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Historic Site of Interest on Mackinac Island - Fort Mackinac

Updated on December 17, 2017
Peggy W profile image

I live in Houston, and I have worked as a nurse. My interests include traveling, reading, gardening, cooking, and our wonderful pets.

Scenery at Fort Mackinac
Scenery at Fort Mackinac | Source

Some good friends of ours made plans to visit the very scenic Mackinac Island (pronounced like Mac - in - awe) this past summer. While Lisa was taking a break from the non-stop sightseeing, her husband Doug decided to visit the historic Fort Mackinac one afternoon since he likes history and also architecture. Doug is an architect.

It is a site I have yet to visit but remember my grandparents telling me about this amazing Mackinac Island that is situated in Lake Huron which is one of the five interlinked fresh water Great Lakes separating the countries of Canada and the United States in the upper northeast portions of our country. The only one of the Great Lakes that is completely within United States confines is Lake Michigan.

The Canadian province of Ontario borders Lake Huron to the east with Michigan in the United States forming the western boundary. A very narrow body of water called the Straits of Mackinac separates Lake Huron from Lake Michigan and because of this passageway between the Great Lakes, this location became historically significant and gave reason for the establishment of Fort Mackinac which will be addressed in this post.

Painting of Fort Mackinac by artist Seth Eastman
Painting of Fort Mackinac by artist Seth Eastman | Source

Huron

This name refers not only to the second largest of the Great Lakes but also the native Indian people found living there when at the time of French exploration they were assigned the name Huron by the French.

These native people were great navigators of the waterways and also hunted, fished and farmed. The fierce Iroquois Indians frequently battled with them and between that and diseases which were introduced by the Europeans...ones in which they had no resistance...their numbers were decimated.

Small numbers of descendants from the Huron tribes live in Canada and the United States today.

Painting of Indians camping on Lake Huron

Indian encampment on Lake Huron by artist Paul Kane (1810-1871)
Indian encampment on Lake Huron by artist Paul Kane (1810-1871) | Source

Lake Huron

This is the second largest fresh water lake of the five Great Lakes and in the entire world it is considered to be the third largest fresh water lake. It is no wonder when the French explorers discovered Lake Huron they thought that it was a fresh water sea.

Just like the sea one can view nothing but a seemingly endless horizon of water meeting the sky when one is on the shoreline gazing out at its vastness.

There are thousands of islands in Lake Huron and also thousands of shipwrecks have taken place in the sometimes turbulent waters when storms whip up the wind and waves.

Photo taken facing east from Mackinac Island
Photo taken facing east from Mackinac Island | Source

All of the Great Lakes were sculpted by glaciers stemming from the Ice Age. In the case of Lake Huron, the deepest part of the lake is at 750 feet or 229 meters.

Visiting Mackinac Island located on Lake Huron is like stepping back into history.

Great Lakes System

Source

Notice how the border between Canada and the United States goes right through portions of the Great Lakes in the map featured below.

Map of the Great Lakes
Map of the Great Lakes | Source

In addition to my grandparents telling us how wonderful a vacation they had while visiting Mackinac Island we heard it from others as well.

Once while on vacation in Utah and talking with fellow travelers we compared places that each of us had visited and loved. While most of the discussion was focused on national parks of which Utah has five plus a number of wonderful state parks as well...Mackinac Island was mentioned by the other vacationers as a favorite place. They said that even their children seemed to love it as much as they had.

Quite possibly it was the stark contrast that differentiated it from most places that struck a chord in their memories. No automobiles are allowed on the island except for the rare emergency vehicle. People get around on foot, bicycle or horse drawn carriage for the most part.

Our friends who recently visited Mackinac Island loved this aspect of the island as well as the sheer beauty of the place. It is truly like stepping back in time when life was lived at a slower pace and special moments are savored.

A markerMackinac Island -
Mackinac Island, MI 49757, USA
get directions

Things to do while on Mackinac Island include some of the following:

  • Watching a sunrise or sunset.
  • Walking amidst beautiful gardens and taking the time to smell the flowers or watch the butterflies flit from one blossom to another.
  • Reading a book on a lazy sun splashed afternoon.
  • Exercising one's limbs while riding bicycles along rows of elegant Victorian cottages or watching the many yachts skirt the colorful waters of Lake Huron.
  • Visiting the famous Grand Hotel with its magnificent long porch facing the water and having drinks or high tea.
  • Seeing historic places like Fort Mackinac.
  • Playing golf...this and so much more makes Mackinac Island a truly memorable place in which to vacation.

Topographic map of Mackinac Island

Source

Fort Mackinac

Now we come to the crux of this post which is some information about Fort Mackinac and its part in history.

The narrowing of the passageway between Lake Michigan and Lake Huron is called the Straits of Mackinac. Fur trading was important back in the days of the Huron Indians and continued with the early French explorers and even enabled John Jacob Astor in the early 1800s to become one of the wealthiest men in the United States.

The French had built a fort on the mainland but when it was transferred into British hands they decided to construct a stronger stone one on Mackinac Island that would be less vulnerable to attack and command a better view of the Straits.

Thus in 1780 on a 150 foot southern bluff overlooking the Straits of Mackinac this stone walled fort was built during the time of the American Revolutionary War. Several fierce battles were fought there and at the end of the War of Independence between the United States and the Kingdom of Great Britain the fort was turned back to the Americans after the Treaty of Ghent.

Firing a canon at Fort Mackinac
Firing a canon at Fort Mackinac | Source

It was a United States military post but as westward expansion was taking place it became increasingly less important. Fort Mackinac held a few Confederate prisoners during the Civil War but was decommissioned in 1895 and has become a museum and historic site within the Mackinac Island State Park.

Fort Mackinac soldier demonstrations
Fort Mackinac soldier demonstrations | Source

This state park accounts for about 74% of the entire land mass of Mackinac Island which is only a total of 3.78 square miles in area. Now perhaps one can understand why it is fairly easy to get around the island by walking, bicycling or by the horse drawn carriages.

View looking down from Fort Mackinac
View looking down from Fort Mackinac | Source

A point of interest...Mackinac Island National Park was the second national park created in the United States in 1875 following the first which was Yellowstone. But after Fort Mackinac was closed in 1895 the park was turned over to the State of Michigan and it became their first State Park.

Personally I know of no other United States national parks that have in effect been decommissioned as such.

Fort Mackinac is open for viewing from May 3 to October 7 each year from 9:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. with the last allowed admission at 6:00 p.m.

One could probably spend quite a bit of time at Fort Mackinac.

They have many seasonal employees who replicate what it was like to live and work there when the fort was operational. Costumes of soldiers and civilians as would have been worn during the 1860s and 1870s are to be seen.

Thick stone walls surround the fourteen original buildings within the fort. Those buildings include the following:

  • Barracks
  • Blockhouses
  • Guardhouse
  • Bathhouse
  • Commissary
  • Schoolhouse
  • Hospital
  • and Officer's Quarters.

Some of these original buildings date back to over 225 years ago.

Fort Mackinac
Fort Mackinac | Source

Dioramas portray things such as episodes from...

  • War of 1812
  • British capture of the Island
  • American blockade of the Island for a time and more.

Mock court-martials are held as well as muskets and cannons being fired by the "soldiers" who entertain visitors during the summer while teaching them some history regarding those days in the past when Fort Mackinac was one of the most important of military sites located in the Great Lakes region of the country.

Films are shown in an on site theater and there are displays that would interest kids as well as adults. Places to enjoy snacks are provided as well as restroom facilities. Pets are even allowed if kept on leashes.

Fort Mackinac as viewed from the water
Fort Mackinac as viewed from the water | Source

Medicine at Fort Mackinac

Here is an interesting bit of trivia concerning military medicine at Fort Mackinac.

Dr. William Beaumont made great strides in experimenting and recording information about the human digestive track. This happened because of an accident to one person who survived being shot in the stomach but who ended up having a gaping hole from which the good doctor could see and study the workings of the digestive system.

Sometimes that is how medical progress is made...by happenstance in this particular example. Dr. Beaumont was the author of "Experiments and Observations on the Gastric Juice and Physiology of Digestion" published in 1833.

Fort Mackinac
Fort Mackinac | Source

Someday I hope to get to visit Fort Mackinac on the very scenic Mackinac Island as my grandparents and now some good friends of ours have enjoyed while on vacation.

Old stereoscopic views of Fort Mackinac
Old stereoscopic views of Fort Mackinac | Source

© 2011 Peggy Woods

Comments are welcomed!

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    • Peggy W profile image
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      Peggy Woods 4 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi Patricia,

      Hope that you and your sister can realize those travel plans in the future. Mackinac Island will still be there as will the Great Lakes. Thanks for the good wishes and sending them back to you as well.

    • pstraubie48 profile image

      Patricia Scott 4 years ago from sunny Florida

      Good morning Peggy

      The Great Lakes area of our country is a place that I want to visit. My sister and I were going to travel extensively this summer up through that area but personal family issues have caused that to be put on hold. But we still plan to do so. Reading about interesting historical places such as this always make it more meaningful when we arrive at a destination.

      Thank you so much for sharing this piece of history with us.

      Angels are on the way to you this morning.

    • Peggy W profile image
      Author

      Peggy Woods 5 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi Barbsbitsnpieces,

      Thanks for your compliment on this Fort Mackinac hub. I agree with you that places like this are great for children to see as well as adults. Appreciate your comment.

    • Peggy W profile image
      Author

      Peggy Woods 5 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi Angela,

      I agree. The photos my friends took of Fort Mackinac are indeed good ones. Hopefully we (you and I) will get to see it in person someday. Thanks for your comment.

    • Peggy W profile image
      Author

      Peggy Woods 5 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi Alastar,

      With your love of history, I'm not surprised that you liked this hub about Fort Mackinac. Thanks for your comment.

    • Barbsbitsnpieces profile image

      Barbara Anne Helberg 5 years ago from Napoleon, Henry County, Ohio, USA

      @Peggy W...Great Hub about Fort Mackinac and its area!

      As I am a Great Lakes lover in northwest Ohio who often visits another great -- Erie -- I love viewing historically loaded GL Hubs.

      Young people looking for places to visit with their children would do very well to take advantage of these stress-free locations during the summer months. They are fun history lessons!

    • Angela Brummer profile image

      Angela Brummer 5 years ago from Lincoln, Nebraska

      The pictures are so beautiful I would love to visit!

    • Alastar Packer profile image

      Alastar Packer 5 years ago from North Carolina

      This is one of so many awesome hubs of yours Peggy and a most appropriate one for Memorial Day!

    • Peggy W profile image
      Author

      Peggy Woods 5 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi Maria,

      Like you, I was interested in the medical history that came from this period of time at Fort Mackinac. It would be very interesting to see the exhibits. So happy to hear that you enjoyed this hub regarding this most interesting of sites on Mackinac Island. Thanks for your comment and votes.

    • marcoujor profile image

      Maria Jordan 5 years ago from Jeffersonville PA

      Dear Peggy,

      At the risk of offending anyone else, your nursing background is so apparent and beautiful in this hub.

      The maps are especially assistive; the pictures are absolutely beautiful (especially the art) and the information so interesting and comprehensive. Of course, I was attracted to your inclusion of the medical history!

      Bookmarked to review again- so cool! UP & UABI, mar.

    • Peggy W profile image
      Author

      Peggy Woods 5 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi Hanna,

      As soon as I finish, there will be more information about Mackinac Island in another hub. Glad that you liked this one about Fort Mackinac.

      Merry Christmas to you and wishing you a wonderful New Year ahead! Thanks for your comment.

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 5 years ago from London, UK

      An absolute superb and comprehensive hub. It really gives a complete idea about the area and the island. Thank you.

      Wishing you a Merry Christmas and all my best wishes for the New Year.

    • Peggy W profile image
      Author

      Peggy Woods 6 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi Deborah,

      Glad to hear that you liked the videos regarding Fort Mackinac. Thanks for your comment and votes. Appreciate it.

    • Deborah Brooks profile image

      Deborah Brooks Langford 6 years ago from Brownsville,TX

      this place looks amazing.. You did a wonderful job. and this HUB.. I voted up and awesome.. plus I like the videos...

    • Peggy W profile image
      Author

      Peggy Woods 6 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi Cheryl,

      There are many more photos to share regarding sites on Mackinac Island...so stay tuned! It does look like it would be a fantastic vacation destination! Everyone that has ever been there seems to love the experience. Thanks for your comment.

    • Cheryl J. profile image

      Cheryl J. 6 years ago from Houston, TX

      Thanks for sharing a piece of history of beautiful Mackinac Island. Great photos and videos. I would love to ride on the Arnold Line Ferry, and visit Main Street and Fort Mackinac and to see the beautiful treasures and historical monuments on Mackinac Island. Great history and hub. I will include Fort Mackinac on my future list of vacation sites.

    • Peggy W profile image
      Author

      Peggy Woods 6 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Thanks again, David.

    • Russell-D profile image

      Russell-D 6 years ago from Southern Ca.

      Peggy W - you welcome. David

    • Peggy W profile image
      Author

      Peggy Woods 6 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hello David Russell,

      So very nice that you got to experience visiting Mackinac Island as often as you did. I am hoping to see it at least once in my lifetime. Glad that reading this brought back the memories for you. Thanks for your comment.

    • Russell-D profile image

      Russell-D 6 years ago from Southern Ca.

      In the 1960's, our family lived in Detroit & we visited often. Loved the ferry ride, walking the stoney shore, riding in a horse drawn coach on the car-less preserve, sitting on the broad white porch among the rich and elite, being able to afford dining room lunch, which, though our girls were behaved, still drew stares and sneers from retired money queens. We once saw Gov. Romney there, bringing us full cycle to his son trying to double talk his way in the Rep. race. Thanks for the memories. David Russell

    • Peggy W profile image
      Author

      Peggy Woods 6 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi Eddy,

      Nice to see you here commenting on this Mackinac Island hub and in particular Fort Mackinac. Thanks and have a great day in your part of the world.

    • Peggy W profile image
      Author

      Peggy Woods 6 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi Gene,

      I wonder if that same place of lodging exists on Mackinac Island? That is quite a story! Reminds me of a night we spent at the Crater Lake Lodge in Oregon years ago. We didn't slide downhill...it was more of a small lumpy hammock feel. Little sleep that night! Ha!

      From what I have heard, one needs DEEP pockets to stay at the Grand Hotel. Our friends chose an alternate location to stay also but visited the Grand Hotel several times to soak up the ambiance. I would love to see this someday for myself. Thanks for your comment.

    • Peggy W profile image
      Author

      Peggy Woods 6 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi Charles,

      Happy to be able to tell you about this historic Fort Mackinac on the beautiful Mackinac Island. Stay tuned for photos showing more of the island. Glad to hear that you are enjoying the cookies. Merry Christmas!

    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 6 years ago from Wales

      Very beautiful and well presented as always.

      I vote up up and away here.

      Take care

      Eddy.

    • profile image

      Gene Jasper 6 years ago

      Good hub Peggy. I always loved this place and have fond memories of taking my girls there when they were young. We stayed in a hotel there where the floor in our room sloped toward the water. The kids had a blast rolling down hill while in bed!At the time it was tghe only place wde could afford and still eat!

      Gene

    • profile image

      Charles Criner 6 years ago

      Hello Peggy, I am sorry to say that I didn't know anything about the island. However, I do now. Thank you so much. Thanks again for the cookes, and have a great Holiday.

    • Peggy W profile image
      Author

      Peggy Woods 6 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hello alocsin,

      So glad to hear that you enjoyed this hub regarding Fort Mackinac. Thanks for your comment and votes. Appreciate it!

    • alocsin profile image

      alocsin 6 years ago from Orange County, CA

      Wow, easily one of the most comprehensive location articles I've seen. Voting this Up and Awesome.

    • Peggy W profile image
      Author

      Peggy Woods 6 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi Alastar,

      That is one deep lake in the Smokies! Hopefully we will both get to visit the Mackinac Fort on Mackinac Island someday. I knew that you would like this with your love of history. Thanks for your comment.

    • Alastar Packer profile image

      Alastar Packer 6 years ago from North Carolina

      You know this ones right up my alley Peggy. Thanks for all the neat history on Mackinac, Huron and the fort. Doug took some very fine photos. Here's something interesting that just came to me: Lake Huron's depth is 750 feet and there's a small man-made lake called Fontana in the Smokies that goes down over 900 feet. Anyways hope you get to visit the island someday, I know I'd like to!

    • Peggy W profile image
      Author

      Peggy Woods 6 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi Don,

      I'll bet that you would truly love visiting Fort Mackinac on Mackinac Island especially with your love of history. Will do another hub showing the beauty of other places on the island soon. Thanks for your comment and votes. Appreciate it!

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Looks like a place I should visit.I think seeing the uniforms used in the Civil War period could be useful to me. We were pretty close to there on a trip a few years ago.voted across except for funny.