The Musical Well of Mackinac Island

Cave of the Woods remains one of the lesser-known natural wonders of Mackinac Island.

 Mackinac Island attracts visitors from around the world to experience interesting history, inspiring natural beauty, and fantastic geological features. For centuries, visitors have stood in awe at famous sites such as Arch Rock, Sugar Loaf, Skull Cave and Devil’s Kitchen. Other features, such as Friendship’s Altar and Cave of the Woods, are reserved for explorers with a trail map and a little determination. Some attractions, including Fairy Arch, Scott’s Cave, and Wishing Spring were well-known to visitors a century ago, but no longer exist today. A few natural wonders never appeared in guidebooks, being mentioned briefly in historical records. One of the most intriguing is the Musical Well of Mackinac Island.

 The year 1845 began at the Straits of Mackinac with a mild winter. In early March, many eastern newspapers printed “a letter from a U.S. officer in the garrison at Mackinac.” Dated March 2nd, it announced “the straits are wholly free of ice, east of the island, so that vessels may anchor in the harbor.” Soon, captains of every brig, sloop, schooner, cutter, and steamboat on the Great Lakes made plans to set sail. Newspaper notices called for passengers and announced freight shipments of every description.

Advertisement for the new Mackinac Boarding House, printed in The Buffalo Courier, June 18, 1845

 Of particular note that spring were advertisements which featured a new “Mackinac Boarding House,” opened by Smith Herrick. In this period, Mackinac Island tourism was still in its infancy. While a small number of visitors found rooms to rent in earlier decades, formal hotels only emerged as the fur trade dwindled in the 1840s. The new establishment was located in the Mission House, a large building near the southeast corner of the island. Built in 1825 by the American Board of Foreign Missions, it operated for 12 years as a boarding school for Native American children before closing in 1837.

 During the spring of 1845, Mr. Herrick, along with his wife, Clara, transformed the structure in preparation for guests. Improvements included repairs and paint, carpeting throughout, and “new and excellent furniture – making a most extensive and comfortable house for travellers.” Guests who rented rooms during its first season offered rave reviews of their experiences. Among these testimonials was a letter written at Mission House on June 17th by a correspondent who identified himself as “J.I.M.” Printed in the Boston Statesman on July 5, 1845, he shared the following tale.

A 19th century view of the Mission House Hotel. The popular resort was owned and operated for many decades by Edward A. Franks and his family.

 “As I was speaking in the evening of my visits to the Sugar Loaf, and ‘Arch Rock,’ Mr Mack Gulpin, a French native, more than sixty years old, and a most excellent, kind hearted man – told me there was a curiosity on the Island not much known; that many years ago, in 1812 – he was gunning with a friend when they came to a hole in a rock. They threw down stones, which appeared to fall very far, and they made very sweet musical sounds as they went down. He had a string about 60 feet long, to which he attached his ramrod and let it down this Musical Well. He vibrated the rod so that it would strike the sides, and he said ‘such sweet and delightful sounds – such beautiful music as came up he never heard in his life.’ He and his companion, he said, staid there nearly all the afternoon enraptured by this music.”

 “Mack Gulpin” was surely a member of the McGulpin family. Today, visitors can tour the McGulpin House as part of Historic Downtown buildings on Mackinac Island. William McGulpin, the first known owner, bought the house in 1817 and it stands as one of the oldest remaining homes on the island. The McGulpin family also owned 2 acres of land immediately adjacent to Mission House for many years.

 After some encouragement, McGulpin agreed to guide “Jim” to search for the musical well. His account continued, “I furnished myself with twine and irons to draw music from the well. Mack Gulpin led on through the thick woods and along the winding paths, interesting me by the way with his stories of olden times… When he was tired, he would seat himself on the ground – strike fire with his flint and steel – light his pipe and take his rest…

This view of Fort Mackinac was drawn for Captain Scott in 1845 by Private William Brenschutz, a soldier stationed at the post

 When I was some ways from him, he called me to come; he had found the place. Time, leaves and dirt had choked up its original entrance, so as to divert the descent from a perpendicular, and we could not drop the iron and the line for the music. But the well is there, and is of great depth. I doubt not it descends 160 or 170 feet to the level of the water. Mack Gulpin was disappointed as well as myself at finding we could not get the music. He is sure the well can be restored to its original form and melody with a little labor. If it can be done, Captain Scott, the gallant, active and gentlemanly commander of the garrison, who beautifies, adorns and improves every thing which comes under his care will do it… After carving my name on a poplar tree near the mouth of the musical well, we turned our faces for home.”

 The Musical Well was never restored, and memory of its presence has faded away. Today, many island guests still enjoy natural music of Mackinac Island’s north woods. Listen closely, and you can hear songs of warblers in the treetops and aspen leaves fluttering in the breeze. If you stroll down Main Street, past the Mission House, you’ll find the rhythmic clomping of hooves fades to quieter sounds of waves splashing along the shore. Someday, perhaps the Musical Well will naturally reopen, enrapturing fortunate visitors, once again, with delightful sounds in the Mackinac Island forest.

Tour of the Turtle’s Back: Ancient Mackinac Island

Approaching Mackinac Island by boat offers excellent insight of ancient geological forces which shaped the landscape we enjoy today. As the last glaciers retreated about 11,000 years ago, a tremendous amount of meltwater filled ancient Lake Algonquin to a depth of about 220 feet higher than current Lake Huron. At that time, only the highest point of Mackinac Island stood above the water, being about ½ mile long and nearly ¼ mile wide. For many generations, Native Americans have referred to this high point as the Turtle’s Back, as its domed shape creates the perception of a giant turtle floating on the water.

Although exaggerated, this 1817 illustration by Francis Belton clearly illustrates the high point of ancient Mackinac Island.

 For about 3,000 years, the churning waves of Lake Algonquin eroded softer portions of limestone along the shores of this ancient island. As softer sections were removed, harder portions of recemented limestone, known as Mackinac breccia, were left behind, creating features which are still visible today. The two most prominent of these are among Mackinac’s oldest natural wonders – Skull Cave and Sugar Loaf.

 Both of these formations are examples of sea stacks which resisted the erosive power of Lake Algonquin waves. These pillars of breccia became separated from the ancient island as softer rock was gradually washed away. Both features also include caves, which were slowly excavated by the pounding surf, thousands of years ago.

This 1915 map, drawn by Morgan H. Wright, clearly outlines the features of the Turtle’s Back.

 Start your tour of the Turtle’s Back by heading north from Fort Mackinac, along Garrison Road and Rifle Range Trail. Upon your approach, high bluffs of the ancient island rise before you, with reconstructed Fort Holmes perched at the top. Skull Cave is located near the southwestern corner of the ancient island. At first, it may be difficult to imagine this formation as a sea stack, as it is smaller and more eroded than Sugar Loaf. The cave itself largely collapsed by 1850, and was subsequently filled in further. Like other formations across Mackinac Island, this cave was used as a sacred gathering place by nearby Anishinaabek residents, who interred their dead here for centuries. As a measure of respect, and to help preserve this ancient formation, access beyond the fence is not permitted.

 Published on August 19, 1842, an article in the Sandusky Clarion, of Sandusky, Ohio, included the following description of Skull Cave. “Not far from Fort Holmes is a small cave, called Skull Cave Rock, because the Indians were in the habit of interring the dead here. The passage in is necessarily on the hands and knees. The cave itself is about twelve feet square… The rock is light colored limestone, and is constantly crumbling away. The little stone that breaks off from the main rock have many holes in them, and are very easily reduced to a powder.”

This 1897 depiction of Sugar Loaf includes a ladder which once allowed park visitors to access its cave.

 As you leave the cave, continue along Garrison Road, towards the cemeteries. Here, the high bluff of the ancient island largely remains hidden by trees. Venture past the Protestant Cemetery and turn right on Fort Holmes Road, winding your way up a hill to the high promontory known as Point Lookout. From here, a grand vista opens below you, foremost being the 75-foot pyramid of Mackinac breccia known as Sugar Loaf.

 During her visit in 1852, Juliette Starr Dana climbed a ladder which once allowed tourists to enter a small cave in the side of Sugar Loaf, about 15 feet above the ground. Crouching down and examining its surface, she wrote, “It seemed water-worn & the whole rock within & without was full of strange little holes, with the insides nicely polished as by the action of water.” Today, safety concerns prohibit climbing the formation or entering the cave, but a tour around its base is well worth the journey.

 In 1945, geologist George M. Stanley noted that Sugar Loaf stands about 300 feet east of the ancient island, and the top of this formation was a small island of its own. He wrote, “It is a magnificent display of limestone breccia. One may see by close inspection, fragments of bedding limestone of various sizes from vary small fragments to blocks several feet long, tilted in random directions and all cemented into a solid mass.”

 Leaving Point Lookout, continue down the road to Fort Holmes, located at the southern exposure of ancient Mackinac Island. The renowned geologist Frank B. Taylor visited this spot in 1890 and 1891. During the period of Lake Algonquin high water, he noted that we “would stand alone in a wide expanse of water. The nearest mainland would then be about 30 miles to the south and the nearest islands about 20 miles to the north and southwest. In all other directions open water would stretch away 100 to 200 miles.”

 In more modern times, this grand view of the Straits of Mackinac has been celebrated time and again by visitors for the last several centuries. In 1836, theologian Chauncey Colton exclaimed, “I may venture to assert that there are few scenes in nature which are equal to the view from Fort Holmes… To the west, the eye follows the straits until it rests on the bluffs at the northern extremity of Lake Michigan, or is lost in its transparent waters; while all around stretches the vast expanse, with here and there an island, looking pure and peaceful as if the impress of sin had never been laid upon it.”

Fairy Arch by Henry Chapman Ford 1874

Mackinac Island’s Other Arches

Arch Rock is Mackinac Island’s most famous and spectacular limestone formation. A century ago, curious visitors could find two additional arches, also celebrated for their natural beauty and rich traditions. Today, Sanilac Arch exists as a remnant of its former self, while Fairy Arch only remains in artwork, photos, and written accounts. Their stories highlight the importance of preservation and serve as reminders of nature’s continual process of change.

1. Fairy Arch from Picturesque America or The Land We Live In (1872)

For many years, a small boat was the easiest way to access Fairy Arch (1872)

 Fairy Arch

 Fairy Arch was first described in 1802 by Dr. Francis LeBarron as one of Mackinac Island’s two “natural arches of the Gothic order.” Over the following decades, a thick undergrowth of young trees blanketed the island landscape, which had been previously cleared for firewood. For most of the 19th century, Mackinac’s eastern shoreline was difficult to explore, covered by huge boulders and thick vegetation.

 In 1866, Fort Mackinac surgeon Dr. John R. Bailey rediscovered the 40-foot formation and coined the name Fairy Arch. Despite challenging access, the lovely arch appeared on 19th century maps and in guidebooks. In 1872, Constance Fenimore Cooper wrote, “Fairy Arch is of similar formation to Arched Rock, and lifts from the sands with a grace and beauty that justify the name bestowed upon it.”

 In an 1875 guidebook for visitors of the newly created Mackinac National Park, publisher John Disturnell noted Fairy Arch was about ¼ mile from Arch Rock. He wrote:

 “A little north and beyond [Robinson’s Folly] a high pinnacle of rude rock crops out from the mountain side, near the base of which is a very picturesque arch, known as the ‘Fairy Arch,’ or Arch of the ‘Giant’s Stairway.’ This spot is rather difficult of access owing to the presence of huge rocks and an entangled forest.”

 Fairy Arch became more accessible about 1900, when a boulevard completely encircling Mackinac Island was completed. From the shore, visitors were encouraged to climb huge limestone ledges, like giant steps, to explore this natural wonder. A 1918 guidebook noted, “To visit Mackinac Island and fail to climb the Giant’s Stairway and view this beautiful handiwork of nature, is to miss one of the leading features of the “Fairy Isle.”

Fairy Arch Postcard by Detroit Publishing Co. 1906
Fairy Arch by Detroit Publishing Co. with seated woman inset ca.1910

Views of Fairy Arch were sold as souvenir prints and postcards. The Detroit Publishing Company offered these two images in the first decade of the 20th century.

 To improve travel around Mackinac Island’s lakeshore, state highway M-185 was completed in 1933. In a misguided erosion control effort, Fairy Arch was destroyed in the late 1940s. Today, this unique formation only remain accessible through artwork, photographs, and written reminisces.

Fairy Arch by Henry Chapman Ford 1874

Fairy Arch by Henry Chapman Ford (1874)

 Visitors to The Richard & Jane Manoogian Mackinac Art Museum may enjoy a lovely and somewhat idealized view of Fairy Arch painted in 1874 by landscape artist Henry Chapman Ford. This oil on canvas painting is an example of luminism, a type of landscape painting popular from the 1850s through the 1870s. Click Here for museum hours and information.

 The Little Arch

Lower Arch to Natural Bridge by J.A. Jenney 1874

Men explore the “Lower Arch” in this view by photographer James A. Jenney (1874)

 One half of Arch Rock rests on a large pinnacle of Mackinac breccia limestone that towers 130 feet above Lake Huron. Near the base of this cliff is a small, tunnel like arch, which is now nearly filled with rocky debris. Once much larger, this small arch has been known through the years as the Lower Arch, Little Arch, Maiden Arch and Sannillac Arch.

 In 1874, photographer James A. Jenney, of Flint, Michigan printed a series of Picturesque –  Mackinaw stereoview cards. His view, entitled, “Lower Arch to Natural Bridge” is one of the earliest known photos of this formation. A similar view was published by Mackinac Island photographer Edward P. Foley in 1887, entitled “Maiden Arch, Under Arch Rock.” For many visitors, this smaller formation was easier to explore from the lakeshore rather than risking a steep hillside climb to view Arch Rock from above.

 When Mackinac National Park was dissolved in 1895, the island’s arches became part of the newly created Mackinac Island State Park. That year, a visitor named “M.A.” described Maiden Arch in a small volume entitled, Eight Days Out.

Maiden Arch from Views of Mackinac Island (1886)

Maiden Arch (cropped) from A Lake Tour to Picturesque Mackinac on the D and C (1890)

Victorian era tourists explore Maiden Arch.
1886 (left) & 1890 (above)

 “From [Robertson’s Folly] we followed the beach north to the foot of Arch Rock… There we discovered an interesting arch, which is not on the program, but is more wonderful, and will exist for ages after the renowned arch has crumbled and gone. It is directly under the high cliff, or promenade which extends out into the lake, that tourists walk out upon while viewing the Arch Rock… Two hundred dollars would pay the expense of a winding stairway, down through the principal arch, then under the lower one, and extending to the lake, which would be the most picturesque scene on the island.”

 Maiden Arch was renamed Sannillac Arch in 1916, by author Frank O’Brien, in his booklet Names of Places of Interest on Mackinac Island, Michigan. Sannillac, a Wyandot leader, was the subject of an 1831 narrative poem by Henry Whiting. Written in the style of Native American legend, the popular work contained notes by Henry R. Schoolcraft, Indian Agent on Mackinac Island from 1833-1841. According to local lore, this small arch was a gate through which fairy children entered Mackinac Island, while giant fairies entered through the larger portal, Arch Rock. Over the years, its name was shortened to Sanilac Arch.

Boy under Sannillac Arch ca. 1910-1920

A boy explores Sannillac Arch (ca. 1910-1920)

 Before 1950, tourist literature encouraged visitors to climb through Sanilac Arch. In 1948, an article in The Island News noted, “Mackinac Island [State Park] does not point it out with an official marker and it can only be reached by scrambling up the bluff. The little limestone rocks crumble underfoot and make ascent a tricky accomplishment. The alpenstock is proper equipment.”

 For thousands of years, erosion has naturally carved out the hillside beneath Arch Rock. Today, the space under Sanilac Arch has nearly filled in with small rocks and other debris. Protected behind a fence and stone wall, the little arch may only be enjoyed from a distance to protect this unique formation and preserve visitor safety.

Sanilac Arch by Kyle Bagnall, October 2021

Today, the opening of Sanilac Arch has nearly filled in with stones and other natural debris. (October 2021)

Sanilac Arch by Kyle Bagnall, October 2021
Stereoview of Arch Rock

2021 Mackinac State Historic Parks Collections Acquisitions

A beer stein

A souvenir beer stein

The Grand Hotel Loving Cup

One of the more unique additions: a Grand Hotel Loving Cup

In 2021, the collections committee accessioned 247 objects into the Mackinac Island State Park Commission collection and archives. In addition to several purchases, over 115 items were donated to the collection. Although the summer collections internships were cancelled, the commission was able to hire an intern for the 2021/2022 winter. During the summer, the inventory scheduled for the Mackinaw City historic sites including Colonial Michilimackinac, Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse and Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park was completed. The 2020 winter intern completed the inventory of the archival and postcard collections in the Keith R. Widder Library.

 

 

Ruby mug inscribed by Frank Kriesche

A ruby mug inscribed by Frank Kriesche. 

 

A painting of a horse and buggy by Stanley Bielecky

Painting by Stanley Bielecky

As in 2019, several objects were purchased from the collection of the late Ronald J. Rolando. Watercolors and oil paintings by Stanley Bielecky, photographic prints by William H. Gardiner and artwork of many other artists were selected. A unique Grand Hotel loving cup presented in 1894, a souvenir beer stein and a ruby glass mug inscribed by island artist Frank Kriesche were some of the three-dimensional objects chosen. Archival items included an engraving from Henri Chatelain’s early 18th century atlas showing the industry of the beaver fur trade and manufacture, four island hotel menus printed on birchbark and two late 19th century maps of Mackinac Island.

A capstan cover from the SS Chief Wawatam

Capstan cover from the SS Chief Wawatam. 

This summer, the commission received a call from a gentleman who had one of the brass capstan covers from the railroad ferry SS Chief Wawatam. The ship had two of these covers which were mounted on top of the capstans on the railcar deck. The capstan is a vertical-axled rotating machine developed for use on sailing ships to multiply the pulling force of seamen when hauling ropes, cables and hawsers. The man’s father had been given the cover back in the late 1980s when the ferry was being scrapped and told his son if he did not want it to throw it away. The son did some research and found the commission had a collection of objects from the ship. After discussion with collections staff, he offered to donate the cover to the commission’s collection. This is a unique piece with the ship’s name, company and shipyard that built the ship and manufacturer of the capstan.

 

A note from W. Stewart Woodfill to a guest from Grand Hotel

Letter on Grand Hotel stationary from W. Stewart Woodfill

Bottles from the Bailey National Park Drugstore

Pharmaceutical bottles from the Dr. John R. Bailey & Sons National Park Drugstore

The commission received several other donations including seven pieces of artwork from the Artist-In-Residence program, a letter on Grand Hotel stationary from W. Stewart Woodfill to a patron and a Westfield Company bicycle belonging to islander Ernst Puttkammer. Two pharmaceutical bottles from the Dr. John R. Bailey & Sons National Park Drugstore were donated by an island contractor and original sanctuary light fixtures were donated by Little Stone Church.

Over the years, the commission has acquired several stereoviews showing Mackinac Island buildings, geological formations, scenic views and other subjects. This year four views were purchased showing the New Mackinac Hotel, Arch Rock from below, Robinson’s Folly and Devil’s Kitchen. Stereoview cards were a popular souvenir in the late 19th century. The three-dimensional views could be purchased from many local stores and taken home to be viewed through a stereopticon. P.B. Greene, J.A. Jenney and Webster & Albee were some of the photographers who took the images and published them on Mackinac Island or in cities around the Great Lakes.

Stereoview of Arch Rock

A stereoview of Arch Rock

A stereview of the New Mackinac Hotel

A stereoview of the New Mackinac Hotel.

This is only a small sample of the type of objects Mackinac State Historic Parks collects during a given year.  We are always looking for donations and items to purchase which will help the commission to continue its mission of educating the public about the history of the region.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Early Accounts of Arch Rock

On an island known for awe-inspiring natural wonders, Arch Rock is Mackinac’s most iconic. This seemingly delicate natural bridge “excites the wonder of all beholders” as it defies gravity, rising more than 140 feet above the waters of Lake Huron. Whether you gaze up from the lakeshore or peer down from the adjacent cliffside, the views that your breath away have been enjoyed by visitors for centuries.

  The first known description of Mackinac Island’s geological formations was penned by Dr. Francis LeBaron on October 30, 1802. The doctor recently arrived at Fort Mackinac to assume the duties of post surgeon. In a letter to the editor of Boston’s Columbian Centinel & Massachusetts Federalist, he wrote:

A black and white photo of Dr. Francis LeBaron

Dr. Francis LeBaron

 “The island of Michilimackinac is about three miles long and two wide, situated in the straights that join lake Huron to lake Michigan
The curiosities of this place consist of two natural caves, one of them is formed in the side of a hill, the other in a pyramidical rock of eighty feet in height, and thirty-five feet in diameter at its base, which is situated on a plain and totally detached from any rock or precipice… There are also two natural arches of the Gothic order which appear to have been formed by some convulsions in nature, one is eighty feet in height, the other is forty.”

  Arch Rock received even broader attention in 1812, when a short description appeared in the sixth edition of Reverend Jedidah Morse’s American Universal Geography. Known as the “father of American geography” (also father of Samuel Morse, inventor of the telegraph) his books influenced the educational system of the United States, being widely used in classrooms for decades. In part, his description of Michigan Territory reads:

A color image of Rev. Jedidah Morse

Rev. Jedidiah Morse

An issue of The American Universal Geography from 1812

The American Universal Geography, 1812

 “Islands. The island Michilimackinac lies between Michigan and Huron, and is 7 miles in circumference….The fort is neatly built, and exhibits a beautiful appearance from the water… On the N.E. side of the island, near the shore, and 80 feet above the lake, is an arched rock. The arch is 20 feet in diameter, at the top, and 30 at the base… The island is one mass of limestone, and the soil is very rich. The climate is cold but healthy. The winter lasts for 5 months with unabated rigor.”

A map of the island of Michilimackinac from 1817

Map of the Island of Michilimackinac [Arch Rock Detail], W.S. Eveleth, 1817

  After the War of 1812, American military surveys and inspections produced a flurry of descriptions, sketches, and maps of Mackinac Island. During an 1817 survey, Lieutenant William Sanford Eveleth, U.S. Corps of Engineers, composed a highly detailed map, including miniature drawings of Arch Rock, Sugar Loaf and Skull Cave. One can imagine curious visitors strolling each dotted pathway through the woods, in search of geological wonders.

  While sharing his reflections on the arch, Captain David Bates Douglass later revealed, “Several officers have walked over it, among which are Lieutenant Curtis and Pierce and my lamented friend Evelyth, at the dizzy height of 147 feet. However, I should think it a rash enterprise.” [In October 1818, Lieut. Evelyth tragically drowned in a violent Lake Michigan gale during the wreck of the schooner Hercules with all hands lost.]

The Arched rock, Michillimackina, F.S. Belton, Sep. 1817

  Major Francis Smith Belton completed the first known artistic rendering of Arch Rock in September 1817. Also on a military inspection tour, his view is shown from a boat offshore, rendered wild, exaggerated and fantastical.

Detail of The Arched rock, Michilimackina by F.S. Belton, Sep. 1817

  One of the two tiny figures drawn at the top of Belton’s image may be Judge Advocate Samuel A. Storrow, who was also on the Island that September. His written description of Mackinac Island and Arch Rock was published as a pamphlet entitled, The North-West in 1817: A Contemporary Letter. In part, it reads:

 “On the eastern side, I found one of the most interesting natural curiosities I have ever witnessed. On the edge of the island, where as elsewhere, the banks are perpendicular, you creep cautiously toward the margin, expecting to overlook a precipice; instead of which you find a cavity of about 75 degrees descent, hollowed from the direct line of the banks; and across it on the edge of the precipice… an immense and perfect arch. Its height is 140 feet from the water, which is seen through it… Looking from the interior, the excavation resembles a crater; but, instead of an opposite side, presents an opening, which is surmounted by this magnificent arch… When on the beach below, you see this mighty arch 140 feet above you, half hid in trees, and seemingly suspended in the air… From the Lake it appears like a work of art, and might give birth to a thousand wild and fanciful conjectures.”

  From these early, enthusiastic descriptions it’s clear that Arch Rock has cast a spell upon Mackinac Island visitors for centuries. To learn more about Arch Rock and the Island’s other natural wonders, watch for future blog posts, exhibits and publications and visit mackinacparks.com.

3 ways to explore the ‘wild side’ of Mackinac

As the name suggests, the Mackinac State Historic Parks are full of history. Glimpses of the past are preserved through original structures such as the 240-year-old Officer’s Stone Quarters at Fort Mackinac on Mackinac Island and artifacts such as the original Fresnel lens at Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse in Mackinaw City.

  But really, the human history on exhibit at Mackinac State Historic Parks is all recent history. The attractions in Mackinaw City and on Mackinac Island also represent eons of natural history that go back much, much farther in time.

  Some of the iconic rock formations in Mackinac Island State Park, for example, are estimated to have been shaped many thousands of years ago. And the forest of Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park, as well as the Straits of Mackinac itself, are even older than that.

  In fact, the region’s natural history is the reason there’s any human history to explore in the first place. After all, it was the narrow Great Lakes passage that brought people to the area and it was the forests that provided for them – lumber for homes, animals for food and pelts for the once-lucrative fur trade, for example.

  Mackinac State Historic Parks attractions showcase that mix of natural history and human history. It’s fascinating to tour Colonial Michilimackinac in Mackinaw City and learn about 18th-century life on the fort or step inside the old American Fur Company Store on Mackinac Island and discover what it was like to be a 19th-century trapper or trader. It’s also enlightening to get the backstory of those human experiences by stepping way back into the natural “wild side” of Mackinac.

  Here are three of the best ways to get an understanding of the incredible natural history within Mackinac State Historic Parks:

  •  – Did you know that more than 80% of Mackinac Island is state parkland? It was even once a national park! While many visitors rent bikes and pedal all the way around Mackinac Island on M-185, that scenic loop is partially closed in 2021 due to ongoing erosion repairs. All the more reason to pedal up into the middle of Mackinac Island instead and find more than 70 miles of roads and trails through forest that looks much like it did millennia ago. (Get the latest updates on M-185 repairs and detours on Mackinac Island.)

Another popular ride is Mackinac Island’s Arch Rock Bicycle Trail, which takes you out to the iconic Arch Rock overlooking the southeast corner of the island. Arch Rock is a bucket-list natural history destination on its own. But along the way you can make stops on the Mackinac Island Botanical Trail, too. There are several trailside turnouts with interpretive areas where you can learn about the flowers and plants of Mackinac Island.

  •  – If hiking is more your style of exploration, then lace up your boots and take on the trails of Mackinac Island by foot. Many miles of trail aren’t even passable by bike, in fact. Roots and rocks combined with big changes in elevation make some trails within Mackinac Island State Park ideal for a strenuous hike, while the paved roads through the island’s interior offer a more leisurely option for immersing yourself in the ancient forest. Birdwatching on Mackinac Island is another great option for experiencing the wild side of Mackinac.

In Mackinaw City, you can enjoy a stroll along the Straits of Mackinac at the foot of the Mackinac Bridge at Colonial Michilimackinac or walk for miles through the woods of Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park. Just as many visitors to Mackinac Island only scratch the surface of all there is to see, so do most people only see a fraction of Mill Creek. Many of the trails into the wilds of Mill Creek are even accessible, and there also are guided hikes scheduled each day.

  •  – Speaking of Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park, the one-of-a-kind Adventure Tour is a fun way for all ages to experience some of the region’s natural history. The high-flying excursion takes visitors not only into the forest, but up to the top of it for a walk over the Forest Canopy Bridge some 50 feet above the creek below. Your tour guide points out natural features along the way, then you zoom back down to ground level on the exhilarating Eagles’ Flight Zip Line.

Before or after your tour, be sure to take the 71 steps up to the viewing platform atop the park’s Treetop Discovery Tower. The panoramic vista from up there offers a spectacular view of the whole region, and a great perspective on the natural features that attracted people to the Straits of Mackinac.

There’s lot of history to experience at Mackinac State Historic Parks, including the wilderness where not many visitors venture. Come explore Mackinac’s wild side!

2018 Collections Acquisitions

2018 Collections Acquisitions

Weidenaar etching of ‘Big Mac.’

In 2018, the Mackinac Island State Park Commission accessioned 120 gifts and 82 purchases to the historic object and archival collection. Among the objects acquired was an 1891 register from the New Mackinac Hotel, a walking stick that belonged to park commissioner James Dunnigan, a plastic viewfinder with slide images of Mackinac Island and several photograph albums. During the year, the park purchased two miniature etchings by Reynold Weidenaar, a black and white photograph showing early transportation in the park and accepted a donation of images showing a prominent Mackinac Island family.

Weidenaar etching ‘At Mackinac Straits’.

In 2017, the park commission purchased the mezzotint Bridge Builders by Michigan artist Reynold Weidenaar. This was the last of three large etchings showing the Mackinac Bridge being built that the park needed to complete its collection. This year, staff were made aware of two miniature etchings of the bridge also done by the artist. At Mackinac Straits and Big Mac were purchased and will complete the collection which will be on display in The Richard and Jane Manoogian Mackinac Art Museum. (more…)

Mackinac in Color

Mackinac in Color

Gardiner Arch RockWilliam Henry Gardiner was born in 1861 in Canada, and he began his photography career in Toronto around the age of 20. Around 1890, Gardiner made the decision to move to Detroit, since it was difficult to make a living doing photography in Canada. At some point after moving to Detroit he made a visit to Mackinac Island, and relocated both his family and business there around 1895.

(more…)