A black and white pencil sketch of various buildings along a hillside on the water.

Timber for Mission Church, April 1830

Looking up at a large white pine tree.

Huge white pine logs provided ample lumber for construction projects

In October 1796, Major Henry Burbeck, the first American commander of Fort Mackinac, estimated the lumber required for repairing and upgrading the fort’s palisades and buildings. Among the planks, boards, pickets, shingles, and scantling, his estimate included 1,420 logs measuring 20 feet long by 15 inches in diameter. If they were white pine (one of the lighter species), this single portion of his order would have weighed over 1,249,000 pounds, or nearly 625 tons.

 To transport such heavy loads, logs were often stacked on stout sleds and skidded over ice, pulled by oxen or horses. For many years, turning logs into boards at the Straits of Mackinac was either done by hand with a pit (whip) saw or at a water-powered sawmill which operated at Mill Creek from 1790-1839. Originally constructed by Robert Campbell, the mill was purchased in 1819 by Mackinac Island businessman Michael Dousman. Both owners filled lumber contracts for Fort Mackinac and other island projects. The following account recalls events that took place nearly two centuries ago, in early 1830.

The Carpenter-Schoolmaster

A pencil black and white sketch of Mission Church on Mackinac Island.

Sketch of Mission Church, 1835

 Martin Heydenburk came to Michigan in 1824 after accepting a teaching position at the Mission School on Mackinac Island. Also an experienced carpenter, his skills as a craftsman were utilized for construction of the Mission House, completed in 1825. During the winter of 1829-1830, Heydenburk was called upon to lead a crew in felling and cutting timber on the mainland for building a Protestant church for the mission. Today, Mission Church is Michigan’s oldest surviving church building.

A large brown building on stilts in winter in Mackinaw City.

Water-powered sawmill reconstruction at Mill Creek

 In early 1830, solid ice didn’t form in the Straits of Mackinac until the end of January. In February or early March, Heydenburk and his crew spent several cold weeks along the Lake Huron shoreline. He later recalled, “in three weeks’ time we had all the timber hewed, fifty pieces flattened to be made into scantling and joist with the whip-saw, and three hundred saw-logs hauled out of the woods to the shore ready to be moved home or to the saw mill when the ice should prove favourable. A few weeks afterward a heavy rain flooded the snow upon the ice and then froze. Michael Dousman had a saw-mill about two miles from our logs and we soon had them there …”

French Trains to Mackinac Island

 Heavy rain proved to be a mixed blessing for the timber project. After it refroze, the flooded lakeshore offered a smooth surface to haul logs to the sawmill. Rainwater also filled the creek and mill pond, providing an ample supply of water power to cut 300 logs into boards. Once the order was completed, word was sent to Mackinac Island and horse-drawn sledges were sent over the ice to pick up lumber from the sawmill.

A black and white photo of large horses pulling a sleigh of firewood on snow.

Horse-drawn sledges were commonly used to haul firewood to Mackinac from nearby Bois Blanc Island

 Heydenburk continued, “On the eleventh day of April, with the thermometer at zero, and the wind blowing strong from the east, all the horses and French trains on the Island started at daylight for the timber; we crossed safely, loaded up and started for home.” A French train was a narrow, deep box sleigh, pulled by one or two horses, which slipped easily over ice and snow. Dogsleds were also used for winter mail and hauling smaller loads to Mackinac Island. Sleighs and sledges were used well into the 20th century for hauling goods such as hay, groceries, and firewood from the mainland or nearby Bois Blanc Island.

 As they trudged along hauling heavy loads of lumber, news reached the teams that rain had degraded the ice, making the journey unsafe. Heydenburk recalled, “when about half way across the straits we were met by messengers and guides who told us that the ice which was two feet thick had become porous and we could not cross the channel. We left our loads on Round Island, then put rope on the necks of the horses and started across the treacherous channel … We all got home safe.” Thankfully, such dangerous spring journeys are now but distant memories at the Straits of Mackinac.

A Tool for the Colonial Kitchen: The Tourtière

If you love a good kitchen gadget, you are not alone. Cooks throughout history have always looked for the most efficient, reliable, and useful tools to help them manage food preparation. We think the tourtière fits this description perfectly.

   The 18th century tourtière is a cooking dish, and also the name of a double-crust meat pie. Tourtière dishes are made of heavy copper or brass and used in open-hearth cooking. Legs or a trivet allowed the dish to have hot coals shoveled underneath it to supply a slow and steady heat from the bottom. The flat-shaped lid has a shallow lip to catch hot coals to push heat down from above. As a result, the tourtière functions as a miniature oven.

   As you might imagine, most historic recipes specific to this dish are for meat pies. Those pies usually had top and bottom crusts and were filled with meat, seafood, or sometimes vegetables. Pie or tourte recipes varied from region to region based on the local specialties, and some place still have their own unique style of pie. At Michilimackinac, we know from archaeological and documentary evidence that mutton, pork, passenger pigeon, beef and especially fish were all available for use in pies cooked in a tourtière.

   Historical cooks loved a well-equipped and efficient workspace. Modern cooks still look for the tools that make it easiest to efficiently prepare delicious food. Whether it is a hearth, or a 21st century microwave oven, preparing food wouldn’t be possible without those reliable and favorite kitchen gadgets. We hope you’ll join us at Colonial Michilimackinac in the future to see our tourtière in action for our food programs. Visit our website for more information, and don’t forget to check out Mackinac Associates, which helps make food programs and so much more possible at all of our site.

Ezekiel Solomon at Michilimackinac

With Passover underway, let’s take a closer look at one of Michilimackinac’s merchants: Ezekiel Solomon, who was probably Michigan’s first Jewish resident. (more…)

Preparing for the Season

Preparing for the Season

The site (between the barrels) buried under several feet of snow.

After the spring melt.

Ready to excavate.

Spring has sprung in the Straits of Mackinac region, and with spring comes the preparation for another archaeological field season. Regular blog readers will remember that at the end of last season we lined the site with heavy plastic sheeting and bales of straw. The long snowy winter was very good for preventing the wall from slumping too much. When we removed the straw and plastic last week, the site was in fairly good condition. (more…)

How Michigan Became a State: The Treaty of Washington, 1836

How Michigan Became a State: The Treaty of Washington, 1836

As Michigan celebrates its 180th birthday, let’s take a look at the treaty that gave us much of the Michigan we know today. Without the 1836 Treaty of Washington, an agreement between the U.S. government and the Anishinaabek people, Michigan could never have become a state on January 26, 1837.


Agent Henry Schoolcraft was supposed to represent Native American interests during treaty negotiations. However, he did not stop alterations to the treaty after Ojibway and Odawa leaders departed Washington, and he recommended forcefully removing the Anishinaabek from their homes in northern Michigan.

Treaty Of Washington

The Treaty of Washington ceded nearly 14,000,000 acres to the federal government. This territory, which makes up just under 40% of the state of Michigan today, is colored yellow on this map.


Washerwomen: British Military Laundresses at Michilimackinac

Washerwomen: British Military Laundresses at Michilimackinac

If you have visited Colonial Michilimackinac recently, you may have noticed a few changes, including new exhibits, new gardens, and whole new buildings. A new addition in 2017 will be a weekly laundry demonstration at the Soldier’s House. Although our interpreters won’t be washing your socks, it is still worth a visit to see how the enlisted men’s wives were working in the 1770s. (more…)

2016 Archaeology Season in Review

2016 Archaeology Season in Review

The end of August saw the close of another archaeological field season at Colonial Michilimackinac. This was our ninth season of excavation at House E, one of the units of the Southeast Rowhouse. Historic maps and records indicate that this was the house of Charles Desjardins de Rupallay de Gonneville by 1749 (and probably earlier) through at least 1758. By 1765 it was an English trader’s house. Our excavations indicate that it remained civilian housing throughout the fort’s occupation.


Brand New Cannon at Colonial Michilimackinac is Shining Example of History and Craft

Brand New Cannon at Colonial Michilimackinac is Shining Example of History and Craft

Come be one of the first to see Michilimackinac’s latest addition in action: a new 6-pound cannon!

IMG_3160 Delivered last week, the cannon is an exact reproduction of a light 6-pound traveling gun. During the 1770s, the British kept two of these bronze guns on Michilimackinac’s parade ground, ready to defend the fort in the event of an American attack. Mounted on a highly mobile carriage with large wheels, these guns could throw a 6 pound cannonball nearly a mile. Although never used in anger, British soldiers fired the guns to celebrate the King’s birthday and other ceremonial events. (more…)

An Introduction to Vintage Base Ball

An Introduction to Vintage Base Ball

The Fort Mackinac Never Sweats began swinging their bats in 1885. Tonight, the team takes on the Rochester Grangers in a game of Vintage Base Ball. Though the game may seem familiar, there are certainly differences between the sport we know today, and this classic version.

John "Cowpie" Soma

John “Cowpie” Soma

Long time umpire for the games, John “Cowpie” Soma, talks with Mackinac State Historic Parks’ Kelsey Schnell about what makes this type of baseball different and special.