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.

 

 

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.

Limestone rocks along Mill Pond Trail

Autumn Trail Day at Historic Mill Creek

By mid-October, the North Woods have transformed into a vibrant autumn tapestry of copper, gold and crimson. Bring a camera, binoculars, or your own favorite way to enjoy 3.5 miles of trails along the banks of Mill Creek. Staff will be on hand to answer questions, guide your way, and tell stories around a campfire at the Forest Clearing. You can also climb 79 steps up the Treetop Discovery tower for a fantastic birds-eye view of the Straits of Mackinac. Join us for a free, open house-style afternoon at Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park. This is a free event – donations welcome! #thisismackinac

Snowshoeing & S’mores at Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park

Bring your snowshoes and explore the snowy North Woods at Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park. Meet Kyle Bagnall, Park Naturalist, in the parking lot where we’ll begin our hike. Along a two-mile trek, we’ll search for signs of wildlife and other wonders of the natural world. After the walk, we’ll stop at the Forest Clearing to enjoy s’mores over a campfire. If there’s not enough snow, we’ll hike in boots without snowshoes. Admission is by donation. #thisismackinac

Snowshoeing & S’mores at Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park

Bring your snowshoes and explore the snowy North Woods at Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park. Meet Kyle Bagnall, Park Naturalist, in the parking lot where we’ll begin our hike. Along a two-mile trek, we’ll search for signs of wildlife and other wonders of the natural world. After the walk, we’ll stop at the Forest Clearing to enjoy s’mores over a campfire. If there’s not enough snow, we’ll hike in boots without snowshoes. Admission is by donation. #thisismackinac

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.

Mackinac Associates: Celebrating 40 Years of Supporting Mackinac State Historic Parks

The first edition of Curiosities, the Mackinac Associates newsletter

 In the late 1970s several Mackinac Island cottagers met with Eugene Petersen, then Director of Mackinac State Historic Parks, to discuss creating a private organization to help support state park programs and initiatives. In 1980, the Mackinac Island State Park Commission gave its blessing for the creation of a non-profit membership organization. On August 22, 1980, the Commission passed a resolution to recognize and name Mackinac Associates – a group dedicated to sponsoring projects to benefit the needs of the historic sites under their jurisdiction.  The group held its first event in 1981 and in 1982 Mackinac Associates received their official 501(c)(3) non-profit designation.

 Forty years later, Mackinac Associates has supported an expansive and remarkable list of projects thanks to the incredible growth and support of the organization by its members and their dedication to the group’s mission: “Friends preserving and sharing Mackinac’s heritage.” What started as a group of a dozen local residents and friends of the park has grown into a friend’s group that today is made up of more than 2,000 members. Mackinac Associates’ members can be proud that they are part of an organization that supports needed projects in every area of museum operation, and make possible interpretive programs, publications, exhibits, natural history education, park improvements and more.

As the highest point on Mackinac Island, Fort Holmes served as an active part of the island’s defenses between 1815 – 1817.

 Thanks to the generosity of Mackinac Associates members and donors, Mackinac State Historic Parks has been able to fulfill its mission of preserving the cultural and natural resources of the Straits of Mackinac. Looking back at the past forty years, Mackinac Associates has provided over $2,000,000 in support. Funds raised through membership fees, sponsorships, and fundraising campaigns go towards assisting efforts in preserving the rich history and natural beauty of the Straits of Mackinac. This includes 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 Associates biggest financial assistance to date has been $250,000 in support of the reconstruction of Fort Holmes on Mackinac Island. Fundraising for the reconstruction started in conjunction with the bicentennial of the War of 1812 and the project was completed in 2015. The reconstruction of Fort Holmes continues to shine as a primary example of the work Mackinac Associates members, donors, and sponsors have done over the years in support of Mackinac State Historic Parks.

Exhibit inside the Biddle House

 Other major projects have included $130,000 for the creation of the Mackinac Island Native American Museum at the Biddle House, and this year, $40,000 for the redesign of the Dr. Beaumont Museum inside the American Fur Co. Store. The exhibit, in commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the accidental shooting of French-Canadian voyageur Alexis St. Martin, recognizes Dr. Beaumont’s famous experiments and the scientific process related to the digestive system, as well as the effect it had on St. Martin.

 According to Mackinac Island State Park Director, Steve Brisson: “It’s not just the financial support that we’re thankful for. Knowing there is this group of people that are so supportive of our mission is hugely gratifying and a big part of what makes Mackinac Associates special.” Mackinac Associates helps fund projects both large and small, such as providing a historically accurate anvil for the blacksmith shop, funding for the production of the Shipwrecks of the Straits video shown at Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse, and accessibility scooters that are more durable and can handle the gravel and sand at Colonial Michilimackinac and the trails at Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park.

Mackinac Associates help bring students on site where they can be a part of seeing history come alive.

 In addition to park projects, Mackinac Associates has supported the Mackinac State Historic Parks’ Education Outreach program since its creation in 1988 and has provided over $700,000 for education outreach programs. Through Mackinac Associates support, interpreters have visited more than 250,000 children in classrooms across Michigan, engaging and entertaining them as they learn about the important history and natural history of the Straits of Mackinac. In 2020, this fund also allowed for Mackinac State Historic Parks to provide a virtual option for outreach highlighting the park’s historic sites with online exhibits, exciting videos, educational materials, and more. Mackinac Associates also has been able to use this fund to provide grants to a number of schools each year to visit Mackinac State Historic Parks in person.

Members watch the screening process at the behind-the-scenes archaeology program in July 2021.

 Exclusive after-hours programming and events has also been a favorite of Mackinac Associates members. Every year in August, the Mackinac Associates Annual Business Meeting open to all membership presents the current business of the organization and allows attendees to meet candidates for the board. It also allows for fun and engaging programs each year just for members. In the past programming has included learning how to play cricket, meet authors of Mackinac State Historic Parks publications and discuss their works, and enjoy presentations from partners such as Eric Hemenway from the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians.

 As we look back on the 40-year history of Mackinac Associates, it is incredible the amount of support the organization has given Mackinac State Historic Parks, and the projects that have been accomplished thanks to this dedicated friend’s group.  Mackinac Associates members are passionate about preserving the rich history and natural beauty of the Straits of Mackinac, and 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.

 

Rock bluffs at the Durrell or Mill Creek Quarry, circa 1915

The Untold Story of the Mill Creek Quarry

Originally established by Robert Campbell about 1790, the sawmill, gristmill and farming activities at Mill Creek remained active for about half a century. Known as Private Claim #334, the site was bought by wealthy Mackinac Island merchant Michael Dousman in 1819. Sawmill operations ran until about 1839, and after Dousman died in 1854, his heirs sold the property for just $400. When the township was resurveyed in 1856, updated maps showed no trace of buildings on Campbell’s original 640-acre claim. Local lore states that William Myers removed gristmill stones from the abandoned site about 1860 to use at his mills near Cheboygan.

A 1917 photo of Lime Kiln ruins on Mackinac Island

Lime Kiln ruins on Mackinac Island, 1917

 About 1864, a new resource was tapped for the first time along the rocky bluffs of Mill Creek – limestone. People have quarried and processed limestone at the Straits of Mackinac since the construction of Fort Mackinac from 1779-1781. For many years, the old lime kiln on Mackinac Island was a tourist destination, and Lime Kiln Trail can still be enjoyed by visitors today. By the summer of 1827, a kiln was also in operation near the northwest shore of nearby Bois Blanc Island.

 Limestone in Michigan was formed millions of years ago, being composed of sediments at the bottom of ancient salty seas, filled with billions of fragments of corals and shelled creatures. Limestone is high in calcium carbonate, and when burned in a kiln, crushed, or pulverized, is valuable for making cement, concrete, mortar, and many other uses. Larger pieces of quarried stone were used to make roads, the stone walls of Fort Mackinac, its blockhouses, and officer’s stone quarters.

 Lime was first processed at Mill Creek about 1864 by a man with the last name of Young who stayed for a couple of years. The next record of limestone quarrying at the site can be found in a Cheboygan Democrat article, dated April 12, 1883. It reads, “Parties have begun to work preparatory to burning lime extensively at Mill Creek. They say that have orders for forty bushels per day during the season.” This record corresponds closely with the Michigan Central Railroad running tracks through the site in November 1881, making it easy to ship finished products to market.

 The first and only large quarrying operation at Mill Creek was operated by Willis G. Durrell, of Cincinnati, Ohio, from 1914-1923. Before organizing his company, Mr. Durrell began taking summer vacations in the vicinity of Burt Lake, Michigan. While there he learned of the Mill Creek site, which a local paper noted, “most of the county people know as a vast deposit of very pure lime rock, and which efforts have been made in the past to get capital to develop.” As his Cheboygan Limestone Products Company was being organized in 1913, an article in the Chicago publication Rock Products, detailed Mr. Durrell’s plans and described the site, noting, “It is known as the ‘Old Dausman tract.’”

 Mr. Durrell, assisted by his son Lawrence, was busy throughout 1914, hiring workers, purchasing and installing equipment, constructing kilns, and adding a railroad spur off the main line for easy hauling of finished products. Products included three grades of stone for road construction and “agricultural limestone” which was sold throughout lower Michigan.

Rock bluff at the Durrell or Mill Creek Quarry, circa 1915
Rock bluffs at the Durrell or Mill Creek Quarry, circa 1915

Rock bluffs at the Durrell/Mill Creek Quarry c.1915

The November 13, 1914 issue of the Cheboygan Democrat described the growing operation as follows:

A photo of Willis G. Durrell

Willis G. Durrell, 1856-1942

“Mr. Durrell, president of the Cheboygan Limestone Products Co., located near Mackinaw City was in the city Monday and he informs the Democrat that they are installing at the plant new machinery for pulverizing limestone rock for agricultural purposes and as soon as it is in shape they will turn out two car loads of this product a day. It is taking the place of land plaster and vast quantities of it is new being used by farmers. It is especially needed in southern Michigan where they have vast tracts of sour lands and pulverized limestone is being used to bring the land value back… The pulverized limestone will be sold at the quarry at $1.25 per ton, which is reasonable, and already many farmers of this county are preparing to make a test of it on their lands. The company is also engaged in crushing rock for roads and other purposes. They have fifteen men at work now and will gradually increase their force.”

 To maximize production, Durrell purchased a Jeffrey Swing Hammer Pulverizer for use at the quarry. Installed in late 1914, this new technology crushed limestone to a fine powder, eliminating the need for burning lime in kilns. It also produced material for other uses such as top-dressing roads, fluxing stone for glass factories and steel plants, and concrete for cement walks.

 The Durrell, or Mill Creek Quarry, boasted an exceptionally pure product, being 98.71 percent calcium carbonate. Their advertisements in southern Michigan newspapers asked readers, “Why use low grade when pure stuff costs no more?” To verify its composition, 40 samples of Mill Creek limestone were taken in 1915 and examined by scientists at nine laboratories, including the Michigan Geological Survey, University of Michigan, and Emery Institute of Cincinnati.Vintage ad for limestone at Mill Creek Quarry

A vintage ad for the Mill Creek Quarry
A vintage ad for limestone at the Mill Creek Quarry

Advertisements from various Michigan newspapers, 1914-1915

 Eclipsed by larger operations at Afton (near Indian River) and Rogers City, the Mill Creek Quarry ended operations after the 1923 season. From the 1930s through the 1950s, the abandoned quarry pits were featured stops for students to examine limestone strata during field excursions of the Michigan Academy of Science Arts and Letters and the Michigan Basin Geological Society. During this time, the greater portion of Private Claim #334 reverted to State ownership and was incorporated into the Hardwood State Forest, under the jurisdiction of the Department of Natural Resources.

Limestone rocks along Mill Pond Trail Located near today’s grassy picnic area, west of the mill pond, the old quarry pits were filled in before Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park opened in 1984. Archaeologists speculate that footings of the original sawmill may have been obliterated by quarry operations along the stream bed. The fact that other historic remains, including footings of the dam itself, were not destroyed is a fortunate footnote of history. Today, only a pile of rocky rubble remains along the Mill Pond Trail as evidence of a once thriving operation which remains an important part of the Mill Creek story.

Early Lumbering at the Straits of Mackinac

Robert Campbell constructed a water-powered sawmill at Mill Creek about 1790, being the first of its kind in northern Michigan. Prior to the mill, trees were turned into lumber entirely with hand tools for more than 100 years at the Straits of Mackinac.

An artists depiction of a woodchopper from 1804

Felling a tree with an axe
Traite de l’art du Charpentier (1804)

 British troops constructed Fort Mackinac on Mackinac Island from 1779-1781. Some buildings were dismantled at Fort Michilimackinac on the mainland and transported to the island for reconstruction. Without a sawmill nearby, new construction relied on chopping down trees, sawing them into logs, squaring them with axes, and hauling them to a sawpit where boards were produced. A glimpse of this work can be found in the Log Book of His Majesty’s Armed Sloop – Welcome, kept by Captain Alexander Harrow.

 Beginning in 1779, the Welcome sailed between the lower peninsula mainland and Mackinac Island, hauling buildings, supplies, and timber. On November 19, 1780, Captain Harrow wrote, “This morning blowing hard. Discharged our timber and hauled it up along side of the sawpit. This day snowing very hard… All this day snowing very hard.”

 The Welcome remained tied to a wharf on Mackinac Island throughout the winter of 1780-1781. The crew lived on board and worked each day hauling firewood, sawing planks, repairing the ship, and constructing a blockhouse at the fort.

Hewing a log

Hewing a log (1804)

 Turning a tree into lumber by hand is demonstrated each summer at Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park. After a log is fixed in place, one rounded side is hewed with a felling axe, then flattened with a broad axe. After these actions are repeated on each side, a round log is transformed into square timber. If desired, timbers could be flattened further with an adze to produce a finer surface.

Flatteninga beam of wood with a broad axe

Flattening with a broad axe (1804)

 To fashion planks and boards, a squared timber is either placed over an open sawpit dug into the ground or hoisted overhead on large sawhorses. To cut boards, a pit sawyer climbs into the hole to pull down on a large saw, while a top sawyer balances above, pulling up on the blade and guiding a straight cut. Despite the unforgiving rocky terrain, several saw pits were dug on Mackinac Island during the construction of Fort Mackinac.

A sawyer using a pit saw

Sawyers using a pitsaw
English Book of Trades (1824)

 Captain Harrow noted his men were at work sawing boards on Mackinac Island more than 50 days from November 1780 – April 1781. He specifically mentioned saw pits many times, including,

… put a log on the pit to saw” (Nov. 29)

“…hauling logs to the saw pit” (Dec. 27)

“…hauling plank from the saw pit to the blockhouse” (Dec. 29)

“…making a saw pit in the woods and getting an oak log on it” (Jan. 16)

“…digging and making a new saw pit” (Feb. 20)

 Warm spring weather finally released the icebound sloop and the Welcome set sail on April 24, 1781. One of the crew’s tasks was making trips to “The Pinery,” a camp located about 15 miles north of Saint Ignace, near the mouth of the Pine River. There, a team of men cut logs then rafted them together on Lake Huron. These rafts were towed behind the Welcome to Mackinac Island, where they were broken up, individual logs hauled to sawpits, and sawn into boards.

The reconstructed sawmill at Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park in winter

Water-powered sawmill reconstruction at Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park

 A decade after Fort Mackinac was constructed, sawing boards by hand could not keep pace with local demand for lumber. About 1790, Robert Campbell was granted a 640-acre land claim at Mill Creek, the only stream at the Straits powerful enough to operate a water-powered sawmill. Later owned by Michael Dousman, the sawmill at Mill Creek operated for nearly 50 years before closing in 1839.

 When the sawmill at Mill Creek was abandoned, large trees throughout the Straits region had been harvested for nearly 150 years. As young trees grew in their place, they too were eventually cut in subsequent periods of logging. In 1860, William Johnston wrote, “the trees now seen [on Mackinac Island] are the second and third growth.” In a History of Northern Michigan and its People (1912), author Perry Powers detailed extreme clearcutting from the 1860s–1900s in an aptly named section, “Melting of the Pine Forests.” After pine was cut, hardwood harvest followed, with old growth maples and oaks falling under axe and saw. Commercial logging operations took place at Mill Creek through 1923, with the Cadillac Veneer Co. running a portable sawmill to process hardwood logs, pulpwood, cedar, and stove wood.

Stumps at Mill Creek that serve as a reminder of logging done at the site.

Reminders of early logging remain in the forest at Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park

 Careful observers can still find centuries’ old stumps scattered through many Michigan forests. While methods and management techniques have changed, lumbering remains an important industry in the state, which is about 54% forested today. After a century of responsible management, replanting, and growth, the Great Lakes State now boasts more than 20 million forested acres which provide homes for wildlife, opportunities for outdoor recreation, and renewable natural resources.

 This May 6 – September 4, you’re invited to explore early Michigan lumbering at Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park. Experience the thrill of a water-powered sawmill, make sawdust fly with a pitsaw, and explore a vibrant Michigan forest along three miles of woodland trails. Before you leave, you’re invited to try the Adventure Tour to enter the forest canopy, fly like an eagle, and scale the Treetop Discovery Tower Climbing Wall. For information, visit www.mackinacparks.com.

Stereoview of Arch Rock

2021 Mackinac State Historic Parks Collections Acquisitions

A beer stein

A souvenir beer stein

The Grand Hotel Loving Cup

One of the more unique additions: a Grand Hotel Loving Cup

In 2021, the collections committee accessioned 247 objects into the Mackinac Island State Park Commission collection and archives. In addition to several purchases, over 115 items were donated to the collection. Although the summer collections internships were cancelled, the commission was able to hire an intern for the 2021/2022 winter. During the summer, the inventory scheduled for the Mackinaw City historic sites including Colonial Michilimackinac, Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse and Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park was completed. The 2020 winter intern completed the inventory of the archival and postcard collections in the Keith R. Widder Library.

 

 

Ruby mug inscribed by Frank Kriesche

A ruby mug inscribed by Frank Kriesche. 

 

A painting of a horse and buggy by Stanley Bielecky

Painting by Stanley Bielecky

As in 2019, several objects were purchased from the collection of the late Ronald J. Rolando. Watercolors and oil paintings by Stanley Bielecky, photographic prints by William H. Gardiner and artwork of many other artists were selected. A unique Grand Hotel loving cup presented in 1894, a souvenir beer stein and a ruby glass mug inscribed by island artist Frank Kriesche were some of the three-dimensional objects chosen. Archival items included an engraving from Henri Chatelain’s early 18th century atlas showing the industry of the beaver fur trade and manufacture, four island hotel menus printed on birchbark and two late 19th century maps of Mackinac Island.

A capstan cover from the SS Chief Wawatam

Capstan cover from the SS Chief Wawatam. 

This summer, the commission received a call from a gentleman who had one of the brass capstan covers from the railroad ferry SS Chief Wawatam. The ship had two of these covers which were mounted on top of the capstans on the railcar deck. The capstan is a vertical-axled rotating machine developed for use on sailing ships to multiply the pulling force of seamen when hauling ropes, cables and hawsers. The man’s father had been given the cover back in the late 1980s when the ferry was being scrapped and told his son if he did not want it to throw it away. The son did some research and found the commission had a collection of objects from the ship. After discussion with collections staff, he offered to donate the cover to the commission’s collection. This is a unique piece with the ship’s name, company and shipyard that built the ship and manufacturer of the capstan.

 

A note from W. Stewart Woodfill to a guest from Grand Hotel

Letter on Grand Hotel stationary from W. Stewart Woodfill

Bottles from the Bailey National Park Drugstore

Pharmaceutical bottles from the Dr. John R. Bailey & Sons National Park Drugstore

The commission received several other donations including seven pieces of artwork from the Artist-In-Residence program, a letter on Grand Hotel stationary from W. Stewart Woodfill to a patron and a Westfield Company bicycle belonging to islander Ernst Puttkammer. Two pharmaceutical bottles from the Dr. John R. Bailey & Sons National Park Drugstore were donated by an island contractor and original sanctuary light fixtures were donated by Little Stone Church.

Over the years, the commission has acquired several stereoviews showing Mackinac Island buildings, geological formations, scenic views and other subjects. This year four views were purchased showing the New Mackinac Hotel, Arch Rock from below, Robinson’s Folly and Devil’s Kitchen. Stereoview cards were a popular souvenir in the late 19th century. The three-dimensional views could be purchased from many local stores and taken home to be viewed through a stereopticon. P.B. Greene, J.A. Jenney and Webster & Albee were some of the photographers who took the images and published them on Mackinac Island or in cities around the Great Lakes.

Stereoview of Arch Rock

A stereoview of Arch Rock

A stereview of the New Mackinac Hotel

A stereoview of the New Mackinac Hotel.

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.