A postcard from of the Deer Park on Mackinac Island from the early 20th century.

White-Tailed Deer on Mackinac Island

A deer in the woods on Mackinac Island.

A curious deer near Beechwood Trail, May 2022

 Sometimes, white-tailed deer either swim the channel or walk over ice to Mackinac Island. The island’s current small herd originates from the winter of 2014, when several deer crossed the ice from St. Ignace. In 2017, a damp deer emerged from the straits near the public library. After browsing some nearby cedars, the buck waded back into Lake Huron and swam to Round Island, about one mile away.

 Historically, deer have come to the island in other unusual ways. In the early 1830s, Henry Schoolcraft “procured a young fawn” near Green Bay and brought it to his garden at the Mackinac Indian Agency, east of today’s Marquette Park. On August 17, 1835, he wrote, “This animal grew to its full size, and revealed many interesting traits… It would walk into the hall and dining-room, when the door was open, and was once observed to step up, gracefully, and take bread from the table. It perambulated the garden walks. It would, when the back gate was shut, jump over a six feet picket fence, with the ease and lightness of a bird.”

A map showing Deer Park in 1915

Boundaries of Deer Park, 1915

 As wildlife numbers decreased through the 19th century, interest in preserving nature increased. In 1875, Mackinac National Park was created, in part to “provide against the wanton destruction of game or fish found within said park, and against their capture or destruction for any purposes of use or profit.” The Mackinac Island State Park Commission continued this mission in 1895 when Mackinac Island State Park was established. In 1901, the commission authorized a new attraction called Deer Park, north of Fort Mackinac. A tall wire fence enclosed over 10 acres, where food and shelter were provided for a herd of white-tailed deer. The herd grew substantially and was maintained for more than 40 years.

A shelter within Deer Park on Mackinac Island, circa 1915

Deer Park shelter, ca.1915

 In 1910, a white-tailed deer was captured alive while swimming near Echo Island, in the Les Cheneaux area of the eastern Upper Peninsula. Caught illegally, the large buck was “promptly, and properly, confiscated by the state game warden, who removed him to the deer colony in the state park on Mackinac Island.” Author Frank Grover described the incident, expressing hope the animal would eventually die “of old age, rather than by the sportsman’s bullet.” In 1914, Park Superintendent Frank Kenyon restored the fenced enclosure, built a concrete watering basin, and cleared underbrush within Deer Park.

A postcard from of the Deer Park on Mackinac Island from the early 20th century.

“State Park in Winter, Mackinac Isl. Mich.” Real photo post card, by Cheboygan, Michigan photographer John R. Johnson, ca. 1910-1920

 William Oates served as Michigan’s State Game, Fish and Forestry Warden from 1911-1917. In 1914, he noted more than 80% of the state’s primaeval forests were gone. At the time, the state’s deer population was estimated at 40,000 in the upper peninsula and only about 5,000 in the lower peninsula. Oates advocated for a “Buck Law,” limiting hunting to antlered males, which was passed in 1921. Throughout the early 20th century, it’s likely most Michigan residents never saw a wild deer in its native habitat.

Fallow Deer on Mackinac Island

Fallow Deer feeding from British Deer and Their Horns, 1897

European fallow deer in British Deer and Their Horns, 1897

 In 1913, lumber baron Rasmus Hanson donated land in Crawford County as military reserve for the national guard. Two years later, 80 of those acres were set aside as Michigan’s first State Game Refuge where deer, elk, wild turkeys, pheasants, and mallard ducks were raised. The reserve began with 25 white-tailed deer, and soon after, five European fallow deer were added. Fallow deer had been a popular attraction at the Belle Isle Zoo in Detroit since 1901. The herd sent to Grayling was originally imported from Germany to a park in Petoskey. The state game warden wrote, “The fallow deer is hardy and should adapt itself to the cover and food which Michigan affords.” He hoped to one day release them into the wild where they would “increase rapidly.” In 1917, Mackinac Island’s white-tailed herd was large enough to export 12 deer to the Hanson Refuge. In return, two of their nine fallow deer were shipped to Mackinac Island.

 About 30% smaller than white-tailed deer, European fallow deer retain white spots as adults. Much variation occurs in coat color of the species, with all black and all white variants. Only bucks grow antlers, which become broad and palmate when they reach 3 years of age. To date, no photos are known of fallow deer on Mackinac Island.

Deer Park’s Demise

Deer being fed in Deer Park by Clara Kenyon, wife of Park Superintendent Frank Kenyon, circa 1920s

Clara Kenyon, wife of park superintendent Frank Kenyon, feeding Mackinac’s white-tailed deer, ca.1920s

 In 1941, The Lure Book of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, advertised Deer Park among Mackinac Island’s attractions, noting, “Back of Fort Mackinac is a natural deer park. Keep your eyes open as you drive along and you will see these shy animals back in the bush.” Not long after, however, several factors caused the site to close. During the Great Depression, a lack of visitors and reduced funding greatly affected Mackinac Island. In 1944, the state park commission decided to close Deer Park for good. During their December 5th meeting, the chairman reported “deer had been turned loose on Mackinac Island and the Superintendent was given strict instructions to use all lawful means for their protection.”

 At the same time, deer were becoming common in Michigan. A decade after Deer Park opened, only about 45,000 deer roamed wild in the state. After the passage of a “Buck Law” in 1921, numbers quickly grew. In 1938, the population ranged between 800,000 and 1,000,000. By the time Deer Park closed, Michigan’s population was the largest in the United States. Today, about 2 million deer inhabit the state, and concerns of overpopulation are common.

Remnants of a fence in the Deer Park in July, 2022

Old Deer Park fence growing through a cedar tree, July 2022

 Today, Mackinac Island visitors can still find old cedar posts and rusted wire fencing along Deer Park Trail, north of Fort Mackinac. The next time you visit the island, keep an eye out for these shy woodland residents. Although deer are common today, nothing in nature can be taken for granted. Even the commonest creatures deserve attention and care to ensure healthy ecosystems and abundant biodiversity for future generations.

Whitefish – Deer of the Lakes

“The great business of life at Mackinac was looking out upon the lake and munching the fish,

and I felt when there that I would not have the heart to look at a fish in the face for years to come.

In fact we all began to feel decidedly fishy before we left the island.”

                                                                                                               – The Venango Spectator, October 21, 1857

Before the Straits of Mackinac became a center of international fur trade, its waters were renowned by generations of Native Americans as an abundant fishery. Of the many species in these freshwater seas, the delicate whitefish, usually weighing 3-5 pounds, was the most prized catch of all. The importance of fish at the Straits was noted early, with French Jesuit Jacques Marquette writing in 1673, “This place is the most noted in these regions for the abundance of its fisheries; for, according to the Indian saying, ‘this is the home of the fishes.’ Elsewhere, although they exist in large numbers, it is not properly their ‘home,’ which is in the neighborhood of Missilimackinac.” Whitefish are called adikameg in Ojibwe or Anishnaabemowin, effectively translating as reindeer (or deer) of the lakes.

Whitefish (left) in the Codex canadensis by French Jesuit Louis Nichols c.1700

Normally living in cold, deep water, lake whitefish spawn on shallow shoals each autumn, where they lay and fertilize their eggs. For centuries, whitefish have been widely regarded as the best-tasting and most important of all fishes in the lakes. Writing from St. Ignace in 1688, Louis Armand, Baron de Lahontan wrote, “You can scarce believe, Sir, what vast sholes [sic.] of white Fish are catch’d about the middle of the Channel, between the Continent and the Isle of Missilimackinac. The Outaouas and the Hurons could never subsist here, without the Fishery… This sort of white Fish in my opinion, is the only one in all these Lakes that can be call’d good; and indeed it goes beyond all other sorts of River Fish.” About 1695, Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac noted “the pleasure of seeing as many as a hundred whitefish caught in a single haul of a net. This is the most delicate fish of the lakes…”

Many early travelers repeated similar exultations. Although sturgeon and trout were larger, whitefish were most prized. In 1721, Jesuit Pierre Francois-Xavier de Charlevoix, the first historian of New France, wrote, “The Michillimackinac live entirely by fishing, and there is perhaps no place in the world where they are in greater plenty… the most famous of all is the white-fish; it is nearly the size and figure of a mackerel [sic.], and whether fresh or salted, nothing of a fish-kind can exceed it. The Indians tell you that it was Michabou who taught their ancestors to fish, invented nets of which he took the idea from Arachne’s, or the spider’s web.”

This preserved whitefish skeleton, was discovered by archaeologists at Fort Michilimackinac.

While French and British residents preferred domestic fare, they readily ate fish and wild game when necessary, particularly during lean winter months. In 1761, British fur trader Alexander Henry noted high prices of grain and beef “led me to be very industrious in fishing… White-fish, which exceed the trout, as a delicious and nutritious food, are here in astonishing numbers.” Having small, delicate mouths and a habit of schooling, they were most easily caught in gill nets, mainly in fall and winter. Detailing the process, Henry continued, “The white-fish is taken in nets, which are set under the ice… The fish, running against the net, entangle their gills in the meshes, and are thus detained till taken up.”

While important locally for centuries, fish at Mackinac didn’t gain economic importance until the 1830’s, when commercial fishing replaced the fur trade as the predominant industry. In his 1835 Gazetteer of the State of Michigan, author John T. Blois bragged, “The numbers, varieties, and excellent quality of the lake fish are worthy of notice. It is believed no fresh waters known, can in any respect bear comparison… Their quantities are surprising, and apparently so inexhaustible, as to warrant the belief, that were a population of millions to inhabit the lake shores, they would furnish an ample supply of this article of food, without any sensible diminution.”

In 1836, about 1,200 barrels of whitefish and trout were taken at Mackinac. In just 20 years, the number skyrocketed to 20,000 barrels annually at the Straits, with comparable increases throughout the Great Lakes. In 1857, Mackinac’s fish-munching “Viator” wrote, “The staple article of trade is fish… These fish are taken in exceedingly deep water in what are called gill nets…The net is then sunk in 300 feet of water and left over night, when it is drawn up, and the fish are found fastened by their gills. They are then, opened and cured on the schooners, brought to the dock, inspected and barreled, when they are fit for the market. It does not add to one’s appetite for white fish, to see them piled up by cart loads on the dock, and to notice the decidedly filthy odor, that fills the whole atmosphere.”

In his 1860 publication, Old Mackinac, Or Fortress of the Lakes, W.P. Strickland wrote, “White-fish are more highly prized than any other kind found in our waters, being the decidedly the most delicious in a fresh state, and when packed command a higher price than any other by $1 per bbl… They were once so numerous that eight thousand were taken at a single haul. At present a haul of one or two thousand is thought a very good one. In all the rivers they are growing scarce very gradually, but surely. The ratio of decrease cannot be arrived at with any degree of precision.”

The decline, recovery and future threats to Great Lakes fisheries are a long tale for another time. Restocking and other 20th century conservation efforts resulted in stabilized populations, along with efforts to restore Native American fishing rights granted by 19th century treaties. Today’s commercial fishery sustainably harvests more than eight million pounds of lake whitefish each year. Residents and guests alike continue to enjoy this humble, tasty member of the salmon family at restaurants, markets, and fisheries throughout northern Michigan.

Colonial Michilimackinac Fall Garden Round-up 2022

 As the season for growing things begins to wind down, the interpretive staff at Colonial Michilimackinac are thinking back on a fabulous season of gardening. We have had good vegetables and lovely flowers that were used to decorate the dinner table. Fresh herbs like parsley and chives added flavor to fish and other foods at our daily food programs.

Garlic

 The summer of 2022 was an especially good year for root vegetables. Garlic, onions, carrots, turnips, parsnips, and radishes all grew great and are being used in our daily food programs. Some of them are still going strong and will be left in the ground until next spring to be dug as soon as the ground thaws. Leaving them in the soil is a very easy way of keeping them. Other methods included lifting vegetables and placing them in carefully packed layers of damp sand in a crate or a barrel and stored in a cellar to keep them until use.

Carrots peeking out

 Beans and peas, unfortunately, were largely a wash this summer. The woodland voles, ground squirrels and mice were much quicker at getting to them than the people. We did plant some late peas that are just starting to blossom, so we might still get one patch this year, but not nearly as much as we usually count on. The only beans that have done really well are our our scarlet runner beans. The scarlet runners are magnificent plants and draw in hummingbirds and loads of pollinators. They produce pods that are sometimes up to ten inches long with burgundy and black seeds inside. The seeds will be collected once they are fully mature and some will be used to plant the garden next season. What we do not use for planting, we will use for our food programs.

Pea blossom

 While the beans and peas did not do well, our squash and pumpkins made up for it by bounds. They will soon be taken off the vines and set to cure in the sun. This hardens the outer rind and helps to keep them from going to mush. They will be used for our programs and either kept whole or dried for long-term use. Residents living inside the walls of Michilimackinac would have acquired larger, field crops like pumpkins and squash from the Anishnaabe. Roasting, stewing and baking them were common ways of preparing them for the table.

Scarlet runners

 It has been a good year of planting and caring for the outdoor spaces at Colonial Michilimackinac. We still have a lot of work to do and are still planting and planning for next year. For more information, or to purchase tickets to visit, please see our website.

The Curious Mind of Thomas Nuttall

“To converse, as it were, with nature, to admire the wisdom and beauty of creation,

has ever been, and I hope ever will be, to me a favourite pursuit.”

     Thomas Nuttall (1821)

 On August 12, 1810, Thomas Nuttall stepped ashore on Mackinac Island, becoming the first trained botanist to explore northern Michigan. A native of Yorkshire, England, Nuttall arrived in America in 1808, intent on learning as much as possible about living things in the New World, whether they had leaves, petals, scales, fur, or feathers. Like many of his European counterparts, Nuttall was interested in Native American culture, North American geology, and the continent’s winding waterways. His wide-ranging travels led him from gardens of America’s leading scientists, through the Great Lakes, along the continent’s greatest rivers, over mountains, and all the way to California, Hawaii, and South America.

Thomas Nuttall (1786–1859)

 This extraordinary explorer kept journals of his adventures (unfortunately omitting his journey from Detroit to Green Bay), and published several books which detailed his scientific discoveries. At Detroit, he recorded the start of his journey to Mackinac, writing, “On July 29th, I left Detroit for Michilimakinak in a birch bark canoe accompanied by the surveyor of the territory.” The surveyor was Aaron Greeley, headed to measure private land claims at the straits, including those of John Campbell at Mill Creek, and Michael Dousman on Mackinac Island.

 Nuttall botanized at the Straits for several days before hitching a ride with a group of traders bound for John Jacob Astor’s ill-fated fur trading post, Astoria, located in modern-day Oregon. In his book Astoria, author Washington Irving described the enthusiastic 25-year-old botanist as he appeared in March 1811, while his group ascended the Missouri river. Depicted just seven months after leaving Mackinac Island, one can easily imagine Nuttall shared similar experiences with Aaron Greeley along the Lake Huron coastline.

 “Mr. Nuttall seems to have been exclusively devoted to his scientific pursuits. He was a zealous botanist, and all his enthusiasm was awakened at beholding a new world… Whenever the boats landed at meal times, or for any temporary purpose, he would spring on shore and set out on a hunt for new specimens. Every plant or flower of a rare or unknown species was eagerly seized as a prize. Delighted with the treasures spreading themselves out before him, he went groping and stumbling along among a wilderness of sweets, forgetful of every thing but his immediate pursuit, and had often to be sought after when the boats were about to resume their course.”

Listed as #13 in his lengthy list of “brambles,” Thomas Nuttall described the thimbleberry, growing “shrubby and unarmed… on the island of Michilimackinak, lake Huron.”

 Nuttall retreated to England to avoid the War of 1812, then returned to Philadelphia in 1815. After three years collecting more specimens and organizing his collections, he published, The Genera of North American Plants, and a Catalogue of the Species, to the Year 1817. This important two-volume work included 60 species of plants from the Great Lakes region, about a third of which were new to science. Those from the Straits of Mackinac included thimbleberry, dwarf lake iris, twinflower, beach pea, and birdseye primrose.

 In March 1823, Thomas Nuttall accepted a position as Curator of the Botanic Garden at Cambridge, Massachusetts. Over the course of his residence, he was encouraged to write about birds, which he had studied since his arrival in America. The result was A Manual of the Ornithology of the United States and Canada. Published in two volumes, The Land Birds (1832) and The Water Birds (1834) were affordable and popular, featuring simple woodcut illustrations, which the author lamented were “not sufficiently numerous, in consequence of their cost.” In 1832, Ralph Waldo Emerson recommended the work to a friend, writing, “there is a beautiful book on American birds by Mr. Nuttall that every one who lives in the country ought to read.”

Woodcut from Nuttall’s Ornithology (1834). Nuttall saw Wood Ducks near Detroit before his trip to Mackinac Island in 1810.

 The intrepid botanist endured numerous collecting trips over the next decade, often at severe cost to his personal health and safety, as he crisscrossed North America and beyond. In 1841, he sailed back to England to live on an estate, “Nutgrove,” inherited from his uncle. There, he spent the last 17 years of his life before succumbing to illness on September 10, 1859, at the age of 73.

 The complete accomplishments of Thomas Nuttall greatly eclipse his brief visit to the Straits of Mackinac in 1810. More than 200 years later, perhaps the most lasting legacy of this humble, hard-working botanist is his self-described “fervid curiosity” and intense love of nature which continues to inspire curious wanderers in the 21st century.  

Meteors at Mackinac

“To see a shooting star means all sorts of good luck.”

      The Pantagraph, July 10, 1897

The Falling Stars, November 13, 1833

Staying up late on a clear August night is an excellent way to create special summer memories at the Straits of Mackinac. With minimal light pollution and expansive vistas over two Great Lakes, the starry sky offers a spectacular show, free of charge, for all ages.

 Each August, the Earth travels through a path of dust and debris left behind by the Swift-Tuttle Comet, resulting in the Perseid Meteor Shower. Astronomers name a meteor shower after the point from which it appears to emerge in the night sky, with this shower originating near the constellation Perseus. While “shooting stars” can be seen any night of the year, this event means more meteors than normal may be seen, as tiny bits of debris enter the atmosphere and streak across the sky. This year, the Perseids will display peak activity from August 11-14.

 A great location to view the Perseid Meteor Shower is at the Headlands International Dark Sky Park, just three miles west of Mackinaw City. Open to the public 24 hours a day, year-round, the site received official designation as an International Dark Sky Park in 2011. Information about programs, events and activities can be found at www.midarkskypark.org.

 Summer isn’t the only good season for stargazing at the Straits of Mackinac. Every November, the Leonid Meteor Shower occurs, offering the possibility of shooting stars at an earlier hour, during a much colder time of the year. This activity peaks about every 33 years, as the Earth passes through remnants left by the Tempel-Tuttle Comet. It’s safe to say that those who looked up night of November 13, 1833, never forgot the experience. Over the span of approximately nine hours, it was estimated that as many as 240,000 meteors fell, with those in eastern North America receiving the best views. The display was so intense that some witnesses reportedly feared Judgement Day was at hand.

 The following year, the U.S. Secretary of War submitted a circular to military posts throughout the United States, requesting reports of the “unusual Meteoric Display” on November 13, 1834, in order to see if the event had been repeated. From Fort Mackinac, Captain John Clitz submitted he had “made inquiry of the sentinels who were on post on the night of the 13th of November last, and one only, an intelligent young man, who was posted at the north angle of the fort, saw a shower of meteors in the north, between twelve and 1 o’clock, the duration of which, as near as he can recollect, was about one hour.”

“Mackinac Island” meteorite.
NASA/JPL/colorization by Stuart Atkinson

 When a meteor survives a trip through the atmosphere and strikes the ground intact, it’s then defined as a meteorite. While the vast majority of meteors burn up entirely in Earth’s atmosphere, meteorites are more common on planetary bodies with little or no atmosphere. As NASA’s Opportunity Rover explored the surface of Mars in late 2009, scientists discovered several meteorites in close succession. Composed of iron and nickel, they named each find after an island back on Earth. “Block Island” was found in July 2009 and “Shelter Island” at the end of September. “Mackinac Island,” measuring about 30 centimeters across, was discovered October 13, 2009. Perhaps someday, interplanetary tourists will visit Mackinac on Mars!

 In the meantime, you can sip a cup of cocoa and enjoy the night sky from the comfortable confines of earth. While viewing the Perseid Meteor Shower, you’re also invited to remember,

“To see a shooting star is an especially happy omen. It signifies that good things are in store for you. Fortune will soon be knocking at your door.”

Quad-City Times, August 27, 1896

The Musical Well of Mackinac Island

Cave of the Woods remains one of the lesser-known natural wonders of Mackinac Island.

 Mackinac Island attracts visitors from around the world to experience interesting history, inspiring natural beauty, and fantastic geological features. For centuries, visitors have stood in awe at famous sites such as Arch Rock, Sugar Loaf, Skull Cave and Devil’s Kitchen. Other features, such as Friendship’s Altar and Cave of the Woods, are reserved for explorers with a trail map and a little determination. Some attractions, including Fairy Arch, Scott’s Cave, and Wishing Spring were well-known to visitors a century ago, but no longer exist today. A few natural wonders never appeared in guidebooks, being mentioned briefly in historical records. One of the most intriguing is the Musical Well of Mackinac Island.

 The year 1845 began at the Straits of Mackinac with a mild winter. In early March, many eastern newspapers printed “a letter from a U.S. officer in the garrison at Mackinac.” Dated March 2nd, it announced “the straits are wholly free of ice, east of the island, so that vessels may anchor in the harbor.” Soon, captains of every brig, sloop, schooner, cutter, and steamboat on the Great Lakes made plans to set sail. Newspaper notices called for passengers and announced freight shipments of every description.

Advertisement for the new Mackinac Boarding House, printed in The Buffalo Courier, June 18, 1845

 Of particular note that spring were advertisements which featured a new “Mackinac Boarding House,” opened by Smith Herrick. In this period, Mackinac Island tourism was still in its infancy. While a small number of visitors found rooms to rent in earlier decades, formal hotels only emerged as the fur trade dwindled in the 1840s. The new establishment was located in the Mission House, a large building near the southeast corner of the island. Built in 1825 by the American Board of Foreign Missions, it operated for 12 years as a boarding school for Native American children before closing in 1837.

 During the spring of 1845, Mr. Herrick, along with his wife, Clara, transformed the structure in preparation for guests. Improvements included repairs and paint, carpeting throughout, and “new and excellent furniture – making a most extensive and comfortable house for travellers.” Guests who rented rooms during its first season offered rave reviews of their experiences. Among these testimonials was a letter written at Mission House on June 17th by a correspondent who identified himself as “J.I.M.” Printed in the Boston Statesman on July 5, 1845, he shared the following tale.

A 19th century view of the Mission House Hotel. The popular resort was owned and operated for many decades by Edward A. Franks and his family.

 “As I was speaking in the evening of my visits to the Sugar Loaf, and ‘Arch Rock,’ Mr Mack Gulpin, a French native, more than sixty years old, and a most excellent, kind hearted man – told me there was a curiosity on the Island not much known; that many years ago, in 1812 – he was gunning with a friend when they came to a hole in a rock. They threw down stones, which appeared to fall very far, and they made very sweet musical sounds as they went down. He had a string about 60 feet long, to which he attached his ramrod and let it down this Musical Well. He vibrated the rod so that it would strike the sides, and he said ‘such sweet and delightful sounds – such beautiful music as came up he never heard in his life.’ He and his companion, he said, staid there nearly all the afternoon enraptured by this music.”

 “Mack Gulpin” was surely a member of the McGulpin family. Today, visitors can tour the McGulpin House as part of Historic Downtown buildings on Mackinac Island. William McGulpin, the first known owner, bought the house in 1817 and it stands as one of the oldest remaining homes on the island. The McGulpin family also owned 2 acres of land immediately adjacent to Mission House for many years.

 After some encouragement, McGulpin agreed to guide “Jim” to search for the musical well. His account continued, “I furnished myself with twine and irons to draw music from the well. Mack Gulpin led on through the thick woods and along the winding paths, interesting me by the way with his stories of olden times… When he was tired, he would seat himself on the ground – strike fire with his flint and steel – light his pipe and take his rest…

This view of Fort Mackinac was drawn for Captain Scott in 1845 by Private William Brenschutz, a soldier stationed at the post

 When I was some ways from him, he called me to come; he had found the place. Time, leaves and dirt had choked up its original entrance, so as to divert the descent from a perpendicular, and we could not drop the iron and the line for the music. But the well is there, and is of great depth. I doubt not it descends 160 or 170 feet to the level of the water. Mack Gulpin was disappointed as well as myself at finding we could not get the music. He is sure the well can be restored to its original form and melody with a little labor. If it can be done, Captain Scott, the gallant, active and gentlemanly commander of the garrison, who beautifies, adorns and improves every thing which comes under his care will do it… After carving my name on a poplar tree near the mouth of the musical well, we turned our faces for home.”

 The Musical Well was never restored, and memory of its presence has faded away. Today, many island guests still enjoy natural music of Mackinac Island’s north woods. Listen closely, and you can hear songs of warblers in the treetops and aspen leaves fluttering in the breeze. If you stroll down Main Street, past the Mission House, you’ll find the rhythmic clomping of hooves fades to quieter sounds of waves splashing along the shore. Someday, perhaps the Musical Well will naturally reopen, enrapturing fortunate visitors, once again, with delightful sounds in the Mackinac Island forest.

Natural Springs of Mackinac Island

Mackinac Island is blessed with a number of natural springs which percolate through limestone bedrock. An 1882 tourist booklet, Mackinac Island, Wave-Washed Tourists’ Paradise of the Unsalted Seas, boasted of “living streams of pure water, cooled down to the temperature of forty-four degrees, gushing from its lime-rock precipices.” A few of these, such as Dwightwood Spring and Croghan Water, are well known by many of today’s visitors. Others, such as Wishing Spring, Wawatam Brook, and La Salle Spring, are less familiar or forgotten. When you do encounter a natural spring, please enjoy the view, but remember untreated water is considered unsafe for drinking.

Sinclair’s map of Mackinac Island, 1779

 A Fine Spring

As the British settled Mackinac Island from 1780-1781, water was viewed as a valuable resource. Lieutenant Governor Patrick Sinclair noted “a fine spring of water” on a map he drew after visiting the island in 1779. He wrote his superiors, “Our Village will be washed on one side by a fine Spring which with some care may be brought to turn a mill at least one day in seven.”

More pressing priorities meant Sinclair never built his water-powered mill on Mackinac Island. The spring he referred to once fed a small trickle of water  named Wawatam Brook for 20th century guidebooks. The brook originated near the Grand Hotel and emptied into a small lake now called Hanks Pond, which serves a water feature on the Jewel Golf Course.

 La Salle Spring

This 1829 survey map shows La Salle Spring

A second natural spring once trickled into Hanks Pond, originating below Fort Mackinac’s West Blockhouse. Eventually christened La Salle Spring, it became a reliable source of water for Island residents and soldiers alike. In his 1895 book, Mackinac, Formerly Michilimackinac, Dr. John R. Bailey noted that log piping was used for feeding water to town, supplying “stores, warehouses, and dwellings of the fur company.”

In 1881, a steam-powered pump was installed which elevated water from the spring through ½ inch lead pipes to a reservoir located in the second story of the North Blockhouse. From this high point, it then flowed through pipes into various fort buildings. In Annals of Fort Mackinac, author Dwight H. Kelton enlightened his readers, “This innovation on the old-time water-wagon was made… in accordance with a plan devised by, and executed under the direction of Lieut. D.H. Kelton, Post Quartermaster. Water was first pumped October 11, 1881.”

 Croghan Water

Croghan Water, 2021

The north-central portion of Mackinac Island once featured the Island’s largest farm. By 1804, Michael Dousman harvested hay, raised cattle, and even built a horse-powered mill and distillery there. In 1814, the Battle of Mackinac Island was fought on Dousman’s hay fields. Today, links of the Wawashkamo Golf Club cover much of the site.

Dousman’s distillery was situated near a flowing spring of cool water. On early maps, it was simply labeled “Cold Spring.”  In 1913, the spring was renamed Croghan Water, in honor Colonel George Croghan, commander of American forces during the 1814 battle.

 Wishing Spring

Wishing Spring, ca. 1910

This spring was the first which became a popular tourist destination. Once located near Devil’s Kitchen, it was also known as Lover’s Rest or Fairy Spring. During her 1872 visit to the site, novelist Constance Fenimore Woolson offered a token knot of ribbon and wished for health during the year.

Rev. Frank O’Brien summarized the site in the 1916 guide, Names and Places of Interest on Mackinac Island, Michigan. He wrote, This Wishing Spring is within a fragrant, fairy grotto. The water, clear as crystal, flows from above, dripping, cool and refreshing. If you drink and wish, and keep the secret for three days, tradition says you will get whatever you wish.”

 Dwightwood Spring

Dwightwood Spring, ca. 1909

This well-known spring is located along Lake Shore Boulevard (M-185), near the southeast corner of Mackinac Island. In 1909, Edwin O. Wood donated funds for a canopy, fountain, and benches in memory of his son, Dwight Hulbert Wood, who perished after his bicycle was struck by a horse-drawn fire engine in Flint, Michigan.

That July, a dedication ceremony was held to christen Dwightwood Spring. During the ceremony, park superintendent Benjamin Franklin Emery noted the site was dedicated “to preserve the work of nature, to make the spring accessible, to prove a shelter in time of storm, to be a resting place for the weary, long to be remembered after leaving the beautiful Island shores.”

 An Invitation

The springs above represent just a few of Mackinac Island’s “living streams of pure water” which bubble up from its limestone bedrock. During your next visit, you’re invited to seek out these peaceful places, enjoy their quiet beauty, and discover special plants and animals that thrive there. Perhaps, like Ms. Woolson, you’ll feel inspired. “Now I am a sensible, middle-aged woman,” she wrote, “but something in the moonlight bewitched me, and I consented, much to the delight of my niece.”

Maple Sugaring at Mackinac

As winter snow and frigid temperatures finally give way to spring, maple sugaring season begins in northern Michigan. For many centuries, Native American families living at the Straits of Mackinac moved each spring from small winter hunting camps to groves of maple trees. There, they gathered and processed the first plant-based food of the year, harvesting maple sap and boiling it into sweet, calorie-rich maple sugar.

  Early origins of maple sugaring are preserved in oral traditions of Anishinaabeg and other tribes of northeastern North America. When European missionaries and traders became established at Mackinac in the 18th century, local accounts of sugaring also began to appear in letters, journals, and other documents. Several such records offer a glimpse into historical methods and customs of sugar making in northern Michigan.

Sweet Science

  No matter which specific methods are used, the basic science of converting maple sap into syrup or sugar remains the same. As temperatures rise above freezing during the day, liquid sap within trees thaws and starts to flow through sapwood. Sapwood is a living layer of wood within a tree which serves as a pipeline for moving water up to leaves so they can grow. The hard center of a tree, called heartwood, contains dead cells which provide rigidity but lack the ability to transport water.

Maple leaves  While sap is mostly water, it’s not 100%. In trees, sugar maples contain the most sugar, from 2-4%. In a sense, trees plan ahead, as these complex carbohydrates were created last year, when green leaves converted sun’s energy into food through photosynthesis. Stored through winter, this energy flows to tips of branches in spring, stimulating buds to open. In late spring, when temperatures remain above freezing at night, pressure within a tree equalizes and sap stops flowing. If buds start to open, it also turns cloudy and tastes bitter.

  When sap is freely flowing, a hole is made in a tree and a spout or spile inserted, directing drips into a waiting container. Traditionally, these containers were called mokuks, made of birch bark with sealed seams. When enough sap is gathered, it’s boiled over an open fire. Averaging about 2% sugar, sap must be boiled until it concentrates to 66% sugar in order to make syrup, with further boiling required for granular sugar. Generally, it takes 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup, which can make about 8 pounds of sugar.

Maple Sugar Making in 1763

  Alexander Henry, a British trader at Fort Michilimackinac, was one of the first to describe the Anishinaabeg method of sugar making in Michigan’s north woods. He recorded the following as he recalled a visit to an Ojibwe encampment near Sault Ste. Marie in March 1763:

“The next day was employed in gathering the bark of white birch-trees, with which to make vessels to catch the wine or sap. The trees were now cut or tapped, and spouts or ducts introduced into the wound. The bark vessels were placed under the ducts; and, as they filled, the liquor was taken out in buckets, and conveyed into the reservoirs or vats of moose-skin, each vat containing a hundred gallons. From these, we supplied the boilers, of which we had twelve, of from twelve to twenty gallons each, with fires constantly under them, day and night. While the women collected the sap, boiled it, and completed the sugar, the men were not less busy in cutting wood, making fires, and in hunting and fishing, in part of our supply of food.

The earlier part of the spring it that best adapted to making maple-sugar. The sap runs only in the day; and it will not run, unless there has been a frost the night before. When, in the morning, there is a clear sun, and the night has left ice of the thickness of a dollar, the greatest quantity is produced.

  Henry noted that work ended on April 25, resulting in 1,600 pounds of maple sugar, 36 gallons of  gallons of syrup, and “…we certainly consumed three hundred weight. Though, as I have said, we hunted and fished, yet sugar was our principal food, during the whole month of April.” If his calculations are correct, this single camp collected about 16,640 gallons of maple sap. With an average of about 15 gallons of sap per tap, this would have required well over 1,000 taps to produce.

The Maple Sugar Trade

  By the turn of the 19th century, maple sugar had become a regular item of trade at Mackinac, frequently appearing on manifests of trading vessels. In 1803, records from the U.S. Customs House on Mackinac Island included many dozens of kegs and mokuks of maple sugar transported by schooner and canoe. Traders such as George Schindler, Michael Dousman, Joseph Bailly, Jean Baptiste La Borde, Pierre Pyant, and many others appear time and again on such records. On July 19, 1810, for example, 489 “makaks” of sugar left Mackinac Island on the schooner Mary, bound for Detroit. There, advertisements for the newly arrived resource were published in newspapers, including the following example at the “Commission Store,” printed in issues of the Detroit Gazette throughout the winter of 1817-1818.

Bois Blanc Sugar Camp

  A lengthy account of a maple sugar camp at the Straits of Mackinac was recorded by Elizabeth Therese (Fisher) Baird. Born in 1810, to parents of Scottish, French and Odawa ancestry, Elizabeth spent much of her youth on Mackinac Island. Fond childhood recollections of her family’s maple sugar camp were first published in the Green Bay Press-Gazette, on December 29, 1886. In part, she wrote,

Indian Sugar Camp by Seth Eastman, 1853.

“A visit to the sugar camp was a great treat to the young folks as well as to the old… All who were able, possessed a sugar camp. My grand-mother had a sugar camp on Bois Blanc Island, about five miles east of Mackinac.

About the first of March nearly half of the inhabitants of our town, as well as many from the garrison, would move to Bois Blanc to prepare for the work. Would that I could describe the lovely spot! Our camp was delightfully situated in the midst of a forest of maple, or a maple grove. One  thousand or more trees claimed our care, and three men and two women were employed to do the work

  After describing methods and materials for making maple syrup, Elizabeth recalled the process of sugar making. In part, she described,

The modus operandi thus: a very bright, brass kettle, was placed over a slow fire…containing about three gallons of syrup, if it was to be made into cakes; if… granulated sugar, two gallons of syrup were used. For the sugar cakes, a board of bass-wood about five or six inches wide, with moulds set in, in form of bears, diamonds, crosses, rabbits, turtles, spheres, etc. When the sugar was cooked to a certain degree it was poured into these moulds. For the granulated sugar, the stirring is continued for a longer time; this being done with a long paddle which looks like a mush stick. This sugar had to be put into the mokok while warm as it was not pack well if cold…”

  Today, many Michiganders still enjoy the smell and taste of pure maple products each spring. Though methods have changed, we can all give thanks for trees which produce such sweet sap (with extra to spare), and for many generations of Native Americans whose skills in making maple products were passed down for thousands of years, ensuring we can still share these sweet gifts of the North Woods during this special time of year.

Fairy Arch by Henry Chapman Ford 1874

Mackinac Island’s Other Arches

Arch Rock is Mackinac Island’s most famous and spectacular limestone formation. A century ago, curious visitors could find two additional arches, also celebrated for their natural beauty and rich traditions. Today, Sanilac Arch exists as a remnant of its former self, while Fairy Arch only remains in artwork, photos, and written accounts. Their stories highlight the importance of preservation and serve as reminders of nature’s continual process of change.

1. Fairy Arch from Picturesque America or The Land We Live In (1872)

For many years, a small boat was the easiest way to access Fairy Arch (1872)

 Fairy Arch

 Fairy Arch was first described in 1802 by Dr. Francis LeBarron as one of Mackinac Island’s two “natural arches of the Gothic order.” Over the following decades, a thick undergrowth of young trees blanketed the island landscape, which had been previously cleared for firewood. For most of the 19th century, Mackinac’s eastern shoreline was difficult to explore, covered by huge boulders and thick vegetation.

 In 1866, Fort Mackinac surgeon Dr. John R. Bailey rediscovered the 40-foot formation and coined the name Fairy Arch. Despite challenging access, the lovely arch appeared on 19th century maps and in guidebooks. In 1872, Constance Fenimore Woolson wrote, “Fairy Arch is of similar formation to Arched Rock, and lifts from the sands with a grace and beauty that justify the name bestowed upon it.”

 In an 1875 guidebook for visitors of the newly created Mackinac National Park, publisher John Disturnell noted Fairy Arch was about ¼ mile from Arch Rock. He wrote:

 “A little north and beyond [Robinson’s Folly] a high pinnacle of rude rock crops out from the mountain side, near the base of which is a very picturesque arch, known as the ‘Fairy Arch,’ or Arch of the ‘Giant’s Stairway.’ This spot is rather difficult of access owing to the presence of huge rocks and an entangled forest.”

 Fairy Arch became more accessible about 1900, when a boulevard completely encircling Mackinac Island was completed. From the shore, visitors were encouraged to climb huge limestone ledges, like giant steps, to explore this natural wonder. A 1918 guidebook noted, “To visit Mackinac Island and fail to climb the Giant’s Stairway and view this beautiful handiwork of nature, is to miss one of the leading features of the “Fairy Isle.”

Fairy Arch Postcard by Detroit Publishing Co. 1906
Fairy Arch by Detroit Publishing Co. with seated woman inset ca.1910

Views of Fairy Arch were sold as souvenir prints and postcards. The Detroit Publishing Company offered these two images in the first decade of the 20th century.

 To improve travel around Mackinac Island’s lakeshore, state highway M-185 was completed in 1933. In a misguided erosion control effort, Fairy Arch was destroyed in the late 1940s. Today, this unique formation only remain accessible through artwork, photographs, and written reminisces.

Fairy Arch by Henry Chapman Ford 1874

Fairy Arch by Henry Chapman Ford (1874)

 Visitors to The Richard & Jane Manoogian Mackinac Art Museum may enjoy a lovely and somewhat idealized view of Fairy Arch painted in 1874 by landscape artist Henry Chapman Ford. This oil on canvas painting is an example of luminism, a type of landscape painting popular from the 1850s through the 1870s. Click Here for museum hours and information.

 The Little Arch

Lower Arch to Natural Bridge by J.A. Jenney 1874

Men explore the “Lower Arch” in this view by photographer James A. Jenney (1874)

 One half of Arch Rock rests on a large pinnacle of Mackinac breccia limestone that towers 130 feet above Lake Huron. Near the base of this cliff is a small, tunnel like arch, which is now nearly filled with rocky debris. Once much larger, this small arch has been known through the years as the Lower Arch, Little Arch, Maiden Arch and Sannillac Arch.

 In 1874, photographer James A. Jenney, of Flint, Michigan printed a series of Picturesque –  Mackinaw stereoview cards. His view, entitled, “Lower Arch to Natural Bridge” is one of the earliest known photos of this formation. A similar view was published by Mackinac Island photographer Edward P. Foley in 1887, entitled “Maiden Arch, Under Arch Rock.” For many visitors, this smaller formation was easier to explore from the lakeshore rather than risking a steep hillside climb to view Arch Rock from above.

 When Mackinac National Park was dissolved in 1895, the island’s arches became part of the newly created Mackinac Island State Park. That year, a visitor named “M.A.” described Maiden Arch in a small volume entitled, Eight Days Out.

Maiden Arch from Views of Mackinac Island (1886)

Maiden Arch (cropped) from A Lake Tour to Picturesque Mackinac on the D and C (1890)

Victorian era tourists explore Maiden Arch.
1886 (left) & 1890 (above)

 “From [Robertson’s Folly] we followed the beach north to the foot of Arch Rock… There we discovered an interesting arch, which is not on the program, but is more wonderful, and will exist for ages after the renowned arch has crumbled and gone. It is directly under the high cliff, or promenade which extends out into the lake, that tourists walk out upon while viewing the Arch Rock… Two hundred dollars would pay the expense of a winding stairway, down through the principal arch, then under the lower one, and extending to the lake, which would be the most picturesque scene on the island.”

 Maiden Arch was renamed Sannillac Arch in 1916, by author Frank O’Brien, in his booklet Names of Places of Interest on Mackinac Island, Michigan. Sannillac, a Wyandot leader, was the subject of an 1831 narrative poem by Henry Whiting. Written in the style of Native American legend, the popular work contained notes by Henry R. Schoolcraft, Indian Agent on Mackinac Island from 1833-1841. According to local lore, this small arch was a gate through which fairy children entered Mackinac Island, while giant fairies entered through the larger portal, Arch Rock. Over the years, its name was shortened to Sanilac Arch.

Boy under Sannillac Arch ca. 1910-1920

A boy explores Sannillac Arch (ca. 1910-1920)

 Before 1950, tourist literature encouraged visitors to climb through Sanilac Arch. In 1948, an article in The Island News noted, “Mackinac Island [State Park] does not point it out with an official marker and it can only be reached by scrambling up the bluff. The little limestone rocks crumble underfoot and make ascent a tricky accomplishment. The alpenstock is proper equipment.”

 For thousands of years, erosion has naturally carved out the hillside beneath Arch Rock. Today, the space under Sanilac Arch has nearly filled in with small rocks and other debris. Protected behind a fence and stone wall, the little arch may only be enjoyed from a distance to protect this unique formation and preserve visitor safety.

Sanilac Arch by Kyle Bagnall, October 2021

Today, the opening of Sanilac Arch has nearly filled in with stones and other natural debris. (October 2021)

Sanilac Arch by Kyle Bagnall, October 2021

Spring Birding Stroll on Mackinac Island

The woods and waters of Mackinac Island are home to a broad diversity of bird life. Join Park Naturalist, Kyle Bagnall, on a search for warblers and other spring migrants along with feathered residents. We’ll look and listen for songbirds in the forest and raptors soaring overhead on this leisurely stroll along the trails.

Participants should meet at the Avenue of Flags behind Fort Mackinac for this free guided hike. For the best experience, bring binoculars and shoes for trail walking. #thisismackinac