What’s New for 2023?

As the calendar flips to the new year, the Mackinac State Historic Parks crew is busy preparing its historic sites and parks for an exciting 2023 season.

 “We are excited to welcome visitors to experience our parks and numerous attractions,” said Steve Brisson, Mackinac State Historic Parks Director. “We have added a variety of new exhibits and programs over the last few years, and our staff is busy preparing to have everything ready for our spring openings.”

2023 marks the 125th anniversary of the automobile ban on Mackinac Island. Mackinac State Historic Parks will mark this occasion with a special event on July 22, complete with an 1886 Benz Motorwagen on the island. The “horseless vehicle” will also be on display outside Fort Mackinac during the day on July 22. A special commemorative logo has been developed and will be found on merchandise at Mackinac State Historic Parks museum stores, as well as on the license plates found on carriages throughout the island. A new vignette, written by former Mackinac State Historic Parks’ Director Phil Porter, will also be published for the anniversary.

“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,” Brisson said.

Staying on the island, Fort Mackinac opens for the 2023 season on May 4. The museum store and theater have swapped spaces, with the store now in the Commissary and the theater now in the Soldiers’ Barracks. The swap is part of a larger interpretive plan for the barracks which will happen in stages in coming years. The Fort Mackinac Museum Store will continue to feature publications, apparel, and one-of-a-kind souvenirs.

Additionally at Fort Mackinac, a new program titled “Soldier’s Gear and Quartermasters’ Storehouse” will allow visitors to see what soldiers would have been issued at Fort Mackinac in the 1880s and how that had an impact on their daily lives. Classic programs, such as the rifle and cannon firing demonstrations, will feature fresh perspectives. Other programs will highlight the changing face of Fort Mackinac, the historic residents who called the fort home, a look at Mackinac as a national park, the role women played at the fort, and what happened in the evening at Fort Mackinac.

“We hope to display the unique mix of the military culture and tourism at Fort Mackinac in those last years of Mackinac National Park,” explained Jack Swartzinski, Mackinac State Historic Parks’ Interpretation Coordinator.

The Tea Room at Fort Mackinac, operated by Grand Hotel, will feature new menu items for the 2023 season, and, as always, will feature one of the most stunning views in Michigan. Perhaps the way to make a Fort Mackinac visit most memorable is firing the opening cannon salute, which is available to one guest daily. More information can be found here.

Elsewhere on Mackinac Island, the McGulpin House, one of the oldest residential structures on the island (built in 1790) and a rare and excellent display of French Canadian domestic architecture, will receive brand new exhibits for the 2023 season. The Biddle House, featuring the Mackinac Island Native American Museum, shares the continuing store of the Anishnaabek on Mackinac Island, with daily interpretive programs and engaging exhibits. The Benjamin Blacksmith Shop, located next door to the Biddle House, is a working blacksmith shop that dives into the 1950s and the changing culture of workers on Mackinac Island. The American Fur Co. Store & Dr. Beaumont Museum received a new exhibit in 2022. Admission to all of these sites is included with a Fort Mackinac or Historic Downtown Mackinac ticket.

At The Richard & 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 – “A Mackinac Day.” 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.” The gallery will be on display from May 12 – October 8. An art attendant, new for 2023, will guide guests through the museum and provide a better understanding of the art and artists who have created art inspired by the Straits of Mackinac. Additionally, eight 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.

The Biddle House, featuring the Mackinac Island Native American Museum, Benjamin Blacksmith Shop, and The Richard & Jane Manoogian Mackinac Art Museum open for the 2023 season on May 12. The McGulpin House and American Fur Co. Store & Dr. Beaumont Museum open June 3.

Special events at Fort Mackinac and Mackinac Island include Twilight Turtle Treks on January 7, February 7 and March 7; the Fort2Fort Five Mile Challenge May 13; the annual Vintage Base Ball game July 29; special activities for July 4; special history evening programs including a guided tour of Historic Downtown Mackinac as it would have looked in the 1830s and a tour highlighting the creation of the village of Mackinac Island; special nature and birdwatching tours; night sky programs at Fort Holmes and Arch Rock; bike tours looking at Mackinac’s forgotten features and the War of 1812; and much more. More information can be found at mackinacparks.com/events.

The year 1780 will be explored at Colonial Michilimackinac, in Mackinaw City, where mischief and mayhem reigned. 1780 saw this isolated British outpost become a scene of paranoia, military mischief, and, from a certain point of view, mutiny. A special daily program will explore this spirit of dissention and disobedience that destabilized Michilimackinac’s garrison.

Other programs throughout the day explore the rich history of the site and showcase how it was more than a military outpost. Get an up-close look at the merchandise that passed through Michilimackinac during the height of the fur trade; explore dining culture at a Merchant’s House; learn about the enslaved community at Michilimackinac; explore the 5,500 square feet of gardens during an engaging tour; have tea at a British Trader’s home and dive into the complexities of British society; find out what civilians and soldiers were up to; and, of course, feel the power of Michilimackinac’s weapons with musket and artillery firings.

The Mackinac State Historic Parks’ archaeology program will enter its 65th season in 2023. 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.

Guests now have two opportunities to fire weapons at Colonial Michilimackinac: an opening cannon blast, at 9:30 a.m., or they can fire the full complement of weapons at Guns Across the Straits. Reservations for either program can be made by calling (231) 436-4100. More information can be found here.

Special events at Colonial Michilimackinac include exhilarating “Fire at Night” programs, deep dives into Michilimackinac’s maritime history, a celebration of the King’s Birth-day on June 4, a look at Askin’s Men and Women at Michilimackinac in August, a moonlit Michilimackinac evening, the ever-popular Fort Fright, and A Colonial Christmas. More information can be found at mackinacparks.com/events.

Colonial Michilimackinac opens for the 2023 season May 10.

“Colonial Michilimackinac will continue to provide an interesting and unique look into the early history of the Straits of Mackinac in 2023, and we invite you to explore Colonial Michilimackinac and the exciting history of the great lakes fur trade,” said LeeAnn Ewer, Mackinac State Historic Parks’ Curator of Interpretation.

The ongoing restoration of Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse continues in 2023, as an oil house will be reconstructed on the property. The last few years have seen several gallery openings at the lighthouse – the Straits of Mackinac Shipwreck Museum, a 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. Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse opens on May 11.

Programs at Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park feature daily demonstrations of a reconstructed 18th century sawmill. With the smell of fresh sawdust in the air, the awesome power of the water never fails to impress as the mill springs to life, fed by the pond and ever-flowing currents of Mill Creek. Near the workshop, sawpit demonstrations and historic farming programs highlight what life was like beyond the sawmill more than 200 years ago. On the wild side, guests will make new discoveries as wildflowers bloom and wildlife flourishes along 3.5 miles of nature trails. Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park opens for the 2023 season May 12.

A streamlined Forest Adventure Experience, formerly the Adventure Tour, features the Forest Canopy Bridge, Eagles’ Flight Zip Line, and Treetop Discovery Climbing Wall. Forest Adventure Experiences are available beginning June 9.

“The story of Mill Creek links all MSHP sites together,” said Kyle Bagnall, Mackinac State Historic Parks’ Park Naturalist. “Whether you’re watching sawdust fly in the sawmill, soaring down the zipline, or perched on the treetop discovery tower, you’re sure to experience Mackinac’s natural and cultural wonders in many unique ways.”

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.

 

 

The church at Michilimackinac decorated for Christmas.

The First North American Christmas Carol

If you were able to attend the Colonial Christmas event at Colonial Michilimackinac, you experienced part of how Christmas was celebrated at the Mission of St. Ignace at Michilimackinac in 1679. An earlier Jesuit Christmas celebration resulted in the first North American Christmas carol, the Huron Carol.

 Father Jean de Brebéuf, born in France in 1593, began his missionary work in New France in 1625. A member of the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits, he worked mostly among the Wendat, also known as the Huron, near Georgian Bay. He became fluent in their language and, among other linguistic work, translated the catechism into Wendat. In about 1642 Brebéuf wrote “Jesous Ahatonhia” (Jesus, he is born) in Wendat as a Christmas carol for the Wendat he lived among and hoped to convert. It fits the traditional French folk tune “Une Jeune Pucelle.

 Father Brebéuf was executed by the Haudenosaunee, also known as the Iroquois, in 1649, but “Jesous Ahatonhia” lived on among the Wendat. It was documented by Jesuit Father Etienne Thomas de Villeneuve Girault at Lorette, Quebec, between 1747 and 1794. It was translated into French by Paul Tsawenhohi (aka Picard), a Wendat notary at Quebec City. It was translated into English in the early twentieth century. “Twas in the Moon of Wintertime,” the most widely known version in the United States, was written by Jesse Edgar Middleton in 1926. It is not a direct translation, but a romanticized version, lumping stereotypes of many Native American cultures together.

 To hear “Jesous Ahatonhia” in the original Wendat, French, and a more accurate English translation, as well as to see it in American Sign Language click here or watch below:

Les Feu Follet

The following is excerpted from Were-Wolves and Will-O-The-Wisps: French Tales of Mackinac Retold, written and illustrated by Dirk Gringhuis. The stories in this book are the basis for Fort Fright, an annual event that takes place in October. Fort Fright 2022 takes place October 7-8 – click here for tickets

Les Feu Follet

 Marie and her husband Robert along with their baby, Jean, lived in their home outside of Fort Michilimackinac. One warm summer day, Marie’s cousin, young Jacques from Montreal, came to pay a visit. Marie was delighted when Robert suggested that he take a day’s trip to meet with some courerurs de bois near the Ottawa Indian village of L’Arbre Croche, the Crooked Tree, Marie was quite content to stay at home with her young cousin, the baby and a Pani woman servant. Panis were Indian slaves, prisoners taken in Indian wars who served as domestics.

 All went well until evening when storm clouds began to form over the lake and white caps showed their plumes far out in the lead coloered water.

 The women watched it approach the cabin. Now the sky was very dark except for the brilliant lightning forking lakeward. Marie began to worry about Robert and asked the Pani woman to split some slivers off the Christmas Log (always preserved year by year) and to throw them on the fire to prevent the thunder from falling. She then glanced at the door and was relieved to see a branch of white torn still in place. This bush was thought to be a divine lightning rod. The custom had probably come from the fact that thorns such as these had crowned the Saviour’s head.

 Gradually the rumble of thunder and the lightning passed. By not it was dark. Marie’s fears began to rise once more as her husband failed to return. Going to the window she peered into the darkness. Suddenly all were startled by a shrill whistle. Even Jean in his crib, began to cry. Quickly, Marie slammed the shutters clossed, and bolted them. “I saw the feu follet dancing over the fields, if I had not shut it out it would have entered and strangled us!” she cried. “Le Bon Dieu preserve Robert this night!”

 Her cousin tried to comfort her. “Do not fear, Robert your husband can take care of himself.” he said. “If you like, now that the rain has stopped, we can go looking for him.” A sturdy young man, he moved toward the door confidently trying to ease his cousin’s fears. Jean was sound asleep and the Pani woman was a good nursemaid. Marie made up her mind. Robert was never late, something must have happened on the trail.

 “Let us go,” she said, wrapped a shawl around her shoulders and handed a lantern to Jacques. “I know the path well.”

 As they walked Jacques, trying to keep her mind from her missing husband asked, “What are the feu follet like at Michilimackinac, cousin?”

 “They are not always dangerous and they appear as lights above swampland. When twin lights are seen in the twilight, they are called Castor and Pollus and this is a happy omen.”

 “This I had not heard,” said Jacques, lantern held high, watching the dim trail ahead.

 “But,” Marie continued, “When a single light appears it is named Helene. Then he who sees it must throw himself on the ground and cover his face. For the light holds an evil magic that lures the traveler to desert bogs or steep ravines then leaves him there to die … But Robert does not believe in them” Jacques shook his head. “Grand-pere who came from Caen in Normandy said that the feu follet there, are male and female and are supposed to be those who have sinned against purity. Therefore the Normans call maidens who have sinned, fourolle, such as ‘fourolle Jeanne’ or ‘fourelle Mignonette’. The Evil One gives them power to turn themselves into bright lights leading travelers to their deaths.”

 Marie shuddered.

 “Perhaps it is time we shouted for Robert” said Jacques. Together they called out his name again and again, for now the ground was getting miry and frogs croaked dismally close by. The lantern threw weird shapes against the dark trees, and Marie held her shawl tighter around her shoulders. Still there was no answer. Desperate, the young wife uttered one last despairing cry. It was answered instantly by a pistol shot. With a shout they both sprang forward through the underbrush. There in the swamp was a figure up to his waist in the sucking mud. It was Robert.

 Together they made a bridge with their hands and soon the weary traveler was in his wife’s tearful embrace.

 As they made their way happily homeward, he told his story. Returning later than expected from the village, he had become lost in the storm. All at once he had seen a light and followed it only to plunge into the swamp. He cried out for help until he grew hoarse and all he heard was the mocking laughing of goblins. At last, when he thought all hope gone, he had heard his wife’s final cry. It was then he had fired his pistol.

 “Perhaps now, mon cheri, you will believe in les feu follet?” asked Marie.

 Robert nodded, thoughtfully, “You were right, ma petite. I believe!”

Colonial Michilimackinac Fall Garden Round-up 2022

 As the season for growing things begins to wind down, the interpretive staff at Colonial Michilimackinac are thinking back on a fabulous season of gardening. We have had good vegetables and lovely flowers that were used to decorate the dinner table. Fresh herbs like parsley and chives added flavor to fish and other foods at our daily food programs.

Garlic

 The summer of 2022 was an especially good year for root vegetables. Garlic, onions, carrots, turnips, parsnips, and radishes all grew great and are being used in our daily food programs. Some of them are still going strong and will be left in the ground until next spring to be dug as soon as the ground thaws. Leaving them in the soil is a very easy way of keeping them. Other methods included lifting vegetables and placing them in carefully packed layers of damp sand in a crate or a barrel and stored in a cellar to keep them until use.

Carrots peeking out

 Beans and peas, unfortunately, were largely a wash this summer. The woodland voles, ground squirrels and mice were much quicker at getting to them than the people. We did plant some late peas that are just starting to blossom, so we might still get one patch this year, but not nearly as much as we usually count on. The only beans that have done really well are our our scarlet runner beans. The scarlet runners are magnificent plants and draw in hummingbirds and loads of pollinators. They produce pods that are sometimes up to ten inches long with burgundy and black seeds inside. The seeds will be collected once they are fully mature and some will be used to plant the garden next season. What we do not use for planting, we will use for our food programs.

Pea blossom

 While the beans and peas did not do well, our squash and pumpkins made up for it by bounds. They will soon be taken off the vines and set to cure in the sun. This hardens the outer rind and helps to keep them from going to mush. They will be used for our programs and either kept whole or dried for long-term use. Residents living inside the walls of Michilimackinac would have acquired larger, field crops like pumpkins and squash from the Anishnaabe. Roasting, stewing and baking them were common ways of preparing them for the table.

Scarlet runners

 It has been a good year of planting and caring for the outdoor spaces at Colonial Michilimackinac. We still have a lot of work to do and are still planting and planning for next year. For more information, or to purchase tickets to visit, please see our website.

Spooky Specters and Lurking Lutins Await at Fort Fright October 7-8

 Be wary of were-wolves and look out for lutins as you walk the lantern-lit path along the shore of Lake Michigan to Colonial Michilimackinac for Fort Fright the evenings of October 7 and 8, 2022.

 From 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. (last admission at 8:30 p.m.), eighteenth-century French-Canadian folklore comes to life. Visitors must tread lightly on the path along the shoreline, because as the sun sets on the horizon, all manner of monsters take over the fort and eagerly await your arrival inside. There are campfires glowing in the night where a voyageur tells eerie tales and warns you of the terror that might await you before you approach the guarded gates of Colonial Michilimackinac. You are now on your own to enter the wooden palisade, a frightening world of fun and phantoms wrapped into one.

 As you venture inside the gate, British Redcoats of a different order patrol the wooden fort. Look closer to see they’re not ordinary soldiers, but skeletons with bony fingers outstretched beckoning you to enter.

 More campfires crackle inside the fort, but there are friendly faces around these. French fur traders and voyageurs are telling more tales, singing songs played to traditional music of the 1700s, and visiting with guests. The fires offer a respite from the mythical creatures that prefer other places, like the upper stories of the wooden buildings where they throw open shutters and cackle, howl or prowl around the palisade.

 Other frightening features include the Demon Walk boasting vicious monsters waiting to trick you out of fortune and pull you into the underworld and the Werewolf Walk, where the most terrifying of the creatures in the fort prowl and hunt for you in the dark. A tour of the haunted rowhouse, a custom designed exhibit for this occasion, will not be easily forgotten.

 In other wooden buildings within the fort and fur trading village, colonial residents serve warm autumn treats like homemade cookies and toffee. Guests can learn about death and burial in the 1700s, and the various traditions and ceremonies for the dead from over 250 years ago in the church. In addition to creatures, colonial residents with friendly faces roam the village, following the lantern-lit paths that wind throughout the fort, a unique nighttime atmosphere available only on these two nights.

 Fort Fright isn’t meant to simply scare visitors. There’s an eerie but real background to the event, which stems from French-Canadian tales that were passed on from person-to-person as voyageurs and other people traveled. As such, there’s a strong history of oral tradition behind Fort Fright. That oral history is shared around campfires much in the same way it was shared over two-and-a-half centuries ago.

 The characters that roam Fort Fright, such as were-wolves, lutins, and Le Dame Blanche, meaning White Lady (Ghost), are drawn from a book called Were-Wolves and Will-o-the-Wisps: French Tales of Mackinac Retold by Dirk Gringhuis. The collection of short stores, published by Mackinac State Historic Parks, is based on French-Canadian folktales brought to the Mackinac Straits area by the voyageurs during the height of the French fur trade. The stories and chilling ambiance shared at Fort Fright often have modern day counterparts, but they are still new and different with many twists. By combining the nuances of the oral history and live interpretation of the terrifying characters, Mackinac State Historic Parks is able to create a fun and, at times, spooky atmosphere for all ages. It’s the stories and the individuals sharing them that make this such a chilling and memorable experience—leaving you to wonder if that noise you hear is really just the wind, or perhaps something far more frightening. Priced at $6, the book is sold during the event and can also be purchased prior to Fort Fright at the Colonial Michilimackinac Visitor’s Center or by calling 231-436-4100.

 Admission to Fort Fright is $11 per adult, $7 children ages 5-12, and free for children 4 and under and Mackinac Associates members (excluding Heritage Level). Tickets are available now online, or pre-purchase your family’s tickets beginning October 1 in the Colonial Michilimackinac Visitor’s Center. Visitors who purchase in advance will be able to enter through a shorter line, indicated by the “Mackinac Associates and Pre-Paid Tickets Here” sign. Last admission on both nights is at 8:30 p.m. Call 231-436-4100 for more information.

 Much of Colonial Michilimackinac has been reconstructed based on archaeological excavations, including its 13 buildings and structures, many of which will be open and featuring special activities during Fort Fright. The fort and fur trading village was founded by the French in 1715 and is depicted today as it was in the 1770s when occupied by the British.

 

 

3 historically family-fun festivities highlight full event calendar at Mackinac State Historic Parks

A visit to one of the Mackinac State Historic Parks provides educational opportunities for the entire family. Better yet, it inserts you into history, producing experiential fun that divulges memories of the past to create lasting family memories in the present. When in season, no matter the time you explore one of the six historic sites there are ample activities to discover, from firing the iconic Fort Mackinac cannon to zip-lining 50 feet above Mill Creek. However, a full event calendar delivers additional, unique experiences to plan an adventure around. Below are three events that highlight how Mackinac State Historic Parks offers can’t-miss historical escapades, two of which occur outside the summer season — a time you may not typically consider a trip to the area.

 Vintage Base Ball on Friday, July 23rd

 No, that’s not a typo: it’s “base ball” with no spaces. Since 2003, Mackinac State Historic Parks has hosted a 19th-century style “base ball” game at the ball field behind Fort Mackinac — the oldest continually used ball field in Michigan!

 This year’s matchup pits the Mackinaw City Boys against the Fort Mackinac Never Sweats. The Never Sweats honor the legacy of the Fort Mackinac team comprising of soldiers from the mid-1880s, which used the moniker.

 The game acknowledges the style, rules, and atmosphere of the era, which features barehanded play, “gentlemen’s rules,” underhanded pitching, players fined for smoking cigars on the field, old-timey cheering and more.

Get ready to say play ball Friday, July 23rd from 6:30 to 8pm. Admission is by donation.

 Fort Fright on Friday, October 7th and Saturday, October 8th

 Come October, Colonial Michilimackinac showcases how history can be frightfully entertaining. This long-time staple event kicks off the Halloween season through Colonial Michilimackinac’s haunted transformation. It’s the biggest event hosted by Mackinac State Historic Parks and provides an opportunity for guests to experience the site at night paired with an ambience set through eerie folklore.

 Lanterns guide you through an array of storytellers, fortune tellers, and legendary creatures like werewolves and witches for a folklore lesson loaded with thrills and chills. This spooky good time also features bonfires, cookies, candy, cider and other treats found throughout the grounds. Families can experience an entire evening of entertainment backdropped by the resplendently lit Mackinac Bridge.

 Conjure the frightful fun 6:30-9:30pm on Friday, October 7th and Saturday, October 8th. Tickets become available online in September.

 A Colonial Christmas on Saturday, December 10th

Historic Interpreters getting ready to celebrate Christmas at Michilimackinac In December you can jingle all the way to Mackinaw City for A Colonial Christmas. ‘Tis the season for holiday traditions of the 17th and 18th century to come alive at Colonial Michilimackinac. Amble through lantern-lit paths to hear accounts of the first Christmas at Mackinac in 1679 and traditions of historic residents.

 You can simply have a wonderful Christmastime perusing the fort as storytellers share German, French and Native American holiday customs. The warm, welcoming Christmas spirit at the event includes craft-making, games, and holiday snacks throughout the fort.

 Have a holly jolly Christmas at Colonial Michilimackinac on Saturday, December 10th from 4-7pm. Tickets will be available online later this year.

 These are only a few of the festivities that compose an eventful calendar throughout the six sites of Mackinac State Historic Parks. With entertainment that ranges from movie nights to artist residencies to various educational demonstrations like Maritime Michilimackinac, there’s bound to be something that interests every family member. This year our full event calendar returns, and we can’t wait to provide plentiful merriment and compelling history to numerous visiting families.

 View our entire event calendar here.

 

 

 

 

 

Re-opening the Archaeological Site at Michilimackinac

The House E site with all of the squares open.

Map of British features of House D showing House E cellar (F.866) to west of common wall separating Houses D & E.

Late May saw the beginning of the 64th archaeological field season at Michilimackinac. We are continuing to excavate the rowhouse unit we have been working on since 2007. We have opened three new squares where we expect to find remains of the trench for the north wall of the house. This should be as wide as the excavation for this project expands.

 The house walls do not fall exactly in line with the grid. Because of this, when we excavated the rowhouse unit to the east (House D) in the 1990s, we excavated about a foot of the current house (House E) as well. In doing so, we uncovered the edge of the root cellar in the southeast corner of House E. We reached the bottom of the western two-thirds of this cellar at the end of last season. Now we have uncovered the eastern third, which we had protected and re-buried when we backfilled House D in 1997. Our first exciting find of the season came from the east section of the cellar, most of a redware bowl with a green-glazed border. We had found a matching rim sherd in the western edge of the cellar in 2018. 

The dark crescent-shaped area is the cellar. The rocky sand is the beach underlying the fort.

Bowl with rim fragment from 2018 held in place.

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.

Boats Boats Boats!

 When thinking about the Great Lakes fur trade, most people will imagine French Canadian voyageurs paddling huge birchbark canoes filled with tons of furs or trade goods. Canoes were absolutely an integral part of the fur trade, and provided a vital link between Michilimackinac and other communities around the Great Lakes. However, they were by no means the only watercraft on the lakes, and a great deal of people and goods were moved by a type of large rowboat called a bateau.

 In the 18th century, there were few standardized plans for batteaux. Although the British Admiralty used a standard 30-foot design for vessels destined for military service in Canada, individual batteaux might range from less than 20 feet long to over 30, and there were regional variations in design. All shared a few common features: a flat bottom without a keel, heavier stems at the bow and stern, and butted plank construction. Relatively easy to build so long as appropriate woodworking tools were on hand, a bateau could be knocked together without the need for skill ship carpenters or shipyards. A bateau could be paddled, poled, or propelled under sail, but generally the vessels were powered by large wooden oars.

 While canoes (and sailing vessels) were absolutely workhorses of the Great Lakes in the 18th century, in many instances there were more batteaux on the lakes and rivers than other types of watercraft. In 1778, for example, 374 batteaux set out from Montreal for Michilimackinac and other western posts, while only 152 canoes left the city for the summer trading season. Individual merchants might own or hire several batteaux. Michilimackinac merchant John Askin, for instance, dispatched 10 batteaux in 1777, while  trading partners Thomas Smith, William Taylor, and Edward Ripley sent 16 more to Detroit and Michilimackinac. A 1778 inventory of Askin’s estate included both a “Common batea[u]” and a “Small fish [bateau],” both presumably for personal use rather than heavy trade.

 The British military also heavily employed batteaux to move personnel and supplies around the lakes and connect far-flung posts like Michilimackinac and Detroit. As somewhat disposable craft exposed to relatively heavy work, these batteaux required regular repair and maintenance. In 1771 Capt. George Turnbull received £85 for mending boats, making oars, and burning pitch at Michilimackinac. By 1778, Sergeant Amos Langdon of the 8th Regiment was issued nails from the engineer’s stores to repair the King’s batteaus and the wharf. Although somewhat more cumbersome than a canoe, a bateau could efficiently cover great distance at speed. In late September 1778, an express canoe traveled from Michilimackinac to Montreal in 10 to 14 days, while a batteau rowed by eight “active men” could go to the city and return to Michilimackinac by November 10, making a 6 week round trip. However, supplies to maintain the boats could be difficult to procure, making repairs difficult. In 1779, Major Arent DePeyster, Michilimackinac’s commanding officer, unsuccessfully requested pitch and oakum to repair batteaux. A year later, DePeyster sent pitch and oakum up from Detroit to repair the batteaus at Michilimackinac, telling Lt. Gov. Patrick Sinclair that these materials were previously hard to get. Boat repairs could be a thankless task. In 1774, Lt. Col. John Caldwell, commanding the 8th Regiment at Fort Niagara, complained that “The old ones [batteaus] have been so often repaired since I came here that it is throwing money away to attempt repairing them again.” Apparently the old adage about a boat being a hole in the water is somewhat older than expected.

 Today, a 22-foot bateau is part of the small interpretive fleet at Colonial Michilimackinac (we also have a 28-foot north canoe and a 35-foot Montreal canoe). We use all of these vessels to interpret the vital relationship between Michilimackinac and the surrounding waters of the Great Lakes, and our interpretive staff maintains these boats and utilizes them for special events. This summer, we will have three Maritime Michilimackinac weekends focusing on the roles and chores of sailors, voyageurs, and others working to maintain Michilimackinac’s marine links to the outside world. Weather permitting, our staff will use our bateau and canoes to get out on the water, so we hope you’ll join us for these special events!