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.

 

Rock bluffs at the Durrell or Mill Creek Quarry, circa 1915

The Untold Story of the Mill Creek Quarry

Originally established by Robert Campbell about 1790, the sawmill, gristmill and farming activities at Mill Creek remained active for about half a century. Known as Private Claim #334, the site was bought by wealthy Mackinac Island merchant Michael Dousman in 1819. Sawmill operations ran until about 1839, and after Dousman died in 1854, his heirs sold the property for just $400. When the township was resurveyed in 1856, updated maps showed no trace of buildings on Campbell’s original 640-acre claim. Local lore states that William Myers removed gristmill stones from the abandoned site about 1860 to use at his mills near Cheboygan.

A 1917 photo of Lime Kiln ruins on Mackinac Island

Lime Kiln ruins on Mackinac Island, 1917

 About 1864, a new resource was tapped for the first time along the rocky bluffs of Mill Creek – limestone. People have quarried and processed limestone at the Straits of Mackinac since the construction of Fort Mackinac from 1779-1781. For many years, the old lime kiln on Mackinac Island was a tourist destination, and Lime Kiln Trail can still be enjoyed by visitors today. By the summer of 1827, a kiln was also in operation near the northwest shore of nearby Bois Blanc Island.

 Limestone in Michigan was formed millions of years ago, being composed of sediments at the bottom of ancient salty seas, filled with billions of fragments of corals and shelled creatures. Limestone is high in calcium carbonate, and when burned in a kiln, crushed, or pulverized, is valuable for making cement, concrete, mortar, and many other uses. Larger pieces of quarried stone were used to make roads, the stone walls of Fort Mackinac, its blockhouses, and officer’s stone quarters.

 Lime was first processed at Mill Creek about 1864 by a man with the last name of Young who stayed for a couple of years. The next record of limestone quarrying at the site can be found in a Cheboygan Democrat article, dated April 12, 1883. It reads, “Parties have begun to work preparatory to burning lime extensively at Mill Creek. They say that have orders for forty bushels per day during the season.” This record corresponds closely with the Michigan Central Railroad running tracks through the site in November 1881, making it easy to ship finished products to market.

 The first and only large quarrying operation at Mill Creek was operated by Willis G. Durrell, of Cincinnati, Ohio, from 1914-1923. Before organizing his company, Mr. Durrell began taking summer vacations in the vicinity of Burt Lake, Michigan. While there he learned of the Mill Creek site, which a local paper noted, “most of the county people know as a vast deposit of very pure lime rock, and which efforts have been made in the past to get capital to develop.” As his Cheboygan Limestone Products Company was being organized in 1913, an article in the Chicago publication Rock Products, detailed Mr. Durrell’s plans and described the site, noting, “It is known as the ‘Old Dausman tract.’”

 Mr. Durrell, assisted by his son Lawrence, was busy throughout 1914, hiring workers, purchasing and installing equipment, constructing kilns, and adding a railroad spur off the main line for easy hauling of finished products. Products included three grades of stone for road construction and “agricultural limestone” which was sold throughout lower Michigan.

Rock bluff at the Durrell or Mill Creek Quarry, circa 1915
Rock bluffs at the Durrell or Mill Creek Quarry, circa 1915

Rock bluffs at the Durrell/Mill Creek Quarry c.1915

The November 13, 1914 issue of the Cheboygan Democrat described the growing operation as follows:

A photo of Willis G. Durrell

Willis G. Durrell, 1856-1942

“Mr. Durrell, president of the Cheboygan Limestone Products Co., located near Mackinaw City was in the city Monday and he informs the Democrat that they are installing at the plant new machinery for pulverizing limestone rock for agricultural purposes and as soon as it is in shape they will turn out two car loads of this product a day. It is taking the place of land plaster and vast quantities of it is new being used by farmers. It is especially needed in southern Michigan where they have vast tracts of sour lands and pulverized limestone is being used to bring the land value back… The pulverized limestone will be sold at the quarry at $1.25 per ton, which is reasonable, and already many farmers of this county are preparing to make a test of it on their lands. The company is also engaged in crushing rock for roads and other purposes. They have fifteen men at work now and will gradually increase their force.”

 To maximize production, Durrell purchased a Jeffrey Swing Hammer Pulverizer for use at the quarry. Installed in late 1914, this new technology crushed limestone to a fine powder, eliminating the need for burning lime in kilns. It also produced material for other uses such as top-dressing roads, fluxing stone for glass factories and steel plants, and concrete for cement walks.

 The Durrell, or Mill Creek Quarry, boasted an exceptionally pure product, being 98.71 percent calcium carbonate. Their advertisements in southern Michigan newspapers asked readers, “Why use low grade when pure stuff costs no more?” To verify its composition, 40 samples of Mill Creek limestone were taken in 1915 and examined by scientists at nine laboratories, including the Michigan Geological Survey, University of Michigan, and Emery Institute of Cincinnati.Vintage ad for limestone at Mill Creek Quarry

A vintage ad for the Mill Creek Quarry
A vintage ad for limestone at the Mill Creek Quarry

Advertisements from various Michigan newspapers, 1914-1915

 Eclipsed by larger operations at Afton (near Indian River) and Rogers City, the Mill Creek Quarry ended operations after the 1923 season. From the 1930s through the 1950s, the abandoned quarry pits were featured stops for students to examine limestone strata during field excursions of the Michigan Academy of Science Arts and Letters and the Michigan Basin Geological Society. During this time, the greater portion of Private Claim #334 reverted to State ownership and was incorporated into the Hardwood State Forest, under the jurisdiction of the Department of Natural Resources.

Limestone rocks along Mill Pond Trail Located near today’s grassy picnic area, west of the mill pond, the old quarry pits were filled in before Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park opened in 1984. Archaeologists speculate that footings of the original sawmill may have been obliterated by quarry operations along the stream bed. The fact that other historic remains, including footings of the dam itself, were not destroyed is a fortunate footnote of history. Today, only a pile of rocky rubble remains along the Mill Pond Trail as evidence of a once thriving operation which remains an important part of the Mill Creek story.

Early Lumbering at the Straits of Mackinac

Robert Campbell constructed a water-powered sawmill at Mill Creek about 1790, being the first of its kind in northern Michigan. Prior to the mill, trees were turned into lumber entirely with hand tools for more than 100 years at the Straits of Mackinac.

An artists depiction of a woodchopper from 1804

Felling a tree with an axe
Traite de l’art du Charpentier (1804)

 British troops constructed Fort Mackinac on Mackinac Island from 1779-1781. Some buildings were dismantled at Fort Michilimackinac on the mainland and transported to the island for reconstruction. Without a sawmill nearby, new construction relied on chopping down trees, sawing them into logs, squaring them with axes, and hauling them to a sawpit where boards were produced. A glimpse of this work can be found in the Log Book of His Majesty’s Armed Sloop – Welcome, kept by Captain Alexander Harrow.

 Beginning in 1779, the Welcome sailed between the lower peninsula mainland and Mackinac Island, hauling buildings, supplies, and timber. On November 19, 1780, Captain Harrow wrote, “This morning blowing hard. Discharged our timber and hauled it up along side of the sawpit. This day snowing very hard… All this day snowing very hard.”

 The Welcome remained tied to a wharf on Mackinac Island throughout the winter of 1780-1781. The crew lived on board and worked each day hauling firewood, sawing planks, repairing the ship, and constructing a blockhouse at the fort.

Hewing a log

Hewing a log (1804)

 Turning a tree into lumber by hand is demonstrated each summer at Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park. After a log is fixed in place, one rounded side is hewed with a felling axe, then flattened with a broad axe. After these actions are repeated on each side, a round log is transformed into square timber. If desired, timbers could be flattened further with an adze to produce a finer surface.

Flatteninga beam of wood with a broad axe

Flattening with a broad axe (1804)

 To fashion planks and boards, a squared timber is either placed over an open sawpit dug into the ground or hoisted overhead on large sawhorses. To cut boards, a pit sawyer climbs into the hole to pull down on a large saw, while a top sawyer balances above, pulling up on the blade and guiding a straight cut. Despite the unforgiving rocky terrain, several saw pits were dug on Mackinac Island during the construction of Fort Mackinac.

A sawyer using a pit saw

Sawyers using a pitsaw
English Book of Trades (1824)

 Captain Harrow noted his men were at work sawing boards on Mackinac Island more than 50 days from November 1780 – April 1781. He specifically mentioned saw pits many times, including,

… put a log on the pit to saw” (Nov. 29)

“…hauling logs to the saw pit” (Dec. 27)

“…hauling plank from the saw pit to the blockhouse” (Dec. 29)

“…making a saw pit in the woods and getting an oak log on it” (Jan. 16)

“…digging and making a new saw pit” (Feb. 20)

 Warm spring weather finally released the icebound sloop and the Welcome set sail on April 24, 1781. One of the crew’s tasks was making trips to “The Pinery,” a camp located about 15 miles north of Saint Ignace, near the mouth of the Pine River. There, a team of men cut logs then rafted them together on Lake Huron. These rafts were towed behind the Welcome to Mackinac Island, where they were broken up, individual logs hauled to sawpits, and sawn into boards.

The reconstructed sawmill at Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park in winter

Water-powered sawmill reconstruction at Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park

 A decade after Fort Mackinac was constructed, sawing boards by hand could not keep pace with local demand for lumber. About 1790, Robert Campbell was granted a 640-acre land claim at Mill Creek, the only stream at the Straits powerful enough to operate a water-powered sawmill. Later owned by Michael Dousman, the sawmill at Mill Creek operated for nearly 50 years before closing in 1839.

 When the sawmill at Mill Creek was abandoned, large trees throughout the Straits region had been harvested for nearly 150 years. As young trees grew in their place, they too were eventually cut in subsequent periods of logging. In 1860, William Johnston wrote, “the trees now seen [on Mackinac Island] are the second and third growth.” In a History of Northern Michigan and its People (1912), author Perry Powers detailed extreme clearcutting from the 1860s–1900s in an aptly named section, “Melting of the Pine Forests.” After pine was cut, hardwood harvest followed, with old growth maples and oaks falling under axe and saw. Commercial logging operations took place at Mill Creek through 1923, with the Cadillac Veneer Co. running a portable sawmill to process hardwood logs, pulpwood, cedar, and stove wood.

Stumps at Mill Creek that serve as a reminder of logging done at the site.

Reminders of early logging remain in the forest at Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park

 Careful observers can still find centuries’ old stumps scattered through many Michigan forests. While methods and management techniques have changed, lumbering remains an important industry in the state, which is about 54% forested today. After a century of responsible management, replanting, and growth, the Great Lakes State now boasts more than 20 million forested acres which provide homes for wildlife, opportunities for outdoor recreation, and renewable natural resources.

 This May 6 – September 4, you’re invited to explore early Michigan lumbering at Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park. Experience the thrill of a water-powered sawmill, make sawdust fly with a pitsaw, and explore a vibrant Michigan forest along three miles of woodland trails. Before you leave, you’re invited to try the Adventure Tour to enter the forest canopy, fly like an eagle, and scale the Treetop Discovery Tower Climbing Wall. For information, visit www.mackinacparks.com.

Stereoview of Arch Rock

2021 Mackinac State Historic Parks Collections Acquisitions

A beer stein

A souvenir beer stein

The Grand Hotel Loving Cup

One of the more unique additions: a Grand Hotel Loving Cup

In 2021, the collections committee accessioned 247 objects into the Mackinac Island State Park Commission collection and archives. In addition to several purchases, over 115 items were donated to the collection. Although the summer collections internships were cancelled, the commission was able to hire an intern for the 2021/2022 winter. During the summer, the inventory scheduled for the Mackinaw City historic sites including Colonial Michilimackinac, Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse and Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park was completed. The 2020 winter intern completed the inventory of the archival and postcard collections in the Keith R. Widder Library.

 

 

Ruby mug inscribed by Frank Kriesche

A ruby mug inscribed by Frank Kriesche. 

 

A painting of a horse and buggy by Stanley Bielecky

Painting by Stanley Bielecky

As in 2019, several objects were purchased from the collection of the late Ronald J. Rolando. Watercolors and oil paintings by Stanley Bielecky, photographic prints by William H. Gardiner and artwork of many other artists were selected. A unique Grand Hotel loving cup presented in 1894, a souvenir beer stein and a ruby glass mug inscribed by island artist Frank Kriesche were some of the three-dimensional objects chosen. Archival items included an engraving from Henri Chatelain’s early 18th century atlas showing the industry of the beaver fur trade and manufacture, four island hotel menus printed on birchbark and two late 19th century maps of Mackinac Island.

A capstan cover from the SS Chief Wawatam

Capstan cover from the SS Chief Wawatam. 

This summer, the commission received a call from a gentleman who had one of the brass capstan covers from the railroad ferry SS Chief Wawatam. The ship had two of these covers which were mounted on top of the capstans on the railcar deck. The capstan is a vertical-axled rotating machine developed for use on sailing ships to multiply the pulling force of seamen when hauling ropes, cables and hawsers. The man’s father had been given the cover back in the late 1980s when the ferry was being scrapped and told his son if he did not want it to throw it away. The son did some research and found the commission had a collection of objects from the ship. After discussion with collections staff, he offered to donate the cover to the commission’s collection. This is a unique piece with the ship’s name, company and shipyard that built the ship and manufacturer of the capstan.

 

A note from W. Stewart Woodfill to a guest from Grand Hotel

Letter on Grand Hotel stationary from W. Stewart Woodfill

Bottles from the Bailey National Park Drugstore

Pharmaceutical bottles from the Dr. John R. Bailey & Sons National Park Drugstore

The commission received several other donations including seven pieces of artwork from the Artist-In-Residence program, a letter on Grand Hotel stationary from W. Stewart Woodfill to a patron and a Westfield Company bicycle belonging to islander Ernst Puttkammer. Two pharmaceutical bottles from the Dr. John R. Bailey & Sons National Park Drugstore were donated by an island contractor and original sanctuary light fixtures were donated by Little Stone Church.

Over the years, the commission has acquired several stereoviews showing Mackinac Island buildings, geological formations, scenic views and other subjects. This year four views were purchased showing the New Mackinac Hotel, Arch Rock from below, Robinson’s Folly and Devil’s Kitchen. Stereoview cards were a popular souvenir in the late 19th century. The three-dimensional views could be purchased from many local stores and taken home to be viewed through a stereopticon. P.B. Greene, J.A. Jenney and Webster & Albee were some of the photographers who took the images and published them on Mackinac Island or in cities around the Great Lakes.

Stereoview of Arch Rock

A stereoview of Arch Rock

A stereview of the New Mackinac Hotel

A stereoview of the New Mackinac Hotel.

This is only a small sample of the type of objects Mackinac State Historic Parks collects during a given year.  We are always looking for donations and items to purchase which will help the commission to continue its mission of educating the public about the history of the region.

 

 

 

 

 

 

What’s new for ’22?

As the calendar flips to the new year, Mackinac State Historic Parks staff are busy readying new tours, exhibits, publications, and more.

 2022 marks an important anniversary on Mackinac Island: 200 years since the accident that led to Dr. William Beaumont’s famous experiments. It was in 1822 that a young man named Alexis St. Martin was shot. Dr. Beaumont, the post surgeon at Fort Mackinac, saved his life. This terrible accident set Beaumont and St. Martin on a course of experimentation and discovery that remains crucial to medical science today. At the cost of St. Martin’s permanent injury, Beaumont unlocked the secrets of human digestion. To celebrate this anniversary, the Dr. Beaumont Museum inside the American Fur Co. Store has been completely remodeled, with a new exhibit detailing Beaumont’s experiments and the scientific process.

 “We are excited to update this exhibit as part of our bicentennial celebration of this important event in medical history,” said Steve Brisson, Mackinac State Historic Parks Director.

 As part of the bicentennial, the American Fur Co. Store & Dr. Beaumont Museum will receive an updated logo, and a special event will be held to thank those who helped support the new exhibit, especially Mackinac Associates. The American Fur Co. Store & Dr. Beaumont Museum will open for the 2022 season on June 4.

Up at Fort Mackinac, the Schoolhouse will be completely remodeled and reimagined into the Reading Room, as it would have been known in the 1880s. This immersive space will allow you to explore popular titles of the 1880s, read the latest newspaper or periodical, and get a better understanding of what it was like to be a soldier in the 1880s and why the U.S. Army felt it was a good idea to have reading rooms within its forts. The Reading Room is scheduled to open with the rest of Fort Mackinac, May 3. This exhibit has been made possible in part by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Democracy demands wisdom.

 “This exhibit will introduce our visitors to the immigrant experience in the U.S. Army of the late 19th century, army reforms, and education at Fort Mackinac,” Brisson said.

 Additionally at Fort Mackinac, daily programs and tours will highlight the changing face of Fort Mackinac, the role women played at the fort, Mackinac’s time as a national park, and a look at who exactly made up the army of the 1880s. The popular drill and rifle firing program, which has been removed from the schedule due to Covid concerns the past two years, will return, and guests can expect rifle and cannon firing demonstrations throughout the day. The Tea Room at Fort Mackinac, operated by Grand Hotel, will feature new menu items for the 2022 season, and, as always, will feature one of the most stunning views in Michigan. One way to make a visit to Fort Mackinac the most memorable is to fire the opening cannon salute.

 Elsewhere on Mackinac Island, the McGulpin House, which has been shuttered the past two seasons due to the Covid-19 pandemic, will reopen for the 2022 season from June 4-August 21. The McGulpin House is one of the oldest residential structures on the island, and an excellent and rare example of early French Canadian domestic architecture. Admission is included with a Fort Mackinac or Historic Downtown Mackinac ticket.

 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 – “Mackinac Journeys.” Every Mackinac journey is unique. From lifelong residents to the novice first-timer, the journey to, around, and from Mackinac is always memorable. The gallery will be on display from May 3 – October 9. 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. Finally, the Kids’ Art Studio at The Richard and Jane Manoogian Mackinac Art Museum is scheduled to return for 2022.

 Special events at Fort Mackinac and Mackinac Island include the Fort2Fort Five Mile Challenge May 14, the annual Vintage Base Ball game July 23, special activities for July 4, special history evening programs including a guided tour of Historic Downtown Mackinac, a “Then and Now” program at Fort Mackinac, an evening exploring Fort Mackinac archaeological history, special nature and birdwatching tours, and meteor and full moon evenings at Fort Holmes. More information can be found at mackinacparks.com/events.

 Every year at Colonial Michilimackinac, in Mackinaw City, we take a deeper look into a year of the American Revolution. For 2022 we’re looking at 1779, as the revolution continued on. Special tours and programs will take place throughout the summer highlighting the year.

 One guest, every day, has the opportunity to fire all four black powder weapon Colonial 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 May 4 -October 6.

Archaeology at Colonial Michilimackinac Mackinac State Historic Parks’ archaeology program will enter its 64th season in 2022. 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.

 Special events at Colonial Michilimackinac include exhilarating “Fire at Night” programs, deep dives into Michilimackinac’s maritime history, a look at the unreconstructed buildings of Michilimackinac, a celebration of the King’s Birth-day on June 4, Movies by the Bridge, the ever-popular Fort Fright, and A Colonial Christmas.

 The ongoing restoration of Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse continues in 2022, as an oil house will be reconstructed on the property. 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. Throughout the day guides will sound the Fog Signal Whistle and provide tours of the lighthouse tower.

 Over at Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park, the Adventure Tour will return to full operation for the 2022 season, including the climbing wall. Demonstrations of the sawpit and sawmill will take place throughout the day, in addition to a new “Farming at Mill Creek” program. This new program will explore 19th century farming at Mill Creek. Sowing, flailing, and grinding grain, cutting firewood, growing gardens, and tending livestock are just some of the activities that took place there from 1790-1840. Guests are encouraged to roll up their sleeves and take part in life beyond the sawmill at Mill Creek.

 New nature programs will also be added to the daily schedule, allowing guests to meet a naturalist at the picnic area for a 30-minute program that will feature something for all ages. Topics will vary and may include a guided nature walk, stories, and fun activities focused on plants and animals living at Historic Mill Creek.

 Four new publications will be released in 2022. A new souvenir book about Arch Rock, by park naturalist Kyle Bagnall, will be released to coincide with a new nature center slated to be constructed at Arch Rock. An addition to the Archaeological Completion Report Series, by James Dunnigan concerning the Michilimackinac suburbs, will be available later in 2022. Two new vignettes will also be published: one focusing on the Grenadiers’ Mutiny of 1780, by Chief Curator Craig Wilson; and the other on Mackinac Island’s historic base ball team, the Never Sweats, by former director Phil Porter.

 “We are grateful to be able to move forward with numerous new initiatives and upgrades this year,” Brisson said.

 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. Visit mackinacparks.com for a complete listing of updates and projects at Mackinac State Historic Parks. Fort Mackinac, the Biddle House, featuring the Mackinac Island Native American Museum, Benjamin Blacksmith Shop, and The Richard and Jane Manoogian Mackinac Art Museum open May 3, Colonial Michilimackinac May 4, Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse May 5, and Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park May 6.

For the Reading Room exhibit at Fort Mackinac: “Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this exhibit, do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.”

Autumn Berries of the North Woods

“On the 20th of September [1835] the snow fell one inch, with quite a severe frost. The bushes were still loaded with whortleberries.”   – Benjamin O. Williams

In late September 1835, Lieutenant Benjamin Poole was completing an arduous months-long survey for the U.S. Army Corps of Topographical Engineers. His crew’s mission was to survey a proposed military road from Saginaw to Mackinac, with a terminus at Dousman’s Saw Mill (now Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park).

Lowbush Blueberry

Poole’s survey crew was guided by brothers Benjamin O. and Alpheus F. Williams on a route “through a trackless wilderness nearly two hundred miles in extent, about which nothing was known, but that it presented obstacles of an unusually formidable character.” In short, the crew encountered long stretches of cedar swamps, shaking bogs, and alder thickets, ran out of provisions, and nearly starved. In his official report, written at Detroit on September 30, 1835, Poole admitted, “The assistants were frequently employed for days, and even weeks, in creeping through thickets and windfalls, where walking was quite out of the question.”

Much of what isn’t included in the official report was later recalled by B.O. Williams in a vivid account read before the Michigan Pioneer Society in February 1878. He wrote, “The density of some portions of the spruce, fir, and cedar lands exceeded any tropical forest I have ever seen…” His account follows their crew as they trek through the wilderness in moccasined feet, enduring swarms of gnats and mosquitoes, suffering illness and injury, and were saved from near starvation after stumbling upon “whortleberries [bilberries or blueberries] in great abundance.” Thankfully, shaking bogs and cedar swamps are excellent places to find many species of wild berries. Yet too much of a good thing caused a different digestive dilemma, as Williams noted, “eating whortleberries had affected some of the men unfavorably.”

As flowering plants bear fruit in early autumn, many species of wild berries ripen, each containing seeds to perpetuate a new generation of plants. While some berries are edible by people, others are inedible or even toxic to humans. Instead, most are best enjoyed with a photograph and left to the birds, squirrels, and other creatures of the north woods as they prepare to migrate south or endure the long, cold months of winter. The berries that follow were all photographed along the trails at Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park.

Common Chokecherry

Bluebead Lily

Western Poison Ivy

Starry False Solomon’s Seal

Hawthorn

Staghorn Sumac

Jack-in-the-Pulpit

Riverbank Grape

Wild Rose

Common False Solomon’s Seal

Canada Mayflower

White Baneberry (Doll’s Eyes)

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!

Summer Birds of Mill Creek

Blackburnian Warbler, Alexander Wilson (1808)

  As spring turns to summer, the woods of Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park are alive with birdsong. By mid-June, year-round residents of the park, such as black-capped chickadees, nuthatches, and tufted titmice, have been singing since winter snow gave way to spring wildflowers. Summer residents, many which migrated north for thousands of miles, arrive “finely tuned” and ready to put on a show as they attract mates and defend nesting territories.

  The official wildlife checklist of Mill Creek includes about 130 species of birds, while the list for Mackinac Island contains 190 varieties. Both parks consist of varied habitats, including Lake Huron shoreline, creeks and streams, swamps, open meadows, and forests of conifers and hardwoods.

Robert Ridgeway (1875)

  Finding birds at Mill Creek begins as soon as you step out of your car. Although the tree canopy is filled with green, listen closely for musical notes floating in the breeze. In the pines growing near the visitor’s center, you may hear a “shrill, thin song, which runs up the scale to end in a high z.” If so, pause and search for a blackburnian warbler hunting for insects among the branches. Catching a glimpse of a male’s flame-orange throat may just take your breath away! As they prefer evergreens for nesting, this species was once known as the “hemlock warbler.”

Ernest Thompson Seton (1901)

  Stop for a trail map as you make your way into the park. Next, follow the sound of rushing water and you’ll soon discover Mill Creek. Sitting near the mill pond, patient watchers may enjoy a visit from a belted kingfisher as it scans for brook trout. Kingfishers are memorable birds, with a dry, rattling call that announces their presence long before they fly into view. Occasionally, they even perch on the zip line, as if teasing participants while they glide over the creek. Unlike most birds, female kingfishers are more colorful than males, as they wear a chestnut-brown “necklace” while their mate sports a simple bluish band across their chest.

Thomas G. Gentry (1882)

  As you head into the woods, it’s nearly impossible to avoid an encounter with an American redstart. In 1893, Mackinac Island resident and researcher, Stewart E. White, wrote this was “the most characteristic bird of the island. It occurs in such amazing abundance that it seems as if every tree contained one of these birds.” Thankfully, such words still ring true today as this flashy black, orange and white warbler is still one of our most common summer residents. Plumage of females and immature males consists of light brown tones with yellow highlights.

  Relentlessly persistent, a restart’s repetitive, mellow song begins as soon as they arrive in May and lasts through August. This woodland songster sings for weeks on end, seemingly, as one early 20th century author noted, “to the accompaniment of his own echo.”

  As you continue down the trail, the species of birds you may encounter numbers in the dozens. Almost assuredly, you’ll hear the insistent, rambling song of the red-eyed vireo, the plaintive “peee-weee” call of the eastern wood peewee, and the rapid staccato of “teacher-teacher-TEACHER” from the tiny ovenbird, ringing through the forest. Venture out in the morning or evening for a chance to hear the ethereal, flute-like call of a wood thrush, perhaps the most magical song of the North Woods.

Mark Catesby (1754)

  If you don’t encounter one of our six resident woodpecker species, you’re almost certain to find evidence of their handiwork, hammering trees for insects beneath the bark. Especially watch for huge, rectangular cavities excavated by the crow-sized pileated woodpecker and small, regular rows of “sap wells” chiseled by yellow-bellied sapsuckers. Sapsuckers maintain wells to drink sap that drips out, but more importantly to capture insects that become trapped in sweet liquid that seeps from the tree. Sap wells in dead wood are evidence of a previous season’s efforts.

  No matter where you wander, watch and listen for birds all around you, each of which varies in color, shape, song, size, habits and habitats. Ancestors of many special species found homes in the forest of Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park long before people arrived on the scene. While some are suited to the creek or frequent the shore of a beaver pond, others prefer poking through leaf-litter on the forest floor. Some nearly never leave the tree canopy high above, while others may zip past you on their way to pick a sunflower seed from a bird feeder.

  During your visit, be sure to sit and scan the summer sky. Every day, someone spots a bald eagle floating effortlessly on the wind, high above the forest canopy. As you watch an eagle soar, consider it may also be watching you, with eyesight sharper than its talons. As it finally leaves your view, let your imagination follow into the unknown. At Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park, the feathered residents of Mackinac’s North Woods are waiting. Here you’ll discover ducks on the mill pond, friendly chickadees at the feeder, tiny hummingbirds sipping nectar, and the majestic symbol of our nation soaring over the Great Lakes. We all hope to see you soon.

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.

Porcupines of the North Woods

Porcupine quillwork on a birch bark container, depicting a beaver.

  For thousands of years, Native Americans of the Great Lakes region spent the cold, dark months of winter engaged in hunting and trapping, ice fishing, mending snowshoes, and making things around the hearth fire. Before glass trade beads became available, women perfected the art of decorating clothing, baskets, bags, and other items with dyed porcupine quills. Quillwork takes patience, skill and practice, and has been taught by parents to their children for many generations.

A porcupine curls into a ball before taking a nap at the tip of a branch, high up in a tree.

  Winter is also a traditional season for storytelling. In the Ojibwe culture, certain stories are only meant to be shared when there is snow on the ground. One of these tells the tale of how a clever porcupine, originally covered by just a coat of thick fur, outsmarted a hungry black bear. After placing hawthorn branches with sharp thorns on his back, porcupine rolled into a ball just as bear sprang upon him, offering a spiky surprise. When Nanabozho learned of this clever trick, he took some branches from a hawthorn tree and peeled off the bark until their spines were white. After putting clay all over porcupine’s back, Nanabozho stuck in the thorns, one by one, until it was completely covered. He then made this a permanent part of porcupine’s skin so he and his descendants would always be protected from their enemies.

  Most visitors to Mackinac State Historic Parks learn a great deal about beavers. Beaver pelts fueled the fur trade for centuries, providing jobs for Native Americans, voyageurs, merchants, soldiers and civilians. Guests at Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park can even hike the trails to search for fresh signs of beaver activity and look for their dam built across Mill Creek. Only humans alter the landscape more dramatically than this industrious mammal, the largest rodent of North America.

Porcupines usually rest during the day. Activity is mostly nocturnal (at night) or crepuscular (during twilight hours).

  Few people realize that Mill Creek is also home to the second largest rodent on the continent, the North American Porcupine. Growing up to 30 pounds and more than two feet long, a porcupine can live up to 10 years. Porcupines are slow, secretive, and solitary, usually seen sleeping at the top of a tree or walking warily across a road.

  A porcupine is truly amazing in many ways, particularly due to its needle-sharp, barbed quills, which are actually modified hairs. A fully-grown porcupine has more than 30,000 quills, which are loosely attached to muscles just beneath the skin. Despite a popular myth, porcupines cannot throw or shoot their quills. When threatened, they turn their back to an attacker and quickly flick their tail, driving quills into the toughest flesh. As quill tips are barbed like a fishhook, they are very painful and difficult to remove.

  Porcupines can be found many places in the woods of Michigan. As you hike, watch for signs such as chewed tree trunks or branches, as inner bark is especially sought after in the winter months as a source of food. Porcupines even chew on buildings and trail signs looking for salt, glue or paint, and will even seek out sweat residue left on wooden tool handles. Because they are rodents, a porcupine’s teeth continually grow, just like a mouse or beaver’s do. With binoculars or a camera, look closely to see if you can spot the orange coating on their teeth, which is an iron-rich coating of enamel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  Visitors to Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park can learn about porcupines and other animals of the north woods during naturalist programs throughout the season, which begins on May 7. To get a treetop view, also join us on an Adventure Tour and climb the steps of the Treetop Discovery Tower. Who knows, you might even see eye-to-eye with a porcupine! Tickets can be purchased here.