World War I Helps Start First Exhibits at Fort Mackinac

One hundred years ago, as the First World War raged in Europe, the Mackinac Island State Park Commission began the long process of creating museum exhibits to share the rich history of the Straits of Mackinac region. Although the United States would not enter the war until 1917, the conflict would eventually play a role in the commission’s first permanent exhibits.Exhibit

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What is with these Rising Lake Levels?

The Great Lakes water levels have both seasonal changes and long term changes.

In a normal year the water level of Lakes Michigan and Huron rise and fall about 11 inches. The high usually occurs in July and the low in February. The melting snow and spring rains cause the levels to rise until mid-summer. Then the water levels slowly drop as the water warms and evaporation takes place. When fall and winter arrive, the rate of evaporation increases, because the water is warmer than the cold dry winds from the northwest. The quicker the ice forms and the more lake it covers, the sooner the drop in water level is reversed. By February the lake level usually stabilizes before it rises again in the spring. (more…)

Mackinac Island’s Winter Frolic: 1940

So, what’s the island like in the winter?

Winter-Frolic-CoverA question asked by multiple generations of Mackinac Island summer visitors who conjure visions of bell-strewn, horse-drawn sleighs, pristine snow frosting bushy pine trees, and island streets filled with peaceful solitude rather than boisterous masses. While modern transportation has made an island winter visit somewhat more doable in recent decades, the “Winter Frolic” of 1940 provided an opportunity to see “Mackinac covered with snow” 75 years ago this month.

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Belle Meade Plantation – The Mackinac Connection

A lavish plantation house in Nashville, Tennessee and the Wood Quarters at Fort Mackinac may not seem to have much in common at first glance, but they both served as homes for the same man, William G. Harding.

Harding

Harding

William’s father John Harding began constructing the Belle Meade plantation in 1820. Unlike other plantations focused on growing cotton and other crops, the farm became a center of the thoroughbred horse racing industry, especially after William assumed management duties in 1839. Racing brought Harding wealth and fame, which he used to support the secession of Tennessee as the Civil War approached. When Federal troops recaptured Nashville in 1862, they arrested Harding as a Confederate sympathizer. (more…)

New Photos of an Old Hospital

Mackinac State Historic Parks Registrar Brian Jaeschke recently acquired copies of several historic photographs of the 1860 Post Hospital at Fort Mackinac. The photographs were discovered in the digital collection of the U.S. National Library of Medicine in Bethesda, Maryland which has 150,000 historical prints and photographs.

Post Hospital From Gun Platform

Click the image to see a larger version.

The photographs, two of which are new to the MSHP collection, show the hospital as it appeared in the 1880s. The front view is taken from the upper gun platform and shows the south and west elevations of the building. In the foreground are the 6 and 12 pound cannon that were used by soldiers for daily salutes and ceremonial occasions such as the Fourth of July. Today’s cannon firing demonstrations take place in the same location. Beyond the gun platform is the walkway bridge that that provided access to the building through the front porch. Of interest is the system of gutters which collected and fed rain water into the cistern which is still in place in front of the hospital. Water was stored in the cistern as part of the fort’s fire protection system. (more…)

Portraits Put Face on Mackinac History

Portraits Put Face on Mackinac History

It’s fascinating that after fifty years of actively collecting materials related to Fort Mackinac history, we still discover new treasures. Our most recent “discovery” is two portraits of Colonel George Mercer Brooke who commanded the fort in 1832.

George Mercer Brook 1819

Portrait ca. 1819

George Mercer Brooke 1825

Portrait ca. 1825

While conducting research for a future publication tentatively entitled “Soldiers of Fort Mackinac: A Pictorial History”, Director for Mackinac State Historic Parks Phil Porter made contact with Colonel Mercer’s great, great grandson George Mercer Brooke, III, through Ancestry.com. Brooke, a retired United States Marine colonel, shared with me a photograph of a portrait of his ancestor painted c. 1819 in Boston. While the portrait is not signed, family tradition holds that it was painted by Gilbert Stuart, the famous early American portraitist. Mr. Brooke’s cousin, Theodore Brooke, provided an additional portrait of the fort commander painted c. 1825.

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Historic Views of Winter on Mackinac

As the new year begins and winter locks the Straits of Mackinac in its icy grip, today we look to a few historic views of winter on Mackinac Island. Click the images for an expanded version.

These soldiers from Fort Mackinac are bundled in Army-issued cold weather gear as they shovel a path down Fort Street sometime around 1890. Each man received a heavy wool overcoat as well as rubber boots, a fur hat, and mittens. Many of these men are wearing their winter hats, made from muskrat fur.

These soldiers from Fort Mackinac are bundled in Army-issued cold weather gear as they shovel a path down Fort Street sometime around 1890. Each man received a heavy wool overcoat as well as rubber boots, a fur hat, and mittens. Many of these men are wearing their winter hats, made from muskrat fur.

Main Street in downtown Mackinac Island is filled with snow in this view taken around 1900. Just like today, fewer people visited the island in winter, so the McNally Cottage boarding house (seen at far left) and Palmer House Hotel likely had few visitors when these boys played on the snow banks out front. Despite the snow, island residents may still have enjoyed parties at the town dance hall, visible just to the right of the Palmer House. Originally built as a roller skating rink, the dance hall became a motion picture theater by 1907. Today the building remains downtown, transformed into the Haunted Theater.

Main Street in downtown Mackinac Island is filled with snow in this view taken around 1900. Just like today, fewer people visited the island in winter, so the McNally Cottage boarding house (seen at far left) and Palmer House Hotel likely had few visitors when these boys played on the snow banks out front. Despite the snow, island residents may still have enjoyed parties at the town dance hall, visible just to the right of the Palmer House. Originally built as a roller skating rink, the dance hall became a motion picture theater by 1907. Today the building remains downtown, transformed into the Haunted Theater.

Thanksgiving at Fort Mackinac

In the 1880s, both the civilian and military residents of Fort Mackinac celebrated
Thanksgiving day with rest and recreation.

On November 28th, 1883, Captain Edwin Sellers wrote an order commanding that regular duties be suspended the following day. “Tomorrow the 29th having been appointed by the President as a day of National Thanksgiving and prayer all duties will be suspended at this post during this day except the necessary guard and police.”

On November 28th, 1883, Captain Edwin Sellers wrote an order commanding that regular duties be suspended the following day. “Tomorrow the 29th having been appointed by the President as a day of National Thanksgiving and prayer all duties will be suspended at this post during this day except the necessary guard and police.”

Ten year old Harold Dunbar Corbusier kept a diary of his experiences while
living with his family at Fort Mackinac in 1883 and 1884. On November 29th, 1883
Harold noted the Thanksgiving holiday in his diary, writing “Today is Thanksgiving day.
We boys went skating on the pond. Mama and papa went to church.”

Thanksgiving was also a holiday for the soldiers stationed at Fort Mackinac. The image to the right is a page from a collection of Fort Mackinac’s orders. The highlighted passage mentions the Thanksgiving holiday.