July 4 at Fort Mackinac

As we get ready to celebrate the 245th anniversary of the date the Declaration of Independence was adopted by the Continental Congress declaring independence from Great Britain, we thought we’d take a look back at some of the ways the historic soldiers and residents celebrated July 4 at Fort Mackinac by taking a peek at some of the various books published by Mackinac State Historic Parks.

Shooting matches were a popular July 4 activity. Here is the Fort Mackinac squad showing off a trophy won.

  From “A Desirable Station: Soldier Life at Fort Mackinac 1867-1895” by Phil Porter:

“The United States army had a special affinity for the Fourth of July. Fort Mackinac soldiers celebrated the holiday with a variety of ceremonial and recreational activities. A hand-picked squad fired the national salute – one round for each state of the Union – from the fort cannons at daybreak. In 1873 Captain Leslie Smith dispensed with the firing “in consequence of a serious illness of a prominent citizen…” but took the opportunity to have the Declaration of Independence read to his men. Soldiers spent the rest of the day playing games, relaxing in the park or joining civilians in village-sponsored activities. In 1886 soldiers ran foot races, squared off against Cheboygan in a rifle match, played baseball against the St. Ignace club and enjoyed a special dinner with desserts of peach and raspberry pie, cherries, strawberries and cream and ginger snaps.”

  The diary of Harold Dunbar Corbusier was published with the permission of the Corbusier family under the title “A Boy at Fort Mackinac.” Dunbar kept a diary of his time on the island as a ten-year old boy in 1883-1884, and again as a teenager when his family returned to Mackinac Island in 1892. He was on the island for July 4, 1883 and July 4, 1892. His diary is presented as he wrote it, including spelling and grammatical errors:

“July 4 (1883): It has been a pleasant day. They fired a sulute of thirty-eight guns at noon as we have had a very nice time today down town they had go-as-you-please races, walking maches, pony hurdle, row boat races, greased pole, tub races. Jumping matches. Mama Mrs. Sellers, Miss Duggan and Mr. Duggan went to the point on the Algomah.”

The Fort Mackinac ballfield in the late 19th century.

  For his entry on July 5, Corbusier notes they set off a great many fireworks the night before, but Claude (his brother) hurt his hand very badly.

“4th. July (1892): They had a few country races & other amussements (?) down in the village today besides these there has been no unusual excitement. The usual salute was fired from the fort & they had a pretty good ball game up there. The Fort Wayne nine played the Fort Mackinac. The score was 3 to 1 in favor of Fort Wayne. There was a hop at the Grand Hotel this evening. I dance twelve dances. I am beginning to waltz a little.”

  From “Reveille Till Taps: Soldier Life at Fort Mackinac 1780-1895” by Keith R. Widder:

“Part of the commemoration of Independence Day in some years included issues of extra whiskey. On such days, fatigue duties and most military activities came to a halt. Generally the cannon fired a salute to the United States in honor of her successful Revolution. In the 1880’s and 90’s, the garrison took part in elaborate ceremonies with people of the village or St. Ignace. Both communities sought the assistance of the garrison in their celebrations because the presence of men in uniform added much glamour.

“…A year earlier (1884) the garrison put together a rifle team of ten men and officers to challenge the Cheboygan Rifle Team. On July 4 most of the garrison went to Cheboygan to watch their team in action. Out of a possible score of 510, the Mackinac marksmen scored 401 to Cheboygan’s 385, thereby winning the silver cup selected as the prize.

“…On the same days that the rifle team beat back challenges of the Cheboygan shooters, Cheboygan’s “Diamond Baseball Club” took the field against the post squad. The fort won the first tame 17-10 and the twenty-five dollar prize.”

  We also know that on July 4, 1879, at the “National Park” on Mackinac Island, there was a “Free to all rowing regatta, one mile and return” as well as a picnic in the park at 11:00 a.m., a reading of the Declaration of Independence, and dancing on the platform at 3:00 p.m.

  This July 4 at Fort Mackinac we will do our best to recreate these Independence Days of old with “A Star Spangled Fourth of July.” The iconic fort Mackinac decked out in patriotic finery with banners, flags and bunting for the program beginning at 7:00 p.m.

  Featured will be a reading of the Declaration of Independence, patriotic toasts, the raising of the colors, and games on the parade ground including sack and foot races, games of catch, hoop and stick, and Jacob’s Ladder. Guests join the party and participate in games on the fort parade ground.

  After the toasts, the ‘fireworks’ begin. We will recreate the 38-gun salute, honoring the 1880s states of the union with rifle firings, followed by the finale of a cannon salute in honor of the holiday. Guests are then welcome to stay at Fort Mackinac, enjoying the buildings, galleries and views, and stick around for the fireworks from the cannon platform, Wood Quarters, or Stone Quarters.

  The Tea Room Restaurant, operated by Grand Hotel, will be open until 9:00 p.m. serving hot dogs and brats, chicken sandwiches, salads, sweets, and beverages, including beer and wine.

  All special programming is included with regular admission to Fort Mackinac ($13.50/adults, $8.00/child (5-12), and free for kids under 5). Guests who visit Fort Mackinac earlier in the day on the fourth are welcome to come back for the special event without having to purchase a new ticket.

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.

2019 Collections Acquisitions

German made souvenir porcelain china.

In 2019, the Mackinac Island State Park Commission accessioned 188 gifts and 107 purchases to the historic object and archival collection. The park purchased or was gifted several large collections of souvenirs, paintings, glassware and postcards. Some of the interesting items were a large collection of souvenirs, paintings and other items related to Mackinac Island purchased from a long-time collector. Several black and white press photographs and an invoice from the business of an islander was acquired. Donations included the engine room plate from a Straits of Mackinac shipwreck, several pieces of Kriesche glassware and photographs and archival material belonging to a former Mackinac Island State Park Commissioner. (more…)

Railroads in Mackinaw City

Railroads in Mackinaw City

An early 1880s ad for the Grand Rapids and Indiana.

Although platted in 1857, Mackinaw City remained undeveloped until about 1870. By then a village stood on the shores of the Straits of Mackinac, and steamboats linked the community with cities around the Great Lakes. However, the town remained small and isolated until 1881, when the first train arrived.

The Michigan Central Railroad was the first to reach Mackinaw, running north from Detroit through Saginaw. George Stimpson, an early settler and prominent resident, drove the final spike. A year later, the Grand Rapids and Indiana Railroad also reached the straits, linking Mackinaw City with Traverse City, Grand Rapids, and Fort Wayne, Indiana. On the north shore, meanwhile, the Detroit, Mackinac and Marquette Railroad ran west from St. Ignace across the Upper Peninsula. The railroads brought increased traffic to the straits and Mackinaw City grew quickly, formally incorporating as a village in 1882. (more…)

This Time For Keeps Photo Album

This Time For Keeps Photo Album

2017 marks the 70th anniversary of the release of Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer’s This Time for Keeps. The Esther Williams “water ballet” musical was the third she made in this genre. About a third of the 90-minute movie is set on Mackinac Island. A number of exterior shots and all interior scenes set on the island were filmed at the M-G-M studio in Culver City, California. However, a number of outdoor scenes were shot on the island. This included winter footage of the docks, downtown, the Stewart Woodfill residence, and wooded trails. These were filmed in February 1946, some using doubles to represent the principals. Most of the principal cast, including Esther Williams, Johnnie Johnston, Jimmy Durante and Lauritz Melchior came to Mackinac Island for several weeks in July 1946 for scenes shot along Main Street, at the Coal Dock, in front of Grand Hotel and at the hotel’s swimming pool. More than 200 extras were also employed for these scenes. (more…)

History of the Fort Mackinac Tea Room

History of the Fort Mackinac Tea Room

Patrons enjoying lunch with a view, ca. 1965. Note the colonial-style uniforms worn by the waitresses.

Patrons enjoying lunch with a view, ca. 1965. Note the colonial-style uniforms worn by the waitresses.

The Tea Room has been a memorable part of a visit to Fort Mackinac for decades. Located in the historic 1780 Officers’ Stone Quarters it provides a place of refreshment in a quaint atmosphere with the added bonus of the best view of any restaurant on the island.  (more…)

Mackinac State Historic Parks 2014 Collections Review

The Mackinac Island State Park Commission accessioned over 120 gifts and 67 purchases to the state park historic object and archival collections in 2014. The items represent a board spectrum of Straits of Mackinac history covering topics such as shipwrecks, the Mackinac Island Scout Service Camp and businesses in Mackinaw City and Mackinac Island.

Many of the donations were given to the park for the new Straits of Mackinac Shipwreck Museum at Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse. Diving gear including a dry suit, pants, boots, gloves and air tank were donated to show how diving was done in the 1970’s. From the S.S. Cedarville, a station bill represents the most recent tragedy in the straits and safety gear including a lifeboat oar represents equipment found on ships to save lives. Purchased were a ships compass and radio to tell the story of navigation and communication on the lakes. (more…)