Patrick Sinclair

Patrick Sinclair

This silhouette is the only known image of Sinclair. The star on his coat may be the badge of the 15th Regiment, in which he served from 1761 to 1773.

Today, if Patrick Sinclair is remembered at all, it is as the somewhat inept British officer who established the fort and permanent community on Mackinac Island. However, Sinclair enjoyed a long career before he arrived at the Straits of Mackinac. (more…)

Gibraltar Craig

Gibraltar Craig

Stereoview of Gibraltar Craig, ca. 1880s

Gibraltar Craig from near Anne’s Tablet, August 2018.

Many striking limestone formations are scattered around Mackinac Island – Arch Rock, Sugar Loaf, and Devil’s Kitchen, to name a few. One of the most seen, yet probably not considered as a formation, lies in front of Fort Mackinac as one looks towards the cannon firing. Gibraltar Craig is the rocky outcropping of limestone just below the upper gun platform of the fort. (more…)

Fire Grenades

Fire Grenades

Detail of the fire grenade on display at the Fort Mackinac guardhouse.

Fort Mackinac suffered structural loss from fires during its use as a military post between 1780 and 1895. Two of the major fires that damaged Fort Mackinac occurred in the years 1855 and 1858. Both fires destroyed several buildings including the barracks. In 1855, the fire started from below the barracks in the cellar which then spread to the barracks chapel, kitchen, and two other nearby facilities. In 1858, the troops of Fort Mackinac were faced with another threatening fire after they had reconstructed the barracks. This fire took place in the bakery, but, to great surprise, grew and demolished the new barracks along with several other smaller buildings. Following these two fires and the Civil War (Fort Mackinac was virtually abandoned during the Civil War), Captain George Brady suggested the use of fire grenades for firefighting within Fort Mackinac. During the mid-1880s, fire grenades were introduced to the fort as a form of fire suppression. The grenades used within the fort were filled with salt-water. (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…)

Beaumont Emergency Hospital Ambulance

Beaumont Emergency Hospital Ambulance

The carriage being prepared to move to the Mackinac Horsemen’s Association.

The Beaumont Emergency Hospital Association was formed around 1924 to provide medical services during the summer tourist season. The hospital was named in honor of nationally-known Fort Mackinac physician, Dr. William Beaumont, famous for his ground-breaking medical research on human digestion. (more…)

Mary Ella Cowles

Mary Ella Cowles

Mary Ella Cowles

Mary Ella Hitchcock was born in 1855 in Rochester, New York. At 18 years old, she, her younger sister Kate, and parents Charles and Eliza Hitchcock headed west. Her father had purchased a silver mine near Prescott, Arizona, but the family was caught in a snowstorm for several days. They retreated to Fort Verde on December 27, 1873 and were under the protection of the soldiers. Just days prior, a young lieutenant named Calvin Duvall Cowles had arrived at the post with the 23rd Infantry. He was soon smitten with Mary Ella and, within six months, they were married.

For the next ten years, the Cowles family lived at ten different posts. Twice Calvin left on campaigns, with Mary Ella caring for home and family. Their first child, Mary – called Toosie to avoid confusion with her mother Mary – was born in 1875. Sons Robert, William, Calvin, Jr., and Josiah followed. To reorganize a household on an annual basis, and move with young children and infants was hard on the family, especially Mary Ella.  It was also a struggle financially to move the family so often. Mary Ella was frustrated with the lack of amenities and help to care for their growing family.  (more…)

A Peek Into The Past: The Pratt Photo Album

A Peek Into The Past: The Pratt Photo Album

Companies E and K, 23rd Infantry, at Fort Mackinac, 1886

Mackinac State Historic Parks is fortunate to have an ever-expanding collection of original objects related to the sites we preserve and interpret. These objects help us share the many stories of Mackinac with our visitors. One of the more unique pieces in the collection is an original photo album and scrapbook assembled by Edward Pratt, a U.S. Army officer who served at Fort Mackinac and several other stations around the world at the end of the 19th century. (more…)

The Christmas Mutiny at Fort Mackinac

The Christmas Mutiny at Fort Mackinac

Summer on Mackinac Island buzzed in the 1820s with the booming fur trade. Fort Mackinac was busy regulating the fur trade during this bustling time. The winter was a different story of long nights and monotonous work. This was the time that one of the most dramatic episodes to ever play out at Fort Mackinac happened, the Christmas Mutiny of 1829. (more…)