Historic Downtown Mackinac

Historic Downtown Mackinac

An interpreter working inside the Biddle House.

Visiting Mackinac Island during the summer months brings another level to the history that makes the island what it is today. The historic downtown buildings, including the Biddle House, McGulpin House, American Fur Company Store/Dr. Beaumont Museum, Mission Church, and the Benjamin Blacksmith Shop, most located on Market Street, opened June 9th, bringing the rich history of Mackinac to life.

The blacksmith hard at work at the Benjamin Blacksmith Shop.

The fur trade is highlighted throughout the buildings scattered downtown on the island. From architecture to medicine, family life to the fur trade business, religion to native life, the 1820s and ’30s fur trade era is addressed. Each building offers an intimate setting with costumed interpreters where visitors can ask questions, experience demonstrations, and learn more about what made Mackinac great! Admission to these historic structures is included with tickets to Fort Mackinac or The Richard and Jane Manoogian Mackinac Art Museum. Historic Downtown Mackinac is open through August 25. More information on the downtown buildings can be found by clicking here.

Mary Ella Cowles

Mary Ella Cowles

Mary Ella Cowles

Mary Ella Hitchcock was born in 1855 in Rochester, New York. At 18 years old, she, her younger sister Kate, and parents Charles and Eliza Hitchcock headed west. Her father had purchased a silver mine near Prescott, Arizona, but the family was caught in a snowstorm for several days. They retreated to Fort Verde on December 27, 1873 and were under the protection of the soldiers. Just days prior, a young lieutenant named Calvin Duvall Cowles had arrived at the post with the 23rd Infantry. He was soon smitten with Mary Ella and, within six months, they were married.

For the next ten years, the Cowles family lived at ten different posts. Twice Calvin left on campaigns, with Mary Ella caring for home and family. Their first child, Mary – called Toosie to avoid confusion with her mother Mary – was born in 1875. Sons Robert, William, Calvin, Jr., and Josiah followed. To reorganize a household on an annual basis, and move with young children and infants was hard on the family, especially Mary Ella.  It was also a struggle financially to move the family so often. Mary Ella was frustrated with the lack of amenities and help to care for their growing family.  (more…)

A Peek Into The Past: The Pratt Photo Album

A Peek Into The Past: The Pratt Photo Album

Companies E and K, 23rd Infantry, at Fort Mackinac, 1886

Mackinac State Historic Parks is fortunate to have an ever-expanding collection of original objects related to the sites we preserve and interpret. These objects help us share the many stories of Mackinac with our visitors. One of the more unique pieces in the collection is an original photo album and scrapbook assembled by Edward Pratt, a U.S. Army officer who served at Fort Mackinac and several other stations around the world at the end of the 19th century. (more…)

The Hanging for the Murder of Hugh Flinn

The Hanging for the Murder of Hugh Flinn

Private James Brown entered the mess room of the Soldiers’ Barracks at Fort Mackinac the evening of December 5, 1828. A loud blast filled

Muster roll for Comapny G, 5th Infantry with entries for Corporal Hugh Flinn and Private James Brown.

the room and Corporal Hugh Flinn fell to the floor, bleeding from his neck. The fifteen witnesses in the room saw Pvt. Brown lower a musket to his hip and exclaim, “My God, what have I done?” (more…)

The Christmas Mutiny at Fort Mackinac

The Christmas Mutiny at Fort Mackinac

Summer on Mackinac Island buzzed in the 1820s with the booming fur trade. Fort Mackinac was busy regulating the fur trade during this bustling time. The winter was a different story of long nights and monotonous work. This was the time that one of the most dramatic episodes to ever play out at Fort Mackinac happened, the Christmas Mutiny of 1829. (more…)

Where’s The Rest of Fort Mackinac?

Where’s The Rest of Fort Mackinac?

Today, visitors to Fort Mackinac experience a wonderfully complete example of a late 19th century American military post. Preserved since 1895 as a museum and historic site, the fort’s 14 original buildings appear much as they did between 1885 and 1889. Most other Army posts from this time period have either decayed into ruins or have been so thoroughly modernized that their historic character is largely invisible. However, the preserved Fort Mackinac open to visitors represents only about half of the post as it existed historically. Although some elements are gone from the landscape, a lot more of Fort Mackinac remains outside the walls- you just need to know where to look. (more…)

Winter Recreation on Victorian Mackinac Island

Winter Recreation on Victorian Mackinac Island

Most stores have closed, many hotels and cottages have been boarded up, and we have had the first snow of the season on Mackinac Island.  Winter on Victorian Mackinac Island was much like it is today – boats stopped running, winter provisions were stocked, and the smaller island population could be cut off the from mainland often. While ice breakers, the internet and planes keep present-day Mackinac Island more connected than ever before, what did island residents do in the past in the wintertime? (more…)

Obscure Places on Mackinac Island

Obscure Places on Mackinac Island

Every year, thousands of people come to Mackinac Island and visit such well-known places as Arch Rock, British Landing, Sugar Loaf, and Fort Mackinac. But have you ever visited Desha Mound, Langlade Craig, Echo Grotto, or Raymbault Height? These are just a few of the 212 named “places of interest” on the island listed by the Michigan Historical Commission in a 1916 travel bulletin. (more…)

Mackinac’s Contribution to Fashion? Hats!

Mackinac’s Contribution to Fashion? Hats!

Nearly all European and American men wore felt hats in the 18th century. Hats came in numerous shapes and sizes, as seen in this 1747 engraving by famed illustrator William Hogarth.

Nearly all European and American men wore felt hats in the 18th century. Hats came in numerous shapes and sizes, as seen in this 1747 engraving by famed illustrator William Hogarth.

For over 200 years, Michilimackinac, and later Mackinac Island, were centers of the Great Lakes fur trade. Every summer, merchants based at Michilimackinac or on the island shipped tons of furs to factories on the Atlantic coast or in Europe. Trapped by indigenous people around the Great Lakes, otter, muskrat, mink, rabbit, fox, and especially beaver pelts were highly prized in the garment and fashion industry. These furs were used to trim collars and cuffs, line capes and muffs, and, most importantly, to make felt hats. (more…)