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.

The King’s Birthday

The King’s Birthday

A 1794 illustration of King George, complete with lyrics to “God Save the King.” The song was first published in 1744 and is today the national anthem of the United Kingdom. Courtesy Anne S.K. Brown Military Collections, Brown University Library

An annual highlight during the late 18th century, King George III’s birthday on June 4 provided British residents of Michilimackinac, as well as the rest of the British empire, an opportunity to celebrate in style. Every year, troops around the world fired special salutes to mark the King’s birth, and civilians and soldiers held parties to toast His Majesty’s health. (more…)

A New Season

A New Season

Site almost ready to begin excavation for the season

The end of May brings rain, flowers, insects, and archaeology. While next year will be the 60th anniversary of archaeology at Michilimackinac, this year is the 60th season. We will be back for our eleventh season of excavation at House E of the Southeast Rowhouse. Over the past eleven summers we have excavated the south wall, a root cellar, and chimney collapse, and found thousands of artifacts used by the fur traders who lived here. Highlights can be seen in previous blog posts, and include many types of ceramics, personal adornment items such as cufflinks, buttons and rings, an intact rosary, an intact pocket knife, and two shutter hinges. This summer we plan to excavate deeper in the cellar and expose more of the interior wall exposed last summer.

Nail, straight pin, and window glass recovered from slump

Over the past week, we have removed the straw and plastic that protected the site over the winter, re-established the grid strings we use to map the site, and cleaned up dirt that slumped from the wall of the excavation pit during the winter. Excavation will be taking place seven days a week, weather permitting, from June 5 through August 25. Admission to Colonial Michilimackinac includes the opportunity to watch history being discovered.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt Album

Franklin Delano Roosevelt Album

Efforts to bring the president to Mackinac began with President Taft in 1911 and again with President Coolidge in 1927, the latter including an album of photographs.  This album is an invitation from the State of Michigan to convince President Roosevelt to make Mackinac Island the “summer White House.”  This particular specimen was probably part of a 1933 resolution by the legislature inviting President Roosevelt to vacation at Mackinac Island.  It is comprised of photographs of Mackinac Island, a hand-tooled leather cover, original renderings of the obverse and reverse of the federal seal, and a presentation statement.  All were done by members of the art department at Michigan State Prison in Jackson with photos by the Department of Conservation.  It is not clear if the album was ever presented, note that the signature lines are unfilled.  It does not appear to be a copy (all text, including the photo captions and the seals are hand drawn).  The Franklin D. Roosevelt Library has no record of such an album or invitation being made to Roosevelt.  It was rescued from an office building fire in 1951.  A smaller album of twelve photographs of Mackinac Island with a similar invitation was presented to Mrs. Roosevelt by Governor Comstock in 1934.

The album is on exhibit at the Richard & Jane Manoogian Mackinac Art Museum.

Archaeology Update: Winter Finds

Archaeology Update: Winter Finds

Artifacts drying on trays in lab

Although excavation ended at Michilimackinac in August, archaeological research continues year-‘round. All of the artifacts recovered during the field season must be washed, labeled with a number identifying the context from which they came, identified, counted or weighed, and stored in the Petersen Center. All of the catalog information is entered into the ARGUS collections database. These steps all take time. Washing and labeling, which begins on rainy days in the summer, was completed in October.  Cataloging and data entry were completed in February, and storage in March. (more…)

Lost Hotels of Mackinac: St. Cloud Place

Lost Hotels of Mackinac: St. Cloud Place

The original St. Cloud, ca. 1875

Located just a few doors from Island House hotel, nearly at the corner of Bogan Lane, is St. Cloud Place. Since acquired by the Chippewa Hotel in 1962 it has been used as a dormitory for summer staff. However, for most of the years from the mid-1870s to 1962 it served as both a private home and boarding house. An often overlooked fact of the building’s history is that it is one of two “St. Cloud” buildings to occupy the site. (more…)

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…)