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Fort Mackinac History

Fort Mackinac was founded during the American Revolution. Believing Fort Michilimackinac at what is now Mackinaw City was too vulnerable to American attack, the British moved the fort to Mackinac Island in 1780.  Americans took control in 1796. In July 1812, in the first land engagement of the War of 1812 in the United States, the British captured the fort. In a bloody battle in 1814 the Americans attempted but failed to retake the fort. It was returned to the United States after the war. The fort remained active until 1895. During these years Mackinac Island was transformed from a center of the fur trade into a major summer resort.

The stone ramparts, the south sally port and the Officer’s Stone Quarters are all part of the original fort built over 225 years ago. The other buildings in the fort are of more recent origin, dating from the late 1790s to 1885. The buildings have been restored to how they looked during the final years of the fort’s occupation. Interpreters depict U. S. Army soldiers from this same period, dressed in distinctive Prussian-inspired uniforms.

Fort Mackinac Chronology

1779-81 The garrison and fur trade community are moved from Michilimackinac to Mackinac Island.

1783 Mackinac Island part of new United States.

1796 British soldiers depart and American soldiers arrive to garrison fort on September 1.

1812 On July 17 British soldiers capture Fort Mackinac in first land engagement of War of 1812 in the United States.

1814 On August 4 Americans attempt but fail to recapture island.

1815 Mackinac Island returned to United States following end of War of 1812.

1837-40 Fort Mackinac abandoned to support Second Seminole War.

1848 Fort Mackinac abandoned to support Mexican War.

1857-58 Fort Mackinac abandoned to support Santee Indian Uprising.

1861 Soldiers depart to support Civil War.

1862 Three Confederate prisoners held at Fort Mackinac.

1867 Soldiers return.

1875 Mackinac National Park established.

1895 Fort is closed. Mackinac National Park becomes Mackinac Island State Park.

1896-1957 Fort buildings leased as summer cottages and apartments.

1914 Park Commission establishes historical museum in Officers’ Stone Quarters.

1934 Several buildings restored as part of WPA project. Historic American Buildings Survey completed for a number of buildings, including walls and blockhouses and Officers’ Stone Quarters.

1958 Revenue Bond program established.

1959-present Fort Mackinac opens as a living history museum. Restoration exhibits and interpretation programs implemented.