3 ways to explore the ‘wild side’ of Mackinac

As the name suggests, the Mackinac State Historic Parks are full of history. Glimpses of the past are preserved through original structures such as the 240-year-old Officer’s Stone Quarters at Fort Mackinac on Mackinac Island and artifacts such as the original Fresnel lens at Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse in Mackinaw City.

  But really, the human history on exhibit at Mackinac State Historic Parks is all recent history. The attractions in Mackinaw City and on Mackinac Island also represent eons of natural history that go back much, much farther in time.

  Some of the iconic rock formations in Mackinac Island State Park, for example, are estimated to have been shaped many thousands of years ago. And the forest of Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park, as well as the Straits of Mackinac itself, are even older than that.

  In fact, the region’s natural history is the reason there’s any human history to explore in the first place. After all, it was the narrow Great Lakes passage that brought people to the area and it was the forests that provided for them – lumber for homes, animals for food and pelts for the once-lucrative fur trade, for example.

  Mackinac State Historic Parks attractions showcase that mix of natural history and human history. It’s fascinating to tour Colonial Michilimackinac in Mackinaw City and learn about 18th-century life on the fort or step inside the old American Fur Company Store on Mackinac Island and discover what it was like to be a 19th-century trapper or trader. It’s also enlightening to get the backstory of those human experiences by stepping way back into the natural “wild side” of Mackinac.

  Here are three of the best ways to get an understanding of the incredible natural history within Mackinac State Historic Parks:

  •  – Did you know that more than 80% of Mackinac Island is state parkland? It was even once a national park! While many visitors rent bikes and pedal all the way around Mackinac Island on M-185, that scenic loop is partially closed in 2021 due to ongoing erosion repairs. All the more reason to pedal up into the middle of Mackinac Island instead and find more than 70 miles of roads and trails through forest that looks much like it did millennia ago. (Get the latest updates on M-185 repairs and detours on Mackinac Island.)

Another popular ride is Mackinac Island’s Arch Rock Bicycle Trail, which takes you out to the iconic Arch Rock overlooking the southeast corner of the island. Arch Rock is a bucket-list natural history destination on its own. But along the way you can make stops on the Mackinac Island Botanical Trail, too. There are several trailside turnouts with interpretive areas where you can learn about the flowers and plants of Mackinac Island.

  •  – If hiking is more your style of exploration, then lace up your boots and take on the trails of Mackinac Island by foot. Many miles of trail aren’t even passable by bike, in fact. Roots and rocks combined with big changes in elevation make some trails within Mackinac Island State Park ideal for a strenuous hike, while the paved roads through the island’s interior offer a more leisurely option for immersing yourself in the ancient forest. Birdwatching on Mackinac Island is another great option for experiencing the wild side of Mackinac.

In Mackinaw City, you can enjoy a stroll along the Straits of Mackinac at the foot of the Mackinac Bridge at Colonial Michilimackinac or walk for miles through the woods of Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park. Just as many visitors to Mackinac Island only scratch the surface of all there is to see, so do most people only see a fraction of Mill Creek. Many of the trails into the wilds of Mill Creek are even accessible, and there also are guided hikes scheduled each day.

  •  – Speaking of Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park, the one-of-a-kind Adventure Tour is a fun way for all ages to experience some of the region’s natural history. The high-flying excursion takes visitors not only into the forest, but up to the top of it for a walk over the Forest Canopy Bridge some 50 feet above the creek below. Your tour guide points out natural features along the way, then you zoom back down to ground level on the exhilarating Eagles’ Flight Zip Line.

Before or after your tour, be sure to take the 71 steps up to the viewing platform atop the park’s Treetop Discovery Tower. The panoramic vista from up there offers a spectacular view of the whole region, and a great perspective on the natural features that attracted people to the Straits of Mackinac.

There’s lot of history to experience at Mackinac State Historic Parks, including the wilderness where not many visitors venture. Come explore Mackinac’s wild side!

Cedars and Everlastings: Mackinac’s Amazing Evergreens

Dr. Carlos Carvallo

“The Island of Mackinac, three and a quarter miles long and two miles wide, though not the largest is the most picturesque and inhabited of the small group constituting the archipelago of the Straits of Mackinac… It is girded by limestone battlements and cliffs, which rise abruptly 100 to 150 feet above the surface of the water… The hills are covered with a dense growth of cedars and everlastings, which appear to extend from the water’s edge to the summit of the island.” Dr. Carlos Carvallo, Fort Mackinac Post Surgeon (1873)


Roots of an eastern white cedar span an outcrop of limestone along Quarry Trail in Mackinac Island State Park.

  In every season, visitors to the Straits of Mackinac are amazed by the varied shapes, forms, sizes, and habits of the numerous species of conifers that grow in this region of the North Woods. Venture out and you’ll discover towering white pines, pointed spires of spruce trees, dense thickets of eastern white cedar, and soft needles of fragrant balsam fir. Perhaps you’ll find yourself in the company of hemlocks whose dark canopy nearly shuts out the light of day, or enjoy a sun-filled stroll while prickly juniper bushes scratch at your ankles.

  For centuries, travelers to this region, including Dr. Carlos Carvallo, have commented on such “cedars and everlastings” while documenting their observations of the Island. Below are a few favorites to enjoy during your next Mackinac adventure.

Balsam Fir

  If it suddenly smells like Christmas, you’re likely in the company of balsam fir trees. This medium-sized evergreen may grow 65 feet tall or more, but dozens of saplings may also create impenetrable, brushy stands. Bark of young trees features bumpy “resin blisters” which tend to spray when ruptured, resulting in a sticky (but delightfully-smelling) encounter with nature. Since the mid-1800s, small sachet pillows, filled with dried balsam needles, have been sold on Mackinac Island as souvenir keepsakes.

 Canada Yew

  This native evergreen grows as a low, spreading shrub, especially in wet areas. A shade-lover, yews are common in northern portions of Mackinac Island, particularly under the canopy of cedar and balsam fir trees. Yew cones consist of a highly-modified scale, known as an aril, which ripens to resemble a soft, bright red berry that remains open on one end. Yew seeds are a favorite food of thrushes, waxwings and other birds. Look for them near Croghan Water Marsh.

Northern White Cedar

  If there is one dominant feature of the northern Michigan landscape, it just might be the cedar tree. Early French traders referred to this species as arborvitae, or “tree of life” due to its medicinal properties, including a high dose of vitamin C used to prevent scurvy. Cedar’s fragrant needles, pliable bark, and rot-resistant wood have been utilized by Native Americans for making containers, canoe paddles, medicine, and ceremonial rites for millennia.

  Small cedar cones turn from green to brown as they ripen in early autumn, releasing tiny seeds which are essential for birds, squirrels, and other wildlife. Cedar needles, scaly and evergreen, are the most important winter food for deer and also provide shelter when cold descends and snow blankets the North Woods.

Ground Juniper

  Juniper loves both sand and sun. A low-growing, shrubby evergreen, this species grows very slowly and can live up to 300 years. Their fleshy cones look like small green berries and have been used in the distillery process for centuries to give gin its distinctive flavor. Landowner Michael Dousman (1771-1854) once ran a distillery near his large farm on north-central Mackinac Island, possibly producing this herbaceous spirit. Junipers don’t tolerate shade, but are abundant in the sun near the Island’s airport. Several specimens also enjoy a view of the Straits overlooking Robinson’s Folly.

White Spruce

  Not pretentious, white spruce are comfortable in the shadows. Slow-growing and long-lived, their pointed crowns eventually pierce the tree canopy like church spires dotting a country landscape. Spruce needles, while similar in length to those of balsam fir, are stiffer and project from every surface around each branch. In contrast, fir needles only grow from each side of the branch, like tiny wings.

  Spruce cones are noted for being an especially important food source for birds, including both red and white-winged crossbills. As their name implies, crossbills are named for their unusual beak, perfectly adapted for flicking seeds from ripe conifer cones. Standing beneath a tree as a flock of crossbills feeds above is a memorable experience, as a cloud of discarded seed fragments swirl through the air like tiny brown snowflakes. Red crossbills were once a common nesting species on Mackinac Island. In recent decades, both red crossbills and their white-winged cousins still visit the Island in winter.

 Eastern White Pine

  It would be a sad miscarriage of piney justice if a blog about evergreens failed to include the State Tree of Michigan. Historically, this “King of the Forest” reached 300 years of age, growing nearly 200 feet tall with trunks up to six feet in diameter. While the 19th century lumbering clear-cut the vast majority of old growth giants, a few scattered stands and large individuals remain. White pines mature quickly, sometimes adding more than two feet of new growth per year! This species is less common on Mackinac Island than other evergreens, though scattered specimens (including several large ones) can still be located along many trails and roadsides. Several historic guidebooks referred to Forest King, “a magnificent pine tree which excites the admiration of all who behold it” on the trail to Arch Rock.

  An excellent way to appreciate white pines was expressed by author Anna Botsford Comstock in her Handbook of Nature Study (1911). She wrote, “The needles of the pine act like the strings of an ӕolian harp; and the wind, in passing through the tree, sets them into vibration, making a sighing sound which seems to the listener like the voice of the tree. Therefore, the pine is the most companionable of all our trees and, to one who observes them closely, each tree has its own tones and whispers a different story.”

  The evergreens above represent just a few of the “Cedars and Everlastings” you’ll find while exploring Mackinac Island and the surrounding region. During your next visit, you’ll just need a trail map, your walking shoes, and an adventurous spirit. Trees of the North Woods are ready to whisper their stories to us. We only need remember how to listen.

#thisismackinac

Mackinac Island’s Field of Dreams

“The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good, and that could be again.  –Terrence Mann – “Field of Dreams”

  The large, grassy field behind Fort Mackinac has served many purposes since the end of the Civil War. It has been a drill field for soldiers, a playground for scouts, and a great place to canter a horse. But the one constant on that field for nearly a century and a half has been baseball. Fort Mackinac soldiers established the first ball field on this site in the 1870s and continued to develop and improve the field until the fort closed in 1895. Local residents and summer workers played baseball at the “fort ball grounds” in the early 20th century. Since 1934, when Civilian Conservation Corps workers built the nearby scout barracks, boy and girl scout troops from across Michigan have played ball on the same field during the summer months.

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July 4 at Fort Mackinac

As we get ready to celebrate the 245th anniversary of the date the Declaration of Independence was adopted by the Continental Congress declaring independence from Great Britain, we thought we’d take a look back at some of the ways the historic soldiers and residents celebrated July 4 at Fort Mackinac by taking a peek at some of the various books published by Mackinac State Historic Parks.

Shooting matches were a popular July 4 activity. Here is the Fort Mackinac squad showing off a trophy won.

  From “A Desirable Station: Soldier Life at Fort Mackinac 1867-1895” by Phil Porter:

“The United States army had a special affinity for the Fourth of July. Fort Mackinac soldiers celebrated the holiday with a variety of ceremonial and recreational activities. A hand-picked squad fired the national salute – one round for each state of the Union – from the fort cannons at daybreak. In 1873 Captain Leslie Smith dispensed with the firing “in consequence of a serious illness of a prominent citizen…” but took the opportunity to have the Declaration of Independence read to his men. Soldiers spent the rest of the day playing games, relaxing in the park or joining civilians in village-sponsored activities. In 1886 soldiers ran foot races, squared off against Cheboygan in a rifle match, played baseball against the St. Ignace club and enjoyed a special dinner with desserts of peach and raspberry pie, cherries, strawberries and cream and ginger snaps.”

  The diary of Harold Dunbar Corbusier was published with the permission of the Corbusier family under the title “A Boy at Fort Mackinac.” Dunbar kept a diary of his time on the island as a ten-year old boy in 1883-1884, and again as a teenager when his family returned to Mackinac Island in 1892. He was on the island for July 4, 1883 and July 4, 1892. His diary is presented as he wrote it, including spelling and grammatical errors:

“July 4 (1883): It has been a pleasant day. They fired a sulute of thirty-eight guns at noon as we have had a very nice time today down town they had go-as-you-please races, walking maches, pony hurdle, row boat races, greased pole, tub races. Jumping matches. Mama Mrs. Sellers, Miss Duggan and Mr. Duggan went to the point on the Algomah.”

The Fort Mackinac ballfield in the late 19th century.

  For his entry on July 5, Corbusier notes they set off a great many fireworks the night before, but Claude (his brother) hurt his hand very badly.

“4th. July (1892): They had a few country races & other amussements (?) down in the village today besides these there has been no unusual excitement. The usual salute was fired from the fort & they had a pretty good ball game up there. The Fort Wayne nine played the Fort Mackinac. The score was 3 to 1 in favor of Fort Wayne. There was a hop at the Grand Hotel this evening. I dance twelve dances. I am beginning to waltz a little.”

  From “Reveille Till Taps: Soldier Life at Fort Mackinac 1780-1895” by Keith R. Widder:

“Part of the commemoration of Independence Day in some years included issues of extra whiskey. On such days, fatigue duties and most military activities came to a halt. Generally the cannon fired a salute to the United States in honor of her successful Revolution. In the 1880’s and 90’s, the garrison took part in elaborate ceremonies with people of the village or St. Ignace. Both communities sought the assistance of the garrison in their celebrations because the presence of men in uniform added much glamour.

“…A year earlier (1884) the garrison put together a rifle team of ten men and officers to challenge the Cheboygan Rifle Team. On July 4 most of the garrison went to Cheboygan to watch their team in action. Out of a possible score of 510, the Mackinac marksmen scored 401 to Cheboygan’s 385, thereby winning the silver cup selected as the prize.

“…On the same days that the rifle team beat back challenges of the Cheboygan shooters, Cheboygan’s “Diamond Baseball Club” took the field against the post squad. The fort won the first tame 17-10 and the twenty-five dollar prize.”

  We also know that on July 4, 1879, at the “National Park” on Mackinac Island, there was a “Free to all rowing regatta, one mile and return” as well as a picnic in the park at 11:00 a.m., a reading of the Declaration of Independence, and dancing on the platform at 3:00 p.m.

  This July 4 at Fort Mackinac we will do our best to recreate these Independence Days of old with “A Star Spangled Fourth of July.” The iconic fort Mackinac decked out in patriotic finery with banners, flags and bunting for the program beginning at 7:00 p.m.

  Featured will be a reading of the Declaration of Independence, patriotic toasts, the raising of the colors, and games on the parade ground including sack and foot races, games of catch, hoop and stick, and Jacob’s Ladder. Guests join the party and participate in games on the fort parade ground.

  After the toasts, the ‘fireworks’ begin. We will recreate the 38-gun salute, honoring the 1880s states of the union with rifle firings, followed by the finale of a cannon salute in honor of the holiday. Guests are then welcome to stay at Fort Mackinac, enjoying the buildings, galleries and views, and stick around for the fireworks from the cannon platform, Wood Quarters, or Stone Quarters.

  The Tea Room Restaurant, operated by Grand Hotel, will be open until 9:00 p.m. serving hot dogs and brats, chicken sandwiches, salads, sweets, and beverages, including beer and wine.

  All special programming is included with regular admission to Fort Mackinac ($13.50/adults, $8.00/child (5-12), and free for kids under 5). Guests who visit Fort Mackinac earlier in the day on the fourth are welcome to come back for the special event without having to purchase a new ticket.

Memorial Day at Fort Mackinac

  It’s a crisp morning in late May. Members of the 23rd Regiment at Fort Mackinac assemble on the parade ground in their dress uniforms and begin the slow, somber march out of the North Sally Port at Fort Mackinac and head toward the Post Cemetery. Soldiers muffle their drums as they would for a funeral, and play a cadence. They’re joined by civilians for the walk to the ceremony.

  Upon arrival at the Post Cemetery, short remarks are made, the soldiers fire a salute, and “Taps” is played. If you didn’t know any better, you might have thought you’ve stepped back in time to the 1880s, but this exact scenario will play out at Fort Mackinac and the Fort Mackinac Post Cemetery this Memorial Day, May 31, as a way to pay tribute to the fallen soldiers who served at Fort Mackinac. 

  It is a tradition Mackinac State Historic Parks has done for more than 20 years – recreating the Decoration Day, or Memorial Day, ceremony that soldiers had historically done at Fort Mackinac. In 1883, Captain Edwin Sellers suspended duty at Fort Mackinac and held the first Decoration Day ceremony.

Captain Edwin Sellers

  Some additional background on Sellers: he was commissioned second lieutenant, 10th infantry, in October 1861 during the Civil War. He was engaged in multiple battles, including Bull Run, Antietam, Fredericksburg, and Gettysburg, and received three brevet promotions for “gallant and meritorious service” during the war. He took command of Fort Mackinac in 1879, and lived with his wife, Olive, and four sons in the commanding officer’s house west of the fort.

  While he instituted Decoration Day at Fort Mackinac in 1883, it was, unfortunately, the only one he lived to see. One year later he was buried at the Post Cemetery after a brief and sudden bout of pneumonia.

  On this Memorial Day, costumed interpreters will lead attendees from Fort Mackinac to the Post Cemetery and perform a short ceremony and salute, just as the soldiers did in 1883. Mackinac State Historic Parks Director Steve Brisson will speak at the ceremony while interpreters lay a wreath on Sellers’ grave. Afterwards, soldiers will fire a rifle salute followed by “Taps” played by a bugler. Afterwards, the procession will march back to Fort Mackinac.

  The program begins at 8:30 a.m. and will conclude by 9:00 a.m. It’s a free event. Events such as this are sponsored, in part, by Mackinac Associates, friends preserving and sharing Mackinac’s history. More information on the event can be found here.

When historic Mackinaw City, Mackinac Island sites open in 2021

Fort Mackinac endured a hostile takeover by the British. Held captives during the Civil War. Survived a seamless transition from national park to state park. And its 14 original buildings have been repaired and restored all along the way.

  Now, one of the most popular Mackinac State Historic Parks attractions has weathered the COVID-19 pandemic, too.

  After a year of uncertainty when the opening of historic sites was delayed or even cancelled, Fort Mackinac is open for tours in 2021. So are The Richard and Jane Manoogian Mackinac Art Museum, Biddle House, featuring the Mackinac Island Native American Museum, Colonial Michilimackinac, Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse, Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park and most other Mackinac State Historic Parks sites.

  With COVID-19 health precautions at Mackinac State Historic Parks, you can safely visit and enjoy any or all of the sites in Mackinaw City and on Mackinac Island this year.

  Here’s a rundown of when each Mackinac State Historic Parks attraction opened or will open

May 1, Historic Fort Mackinac
May 1, The Richard and Jane Manoogian Mackinac Art Museum
May 1, Biddle House, featuring the Mackinac Island Native American Museum
May 1, Benjamin Blacksmith Shop
May 5, Colonial Michilimackinac
May 6, Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse
May 7, Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park
June 5, American Fur Company Store & Dr. Beaumont Museum

Things to keep in mind as you plan your 2021 visit to Mackinac State Historic Parks

  One Mackinac State Historic Parks site, the 200-year-old McGulpin House, is not scheduled to open this year due to ongoing challenges posed by the pandemic. A few other attractions have activities or areas that are not expected to open in 2021 including the Kids’ Art Studio at The Richard and Jane Manoogian Mackinac Art Museum, the tower tour at Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse and the Treetops Discovery climbing wall at Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park.

  With the exception of the climbing wall, the Adventure Tour at Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park will be open this year including the thrilling Forest Canopy Bridge and the Eagle’s Flight Zip Line. And even though you can’t climb the tower, you can take the stairs to the top and enjoy a stunning view of both Mackinac Island and the Mackinac Bridge.

  While the tower tour is closed this year, you can experience several new exhibits that have opened at Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse. The second floor of the lighthouse has been restored to how it looked in 1910 and gives a great sense of what life was like for George Marshall and his family when he was the first lightkeeper. The lighthouse also is the site of the Straits of Mackinac Shipwreck Museum and features a new exhibit devoted to lighthouse optics and lenses as well as sound and fog signals. In fact, you can hear a demonstration of the lighthouse’s Fog Signal Whistle several times each day.

  The new historic tours and demonstrations at Colonial Michilimackinac this season will focus on the year 1778, when rumors swirled about whether the Revolutionary War would reach the Upper Great Lakes. Demonstrations and tours led by costumed interpreters take place throughout the day, with several programs being moved outdoors to provide more opportunity for social distancing.

A new Mackinac State Historic Parks experience for 2021

  Starting June 5 and continuing daily through Sept. 5, one lucky visitor will be able to fire all of the black powder weapons at Colonial Michilimackinac as the fort closes. That includes the Short Land Musket, Wall Gun, Coehorn Mortar and cannon. “Guns Across the Straits” is available to one Colonial Michilimackinac guest each day for an extra fee, and reservations are now being taken for this first-time-ever opportunity.

  Colonial Michilimackinac also will host a special “Fire at Night” exhibition on July 7, welcoming guests to visit at dusk and watch the fireworks of the fort’s black powder weapons being shot.

  Tickets to all Mackinac State Historic Parks sites for the 2021 season are now on sale, with money-saving combo packages available when visiting more than one attraction.

What’s New for 2021?

  Opening day for Mackinac State Historic Parks’ sites is a little more than two months away, and MSHP staff have been busy readying new tours, exhibits, publications, and more.

  The most exciting opening for the season is the Biddle House, featuring the Mackinac Island Native American Museum. It had been slated to open for the 2020 season. However, construction progress was derailed during at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, allowing MSHP to only open the site for a weekend at the very end of the 2020 season. It will open on May 1 with the rest of the MSHP island sites.

  Up at Fort Mackinac, the beloved Kids’ Quarters will receive an update, the third to the exhibit in its history, helping to fulfill MSHP’s mission in presenting the history of the Straits of Mackinac. Housed in the oldest public building in Michigan, the Kids’ Quarters will allow guests to experience how soldiers and civilians lived at Fort Mackinac in the 19th century. Here you’ll be able to play various musical instruments used by the military, try on clothes, or design your very own fort, among many other activities.

  New programs at Fort Mackinac for the 2021 season include “The Changing Face of Fort Mackinac,” “The Army of the 1880s,” a deeper look into Mackinac National Park, a tour showcasing the women who called Fort Mackinac home, a Signal Drill Activity, and a program dedicated to what happened at Fort Mackinac after the army left in 1895. The Tea Room at Fort Mackinac, operated by Grand Hotel, will feature new menu items for the 2021 season, and, as always, will feature one of the most stunning views in Michigan. As always, the classic cannon and rifle firings will take place throughout the day, and guests can purchase the opportunity to fire the very first cannon salute of the day.

  At The Richard and 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 – “The Seasons of Mackinac.”  While Mackinac has always been known as a “summer gathering place,” its beauty is unparalleled in all seasons. Mackinac Island resident and award-winning artist Bill Murcko will serve as juror for the show. It will be on display at the art museum from May 1 through October 10. Additionally, seven 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.

  Special events at Fort Mackinac and Mackinac Island include the annual Vintage Base Ball game, on July 24, special activities for July 4, and Movies in the Fort throughout the summer. New evenings events exploring Historic Downtown Mackinac and a look at Fort Mackinac then versus now will debut, as well as a new natural history event later in the summer.

  As guests enter Colonial Michilimackinac, in Mackinaw City, they will be stepping back in time to 1778, when rumors of war and peace swirled around Michilimackinac. Guests will see and hear how soldiers, civilians, and Native people responded to threats real and imagined as they attempted to maintain their livelihood, the fur trade. Two new programs at the fort will provide guests an opportunity to get more hands-on with history, where you’ll unpack a trade bale and another where you’ll explore an artilleryman’s arsenal. Other programs at the site will talk about women’s roles at the fort, the enslaved community, the 5,500 square feet of gardens, as well as musket and artillery demonstrations.

  An exciting new program at Colonial Michilimackinac allows guests the opportunity to fire all four black-powder weapons at Michilimackinac: the Short Land Musket, Wall Gun (a BIG musket), Coehorn Mortar, and, as the finale, the cannon. This program is available every evening after the fort closes for regular business June 5-October 8.

  The Mackinac State Historic Parks’ archaeology program will enter its 63rd season in 2021. Work will continue in House E of the Southeast Rowhouse at Colonial Michilimackinac. Archaeologists will be out daily (weather permitting) during the summer months.

  Special events at Colonial Michilimackinac include an exhilarating “Fire at Night” program, informative history talks on topics such as gardening, archaeology, laundry and more, a celebration of the King’s Birth-day on June 4, Movies by the Bridge, A Colonial Christmas, a weekend exploring John Askin’s Michilimackinac, and others.

  The last few years have seen several gallery openings at Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse – the Straits of Mackinac Shipwreck Museum, the Science and Technology Exhibit, and the Marshall Gallery on the extensively renovated second floor. All galleries will be fully open for the 2021 season. Throughout the day, historic interpreters will sound the Fog Signal Whistle.

  Over at Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park, the Adventure Tour will return to operation for the 2021 season. A more robust daily events schedule will showcase the sawpit and sawmill, an extensive tour looking at what else happened historically at Historic Mill Creek, and guided nature hikes through the three miles of groomed hiking trails. A special evening program discussing archaeology at Historic Mill Creek and a closing weekend celebration mark the special events for Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park this summer. Click here for the complete list of special events.

  Two new publications will hit bookshelves in 2021. The first, Preservation at Mackinac – The History of the Mackinac Island State Park Commission, 1895-2020, is an update to 100 Years at Mackinac, originally published in 1995 as part of the centennial celebration of Mackinac Island State Park. This updated version fills in the past 25 years and adds additional details to other events. The other publication, Pipes and Bottles or Bacchanalian Revels? The Truth About Robinson’s Folly, is a new vignette by Todd E. Harburn and Brian Leigh Dunnigan. Both books will be available at museum stores this summer.

  Road work will continue along M-185. The road, which has been heavily damaged by high water levels the last few years, will be fully paved throughout the summer. While this may cause annoyances for the 2021 season, the completed road will allow visitors to explore the beautiful shoreline in peace for many years in the future.

  The Mackinac Island State Park Visitor’s Center, located on Main Street across from Marquette Park, will become home to the Official Mackinac Island State Park Store. Souvenirs, clothing and merchandise inspired by the natural and historical elements of Mackinac Island State Park will be available. Additionally, the six other museum stores will feature new and exciting items for the 2021 season.

  Most major projects were funded, in part, by Mackinac Associates. Visit mackinacparks.com for a complete listing of updates and projects at Mackinac State Historic Parks. The season begins at Fort Mackinac, The Richard and Jane Manoogian Mackinac Art Museum, and Biddle House on May 1. Tickets can be purchased here.

Michigan State Troops at Mackinac, 1888

Drill was a regular feature of daily life for the soldiers of the 23rd Infantry posted at Fort Mackinac in the 1880s. Like American soldiers across the country, they spent several hours every week at drill, target practice, and other exercises to hone their skills. However, the small American army of the 1880s was widely dispersed at isolated posts, meaning that soldiers rarely had the opportunity to practice large-scale maneuvers or tactics. To provide the soldiers with a taste of regular campaigning, through the 1880s the 23rd Regiment partnered with the Michigan State Troops (a forerunner to the Michigan National Guard) to host summer training camps. In 1888, the Michigan State Troops elected to hold the annual encampment on Mackinac Island.

Fort Mackinac during a summer encampment- note the tents in the distance, pitched on the government pasture.

  Since over 1,000 men belonged to the brigade of the Michigan State Troops, they visited Mackinac in two waves. The 2nd and 4th Regiments came to the island July 12-16, while the 1st and 3rd Regiments arrived on July 19 and departed on July 24. Additionally, Colonel Henry Black, commanding officer of the 23rd Infantry, brought two more companies of regulars and the regimental band from Fort Wayne in Detroit. Alongside the men of Companies E and K stationed at Fort Mackinac, these professional soldiers of the 23rd were expected to teach the part-time troops of the Michigan State forces by example. All of the visiting soldiers set up camp on the government pasture, now the Grand Hotel golf course, and named their small tent city Camp Luce after Governor Cyrus Luce.

  For the most part the camp went smoothly, with the amateur and professional soldiers working alongside one another. The troops participated in a variety of large-scale drills, culminating in a sham battle staged for Governor Luce and Governor Richard Oglesby of Illinois on July 23. However, numerous reports from the Cheboygan Democrat newspaper, and some of the officers of the 23rd and the Michigan State Troops, make it clear that some of the men may have had a bit too much fun at Mackinac. On July 12 the Democrat shared the story of an MST soldier who, after drinking downtown, went back to camp

“but did not have the countersign, and was afraid of the guards. Finally a bright idea struck him. He went back downtown and secured two bottles of beer, and one under each arm proceeded back to camp. Soon he was halted by a sentry, and the following conversation ensued: ‘Halt! Who comes there?’ ‘A friend with two bottles of beer.’ ‘Advance, friend, and deliver up one bottle.’ The truant did so and passed into camp.”

Soldiers inside the fort.

  The summer nights were apparently quite cold for the men sleeping in tents in the pasture. On July 19, the Democrat reported that as the sentries called out “Two o’clock and all is well” one man “in a sober strong, foghorn voice,” yelled back “Two o’clock and colder than hell!” In the same issue, the Cheboygan reporter noted that Mackinac’s saloons were doing brisk business, with one taking in $218 in a single day. “Pandemonium reigned in the village and respectable ladies had to keep off the streets.” Later the same week the paper reported that a gang of soldiers boarded the yacht Julia in the harbor and “stole two marine glasses valued at $75, and even went so far as to climb the mast to steal the brass ball off the top mast head.” The same soldiers apparently “stole everything they could lay their hands on in the stores and elsewhere.” On July 26, the Democrat proudly related that at least some of the mischievous MST men met their match earlier in the week and “had a genuine experience in war in about one-hundredth of a second after they insulted a Cheboygander’s better half Monday. One had both eyes blacked, and the other had his bread basket kicked in, and the rest took to their heels.”

  Reflecting on the island camp, Colonel E.W. Irish of the 2nd Regiment of the MST advocated against returning to Mackinac. Given the hijinks reported by the Cheboygan Democrat, Irish’s assertion that “I fear the many attractions of the isle of ‘Fairy Legends’ necessarily interfere somewhat with the devotion to duty which ought to be expected of soldiers” seems to be a bit of an understatement. According to another Democrat report from July 12, the “dude soldiers with new uniforms and a pocketful of cash” from the state troops also caused friction with the regulars of the 23rd Regiment.

  In any case, the 1888 summer encampment was the first and last time the Michigan State Troops ventured to Mackinac. In 1889 they stayed in southern Michigan, going into camp at Gognac Lake, near Battle Creek (previous summer encampments were held at Island Lake near Brighton). The men of Companies E and K traveled south from Mackinac for the summer training period, this time joined by the entire 23rd Regiment. If you would like to learn more about the soldiers of the 23rd Infantry and the summer drills held on Mackinac Island, plan a visit to Fort Mackinac. Please also consider joining or making a donation to Mackinac Associates, who fund projects throughout Mackinac State Historic Parks’ museums.

She Lived Here, Too: Fanny Corbusier

The Fort Mackinac Soldier’s Barracks in the 1880s.

  For a brief time, from April of 1882 until September of 1884, Fanny Dunbar Corbusier and her family lived at Fort Mackinac. She and her family thoroughly enjoyed their time on the island, which was already a tourist destination. While living on Mackinac Island, Fanny and her family took advantage of the island’s natural beauty and social scene to engage in activities familiar to modern visitors.

  Fanny was born in 1838 in Baltimore, but also lived in Louisiana and Maryland as a child. She was an active part of her church, wherever she lived. Public service was important to her and she served as a nurse during the Civil War. At the age of 30 she met and married William Henry Corbusier, a military contract surgeon. He was one of many northern soldiers occupying Mobile, Alabama with the army after the war. Together, they enjoyed a 49 year-long marriage and raised five sons. The marriage plunged Fanny into the transient life of civilians attached to the army, moving from station to station as William was transferred to different posts.

  At various times, Fanny and the family lived in Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, the Philippines, the Dakota Territory, Wyoming Territory, Kansas, Colorado, Virginia, Indiana, California, New York, Nebraska, Alabama and of course Michigan. Their extensive travels were facilitated by regular long-distance train trips. The growing national railroad network allowed the army to move troops (and associated civilians like Fanny) quickly and easily around the country.

  Within the small, close-knit army community, William’s position bestowed a level of social prestige upon Fanny. Officers and their families were generally quartered in larger, nicer homes, separate from the enlisted soldiers. Fanny had, and expected to have, servants to help her with cooking, laundry and other chores. She hired a nurse to assist with her first baby and at various times employed off-duty soldiers, Chinese workers, and Indigenous people to work in her household. Fanny hired a woman named Carrie Greatsinger to work as a nurse for the children before moving to Fort Mackinac.

The Hill Quarters at Fort Mackinac.

  Regardless of where she lived, Fanny took the education of her children seriously. As a child, she attended the Hannah More Academy in Maryland, where her mother was principal. While raising her own children, she made sure that they always had access to education. At Mackinac, her younger children attended classes in the Fort Mackinac reading room, where Sgt. Fred Grant and Pvt. Crawford Anderson served as teachers. In addition to school, while on Mackinac Island Fanny also “sent for all of the histories and romances of Mackinac that were ever published” and read with her family about Alexis St. Martin, Dr. William Beaumont, and John Tanner.

  Fanny and William shared a lifelong interest in nature and spent time observing “the superb moonlight night” during their winters on Mackinac. In the fall they ”saw the island in its best array. The woods were gorgeous in the vari-colored trees and shrubbery, and then the aurora borealis in all its splendor would sometimes be seen.” Fall on Mackinac Island is still one of the most beautiful sights in Northern Michigan.

  Fanny Dunbar Corbusier left Mackinac Island in 1884 after experiencing it in much the same way as countless others of the past and present. Her life only brought her back one more time in 1892. She visited with old friends and went for “lovely drives” to see what had changed. If you would like to learn more about the experiences of Fanny Corbusier and the other women who called Fort Mackinac home in the 18th and 19th centuries, check out our website for details on how to visit. Also consider joining Mackinac Associates, a friends group that makes it possible for us to interpret Fanny’s life as well as countless other facets of Mackinac’s rich history.

What Did Soldiers Wear Under Their Uniforms?

Soldiers of the 23rd Infantry using a net to catch fish in the Devil’s River in Texas in 1898. Most of the men are wearing their blue shirts, but the second soldier from the left appears to be wearing his undershirt. The men wearing light-colored pants could just be wearing their drawers into the river, but they might also be the white trousers authorized for summer wear in 1888.

   If you’ve visited Fort Mackinac, you’ve probably seen our historical interpreters performing demonstrations and leading tours while wearing the uniforms of the U.S. Army of the 1880s. We strive to have accurate reproductions, but what did the historic soldiers of Fort Mackinac wear under their uniforms?

Soldiers of Company K of the 23rd Infantry relax inside the barracks in the 1880s. The card-playing soldier at left, wearing the straw hat, may also be wearing his gray undershirt.

   The British and early American soldiers on Mackinac Island probably wore a single piece of underwear in the form of a long-sleeved linen shirt. The shirts usually reached almost to the knees, allowing the soldiers to wrap them around their upper legs and groin. Shirts were changed and laundered regularly, as having clean linen against the skin was considered essential to staying healthy. By the 1880s, the American army provided considerably more complex undergarments, which could be mixed and matched in layers depending on the climate and a soldier’s needs. By the mid-1870s, soldiers were regularly issued drawers to wear beneath their uniform trousers. Made of unbleached flannel, the drawers issued by the mid-1880s had a reinforced crotch and a full-cut seat, and closed with two metal buttons in front as well as buttons to close the ankle cuffs. Beginning in 1881, soldiers also received an undershirt to wear against their skin. Made of a 50/50 blend of fleece wool and cotton, the gray pullover shirts had knit cuffs to ensure a snug fit around the wrists. Soldiers received three undershirts as part of their yearly uniform allowance, but they often complained that the shirts were too hot and heavy, especially for men stationed in the south or the deserts of the southwest. Soldiers also began receiving blue flannel shirts, worn over the undershirt, in 1881. After receiving feedback (meaning complaints) from soldiers about the 1881 shirts, the Quartermaster Department issued a new design in 1882, and again in 1883. The 1883 model shirts were cut in much the same way as the undress blouse, with a falling collar and fitted cuffs. These shirts featured three black rubber buttons at the throat and down the front placket, which extended to mid-chest. The shirts also included two breast pockets, each with a single black rubber button for closure. The army always intended for these shirts to be worn as outerwear in hot climates, and soldiers were issued three every year.

Soldiers of the 23rd Infantry police the grounds near the East Blockhouse in the 1880s. The two men standing at right are wearing their blue flannel shirts. The
man standing at center, sideways to the camera, may also be wearing his gray undershirt- note his forearm.

   By layering these garments as needed, soldiers could somewhat adapt to changing weather and keep a ready supply of clean undergarments on hand. Although it’s not something that visitors to Fort Mackinac ever see (and would have only rarely seen back in the 1880s), these pieces of underwear were critical to creating the look of the U.S. Army in the late 19th century. Be sure to ask the interpreters about their uniforms next time you visit Fort Mackinac, and don’t forget to check out Mackinac Associates, which helps fund the purchase of uniforms and other supplies every year. Also, if you’re interested in seeing more images of army life in the 1880s, this summer Mackinac State Historic Parks is pleased to offer a new book featuring over 120 images collected by a Fort Mackinac officer: Through an Officer’s Eyes: The Photo Album of Edward B. Pratt, U.S. Army 1873-1902. The three images illustrating this post all come from the book, which will be available in our visitor’s centers and museum stores.