Market Street, 1820s fur trade center
|Market Street’s white buildings, now used by the city, were built by John Jacob Astor for his fur headquarters. The City Museum gives a good overview of island history through well chosen and well interpreted artifacts. This print shows the fur-trading village on the beach not long after the fort was built in 1780.|
Market Street was the chief business street during the latter years of the fur-trading era, from 1800 or so into the 1830s and 1840s. Many buildings from that era remain as inns and as small museums, most part of the state park.
The white city buildings were once warehouses of John Jacob Astor's American Fur Company. The current medical center is on Market across from Hoban.
|The little McGulpin house, clearly an example of late 18th century French-Canadian construction, may be one of the houses moved across the ice from Fort Michillimackinac to the new trading center at Mackinac Island in 1780. That would mean it’s the oldest house in Michigan.|
Here are special points of interest, arranged from Fort Street south.
♦ McGULPIN HOUSE. The house's steep roof and construction details show that it was built using French-Canadian construction techniques of the late 18th century. It may be the oldest house still standing in Michigan. It's one of the Fort Michilimackinac buildings moved across the ice to Mackinac Island when the fort was relocated to the more defensible island. Architectural interpretation includes cutaway sections showing layers of wall, wallpapers on in, and paint colors. Original rafters are exposed, too. On Market at Fort. Handicap access: one step. 31" door. See after Biddle House for admission.
|The famous gunshot wound that left a hole revealing for the first time what happens when the stomach digests food. It happened right on here on the island.|
♦ Dr. BEAUMONT MUSEUM/1820 AMERICAN FUR COMPANY STORE. This reconstructed building is on the site of the original company store where, in 1822, voyageur Alexis St. Martin suffered an accidental gunshot wound with far-reaching scientific consequences. Half of the building is furnished like a trading post store, with trade goods used to get furs, and personal items needed by traders and voyageurs over the long winter.
The hole in St. Martin's stomach never healed, so Dr. William Beaumont, then the Fort Mackinac post surgeon, was able to conduct experiments by dangling small pieces of food tied on silk thread into St. Martin's stomach and observing the results hours later. Beaumont became known as "the father of gastric physiology" and "America's first great medical scientist" as a result. St. Martin needed a flap in his stomach and could no longer work paddling canoes, so he became the Beaumont family handyman for awhile. That position permitted the first in three rounds of experiments with the cooperative French-Canadian. St. Martin returned to his family and lived until the age of 86.
Beaumont's interesting medical career as a frontier doctor — with the army and in private practice in St. Louis, Missouri from 1834 until his death in 1855 — is well told in an unusually interesting, far-reaching genealogical web site, www.james.com/
Don't miss scrolling down to see the photo of Alexis St. Martin at age 81, bare-chested to show his famous wound. More stories about the hardships of Beaumont's medical practice on Mackinac can be found in Dr. William Beaumont: The Mackinac Years. The 1820 American Fur company store has been recreated here. A costumed interpreter tells about the accident, the fur trade, and Dr. Beaumont's role in medical history. On Market at Fort. Wheelchair-accessible. (906) 847-3328. Open from early/mid June into late August. Free admission with fort ticket. Wheelchair accessible.
♦ AMERICAN FUR COMPANY OFFICE/STUART HOUSE MUSEUM. This large, two-story Federal style house on Market opposite the head of Astor was built in 1820. It was the Agency House of John Jacob Astor's American Fur Company and the home of its agent, Robert Stuart. American Fur's Michigan headquarters was here, which "became a leading economic force in the city and was the center for Astor's attempt to monopolize the U.S. fur trade," according to the Michigan State Historic Preservation Office. Later it became a hotel. Now the building is a museum owned and operated by the city of Mackinac Island. It focuses on the fur trade on Mackinac, with beaver hats and pelts and lots of photographs. The Stuart House Museum is open in summer 10-4. Supported by donations. Not handicap accessible.
|Benjamin Blacksmith Shop is still operating for visitors to see today.|
♦ BENJAMIN BLACKSMITH SHOP. This working blacksmith shop dates from the mid-19th century and survived as a business for nearly a century. Today it's staffed by a blacksmith and occasional volunteers. They forge candleholders, horseshoes, and other things that can be purchased. On Market between Astor and Hoban, set back next to the Biddle House. Wheelchair-accessible.
♦ EDWARD BIDDLE HOUSE. The house, another French-Canadian-style house that's among Michigan's oldest buildings, goes back to the late 18th century. The Michigan Society of Architects bought it in 1959, refurbished it, and furnished it for the state historic parks. Edward Biddle, a fur trader, purchased the house in 1832. His lived here with his wife, Agatha, an Odawa-Métis woman and lifelong Straits-area resident. Visitors learn about the Biddle family. Edward was one of the prominent Philadelphia Biddles, a first cousin of Nicholas Biddle, president of the United States Bank.
In the main room, one costumed interpreter cleans and cards wool, then spins it on a spinning wheel, and knits it. In the kitchen, food is prepared as it would have been when the Biddles lived here. On Market between Astor and Hoban, set back next to the Biddle House. On Market at Fort. Wheelchair-accessible. (906) 847-3328. Open from early/mid June into late August 11-6. Free admission with fort ticket.
|Legends of America|
JOHN JACOB ASTOR
On Mackinac Island you're sure to hear that John Jacob Astor was America'a first millionaire and that Mackinac fur made him that first million. Astor's story seems a bit more complex. A smart, ambitious wife, a habit of thrift, hard work, and good luck all helped the fourth son of a butcher from the south German village of Waldorf to accumulate his millions. On the ship he first took to the U.S. in 1783, he happened to meet a furrier who told him that money was to be made buying furs from Indians and selling them to furriers in large cities. In New York City he mastered the details of the business with his wife, traveling to London for sales and forming connections up the Mohawk River to buy directly from Indians.
By 1809 Astor already had $250,000 to invest. He sought Congressional funding for his a plan to take the American fur trade out of the hands of the Hudson Bay Company in Canada by setting up a chain of trading posts from the Great Lakes to the Pacific, and by then acquiring one of the Sandwich Islands for vessels to stop over on the way to China and India. He did establish Astoria, Oregon at the Columbia River's mouth. But the War of 1812 disrupted his grand plan by putting Mackinac Island in British hands and interfering with Great Lakes shipping. (Washington Irving's Astoria told the story of his plan.) Astor bought government bonds instead, which doubled in value.
In John Jacob Astor: America's First Multimillionaire author Axel Madsen stressed the role of Astor's fur business in opening the west. Madsen pointed out how Astor was astute at exploiting new business opportunities (he also traded in tea and opium) and knew when to get out of fur and trading. When New York's business and residential districts were downtown south of the numbered streets, Astor bought up vacant land to the north, put up both fine buildings and tenements, and became a landlord — laying the foundation for his third fortune, in New York real estate, the basis of his descendants' fortunes. They built the first Waldorf-Astoria hotel in 1893. (Its story, which parallels the Grand Hotel's in a way, is told in Ward Morehouse III's The Story of the Waldorf-Astoria, America's Gilded Dream.) Astor's Mackinac operations certainly added to his wealth, but didn't play a prominent role in Madsen's thoroughly researched biography. It mentions Mackinac only 14 times and Robert Stuart 19 times. Readers faulted the book for spending too much space on the fur trade, not enough on the person or his real estate.
All historic houses are on Market Street between Astor and Fort. (906) 847-3328. The ticket for Fort Mackinac includes admission to the Mackinac State Historic Parks' four small museum buildings (McGulpin house, Dr. Beaumont Museum/American Fur Company Store, Benjamin Blacksmith Shop, and Biddle House) plus Mission Church on the way to Mission Point. Or you can buy separate admission for $5, $3 for/children 5-17. They are open from mid June into late August from 11 to 6.
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