When historic Mackinaw City, Mackinac Island sites open in 2021

Fort Mackinac endured a hostile takeover by the British. Held captives during the Civil War. Survived a seamless transition from national park to state park. And its 14 original buildings have been repaired and restored all along the way.

  Now, one of the most popular Mackinac State Historic Parks attractions has weathered the COVID-19 pandemic, too.

  After a year of uncertainty when the opening of historic sites was delayed or even cancelled, Fort Mackinac is open for tours in 2021. So are The Richard and Jane Manoogian Mackinac Art Museum, Biddle House, featuring the Mackinac Island Native American Museum, Colonial Michilimackinac, Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse, Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park and most other Mackinac State Historic Parks sites.

  With COVID-19 health precautions at Mackinac State Historic Parks, you can safely visit and enjoy any or all of the sites in Mackinaw City and on Mackinac Island this year.

  Here’s a rundown of when each Mackinac State Historic Parks attraction opened or will open

May 1, Historic Fort Mackinac
May 1, The Richard and Jane Manoogian Mackinac Art Museum
May 1, Biddle House, featuring the Mackinac Island Native American Museum
May 1, Benjamin Blacksmith Shop
May 5, Colonial Michilimackinac
May 6, Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse
May 7, Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park
June 5, American Fur Company Store & Dr. Beaumont Museum

Things to keep in mind as you plan your 2021 visit to Mackinac State Historic Parks

  One Mackinac State Historic Parks site, the 200-year-old McGulpin House, is not scheduled to open this year due to ongoing challenges posed by the pandemic. A few other attractions have activities or areas that are not expected to open in 2021 including the Kids’ Art Studio at The Richard and Jane Manoogian Mackinac Art Museum, the tower tour at Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse and the Treetops Discovery climbing wall at Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park.

  With the exception of the climbing wall, the Adventure Tour at Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park will be open this year including the thrilling Forest Canopy Bridge and the Eagle’s Flight Zip Line. And even though you can’t climb the tower, you can take the stairs to the top and enjoy a stunning view of both Mackinac Island and the Mackinac Bridge.

  While the tower tour is closed this year, you can experience several new exhibits that have opened at Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse. The second floor of the lighthouse has been restored to how it looked in 1910 and gives a great sense of what life was like for George Marshall and his family when he was the first lightkeeper. The lighthouse also is the site of the Straits of Mackinac Shipwreck Museum and features a new exhibit devoted to lighthouse optics and lenses as well as sound and fog signals. In fact, you can hear a demonstration of the lighthouse’s Fog Signal Whistle several times each day.

  The new historic tours and demonstrations at Colonial Michilimackinac this season will focus on the year 1778, when rumors swirled about whether the Revolutionary War would reach the Upper Great Lakes. Demonstrations and tours led by costumed interpreters take place throughout the day, with several programs being moved outdoors to provide more opportunity for social distancing.

A new Mackinac State Historic Parks experience for 2021

  Starting June 5 and continuing daily through Sept. 5, one lucky visitor will be able to fire all of the black powder weapons at Colonial Michilimackinac as the fort closes. That includes the Short Land Musket, Wall Gun, Coehorn Mortar and cannon. “Guns Across the Straits” is available to one Colonial Michilimackinac guest each day for an extra fee, and reservations are now being taken for this first-time-ever opportunity.

  Colonial Michilimackinac also will host a special “Fire at Night” exhibition on July 7, welcoming guests to visit at dusk and watch the fireworks of the fort’s black powder weapons being shot.

  Tickets to all Mackinac State Historic Parks sites for the 2021 season are now on sale, with money-saving combo packages available when visiting more than one attraction.

Residents Appreciation Day

For residents of Mackinac, Cheboygan, or Emmet counties, for one weekend, we discount the admission prices for all of our sites to what they were when we first began operating our modern museum programs for the public in 1958. (.50 cents adults, .25 cents children). Thank you for supporting Mackinac State Historic Parks!

This special offer includes residents of Mackinac, Cheboygan and Emmet counties. Proof of residency is required (e.g. driver’s license).

Residents Appreciation Day

For residents of Mackinac, Cheboygan, or Emmet counties, for one weekend, we discount the admission prices for all of our sites to what they were when we first began operating our modern museum programs for the public in 1958. (.50 cents adults, .25 cents children). Thank you for supporting Mackinac State Historic Parks!

This special offer includes residents of Mackinac, Cheboygan and Emmet counties. Proof of residency is required (e.g. driver’s license).

Passenger Pigeons at Mackinac

“It is reported that wild pigeons have arrived in this section, and are coming in great numbers. This would, we think, indicate that winter was over.”   Northern Tribune, March 9, 1878 Cheboygan, Michigan 
  As long as people have lived in the north woods, they’ve eagerly awaited signs of spring. For many centuries, the season of melting ice and flowing maple sap was also marked by tremendous flocks of passenger pigeons arriving from the south. For the past 130 years, however, no one has experienced the awe of a pigeon flock descending like a force of natureEctopistes migratorius, the passenger pigeon, has disappeared.  

Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands. Mark Catesby (1743)

  While related to pigeons and doves of today, passenger (or wild) pigeons were unique in the animal kingdom. About 50% larger than a mourning dove, the species was known for its long tail and wing feathersbright iridescent plumage, and deep red eyes. Congregating in huge flocks, they flew at speeds up to 60mph and settled in colonial nesting sites covering many thousands of acres. These colorful birds were common east of the Rocky Mountains, especially where their favorite foods of acorns and beech nuts were abundant.  

Ornithology of the United States and of Canada. Thomas Nuttall (1832)

  At the Straits of Mackinac, archaeologists have found passenger pigeon bones at Colonial Michilimackinac and Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park, especially near Native American and French-Canadian habitationsDescribing the Straits in 1773, trader Peter Pond noted “These Wood afford Partreages, hairs, Venesen, foxis & Rackcones, Sum Wild Pigins.     Arriving iflocks of millions, pigeons meant a suddenly abundant food source during a lean time of year. Thomas Nuttall, the first botanist to explore the Straits, also studied birds. In 1832, he wrote: “The approach of the mighty feathered army with a loud rushing roar, and a stirring breeze, attended by a sudden darkness, might be mistaken for a fearful tornado about to overwhelm the face of nature. For several hours together the vast host, extending some miles in breadth, still continues to pass in flocks without diminution… and they shut out the light as if it were an eclipse. 

Lyster O’Brien, c. 1855. Courtesy Edward Nicholas, in The Chaplain’s Lady (1987)

  In the 19th century, accounts of pigeons at the Straits became increasingly common. IJuly 1852, Lyster O’Brien, 15-year-old son of post chaplain Rev. John O’Brien, wrote from Fort Mackinac“My dear Uncle, We are all happy to learn that you are coming here, and will you please bring up your gun with you, for we expect plenty of pigeons this summer, and I think we can tramp all over the Island with you after them…”    Pigeons not eaten locally were killed by market hunters who travelled far to find roosting flocks. After being packed in barrels of salt for preservation, their harvest was shipped to cities such as Detroit, Chicago, and New York, where hotels and restaurants bought them by the dozen. Crates of live pigeons were sold for trapshooting competitions.     In 1862, Henry T. Philips opened a grocery business in CheboyganHe quickly became a major exporter of wild gameshipped by steamboat and railroad. He recalled, In 1864… I had a shipment of live wild pigeons which we brought down the Cheboygan River from Black Lake in crates holding six dozen each… In 1868, at Cheboygan, I took over six hundred fat birds at sunrise. I sold to the United States officers at Mackinac for trap shooting, also to Island House [hotel].”    Organized by groups such as the Cheboygan Gun Club, trapshooting matches were popular from the 1850s through the 1890s. On July 4, 1880, a target shooting match pitted members of the Cheboygan club against Fort Mackinac soldiers. After the contest, some races were held, followed by a public “pigeon shoot” featuring 15 dozen birds  In 1878, the largest colonial nesting in Michigan history occurred near Petoskey, covering an area of 150,000 acres. The following year, in his Annotated List of the Birds of MichiganDr. Morris Gibbs noted wild pigeons were “exceedingly common some seasons.” In such huge numbers, it seemed unimaginable their population would ever decline.  

Northern Tribune, July 3, 1880.

  Market hunting, trap shooting, and extreme habitat loss due to lumbering caused pigeon numbers to fall sharply through the 1880s. The last large nesting in Michigan occurred in the spring of 1881, near Traverse City. That same year, a heavy sleet storm occurred on October 15 as a large flock of pigeons flew south across the Straits of Mackinac, causing many to drop into the water and drown.    

Prang’s Natural History Series for Children (1878)

On April 22, 1882, Cheboygan’s Northern Tribune reported: “Some of our hunters were led to believe there were pigeons in plenty a few miles from town… but it was only a cruel hoax.” A few years later, Morris Gibbs observed pigeons on Mackinac Island in June 1885, but ornithologists only located small nestings in proceeding years.  

Steward Edward White (1912), Library of Congress, Bain News Service Photograph Collection

  Near the end of the century, brothers Stewart Edward and T. Gilbert White spent summers at their family’s Mackinac Island cottage. A prolific author, Stewart’s essay and list, Birds Observed on Mackinac Island, Michigan, During the Summers of 1889, 1890, and 1891, was published by the American Ornithologists Union. Of pigeons, he wrote, “A large flock was seen feeding in beech woods, August 30, 1889, after which they were frequently seen. About a hundred were observed September 10, and on September 12 the main body departed None were observed in 1890 or 1891.”    On September 14, 1898, the last known passenger pigeon in Michigan was shot near Detroit. At thtime, it was feared that other iconic animals, such as the bald eagle and American bison would follow this sad decline. The very last passenger pigeon in the world, “Martha,” died in her cage at the Cincinnati Zoo on September 1, 1914.     Today, it appears the extinction of this incredible species was not entirely in vain. Hard lessons learned helped fuel 20th century conservation efforts that brought some species back from the brink of disaster. During your next visit to the Straits of Mackinac, search the skies and you’re likely to find a bald eagle. As you watch it soarremember the tale of the passenger pigeon, once a sign of spring in the north woods. No matter how common something seems, it’s up to us to care for all life to ensure the awe of future generations. 

Shifting Sands

Remains of the lighthouse dock in April 2021.

The high water levels of the Great Lakes in recent years have caused significant erosion along the shoreline, exposing many long-buried landscape features. This year, water levels have fallen slightly, revealing previously-buried or submerged pieces of the past. The dock remains currently visible in front of the Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse are but one example of how the power of the Great Lakes can alternately hide and reveal reminders of our maritime history.

The dock may have been the first element of the light station to be built, as it would have been necessary to receive materials for the construction of the original fog signal building in 1890. According to the 1894 Annual Report, “the landing crib was carried away by ice.” A replacement was completed the following year. It is depicted on a 1907 map as extending 198 feet out into the straits.

Keeper George Marshall greets a lighthouse inspector on the station dock. 

The dock was gone by 1921, when the District Superintendent explained in letter to the Commissioner of Lighthouses that it was not necessary to construct a new dock because “supplies and fuel can be unloaded at a city dock and transported to the Station.”

The remains of the dock you see today are over one hundred years old and fragile. Please do not disturb them. Archaeological remains such as the dock, whether located on land within Michilimackinac State Park or submerged in the waters of the Straits of Mackinac Underwater Preserve, are protected by state law.

More information about the Old Mackinac Point Light Station can be found in Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse: A History and Pictorial Souvenir by MSHP Director Steve Brisson, available at MSHP museum stores. Visit our website to order a copy, or for more information about visiting Old Mackinac Point.

 

Gun Parts from the South Southwest Rowhouse at Michilimackinac

Between 1998 and 2007 Mackinac State Historic Parks excavated the east end unit of the South Southwest Rowhouse, now the site of Hearthside Museum Store in the reconstructed rowhouse. From its construction in the 1730s through the time of the 1763 attack it was lived in by French Canadian fur traders, mostly members of the Desriviere family. When the British returned with more soldiers in 1764, this was one of the houses they rented for foot soldiers to live in before the barracks was built in 1769. It appears to have reverted to a French Canadian trading household in the 1770s, before being moved to Mackinac Island in 1780.

One of the most interesting categories of artifacts excavated at the house was gun parts. In part this was because of the quantity present. A total of sixty-one were recovered, thirty-one (whole or fragmentary) gun worms and thirty other gun parts. By way of comparison, House D of the Southeast Rowhouse, the Bolon-Mitchell house excavated from 1989 to 1997, yielded thirty-five total gun parts, ten of which were gun worms. We have found eleven gun parts, six gun worms and five other parts, in the first thirteen seasons of excavation at House E of the Southeast Rowhouse.

Two-eared gun worm.

Of the sixty-one gun parts from the South Southwest Rowhouse end unit, just over half (thirty-four, twenty-two gun worms and a dozen other parts) came from in and around the cellar, suggesting the parts were stored there.

1st model Long Land buttplate.

Two gun parts from British military weapons came from the cellar. The first was an unusual two-eared gun worm, the only one found during the project. The second was a buttplate from a first model Long Land Service Pattern musket. Both of these could have been used by foot soldiers of the 60th Regiment living in the house in the late 1760s.

Two other parts suggest that one of the traders living in the house was stockpiling gun parts, possibly for sale. The first is an unused wrist escutcheon from a c.1740 Type D fusil fin, a high quality French civilian gun. A wrist escutcheon serves as an anchor for the screw attaching the triggerguard to the stock of the gun. We can tell this one was never used because it was never drilled through. It is currently on display in the Treasures from the Sand exhibit at Colonial Michilimackinac. The second is a buttplate which cannot be further identified because it was deliberately wrapped in birchbark to protect it. It was found near the bottom of the cellar.

Wrist escutcheon from a c.1740.

Buttplate wrapped in birch bark.

Gun parts are just one artifact category that tells us more about what the inhabitants of the South Southwest Rowhouse were doing and where they were doing it. If you are interested in learning more, the final report on the project will be published later in 2021. In the meantime, there is more information on the project in the Archaeology pages of the Explore at Home section of mackinacparks.com.

Porcupines of the North Woods

Porcupine quillwork on a birch bark container, depicting a beaver.

  For thousands of years, Native Americans of the Great Lakes region spent the cold, dark months of winter engaged in hunting and trapping, ice fishing, mending snowshoes, and making things around the hearth fire. Before glass trade beads became available, women perfected the art of decorating clothing, baskets, bags, and other items with dyed porcupine quills. Quillwork takes patience, skill and practice, and has been taught by parents to their children for many generations.

A porcupine curls into a ball before taking a nap at the tip of a branch, high up in a tree.

  Winter is also a traditional season for storytelling. In the Ojibwe culture, certain stories are only meant to be shared when there is snow on the ground. One of these tells the tale of how a clever porcupine, originally covered by just a coat of thick fur, outsmarted a hungry black bear. After placing hawthorn branches with sharp thorns on his back, porcupine rolled into a ball just as bear sprang upon him, offering a spiky surprise. When Nanabozho learned of this clever trick, he took some branches from a hawthorn tree and peeled off the bark until their spines were white. After putting clay all over porcupine’s back, Nanabozho stuck in the thorns, one by one, until it was completely covered. He then made this a permanent part of porcupine’s skin so he and his descendants would always be protected from their enemies.

  Most visitors to Mackinac State Historic Parks learn a great deal about beavers. Beaver pelts fueled the fur trade for centuries, providing jobs for Native Americans, voyageurs, merchants, soldiers and civilians. Guests at Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park can even hike the trails to search for fresh signs of beaver activity and look for their dam built across Mill Creek. Only humans alter the landscape more dramatically than this industrious mammal, the largest rodent of North America.

Porcupines usually rest during the day. Activity is mostly nocturnal (at night) or crepuscular (during twilight hours).

  Few people realize that Mill Creek is also home to the second largest rodent on the continent, the North American Porcupine. Growing up to 30 pounds and more than two feet long, a porcupine can live up to 10 years. Porcupines are slow, secretive, and solitary, usually seen sleeping at the top of a tree or walking warily across a road.

  A porcupine is truly amazing in many ways, particularly due to its needle-sharp, barbed quills, which are actually modified hairs. A fully-grown porcupine has more than 30,000 quills, which are loosely attached to muscles just beneath the skin. Despite a popular myth, porcupines cannot throw or shoot their quills. When threatened, they turn their back to an attacker and quickly flick their tail, driving quills into the toughest flesh. As quill tips are barbed like a fishhook, they are very painful and difficult to remove.

  Porcupines can be found many places in the woods of Michigan. As you hike, watch for signs such as chewed tree trunks or branches, as inner bark is especially sought after in the winter months as a source of food. Porcupines even chew on buildings and trail signs looking for salt, glue or paint, and will even seek out sweat residue left on wooden tool handles. Because they are rodents, a porcupine’s teeth continually grow, just like a mouse or beaver’s do. With binoculars or a camera, look closely to see if you can spot the orange coating on their teeth, which is an iron-rich coating of enamel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  Visitors to Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park can learn about porcupines and other animals of the north woods during naturalist programs throughout the season, which begins on May 7. To get a treetop view, also join us on an Adventure Tour and climb the steps of the Treetop Discovery Tower. Who knows, you might even see eye-to-eye with a porcupine! Tickets can be purchased here.