A black and white photo from 1890 showing the Fort Mackinac rifle range, with soldiers participating in a firing drill.

Army Marksmanship at Fort Mackinac

American history is full of stories and legends of soldiers and civilians skillfully using their muskets and rifles in the heat of battle or some other dramatic event. Tales of David Crocket, Daniel Boone, Annie Oakley, and the Minutemen at Lexington and Concord create an image that many people living on the North American continent in the 1800s would have been skilled with firearms. As far as these stories are true, they do not accurately represent most of the people living at that time. Most people in the United States had little to no experience with any long-range rifle shooting, and even basic skills with firearms were poor. Even amongst the United States Army ranks, very few soldiers participated in any significant target practice.

A black and white photograph of 1880s soldiers standing in a line with muskets and rifles in front of them.

Soldiers of the 23rd U.S. Infantry on the Parade ground at Fort Mackinac in the late 1880s.

 This lack of target practice was not neglectful. The technology and tactics at the time didn’t require soldiers to be skilled in long-range shooting. The army supplied soldiers with a smoothbore musket, which only had an effective range of 80 to 100 yards. As a result, armies had their soldiers lined up in big columns to create mass fire groups. While an individual soldier isn’t accurate, a large group of soldiers firing as a team is a much more effective force. These tactics were common around the world. Even after rifled muskets came into existence, which are more accurate than smoothbore muskets, many armies stuck to traditional battle line tactics. Firearms with “rifling” “have grooves inside the barrel, which make the projectile spin, making it more accurate and able to shoot farther.

 After the Civil War, the United States Army adopted the 1873 Springfield 45/70, often called the “trapdoor rifle.” The 45/70 was the first standard-issue breechloading rifle adopted by the army, meaning that the rifle was loaded from the rear of the rifle rather than from the muzzle. This rifle was far more accurate, allowing people to hit targets beyond 1,000 yards. Given the capabilities of this new weapon and the changing nature of warfare, the army began investigating ways to improve the marksmanship skills of their soldiers. While many officers developed different learning strategies, the army failed to provide any serious enforcement or supplies for training. Soldiers lacked ammunition for target practice, and commanding officers ultimately decided how much practice their soldiers would get. There was little pressure on commanding officers to restructure their soldiers to incorporate target practice.

A black and white photo of the Fort Mackinac rifle team from 1886. The soldiers are posed for the photo, holding rifles, with a trophy between them.

Fort Mackinac rifle team in 1886. Note target shaped collar buttons for marksmanship.

 The army started to improve its marksmanship efforts in 1884 by creating a new award system. Now, soldiers could earn various awards and compete against their fellow soldiers. A soldier who could hit targets 200 and 300 yards away at 80% accuracy and a 600-yard target at 70% would qualify as a marksman. Soldiers who could hit targets 200, 300, and 600 yards at 88% and targets at 800, 900, and 1000 yards at 76% earned the sharpshooter qualification. Aside from these awards, the army also created a special board to investigate ways to instruct soldiers in long-range marksmanship. Captain Stanhope E. Blunt was placed in charge of this board, and in March, Blunt’s “instruction for Rifle and Carbine Firing for the United States Army” would be officially approved and prescribed to the rest of the army.

 Soldiers were now required to conduct target practice at least six months out of the year, with considerations given to climate and operational duties. Post commanders would be held responsible for their practice, and those records would be published regularly in the reports. Each garrison went on the rifle range twice weekly over a four-month practice season. Post commanders could adjust the season better to fit the climate or duties of each post. The army gave more resources and funding to post commanders to improve equipment quality and follow through on plans that needed to be addressed.

A black and white photo from 1890 showing the Fort Mackinac rifle range, with soldiers participating in a firing drill.

Lt. Benjamin Morse (standing, center) supervises soldiers from the 23rd Regiment of Infantry as they practice on one of the Fort Mackinac rifle ranges in 1890.

 Fort Mackinac had a leg up in this new system compared to many other stations nationwide. While they initially lacked the proper ranges and suffered from the same lack of resources as many different stations, Fort Mackinac showed incredible success under the new training manual. This success is primarily attributed to the enthusiasm and skill of the officers stationed at Fort Mackinac. Both Captain George Brady and Captain Greenleaf Goodale qualified as Sharpshooters, as well as many other notable officers. A later addition to Fort Mackinac was Captain William Manning of Company E, who served as a member of the revision board for Blunt’s manual in 1885/4. In addition, Fort Mackinac quickly constructed a 1000-yard range, equipped with telegraph lines, in 1885 to accommodate the new expectations for target practice.

A black and white image of 600-yard rifle with target platform on foreground, looking towards Fort Mackinac.

Image of 600-yard rifle with target platform on foreground, looking towards Fort Mackinac.

 The 23rd Infantry stationed at Fort Mackinac boasted some of the best marksmen in the entire army. Between 1884 and 1889, sixteen soldiers from Fort Mackinac qualified as Sharpshooters. In 1885, 50 men qualified as Marksmen at Fort Mackinac. Innovations like this would help the army transform into an impressive military force. Over the next several decades, and after the many catastrophes during the Spanish-American War, the army would continue to improve and change. When the United States entered World War I, the United States had earned a reputation of being an “army of marksmen.”

A New Gown at Michilimackinac

A dress, reddish-orange in color, held together with pins as it sits on a mannequin. When you come to Colonial Michilimackinac it is always easy to find staff dressed in historic clothing. This winter, the clothing collection has had a number of new pieces added. Each is carefully researched and recreated to represent the items worn by the colonial residents. One of the larger projects this year has been recreating a woman’s gown.

 18th century women’s dresses were remarkably consistent in the basic style and cut in North America and in Europe. Trimmings and fabrics varied, but the shape of the pattern pieces and the construction were very similar from gown to gown. The basic style consists of an “open robe” which is a dress that is meant to be worn over a separate skirt. The open robe gowns are cleverly constructed and take very little fabric compared to later styles of gowns. The bulk of the cost of a gown was in the fabric. It might only take a day to make a gown, but it might take months or longer to make and transport the fabric.

 Textiles were often re-used and remade into newer styles or new garments altogether. Clothing could be let out, taken in, re-trimmed, patched, cut down, made into a garment for a child, or completely unpicked to start over. Some items, such as ladies’ gowns, were constructed with future alterations in mind. Folds and pleats were used extensively to give the gowns shape and prevent unnecessary cutting into the valuable fabric. Even wealthier households were known to be thrifty with their fabric.

A reddish-orange dress being fitted on a staff member for Mackinac State Historic Parks.

The new gown being fitted for the historic interpreter who will wear it.

 There were many fabric options for ladies’ gowns. Silk has a lustrous finish and soft texture which made it a choice fabric. By the 1770s silk was worn by all people, not just the wealthy. Even the very poor were able to afford a silk neckerchief or a silk ribbon for their cap. In 1778 John Askin wrote to his trading partners in Detroit asking for a gift for his daughter: “I owe Kitty her wedding Gown, as there was nothing here fit for it. Please have one made for her in the French fashion of a light blue sattin”. Miss Askin’s bespoke silk gown would have been a special piece, but it wouldn’t have been that unusual at Michilimackinac where many people liked to dress well.

A staff member wearing a reddish-orange gown with a white apron standing in front of a black curtain.

The new gown being worn in public, as Devan, one of our historic interpreters presents an education outreach program.

 The most reliable and practical fabric to make a gown from was, and still is, wool. Wool gowns do not fade in the sun nearly as fast as cotton or linen. We especially love wool for our staff because it does not need to be ironed nearly as much as some of the other types of textiles. So, while our staff may want to wear silk, most of the gowns found in the Michilimackinac closet, including this new one, are made of wool. Lightweight wools are good for all seasons, keeping the wearer warm in the cold and cool in the heat.

 There is still a lot to do, but we are happy to have one project checked off the list. To support our programs and learn more about Michilimackinac’s history visit mackinacparks.com.

An “Unlucky Affair” at Michilimackinac: The Stabbing of Lt. James Hamilton

Three buttons discovered at Colonial Michilimackinac. They have 10s on them as they were for the 10th Regiment that were stationed at Fort Michilimackinac.

Uniform buttons lost by soldiers of the 10th Regiment while stationed at Michilimackinac. These buttons were discovered by archaeologists as part of the ongoing excavation of Michilimackinac, which has continued every summer since 1959.

 In the course of otherwise routine historic research, occasionally a previously unknown and unlooked for piece of information comes to light. Such is the case of the stabbing of Lt. James Hamilton of the 10th Regiment at Michilimackinac in the summer of 1773. This previously unknown (to us at Mackinac, at least) incident came to light while reviewing the voluminous correspondence of Frederick Haldimand, who served as governor of Quebec from 1778 to 1786. Within these pages, now held by the British Museum, is the account of the violent incident at Michilimackinac in 1773. Haldimand received the original letters since he was serving at the temporary commander in chief of British forces in North America at the time.

 On July 31, 1773, Capt. John Vattas, the commanding officer of the detachment of the 10th Regiment at Michilimackinac, took depositions from Lt. James Hamilton and several other soldiers in the immediate aftermath of the incident. Hamilton, assigned to Vattas’ company, accused a Sergeant Dagg of Captain Robert Dalway’s company of stabbing him with a bayonet and attempting to murder him. In his deposition, Hamilton related that he went to Dagg’s house to confront the sergeant’s wife about a chicken she had supposedly stolen from him. After demanding the bird’s return, Hamilton reported that “Mrs. Dagg made use of provoking language to him, which obliged him to give her one or two kicks, and some strokes.” Mrs. Dagg ran outside “screeching,” so Hamilton started to make his way towards his own home. Once outside, Hamilton “saw Serjeant Dagg running up to him with great violence, with a drawn bayonet in his hand.” The lieutenant claimed that Dagg “made a lunge at the center part of his body,” but Hamilton twisted out of the way and into his own back yard, receiving a 2.5 inch cut near the “bottom of his belly” in the process. Hamilton’s memory was less clear about exactly what he said next, but he cried out “damn your blood, will you stab me?” or words to that effect. Dagg apparently “swore by God he would run any gentleman through that would use his wife so.” Convinced that Dagg intended to strike again and kill him, Hamilton ran inside his house. He waited a short time before reporting the incident to Vattas.

The Post Guardhouse at Colonial Michilimackinac. The building is gray, with a wood shingle roof, with pillars in front. The ground in front is gravel and dirt, with a light dusting of snow.

The reconstructed guardhouse at Michilimackinac today. Sergeant Dagg and Corporal Newton may have been sitting on a bench similar to the one near the front door.

 The depositions of the other soldiers added more details about the incident. These men, all likely part of the guard detail, were relaxing in and around the guardhouse when Mrs. Dagg ran outside screaming. Corporal John Newton was sitting on a bench near the guardhouse door with Sergeant Dagg, who was hemming a piece of stamped linen or cotton. Hearing his wife’s scream, Dagg ran towards his house, dropping the fabric on the ground. Cpl. Newton swore he did not see Dagg draw his bayonet, but upon returning to the guardhouse he saw Dagg attempting to put his bayonet back into its scabbard, and the corporal heard him say that “by heavens I have fixed myself.”  John New reported that he was sitting on another bench near the guard room door when he heard a “great noise.” New saw Dagg jump up and run around the corner of Hamilton’s garden, so he followed the sergeant. New watched as both men ran towards the gate leading into Hamilton’s yard. He swore that “Lieut. Hamilton made a smart twist into his own back gate, as if to avoid Sjt. Dagg; and that Sjt. Dagg made a lunge up to the gate after him and turned back immediately with a drawn bayonet in his hand.” New then watched as Dagg attempted to sheath his bayonet while “swearing some desperate oaths,” the exact substance of which he could not remember beyond “saying he had done for himself.”

 While New was the only eyewitness to the actual confrontation outside Hamilton’s yard, several other soldiers testified about what they saw and heard immediately before and after the incident. John Sweet saw Dagg “standing in a very remarkable attitude, with his drawn bayonet in his hand,” and heard him say that “he would run any gentleman through that offered to use his wife in that manner.” Ephraim Staneford was in the guard room and came out to meet Dagg as he returned to the guardhouse, hearing the sergeant say “by heavens he had done it.” Staneford also claimed he heard and saw Dagg laying on the ground crying “murder,” but never observed the sergeant draw or carry his bayonet. Robert Hill, who had been resting on the guard bed, heard Mrs. Dagg’s screams and ran outside, meeting Dagg as he returned to the guardhouse. Hill did not see Dagg’s bayonet drawn, but heard him “swear by God he thought his wife was killed.” Hill also swore that he later saw Lt. Hamilton with “his belly bare,” and watched “blood proceed from a wound that had been lately made into it.”  John Murphy claimed he saw Dagg sitting on the bench sewing before the incident, and noticed the dropped fabric on the ground after the sergeant ran away. Murphy also observed Dagg sheathing his bayonet and swearing that “by God by heaven that he had done for himself.”

 In early October, Lt. Col. Francis Smith, commanding the 10th Regiment from Fort Niagara, passed along the depositions to Haldimand. Smith also provided more information about the case. Dagg had been handcuffed and confined since the incident in July, and Hamilton demanded that he be tried by general court martial. In addition to deposing Hamilton and the witnesses, Vattas also questioned Dagg about “his reasons for so villainous an attempt.” The sergeant claimed that “he was cleaning his bayonet, when the cries of his wife took him from his guard, and that Mr. Hamilton chanced to run upon it.” In other words, the whole thing was an accident, with Hamilton essentially stabbing himself. Given that both Newton and Murphy swore that that had seen Dagg sewing before the incident, as well as noticing the dropped fabric near the bench, Vattas placed little stock in Dagg’s story about cleaning his bayonet, but nonetheless awaited further orders about what to do with the sergeant.

The light infantry and grenadier companies of the 10th Foot took part in the battles of Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775. This engraving, printed soon after the battle in 1775, shows the opening engagement on Lexington green. Courtesy Anne S.K. Brown Military Collection, Brown University.

 Dagg’s situation remained unresolved in March 1774. Writing to Captain Thomas Moncrief, a staff officer, Smith noted that he had written to Vattas “in a private way, and wish Mr. Hamilton and him may be able to wipe this affair away in as decent a manner as the nature of it will admit of, without a public hearing.”  Although Hamilton had demanded a general court marital for Dagg, Smith hoped that “perhaps length of time and other circumstances may lead him to alter his opinion.” If not, Smith would be ”under the disagreeable necessity of troubling the general [Haldimand] further about this unlucky affair.” Why Smith hoped to avoid a court martial remains unclear. A general court martial required 13 officers to sit in judgement, a potentially difficult undertaking with garrison spread out across British Canada. The necessity of transporting witnesses to testify posed similar issues. The nature of the incident, in which Hamilton openly admitted to kicking and beating Mrs. Dagg, may have also prompted Smith to suggest that Dagg not be brought to trial.

 Unfortunately, the outcome of Dagg’s case remains unclear at this time. Additional references to the assault in Haldimand’s correspondence have not yet come to light, and Haldimand relinquished his role as commander in chief when General Thomas Gage returned from England later in 1774. Future research may shed more light on this “unlucky affair,” but in the meantime, the depositions from July 1773 remain the only hints of what happened between Sergeant Dagg and Lieutenant Hamilton. Transcripts of the original documents are available online courtesy of the Library and Archives of Canada. The depositions begin on page 150 of Volume B-18, General Orders and Letters relating to the Garrison of Niagara, Add. Mss. 21678, with the additional letters from Smith on pages 160 and 166. Take a look at these fascinating historical documents and see if you can figure out what happened over 250 years ago at Michilimackinac!

A color painting in a gold frame of Thomas Hunt, who was a commander at Fort Mackinac.

2023 Mackinac State Historic Parks Collections Acquisitions

In 2023, the collections committee accessioned 643 objects into the Mackinac Island State Park Commission collection and archives. In addition to 83 purchases, 560 items were donated to the collection. The summer collections internship program saw the hiring of Kaitlyn Cary from Central Michigan University and Sara Handerhan from Cornell University. They assisted Curator of Collections Brian Jaeschke with the inventory of The Richard & Jane Manoogian Mackinac Art Museum, several historic downtown Mackinac Island buildings and General Storage inside the Heritage Center.

A color portrait of Colonel Arent DePeyster. He is wearing a dress military uniform of the British military. The portrait is in an oval gold frame.

Colonel Arent DePeyster

A color portrait of Rebecca DePeyster, who is wearing a formal dress and hat, in an oval gold frame

Rebecca Blair DePeyster

 In the fall of 2022, Mackinac State Historic Parks was able to acquire two rare portraits of Lieutenant Colonel Arent DePeyster and his wife Rebecca. DePeyster was commandant of the King’s 8th Regiment of Foot at Fort Michilimackinac from 1774-1779. Francis Alleyne painted the images around 1790. The portraits were discovered in a London home and put up for auction. Money from the Jahn Collections Fund was used to purchase and conserve the portraits and their frames. They are currently on display in the Mackinac Art Museum.

A color painting in a gold frame of Thomas Hunt, who was a commander at Fort Mackinac.

Donated portrait of Colonel Thomas Hunt

 The commission received a donation of a framed portrait from a descendant of Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Hunt. Hunt was commander of the 1st Infantry at Fort Mackinac from 1802 – 1804. During this time, Fort Mackinac became the sixth largest U.S. military post with 120 soldiers. Hunt had a distinguished military career starting in 1775 at Lexington-Concord. He served in several battles including Bunker Hill and Yorktown where he was wounded. After the war, he was a major in the 2nd Sub Legion and served during Wayne’s Indian Campaign of 1794, fighting at Fallen Timbers. He was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel in 1802. The portrait was painted on tin circa 1808 and the artist is currently unknown. The painting is undergoing conservation treatment and will be placed on display in the near future.

Two photograph albums

Two of the donated photo albums

 Over the years, Mackinac State Historic Parks has purchased or had donated photograph albums containing snapshots taken by visitors to the straits region. This year the commission accessioned three albums containing several black and white images of Mackinac Island, Mackinaw City and other local attractions. Besides scenes such as Arch Rock, Fort Mackinac and Grand Hotel, the albums contain perspectives that commercial photographers would not normally shoot providing important historical information. Another aspect is images of  everyday people enjoying the sites much like visitors continue to today.

A collection of brochures, photos, and other items related to MRA and the Mackinac College

Donated items from the MRA and Mackinac College.

 Besides Grand Hotel, Mission Point Resort is another Mackinac Island icon. Many of the resort buildings were originally constructed for the group Moral Re-Armament which was an international moral and spiritual movement that started before World War II. In 1942, the group began holding conferences on Mackinac Island and by the mid-1950s had purchased the property known as Cedar Point on the east end of the island. They began constructing buildings using workers from around the world. One of those workers donated several photographs, slides, blueprints and other material related to the construction. In addition, various objects from Mackinac College, which operated at Mission Point from 1966 – 1970, were donated.

 This is only a small sample of the type of objects Mackinac State Historic Parks collects during any 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.

Mackinac State Historic Parks
2023 Accession Gift Donors

Amy Sacka
Large color photograph of Mackinac Bridge in wintertime by Artist-in-Residence
Raymond Gaynor
Framed black and white photograph of sailboats in Mackinac Island harbor by Artist-in-Residence
Becki Barnwell
Black and white portrait photograph of Samuel Bayard and Martha Poole
Copies of Mackinac Islander, The Island News and Mackinac Island News newspapers
James Newton
Souvenir letter wallet and change purse from Mackinac Island
Jeri Gustafsson
Black and white photographs of Fort Michilimackinac, Fort Mackinac and Mackinac Bridge
Joan Vannorman
Black and white photographs of Mackinac Island, Fort Mackinac, Niagara Falls and Parry Sound, Ontario
Patricia Jahn
Woven flax cloth night shirt
Joan Slater
Office paper spike and papers from John Doud store on Mackinac Island
John Polacsek
Georgian Bay Line travel brochures for S.S. South & North American
David Callaghan
New Testament Bible of Jacob Wendell and Old and New Mackinac by Rev J.A. Van Fleet
Kathy Verhagen
Color and black & white postcards from the Straits of Mackinac region
Michael McGarr
Metal artwork of Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse entitled Midnight Light
Kathy Ames
Black and white photographs of the Tootle family, sailboats and Gardiner photographic prints
David Doss
Michigan State Highway Ferry schedule for Fall and Early Winter 1944
Cheboygan History Center
Color postcards of Mackinac Island and black and white photographs of a truck being pulled by horses on Mackinac Island
Dustin Hunt
Pencil sketch entitled Sue by Artist-in-Residence
Kateri Kaminski
Cross, pendants, brooch and earrings made in silver by Artist-in-Residence
Jeri Baron Feltner
Nikonos III underwater camera used to photograph shipwrecks in the Straits of Mackinac
High pressure scuba tank used by Charles Feltner for diving on Great Lakes shipwrecks
Sid Browne
Wooden walking stick crafted by Donald Andress
Phil Porter
Mackinac State Historic Parks employee coffee mug from 1994
Jean Gumpper
Framed woodcut print by Artist-in-Residence
James Swanson
Oil on linen of Round Island Lighthouse and seagulls by Artist in Residence
Marilyn Bachelor
Framed painting by Robert E. Wood entitled From Mackinac Island
Dorothy and Dan Elliott
Framed oil on tin painting of Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Hunt
Anonymous
Real color postcard of Fort Michilimackinac land gate
Harold Kriesche
Clear glass ashtray with letter “L” engraved by Frank Kriesche
Dan Friedhoff
Fire axes recovered from the SS Cedarville shipwreck
Brian Scott Jaeschke
Copy of A Lake Tour to Picturesque Mackinac
Debra Orr
Photographs of Christopher Reeve, Mary’s Pantry, stockade spike, ferry pass, movie ticket and Truscott documents
Douglas McGregor
Moral Re-Armament and Mackinac College photographs, slides, booklets, blueprints, newsletters, records, postcards, Mackinac College letterman patch and stationery
Kyle Bagnall
Three color panoramic postcards of Mackinac Island

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ice Fishing at Mackinac

“A delightful drive the ice is very smooth this season, and there is just snow enough for good sleighing. The net poles for fish are so thick, that the Lake looks like a forest.” Amanda White Ferry, 1832

Ice breaks up near St. Ignace, March 21, 2022. 

This winter, the Great Lakes have been nearly devoid of ice. Although floating masses filled portions of the straits, the larger lakes have been nearly ice-free. While mild winters weren’t unheard of in centuries’ past, Mackinac Island was often ice bound for six months at a time, nearly cut off from the outside world. Strong ice was counted on by local residents to obtain a critical winter harvest. For many generations, ice fishing provided an important source of food throughout the northern Great Lakes during cold winter months.

Long before European contact, Anishinaabek families at the straits were ice fishing experts, particularly for whitefish and lake trout. The tradition continued in Métis families, a culture of mixed French and American Indian ancestry. Spending the winter of 1767 at Fort Michilimackinac, Captain Johnathan Carver joined local residents in trout fishing through the ice. He described the process in detail, noting three or four hooks affixed to strong lines often caught two trout at a time, frequently weighing up to forty pounds each. Preserving them in cold months was accomplished simply by hanging them outdoors, where they froze solid in one night.

 Although they’re smaller (weighing about four pounds) lake whitefish have long been described as notably more delicious. Generations of writers raved about their delicate flavor and seemingly endless abundance. Whitefish live at deeper depths than trout and have small mouths, so they were typically caught with gill nets sunk beneath the ice.

Amanda White Ferry, wife of missionary Rev. William Ferry, lived on Mackinac Island from 1824–1834. Her correspondence included many references about ice conditions, winter fishing, cutting ice, sleighing, and dog sledding. On January 8, 1824, she wrote, “The weather is remarkably mild so that the Lake is still open …  Recently, many who had had been entirely out of provisions, set their nets upon a small patch of ice, surrounded by water. In the night a wind arose, carried off the nets ice and all (eleven in number); they have no method of making more.”

Warm season view of gill netting on Lake Michigan. In winter, floats were replaced with wooden stakes or poles, ca. 1861. 

When good ice was present, fishing was pursued vigorously. Mrs. Ferry described the process in late February 1831, writing, “We went onto the ice and saw the manner of setting the nets for fish. Two holes, several rods distant from each other are cut in the ice. By each of them a stake is driven and a cord is strung with nets, weighted to fall, and attached to the stakes. The fish in passing with the current are caught in the nets, and whoever has tasted of Mackinac White Fish knows how delicate and delicious they are. As we glided over the ice on the bay, we could see clearly through its clearness stones on the bottom as plainly as though they lay on the surface.”

Amanda’s sister, Hannah White, spent the entire winter of 1831-32 on Mackinac Island, visiting from Massachusetts. On March 12, a letter to her parents described a morning adventure to witness a net being taken up. “As we rode along,” she wrote, “we could see through the clear ice all that lay upon the bottom of the Lake, even when the ice was two feet thick. When there is no snow, fisherman can frequently see through the ice what their nets contain.” Sometimes, net poles were so numerous it appeared as if a forest had sprung up on the icy Straits of Mackinac.

Pancake ice forms along the shore as the Straits begin to freeze. 

Such dramatic scenes have long since faded beyond the memories of Mackinac’s oldest inhabitants. If a forest appears on the lake today, it’s likely a row of Christmas trees marking the elusive “ice bridge” for snowmobiles to follow between St. Ignace and Mackinac Island. Someday, this too may become a forgotten tradition. In recent decades, unpredictable winter weather has caused warmer lakes and more thawing, promising an uncertain future for winter forests on the ice.

What’s in Store for ’24?

As the calendar flips to 2024, the Mackinac State Historic Parks crew is hard at work constructing new buildings, creating new exhibits, fine-tuning programs, preparing the historic sites, and finalizing special events to share the rich historic and natural treasures of Mackinac Island and Mackinaw City.

 “We are excited to welcome visitors to experience our parks and numerous attractions,” said Steve Brisson, Mackinac State Historic Parks Director. “We are hard at work and busy preparing to have everything ready for our spring openings.”

A rendering of the new Milliken Nature Center at Arch Rock.

A rendering of the new Milliken Nature Center at Arch Rock.

 The Milliken Nature Center is built to accent the natural beauty of Arch Rock – not dominate it. The exhibit inside, Arch Rock: Unsurpassed in Nature’s Beauty, will celebrate what was known as the “Jewel of the Mackinac National Park” and is still today known as a “Star Attraction of Mackinac Island State Park.” It features dozens of stunning historic images of Arch Rock as well as a timeline on how the arch was formed. In addition, the center will highlight geology on Mackinac Island as a whole, from the formation of the island itself and how stunning features such as Sugarloaf Rock and Skull Cave came to be. A highlight of the center will be an interactive 3D map of the island. Finally, modern new restrooms will also be located at the site.

A rendering of a new exhibit inside the Milliken Nature Center at Arch Rock.

A rendering of the new exhibit, “Arch Rock: Unsurpassed in Nature’s Handiwork,” at the Milliken Nature Center.

 “The Milliken Nature Center will be a welcome and fitting addition to Mackinac Island State Park,” Brisson said. “We look forward to welcoming guests this spring. We’re honored it will feature the name of Governor Milliken, who loved this island, and are appreciative of the support of Governor Whitmer, the state legislature, and Mackinac Associates to see this project come to fruition.”

The Milliken Nature Center and restrooms are slated to open May 3.

Construction in front of a historic building with a construction worker.

Progress on the Southwest Rowhouse addition in mid-December.

 Moving to Mackinaw City, construction is underway on the first new building at Colonial Michilimackinac since 2013. Located on the east end of the Southwest Rowhouse, the building will host a new exhibit, combining archaeological and archival research to help present community life at Michilimackinac in the 1700s: Slavery at the Straits. Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, slavery was integral part of the community at Michilimackinac, as well as the rest of Michigan. Enslaved Black and Native American men and women worked in all levels of society, doing everything from domestic work to skilled labor. Already a hub of the Great Lakes fur trade, Michilimackinac also served as the center of the regional trade in enslaved workers as French and British colonists exploited preexisting systems of Native American enslavement to feed a growing demand for enslaved labor.

“This new exhibit explores the lives of these enslaved individuals and how their experiences fit in with the larger story of Michilimackinac, allowing us to present a more complete vision of the site in the 18th century,” Brisson said.

An overview of the archaeological dig and historic buildings in the background.

A new tour highlighting historic architecture adds to the robust schedule at Colonial Michilimackinac.

 Staying at Michilimackinac, the year 1781 will be explored, when local and global forces uprooted the entire community as soldiers and civilians relocated to Mackinac Island. After six decades as a thriving diplomatic and economic hub, Michilimackinac came to an end in 1781. A special daily program will go into detail on the end of Michilimackinac.

 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; learn about the different architectural styles found at the fort; explore dining culture at a Merchant’s House; 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 gorgeous setting and beautiful reconstruction of the 18th century fur trading village and fort overlooking the Straits of Mackinac are worth a visit for everyone that comes to Mackinaw City,” said LeeAnn Ewer, Curator of Interpretation. “Here you will be able to explore and learn about what the last year of Michilimackinac was like for the soldiers and civilians that disassembled the community and moved to Mackinac Island. Our newest tour will highlight the move to the island, as well as the historic architecture that would have housed the community daily from Michigan weather as well as the occasional war.”

A person holding tweezers looking for artifacts at the Colonial Michilimackinac archaeology dig.

Mackinac State Historic Parks archaeology program will enter its 66th year in 2024.

 The Mackinac State Historic Parks’ archaeology program will enter its 66th season in 2024. 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 “Recent Excavations” display inside the Colonial Michilimackinac Visitor’s Center.

 Want to get closer than ever to the action at Colonial Michilimackinac? Guests have two opportunities to fire black powder weapons: 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 2024 season May 8.

An oil house added at Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse under cloudy skies.

The Oil House added in 2023. A privy, pump, and flagpole will be added in 2024 to complete the restoration of the house to its 1910 appearance.

 Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse, across the park from Colonial Michilimackinac, will see the continued restoration of the site to its 1910 appearance. This summer will see small details added to the site, including a privy, pump, and flagpole. A small sidewalk will be added to the privy and pump, and, along with the oil house that was added in 2023, new interpretive signs will be added. Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse opens for the season May 9.

 Programs at Historic Mill Creek 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. Log hewing and pitsaw demonstrations will be relocated near the millpond, providing easier access and shaded seating for visitors of all ages. At the workshop historic farming programs highlight what life was like beyond the sawmill more than 200 years ago.

A young raccoon.

Themed weeks, including a Wildlife Week, highlight the Historic Mill Creek schedule in 2024.

 During the summer months, special themed weeks will dig deeper into the story of Historic Mill Creek. From June 23-29, enjoy “Wildlife Week at Historic Mill Creek,” featuring the amazing animals of the North Woods. From July 21-27, enjoy “Hay Cutters & Summer Pasture,” as programs explore historic hay making at the Straits of Mackinac. Finally, August 18-24 will feature “Lost Rocks & Mackinac Millstones,” where guests will earn about the grist mill at Mill Creek, and how the Mill Creek millstones were hewn from “lost rocks” deposited by glaciers thousands of years ago.

 On the wild side, Historic Mill Creek’s 3.5 miles of interpreted hiking trails are always open and available to explore. During the summer months, join a trained naturalist at various times of the day for a guided walk along the trails, looking for blooming wildflowers, fruiting fungi, and singing birds among the trees, as well as for any wildlife along the banks of Mill Creek.

 “We’re excited to enter a year of transition at Historic Mill Creek,” shared Park Naturalist Kyle Bagnall. “This year, special themed weeks will highlight aspects of the site’s amazing history. Guests can join a naturalist for short, guided trail walks. We’ll bask in the summer sun as we listen for the swish of the scythe and tales of historic hay cutters. Finally, we’ll join a hunt for “lost rocks” which traveled hundreds of miles thousands of years ago before landing at Mackinac.”

 Historic Mill Creek will also host two special Snowshoe Strolls, on February 10 and March 3, both from 2:00-3:30 p.m. Bring your snowshoes and explore the snowy North Woods on this guided stroll. This two-mile guided hike will allow you to search for signs of wildlife and other wonders of the natural world. After the walk enjoy treats near a campfire. This event is admission by donation.

 Historic Mill Creek opens for the regular 2024 season May 10.

A person dressed as a historic soldiers leads a group at Fort Mackinac on the Parade Ground.

A new ‘Medicine at Mackinac’ tour will showcase Army Surgeons and military medicine in the 1880s.

 Moving back to Mackinac Island, Fort Mackinac opens for the 2024 season on May 3. Guests can discover two new programs: “Medicine at Mackinac,” where interpreters will provide the history of Army Surgeons and how the Army began changing military medicine in the 1880s. In addition, a Guard Mount Program will show guests how soldiers would conduct this complex military ceremony. Other programs at the fort include a walking tour about the changing face of Fort Mackinac, an exploration of the people who lived and worked at the fort, how the Army of the 1880s conducted itself, a look at Mackinac’s time as a national park, a program showcasing the equipment a soldier was issued, and an exploration of what happened at Fort Mackinac after the sun set. In addition, the classic rifle and cannon firing demonstrations will both feature refreshed presentations.

 “2024 will be an exciting year because we are continuing to expand the programs we offer as well as adding greater depth to our classic programs, creating a fun and educational experience for anyone coming to Mackinac Island,” 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 2024 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.

Fairy Arch by Henry Chapman Ford 1874

Fairy Arch by Henry Chapman Ford (1874).

 The Richard & Jane Manoogian Mackinac Art Museum, located in Marquette Park in front of Fort Mackinac, will feature Mackinac Rocks!, a juried exhibition in the second floor changing gallery. From looking in wonder at the natural curiosity that is Arch Rock to skipping rocks at Windermere Point, to maybe enjoying some ‘rock’ at a local establishment or the fact that Mackinac Island is itself a large rock, it is safe to say that Mackinac Rocks!

 An art attendant will lead guided tours of the galleries, including a look at Native American art on Mackinac, and the works of photographer William Gardiner. In addition, the attendant will lead two “Kids’ Time” crafts in the lower-level art studio. The sixth nine 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.

 Elsewhere on Mackinac Island, the Biddle House, featuring the Mackinac Island Native American Museum, shares the continuing story 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 and McGulpin House have both received new exhibits in the past two years. Admission to all of these sites is included with a Fort Mackinac or Historic Downtown Mackinac ticket.

 The Biddle House, featuring the Mackinac Island Native American Museum, Benjamin Blacksmith Shop, and The Richard & Jane Manoogian Mackinac Art Museum open for the 2024 season on May 10. The McGulpin House and American Fur Co. Store & Dr. Beaumont Museum open June 1.

A baseball player getting ready to swing a bat wearing a blue and gray uniform.

The annual ‘Vintage Base Ball’ game is a highlight of the summer season.

 Special events at Fort Mackinac and Mackinac Island include Twilight Turtle Treks on January 13, February 3 and March 2; the Fort2Fort Five Mile Challenge May 11; the annual Vintage Base Ball game July 27; 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.

 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. Visit mackinacparks.com for a complete listing of updates and projects at Mackinac State Historic Parks, hours of operation, daily events, special events, and more.

A Colonial Christmas

The sun sets on the Straits of Mackinac. Fires crackle in stone hearths. The smell of treats and warm beverages fill the crisp winter air. Laughter, conversation, and more can be heard emanating from inside the palisaded walls. It’s ‘A Colonial Christmas’ at Colonial Michilimackinac, where the traditions of the 17th and 18th century are alive for all to explore.

Lanterns light the path in Michilimackinac where storytellers recount the various traditions of historic residents, a retelling of the first Christmas at Mackinac in 1679, and the church at Ste. Anne’s prepared for Christmas Mass as it would have been in the 18th century. Create crafts to take home and bring the family out on the Parade Ground for historic games. All the while, enjoy delicious holiday snacks located throughout the fort. #thisismackinac

Adults: $12
Child (5-12): $8
Under 4: Free
Mackinac Associates (excluding Heritage level): Free

The reconstructed Ste. Anne's Church decorated for Christmas with garlands and lit candles.

It’s A Colonial Christmas at Colonial Michilimackinac

Historic Interpreters getting ready to celebrate Christmas at MichilimackinacThe sun sets on the Straits of Mackinac. Fires crackle in stone hearths. The smell of treats and warm beverages fill the crisp winter air. Laughter, conversation, and more can be heard emanating from inside the palisaded walls. It’s A Colonial Christmas Saturday at Colonial Michilimackinac in Mackinaw City.

 From 3:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. (last admission at 6:00 p.m.) the holiday traditions of the 17th and 18th centuries are alive for all to explore. As visitors enter through the secondary entrance off Straits Ave under boughs and decorations, lanterns will light the path to the palisaded walls, as the historic residents of Michilimackinac invite you into their homes to celebrate.

 “A Colonial Christmas is a chance to dig deeper into the lives of the historic residents of Michilimackinac and explore even more of this history of the Straits of Mackinac,” said Mackinac State Historic Parks director Steve Brisson. “We hope our visitors find it to be an enriching and fun event that will help us all appreciate the history of holiday traditions.”

 Upon entering the South Southwest Rowhouse, travelers will be welcomed with hot chocolate and the chance to look at available wares (and purchase tickets to the event, if you don’t already have one). Upon exiting the Rowhouse, more lanterns will light the paths, while the smell of treats and the fires burning in the fireplaces indicate the buildings to enter. You are now on your own to explore at your own pace.

A cake, tea, cookies, and candles set on a decorated table.

Various treats to be found at A Colonial Christmas, including the King’s Cake, in the center.

 At the Merchant’s House you’ll find coriander cookies and seats around the fire, where you’ll learn about Réveillon, the French tradition of eating a night-time meal after Midnight Mass, including many desserts. In the Northwest Rowhouse the French celebration of New Year will also be observed, as it played a major part of the holiday festivities. Here you can sample the King’s Cake, but be on the lookout for the ‘bean’ that will make you king for the day.

 In the Barracks you’ll learn of British and German military traditions, as the soldiers may have celebrated the holidays with feasting, storytelling, and games. Enjoy a treat and learn about the tradition of the Christmas pie. British holiday traditions will continue in the British Trader’s House, as 18th century stories will be told while guests sample comfit. Ghost stories will be told in the Soldier’s House, which was a popular holiday tradition.

 Wassailing will take place in the Priest’s House, where hot wassail will be available as you make your way into Ste. Anne’s Church, which will be dressed for Christmas Mass and you’ll learn about the first Christmas at Mackinac.

The reconstructed Ste. Anne's Church decorated for Christmas with garlands and lit candles.

The Church of Ste. Anne decorated for Christmas.

 The celebration continues outside, as popcorn will be available on the porch of the Guardhouse. Over on the parade ground you’re encouraged to join a game of Trap Ball, a game played all year, but especially during the holiday season.

 Finally, down in the Treasures from the Sand exhibit, you’ll learn how the soldiers and fur traders decorated their houses for the holidays and have a chance to make your very own decoration to help decorate your own house.

Tickets available online or upon arrival. Last admission is at 6:00 p.m. Call 231-436-4100 for more information.

 Visitors are encouraged to dress warmly, as the buildings at Colonial Michilimackinac are not insulated for the cold weather. Restrooms will be available in the South Southwest Rowhouse.

 Much of Colonial Michilimackinac has been reconstructed based on archaeological excavations, including its 13 buildings and structures, many of which will be open featuring special activities during A Colonial Christmas. The fort and fur trading village was founded by the French in 1715 and is depicted today as it was in the 1770s when occupied by the British. 

Fort Fright

Lanterns light your way through an 18th-century fort and fur trading village overrun by werewolves, witches, goblins and ghouls. Storytellers weave spooky folktales near bonfires and treats such as hot mulled cider, cookies and candy can be found throughout the site. Most stops are suitable for all ages, but a haunted house, demon walk and werewolf walk will give thrills and chills to adults and children alike.

Tickets will go on sale during summer, 2024. Last admission at 8:30 both nights. 

Civil War at Mackinac Weekend

In the summer of 1862 Fort Mackinac held a new title: political prison. Join reenactors portraying the “Stanton Guard,” the company mustered to guard the prisoners, as they present special programming throughout the weekend at the fort. All special programs are included with regular admission to Fort Mackinac. #thisismackinac

SCHEDULE OF EVENTS

Posted soon!