Fire Grenades

Fire Grenades

Detail of the fire grenade on display at the Fort Mackinac guardhouse.

Fort Mackinac suffered structural loss from fires during its use as a military post between 1780 and 1895. Two of the major fires that damaged Fort Mackinac occurred in the years 1855 and 1858. Both fires destroyed several buildings including the barracks. In 1855, the fire started from below the barracks in the cellar which then spread to the barracks chapel, kitchen, and two other nearby facilities. In 1858, the troops of Fort Mackinac were faced with another threatening fire after they had reconstructed the barracks. This fire took place in the bakery, but, to great surprise, grew and demolished the new barracks along with several other smaller buildings. Following these two fires and the Civil War (Fort Mackinac was virtually abandoned during the Civil War), Captain George Brady suggested the use of fire grenades for firefighting within Fort Mackinac. During the mid-1880s, fire grenades were introduced to the fort as a form of fire suppression. The grenades used within the fort were filled with salt-water. (more…)

The Fort Mackinac Never Sweats and Vintage Base Ball

The Fort Mackinac Never Sweats and Vintage Base Ball

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

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

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Guarding the Straits: The St. Helena Light Station

Guarding the Straits: The St. Helena Light Station

St. Helena Light Station as it looks today. Photo courtesy Craig Wilson.

Old Mackinac Point is just one of over a dozen light stations that helped guide sailors through the Straits of Mackinac. On a clear day, five of these stations can still be seen from the top of Old Mackinac Point’s tower. About eight miles to the northwest, in Lake Michigan, is the St. Helena light, which shared a great deal of history with Old Mackinac Point.

The island of St. Helena was home to a thriving fishing village for much of the 19th century. Steamships stopped at St. Helena to replenish their supply of wood for fuel, and sought shelter in the island’s natural harbor. However, dangerous shoals extend from the east and west ends of the island, imperiling vessels attempting to reach the safety of the harbor. To warn sailors of these dangers, Congress approved funding for a new light station on St. Helena in 1872, and the tower and keepers’ quarters were completed the next year. The station’s 3½-order Fresnel lens was lit for the first time in September 1873. Additional structures, including an oil house, wharf, and boat house, were added in the 1890s.   (more…)

Beaumont Emergency Hospital Ambulance

Beaumont Emergency Hospital Ambulance

The carriage being prepared to move to the Mackinac Horsemen’s Association.

The Beaumont Emergency Hospital Association was formed around 1924 to provide medical services during the summer tourist season. The hospital was named in honor of nationally-known Fort Mackinac physician, Dr. William Beaumont, famous for his ground-breaking medical research on human digestion. (more…)

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.

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.

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…)