|Life without cars on Mackinaw Island results in a parade of people along Huron Street coming and going toward Mission Point. Marquette Park here is one of the few public sitting spaces downtown. Above are the West Blockhouse and the Officers’ Stone Quarters, where the Tea Room’s terrace offer an unsurpassed view of village and harbor, along with Grand Hotel lunches, suppers, and signature caramel ice cream pecan ball.|
Built in 1780, this British and American military outpost is the real thing — 14 historic buildings professionally restored, the rest carefully recreated. When you visit the Kids' Quarters hands-on museum or have lunch, dinner, or the signature Grand Pecan Ball ($8) at the Tea Room or its beautiful terrace, you're in Michigan's oldest building (1780), the Officers' Stone Quarters. Its walls are over four feet thick.
There's a lot going on here, with events held on the half-hour. To make the most out of your visit, know about the highlights ahead of time.
|Frequent demonstrations on military music and riflery are surprisingly interesting. The fort is interpreted is it was in 1880, when its functions were largely ceremonial. The spikes on soldiers’ helmets were inspired by the much-admired Prussian army. Across the parade grounds to the right are the Officers’ Stone Quarters (1780), possibly Michigan’s oldest building. It houses Kids’ Quarters hands-on exhibits and the Tea Room with its fantastic terrace view.|
Also, be prepared for a hike. The fort is 150 feet above Main Street. First you go up the Fort Street hill, then along a ramp and up 27 steps in through the South Sally Port.
The fort has been restored to the 1880s, its last years of operation, when it was basically a federal tourist attraction with soldiers as park rangers. (The spiked U.S. Army helmets show the Prussian influence. Prussian power and glamour were widely admired after Prussian's resounding 1871 victory in the Franco-Prussian War.)
Schedule and events. In high season, from early/mid June into late August, the fort is open from 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Events take place either on the central parade ground or, in the case of cannon firing, at the gun platform on the corner wall behind the front sally port entrance. All summer events are of general interest, with a special focus on amusing children.
Daily events are held from 9:45 to 5:30. Every half hour there will at least be a cannon or rifle firing. More complex events are the court martial (11:30, 1:30, 3:30); "Music at Mackinac program and dance" at noon and 2; military music with rifle fire at 12:30, 4, and 5; and cannon fire and "a soldier's life" tour at 3, 5:30.
A guided fort tour follows rifle firing and military music on the parade grounds at 10, 1, and 4:30. A soldiers' life tour is held after cannon firing at the corner gun platform at 11 and 3. Cannon firing followed by a general tour is at 1, 4:30, and 5:30. Concerts of military music and dance are held at noon and 2. At 3:30 a court martial is reenacted; the defendant, ordered to take the water wagon downtown and fill it, was found in a saloon, horses hitched outside. A 6:30 cannon firing ends the day. Every half hour between 10:30 and 4 when nothing else is scheduled, there's at least rifle firing and military music.
|1798 blockhouse built to protect cannons that defended the fort.|
In spring and fall, from early May through early/mid June and from late August through early October, events are pared back to cannon firing and walking tours on the half hour from the corner gun platform, alternating with rifle firing.
♦ the 12-minute AUDIO-VISUAL INTRODUCTION to the fort at the 1878 Post Commissary by the front sally port entrance (the front one with all the steps and ramp)
♦ The centerpiece, 3,500-square-foot exhibit "MACKINAC: AN ISLAND FAMOUS IN THESE REGIONS." It is on the upper floor of the Soldiers' Barracks, either entered via the stairway below or by going around to the upper-level entrance by the Avenue of Flags. It dramatically covers island history from Ojibwa myth and trade through 20th century tourism — faith, fur, fort, fish, fun, and fudge. Here are original Mackinac Island art, fur trade "touchables," and a nifty touch screen video with home movie footage of island vacations, plus clips of Moral Rearmament and its Mackinac College, both aimed at "meeting a pervasive world crisis," MGM's swimming movie star Esther Williams in This Time for Keeps (1947), filmed at Grand Hotel, and behind-the-scene photos of Jane Seymour and Christopher Reeve filming Somewhere in Time, also at Grand Hotel. Sit on a reproduction porch of a grand summer "cottage."
This museum area displays several interesting antiques. Here is a schoolteacher's painting on velvet of the island village and fort from about 1830. (A reproduction can be purchased in park shops.) Don't miss the a painting apparently commissioned by the British commander who took the fort in 1814 to depict his victorious capture of two American ships; the sword given by the American commander to his British counterpart in surrendering the fort in 1812; and a beautiful miniature birchbark canoe embellished with porcupine quills, sold in a Victorian-era souvenir shop.
♦ The MUSEUM SHOP downstairs in the 1859 Soldiers' Barracks has, like all MSHP gift shops, unusual, carefully selected items relating to each attraction's theme and history.
♦ If you come with children, the hands-on KIDS' QUARTERS in the Officers' Stone Quarters are a must-do. Kids can play a giant fife, pretend to fire a cannon, see Victorian shadow boxes of fort life with audio recordings, try Morse code, play two versions of checkers (soldiers' favorite way to kill time), and take photos of the family as soldiers in a painted military mural. A special kids' gift shop offers unusual things related to the fort, sometimes quite inexpensive.
♦ The WEST BLOCKHOUSE has a terrific view.
♦ The TEA ROOM and RESTAURANT offers excellent food from Grand Hotel kitchens, on a terrace looking out over town, harbor, and straits. A little bit of heaven! Now open until 7:30 in summer. Sample fare: foot-long beef hot dog with onions and cheese ($7), sloppy joes with jicama-apple salad ($8); turkey and roast garlic wrap ($8.50), Caesar salad with grilled chicken ($10.50), the signature Grand Pecan Ball ($6, enough for two), half sandwich and soup ($9.50), and for dinner, appetizers, blackened whitefish ($21), chilled soup sampler ($7), braised lamb shank ($28), grilled steak burger ($13), all with vegetable and potato.
|The Tea Room balcony, a splendid spot on a sunny summer day.|
Other fort buildings appeal to various interests: the schoolhouse (more authentic to period than most old-fashioned schoolhouses), the commissary (insight into provisioning over the long winter), and tubs in the post bathhouse. (Modern restrooms also have info on early indoor plumbing of the era!)
Up from Marquette Park just east of downtown. (906) 847-3328. Open daily from early May into early Oct. From mid June into mid/late August open from 9:30 to 6. In spring and fall open 9-4. General admission: $10.50/adult, $6.50 ages 5-17. Includes admission to state park houses on historic Main Street. Or buy $65 Family Heritage pass for unlimited admissions in one year. Handicap access: take sidewalk on Fort St. up to Avenue of Flags entrance. (Motorized chair required.)
Return to City of Mackinac Island
POINTS OF INTEREST
Island hub by the Arnold Dock/ Main St. between Astor and Fort. The nexus of myriad useful things: an information kiosk, carriage tours, bike rentals, a grocery, a drug store, a visitor center ... more
Market Street, 1820s fur trade center. At the 1820s center of John Jacob Astor's Great Lakes fur trade, see period cooking and spinning in a French-Canadian house; a blacksmith shop; and the reconstructed store where the permanent hole in a voyageur's stomach led to understanding digestion ... more
Mackinac Island shops and amusements. Among downtown's souvenir, gift, and fudge shops are unusual businesses featuring good flying toys, a haunted house, magic and gags, artists creating expressionist landscapes and scrimshaw engravings, art and accessories, and good books. ... more
An eastside walk to Mission Point. A half-mile eastside walk to Mission Point passes lots of history, with stops at two of Michigan's oldest churches at Ste. Anne's and Mission churches and possibly the Mackinac Island Butterfly House. ... more
Ste. Anne's Catholic Church. The parish goes back to 1700 and before. Parishoners have included French-Canadian and Native American traders, Irish fishing families, and the late Senator Phil Hart, among others. It has a small museum and charming garden ... more
Somewhere in Time movie locations. Fans of this Christopher Reeve/Jane Seymour cult classic can get a map and visit its filming locations. Hundreds come for October's SIT weekend; thousands are in its fan club. ... more