The Straits of Mackinac were once a very important waterway in North America. It’s first significant purpose, as Europe’s lust for animal pelts birthed a commercial enterprise in the midwest, was the fur trade. This 15 mile passage of water, between lakes Huron and Michigan, was at the center of the trade in the western Great Lakes.
Today, the Mackinac bridge stretches across this waterway and allows I-75 North to continue west. However, back then, as it was finished in 1715, a French fort was established near, what is now, the eastern reaches of that monstrous span. It’s purpose was to tax, protect and employ those involved in the fur trade. After the French and Indian war the post was relinquished to the British.
That is where our story begins at Fort Michilimamackinac; a fort that remained British till they moved to a better position on Mackinac Island. The British burned down Michillimackinac, to avoid providing the American’s with a prebuilt installation near the straits. The result of that action was an archeological dig that has spanned sixty years, and is ongoing today. With that, came the reconstruction of the fort, built to look as it would have during the revolutionary war.
Sound interesting? I’ll also throw in a 130 year old light house, one of many in the area, that gave ships their bearings while traveling through the Great Lakes. Besides, these two attractions are practically in the same area.
We’re driving in Mackinaw city, following Heidi’s GPS. It leads us to a parking lot that resides essentially right underneath ‘Mighty Mack’. I’m thrilled to see that the admissions entrance for MichiliMackinac is built underneath this bridge. We walk into this area and discover a modern gift shop and a reception counter.
We had learned of the fort by chance, as we had started a conversation with the blacksmith on Mackinac Island. He told of a fort that had young men decked out in British Military attire. I was intrigued and as I pay my $12.50 for entrance, I learn more. This was a French fort before it was British. I’m new to the history of the area so my head is swirling with questions.
We receive our tickets and head towards the entrance. There, a man in French attire is poised at the gate. That’s right, there are a few Frenchmen still walking about. However, the fort is hosted primarily by the British Redcoats. I ask the poor guy a ton of questions on the area’s military history. He answers them all without pause.
We pass canoes, much like the ones that would have brought the men and their supplies to the fort, and pass through the palisades wall. On doing so, I feel I’ve been thrown into a time warp. Granted, the buildings are replicas and not the real deal. However, the fact these have been rebuilt on top of the excavated structures that once resided on those very spots has some special appeal.
We cruise through, among other things, a fur trading office, church, military barracks and a commanding officers home. Along with those comes the rowhouse, which features the floor of the original powder magazine. It’s cool to learn how they figured out where each building stood. In the officers quarters broken china was the give away. In the powder magazine, shot for the muskets were found between the floor boards. There are other buildings also, but these I found the coolest bits of history inside.
Along with some of these buildings lie gardens and livestock. Of course, they literally had to feed an army on the frontier. Ok, maybe not an army, but you get what I mean.
We climb the stairs onto the palisade walls and look out over the straits. Today, the position offers a glimpse of the bridge. Back then, it would have provided an excellent vantage of the fur traders making their way through the straits. There’s even a cannon perched on the tower.
Speaking of which, if your into 18th century artillery, there are Musket, cannon and mortar firings. I’m able to witness a mortar firing, which is one of the loudest gun powder explosions my ears have been subject to. After, we browse through this fort, which all told takes about two hours. We check out the cool and inexpensive gift shop inside the fort. We also witness those partaking in the ongoing Archeological dig on the grounds.
For now, my heart is content with historical information I’ve received. However, We’ll return later today to see the lighthouse that resides across a small green expanse. My fun is done, now it’s Heidi’s turn to shop. We do that and return a few hours later.
When we return we find the Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse. A bit of advice to those who do want to see the fort and the lighthouse the same day. There is a slight discount to the lighthouse admission if you hold on to your fort tickets.
The admissions, museum gift shop and fog signal demonstration are located in the first building we set foot in. This building is known as the Fog signal building. After we pay our nine dollars, we make our way to the keepers quarters and wait for a tour of the tower.
The guide announces the tour and we follow a slight crowd into a small room built around a spiral staircase. We receive some history about the Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse, which was built in 1889 and was in operation in 1892. After some info we ascend 51 steps and wait our turn to see out the tower’s windows.
When we do find our way to the top, we glimpse the Mackinac bridge and Mackinac Island. I’ve been in taller lighthouses, but this one is just as cool. After a few selfies with the bridge in the background we descend the stairs and investigate the keepers quarters. It tells of a time foreign from my own and I try to picture a lightkeepers existence. I can’t imagine lugging the fuel for the light up that winding staircase.
We make it outside and bypass the movie in the barn and head straight for the warehouse. There, a small Straits of Mackinac Shipwreck Museum is found. I actually find this the highlight of the whole experience. I learn of some pretty fascinating wrecks and gut wrenching stories. We learn of a giant ship that ended up on the floor of the straits. Other stories of perilous plights leave me in awe of the dangers mother nature can throw at those who brave the lakes.
As we leave, I find myself satisfied. I’ve seen lighthouses before, but not where the keepers quarters has been retored to quality it has been. As for the fort, I’ve never been in the company of redcoats before. I swear I’m no Benedict Arnold! That being said, it was kind of cool hanging with the enemy. Not to mention, it told of a life and times on the frontier, when Michigan most definitely was still a frontier. I admire the men and women who lived at the fort. During the Revolutionary war, the Midwest was simply a territory and didn’t see much in the lines of war. So, to see a fort that harkens back to the infancy of our nation is pretty damn cool!