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.”

Boats Boats Boats!

 When thinking about the Great Lakes fur trade, most people will imagine French Canadian voyageurs paddling huge birchbark canoes filled with tons of furs or trade goods. Canoes were absolutely an integral part of the fur trade, and provided a vital link between Michilimackinac and other communities around the Great Lakes. However, they were by no means the only watercraft on the lakes, and a great deal of people and goods were moved by a type of large rowboat called a bateau.

 In the 18th century, there were few standardized plans for batteaux. Although the British Admiralty used a standard 30-foot design for vessels destined for military service in Canada, individual batteaux might range from less than 20 feet long to over 30, and there were regional variations in design. All shared a few common features: a flat bottom without a keel, heavier stems at the bow and stern, and butted plank construction. Relatively easy to build so long as appropriate woodworking tools were on hand, a bateau could be knocked together without the need for skill ship carpenters or shipyards. A bateau could be paddled, poled, or propelled under sail, but generally the vessels were powered by large wooden oars.

 While canoes (and sailing vessels) were absolutely workhorses of the Great Lakes in the 18th century, in many instances there were more batteaux on the lakes and rivers than other types of watercraft. In 1778, for example, 374 batteaux set out from Montreal for Michilimackinac and other western posts, while only 152 canoes left the city for the summer trading season. Individual merchants might own or hire several batteaux. Michilimackinac merchant John Askin, for instance, dispatched 10 batteaux in 1777, while  trading partners Thomas Smith, William Taylor, and Edward Ripley sent 16 more to Detroit and Michilimackinac. A 1778 inventory of Askin’s estate included both a “Common batea[u]” and a “Small fish [bateau],” both presumably for personal use rather than heavy trade.

 The British military also heavily employed batteaux to move personnel and supplies around the lakes and connect far-flung posts like Michilimackinac and Detroit. As somewhat disposable craft exposed to relatively heavy work, these batteaux required regular repair and maintenance. In 1771 Capt. George Turnbull received £85 for mending boats, making oars, and burning pitch at Michilimackinac. By 1778, Sergeant Amos Langdon of the 8th Regiment was issued nails from the engineer’s stores to repair the King’s batteaus and the wharf. Although somewhat more cumbersome than a canoe, a bateau could efficiently cover great distance at speed. In late September 1778, an express canoe traveled from Michilimackinac to Montreal in 10 to 14 days, while a batteau rowed by eight “active men” could go to the city and return to Michilimackinac by November 10, making a 6 week round trip. However, supplies to maintain the boats could be difficult to procure, making repairs difficult. In 1779, Major Arent DePeyster, Michilimackinac’s commanding officer, unsuccessfully requested pitch and oakum to repair batteaux. A year later, DePeyster sent pitch and oakum up from Detroit to repair the batteaus at Michilimackinac, telling Lt. Gov. Patrick Sinclair that these materials were previously hard to get. Boat repairs could be a thankless task. In 1774, Lt. Col. John Caldwell, commanding the 8th Regiment at Fort Niagara, complained that “The old ones [batteaus] have been so often repaired since I came here that it is throwing money away to attempt repairing them again.” Apparently the old adage about a boat being a hole in the water is somewhat older than expected.

 Today, a 22-foot bateau is part of the small interpretive fleet at Colonial Michilimackinac (we also have a 28-foot north canoe and a 35-foot Montreal canoe). We use all of these vessels to interpret the vital relationship between Michilimackinac and the surrounding waters of the Great Lakes, and our interpretive staff maintains these boats and utilizes them for special events. This summer, we will have three Maritime Michilimackinac weekends focusing on the roles and chores of sailors, voyageurs, and others working to maintain Michilimackinac’s marine links to the outside world. Weather permitting, our staff will use our bateau and canoes to get out on the water, so we hope you’ll join us for these special events!

 

Mackinaw City’s Petersen Center

While experiencing the cold of winter in Michigan, it’s easy to think of the Straits of Mackinac in warm weather and summer fun. However, you might not realize that there is still plenty happening during the off-season at Mackinac State Historic Parks (MSHP). During the summer and fall, many staff work out of the 1859 Post Hospital on Mackinac Island or elsewhere in the MSHP park system. In the winter, office staff return to Mackinaw City to the Dr. Eugene and Marian Petersen Center. This tradition has its own history that reflects the ever-changing needs of the state parks at Mackinac. 

The house purchased by the commission in the 1990s that served as a collections office.

The house at 207 W Sinclair which served as office for collections staff.

 Starting in 1958, the park began to work in a form much more recognizable to today. Much of the behind-the-scenes work was spread out, with the museum’s operations at various locations around the greater Lansing area during the winter. The park’s collections were split up, with the archaeological collections being housed in Lansing and the historic collection being kept in a series of buildings on Mackinac Island. The permanent staff was much smaller during those times. As the 1970s and ‘80s rolled in, the park had to make several expansions, most notably in the areas of historical conservation, education, and marketing. This required more office space. In 1988 the park constructed a housing unit on West Central Avenue in Mackinaw City for seasonal employee housing; this also doubled as winter offices for much of the staff. Despite having a building for winter offices, the park’s team were also spread out amongst the Colonial Michilimackinac Visitor’s Center and Mill Creek Service Center. In the mid-1990s, the park acquired a house and old motel behind Michilimackinac on West Sinclair Avenue, which would initially serve as an office for the collections staff of the park. 

A photo of the Petersen Center being expanded by adding the former housing unit from Central Avenue.

The Petersen Center during its initial expansion in 1998.

A picture of construction of an addition to the Petersen Center in Mackinaw City.

Expansion of the Petersen Center in 2001.

 This motel would be the beginning of a long-term project to centralize MSHP’s offices, library, and collections, as much of that was still located in Lansing. In 1998, the office/housing building on Central Avenue was moved to West Sinclair Avenue and attached to the house. A further renovation was completed in 2001, adding a two-story addition to the building. This expansion would create enough space for the archaeological collection, library, and conservation lab to be moved from Lansing to the new office building. These changes also allowed for new office spaces for the park’s interpretation, education, collections, and archaeological staff. This building was dedicated as the Dr. Eugene and Marian Petersen Center for Archaeology and History. Dr. Eugene Petersen was director of Historic Projects and later Park Director from 1958 to 1985. His wife, Marian, ran the office of the park. In May of 2019, the park renamed the research library after Dr. Keith Widder, in honor of his long service and contributions to MSHP. 

A board table and chairs in the Commission Meeting Room in the Petersen Center, Mackinaw City.

Commission Meeting Room, Petersen Center.

 The latest addition to the Petersen Center was in 2020, when the west side of the building was expanded to accommodate a new meeting room for the Mackinac Island State Park Commission. These changes allowed for a much more centralized, organized,

The Keith R. Widder Library at the Petersen Center.

The Keith R. Widder Library at the Petersen Center.

and professional running of Mackinac State Historic Parks. Now, staff could conveniently do much of their work from their main office, instead of having to travel to do essential research or care for the ever-growing collection. Different departments were able to communicate with each other much more clearly and quickly with the new meeting spaces. The Petersen Center has served, and will continue to serve, as a great tool for the Mackinac State Historic Parks staff in keeping the park up and running. 

A picture of the Petersen Center in Mackinaw City during winter.

The Petersen Center today.

 

Early Lumbering at the Straits of Mackinac

Robert Campbell constructed a water-powered sawmill at Mill Creek about 1790, being the first of its kind in northern Michigan. Prior to the mill, trees were turned into lumber entirely with hand tools for more than 100 years at the Straits of Mackinac.

An artists depiction of a woodchopper from 1804

Felling a tree with an axe
Traite de l’art du Charpentier (1804)

 British troops constructed Fort Mackinac on Mackinac Island from 1779-1781. Some buildings were dismantled at Fort Michilimackinac on the mainland and transported to the island for reconstruction. Without a sawmill nearby, new construction relied on chopping down trees, sawing them into logs, squaring them with axes, and hauling them to a sawpit where boards were produced. A glimpse of this work can be found in the Log Book of His Majesty’s Armed Sloop – Welcome, kept by Captain Alexander Harrow.

 Beginning in 1779, the Welcome sailed between the lower peninsula mainland and Mackinac Island, hauling buildings, supplies, and timber. On November 19, 1780, Captain Harrow wrote, “This morning blowing hard. Discharged our timber and hauled it up along side of the sawpit. This day snowing very hard… All this day snowing very hard.”

 The Welcome remained tied to a wharf on Mackinac Island throughout the winter of 1780-1781. The crew lived on board and worked each day hauling firewood, sawing planks, repairing the ship, and constructing a blockhouse at the fort.

Hewing a log

Hewing a log (1804)

 Turning a tree into lumber by hand is demonstrated each summer at Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park. After a log is fixed in place, one rounded side is hewed with a felling axe, then flattened with a broad axe. After these actions are repeated on each side, a round log is transformed into square timber. If desired, timbers could be flattened further with an adze to produce a finer surface.

Flatteninga beam of wood with a broad axe

Flattening with a broad axe (1804)

 To fashion planks and boards, a squared timber is either placed over an open sawpit dug into the ground or hoisted overhead on large sawhorses. To cut boards, a pit sawyer climbs into the hole to pull down on a large saw, while a top sawyer balances above, pulling up on the blade and guiding a straight cut. Despite the unforgiving rocky terrain, several saw pits were dug on Mackinac Island during the construction of Fort Mackinac.

A sawyer using a pit saw

Sawyers using a pitsaw
English Book of Trades (1824)

 Captain Harrow noted his men were at work sawing boards on Mackinac Island more than 50 days from November 1780 – April 1781. He specifically mentioned saw pits many times, including,

… put a log on the pit to saw” (Nov. 29)

“…hauling logs to the saw pit” (Dec. 27)

“…hauling plank from the saw pit to the blockhouse” (Dec. 29)

“…making a saw pit in the woods and getting an oak log on it” (Jan. 16)

“…digging and making a new saw pit” (Feb. 20)

 Warm spring weather finally released the icebound sloop and the Welcome set sail on April 24, 1781. One of the crew’s tasks was making trips to “The Pinery,” a camp located about 15 miles north of Saint Ignace, near the mouth of the Pine River. There, a team of men cut logs then rafted them together on Lake Huron. These rafts were towed behind the Welcome to Mackinac Island, where they were broken up, individual logs hauled to sawpits, and sawn into boards.

The reconstructed sawmill at Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park in winter

Water-powered sawmill reconstruction at Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park

 A decade after Fort Mackinac was constructed, sawing boards by hand could not keep pace with local demand for lumber. About 1790, Robert Campbell was granted a 640-acre land claim at Mill Creek, the only stream at the Straits powerful enough to operate a water-powered sawmill. Later owned by Michael Dousman, the sawmill at Mill Creek operated for nearly 50 years before closing in 1839.

 When the sawmill at Mill Creek was abandoned, large trees throughout the Straits region had been harvested for nearly 150 years. As young trees grew in their place, they too were eventually cut in subsequent periods of logging. In 1860, William Johnston wrote, “the trees now seen [on Mackinac Island] are the second and third growth.” In a History of Northern Michigan and its People (1912), author Perry Powers detailed extreme clearcutting from the 1860s–1900s in an aptly named section, “Melting of the Pine Forests.” After pine was cut, hardwood harvest followed, with old growth maples and oaks falling under axe and saw. Commercial logging operations took place at Mill Creek through 1923, with the Cadillac Veneer Co. running a portable sawmill to process hardwood logs, pulpwood, cedar, and stove wood.

Stumps at Mill Creek that serve as a reminder of logging done at the site.

Reminders of early logging remain in the forest at Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park

 Careful observers can still find centuries’ old stumps scattered through many Michigan forests. While methods and management techniques have changed, lumbering remains an important industry in the state, which is about 54% forested today. After a century of responsible management, replanting, and growth, the Great Lakes State now boasts more than 20 million forested acres which provide homes for wildlife, opportunities for outdoor recreation, and renewable natural resources.

 This May 6 – September 4, you’re invited to explore early Michigan lumbering at Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park. Experience the thrill of a water-powered sawmill, make sawdust fly with a pitsaw, and explore a vibrant Michigan forest along three miles of woodland trails. Before you leave, you’re invited to try the Adventure Tour to enter the forest canopy, fly like an eagle, and scale the Treetop Discovery Tower Climbing Wall. For information, visit www.mackinacparks.com.

A Closer Look at the Collections: Orvietan Lid

It’s time for another deep dive into the collection! Today Dr. Lynn Evans, Curator of Archaeology for Mackinac State Historic Parks, shows us an Orviétan Lid, which was a “cure-all” type concoction popular in the 17th and 18th centuries. The only other known archaeological example we know about is from Illinois.

 This orviétan lid was originally found during work in the Southwest Rowhouse, which was reconstructed in the early 1960s. The house was originally built in the 1730s and demolished in 1781 during the move to Mackinac Island. Mackinac State Historic Parks is currently in the planning stages to complete the reconstruction of that building in the space that is today occupied by the bread oven. You can learn more about archaeology at Mackinac State Historic Parks by clicking here.

What’s new for ’22?

As the calendar flips to the new year, Mackinac State Historic Parks staff are busy readying new tours, exhibits, publications, and more.

 2022 marks an important anniversary on Mackinac Island: 200 years since the accident that led to Dr. William Beaumont’s famous experiments. It was in 1822 that a young man named Alexis St. Martin was shot. Dr. Beaumont, the post surgeon at Fort Mackinac, saved his life. This terrible accident set Beaumont and St. Martin on a course of experimentation and discovery that remains crucial to medical science today. At the cost of St. Martin’s permanent injury, Beaumont unlocked the secrets of human digestion. To celebrate this anniversary, the Dr. Beaumont Museum inside the American Fur Co. Store has been completely remodeled, with a new exhibit detailing Beaumont’s experiments and the scientific process.

 “We are excited to update this exhibit as part of our bicentennial celebration of this important event in medical history,” said Steve Brisson, Mackinac State Historic Parks Director.

 As part of the bicentennial, the American Fur Co. Store & Dr. Beaumont Museum will receive an updated logo, and a special event will be held to thank those who helped support the new exhibit, especially Mackinac Associates. The American Fur Co. Store & Dr. Beaumont Museum will open for the 2022 season on June 4.

Up at Fort Mackinac, the Schoolhouse will be completely remodeled and reimagined into the Reading Room, as it would have been known in the 1880s. This immersive space will allow you to explore popular titles of the 1880s, read the latest newspaper or periodical, and get a better understanding of what it was like to be a soldier in the 1880s and why the U.S. Army felt it was a good idea to have reading rooms within its forts. The Reading Room is scheduled to open with the rest of Fort Mackinac, May 3. This exhibit has been made possible in part by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Democracy demands wisdom.

 “This exhibit will introduce our visitors to the immigrant experience in the U.S. Army of the late 19th century, army reforms, and education at Fort Mackinac,” Brisson said.

 Additionally at Fort Mackinac, daily programs and tours will highlight the changing face of Fort Mackinac, the role women played at the fort, Mackinac’s time as a national park, and a look at who exactly made up the army of the 1880s. The popular drill and rifle firing program, which has been removed from the schedule due to Covid concerns the past two years, will return, and guests can expect rifle and cannon firing demonstrations throughout the day. The Tea Room at Fort Mackinac, operated by Grand Hotel, will feature new menu items for the 2022 season, and, as always, will feature one of the most stunning views in Michigan. One way to make a visit to Fort Mackinac the most memorable is to fire the opening cannon salute.

 Elsewhere on Mackinac Island, the McGulpin House, which has been shuttered the past two seasons due to the Covid-19 pandemic, will reopen for the 2022 season from June 4-August 21. The McGulpin House is one of the oldest residential structures on the island, and an excellent and rare example of early French Canadian domestic architecture. Admission is included with a Fort Mackinac or Historic Downtown Mackinac ticket.

 At The Richard and Jane Manoogian Mackinac Art Museum, located in front of Fort Mackinac in Marquette Park, a new juried art exhibition will debut on the second floor – “Mackinac Journeys.” Every Mackinac journey is unique. From lifelong residents to the novice first-timer, the journey to, around, and from Mackinac is always memorable. The gallery will be on display from May 3 – October 9. Additionally, seven 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. Finally, the Kids’ Art Studio at The Richard and Jane Manoogian Mackinac Art Museum is scheduled to return for 2022.

 Special events at Fort Mackinac and Mackinac Island include the Fort2Fort Five Mile Challenge May 14, the annual Vintage Base Ball game July 23, special activities for July 4, special history evening programs including a guided tour of Historic Downtown Mackinac, a “Then and Now” program at Fort Mackinac, an evening exploring Fort Mackinac archaeological history, special nature and birdwatching tours, and meteor and full moon evenings at Fort Holmes. More information can be found at mackinacparks.com/events.

 Every year at Colonial Michilimackinac, in Mackinaw City, we take a deeper look into a year of the American Revolution. For 2022 we’re looking at 1779, as the revolution continued on. Special tours and programs will take place throughout the summer highlighting the year.

 One guest, every day, has the opportunity to fire all four black powder weapon Colonial Michilimackinac: the Short Land Musket, Wall Gun (a BIG musket), Coehorn Mortar, and, as the finale, the cannon. This program is available every evening after the fort closes for regular business May 4 -October 6.

Archaeology at Colonial Michilimackinac Mackinac State Historic Parks’ archaeology program will enter its 64th season in 2022. 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 new “Recent Excavations” display inside the Colonial Michilimackinac Visitor’s Center.

 Special events at Colonial Michilimackinac include exhilarating “Fire at Night” programs, deep dives into Michilimackinac’s maritime history, a look at the unreconstructed buildings of Michilimackinac, a celebration of the King’s Birth-day on June 4, Movies by the Bridge, the ever-popular Fort Fright, and A Colonial Christmas.

 The ongoing restoration of Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse continues in 2022, as an oil house will be reconstructed on the property. The last few years have seen several gallery openings at Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse – the Straits of Mackinac Shipwreck Museum, the Science and Technology Exhibit, and the Marshall Gallery on the extensively renovated second floor. Throughout the day guides will sound the Fog Signal Whistle and provide tours of the lighthouse tower.

 Over at Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park, the Adventure Tour will return to full operation for the 2022 season, including the climbing wall. Demonstrations of the sawpit and sawmill will take place throughout the day, in addition to a new “Farming at Mill Creek” program. This new program will explore 19th century farming at Mill Creek. Sowing, flailing, and grinding grain, cutting firewood, growing gardens, and tending livestock are just some of the activities that took place there from 1790-1840. Guests are encouraged to roll up their sleeves and take part in life beyond the sawmill at Mill Creek.

 New nature programs will also be added to the daily schedule, allowing guests to meet a naturalist at the picnic area for a 30-minute program that will feature something for all ages. Topics will vary and may include a guided nature walk, stories, and fun activities focused on plants and animals living at Historic Mill Creek.

 Four new publications will be released in 2022. A new souvenir book about Arch Rock, by park naturalist Kyle Bagnall, will be released to coincide with a new nature center slated to be constructed at Arch Rock. An addition to the Archaeological Completion Report Series, by James Dunnigan concerning the Michilimackinac suburbs, will be available later in 2022. Two new vignettes will also be published: one focusing on the Grenadiers’ Mutiny of 1780, by Chief Curator Craig Wilson; and the other on Mackinac Island’s historic base ball team, the Never Sweats, by former director Phil Porter.

 “We are grateful to be able to move forward with numerous new initiatives and upgrades this year,” Brisson said.

 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. Fort Mackinac, the Biddle House, featuring the Mackinac Island Native American Museum, Benjamin Blacksmith Shop, and The Richard and Jane Manoogian Mackinac Art Museum open May 3, Colonial Michilimackinac May 4, Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse May 5, and Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park May 6.

For the Reading Room exhibit at Fort Mackinac: “Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this exhibit, do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.”

Winter Arrives at Mackinac

Winter views of Mackinac Island: the Father Marquette statue and stone ramparts of Fort Mackinac.

Winter on Mackinac Island is a special time of year. The sun sets early, temperatures fall, and a crust of ice forms along the lakeshore. By late January or February, perhaps an “ice bridge” will form between the island and Saint Ignace. In the meantime, on a visit to Marquette Park, you’ll find that lilac blooms and bugle calls have been replaced by a bright, snowy stillness. On especially frigid days, your imagination may conjure Father Marquette stepping right off his pedestal, if he could just find a way to thaw out a little.

Seeds inside white spruce cones are an important food source for winter wildlife.

Red crossbills by
Bruce Horsfall (1908).

 Leaving downtown, the winter woods invite you to explore. Some years, the island is visited by flocks of red or white-winged crossbills. As its name implies, this unusual songbird has a highly specialized beak which crosses at the tip. This adaptation equips a crossbill with a perfect tool for slipping between hard, woody scales of spruce and pine cones. Under each scale, the bird finds a single, tiny seed which is quickly removed with a flick of the tongue. Standing under a spruce tree while a flock of crossbills feeds high above is a unique experience. Discarded bits of seed drift to the ground like softly-falling spruce snow.

Snowshoe hare tracks near the airport.

A cottontail rabbit sits alert in the snow.

 While the North Woods are quiet this time of year, lucky explorers may enjoy other animal encounters. Both cottontail rabbits and snowshoe hares live year-round on Mackinac Island. While the fur coat of a cottontail grows a bit thicker, it remains a tawny brown. The winter coat of a larger snowshoe hare, however, turns white to blend with the snow. While they both take shelter in the thickest underbrush, these crafty creatures may flush and scurry past as you glide by on cross-country skis or snowshoes. Look for hares and rabbits along field edges, especially near the Mackinac Island airport. Even if they remain undercover, you still may discover their tracks in the snow.

Staghorn sumac berries add color
to the muted winter landscape.

Cave-of-the-Woods has provided shelter from winter storms for 10,000 years.

 Exploring fields near the airport might leave you wondering if the word “windchill” was invented on Mackinac Island! Return to the trees by following nearby trails and enjoy a visit to Cave-of-the-Woods, one of the island’s oldest limestone formations. Persistent wave action formed this low opening about 10,000 years ago when this rocky outcrop rested on a prehistoric beach of ancient Lake Algonquin. The rounded cave floor was sculpted as the erosive power of water cut through softer material in the limestone mass. Today, this spot lies 140 feet above modern Lake Huron, providing shelter as you watch snowflakes fall and experience the quiet beauty of winter on Mackinac Island.

A photo of a British halfpenny recovered during an archaeological dig at Colonial Michilimackinac

A Closer Look at the Collections: British Halfpenny

It’s time for another dive into our collections! An exciting project for Mackinac State Historic Parks in the coming years will be an addition to the Southwest Rowhouse inside Colonial Michilimackinac. An archaeological excavation was done of the site in the 1960s, and a number of interesting artifacts were recovered. In this video Dr. Lynn Evans, Curator of Archaeology for Mackinac State Historic Parks, gives us a little history on the site and shows us a British Halfpenny. Click this link for additional videos in the “A Closer Look at the Collections” series. 

Staying Warm: Women’s Winter Clothing at Colonial Michilimackinac

 With winter settling in on the Straits of Mackinac, it can be difficult to image what life was like here in the 18th century. When guests visit Colonial Michilimackinac during the summer months, they get to see staff dressed for warm weather, but people often wonder: what did they do they when it got cold?

 For most women living at Michilimackinac year-round, the first thing to think about was changing the type of textiles that they were wearing. Light-weight summer wools and linens would be swapped for warmer or heavier layers. Wool was the obvious answer and imported from Europe in abundance. Some wools were so soft that they were more than comfortable to wear next to the skin while others were coarser and better suited for outerwear.

 Silk was another winter fabric option. It was lightweight, came in an amazing array of colors and allowed for less bulk. It has the ability to hold heat close to the body and is still used for long underwear today. In the 18th century it was used for mitts, petticoats, gowns, neckerchiefs, stockings, hats, and cloaks. Fur was another warm option but considered to be a little too bulky to make into a full garment. It was used more often as a trim for cloaks, gowns and for accessories such as muffs and mittens.

 Another option was to mix fabrics. Petticoats or skirts could be quilted with wool or down between the layers of wool or silk. Some women also wore quilted under-waistcoats that were meant to hold the heat close to the body and be hidden under their other clothing. Cloaks with hoods were sometimes lined and quilted with eiderdown to keep the head and core especially warm.

 The key to staying warm for the 18th century woman was to choose the right fabrics and layer up. If you are interested in seeing 18th century women’s winter clothing in action, come to Colonial Michilimackinac on December 11 for a celebration of the holiday season. For more information or tickets visit mackinacparks.com/a-colonial-christmas

She Lived Here Too: Marie Constance Chevalier

During the early years of Michilimackinac’s history not many people settled down at the straits permanently. Most people, especially French soldiers and fur traders, spent a relatively short period at the settlement before moving on. It is somewhat unique, then, for us to find a person that spent their entire life at Michilimackinac. Marie Constance Chevalier was born, lived, and died at Michilimackinac, witnessing huge changes in the community.

 Her parents’ sixth child, Marie Constance was born at Michilimackinac in 1719. She likely did not have a formal education, but certainly learned a fair amount about the fur trade business from her parents. They came to Michilimackinac as merchants around 1718, becoming successful and well-known in the area. Growing up it would not have been unusual to see Chinese tea, Caribbean sugar, and textiles from France in her parent’s household.

 Marie Constance married Joseph Ainse in 1741, when she was 22 years old. Joseph was a carpenter and probably came to Michilimackinac specifically to build the church, St. Anne de Michilimackinac. Joseph and Marie had a baby in 1743, but she died soon after birth. The baby’s internment under the newly-built church was the first to be documented in the records. A year later Joseph and Marie Constance had another baby and named him Joseph Louis.

 Marie Constance’s husband died during a trip to Cahokia in 1746. After his death she stayed at Michilimackinac. It is unclear from the records what she did to support herself, but she still had a fairly large family living nearby and likely had significant connections throughout the community. Around that same time, her father also died, leaving her mother to continue in the fur trade business as a widow herself.

 During this period of Michilimackinac’s history the fort was expanded and repaired. It was a lively place, especially in the summers when new fur traders were arriving and using the area as a transshipment point for the trade. One of these fur traders was a man named de Quindre who came to Michilimackinac to trade from Fort St. Joseph with a partner named Marin. It is unclear when they met, but by 1749 Marie Constance had a baby and named de Quindre as the father. It is quite clear that they were not married, as he already had a wife and Marie Constance was listed as “the widow” of her late husband Joseph Ainse. She apparently suffered no stigma for having a child while unmarried. After the baby was born, de Quindre left Michilimackinac and ended up living at Detroit with his wife, continuing to work as a fur trader and enlisting in the local militia.

 Marie gave birth to a daughter in February 1751, and chose not to identify the father in baptismal records. He may have been Louis Cardin, who married Marie in July 1751. This second husband of Marie Constance was a soldier in the French army. Louis Cardin may have come to the area in 1749 with the commanding officer Faber. Originally from Trois Rivieres, Louis was relatively well-educated. After he finished his service with the military, he and Marie Constance stayed at Michilimackinac. He became the notary and later justice of the peace. Records are unclear, but Louis Cardin and Marie Constance appear to have had at least five children together between 1752 and 1762.

 Meanwhile, many changes were taking place at Michilimackinac. The French garrison abandoned the post after the fall of New France in 1760, while British troops arrived in 1761. For the most part, the change in leadership did not significantly alter private life at Michilimackinac. Business continued as usual with some British traders added to the mix.

 By 1763, however, tensions between the British and many of the Indigenous people exploded into violence, including the surprise attack and capture of Michilimackinac by the local Ojibwa in June. We don’t know where Marie Constance was or what she experienced during the attack. From other accounts, the French residents were largely left unharmed, sometimes plundering their British neighbors who were killed or captured. The attack happened quickly but left the community in an unstable position. Charles Langlade, another longtime resident of Michilimackinac was put in charge of commanding the post. Langlade was well known and had a close relationship with many of the French residents, including Marie Constance. In 1754, as notary, her husband Louis had signed the marriage contract between Langlade and his wife Charlotte.

 After the British returned in 1764 the area settled down and most of the community focused once again on making money in trade. In 1766 Major Robert Rogers arrived as the new commanding officer. Already famous due to his exploits during the Seven Years’ War, as well as his work as an author and playwright, Rogers had had to deal with the complex politics of the Great Lakes, where the British, French-Canadians, and numerous Indigenous nations all worked towards furthering their own agendas. Rogers had to keep the area as peaceful as possible to maintain a British presence, and part of that role included gathering information about the local community.

 It was not uncommon for British officers to turn to non-military individuals to do at least occasional intelligence gathering. As Michilimackinac’s permanent community was rather small, numbering around 200 soldiers and fur traders at the time, it is likely that Rogers was introduced to Marie Constance and Louis soon after his arrival at the post.

 Rogers asked Marie Constance to go to L’arbre Croche to talk with the Odawa living there to “find out what” they “were about” in April 1767. Rogers sent her out again in May to a village at Cheboygan to speak with the people living there, this time accompanied by a man named Mr. Seeley. When she came back, Rogers recorded that she was able to report that they “had no bad intentions against the English.”

 While her report was not dramatic, it surely was a relief to Rogers to know that the local situation remained calm for the time being. As translators, diplomats and spies, women, especially multi-lingual French women in the Great Lakes, tended to have an advantage over the common British soldier in gaining the trust of their neighbors. People like Marie Constance tended overall to have a more non-threatening status in the community and were often the least suspect. Rogers recognized the value of Marie Constance’s work by paying her and Mr. Seeley £12.18, which was not a small amount. We do not know exactly why she agreed to work for Rogers, but it may have helped her and her husband’s position at the fort.

 Marie Constance is rarely mentioned in the historic record after her spy work. She and Louis Cardin continued to live together and work at Michilimackinac until her death in 1775 at age 56.  Throughout her life she worked to raise a family, sometimes on her own and operated on occasion for the government. Marie Constance was able to spend her whole life at Michilimackinac by adjusting to shifting family and political conditions. To visit Michilimackinac and learn about the community in which Marie Constance Chevalier lived and worked, check out our website.