Agriculture at Mill Creek

Watching the sawmill operate is one of the highlights of a visit to Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park. Seeing the original grist mill stones reunited in the American Millwright’s House is the result of good historical detective work. However, milling was the not the only enterprise at Mill Creek.

   According to the original land claim by Robert Campbell’s heirs, the property was “commonly known by the name of Campbell’s farm.” Among the improvements listed on Private Claim 334 were a house, a grist and sawmill, at least 40 cultivated acres, a large orchard and valuable buildings.

   Michael Dousman purchased the property in 1819. He was a large landowner, with additional property on Mackinac and Bois Blanc islands. He held lucrative contracts to supply Fort Mackinac with beef and hay, which he supplied from these farms. The gristmill closed by 1839, and the sawmill was moved to Cheboygan in the mid-1840s.

Historic Mill Creek Archaeology Map

   After Dousman’s death in 1854, Jacob A.T. Wendell of Mackinac Island bought the property. In 1867 Putman’s Magazine published a story about an unsuccessful trout fishing expedition to Mill Creek. It stated, “there had formerly been a cleared spot of land about the mill, but it was fast growing up again.”

   Also shortly after the Civil War, a man named Young, a tenant of Wendell, built a house at the foot of the Mill Creek bluff and engaged in the manufacture of lime. After two years he moved on to other pursuits. At that point Wendell arranged with Charles Bennett to move into the house and see that no one trespassed on the private claim. In 1916 Angeline Bennett, Charles’s widow, testified in an affidavit that they had “lived upon and occupied said property for upwards of fifty years.” One of their descendants visited Historic Mill Creek in 1993 and remembered a farm on the bluff and apple trees.

   The Wendell family sold the property to the Petoskey Mackinaw Lime Company in about 1902, but apparently the Bennetts continued living there until the house, which Angeline described as “at the foot of the bluff where the quarry is now located,” burned down in 1911. The Petoskey Mackinaw Lime Company mined limestone and clay for road building into the 1920s before letting the land tax revert to the State of Michigan.

Barn Area at Mill Creek.

   Is there any evidence of this agricultural activity visible at Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park today? Old apple trees are still scattered among the reconstructed buildings near the creek. Faint traces of two structures are visible across the path from the sawpit at the foot of the hill. They are most visible in the spring before the foliage comes out and in late fall when everything has died back again. Mapping and limited archaeological testing was carried out in 1988.

   The first foundation is a large rectangle, seventy-one feet long by twenty feet wide, with twenty-foot door gaps in the long north and south walls. This would seem most likely to be a barn. Nineteenth- century artifacts, including red transfer-printed ceramic sherds and a metal plate from an instrument case dated 1873, were found here.

Silo area.

   The second ruin is circular, and so has been interpreted as a silo. It is about thirteen feet in diameter. It did not contain as many artifacts, only some late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century bottles and tin cans. There was evidence for a thin wood floor about two feet below the ground surface.

   Larger scale excavation at both structures in the future may reveal more about this interesting facet of life at Mill Creek.

At Last…

The site being prepared for the field season. The plastic containers protected wood posts under the plastic sheeting and straw over the winter.

   After a very long wait, MSHP archaeologists were excited to remove the straw and plastic sheeting from the archaeological site and begin preparing the site for excavation. Unfortunately, there was a lot of slump, especially along the north wall, so there is a lot of clean up ahead. The next step is to re-establish the grid strings used to record where features and artifacts are found relative to the overall master map.

   This will be our fourteenth season of excavation at House E of the Southeast Rowhouse. The rowhouse was constructed in the 1730s and this unit was owned by Charles Gonneville for most of the French era at Michilimackinac. By 1765 the house was owned by an as-yet-unknown English trader. Our initial research question for the project was how does an English trader’s house look different from a French-Canadian trader’s house? The early answer is that there is more trade silver and ceramics. This trader not only had fashionable furnishings, but dressed stylishly as well, based on the sleeve buttons and other adornment items we have recovered.

   Our main goals for this summer relate to the deep features previously exposed. We think we are nearing the bottom of the root cellar in the southeast corner of the building and hope to complete its excavation this season. There are two more deep features, which intersect, in the west and south-central areas of the house. We hope to better define them this season.

   As with any archaeological excavation there will be surprises that raise new questions. You can come watch history being uncovered at Colonial Michilimackinac every day from June 12 – August 22, from 9 am until 5 pm, weather permitting. You can also follow along all season on the MSHP blog and social media channels.

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.

Battlefield Archaeology at Wawashkamo Golf Club

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.

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…)

Archaeology at Old Mackinac Point

The station grounds as they appeared around 1918. The privy and oil house are located at right. Courtesy State Archives of Michigan

Restoration of the Old Mackinac Point Light Station includes not only the ongoing work at the lighthouse, but the restoration and reconstruction of support buildings and landscape features. As with all ground disturbing activities at Mackinac State Historic Parks, the impact on potential archaeological resources is a consideration.
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Privy Addition at Old Mackinac Point

Restoring a historic site to its original appearance is usually an ongoing activity. At the Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse, restoration has been underway since 2004 to return the station buildings and grounds to the way they looked just over a century ago. This summer, another small historic addition appeared at the lighthouse that you may not have noticed. Attached to the back of the station barn, you can now see a reconstructed privy cleanout, which allowed the keepers to maintain the privy located in the barn between 1892 and 1928. (more…)

Archaeology Update

Archaeology Update

The first half of the archaeology field season has been very productive. The root cellar in the southeast corner of the house has continued to be rich in information. A few more planks from the west wall of the cellar have been exposed. The final piece of the feather-edged creamware plate that was exposed last summer was removed in mid-June. Two large pieces of plain white tin-glazed earthenware have also been recovered. One appears to be from a tightly curved bowl. The other appears to be from a straight-sided vessel partially excavated from the cellar last summer. Other interesting finds from the cellar include a trade silver circle brooch, the fourth one from this house, and a leg bone and hoof from a pig or sheep.

Creamware plate reassembled

Tin-glazed earthenware bowl fragment

Straight-sided white tin-glazed earthenware from side

White-tin-glazed sherds from 2018 and 2019

2019 trade silver brooch

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The Wharf at Michilimackinac

The Wharf at Michilimackinac

The fort’s water gate, as seen from the lake. Although not yet reconstructed, the wharf would have occupied this space in the 1770s.

Situated on the Straits of Mackinac, Michilimackinac was ideally located to serve as a major transshipment point and resupply hub for the Great Lakes fur trade. Every summer, dozens of canoes and a few small sailing vessels filled with tons of fur, trade goods, food, and other supplies called at the shoreline community. To facilitate movement between water and land, by at least the mid-1760s Michilimackinac’s residents relied upon a wooden wharf. (more…)