Archaeology at Fort Mackinac – Provision Storehouse

The “Store House” is the structure labeled “I” on the west end of the fort on this drawing from 1796. Credit: Historical Society of Pennsylvania

One of the largest archaeological excavations to take place at Fort Mackinac was at the site of the original provision storehouse. This excavation was carried out during the summers of 1981-82 by University of South Florida field schools directed by Dr. Roger T. Grange Jr. These were part of the commemoration of the bicentennial of Fort Mackinac. Dr. Grange’s final report was published as Number 12 in the Mackinac State Historic Parks’ Archaeological Completion Report Series (Excavations at Fort Mackinac, 1980-1982: The Provision Storehouse – Mackinac State Historic Parks | Mackinac State Historic Parks (mackinacparks.com) and was the basis of this blog post.

 The provision storehouse is an unusual structure because is has been excavated twice, in two different locations. It was originally built by British soldiers just inside the water gate at Michilimackinac (on the south side of the straits) in 1773. Being a relatively new building, it was moved to Mackinac Island when the garrison was relocated in 1781 and appears on early maps of Fort Mackinac.

 The mainland site was excavated in 1959 and the storehouse reconstructed in 1961. Today it houses the orientation film at Colonial Michilimackinac.

Scissors from the early American occupation.

Leather shoe parts from post War of 1812 deposit.

 On the island, the structure served as a storehouse through the first British occupation (1780-1796), the first American occupation (1796-1812) and the second British occupation (1812-1815). After the War of 1812, it was converted into a barracks, with workspace for military tailors and shoemakers, and a hospital. Its use as a hospital (1815-1827) overlapped with the service of Fort Mackinac’s most famous post surgeon, Dr. William Beaumont. A portion of the storehouse appears as a log structure next to the 1827 hospital painted by Mary Nexsen Thompson shortly before it burned down days before completion.

Microscope lens, possibly used by Dr. Beaumont.

Mary Nexsen Thompson painting of 1827 hospital with portion of storehouse. Credit: William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan

 A completely new hospital building was constructed in 1828, over the middle of the storehouse/1827 hospital, but oriented north-south instead of northeast-southwest like the original. A portion of the west end of the provision storehouse behind the 1828 hospital was the area of the archaeological excavation. No remnants of the provision storehouse are visible today, but you can stand on the original location while touring Fort Mackinac (opens May 4, 2023). You can also visit the reconstruction of the original provision storehouse at Colonial Michilimackinac (opens May 10, 2023) and learn more about Dr. Beaumont’s work at the American Fur Co. Store & Dr. Beaumont Museum in downtown Mackinac Island (opens June 3, 2023).

 

2022 Mackinac State Historic Parks Collections Acquisitions

In 2022, the collections committee accessioned 176 objects into the Mackinac Island State Park Commission collection and archives. In addition to several purchases, over 90 items were donated to the collection. The summer collections internship program was restarted and Kendra Ellis, from the Maritime Studies Program at East Carolina University, was hired. She assisted Curator of Collections Brian Jaeschke with the inventory of Fort Mackinac buildings and Special Storage inside the Heritage Center.

 In 2010, five pen and ink drawings of Mackinac Island were loaned to the park for exhibit in The Richard & Jane Manoogian Mackinac Art Museum. The loan was changed to a donation early in the year. The five drawings were done in the early 1840s by Francis Melick Cayley who moved to Canada in 1836. The views are some of the most precise pre-photographic images of the island known to exist. They are so well proportioned that it is believed he may have employed artificial means to prepare the sketches, such as a “camera obscura,” which permitted projection of a scene onto paper for tracing. The drawings continue to be displayed in the main gallery of the art museum.

 During the course of procuring images for the new Dr. William Beaumont Museum exhibit this winter, the park purchased four paintings of the doctor and his wife from the Wayne County Medical Society of Southeast Michigan. Two of the paintings are miniature portraits of Dr. Beaumont and his wife Deborah. It is believed they were done around the time of their marriage in 1821. The other two paintings are reproductions of images showing Beaumont later in life. The portraits need conservation work and will eventually be placed on display.

 The park purchased two black and white panoramic photographs showing Mackinac Island scenes. The first image, by island photographer William Gardiner, was taken from a naval vessel, quite possibly the USS Michigan. The ship is entering the harbor with downtown, Fort Mackinac and Grand Hotel visible. The second image was taken by H.J. Rossiter from the fort pasture and shows the officers’ and commanding officer’s quarters, Fort Mackinac and Trinity Episcopal Church. The images were taken around 1900 and give us a unique historic glimpse of the island.

 Donated to the park collection this summer was a painting with a unique perspective from a path behind Trinity Episcopal Church looking toward Fort Mackinac. The oil on canvas by German-born Curt Bielefeldt was done sometime between 1940 and 1960. He lived in Buffalo before moving to Detroit in the early 1930s. He worked in oils and watercolors and was also known for murals. He was a cousin of German boxer Max Schmeling. Bielefeldt won the grand prize in the 1930 Buffalo Society of Artists in the Albright Gallery. His work was displayed in many locations including the Detroit Institute of Art and the J.L. Hudson Company Gallery.

 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.

What’s New for 2023?

As the calendar flips to the new year, the Mackinac State Historic Parks crew is busy preparing its historic sites and parks for an exciting 2023 season.

 “We are excited to welcome visitors to experience our parks and numerous attractions,” said Steve Brisson, Mackinac State Historic Parks Director. “We have added a variety of new exhibits and programs over the last few years, and our staff is busy preparing to have everything ready for our spring openings.”

2023 marks the 125th anniversary of the automobile ban on Mackinac Island. Mackinac State Historic Parks will mark this occasion with a special event on July 22, complete with an 1886 Benz Motorwagen on the island. The “horseless vehicle” will also be on display outside Fort Mackinac during the day on July 22. A special commemorative logo has been developed and will be found on merchandise at Mackinac State Historic Parks museum stores, as well as on the license plates found on carriages throughout the island. A new vignette, written by former Mackinac State Historic Parks’ Director Phil Porter, will also be published for the anniversary.

“Mackinac Island is famous for many things, but the century and a quarter-old ban on motorized vehicles is truly at the top of why it is such a special place,” Brisson said.

Staying on the island, Fort Mackinac opens for the 2023 season on May 4. The museum store and theater have swapped spaces, with the store now in the Commissary and the theater now in the Soldiers’ Barracks. The swap is part of a larger interpretive plan for the barracks which will happen in stages in coming years. The Fort Mackinac Museum Store will continue to feature publications, apparel, and one-of-a-kind souvenirs.

Additionally at Fort Mackinac, a new program titled “Soldier’s Gear and Quartermasters’ Storehouse” will allow visitors to see what soldiers would have been issued at Fort Mackinac in the 1880s and how that had an impact on their daily lives. Classic programs, such as the rifle and cannon firing demonstrations, will feature fresh perspectives. Other programs will highlight the changing face of Fort Mackinac, the historic residents who called the fort home, a look at Mackinac as a national park, the role women played at the fort, and what happened in the evening at Fort Mackinac.

“We hope to display the unique mix of the military culture and tourism at Fort Mackinac in those last years of Mackinac National Park,” explained Jack Swartzinski, Mackinac State Historic Parks’ Interpretation Coordinator.

The Tea Room at Fort Mackinac, operated by Grand Hotel, will feature new menu items for the 2023 season, and, as always, will feature one of the most stunning views in Michigan. Perhaps the way to make a Fort Mackinac visit most memorable is firing the opening cannon salute, which is available to one guest daily. More information can be found here.

Elsewhere on Mackinac Island, the McGulpin House, one of the oldest residential structures on the island (built in 1790) and a rare and excellent display of French Canadian domestic architecture, will receive brand new exhibits for the 2023 season. The Biddle House, featuring the Mackinac Island Native American Museum, shares the continuing store of the Anishnaabek on Mackinac Island, with daily interpretive programs and engaging exhibits. The Benjamin Blacksmith Shop, located next door to the Biddle House, is a working blacksmith shop that dives into the 1950s and the changing culture of workers on Mackinac Island. The American Fur Co. Store & Dr. Beaumont Museum received a new exhibit in 2022. Admission to all of these sites is included with a Fort Mackinac or Historic Downtown Mackinac ticket.

At The Richard & Jane Manoogian Mackinac Art Museum, located in front of Fort Mackinac in Marquette Park, a new juried art exhibition will debut on the second floor – “A Mackinac Day.” There’s always something special about being able to spend a day on Mackinac. The sun seems to shine a little brighter. The sky seems a little bluer. Even days where things don’t go to plan can seem perfect. Everybody has their “Mackinac Day.” The gallery will be on display from May 12 – October 8. An art attendant, new for 2023, will guide guests through the museum and provide a better understanding of the art and artists who have created art inspired by the Straits of Mackinac. Additionally, eight artists-in-residence will stay on Mackinac Island throughout the summer. Each artist will host a special, free workshop on the second Wednesday of their residency.

The Biddle House, featuring the Mackinac Island Native American Museum, Benjamin Blacksmith Shop, and The Richard & Jane Manoogian Mackinac Art Museum open for the 2023 season on May 12. The McGulpin House and American Fur Co. Store & Dr. Beaumont Museum open June 3.

Special events at Fort Mackinac and Mackinac Island include Twilight Turtle Treks on January 7, February 7 and March 7; the Fort2Fort Five Mile Challenge May 13; the annual Vintage Base Ball game July 29; special activities for July 4; special history evening programs including a guided tour of Historic Downtown Mackinac as it would have looked in the 1830s and a tour highlighting the creation of the village of Mackinac Island; special nature and birdwatching tours; night sky programs at Fort Holmes and Arch Rock; bike tours looking at Mackinac’s forgotten features and the War of 1812; and much more. More information can be found at mackinacparks.com/events.

The year 1780 will be explored at Colonial Michilimackinac, in Mackinaw City, where mischief and mayhem reigned. 1780 saw this isolated British outpost become a scene of paranoia, military mischief, and, from a certain point of view, mutiny. A special daily program will explore this spirit of dissention and disobedience that destabilized Michilimackinac’s garrison.

Other programs throughout the day explore the rich history of the site and showcase how it was more than a military outpost. Get an up-close look at the merchandise that passed through Michilimackinac during the height of the fur trade; explore dining culture at a Merchant’s House; learn about the enslaved community at Michilimackinac; explore the 5,500 square feet of gardens during an engaging tour; have tea at a British Trader’s home and dive into the complexities of British society; find out what civilians and soldiers were up to; and, of course, feel the power of Michilimackinac’s weapons with musket and artillery firings.

The Mackinac State Historic Parks’ archaeology program will enter its 65th season in 2023. Work will continue in House E of the Southeast Rowhouse at Colonial Michilimackinac. Archaeologists will be out daily (weather permitting) during the summer months. Guests will have the opportunity to see the most recent finds at Colonial Michilimackinac with a new “Recent Excavations” display inside the Colonial Michilimackinac Visitor’s Center.

Guests now have two opportunities to fire weapons at Colonial Michilimackinac: an opening cannon blast, at 9:30 a.m., or they can fire the full complement of weapons at Guns Across the Straits. Reservations for either program can be made by calling (231) 436-4100. More information can be found here.

Special events at Colonial Michilimackinac include exhilarating “Fire at Night” programs, deep dives into Michilimackinac’s maritime history, a celebration of the King’s Birth-day on June 4, a look at Askin’s Men and Women at Michilimackinac in August, a moonlit Michilimackinac evening, the ever-popular Fort Fright, and A Colonial Christmas. More information can be found at mackinacparks.com/events.

Colonial Michilimackinac opens for the 2023 season May 10.

“Colonial Michilimackinac will continue to provide an interesting and unique look into the early history of the Straits of Mackinac in 2023, and we invite you to explore Colonial Michilimackinac and the exciting history of the great lakes fur trade,” said LeeAnn Ewer, Mackinac State Historic Parks’ Curator of Interpretation.

The ongoing restoration of Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse continues in 2023, as an oil house will be reconstructed on the property. The last few years have seen several gallery openings at the lighthouse – the Straits of Mackinac Shipwreck Museum, a Science and Technology Exhibit, and the Marshall Gallery on the extensively renovated second floor. Throughout the day guides will sound the Fog Signal Whistle and provide tours of the lighthouse tower. Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse opens on May 11.

Programs at Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park feature daily demonstrations of a reconstructed 18th century sawmill. With the smell of fresh sawdust in the air, the awesome power of the water never fails to impress as the mill springs to life, fed by the pond and ever-flowing currents of Mill Creek. Near the workshop, sawpit demonstrations and historic farming programs highlight what life was like beyond the sawmill more than 200 years ago. On the wild side, guests will make new discoveries as wildflowers bloom and wildlife flourishes along 3.5 miles of nature trails. Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park opens for the 2023 season May 12.

A streamlined Forest Adventure Experience, formerly the Adventure Tour, features the Forest Canopy Bridge, Eagles’ Flight Zip Line, and Treetop Discovery Climbing Wall. Forest Adventure Experiences are available beginning June 9.

“The story of Mill Creek links all MSHP sites together,” said Kyle Bagnall, Mackinac State Historic Parks’ Park Naturalist. “Whether you’re watching sawdust fly in the sawmill, soaring down the zipline, or perched on the treetop discovery tower, you’re sure to experience Mackinac’s natural and cultural wonders in many unique ways.”

Every museum store will feature new items inspired by the site they represent. The Official Mackinac Island State Park Store, inside the Mackinac Island State Park Visitor’s Center, will continue to have new items inspired by the historic and natural elements of Mackinac Island.

Most major projects were funded, in part, by Mackinac Associates.

 

 

Fort Mackinac soldiers clearing a path in front of Fort Mackinac in the 1880s.

Winter for the Soldiers at Fort Mackinac

 Wintering on Mackinac Island has always been a desolate and isolated affair. For much of its history, many well-off merchants, fur traders, and other entrepreneurs would leave the island during the winter months. The soldiers stationed at Fort Mackinac though did not have this luxury and found ways to sustain themselves during those harsh months. Soldiers kept busy through various trainings and responsibilities but were often left with the harsh reality of winter in Northern Michigan. Looking at the men of the 23rd United States Infantry, companies E and K, we can see how the soldiers and the army tried to adapt to their Mackinac Island home as winter resources slowly improved.

Fort Mackinac soldiers clearing a path in front of Fort Mackinac in the 1880s.

Soldiers at Fort Mackinac clearing path in Post Garden, 1880s.

 The daily routine of Fort Mackinac changed as the days got colder. In November of 1887, Captain Greenleaf Goodale issued General Order 97, moving the first assembly of the day from 6:00 am to 6:30 am. In this same General Order, less time was allocated towards drill, and more time for fatigue duty for clearing paths, chopping firewood, and general maintenance. The high snow fall on the island could make company and battalion level drill almost impossible, and subsequent orders show a greater focus on smaller scale drills, like signal drill, school instruction, and litter-bearing for the post hospital. The garrison still conducted bi-monthly musters but these were often moved indoors in order to compensate for winter weather. In order to make up for this lack of consistent and high-quality drill, Captain Goodale directed the garrison to conduct regular battalion and company drill as soon as the weather turned warm again. He also assigned recruits to drills created especially for them to make up for lost time in winter.

Plans for a shooting range, gallery and gymnasium from 1889.

Plans for the Shooting Gallery, Drill Room and Gymnasium, which would never be constructed, 1889.

 Throughout the 1880s, the United States Army put a large focus on marksmanship skills. This program required soldiers to visit a rifle range at least twice a week over the four-month training season. Outside of the season soldiers were expected to take indoor practice, called Gallery Practice. Soldiers used 7-10 grains of black powder with modified rounded bullets (much different than the 70 grains of black powder and conical shaped bullets soldiers typically used) and shot at small, metal plates, over 30 to 50 feet. The main purpose of this practice was to improve the soldier’s trigger discipline and aiming skills. Fort Mackinac received a grant from the Army in 1887 to buy targets and lease the island’s ice rink, though it seems the soldiers never used the ice rink and stuck to practicing in the Post Barracks. Gallery Practice seems to have been one of the more effective trainings the soldiers conducted during the wintertime, as is reflected in the high number of Marksman and Sharpshooter designations earned at Fort Mackinac.

 Not only were prescribed drills and trainings inhibited by winter weather, but also the kinds of free time activities the men could enjoy. This became a concern amongst the command staff at Fort Mackinac, as the soldiers not only spent much of their time drinking but also getting out of shape. The snow made it impossible for sports like baseball to be played. The healthiest activities for soldiers to participate in were, as Assistant Surgeon C. E. Woodruff wrote, “those sports requiring expensive apparatus, as snows-shoes and toboggans.” Both Woodruff and Captain William C. Manning recommended building a gymnasium and drill hall on the Fort grounds, but these plans were ultimately denied.

The John Jacob Astor Hotel on Market Street, 1885.

The John Jacob Astor Hotel on Market Street, ca. 1885

 In their loneliness, soldiers drinking downtown risked embarrassing accidents. According to the Cheboygan Democrat, soldiers started their own “social club” in the Astor Hotel in December of 1887. Soldiers could often get a pass to go downtown to one of the saloons, leaving the army vulnerable to embarrassing drunken antics by the men. Luckily, the Army had already been looking to reduce this risk by creating “Post Canteens.” There soldiers could drink and socialize within the walls of their station under the watchful eye of their offices, served by a bartender who had to follow the Army’s regulations. In the winter of 1889, soldiers of Fort Mackinac converted the old wood quarters into a post canteen. This post canteen reduced the public incidents of the soldiers, but it did nothing to relieve the heart of the problem.

 The isolated nature of the island still plagued the men. Soldier’s still lacked activities that kept them active throughout the winter, which not only hurt their personal health but also their skills as soldiers. Unfortunately, due to the nature of Fort Mackinac’s military importance, they did not see the improvements some other stations would during this time. The soldiers of Fort Mackinac in the 1880s  had to do as many of their predecessors had, stay as warm as possible, and wait for the warm and beautiful return of summer on the Straits of Mackinac.

A Fort Mackinac cannon in winter.

Fix Bayonets!

 Throughout Fort Mackinac’s military history, British and American soldiers were issued bayonets to complement their shoulder arms. Bayonets allowed a firearm to double as a stabbing weapon and a pike. Additionally, soldiers advancing with fixed bayonets could be a powerful psychological weapon, frightening the enemy into fleeing before contact. By the 1880s, however, bayonets had lost much of their tactical usefulness. Nonetheless, American soldiers stationed at Fort Mackinac and elsewhere continued carrying these secondary weapons, and the bayonets of the late 19th century reflect an interesting time of transition for the U.S. Army.

 When the army adopted the new Springfield .45-70 rifle in 1873, a new bayonet came with it. Featuring an 18-inch long triangular blade, the Model 1873 bayonet utilized a rotating clasp to lock onto the front sight at the muzzle end of the gun barrel. From 1873 to 1878, bayonets were specifically produced for use with the new rifles. However, officials in the War Department, always eager for ways to reduce costs, realized that the government still had large stocks of surplus Model 1855 bayonets. These older weapons, produced in huge quantities to supply federal troops during the Civil War, were designed to fit .58 caliber rifled muskets. Fortuitously, officers at the Springfield Armory devised a method of cold-swaging the larger sockets of the 1855 bayonets down to fit the .45 caliber barrels of the 1873 rifles. The older bayonets could thus be utilized at little cost to the government, and no new bayonets were produced after 1878. So large was the stock of 1855 bayonets that it took a decade for the armory to finally run out of them.

 When the old bayonets were finally expended in 1888/89, the army officially adopted a ramrod bayonet. A sharpened metal rod carried within the stock just under the barrel (the traditional location for a ramrod on all earlier muzzleloading weapons), the ramrod bayonet could be extended beyond the muzzle and locked in place. This eliminated the need for soldiers to carry a separate bayonet and scabbard, since the bayonet was already integral to the rifle. The army experimented with ramrod bayonets for most of the 1880s, continually tinkering with the design and issuing small numbers of the weapon to soldiers for field testing. In 1886, Co. K of the 23rd Infantry, stationed at Fort Mackinac, received rifles with ramrod bayonets for evaluation.

 As bayonet designs evolved, so too did the scabbards to carry them. Although the ramrod bayonet eliminated the need for a separate scabbard, those weapons were not in general service until the middle of 1890. As a result, most soldiers carried their bayonets in metal scabbards hung from their belts through the 1880s. Initially, scabbards for the 1873 bayonet featured a leather frog, which simply looped over the 1¾-inch wide waist belts issued beginning in 1872. However, as soldiers increasingly preferred to wear wider cartridge belts for field service, these scabbards were no longer compatible. As a result, in 1889 the army finally adopted a new scabbard design featuring a long, thin brass hook in place of the leather loop. The hook could still easily be worn with the narrower 1872 belts, but could also be used with a woven cartridge belt.

 Even as the Army continually refined and experimented with bayonet designs, general officers and regular soldiers alike increasingly questioned the utility of the bayonet in an age when troops were trained for exceptionally long-range marksmanship. Noting that in combat the bayonet functioned only as far as a soldier could reach, Commanding General of the Army William Sherman stated that “my experience teaches me that one side or the other runs away before arm’s length is reached.” Sherman and other officers suggested that the bayonet be declared obsolete and dropped from service, but stopped short of pressing the issue as he believed bayonets might still be useful in highly specific circumstances such as riot control. In the 1870s and 1880s soldiers were deployed to suppress civil unrest, usually linked to strikes and other labor actions, and officers felt that bayonets allowed troops to “safely” disperse crowds without firing on them.

 If you would like to see original bayonets up close, feel free to ask our interpretive staff at Fort Mackinac. They carry original bayonets (to go with the original .45-70 rifles used daily for demonstration) and are happy to answer questions about them, as well as the rest of the unique uniforms and equipment utilized by the U.S. Army during the 1880s. This was a time of change and experimentation for the army. If you would like more information, or an opportunity to buy tickets to Fort Mackinac and our other museums, please visit our website.

Three people on bikes heading to the G. Mennen Williams Mackinac Celebration.

Friends Preserving and Sharing Mackinac’s Heritage

Looking back over the last forty years since receiving their official 501(c)3 non-profit designation in 1982, Mackinac Associates has funded an outstanding list of projects supporting Mackinac State Historic Parks. Funds raised through Mackinac Associates from membership fees, appeals, sponsorships, and other gifts assist in in preserving the rich history and natural beauty of the Straits of Mackinac.

Members are welcomed by staff to a special event at Fort Mackinac in the early days of Mackinac Associates’ 40-year history.

 Mackinac evokes so many memories of a special place that has allowed individuals, families, and friends to create memories and unique experiences. In managing Mackinac Island State Park, which encompasses over 80% of Mackinac Island, Michilimackinac and Mill Creek State Parks in Mackinaw City, and all the buildings and sites contained within those boundaries, Mackinac State Historic Parks has the unique ability to protect and preserve the most treasured natural and historical resources in the Straits of Mackinac.

 What started as a group of a dozen local residents and friends of the park in the late 1970s has grown into a friend’s group made up of more than 2,000 members dedicated to our mission: “Friends preserving and sharing Mackinac’s heritage.” Members can be proud they are part of an organization that has provided over $2 million to support projects in every area of museum operation, making possible park improvements, interpretive programs, publications, exhibits, and natural history education over the last 40 years.

A new sign at the entrance to the Dr. Beaumont Museum.

The entrance to the new exhibit at the American Fur Co. Retail Store & Dr. Beaumont Museum.

 Mackinac Associates helps fund projects both large and small and this past year was no exception with nearly $200,000 in projects sponsored across Mackinac State Historic Parks sites and operations. On Mackinac Island, updates to the American Fur Company Store included a brand-new exhibit highlighting Fort Mackinac surgeon Dr. William Beaumont’s famous experiments and the scientific process about the digestive system brough about by the accidental shooting of French-Canadian voyageur Alexis St. Martin in 1822. Additional projects on the island included electrical upgrades for the Schoolhouse building at Fort Mackinac, projectors and touchscreens updates and installations within exhibits, and furthering the dendroarchaeology study on the McGulpin House, one of the island’s oldest structures.

 At our mainland sites, Mackinac Associates’ 2022 Spring Appeal announced the Parks’ newest reconstruction project – the Southwest Rowhouse addition at Colonial Michilimackinac. Originally built in the 1730s and extensively rebuilt in the 1760s, archaeologists excavated the remains of the rowhouse in 1960-63, and a portion of the building was reconstructed in 1968. Continuing with the reconstruction of an addition on the east end of the rowhouse will assist in better interpreting Michilimackinac during the 1770s. This past spring’s fundraising effort completed the first step in this reconstruction process, the creation of an architectural design plan to move the project forward.

A person riding the zip line at Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park.

Annual Mackinac Associates members receive a 15% discount on the Forest Adventure Experience at Mill Creek.

 Additional projects were completed at Colonial Michilimackinac with the help of Mackinac Associates included the relocation of the Blacksmith Shop to a more historically correct location outside the palisade walls, and the purchasing of supplies for the shop. Funding was also given toward improvement planning for the Michilimackinac State Park day-use area at the base of the Mackinac Bridge, which will include future updates to this iconic and scenic space. At Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park located 3.5 miles east of Mackinaw City, improvements were made to the zipline, part of the park’s Forest Adventure Experience where guests can “fly” 425 feet down the Eagle’s Flight Zip Line over the creek bed.

 Mackinac Associates was also able to assist with marketing, interpretation, and wayfinding projects this year, including the replacement and upgrading of signage throughout Mackinac State Historic Park sites, new cocktail tables for special events, and digital advertising to welcome new and returning visitors to the Parks.

Three people on bikes heading to the G. Mennen Williams Mackinac Celebration.

Marie Bunker, Adrienne Rilenge, and Lauren Rilenge following the 2022 G. Mennen Williams Member Celebration. Image by Kara Beth Photography.

 As we look back on the 40-year history of Mackinac Associates, members can treasure the fact that they have a direct hand in helping to protect, preserve, and present Mackinac’s rich historic and natural resources. If you have a fondness for Mackinac Island and the Straits of Mackinac, we hope you will consider showing that support by joining Mackinac Associates to help make the next 40 years just as successful as the last.

 Mackinac Associates members receive a wide range of educational and social benefits, including unlimited admission to all Mackinac State Historic Parks sites, 15% discount at all museum stores, a subscription to the Curiosities newsletter, and invitations to member exclusive events*. For more information on membership, giving, and benefits, please visit www.mackinacassociates.com.

*Mackinac Heritage Season Pass is valid towards site admission only and does not include discounts or special events.

The Curious Mind of Thomas Nuttall

“To converse, as it were, with nature, to admire the wisdom and beauty of creation,

has ever been, and I hope ever will be, to me a favourite pursuit.”

     Thomas Nuttall (1821)

 On August 12, 1810, Thomas Nuttall stepped ashore on Mackinac Island, becoming the first trained botanist to explore northern Michigan. A native of Yorkshire, England, Nuttall arrived in America in 1808, intent on learning as much as possible about living things in the New World, whether they had leaves, petals, scales, fur, or feathers. Like many of his European counterparts, Nuttall was interested in Native American culture, North American geology, and the continent’s winding waterways. His wide-ranging travels led him from gardens of America’s leading scientists, through the Great Lakes, along the continent’s greatest rivers, over mountains, and all the way to California, Hawaii, and South America.

Thomas Nuttall (1786–1859)

 This extraordinary explorer kept journals of his adventures (unfortunately omitting his journey from Detroit to Green Bay), and published several books which detailed his scientific discoveries. At Detroit, he recorded the start of his journey to Mackinac, writing, “On July 29th, I left Detroit for Michilimakinak in a birch bark canoe accompanied by the surveyor of the territory.” The surveyor was Aaron Greeley, headed to measure private land claims at the straits, including those of John Campbell at Mill Creek, and Michael Dousman on Mackinac Island.

 Nuttall botanized at the Straits for several days before hitching a ride with a group of traders bound for John Jacob Astor’s ill-fated fur trading post, Astoria, located in modern-day Oregon. In his book Astoria, author Washington Irving described the enthusiastic 25-year-old botanist as he appeared in March 1811, while his group ascended the Missouri river. Depicted just seven months after leaving Mackinac Island, one can easily imagine Nuttall shared similar experiences with Aaron Greeley along the Lake Huron coastline.

 “Mr. Nuttall seems to have been exclusively devoted to his scientific pursuits. He was a zealous botanist, and all his enthusiasm was awakened at beholding a new world… Whenever the boats landed at meal times, or for any temporary purpose, he would spring on shore and set out on a hunt for new specimens. Every plant or flower of a rare or unknown species was eagerly seized as a prize. Delighted with the treasures spreading themselves out before him, he went groping and stumbling along among a wilderness of sweets, forgetful of every thing but his immediate pursuit, and had often to be sought after when the boats were about to resume their course.”

Listed as #13 in his lengthy list of “brambles,” Thomas Nuttall described the thimbleberry, growing “shrubby and unarmed… on the island of Michilimackinak, lake Huron.”

 Nuttall retreated to England to avoid the War of 1812, then returned to Philadelphia in 1815. After three years collecting more specimens and organizing his collections, he published, The Genera of North American Plants, and a Catalogue of the Species, to the Year 1817. This important two-volume work included 60 species of plants from the Great Lakes region, about a third of which were new to science. Those from the Straits of Mackinac included thimbleberry, dwarf lake iris, twinflower, beach pea, and birdseye primrose.

 In March 1823, Thomas Nuttall accepted a position as Curator of the Botanic Garden at Cambridge, Massachusetts. Over the course of his residence, he was encouraged to write about birds, which he had studied since his arrival in America. The result was A Manual of the Ornithology of the United States and Canada. Published in two volumes, The Land Birds (1832) and The Water Birds (1834) were affordable and popular, featuring simple woodcut illustrations, which the author lamented were “not sufficiently numerous, in consequence of their cost.” In 1832, Ralph Waldo Emerson recommended the work to a friend, writing, “there is a beautiful book on American birds by Mr. Nuttall that every one who lives in the country ought to read.”

Woodcut from Nuttall’s Ornithology (1834). Nuttall saw Wood Ducks near Detroit before his trip to Mackinac Island in 1810.

 The intrepid botanist endured numerous collecting trips over the next decade, often at severe cost to his personal health and safety, as he crisscrossed North America and beyond. In 1841, he sailed back to England to live on an estate, “Nutgrove,” inherited from his uncle. There, he spent the last 17 years of his life before succumbing to illness on September 10, 1859, at the age of 73.

 The complete accomplishments of Thomas Nuttall greatly eclipse his brief visit to the Straits of Mackinac in 1810. More than 200 years later, perhaps the most lasting legacy of this humble, hard-working botanist is his self-described “fervid curiosity” and intense love of nature which continues to inspire curious wanderers in the 21st century.  

10 Picture Worthy Back Drops for your Mackinac Vacation

Finding a location to take that ultimate photo to show off your Mackinac vacation can be hard. There are so many places to choose from! To help you out we compiled a list of some of our favorite spots – five on Mackinac Island and five in Mackinaw City. These locations have gorgeous views that will make great backgrounds for family photos or will be sure to spice up your Instagram feed! As a disclaimer – we tried to find a few spots that are not as well known. You won’t see Arch Rock, Fort Holmes, British Landing or Sugar Loaf here, among other favorites.

Mackinac Island Locations:

Fort Mackinac

Although we literally just said we won’t include well-known ones, we have to include Fort Mackinac, right? The view is breathtaking every time. This is an easy one.

Robinson’s Folly

Robinson’s Folly is up the hill on the East Bluff of the island. It is a short distance from Arch Rock and it hosts similar amazing views without the hectic traffic of the carriages and tourists. It is tucked away down a path off Huron Road. It is a bit of a hike, but the peace and quiet, combined with the views, are worth the trek.

Leslie Avenue/Tranquil Bluff Trail

After visiting Arch Rock take a quiet stroll down Tranquil Bluff Trail or a calming bike ride on Leslie Ave. These two paths run alongside each other for a while so you can walk or bike and not miss a thing. There are a few clear spots where you can see down the cliff and over the blue water of Lake Huron. Tranquil Bluff Trail and Leslie Avenue eventually veer in different directions. Leslie Avenue will eventually connect with British Landing and State Roads, leading to areas like the Crack-in-the-Island, while Tranquil Bluff Trail mirrors and intersects with Scott’s Cave Road, leading us to our next picture spot.

Eagle Point Cave

By far the most underrated location on this list! Eagle Point Cave is for the traveler who is ready to go on an adventure! The bike ride out to Scott’s Cave Road is long if you are coming from downtown. And once you get there, there isn’t any signage or clear markings to help you find the cave. But that’s the fun of it! It is up to you to find this mysterious hidden cave of Mackinac Island. Once you do get there, you will be met with a spectacular rock formation and some amazing views of the North Woods. When you’re done at Eagle Point Cave follow the road down to British Landing to get those amazing views of the Mackinac Bridge.

Behind the Somewhere in Time gazebo

This is an area many people might not know about. Just off Huron Road is Anne’s Tablet Trail that leads to the Somewhere in Time Gazebo. Follow the trail to the overlook that hosts amazing views of Marquette Park, the harbor, Fort Mackinac, the downtown area and the Straits. This spot is gorgeous during the day but is especially perfect at sunset!

Mackinaw City Locations:

Michilimackinac State Park

Kick off your trip to the Straits with a visit to Michigan’s second state park, Michilimackinac State Park – or “the park under the bridge”. It offers views of the whole Straits area including St. Ignace, Mackinac Island, and other islands on the Straits. You can also walk in both Lake Michigan and Lake Huron in the same day!

Cannon Platform at Colonial Michilimackinac

The fort at Colonial Michilimackinac is in the perfect position to see out over the Straits. Walk along the perimeter and look through the watchtower windows to see a view of the bridge. There are also artillery demonstrations, gardens and much more to explore all with spectacular views.

Gardens at Colonial Michilimackinac

Take a walk around the fort at Colonial Michilimackinac to explore the gardens and see what’s growing. See what our interpreters are up to and ask them about the crops. Grab an Insta worthy photo in one of the gardens – there is always something in bloom that can be your background!

Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse Tower

Work your way up a flight of 51 stairs and an 11 rung ladder to see an amazing view of the Mackinaw Bridge and Straits of Mackinac. This is the place to get that perfect selfie with the bridge in the back and look over Michilimackinac State Park.

Platform at Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park

As you are finishing up your trip to the Mackinac area, stop at Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park to get one last glimpse of the Mackinaw Bridge and Straits area. We think it is one of the most underrated views, so make sure to check it out! While you’re there, check out the trails that offer their own amazing views!

No matter where your trip to Mackinac takes you, there are amazing things to see and experience, and perfect photo ops for everyone. From lake views to wooded hikes to the top of the lighthouse, we know you will enjoy your trip and go home with picture perfect memories.

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.”