What’s new at Fort Mackinac?

What’s new at Fort Mackinac?

It may not seem like it with so much snow on the ground, but summer is steadily approaching. With less than two months to go before Fort Mackinac opens for the 2019 season, we’re hard at work on two brand new exhibits which will greet visitors to the fort this summer. (more…)

Treasures from the Collection

Treasures from the Collection

Today we begin a new feature highlighting important objects in the museum collection of Mackinac State Historic Parks. The items presented here belonged to the O’Brien’s of Fort Mackinac. The O’Brien collection also includes John and Charlotte’s letters (the basis for our book The Caplain’s Lady), John’s sermons, and letters to John from his son, Lyster, while he served in the Civil War.  (more…)

Washington’s Birthday at Fort Mackinac

Washington’s Birthday at Fort Mackinac

Yesterday, February 18, many government offices were closed to celebrate the holiday most people know as Presidents’ Day. Many people believe this extra day off celebrates the birthdays of all presidents. However, while some state governments have designed February 18 as Presidents’ Day, in the eyes of the federal government the holiday remains Washington’s Birthday, a celebration that would have been familiar to the soldiers of Fort Mackinac over 120 years ago. (more…)

Forts Mackinac and Holmes in 1815

Forts Mackinac and Holmes in 1815

Captain Charles Gratiot, an American engineer officer, sketched both forts on Mackinac Island during the summer of 1814. Fort Holmes, here named Fort George by the British, was nearing completion when Gratiot made this sketch. National Archives

At Mackinac State Historic Parks, we are fortunate to have a huge variety of historic information available to help us protect, preserve, and present the resources under our care. Our archives and artifact collections contain numerous descriptions and depictions of the historic sites we manage, providing unique snapshots in time. A great example of these descriptive works is a report written by Lt. Col. Talbot Chambers in September 1815, soon after American troops returned to Mackinac Island following the War of 1812. (more…)

Christmas 1883

Christmas 1883

Harold D. Corbusier arrived at Fort Mackinac as a 9-year old boy in 1882. His father, Dr. William H. Corbusier was the post surgeon, and the family lived on the west side of the fort. Harold began keeping a diary in early 1883, which provides an illuminating look at the life of a kid in the 19th century. (more…)

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.

(more…)

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…)