Ongoing Restoration Work at Old Mackinac Point

Ongoing Restoration Work at Old Mackinac Point

If you’ve visited the Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse this summer, you’ve probably seen evidence of a major restoration project: piles of bricks, power tools, and scaffolding surrounding the tower and keepers’ quarters. This work, which is progressing nicely, is carefully repairing and rehabilitating the bricks and mortar of the lighthouse, ensuring that Old Mackinac Point can continue welcoming guests for years to come. (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…)

The King’s Birthday

The King’s Birthday

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

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

A New Season

A New Season

Site almost ready to begin excavation for the season

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

Nail, straight pin, and window glass recovered from slump

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

Jaw Harps

Jaw Harps

Jaw harps excavated at Michilimackinac

Some of the more interesting artifacts excavated semi-regularly by archaeologists at Michilimackinac are jaw harps. These small musical instruments, also known as a mouth harp or Jew’s harp (although they have no particular relation to Jewish people or Judaism), were common trade items at Michilimackinac in the 18th century. (more…)

Archaeology Update: Winter Finds

Archaeology Update: Winter Finds

Artifacts drying on trays in lab

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