Ice Fishing at Michilimackinac

Ice Fishing at Michilimackinac

Archaeologists excavated this nearly-completed whitefish skeleton from a trash pit in the southwest corner of the fort. It is now on display in the Treasures from the Sand exhibit.

Right now, it’s cold at the Straits of Mackinac. The straits are almost completely iced over, apart from slim shipping tracks kept open by Coast Guard icebreakers. While today those of us who live here can drive our cars to the store for food regardless of the ice conditions in the straits, the 18th century residents of Michilimackinac were much more limited in their choices of food. For the most part, during the winter they relied upon foods that had been shipped in and stockpiled before snow and ice closed trade routes on the lakes and rivers of the Great Lakes watershed. Fortunately, there remained a ready supply of fresh food just under the ice covering the Straits of Mackinac: fish. (more…)

The Extreme Cold of Winter

The Extreme Cold of Winter

A stream at Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park.

Here on the shores of the Straits of Mackinac we usually are protected from the really hot summer temperatures and the very cold winter temperatures that are recorded in those parts of Michigan that are more than a few miles from the deep waters of the Great Lakes. (more…)

From the Archives: Sunday School Minute Book

From the Archives: Sunday School Minute Book

Mackinaw Mission Sunday School Minute Book, 1825 1955.217.1 Donated by Austin G. Packard

Mackinac States Historic Parks archival collections preserves thousands of items documenting all aspects of Mackinac history. In this ongoing series we highlight some of these treasures. (more…)

The Fog Whistle

The Fog Whistle

Plans for a Lighthouse Service 10-inch whistle, from the 1902 Instructions to Light-Keepers.

Although the light at the top of the tower may be the defining feature of most lighthouses, stations like Old Mackinac Point usually had another, equally valuable signaling system to help keep sailors safe. The light, while valuable in relatively clear conditions, couldn’t always be seen through haze, smoke, driving rain, or fog. During times of low visibility, the keepers turned on Old Mackinac Point’s other signaling system: the fog whistle. (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…)

From the Archives: Passenger Travel

From the Archives: Passenger Travel

1926

Today, most visitors arrive at the Straits of Mackinac via automobile. Before the 1880s nearly all arrived by water aboard passenger steamers. Great Lakes passenger ships continued to ply the inland seas into the twentieth century, but in ever dwindling numbers through the decades, and ended in the late 1960s. The railroads reached here in the early 1880s, allowing easy land transportation for the first time. Automobile travel gradually supplanted rail beginning in the 1910s. (more…)

2017 Collections Acquisitions

2017 Collections Acquisitions

Charles E. Waltensperger painting showing the coal dock on Mackinac Island.

In 2017, the Mackinac Island State Park Commission accessioned 102 gifts and 85 purchases to the historic object and archival collection. Among the objects acquired was a 1934 map of Mackinac Island showing Civilian Conservation Corps projects, several black and white snapshots taken by tourists and photographic equipment used to document the state park collection in the 1970’s and 80’s. During the year, the park received several new paintings, became the caretaker for archival collections from Wawashkamo Golf Club, Little Stone Church and the Brown family and home for one of the largest models of a Straits of Mackinac railroad ferry.

 

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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…)

What’s on the Other Side of the Lake? Green Bay!

What’s on the Other Side of the Lake? Green Bay!

A combined British-Native force from Fort Edward Augustus helped diffuse tensions at Michilimackinac following the attack of 1763. Courtesy of British Library

A combined British-Native force from Fort Edward Augustus helped diffuse tensions at Michilimackinac following the attack of 1763. Courtesy of British Library.

You may be aware of Mackinac’s connection to cities like Detroit and Montreal, but many other communities can also trace a historic connection back to the straits. One such city is Green Bay, Wisconsin, which will be celebrating several important milestones in 2017. This year marks the 200th anniversary of Fort Howard, built by American troops, and the 300th anniversary of the colonial French Fort La Baye. Both posts were located in present-day Green Bay and had ties to Mackinac.

By the 1600s both Mackinac and Green Bay were part of French Canada, and both deeply linked to the fur trade. The majority of the fur trade that went west from Michilimackinac headed to Green Bay. Green Bay’s Fox River was a main artery for reaching the Mississippi River and trading grounds in central Wisconsin and Minnesota. As a result of the first Fox War (1712-1716), the French established Fort La Baye to protect this vital trade route. Many of the French soldiers who built and later garrisoned La Baye were sent from Fort Michilimackinac, which was built around 1715.

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Charting the Great Lakes

Maps of the Great Lakes created during the 17th and 18th centuries reflect the importance of waterways to early explorers. These maps reveal the struggle explorers faced when documenting this challenging landscape. Early maps of this region allow researchers and historians to better understand the ways in which Europeans explorers related to their new surroundings. The colonization of North America rapidly increased the need and desire for atlases and maps, mainly being produced by the Dutch, English and French. (more…)