Historic Downtown Mackinac

Historic Downtown Mackinac

An interpreter working inside the Biddle House.

Visiting Mackinac Island during the summer months brings another level to the history that makes the island what it is today. The historic downtown buildings, including the Biddle House, McGulpin House, American Fur Company Store/Dr. Beaumont Museum, Mission Church, and the Benjamin Blacksmith Shop, most located on Market Street, opened June 9th, bringing the rich history of Mackinac to life.

The blacksmith hard at work at the Benjamin Blacksmith Shop.

The fur trade is highlighted throughout the buildings scattered downtown on the island. From architecture to medicine, family life to the fur trade business, religion to native life, the 1820s and ’30s fur trade era is addressed. Each building offers an intimate setting with costumed interpreters where visitors can ask questions, experience demonstrations, and learn more about what made Mackinac great! Admission to these historic structures is included with tickets to Fort Mackinac or The Richard and Jane Manoogian Mackinac Art Museum. Historic Downtown Mackinac is open through August 25. More information on the downtown buildings can be found by clicking here.

A New Season

A New Season

Site almost ready to begin excavation for the season

The end of May brings rain, flowers, insects, and archaeology. While next year will be the 60th anniversary of archaeology at Michilimackinac, this year is the 60th season. We will be back for our eleventh season of excavation at House E of the Southeast Rowhouse. Over the past eleven summers we have excavated the south wall, a root cellar, and chimney collapse, and found thousands of artifacts used by the fur traders who lived here. Highlights can be seen in previous blog posts, and include many types of ceramics, personal adornment items such as cufflinks, buttons and rings, an intact rosary, an intact pocket knife, and two shutter hinges. This summer we plan to excavate deeper in the cellar and expose more of the interior wall exposed last summer.

Nail, straight pin, and window glass recovered from slump

Over the past week, we have removed the straw and plastic that protected the site over the winter, re-established the grid strings we use to map the site, and cleaned up dirt that slumped from the wall of the excavation pit during the winter. Excavation will be taking place seven days a week, weather permitting, from June 5 through August 25. Admission to Colonial Michilimackinac includes the opportunity to watch history being discovered.

Mackinac’s Contribution to Fashion? Hats!

Mackinac’s Contribution to Fashion? Hats!

Nearly all European and American men wore felt hats in the 18th century. Hats came in numerous shapes and sizes, as seen in this 1747 engraving by famed illustrator William Hogarth.

Nearly all European and American men wore felt hats in the 18th century. Hats came in numerous shapes and sizes, as seen in this 1747 engraving by famed illustrator William Hogarth.

For over 200 years, Michilimackinac, and later Mackinac Island, were centers of the Great Lakes fur trade. Every summer, merchants based at Michilimackinac or on the island shipped tons of furs to factories on the Atlantic coast or in Europe. Trapped by indigenous people around the Great Lakes, otter, muskrat, mink, rabbit, fox, and especially beaver pelts were highly prized in the garment and fashion industry. These furs were used to trim collars and cuffs, line capes and muffs, and, most importantly, to make felt hats. (more…)

Episode 2 Mackinac: An Island Famous in These Regions

Episode 2 Mackinac: An Island Famous in These Regions

We continue with chapters three through five of Mackinac An Island Famous in These Regions by Mackinac State Historic Parks Director Phil Porter. We last heard about the native peoples of the region; the origin of all life and the Great Turtle. Now, Phil describes the addition of Europeans to the region, encouraged by religion, economic benefit, and exploration.

If you would like more information about this publication or others, or want to learn more as you plan your trip to visit our historic sites, visit us online at www.mackinacparks.com or follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. And be sure to subscribe to receive our upcoming episodes.



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Métis Women of Mackinac

Métis Women of Mackinac

Métis culture held a unique place of being part of two cultures, French and American Indian, that became a unique culture itself. This culture came about from the French men of the fur trade coming into the Great Lakes territories, populated by local tribes throughout the region. Families and bonds were made with this interaction.

Jane Johnston Schoolcraft

Jane Johnston Schoolcraft

By the 1820s and 30s, the fur trade was at its height on Mackinac Island. John Jacob Astor’s American Fur Company had its headquarters on Market Street. While it held a virtual monopoly on the fur trade, small independent traders held their own and had many successes. The métis culture held one foot in the European American world and one foot in the American Indian world, becoming an integral part of the fur trade as part of the middle ground to interact between these other two cultures.

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Canadian Costume Reflected Lifestyle

French-Canadians adapted to the harsh climate of their new home with a variety of clothing, including coats called capots. Made from trade blankets, these simple coats were warm and practical, and proved popular with Canadians and Native Americans alike.

French-Canadians adapted to the harsh climate of their new home with a variety of clothing, including coats called capots. Made from trade blankets, these simple coats were warm and practical, and proved popular with Canadians and Native Americans alike.

Far from home and living in a harsh environment, the French residents of Michilimackinac and the rest of Canada were quick to adopt new styles of clothing. While French fashions remained popular for most people, many soldiers, voyageurs, and others who regularly interacted with Native Americans adopted their neighbors’ style of dress. Like Native men, voyageurs and soldiers on campaign frequently wore soft moccasins, breechcloths, and leggings. In 1749, Swedish traveler Peter Kalm noted that “the French [Canadians] dress as the Indians; they do not wear breeches.”

In warmer months, French voyageurs wore moccasins and breechcloths. The easily-removable leggings allowed them to jump in and out of the water as they hauled cargo around portages. Elaborately-woven sashes served as weight belts, protecting the men’s backs from injury as they carried loads over 100 pounds.

In warmer months, French voyageurs wore moccasins and breechcloths. The easily-removable leggings allowed them to jump in and out of the water as they hauled cargo around portages. Elaborately-woven sashes served as weight belts, protecting the men’s backs from injury as they carried loads over 100 pounds.

Other pieces of clothing were unique to French-Canadians. British trader Alexander Henry left a good account of the Canadian disguise he wore during his first secret journey to Michilimackinac in 1761: “I laid aside my English clothes, and covered myself only with a cloth, passed about the middle; a shirt, hanging loose; a molleton, or blanket coat; and a large, red, milled worsted cap.” The red cap (or tocque), blanket coat, breechcloth, and leggings were something of a uniform for French-Canadian men of the fur trade, and would have been seen regularly at Michilimackinac.