mackinac island michigan main street shopping horse drawn carriage

Michigan's Gateway to the Upper Peninsula

Mackinac Island is approximately a 4-1/2 hour drive north from my home in Waterville, OH (suburb of Toledo, OH). I have visited the island at least two times in my life, but it has been a long time. My goal is to visit every destination emblazoned on our stickers but, unfortunately, this awesome endeavor has not yet been realized (or been least not at this time). Of course, one of my wife and my life goals is to have the freedom to travel the country in a motor home (preferably in the space-age styling of an Airstream touring coach), visiting cities, towns, and destination places all along our merry way. (I imagine this is a dream I share with many of my fellow humans.) Okay, so back to my story.... 

The last time I visited Mackinac (and only real memory I have of visiting the Island) was with my family in 1995. I had just finished my Junior year of high school, and it was a good time in my life. (It was all downhill from there.) The occasion of our visit was to celebrate the 50th wedding anniversary of my grandparents, Don and Audrey Entenman. We met the extended family on Mackinac Island and enjoyed a big private dinner and stayed overnight at the Grand Hotel. At the conclusion of our dinner, the family presented my grandparents with a wonderful commissioned portrait of the smiling couple by northwest Ohio artist William (Bill) Kuhlman. At some time during that brief trip, I made my way to the playground basketball courts, with my basketball and Sony Discman in hand. An older guy (it seemed to me at the time, although he probably was not yet 30 years of age) who told me he had played D-III college basketball, challenged me to a game of one-on-one. He smoked me. Humiliated me 15-2. I was a lousy basketball player, but I always enjoyed shooting around.

mackinac island michigan

That's the end of my personal narrative, now on to some of the facts about this beautiful gem of an Island.

The Anishinaabe (Native American) peoples in the Straits of Mackinac region likened the shape of the island to that of a turtle so they named it "Mitchimakinak", which translates to "Big Turtle" in the Ojibwe language. Following the Civil War, the island became a popular tourist destination for residents of major cities on the Great Lakes. Much of the federal land on Mackinac Island was designated as the second national park, Mackinac National Park, in 1875, three years after Yellowstone National Park was named as the first national park. When the federal government left the island in 1895, it transferred all of the federal land, including Fort Mackinac, to the state of Michigan; this area was designated as Michigan's first state park.

You technically cannot drive to Mackinac Island. In fact, if you Google driving directions, you will likely be informed that your destination is not possible, or that you'll have to swim. That's because the island can be reached only by private boat, ferry, small aircraft and, in the winter, by snowmobile over an ice bridgeYou'll notice on Mackinac that people get around by foot, bike, and horse-drawn carriages, because pedestrian motor vehicles have been prohibited on the island since the late-late 19th Century. And if you left your horse at home , never fear, because bicycles, roller skates/blades, carriages, and saddle horses are available to rent. All of Mackinac Island was listed as a National Historic Landmark in October 1960. The downtown streets are lined with many retail stores and restaurants. 

Points of Interest If You Visit:

  • The entire island, Haldimand Bay, and a small shipwreck form a historic district.
  • Built by the British in 1780, Fort Mackinac was closed as a fort by the United States in 1895 as it no longer had any strategic purpose. It has been restored to its late 19th-century state through efforts beginning in the 1930s.
  • The Biddle House, one of the oldest structures on Mackinac Island, was built about 1780 and is interpreted in its role as a prosperous home for the Metis Biddle family during the height of the fur trade in the 1820s.
  • The McGulpin House, a working-class home possibly constructed prior to 1780, is interpreted as a frontier working-class home.
  • The Agency House of the American Fur Company was built in 1820 as the residence for the company's Mackinac Island agent, Robert Stuart. It has been adapted as a fur trade museum and is open to the public.
  • The Mission House was built on Mission Point in 1825 by Presbyterian missionary William Montague Ferry as a boarding school for Native American and Métis children. It became a hotel in 1849 and a rooming house in 1939. It is restored and now houses State Park employees.
  • The 108-foot tall glassed-in Mission Point historical museum has five floors of historical exhibits and views of the Mackinac Straits. Exhibits include the maritime history of Mackinac Island, Great Lakes lighthouses, shipping, and shipwrecks, Mackinac Bridge construction, and the film Somewhere in Time, which was primarily filmed on Mission Point property.
  • The Mission Church was built in 1829 and is the oldest surviving church building in Michigan. It has been restored to its 1830s appearance.
  • The Indian Dormitory was constructed under direction of U.S. Indian agent Henry Rowe Schoolcraft after the US and area tribes signed the 1836 Treaty of Washington. It operated as a school and a place for Native Americans to stay while coming to the island to receive yearly annuities. The building was restored in 1966 and converted to a museum; it closed in 2003. On July 2, 2010, the building was reopened for use as The Richard and Jane Manoogian Mackinac Art Museum. It showcases Mackinac art from prehistory to the present, and includes a children's art studio.
  • The Matthew Geary House, built in 1846 as a private residence, was added to the NRHP in 1971. Privately owned, it is available for lease for vacation rentals.
  • The current Catholic Sainte Anne Church was built from 1874. It replaced earlier parish churches in use on Mackinac Island and the adjacent mainland; the parish register records participants in sacraments such as baptisms, marriages, and funerals from 1695.
  • The Grand Hotel is a Victorian-style structure that opened in 1887. The 1980 film Somewhere in Time was shot on location at the hotel.
  • The Round Island Lighthouse is located just south of Mackinac Island on the small, uninhabited Round Island, which is held and operated by the US Forest Service. The light was built in 1894 and automated in 1924. Extensive restoration began in the 1970s, and the exterior and structure have since been repaired.
  • Wawashkamo Golf Club was laid out in 1898 as a Scottish links-type course. It is the oldest continuously played golf course in Michigan.
  • The Michigan Governor's Summer Residence was built overlooking the harbor in 1902. It was purchased by the state in 1943 for use as a seasonal governor's residence.
  • Anne's Tablet is an Art Nouveau sculptural installation added to a blufftop overlook in 1916.
  • Several children's parks have been established on the island. The most popular ones include the playground on the schoolyard; Marquette Park; and Great Turtle Park, which includes a baseball field, skate park, barbecue area, and a play set.

Special thanks to Wikipedia (a most excellent and helpful aggregate site) for providing much of the content in this blog.

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