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Fort Mackinac: A Look Back in Time on Mackinac Island, Michigan

I live in Houston and have worked as a nurse. I have a lifelong passion for traveling, nature, and photography (preferably all together!).

Scenery at Fort Mackinac

Scenery at 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.

It is a site I have yet to visit, but I remember my grandparents telling me about visiting Mackinac Island. The island is in Lake Huron, which is one of the five interlinked freshwater 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 entirely 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.

What to See at Fort Mackinac

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 '70s are there to see.

Thick stone walls surround the 14 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.

Dioramas portray things such things as the following: episodes from the War of 1812, the British capture of the Island, the American blockade of the Island for a time, and more.

Actors perform mock court-martials here. Muskets and cannons are 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 military sites located in the Great Lakes region of the country.

The showing of films takes place in an on-site theater. There are displays that interest kids as well as adults. Places to enjoy snacks are on-site as well as restroom facilities. Pets are even allowed if kept on leashes.

Fort Mackinac History

The narrowing of the passageway between Lake Michigan and Lake Huron is called the Straits of Mackinac. Fur trading was vital 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 fell 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, the construction of a stone-walled fort took place during the time of the American Revolutionary War. Several fierce battles ensued, and at the end of the War of Independence between the United States and the Kingdom of Great Britain, the fort reverted to the Americans after the Treaty of Ghent.

It was a United States military post, but as the 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.

Military Medicine Discovery

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 tract. This discovery happened because of an accident to one person who survived a shooting 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.

A National Park Becomes a State Park

In 1875, Mackinac Island National Park was the second national park created in the United States. The first one was Yellowstone. But after Fort Mackinac was closed in 1895, it reverted to the State of Michigan and became their first state park. Personally, I know of no other United States national parks that have in effect been decommissioned as such.

This state park accounts for about 74% of the entire landmass of Mackinac Island, which is only a total of 3.78 square miles in area. Now perhaps one can understand why it is easy to get around the island by walking, bicycling, or by horse-drawn carriages. The ban on automobiles took place in 1898.

Photo taken facing east from Mackinac Island

Photo taken facing east from Mackinac Island

Lake Huron

Visiting Mackinac Island located on Lake Huron is like stepping back into time. Glaciers stemming from the Ice Age sculpted all of the Great Lakes. In the case of Lake Huron, the deepest part of the lake is at 750 feet or 229 meters.

This lake is the second-largest freshwater one of the five Great Lakes, and in the entire world, it is the third-largest freshwater lake. When the French explorers "discovered" it, they thought that it was a freshwater 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.

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

The Wyandot-Hurons

"Huron" refers to the second largest of the Great Lakes and also the native American people found living there. 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 frequently battled with them, and between that and diseases which were introduced by the Europeans, ones to which they had no resistance, their numbers were decimated. Small numbers of descendants from the Wyandot-Huron tribes live in Canada and the United States today.

Indian encampment on Lake Huron by artist Paul Kane (1810–71)

Indian encampment on Lake Huron by artist Paul Kane (1810–71)

Sources:

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2011 Peggy Woods

Comments are welcomed!

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on December 27, 2020:

Hi Devika,

Mackinac Island is definitely a spot for vacationers who wish to take it easy and see beautiful sites. The Fort Mackinac has its place in history and is merely one spot on the island worth visiting. I am glad you enjoyed learning about it.

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on December 27, 2020:

Peggy W I see that you have been very busy writing about popular destinations and some of what I had no idea of here.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on December 20, 2020:

Hi Pauline,

I am glad you enjoyed learning about this fort on Mackinac Island. It must be fun the see the reenactments of court-martials, etc., played there. The setting is lovely.

Pauline on December 19, 2020:

Great lesson in history and geography. Thanks for submitting it.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on December 18, 2020:

Hi Christy,

I am pleased that you enjoyed learning about it. Mackinac Island would be a great place to plan a vacation someday. Thanks for your comment.

Christy B on December 18, 2020:

It was fascinating to learn about Fort Mackinac through this post, Peggy! I hadn't heard of it before now.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on August 30, 2013:

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.

Patricia Scott from North Central Florida on August 30, 2013:

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 Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on May 29, 2012:

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 Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on May 29, 2012:

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 Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on May 28, 2012:

Hi Alastar,

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

Barbara Anne Helberg from Napoleon, Henry County, Ohio, USA on May 28, 2012:

@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 from Lincoln, Nebraska on May 28, 2012:

The pictures are so beautiful I would love to visit!

Alastar Packer from North Carolina on May 28, 2012:

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

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on December 24, 2011:

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.

Maria Jordan from Jeffersonville PA on December 24, 2011:

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 Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on December 20, 2011:

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, from London, UK on December 20, 2011:

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 Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on December 19, 2011:

Hi Deborah,

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

Deborah Brooks Langford from Brownsville,TX on December 18, 2011:

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

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on December 18, 2011:

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. from Houston, TX on December 18, 2011:

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 Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on December 18, 2011:

Thanks again, David.

Russell-D from Southern Ca. on December 17, 2011:

Peggy W - you welcome. David

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on December 17, 2011:

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 from Southern Ca. on December 17, 2011:

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 Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on December 17, 2011:

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 Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on December 17, 2011:

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 Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on December 17, 2011:

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 from Wales on December 17, 2011:

Very beautiful and well presented as always.

I vote up up and away here.

Take care

Eddy.

Gene Jasper on December 17, 2011:

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

Charles Criner on December 17, 2011:

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 Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on December 16, 2011:

Hello alocsin,

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

Aurelio Locsin from Orange County, CA on December 16, 2011:

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

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on December 16, 2011:

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 from North Carolina on December 16, 2011:

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 Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on December 16, 2011:

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!

Don A. Hoglund from Wisconsin Rapids on December 16, 2011:

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.

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