The Vacationland Auto Ferry in the icy Straits of Mackinac.

Michigan State Highway Ferries 100th Anniversary

The Sainte Ignace auto ferry at a dock.

The Sainte Ignace

This summer marked the 100th anniversary of the Michigan State Highway ferry service going into operation. The service was started to get automobiles and their drivers across the Straits of Mackinac in a timely fashion. Prior to the service being instituted, the Mackinac Transportation Company and their two railroad car ferries, Chief Wawatam and Sainte Marie carried automobiles across when possible. In 1917 when the first automobiles were taken across, it cost $40 and the car had to be loaded on a railway flat car. On top of that, the automobile had to be drained of gasoline due to maritime regulations. By the early 1920’s, several drivers had complained to Governor Alex Groesbeck, who asked legislators to approve a state-run ferry.

The Ariel auto ferry

The Ariel

The Mackinaw City Auto Ferry

The Mackinaw City

 The first ship purchased by the state was the Ariel which could haul 20 automobiles. On August 6, 1923, she made her first trip and by November when the season ended she had carried around 10,000 cars. The highway department purchased two more vessels that year, the Colonel Pond and Colonel Card which became the Sainte Ignace and Mackinaw City. Along with the purchase of ships, the state bought a dock in St. Ignace and adapted part of the railroad dock in Mackinaw City to load and unload the cars. By 1925, the state had purchased shoreline property in Mackinaw City and had a 1,400-foot causeway built. The state ordered its first ferry in 1927 and it was christened, The Straits of Mackinac, which could carry 50 cars.

The City of Cheboygan Auto Ferry on the water.

The City of Cheboygan

The City of Munising auto ferry.

The City of Munising

 During the 1930’s, the highway department improved the docks on both sides of the straits by making them bigger for the increasing demand in auto traffic. Restrooms, large parking lots for waiting motorists and elevators for lifting cars to the second deck of the ferries were constructed. More ferries were added to the fleet; instead of building new ships, unused Lake Michigan railroad ferries were acquired. The first was the Ann Arbor No. 4 which became the City of Cheboygan in 1937. One year later the Pere Marquette No. 20 was purchased and became the City of Munising. Rounding out the decade was the addition of the Pere Marquette No. 17 which became the City of Petoskey in 1940.

The City of Petoskey Auto Ferry on the water.

The City of Petoskey

 Rationing of gasoline and tires during World War II saw most of the ferries sitting idle but the post-war saw an increase in crossings. Three of the ships were altered by adding seagates to the bow allowing for faster loading and unloading. In 1948, the ferry service celebrated its 25th anniversary with several events including a parade, coronation ball, swimming race to Mackinac Island and a special moonlight cruise aboard The Straits of Mackinac. One of the highlights was models of the new icebreaking ferry the state proposed to build. One year later, construction began on the 360-foot-long, diesel-powered Vacationland. The ship had pilothouses and double propellors on both ends and could carry 150 automobiles.

 The Vacationland arrived in St. Ignace January 12, 1952 and immediately began hauling cars across. Due to her size and power plant, new slips were constructed in St. Ignace and Mackinaw City along with storage tanks to supply the ship with diesel and lubricating oil. As the ship began her service, plans were underway to construction a new way to cross the straits. In 1954, funds were obtained to start construction of the Mackinac Bridge which was completed in 1957. One of the stipulations of construction was that the highway ferries would stop running the day the bridge opened. The ferries were eventually sold, the City of Cheboygan and City of Munising being used to store and ship potatoes from Washington Island, Wisconsin. The City of Petoskey was sold for scrap and The Straits of Mackinac ferried tourists to Mackinac Island. She was the last surviving ferry eventually being sunk as a dive site off Chicago in 2005.

The Vacationland Auto Ferry in the icy Straits of Mackinac.

The Vacationland

 The Vacationland was sold and renamed Jack Dalton hauling trucks between Detroit and Cleveland. The venture lasted only a few months and the state repossessed the ship after failed payments. The vessel was sold again to North-South Navigation Company in 1961 and renamed Pere Nouvel. She returned to her role as an automobile ferry crossing the St. Lawrence River between Rimouski and Baie Comeau, Quebec. In 1967, she sailed to the West Coast of Canada serving British Columbia as the Sunshine Coast Queen until 1977. After an attempt to make her an oil drilling support ship on Alaska’s North Slope, she was sold to a company in Washington for scrap. She was to be towed to China but on December 3, 1987, the tow ran into an early winter storm and the ship began to take on water. The ship sank in the Pacific Ocean about 100 miles offshore in deep water with no loss of life.

The archaeological pit filled in with a tarp and hay bales.

2023 Archaeology Field Season Wrap-Up

The archaeological pit filled in with a tarp and hay bales.

The site packed for the winter.

The 65th season of archaeological excavation at Michilimackinac wrapped up August 24 and the site is now secured for the winter. This was our 17th season of work on House E of the Southeast Rowhouse.

 The most interesting finds of the second half of the field season were remnants of the house itself. The house was burned when the community relocated to Mackinac Island in 1781. The charred wood of the house was partially preserved in the sandy soil the fort was built on.

The central cellar of House E of the Southwest Rowhouse

The central cellar.

Southeast cellar of House E of the Southeast Rowhouse at Colonial Michilimackinac.

Remnants of the walls and a floorboard in the southeast cellar.

 One of the defining features of this house is its two cellars. Most of the central cellar (except a portion of the northwest corner) is now five and a half feet deep. Remnants of the burned wall posts can be seen along the edges of the gray sand cellar deposit in the center of the image. The eastern half of the central cellar was also better defined. This cellar had plank walls and remnants of the walls and a floorboard were exposed this season.

A trench at the north wall of House E of the Southwest Rowhouse at Colonial Michilimackinac.

Humic stains from the north wall of the house (the dark soil at the top of the image. 

View along the north wall of House E of the Southeast Rowhouse at Colonial Michilimackinac.

View of the north wall with the tree stump at the back. 

 We were able to identify humic stains from the north wall of the house (the dark soil at the top of the image). Unfortunately we also confirmed that the tree stump we have been working around is right in the center of the east end of the wall trench. In the image you can see how the stump is in line with the reconstructed house wall of another unit of the rowhouse and the dark wall trench stain at the bottom of the image. The tree was not there when the house was; it was planted around 1910 shortly after Michilimackinac became Michigan’s second state park. The roots do not seem to have grown around artifacts, rather they displaced artifacts as they grew.

 Stay tuned to the MSHP blog to see what interesting things the archaeologists might discover in the lab this winter as the season’s artifacts are cleaned and better identified.

U.S. Army Forage Cap and Dress Helmet

Inspection at Fort Mackinac with soldiers in dress uniform.

The public interacts with our interpretive staff every day, asking questions about the island, fort, and the way soldiers stationed at Fort Mackinac lived when it was active between the years of 1780-1895. One of the main draws, other than the rifle and cannon demonstrations, are the tours, given by interpreters seen in two types of uniforms: the everyday “undress” uniform and the more elaborate “dress” uniform. One of the unique aspects of Fort Mackinac in the 1880s is the balance between its soldiers serving in both military and public facing capacities, which almost perfectly matches the roles of their different uniforms. A big part of how Mackinac State Historic Parks makes sure to best tell the stories of these uniforms, and the soldiers that wore them, is though our collections. Headgear, especially for the uniforms that are worn at the fort, are vital to the overall story that the park tells the public. Two specific items that embody these uniforms are the forage cap and dress helmet.

Forage Cap

 The forage cap, or the wool, leather brimmed cap with unit brass on the front, is an evolution from the forage cap from the Civil War. Mostly worn by officers until 1872, when the whole army adopted them, these vital pieces of a uniform were more commonly seen used during daily duties in and around the fort. For more formal occasions, such as when the public was let in the fort several times a week, they had a different uniform: the dress uniform. This consisted of a frock coat, white gloves, dress collar, and the dress helmet. This helmet had both Prussian and British influences, with a brass eagle plate on the front, and a spike on top.

Dress Helmet

 Both hats are unique in the way they help portray military life in the 1880s, as well as being some of the most recognizable items when the public comes to the fort. Having these items in our collections, furthermore, establishes the importance of public interaction with museums and their objects. Museum collections are often referenced for research, both public and private, and these hats hold significant value for those who want to learn more about the soldiers at Fort Mackinac. Items so easily identifiable and personal, such as these hats, aid in making that connection from the past to the present day, as these are the physical objects used daily by the people who served in the army in the 1880s.

A work party at Fort Mackinac.

 Fort Mackinac, one of our premier sites, benefits from having several items in our collections pertaining to it and the soldiers that were there. Being able to have physical representations from that era, which visitors see daily, is history translated to the present day. They allow the public to get a look at our collections every day, but in the form of a personal aspect, through our interpreters. This makes the park a living representation of its objects, with the interpreters discussing their importance every day, and sharing their legacy with a wider audience. The kepi and dress headgear are vital to the park to tell these stories, as they are an iconic part of the uniform, fort, and overall encompass a crucial period in the islands’ history.

A view showing Main Street on Mackinac Island looking south.

Preservation: Puzzle Pieces to the Past

Mackinac Island is endearingly cherished among visitors for its placid atmosphere that seemingly evades the changing tides of time. From the Anishinaabek belief that tells the story of Mackinac as Earth’s origin land to the cinematic portrayal of time travel set on Mackinac in Somewhere in Time to horse-drawn drays carrying Amazon packages, the island possesses an unyielding autonomy from the effects of time. Consequently, Mackinac Island demonstrates a unique propensity for preservation and it is the Mackinac State Historic Park’s honored duty to uphold the island’s tradition of conservation. An integral component of this responsibility are the park collections. By preserving artifacts, archives, and material culture, the collection pieces together the past to narrate Mackinac Island’s story. While seemingly trivial to a visitor’s Mackinac experience, the collection is fundamental to ensuring that the island’s treasured history is commemorated for the enjoyment of all for years to come. Yet this commitment to preserve Mackinac Island for generational enjoyment is not a modern concept.

A view showing Main Street on Mackinac Island looking south.

William H. Gardiner’s photo of Main Street on Mackinac Island. 

 In 1896, photographer William H. Gardiner established a “Photo and Art Studio” aimed at penetrating the souvenir market that emerged as a direct result of the island’s burgeoning tourism industry. Gardiner initially set up shop on the corner of Main and Fort Streets until relocating next door above Fenton’s Bazaar; today both studio spaces constitute Doud’s Market. Gardiner captured the essence of Mackinac Island and preserved its visual history through his photography. His products included keepsakes, such as postcards, hand-tinted photos, and portraits, that memorialized a visitor’s time spent on the island. Gardiner’s photos depict the island’s most unique and treasured attractions, such as Arch Rock, Sugar Loaf Rock, and Main Street. Similar to the collection’s commitment to conservation, Gardiner’s images preserve special moments in Mackinac’s history for reminiscing and nostalgic wonder. The collection and Gardiner’s parallel dedication to preservation can be most explicitly seen in one of Gardiner’s downtown depictions.

Fenton's Bazaar on Mackinac Island.

Fenton’s Bazaar, the location of Gardiner’s studio. 

 At the beginning of the twentieth century, Gardiner stepped out on the balcony of his studio and, struck with inspiration from Mackinac’s vivacious downtown, immortalized a buzzing afternoon on Main Street. This image excellently captures the key components to a day on Mackinac, including a car-less atmosphere, military tradition, and bustling businesses. Some of the storefronts highlighted in the image are Fenton’s Bazaar and Bailey’s Drug Store. These businesses were pillars of Mackinac’s economy around the turn of the century. Dr. Bailey, the son of the surgeon general at Fort Mackinac, served his community as the assisting surgeon and pharmacist, ensuring the health and longevity of Mackinac’s people. Fenton’s Bazaar was a one-stop shop for soldiers, islanders, and visitors alike for all the necessities for life on the island; Fenton’s even introduced the island’s first soda fountain! Fortunately, these businesses and their immense impact on Mackinac’s daily life are remembered beyond Gardiner’s image.

Bailey's Drug Store on Mackinac Island.

Bailey’s Drug Store.

 The collection has preserved numerous Bailey’s Drug Store bottles, which represent Dr. Bailey’s committed service and contribution to Mackinac’s medical history. Additionally, the collection possesses an American flag that flew above Fenton’s Bazaar. This flag, which watched over Main Street and witnessed the ebbing and flowing of countless visitors, encapsulates Mackinac’s continued reputation as “America’s Summer Place.” Also in the collection is an image of downtown that is a near copy to Gardiner’s aforementioned photograph. Yet the picture was taken decades after Gardiner’s and is the work of another artist. Taken from the same angle, this picture illustrates a similarly hurried downtown speckled with visitors, carriages, and storefronts. Comparing this image to Gardiner’s, the atmosphere of downtown remains unchanged, yet the storefronts have clearly evolved. For instance, the New Murray stands as the latest addition to the collection of hotels, souvenir shops, and restaurants that line Main Street. Meanwhile, a stroll down Main Street today will still evoke the same timeless ambience found in Gardiner’s image.

Another image of Main Street on Mackinac Island looking south.

Looking down Main Street. 

 Although shop signs have changed, Mackinac’s timeless energy endures. Similar to how Gardiner captured the views of Mackinac to commemorate a visitor’s special experience, the collection plays a crucial role in maintaining Mackinac Island’s abiding charm. Yet preserving history goes far beyond the sweet nostalgia of family vacation postcards. The collection pieces together the past like a puzzle by linking artifacts to moments somewhere in time in order to write the story of the island for the enjoyment of generations to come.

 

A covered cave on Mackinac Island

Mysterious Mackinac Caverns

“It is absolutely beyond my power in a letter like this to give you a proper delineation of the objects seen in this extraordinary cave.” J.M.W.  (July 1855)

An unknown cave in a black and white photo taken on Mackinac Island

Photo of unknown Mackinac cave by C.E. Kelso, named “Hanging Rocks” in Legendary Lore of Mackinac (1901)

 The natural wonders of Mackinac Island have drawn people to its rocky shores for thousands of years. Described as “one mass of limestone,” the island first emerged after the last ice age, about 11,000 years ago. Post-glacial lakes gradually sculpted Mackinac’s durable breccia, forming arches, sea stacks, cliffs, and caves. Features such as Arch Rock, Sugar Loaf, and Skull Cave, have been renowned for centuries and are visited often.

 Just beneath the surface, however, are stories of fantastic discoveries, now long forgotten. While the Musical Well once captivated listeners, its tunes had fallen silent by 1845. Scott’s Cave, where “the giant Goliath might stand erect,” was destroyed in the early 1950s. Fairy Arch has fallen and Wishing Spring no longer invites visitors to its “fragrant, fairy grotto.”

 Most enticing of all are tales of large caverns beneath the island’s surface. In 1892, Harold Corbusier, son of the post surgeon, explored a winding cavern with a small party, including several soldiers. With the aid of ropes, they were lowered about 20 feet, making their way to “a large chamber with branches leading away in different directions.”

“Another Mammoth Cave Discovered”

A painting of Mackinac Island with Fort Mackinac prominently shown.

Cropped portion of “View of the Town of Mackinaw,” first printed in May 1855. Likely drawn by Major Thomas Williams, 4th Artillery Regiment

 The greatest discovery reportedly occurred in July 1855, when sensational news broke of a newly-discovered cavern on Mackinac Island. The original account was penned by J.M.W., a correspondent of the Detroit Tribune. Reprinted in newspapers from coast-to-coast, the find was often compared to Mammoth Cave in Kentucky.

 “The day before yesterday, a tremendous storm sprang up,” he wrote, “accompanied by the fiercest thunder and lightning I ever witnessed … Streams ran through the streets, tearing them in ridges; and the little board race at the Garrison gate roared and threw the spray like a young cataract; rocks, stones, and gravel were displaced in quantities from the brow of the bluff.

 The following morning, boys in going along the base of the Fort hill, east of their stables, found that several large masses of rock had been displaced by the rain and rolled down from their original beds. One large one was noticed, having left an opening of some 4 feet by 10. Some of the boldest of the boys immediately explored as far as the light would admit. The report spread far and near and many people soon came and examined the entrance. Finally, a party of gentlemen and ladies was organized to explore the opening the following morning …

 The party of ladies and gentlemen before alluded to, having provided themselves with lights, cords, arms and eatables, entered the new-found opening. The entrance is small, not being over four feet high by ten feet in width, descending gradually after passing through a long and rather narrow alley surrounded on every side by stalactites and small crystals of calcareous spar, which glittered in the torch-lights like diamonds. We after some time entered a dome or amphitheater; we stood transfixed in astonishment. The dome is 350 feet in length by 240 in width, and in most places 180 feet in hight [sic.]; the whole lit up by our numerous torches, yielded a splendor and beauty not to be described … On the parade ground north-east of the fort a cannon was discharged, and a slight tremulous jar was felt, accompanied with a very faint rumbling sound.

A drawing of the entrance of Scott's Cave.

Scott’s Cave entrance, drawn by Alfred Waud in 1853

 After passing through alleys, looking down here and there into a deep abyss, and viewing in haste temples, palaces and chambers, and having also stepped over a small swift stream of cold clear water, we finally, after some slight work, guided by a dim light in front of us, excavated a place large enough for one to pass through, and found ourselves in Capt. Scates’s [Scott’s] Cave; thence we stepped into the beech and maple grove which surrounds that opening; from here we walked to Dousman’s farm-house, where the ladies found carriages for home. The time occupied was five hours, and the computed distance traveled in the cave was a trifle over three miles.

 It is absolutely beyond my power in a letter like this to give you a proper delineation of the objects seen in this extraordinary cave. If the first chamber through which we passed excelled in splendor, beauty and brilliancy of the diamond ornaments, produced by the lights and torches, they were thrown far in the back ground by the superior grandeur and sublimity of the apartments which we subsequently passed after reaching the first amphitheater. More of this when I shall have again the pleasure of seeing you.”

Unsolved Mystery

 Could this cavern of wonders really exist on Mackinac Island? Was this story an accurate account, a fanciful exaggeration, or even fabricated entirely? Elsewhere, J.M.W. noted, “The inhabitants and strangers, as I am informed, say that large caves must and do exist, from the mumbling sounds heard when heavy carriages pass over the island. Scull Cave, [Scott’s] Cave and Devil’s Cave are renowned, which are believed now to be outlets of others of greater magnitude.”

A covered cave on Mackinac Island

Entrance to Mackinac’s underground world

 This theory was supported by Eleanor Bussell in “The Story of Mackinac’s Caves,” from the July 8, 1948, edition of The Island News. One resident she interviewed claimed there were once up to 29 caves on the island. She wrote, “One particular place known as Hell-Hole Cave located on the path along the West Bluff was covered over years ago. If this old story is correct, it must have been the only subterranean cave on the Island.”

 As you explore the island’s wild side, imagine hidden wonders which lie beneath your feet, deep below the rocky surface. Perhaps a future rain storm or winter rock slide will uncover the entrance of a new marvel under the Wonderful Isle, making new headlines in the 21st century.

A logo for the 125th anniversary of the Mackinac Island Automobile Ban.

Celebrating 125 Years of Mackinac Island’s Automobile Ban

A logo for the 125th anniversary of the Mackinac Island Automobile Ban.

Celebrating 125 years!

There are so many things that make Mackinac Island special. A cannon blast coming from the Revolutionary War-era fort every morning to wake the island up. The smell of fudge tempting you as walk down Main Street. The natural beauty that is Arch Rock. Lilacs bursting throughout the island in early June.

 However, it’s the distinct lack of something that most people might point to as being the thing that makes the island special.

 “Mackinac Island is famous for many things, but the century and a quarter-old ban on motorized vehicles is truly at the top of why it is such a special place,” said Mackinac State Historic Parks Director Steve Brisson.

 2023 marks the 125th anniversary of the automobile ban on Mackinac Island. As the story goes, in 1898 the first horseless carriage made its way to Mackinac Island via ferry boat and the first encounter between horse and “horseless carriage” was said to be chaotic. In response, businessmen engaged in the carriage industry filed a formal petition with the Village Common Council. They stated that the use of automobiles on Mackinac Island would be a danger to “the lives and property of petitioners and their patrons and to all others who use the streets and roads of this village.” Protection of the island’s historic environment and the carriage businesses serving tourists were a priority for locals and business owners alike. A resolution was made the same day the petition was delivered, effectively banning all automobiles in the Village of Mackinac Island.

 The Mackinac Island State Park Commission followed suit in 1901, banning automobiles within Mackinac Island State Park.

 “The Mackinac Island State Park Commission has been honored to work with and partner with the City of Mackinac Island for more than a century on the ban on automobiles,” Brisson said. “We continue to partner with the city to enforce this ban that is crucial to maintaining the heritage of Mackinac Island.”

An 1886 Benz Motorwagen.

The 1886 Benz Motorwagen. Photo courtesy Gilmore Car Museum.

 Mackinac State Historic Parks is celebrating the occasion with special events the weekend of July 21, complete with an 1886 Benz Motorwagen on the island. It was a vehicle very similar to this that got the wheels in motion (no pun intended) for the ban on automobiles.

 The weekend will begin with a ceremonial “re-banning” of automobiles on Mackinac Island. The Motorwagen will take a short drive down Market Street to Mackinac Island City Council before Brisson and Mackinac Island Mayor Margaret Doud reaffirm the ban. This event will begin at 7:00 p.m.

 The “horseless vehicle” will also be on display outside Fort Mackinac at the Huron Road Pavilion from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Saturday, July 22, and Sunday, July 23. A member of the Gilmore Car Museum will provide interpretation and visitors will be able to take pictures. On the evening of July 22 an invite-only event, presented by Mackinac Island Carriage Tours, will take place at Fort Mackinac officially commemorating the ban on automobiles on Mackinac Island.

 Mackinac State Historic Parks has partnered with the Gilmore Car Museum, located outside Kalamazoo, to being the Motorwagen to the island.

Book cover for Phil Porter's book, "Where Horse is King."

Where Horse is King: Mackinac Island’s Automobile Ban, by Phil Porter.

 Former Mackinac State Historic Parks Director Phil Porter has written a new vignette on the automobile ban: Where Horse is King: Mackinac Island’s Automobile Ban. It provides the complete background on the restriction on automobiles, including efforts over the years to get around the ban or repeal it. The book is available at all Mackinac State Historic Parks museum stores.

 In addition, a special commemorative logo has been developed and can be found on merchandise at Mackinac State Historic Parks museum stores, as well as on the license plates found on carriages throughout the island.

 In addition to Mackinac Island Carriage Tours, the special weekend celebrating Mackinac Island’s ban on automobiles has been made possible by Mackinac Associates, friends preserving and sharing Mackinac’s heritage.

A sketch from 1827 showing Ste. Anne's Church on Mackinac Island with Magdelaine LaFromboise's home adjacent to it.

What’s in a Name?

Throughout the summer season, Mackinac Associates, the friend’s group for Mackinac State Historic Parks, hosts several member events. These fun seasonal events bring together people who share a love for preserving and sharing Mackinac’s heritage.

 Mackinac Associates biggest event of the year is the G. Mennen Williams Mackinac Celebration. Since 1989, this event continues one of the premiere happenings on Mackinac Island for Mackinac Associates members. But, why is this event named after G. Mennen Williams?

A photo of Prentiss Brown, G. Mennen Williams, John F. Kennedy, and an unidentified man on the Mackinac Bridge.

Prentiss Brown, G. Mennen Williams, John F. Kennedy and an unidentified man standing on the Mackinac Bridge. Photo from the University of Michigan Library Digital Collections, HS17694

 The G. Mennen Williams Mackinac Celebration is a tribute to Gerhard Mennen Williams, Governor of Michigan from 1949-1960. Sporting his signature green bow tie with white polka dots, Williams developed a solid reputation in politics and a notable love for the Straits of Mackinac. One of his most noteworthy accomplishments during his time as governor was his support for the construction of the Mackinac Bridge. Built to link Michigan’s Lower and Upper Peninsulas, the Mackinac Bridge was completed in 1957.

 Just one year later, Governor Williams’ love of historic preservation and Mackinac Island’s rich history inspired the 1958 legislation giving Mackinac Island State Park Commission the authority to finance its historical programs through the sale of revenue bonds. Governor Williams also played a key role in bringing together local leaders, historians, and politicians to support the restoration of Fort Mackinac.

A photo of Brian and James Dunnigan standing next to President Harry Truman and Michigan Governor G. Mennen Williams in 1955.

Brian and James Dunnigan with President Harry Truman and Michigan Governor G. Mennen Williams on Mackinac Island in 1955, during President Truman’s fundraising trip for his presidential library. Photo MSHP

 After completing five gubernatorial terms, Williams was later elected to the Michigan Supreme Court in 1970 and he served as Chief Justice from 1983 to 1986. In 1988, G. Mennen Williams passed away on February 2nd in Detroit, Michigan at the age of 76. He was laid to rest in the Protestant Cemetery on Mackinac Island.

 In July, Mackinac Associates hosts a small private event for high-level donors, sponsors and partners, and Legacy Society members called the Laframboise Donor Reception. This reception is named for Magdelaine Laframboise, a woman of Odawa and French-Canadian descent, who played a leading role in the affairs of Mackinac Island during the first half of the 19th century.

 After her husband Joseph was murdered in 1806 while on business in the Grand River region near present-day Lowell, Michigan, Magdelaine took control of the fur trading company and continued its success. For the next 12 years, she wintered in the Grand River Valley, collecting furs from trappers. Each spring, she supervised the transportation of the furs to Mackinac Island. Magdelaine Laframboise successfully influenced the ways of the newly arriving American businessmen, government agents, military and missionaries to the Straits region.

A sketch from 1827 showing Ste. Anne's Church on Mackinac Island with Magdelaine LaFromboise's home adjacent to it.

A sketch of Ste. Anne’s Church adjacent to LaFramboise’s home circa 1827. Photo MSHP

 In 1822 Magdelaine, then 41 years old, decided to retire on the stunning shoreline of Mackinac Island, where she built a very fine home. There she entertained dignitaries, military officers as well as many of her native American friends and family members. On his famed visit to the United States, French aristocrat and diplomat Alexis de Tocqueville visited with Magdelaine upon his arrival to Mackinac Island.

An 1880s view of the home of Magdelaine LaFramboise.

This view, ca. 1880, shows Magdelaine LaFramboise’s house with the addition of a small porch. Photo MSHP

 Magdelaine started the first formal school on Mackinac Island, in her home, and encouraged William Ferry to start his mission school. She also assisted Father Mazzuchelli in starting a Catholic school. Her daughter Josephine married a captain at Fort Mackinac, Benjamin Pierce, brother to Franklin Pierce who would become the 14th President of the United States. When Ste. Anne’s Church was looking to relocate on the island, she donated a portion of her land adjacent to her home to the church, and a new Ste. Anne’s Church was constructed there. Magdelaine became known as “The First Lady of Mackinac Island” for her charitable work and the many visitors she welcomed into her home. Magdelaine Laframboise died April 4, 1846, and was buried beneath the altar at St. Anne’s Church on Mackinac Island. The Laframboise home remains on Mackinac Island still today, now known as Harbour View Inn.

A photo of Harbour View Inn on Mackinac Island.

The home of Magdelaine LaFramboise has been renovated and adapted for use as the Harbour View Inn. Photo MSHP

 These special events hosted each year by Mackinac Associates are named for people who shared a desire to protect and preserve the history and culture of the Straits of Mackinac. They bring together dedicated members, friends who share the same passion to protect and preserve this beautiful place. For information on how to join Mackinac Associates and be a part of preserving and sharing Mackinac’s heritage, please visit www.MackinacAssociates.com.

A bone or ivory gaming die recovered at Colonial Michilimackinac.

Our 65th Season Begins!

The archaeological excavation at Colonial Michilimackinac, showing the east wall of the central cellar.

The east wall of the central cellar.

 On May 30, the archaeological crew arrived to begin the sixty-fifth season of archaeological excavation at Michilimackinac. We are continuing to excavate a traders’ house unit within the Southeast Rowhouse. This summer we will be focusing on structural features: the two cellars and the north wall.

A bone or ivory gaming die recovered at Colonial Michilimackinac.  In both the central and the southeast cellars, remnants of the wood cellar walls are currently being exposed. The most interesting artifact of the season, so far, has been a six-sided gaming die found in the northern part of the central cellar. It is made of ivory or polished bone. Unlike the bone die found in this house in 2010, the pips on this die are in the standard pattern with opposing sides adding up to seven.

An overview photo of the archaeological excavation, showing surrounding historic buildings at Colonial Michilimackinac.

You can see the stump in the right of the excavation in this overview of the site.

 We expect to find evidence for the north wall of the house in our northern tier of squares. Currently the crew is excavating the layer of rubble from the 1781 demolition of the fort in this area. Unfortunately, they have to work around the stump of a tree planted in 1910 before the layout of the fort was known.

 The excavation is located in the center of Colonial Michilimackinac. Guests can watch history being unearthed every day (weather permitting) through August 19. Follow this blog or MSHP’s social media channels for updates as the season progresses.

So Many Events in June

June is shaping up to be an exciting month of special events within Mackinac Island State Park and over at Colonial Michilimackinac, in Mackinaw City.

 To start, Mackinac Island State Park and Fort Mackinac will host a number of activities in conjunction with the 75th annual Mackinac Island Lilac Festival, June 9-18. To kick off the festivities for the week, the reigning Lilac Festival Queen, Clara Chambers, will fire the ceremonial opening cannon at Fort Mackinac on Friday morning, June 9.

 Starting Saturday, June 10 and running through June 18, admission to The Richard & Jane Manoogian Mackinac Art Museum, located in beautiful Marquette Park in front of Fort Mackinac, will be complimentary to all guests on Mackinac Island. Visitors are encouraged to explore A Mackinac Day, the juried exhibition located in the changing gallery on the second floor, and the new portraits of Arent and Rebecca DePeyster located on the main level of the museum.

 Also throughout the festival, inside Fort Mackinac, the interpretive staff will feature an exclusive tour. At 1:00 p.m. join the staff as they bring guests out onto the porch of the Wood Quarters for a discussion of the soldier’s garden, what is now Marquette Park, home to the most famous of Mackinac’s lilacs. General fort admission is required for this tour.

A guest helping to fire the Fort Mackinac cannon.  Additionally, Mackinac State Historic Parks is teaming up with the Mackinac Island Tourism Bureau to give a visitor to fire the closing cannon of the day on Saturday, June 10, Friday, June 16, and Saturday, June 17. Visitors must be on the island to enter, and simply need to fill out a card at the Mackinac Island Tourism Bureau booth on Main Street.

 Other special events for the Lilac Festival include:

  • – Saturday, June 10: a showing of The Wizard of Oz at dusk inside Fort Mackinac. This is a free event, open to all.
  • – Monday, June 12: Creating the Village of Mackinac Island tour, which will guide guests through downtown Mackinac Island, laying out how the Village of Mackinac came to be. This is a free event with donations welcome; tour starts at 5:30 p.m. at Winderemere Point. Tour led by MSHP Interpretation Coordinator Jack Swartzinski.
  • – Tuesday, June 13: Mackinac in the 1830s tour, where guests will experience a walking tour of downtown Mackinac Island discussing the community in the 1830s and highlighting the role various agencies had at the time; tour starts at 5:30 p.m. at The Richard & Jane Manoogian Mackinac Art Museum. This is a free event, with donations welcome, led by MSHP Chief Curator Craig Wilson.
  • – Wednesday, June 14: Governor’s Summer Residence tour, 9:30 a.m. – 11:30 a.m.; Artist-in-Residence Workshop, Station 256 Conference Room, 7:00 p.m.
  • – Saturday, June 17: Lilacs and Warblers Birding Adventure! This unique guided adventure will allow visitors to search for spring songbirds while walking among the thousands of gragrant lilac blossoms and up the hill into the park; tour starts at 9:00 a.m. at the Father Marquette Statue in Marquette Park. This is a free event, led by MSHP Park Naturalist Kyle Bagnall.
  • – Saturday, June 17: Guests will have a guided opportunity to explore Mackinac Island State Park’s newest interpretive pathway, the Hardwood Nature Trail. Starting behind Fort Mackinac, guests will walk about ¾ mile to a woodland loop, all the while looking for wildflowers, songbirds, and other wildlife. This is a free event, with donations welcome, led by MSHP Park Naturalist Kyle Bagnall. Begins at the Fort Mackinac Avenue of Flags at 1:00 p.m.

 The world famous Lilac Festival Grand Parade concludes the Lilac Festival celebration, on June 18. Fort Mackinac interpreters will march in the parade, and a special cannon firing will kick it off at 4:00 p.m.

 Outside of the daily tours at Fort Mackinac, all events are free to the public, and donations are welcome.

 Colonial Michilimackinac will host two events of its own in June: Maritime Michilimackinac, June 10, and Wit and Mirth: Leisure and Recreation During the Fur Trade, on June 17.

 Colonial Michilimackinac was a major hub for the Great Lakes Fur Trade, and its location where Lakes Michigan and Huron meet was crucial to its success. Maritime Michilimackinac will focus on Michilimackinac’s maritime history, as the interpretive staff discusses and demonstrates the many different ways Michilimackinac’s historic residents interacted with and worked on the water.

 Special programs will take place throughout the day, including a Weapons on the Water Demonstration at 11:00 a.m. and 3:30 p.m., a program showcasing what a Voyageur crew would eat at 12:00 p.m., and, at 2:00 p.m., a look at the boats and canoes of Colonial Michilimackinac out on the water. A full schedule can be found by clicking here. 

 Even in the Great Lakes wilderness, the historic residents of Michilimackinac knew how to have a good time. Join the interpretive staff June 17 for “Wit and Mirth: Recreation at Michilimackinac”, a day full of entertainments that will allow guests to play games of skill and chance, take tea with the neighbors, hear historic poetry, laugh at jokes, and more.

 Special programs during the event include card games at the Soldier’s House, a literature program, voyageur games, dice games at the Merchant’s House, and our famous tea program. A complete schedule can be found by clicking here. 

 All special programs are included with regular admission to Colonial Michilimackinac.

 Other events on Mackinac Island include the open house for A Mackinac Day, the juried exhibition at The Richard & Jane Manoogian Mackinac Art Museum.

 There’s always something special about being able to spend a day on Mackinac. The sun seems to shine a little brighter. The sky seems a little bluer. Even days where things don’t go to plan can seem perfect. Everybody has their “Mackinac Day.” We encourage artists working in all media to share with us their artistic visions of what A Mackinac Day means to them.

The Richard and Jane Manoogian Mackinac Art Museum.

 This event is open and free to the public, and is co-sponsored by Mackinac Associates, the Mackinac Arts Council, and Mackinac State Historic Parks.

 On June 24 Mackinac Associates will host its biggest event of the year, the G. Mennen Williams Mackinac Celebration. This members-only event is one of the premiere events taking place on Mackinac Island throughout the summer. For information on how to join Mackinac Associates and purchase tickets for this event, please visit their website.  

Historic Interpreters at Fort Mackinac loading a bronze cannon.

Opening Fort Mackinac

Soldiers marching on the Parade Ground at Fort Mackinac.

Historic interpreters learning to march during training at Fort Mackinac.

Every year tens of thousands of guests will visit Fort Mackinac and experience the sights and sounds of the fort, from its beautiful views of the harbor and village below to the sounds of rifle and cannon firing demonstrations and the presence of the historical interpreters. Each year these interpreters bring something a little different, not just in their charm or style but sometimes by the way they approach the great history of Fort Mackinac. This year is no different. Our interpretative staff has been hard at work these last few weeks learning not only the classic programs of Fort Mackinac but a few new programs too.

Historic Interpreters at Fort Mackinac preparing to fire rifles.

Training with Springfield 45-70 Rifles.

Before their arrival on Mackinac Island, the interpreters spend many hours reading from various sources to learn the history of Fort Mackinac. Once they arrive, they immediately set to work, using this knowledge in training and practice sessions before working in front of the public. They spend many hours getting acquainted with the Springfield 45-70 Rifle, the focus of our rifle demonstrations, and its importance in the U.S. Army’s evolution to a much more modern military in the late 19th century. They will also spend a few hours marching and drilling on the parade ground, just as the soldiers of the 1880s would have, making sure they can replicate these maneuvers for the many guests participating in our Rifle and Drill Program every afternoon.

Historic Interpreters at Fort Mackinac loading a bronze cannon.

Learning how to load and fire the iconic Fort Mackinac cannon.

The interpreters will also learn how to present our cannon firing demonstrations, speaking to the cannon’s ceremonial role at Fort Mackinac, marking the beginning and end of the soldier’s day. These “salute shots” were also fired for holidays like Memorial Day – known then as Decoration Day – and the Fourth of July. Interpreters will also spend the necessary time learning how to safely load and fire the cannon for our demonstrations, which is a high point for any interpreter, whether new or returning. The interpreters will spend even more time going through our many walking tours and programs, ensuring they can present these programs engagingly and accurately. This is especially important with our new programs, like the Soldier’s Equipment and Quartermaster Storehouse program and, later this season, the Dress Parade Program and Evenings at Fort Mackinac walking tour.

Fort Mackinac staff working in an office space learning about the fort and its history.

A peek behind the scenes – being a Fort Mackinac interpreter isn’t just work at the fort.

For all the time the interpreters spend out in the fort practicing, they spend double the time inside, reading and studying material and learning the best practices of historical interpretation. All of this is done to provide our guests with the best possible experience with the hope that they feel comfortable and engaged and walk away with a feeling that their time at Fort Mackinac, as with any of our sites, was worth it. Public interpretation can lead to a lifetime interest in history and the world. We hope you will be able to join us this year and experience the many programs with offer. Click here to learn about tickets.