Exploring Mackinac’s Natural Wonders

In 1846, James Beven wrote, “A ramble is a pleasure which may be enjoyed at Mackinac to perfection…” Join Park Naturalist, Kyle Bagnall, on an afternoon ramble to explore some of the island’s most ancient natural wonders. Participant should meet behind Fort Mackinac, at the Avenue of Flags on Huron Road, where we’ll begin our hike. From there, we’ll following winding pathways to Skull Cave, Point Lookout, and Sugar Loaf as we tread upon “The Turtle’s Back” of Ancient Mackinac Island. Wonders come in all sizes, so be prepared for large and small surprises. Wear clothes for the weather and good shoes for walking about 2.5 miles total. This hike is free, with no preregistration required.

#thisismackinac

Lilacs and Warblers Birding Adventure!

Birders of all ages will enjoy this unique guided adventure, searching for spring songbirds during the Mackinac Island Lilac Festival. Meet naturalist Kyle Bagnall in Marquette Park at the statue of Father Marquette. Amidst thousands of fragrant lilac blossoms, we’ll stroll through the park, then up the hill, looking for migrating warblers, raptors overhead, and resident songbirds.

This is a free event – donations welcome! #thisismackinac

Early Accounts of Arch Rock

On an island known for awe-inspiring natural wonders, Arch Rock is Mackinac’s most iconic. This seemingly delicate natural bridge “excites the wonder of all beholders” as it defies gravity, rising more than 140 feet above the waters of Lake Huron. Whether you gaze up from the lakeshore or peer down from the adjacent cliffside, the views that your breath away have been enjoyed by visitors for centuries.

  The first known description of Mackinac Island’s geological formations was penned by Dr. Francis LeBaron on October 30, 1802. The doctor recently arrived at Fort Mackinac to assume the duties of post surgeon. In a letter to the editor of Boston’s Columbian Centinel & Massachusetts Federalist, he wrote:

A black and white photo of Dr. Francis LeBaron

Dr. Francis LeBaron

 “The island of Michilimackinac is about three miles long and two wide, situated in the straights that join lake Huron to lake Michigan
The curiosities of this place consist of two natural caves, one of them is formed in the side of a hill, the other in a pyramidical rock of eighty feet in height, and thirty-five feet in diameter at its base, which is situated on a plain and totally detached from any rock or precipice… There are also two natural arches of the Gothic order which appear to have been formed by some convulsions in nature, one is eighty feet in height, the other is forty.”

  Arch Rock received even broader attention in 1812, when a short description appeared in the sixth edition of Reverend Jedidah Morse’s American Universal Geography. Known as the “father of American geography” (also father of Samuel Morse, inventor of the telegraph) his books influenced the educational system of the United States, being widely used in classrooms for decades. In part, his description of Michigan Territory reads:

A color image of Rev. Jedidah Morse

Rev. Jedidiah Morse

An issue of The American Universal Geography from 1812

The American Universal Geography, 1812

 “Islands. The island Michilimackinac lies between Michigan and Huron, and is 7 miles in circumference….The fort is neatly built, and exhibits a beautiful appearance from the water… On the N.E. side of the island, near the shore, and 80 feet above the lake, is an arched rock. The arch is 20 feet in diameter, at the top, and 30 at the base… The island is one mass of limestone, and the soil is very rich. The climate is cold but healthy. The winter lasts for 5 months with unabated rigor.”

A map of the island of Michilimackinac from 1817

Map of the Island of Michilimackinac [Arch Rock Detail], W.S. Eveleth, 1817

  After the War of 1812, American military surveys and inspections produced a flurry of descriptions, sketches, and maps of Mackinac Island. During an 1817 survey, Lieutenant William Sanford Eveleth, U.S. Corps of Engineers, composed a highly detailed map, including miniature drawings of Arch Rock, Sugar Loaf and Skull Cave. One can imagine curious visitors strolling each dotted pathway through the woods, in search of geological wonders.

  While sharing his reflections on the arch, Captain David Bates Douglass later revealed, “Several officers have walked over it, among which are Lieutenant Curtis and Pierce and my lamented friend Evelyth, at the dizzy height of 147 feet. However, I should think it a rash enterprise.” [In October 1818, Lieut. Evelyth tragically drowned in a violent Lake Michigan gale during the wreck of the schooner Hercules with all hands lost.]

The Arched rock, Michillimackina, F.S. Belton, Sep. 1817

  Major Francis Smith Belton completed the first known artistic rendering of Arch Rock in September 1817. Also on a military inspection tour, his view is shown from a boat offshore, rendered wild, exaggerated and fantastical.

Detail of The Arched rock, Michilimackina by F.S. Belton, Sep. 1817

  One of the two tiny figures drawn at the top of Belton’s image may be Judge Advocate Samuel A. Storrow, who was also on the Island that September. His written description of Mackinac Island and Arch Rock was published as a pamphlet entitled, The North-West in 1817: A Contemporary Letter. In part, it reads:

 “On the eastern side, I found one of the most interesting natural curiosities I have ever witnessed. On the edge of the island, where as elsewhere, the banks are perpendicular, you creep cautiously toward the margin, expecting to overlook a precipice; instead of which you find a cavity of about 75 degrees descent, hollowed from the direct line of the banks; and across it on the edge of the precipice… an immense and perfect arch. Its height is 140 feet from the water, which is seen through it… Looking from the interior, the excavation resembles a crater; but, instead of an opposite side, presents an opening, which is surmounted by this magnificent arch… When on the beach below, you see this mighty arch 140 feet above you, half hid in trees, and seemingly suspended in the air… From the Lake it appears like a work of art, and might give birth to a thousand wild and fanciful conjectures.”

  From these early, enthusiastic descriptions it’s clear that Arch Rock has cast a spell upon Mackinac Island visitors for centuries. To learn more about Arch Rock and the Island’s other natural wonders, watch for future blog posts, exhibits and publications and visit mackinacparks.com.

A lithograph by Currier and Ives titled "Chicago in Flames." Scene from the fire of 1871.

Gurdon Hubbard and The Great Chicago Fire

A picture of Gurdon Hubbard.

Gurdon Hubbard.

A picture of 'The Lilacs', the cottage Hubbard built in Hubbard's Annex to the National Park.

Hubbard’s cottage, “The Lilacs.”

  Gurdon Saltonstall Hubbard first came to Mackinac Island in 1818 as a clerk for the American Fur Company. In the same year, his work took him to Chicago where he eventually settled and became one of the city’s most influential citizens. Hubbard’s business interests included opening the first meat packing plant in Chicago as well as being an insurance underwriter, land speculator and steamship company owner. He helped organize the Chicago Board of Trade, served as representative in the Illinois General Assembly in 1832-33 and was director of the Chicago Branch of the State Bank of Illinois. In 1855, Hubbard purchased eighty acres on the southern bluff of Mackinac Island and built a cottage called “The Lilacs” around 1870.

  On Sunday October 8, 1871, Hubbard and his wife Mary Ann attended morning services at the Reformed Episcopal Church in Chicago. Afterward, they had dinner with Hubbard’s cousins, Mr. and Mrs. Alfred Hebard of Iowa, at the new Palmer House hotel. They returned home after attending evening services at Grace Methodist church and prepared for bed. As Mary Ann finished combing her hair, she looked out a window and noticed a large fire burning toward the southwest. The previous evening there had been a large fire in a wood planing mill on the city’s west side and she thought perhaps it had rekindled. She watched for several minutes and finally awoke Gurdon who quickly became concerned.

A lithograph by Currier and Ives titled "Chicago in Flames." Scene from the fire of 1871.

Lithograph by Currier and Ives titled Chicago in Flames. Scene from the Chicago Fire of 1871.

  Gurdon dressed and prepared to take his family west of the city to his son’s home. Upon inspecting the route, Hubbard realized the fire was moving northeast and had jumped the river. When he returned to his home on LaSalle Street, he found the Hebards, who had left the Palmer House shortly before it was consumed. Several other family members, friends and neighbors were also there, hoping that the Hubbard’s brick house would protect them from the fire. Hubbard instructed several of the men to tear up the carpets, wet them in the cistern and spread them on the roof.  Mary Ann and the maids provided food and beverage while the fire continued to move across the city.

A picture of the intersection of Madison and State Streets in Chicago after the Great Fire of 1871.

Madison and State Streets in Chicago after the fire.

  By Monday morning, the fire was only a few blocks away and nothing that Gurdon Hubbard could do would save his home. He and Mary Ann packed as much as they could and joined thousands of other Chicagoans as they fled the flames. Gurdon lost his fortune in the fire and was near bankruptcy due to investments in several of the insurance companies for which he was underwriter. Hubbard made the decision to pay off all the insurance losses for which he was directly responsible. Hubbard continued ownership of his cottage and property on Mackinac Island and it was suggested by a business associate that he sell some of the land to recoup some of his losses.

  In 1882, Hubbard borrowed money from wealthy Chicago friends and had his land on Mackinac Island surveyed and platted. The island had become the second national park in 1875 and property was in demand for constructing summer cottages. Hubbard’s idea was to build a fashionable resort hotel and cottage community. The land was platted for 132 building lots which he named “Hubbard’s Annex to the Mackinac National Park.” Hubbard promoted the lots throughout the Midwest and although the hotel was not built, he successfully developed a cottage community on the island that still thrives today. The sale of the lots helped Hubbard rebuild his fortune, most of which went to his family, as he passed away in 1884.

A picture of Gurdon Hubbard and his wife, Mary.

Gurdon Hubbard and his wife, Mary Ann.

A map of Hubbard's Annex to the National Park

Plat of “Hubbard’s Annex to the National Park.”

  On your next visit to Mackinac Island take a ride out on Annex Road and discover Hubbard’s Annex. The best source for Mackinac Island history, including the historic cottages and neighborhoods on Mackinac Island, is Fort Mackinac. The fort is open through October 24. Information on tickets can be found at mackinacparks.com.