Historic Site of Interest on Mackinac Island ~ Fort Mackinac
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 north-east 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.
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
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.
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
Notice how the border between Canada and the United States goes right through portions of the Great Lakes in the map featured below.
Picture of the Great Lakes
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.
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 make Mackinac Island a truly memorable place in which to vacation.
Topographic map of Mackinac Island
Firing a canon at Fort Mackinac
Fort Mackinac Court-martial Reenactment...
Now we come to the crux of this post, 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 1800's 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.
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.
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.
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.
View looking down from Fort Mackinac
Fort Mackinac, Mackinac Island
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 1860's and 1870's are to be seen.
Thick stone walls surround the fourteen original buildings within the fort and include barracks, blockhouses, guardhouse, bathhouse, commissary, schoolhouse, hospital and officers' quarters. Some of these original buildings date back to over 225 years ago.
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.
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.
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.
© 2011 Peggy Woods