries past tended a garden. These days, the park is the perfect picnic location. Pick-up a meal from one of the many nearby restaurants and enjoy the flurry of horses, bicycles, and ferries that go by.

 Marquette Park is a popular venue for performances. Check our calendar of events to see what exciting events are scheduled in 2022.

Bonus – Stargaze at Fort Holmes

 While it is not as dark as the nearby Headlands International Dark Sky Park, Fort Holmes is a great location for stargazing. If you are staying overnight on Mackinac Island, you should consider a night hike to Fort Holmes. The fort sits atop Mackinac Island’s highest point, 320 feet above lake level, and is accessed by either Fort Holmes Road or climbing 141 stairs from Rifle Range Road. At the top of the island, not only can you see stars, but also the Mackinac Bridge illuminated, and if you are lucky, the Northern Lights. Just remember to bring your flashlight to navigate the trails at night.

 With so much rich history and natural beauty, it is easy to see why Mackinac Island State Park is a popular destination. Whether you follow this guide or plan your own journey, there is no wrong way to explore Mackinac Island State Park!