A view showing Main Street on Mackinac Island looking south.

Preservation: Puzzle Pieces to the Past

Mackinac Island is endearingly cherished among visitors for its placid atmosphere that seemingly evades the changing tides of time. From the Anishinaabek belief that tells the story of Mackinac as Earth’s origin land to the cinematic portrayal of time travel set on Mackinac in Somewhere in Time to horse-drawn drays carrying Amazon packages, the island possesses an unyielding autonomy from the effects of time. Consequently, Mackinac Island demonstrates a unique propensity for preservation and it is the Mackinac State Historic Park’s honored duty to uphold the island’s tradition of conservation. An integral component of this responsibility are the park collections. By preserving artifacts, archives, and material culture, the collection pieces together the past to narrate Mackinac Island’s story. While seemingly trivial to a visitor’s Mackinac experience, the collection is fundamental to ensuring that the island’s treasured history is commemorated for the enjoyment of all for years to come. Yet this commitment to preserve Mackinac Island for generational enjoyment is not a modern concept.

A view showing Main Street on Mackinac Island looking south.

William H. Gardiner’s photo of Main Street on Mackinac Island. 

 In 1896, photographer William H. Gardiner established a “Photo and Art Studio” aimed at penetrating the souvenir market that emerged as a direct result of the island’s burgeoning tourism industry. Gardiner initially set up shop on the corner of Main and Fort Streets until relocating next door above Fenton’s Bazaar; today both studio spaces constitute Doud’s Market. Gardiner captured the essence of Mackinac Island and preserved its visual history through his photography. His products included keepsakes, such as postcards, hand-tinted photos, and portraits, that memorialized a visitor’s time spent on the island. Gardiner’s photos depict the island’s most unique and treasured attractions, such as Arch Rock, Sugar Loaf Rock, and Main Street. Similar to the collection’s commitment to conservation, Gardiner’s images preserve special moments in Mackinac’s history for reminiscing and nostalgic wonder. The collection and Gardiner’s parallel dedication to preservation can be most explicitly seen in one of Gardiner’s downtown depictions.

Fenton's Bazaar on Mackinac Island.

Fenton’s Bazaar, the location of Gardiner’s studio. 

 At the beginning of the twentieth century, Gardiner stepped out on the balcony of his studio and, struck with inspiration from Mackinac’s vivacious downtown, immortalized a buzzing afternoon on Main Street. This image excellently captures the key components to a day on Mackinac, including a car-less atmosphere, military tradition, and bustling businesses. Some of the storefronts highlighted in the image are Fenton’s Bazaar and Bailey’s Drug Store. These businesses were pillars of Mackinac’s economy around the turn of the century. Dr. Bailey, the son of the surgeon general at Fort Mackinac, served his community as the assisting surgeon and pharmacist, ensuring the health and longevity of Mackinac’s people. Fenton’s Bazaar was a one-stop shop for soldiers, islanders, and visitors alike for all the necessities for life on the island; Fenton’s even introduced the island’s first soda fountain! Fortunately, these businesses and their immense impact on Mackinac’s daily life are remembered beyond Gardiner’s image.

Bailey's Drug Store on Mackinac Island.

Bailey’s Drug Store.

 The collection has preserved numerous Bailey’s Drug Store bottles, which represent Dr. Bailey’s committed service and contribution to Mackinac’s medical history. Additionally, the collection possesses an American flag that flew above Fenton’s Bazaar. This flag, which watched over Main Street and witnessed the ebbing and flowing of countless visitors, encapsulates Mackinac’s continued reputation as “America’s Summer Place.” Also in the collection is an image of downtown that is a near copy to Gardiner’s aforementioned photograph. Yet the picture was taken decades after Gardiner’s and is the work of another artist. Taken from the same angle, this picture illustrates a similarly hurried downtown speckled with visitors, carriages, and storefronts. Comparing this image to Gardiner’s, the atmosphere of downtown remains unchanged, yet the storefronts have clearly evolved. For instance, the New Murray stands as the latest addition to the collection of hotels, souvenir shops, and restaurants that line Main Street. Meanwhile, a stroll down Main Street today will still evoke the same timeless ambience found in Gardiner’s image.

Another image of Main Street on Mackinac Island looking south.

Looking down Main Street. 

 Although shop signs have changed, Mackinac’s timeless energy endures. Similar to how Gardiner captured the views of Mackinac to commemorate a visitor’s special experience, the collection plays a crucial role in maintaining Mackinac Island’s abiding charm. Yet preserving history goes far beyond the sweet nostalgia of family vacation postcards. The collection pieces together the past like a puzzle by linking artifacts to moments somewhere in time in order to write the story of the island for the enjoyment of generations to come.

 

What Can I Find at the Mackinac Island State Park Visitor’s Center?

Ready or not the 2021 season is ready to start.

The Mackinac Island State Park Visitor’s Center from Fort Mackinac.

  If you’ve visited Mackinac Island, you probably remember the Mackinac Island State Park Visitor’s Center. It’s the building with the red roof just past the Chippewa Hotel. Today, we would like to share with you what the Mackinac Island State Park Visitor Center on Mackinac Island is all about and what you can find there.

  It’s simple, really: at the Mackinac Island State Park Visitor’s Center you can find out about all things Mackinac Island State Park. Want to know what demonstrations are going on at Fort Mackinac, or are interested in buying a ticket? Wondering what all comes with your Fort Mackinac ticket? We can help! Wondering about special events like Movies in the Fort or Music in the Park? Talk to us! Curious about the juried art exhibition at The Richard and Jane Manoogian Mackinac Art Museum, the Artist-in-Residence program, or the new exhibit at the Biddle House? We have the info. Want to know about the Botanical Trail, what’s at British Landing, or the status of M-185? That’s what we’re here for.

  There are some things we cannot help you with, though. Wondering who has the best fudge or how much a taxi ride is up to the Grand Hotel? You’re out of luck. If you’re interested in a Carriage Tour you’ll need to head down to the stand on Main Street. If you’re curious about hotels on the island, or dinner reservations, or who has the best night life, the Mackinac Island Tourism Bureau is your best bet, and that building is just down the road.

A new Arch Rock t-shirt available for the 2021 season.

  Starting in 2021, the Mackinac Island State Park Visitor’s Center will also serve as the home to the official Mackinac Island State Park Store. We will have great new souvenirs and merchandise: Arch Rock t-shirts, M-185 mile marker stickers, ornaments, mugs, and magnets, just to name a few. We also have all the Mackinac State Historic Park publications pertaining to Mackinac Island and as well as a few about our Mackinaw City sites.

U.S. Coast Guard Life-Saving Station stamp.

  Did you know that the Mackinac Island State Park Visitor Center was originally the site of the Coast Guard Life-Saving Station?  It was built in 1915, the year the Life-Saving Service and the Revenue Cutter Service were merged to form the U.S. Coast Guard. The Coast Guard closed the Mackinac Island Life-Saving Station in 1969, transferring operations to its new base in St. Ignace. In 1970 the Mackinac Island State Park Commission acquired the building, and the Visitor’s Center was born. We have a passport stamp available at the Mackinac Island State Park Visitor’s Center for the Mackinac Island U.S. Coast Guard Life-Saving Station if you would like to stop by and have your book stamped for a donation.

  The Mackinac Island State Park is also home to the Mackinac Island Artist-in-Residence Apartment, on the second floor, as well as the Station 256 Conference Room, also on the second floor. The conference room can be booked for small meetings and gatherings.

  The Mackinac Island State Park Visitor’s Center and official State Park Store open May 7. We hope to see you this summer!