Mackinaw City - Events of Monday, August 15, 2011
Our plan to wait until after the weekend to take the ferry over to Mackinac Island paid off because the weather on Monday was gorgeous - a high of 76º and not a cloud in the sky.
There are three different ferry lines that run to Mackinac Island - Arnold Transit, the Star Line, and Shepler's Ferry. Arnold and Star seem to be owned by the same company because they honor each other's tickets and share the same brochure. We chose Arnold Transit mostly because they have high-speed catamarans which they claim have the smoothest ride.
There are no motorized vehicles at all on Mackinac Island. You can either walk or take a horse-drawn carriage tour (they have off and on privileges so you can stop and see the sights), or you can ride a bike. You can either take your own bike, which costs an extra $8 round trip on the ferry, or you can rent one on the island for $28-$30 a half day for multi-speed bikes. We took our own bikes.
In summer, the ferries all run every half hour, so getting to Mackinac and back is fairly easy. In the spring and fall, they run a somewhat reduced schedule. We caught the 9:30 AM ferry.
On our way over, we passed a ferry from the Star Line on its way back to the mainland. Star uses hydro-jet ferries that are propelled by a jet of water just like a jet ski. The water jet kicks up a big rooster tail. As impressive as the rooster tail is, however, the Star Line ferries aren't any faster. In fact, on the way back, a hydro-jet left Mackinac ahead of us, and we caught and passed them within a few minutes.
Since Mackinac is an island, everything must be shipped in by boat. As we approached the harbor on the island, we saw a cargo ferry with two trailer trucks loaded with food for the hotels and restaurants. As we said, motor vehicles are not permitted on the island, so cargo is unloaded at the dock (the ferry carries its own fork lift for that purpose), then the cargo is loaded onto horse-drawn wagons for final delivery to the individual stores, hotels and restaurants.
The next photo shows the ferry dock. Notice all the rental bikes.
As the ferry eased up to the dock, we had a little time to admire the picturesque waterfront.
It didn't take long to get everyone off the ferry and to unload the bikes. Then we made our way from the dock to Main Street. Even before 10:00 AM, it was already pretty crowded with bicycles and pedestrians.
We stopped at the visitor center in town and picked up a travel guide with a map of the island. It is well worth the $1 they charge. It has lots of history, things to see, and suggested routes to help you get around. There are no ads, which is the reason the booklet isn't free.
On the hillside across from the visitor center is Fort Mackinac. We had already learned about some of the history of the area when we visited Colonial Michilimackinac a few days prior, so we decided to start with the fort to continue with that history.
To recap, Fort Michilimackinac was built in the early 1700s on the south shore of the Straits of Mackinac at the site of present-day Mackinaw City to protect trade in the region. The fort was taken over by the British in 1761 after the end of the French and Indian War. During the American Revolution, the British realized they could not properly defend Fort Michilimackinac, so they dismantled it and hauled it to Mackinac Island where they rebuilt it as Fort Mackinac with walls partially constructed of limestone.
Civilians who used to live inside Fort Michilimackinac were relocated outside Fort Mackinac. The new fort had much more of a military purpose. The three blockhouses around the perimeter of the fort have limestone walls that are three feet thick.
The United States took over Fort Mackinac after they won their independence from Britain, but the British didn't go very far when they left Mackinac. They went north only about 40 miles into Canada where they built another fort to help maintain their presence in North America.
It wasn't very long after the end of the Revolutionary War that America found itself at war with Britain again in the War of 1812. Under the cover of darkness, the British came back down from Canada and landed on the north shore of Mackinac Island, and they set up their cannons on high ground behind the fort. The Americans were so taken by surprise and so outnumbered they surrendered the fort without firing a shot.
The war with Britain was over in 1814, and the Treaty of Ghent that followed returned control of the fort and the surrounding area to the Unites States.
In the early 1800s, the fur trade around Mackinac flourished. When we visited Prairie du Chien back in July, we learned about Hercules Dousman, who was a fur trader from the American Fur Company on Mackinac Island. Click here to read about our visit to Prairie du Chien and about Hercules Dousman and the mansion built by his son, Louis.
From the visitor center, we headed up the hill to the fort. The hill is so steep we had to push our bikes most of the way. Partway up the hill, we saw the old American Fur Company store on the corner of a side street.
Once we got to the fort, we had a terrific view.
Following the War of 1812, the importance of Fort Mackinac decreased. As the frontier of the United States moved west, there was little need for the fort. When the Civil War broke out, the soldiers from Mackinac were sent farther south where the fighting was. The fort was left with one lone caretaker.
After the Civil War, Mackinac Island began to flourish as a tourist destination. The island was named the country's second national park in 1875, just three years after Yellowstone. The primary activity of the fort's garrison was to act as caretakers for the national park.
Today, the fort is primarily depicted as it was in the 1880s and early 1890s. The photo below shows the parade ground inside the fort with the barracks to the left.
The next photo shows a scene inside the barracks.
There are several officer's quarters in the fort, including one high on the hill that housed two families.
These quarters were very nicely furnished, so they must have been for the top brass.
The post hospital was built in 1828. The most common treatments were for broken bones, influenza, intestinal disorders and delivery of babies. Fort Mackinac was never involved in an active battle so there were never any battle injuries.
In 1895, the federal government removed the soldiers from the fort and transferred the fort and the national park to the state of Michigan. Michigan's created it's first state park to include the fort and about 80% of the island.
After visiting the fort, we went on to tour some of the other parts of the island. We'll tell you all about it in our next post.