Mackinac Island Airport Archaeology

Refuse revealed by the stripping of the runway.

In September 2011 all of the pavement at the Mackinac Island Airport was removed prior to the regrading and relocation of the runway to correct sinkholes and a hump in the runway. The airport was originally established in 1934. Maps from 1902 and 1913 show that the area was used as a dump. The stripping and regrading exposed and removed several areas of refuse.


When examining a dump archaeologically, it is not productive to try to salvage, or even record, every object. Instead the goal is to sample enough artifacts that can be dated to determine the timeframe in which the dump was used. In this case these artifacts were primarily ceramics and glass. In general, the glass suggested a date of the first two decades of the twentieth century, matching the maps. The ceramics skewed slightly earlier, probably because they have a longer use life before being discarded.


Example from Grand Hotel when operated by Planter’s (1900-1918).


Over four hundred ceramic sherds were collected, including fragments of earthenware, stoneware, porcelain and lots of hotel ironstone vessels. Marked examples from Grand Hotel when operated by John Oliver Plank (1887-1889) and Planter’s (1900-1918) were recovered. Other forms collected include marmalade and mustard containers, a candlestick, matchstick holders, porcelain doorknobs, architectural tile, and electric insulators.


Three hundred fifty-six bottles and other identifiable pieces of glass were recovered. These included wine, liquor, beer, mineral water, grape juice and other beverage bottles. Six Michigan breweries were represented: Detroit Brewing Company, Goebel Brewing Company, Koppitz-Melchers Brewing Company and Stroh Brewing Company, all of Detroit, as well as the Grand Rapids Brewing Company and Soo Brewing Company. Other consumer goods included condiments, salad dressing, capers, olives, prescription and over-the-counter medicines, skin cream, perfume, ink, and a variety of cleaning products. These products came from across the Atlantic Ocean and as close as Bogan’s pharmacy on Mackinac Island.

Part of an oil lamp.

Bottle from Bogan’s Pharmacy.

Electricity came to Mackinac Island in 1911. This dump spanned the transition. Both lightbulbs and oil lamp parts were recovered.

Fire extinguisher.

Metal artifacts are much harder to recognize from just a fragment. In addition to lamp parts, cooking utensils, buckles, horseshoes, and enamelware vessels were recovered. Some of the more obvious and interesting metal artifacts included a fire extinguisher and part of a push lawn mower.

Push mower.

The Wall Gun

If you’ve visited Colonial Michilimackinac, there’s a good chance that you’ve seen the interpreters demonstrating a cannon or musket during our daily programs. There is another 18th century weapon that gets fired occasionally, and it’s an interesting cross between a cannon and a musket. Let’s take a look at our wall gun.  

Wall Gun vs. Musket


A wall gun is essentially just a supersized musket. As the name implies, wall guns were intended to be fired resting on a wall or the railing of a ship, and many original weapons were fitted with a yoke or swivel similar to an oarlock to facilitate easy mounting. Such a rest was necessary given the weight and size of the weapon. Wall pieces were typically .91 caliber, had four and a half foot-long barrel (although some were as long as six feet), measured over six feet long in total, and weighed between 35 and 40 pounds. Constructed in only limited quantities, primarily in the 1740s and again in the 1770s, wall pieces were intended to function as artillery pieces in situations were even the smallest and lightest of cannons were impractical. Although unwieldy, a wall gun could be positioned and fired by just one soldier. Firing a 2¼-ounce ball, they could apparently hit targets 500 to 600 yards away, and were ideal for use during sieges, when they could be moved around to fire on enemy engineers and sappers. During the American Revolution, Captain William Congreve of the Royal Regiment of Artillery, a noted artillery innovator, suggested employing wall guns as a secondary weapon alongside field guns. Under Congreve’s plan, wall guns mounted on two-wheeled carts accompanied artillery detachments and were deployed alongside the cannons. A vertical wooden mantlet, or shield, attached to the cart protected the two soldiers serving the guns. Despite their size, wall guns remained a muzzle-loading flintlock weapon, and as such were loaded and fired in much the same way as a normal sized musket.


Although the British military only produced wall guns in limited numbers, two of them found their way to Michilimackinac in the 1770s. Classified as ordnance along with the garrison’s cannons and mortar, the walls guns were apparently intended to serve in detached positions outside the main palisade wall. In 1768, Captain-lieutenant Frederick Spiesmacher of the 60th Regiment requested permission to build a blockhouse on a sandy hill outside the fort. He wanted a blockhouse large enough for six men and two wall guns. Spiesmacher probably never built the blockhouse, as a decade later Lieutenant Governor Patrick Sinclair ordered a blockhouse built overlook and command hollow ground behind a sand hill which the troops could not reduce,” which would also flank the trader’s houses in the suburbs outside the palisade. When the blockhouse was finished in early 1780, Sinclair noted that it contained positions for three artillery pieces, but the wall guns could also have been used there. The guns were moved to Mackinac Island with the rest of the fort by 1781, but disappear from the Fort Mackinac ordnance returns soon after. Whether they were sent away or merely no longer recorded with the larger artillery pieces is unclear.

Today, our reproduction wall gun is occasionally fired for demonstrations, sometimes taking the place of the cannon or mortar for an artillery firing. An original wall gun is also on display in the underground powder magazine and Firearms on the Frontier exhibit. Be sure to see the original piece next time you visit Colonial Michilimackinac, and you might be lucky enough to see the reproduction fired on the parade ground!

 

What’s Growing the Garden? Cabbage!

Cabbages are attractive vegetables. They come in a variety of shapes, textures, sizes and colors. Many gardeners in the 18th century, including Michilimackinac resident John Askin, considered cabbages to be an essential vegetable in the garden. They keep well, are versatile in the kitchen and generally low maintenance. They can be placed out in the garden earlier than crops like beans, cucumbers and melons and are quite cold hardy. This winter, we even had one cabbage winter over in our King’s Garden. It was quite a surprise, especially since it was covered in snow for a few months with no protection at all.

The downside to these vegetables is that they are incredibly tasty to slugs. The gray beasts like to get inside the cabbage heads and munch away. Just when it seems like all the slugs have been picked from the leaves, there are five more that pop out. In the 18th century, gardeners had many solutions to deal with slugs, but most come down to manual removal. At Michilimackinac, we have found that encouraging toads in the garden has also proven useful.

Right now, our cabbage seedlings for 2020 are started and doing well. The transplants will be planted out in early to mid-May and when they are big enough, they will find their way to our daily food programs at Colonial Michilimackinac. If you have never grown cabbage, take a cue from history and give this beautiful and useful vegetable a chance. Be sure to visit our website for more updates, and check out Mackinac Associates, a friends group which makes many of our programs and exhibits (including the gardens) possible at all of our historic sites.

What’s Growing in the Garden? Carrots!

Carrots in the ground.

We have begun our spring cleanup of the gardens at Michilimackinac! It Is the best time. Every year we find a few unexpected things, and this week we came across a number of forgotten carrots. We are usually quite meticulous about digging our root vegetables and storing them for use later, but it seems that these escaped our shovel. Surprise!

What will these be used for? Well, 18th century sources abound with recipes and uses for carrots. Some books recommended them as a cure for everything from cancer to asthma. Cooks turned the root vegetable into puddings, added them to soups, and used them in salads. One of our favorite historic ways to use carrots is from a recipe by E. Smith that was published in the Compleat Housewife in 1736:

To make Carrot or Parsnip Puffs

Scrape and boil your carrots or parsnips tender; then scrape or mash them very fine, add to a pint of pulp the crumb of a penny-loaf grated, or some stale biscuit, if you have it, some eggs, but four whites, a nutmeg grated, some orange-flower water, sugar to your taste, a little sack, and mix it up with thick cream. They must be fry’d in rendered suet, the liquor very hot when you put them in; put in a good spoonful in a place.

They end up being sweet and deliciously greasy.

While it is not uncommon for root vegetables to winter over in the gardens at Michilimackinac, it still always seems like something that shouldn’t be possible. Check back later to see what other things are happening this spring at Michilimackinac. If you would like to help support our gardens and other activities at all of our historic sites, consider joining Mackinac Associates, and visit our website for tickets and more information.

Battlefield Archaeology at Wawashkamo Golf Club

Sideplate fragments and ramrod pipes from Wawashkamo battlefield survey. Credit: CHMA

One of the most unusual archaeological projects to take place on Mackinac Island was a metal detector survey of the portion of the 1814 battlefield located on Wawashkamo Golf Club. The project was carried out in May 2002 by the Heidelberg (Ohio) College Center for Historic and Military Archaeology under the direction of Dr. Michael Pratt and funded by the Wawashkamo Restoration and Preservation Fund.

1814 Battle of Mackinac Island.

The August 4, 1814 battle was always known to have taken place on the Dousman farm on either side of what is now known as British Landing Road. This survey was designed to determine what might be left in the ground on the western side of the battlefield after 85 years of farming by the Dousman and Early families, followed by 102 years as a golf course.
Three different types of metal detection instruments were used in order to locate ferrous, brass, copper, silver, lead, nickel and gold artifacts. The fairways were systematically “swept” to locate possible concentrations of artifacts. Four areas of interest were located, which were then intensively surveyed.
Two hundred sixty-five artifacts related to the battle were located. These included United States Infantry and Artillery buttons, spent and dropped rifle, musket and buck shot, a piece of iron canister shot, trade gun parts, an 1807 U.S penny, and three nearly complete clasp knives. Additional artifacts recovered related to the Dousman and Early farms and all eras of Wawashkamo Golf Club.

U.S. Army buttons recovered during Wawashkamo battlefield survey. Credit: CHMA

The clusters were located on fairways 1, 5, and 9 and the east end of fairway 8. Spatial analysis of the battlefield artifacts indicated that the survey area included the path of Lieutenant Colonel George Croghan’s regular troops advancing and retreating along British Landing Road, and the possible location of Major Andrew Holmes’s unsuccessful flanking attack and death.
The 2002 survey demonstrated that significant archaeological resources have survived at Wawashkamo. The results did not re-write the story of the battle, rather they fleshed out the written record and provided a tangible link to the only battle ever fought on Mackinac Island.

It Will All Come Out in the Wash

According to some sources, the average American family washes 300 loads of laundry ever year. People are inherently dirty, and sweat, dirt, food, and many other things come into contact with our clothing every day. We clean our clothes to stay healthy and keep them looking good. Modern laundry machines and detergents can efficiently and effectively remove all that smelly nastiness from our clothes. But how did people clean their clothes before detergents and washing machines?

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Ezekiel Solomon at Michilimackinac

With Passover underway, let’s take a closer look at one of Michilimackinac’s merchants: Ezekiel Solomon, who was probably Michigan’s first Jewish resident. (more…)

A Model 1884 Springfield Rifle

The .45-70 Springfield Rifle.

The Buffington sight. A second adjustment screw (not visible) swiveled the entire sight left or right.

During the summer months, visitors to Fort Mackinac are able to see a real piece of history in action every single day. Historical interpreters representing soldiers from the 23rd Regiment of Infantry perform rifle firing and drill demonstrations throughout the day. The weapons they carry, the .45-70 Springfield rifle, are all 19th century originals, making them at least 130 years old. Let’s take a closer look at one of these fascinating weapons.

 

Introduced in 1873, the .45-70 remained the standard issue arm of the American army for 20 years. A single-shot weapon, the rifle derived its name from the cartridge it fired: a .45 caliber bullet propelled by 70 grains of black powder. Over the course of its service life, the army refined the rifle several times, making almost yearly changes to the design to reflect the realities of daily use and at the suggestion of officers and enlisted men. Only rarely did these design changes cumulatively result in the designation of a new model, but in 1884 the army approved a “new” design incorporating improved features.

 

The improved cleaning rod, with tapered button tip.

Note the knurling on the trigger and on the hammer.

This Model 1884 displays many of these design elements. The two most prominent “new” features are the sight and the cleaning rod. The sight, designed by Lt. Col. A.R. Buffington of the Ordnance Department, includes a leaf that can be flipped up and adjusted to sight the weapon at ranges up to 1,400 yards. It also includes an adjustment screw to compensate for windage- by turning it, the entire vertical leaf swivels right or left. The cleaning rod, meanwhile, incorporates the flared button head adopted in 1879 and put into widespread production in 1882. The breechblock is stamped U.S. MODEL 1884, although in reality these stamps were not added to new rifles until 1886, and weapons marked this way did not enter widespread service until 1887. The rest of the rifle incorporates several other design improvements adopted over the years, such as knurling on the trigger and hammer, which was intended to improve a soldier’s fingertip grip on these critical pieces.

 

The star symbol stamped next to the serial number (it looks like a flower) indicates that this rifle was probably rebuilt at an arsenal at some point.

The rifle’s breech in the open position. When opened after firing, the weapon automatically ejected the spent cartridge, allowing a soldier to quickly reload.

This particular rifle has a serial number in the 141000 range, indicating that it was probably originally produced in 1879 or 1880. How, then, can it incorporate features only authorized in 1884, and not actually put into service for a few more years? The small five-pointed star or flower next to the serial number most likely indicates that this weapon is an arsenal rebuilt. In 1879 the Springfield Armory began collecting older .45-70 rifles and using some of the parts to build new weapons, which were held in reserve or eventually issued to various state units (the forerunners to the National Guard). Furthermore, since the rifles were built using entirely interchangeable parts, after the weapons left frontline military service and entered the civilian market (which many did- they are still relatively easy for collectors to obtain) it was simple for gun brokers and owners to cobble together “new” weapons with a mixture of parts from different model years.

 

In any case, this rifle, and the others in daily use at Fort Mackinac, are truly history that you can see, smell, hear, and touch. Our interpreters carry rifles of both the 1873 and 1884 models, with many of the small variations added each year. We even have a few rifles equipped with ramrod bayonets, an experimental design attempted on three different occasions in the 1880s. These weapons had a small, sharpened metal dowel mounted under the barrel in lieu of a cleaning rod in an effort to eliminate the need for soldiers to carry a separate bayonet and scabbard. Historically, one of the two companies of the 23rd Infantry stationed at Fort Mackinac from 1884 to 1890 were issued the experimental ramrod bayonet rifles for evaluation. When you visit us at Fort Mackinac, be sure to ask the interpreters about their rifles- they’re a fascinating link to the past!

Biddle House Update

As you may have heard, we’re currently in the process of updating the Biddle House to include the Mackinac Island Native American Museum. This new exhibit, which tells the continuing story of the Anishnaabek on Mackinac Island and in the surrounding Straits of Mackinac region, will open in early summer 2020. To get the building ready for the new exhibit, the Biddle House itself is currently undergoing a variety of restoration work. (more…)

Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse Exhibit Update

For the first time in the history of Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse, the second floor of the house will be available to the public. As part of our Mackinac Parks: 125 celebration, a new exhibit will debut on the second floor of the house exploring the domestic life of the Marshall’s in the early 1910s. Join Curator of History Craig Wilson as he provides a construction update. Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse, and the new exhibit, will open May 7, 2020.