Mackinac Island

Photo above: Horse drawn carriages on Main Street, circa 1890-1910. Courtesy Library of Congress. Right: Old Block House of Fort Mackinac and the Mackinac Island Harbor, 1899, Detroit Publishing Company. Courtesy Library of Congress.

Fort Mackinac and Mackinac Island Harbor

Mackinac Island

It's a midwest pleasure island that harkens back to Victorian days where cars are unwanted and horse drawn carriages take you from place to place. Mackinac Island draws over one million vacationers to this past is present place for a summer week, pleasure walks, and history at Fort Mackinac and other abodes. One interesting note for the national park fan, at one time the second oldest national park existed here, 1875, right after Yellowstone, Mackinac National Park, but the federal government gave it back to the state in 1895. So it's now a state park. For those that get the chance to tour upper Michigan some summer, a visit to Mackinac Island is like no other. Plenty of places to walk (you almost have to) and sites to see. Take a break from the hustle and bustle and plant yourself on the island one year; you'll wonder what took you so long.

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Mackinac Island Main Street

Mackinac Island Then

Prior to European settlement in the 17th century, the island was home to Ottawa traders from a small indepedent tribe known as the Mi-shi-ne-macki naw-go. The first recorded account of French trappers date their arrival in 1654; there is also speculation that others may have arrived twenty years before. In 1671, missionary and explorer Jacques Marquette arrived, taking over for predecessor Claude Dablon, who had been there the year prior.

A century later, the island was inhabited by the British, who built Fort Mackinac in 1780 to enhance their military presence, which had been fortified in Mackinaw City at Fort Michilimackinac prior to the American Revolution, but now vulnerable to an American attack. When the revolution was over, the new United States were now in technical possession, although British forces did not leave the fort until September 1, 1796. But even that U.S. possession would not last. In the War of 1812, the first land engagement saw British forces take Fort Mackinac on July 17, 1812.

Photo above: Mackinac and Murray hotels in downtown Mackinac Island, 1908, Detroit Publishing Company. Courtesy Library of Congress. Below: Main street of Mackinac Island today, 2014. Courtesy Wikipedia Commons.

Mackinac Island

Mackinac Island Now

Now at Mackinac can seem like then, as much as possible in today's world. No cars. Five hundred horses that take you on carriage rides from place to place on the island. And so many bicycles in the summer that you might think you're in Europe or Japan. The past is Mackinac Island's present. Quaint places to stay. Historic sites to visit. The beauty and nature of northern Michigan, the Great Lakes, and as much peace and quiet as you can imagine in a tourist town.

There are six Michigan State Historic Park sites between the island and Mackinaw City, where you'll likely depart. From Colonial MichiliMackinac, Fort Mackinac (part of Mackinac Island State Park), Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park, Mackinac Art Museum, Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse, and Historic Downtown Mackinac, you'll get a history lesson about the Great Lakes, how it was defended, and what made it special.

For many who visit, it will be the charming past of a different kind that wets your whistle. Walks along the lake, ice cream at a turn of the century themed parlor, and miniature golf, or regular golf, are a regular staple of a visit here. And there's very little hustle and bustle of the regular kind. No cars since 1898. Pretty cool. The island has a summer population of about fifteen thousand people per day. Transportation around the island is by bike (1,500 are available to rent), hike, or horse drawn carriage.

The entire island has been a National Historic Landmark since 1960.

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Fort Mackinac

Mackinac Island

Things You Should Not Miss

1. Rent a bike and start to ride. There's so many unique places to visit on Mackinac Island, and no matter where you stay, a ride to the Grand Hotel is a treat. You'll think you went back over one hundred years at every turn.

2. Tour Fort Mackinac. Sitting on a bluff overlooking Lake Huron, you'll harken back to the War of 1812 when the British took back the island from the United States, partly because the American soldiers did not know we were at war yet.

3. Take a horse drawn carriage ride. There are a variety of options, from a Carriage tour of Mackinac Island State Park to private carriages to various points of interest, either driven by others or even driven by you. And if you'd rather spend the day on the back of a horse instead of riding behind them, you can rent a horse for a ride at several livery stables.

4. Okay, you'll have to be somewhat rich for this one. Stay at the Grand Hotel and pretend you're from old money.

Photo above: Ramparts of Fort Mackinac, including the Guard House, Officer's Wood Quarters and Stone Quarters, 1936, Charles Norton, Jr., Historic American Buildings Survey. Courtesy Library of Congress.

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