Fort Mackinac State Historic Park

Location: Mackinac Island, Michigan

Webpage: Michigan State Park

General Description: Fort Mackinac was built by the British in 1781 during the American Revolutionary War to improve the defense of the Straits of Mackinac from the revolutionists over Fort Michilimackinac on the south coast of the straits.  The limestone bluffs and stone construction was much better than the swampy terrain and wooden Fort Michilimackinac.  For two years, the British dismantled Fort Michilimackinac, including most of the buildings and moved them to Mackinac Island over the ice in winter and by boat during the summer.  Once constructed, Fort Mackinac was occupied by the British until 1796, even though they agreed to turn over the fort to the United States in the Treaty of Paris of 1783 that ended the Revolutionary War.  In July of 1812, the Fort was the site of one of the opening conflicts of the War of 1812.  On the morning of July 17, 1812, a combined force of British and native American allies landed 70 large war canoes and 10 bateaux on the north side of the island, opposite of the fort.  The American garrison, numbering only 60 soldiers, had to surrender the fort once they were faced with cannon mounted at the highest point on the island overlooking the fort.  After taking the fort, the British built a small wooden stockade at this highest point to prevent future attacks from behind, naming it Fort George.  On July 26, 1814, the Americans attempted to retake the fort using the same tactics as the British in 1812.  However, Fort George proved to be too strong a position since its elevation prevented targeting by onship cannons.  Following this defeat the British remained in control of the Fort until 1815 after the Treaty of Ghent that ended the War of 1812.  Fort George was renamed Fort Holmes by the Americans and continued to be an important part of the fortifications on the island even though it burned multiple times from lightning strikes.  No longer needed as a front line fort, Fort Mackinac continued as a strategic troop reserve post and was manned off and on over the years until Mackinac Island became the second National Park in 1875.  For the next 20 years it was a favored post in the army as Mackinac Island became a major resort for summer visitors including the Rockefellers  and Vanderbilts.  The Army post was improved with the construction of bathhouse, flush toilets, post canteen, and a schoolhouse for the soldiers.  Fort Mackinac was turned over to the state of Michigan in 1895 becoming part of the first state park.

Impressions:

1) Fort Mackinac is being maintained in the state it was when it was turned over to the state and today contains many exhibits of soldiers life during the late 1800s.  On the second floor of the Soldier’s Barracks is a series of exhibits about the history of the island from its earliest days as a fur trading post to the later days as a resort destination.  The Post Hospital also includes exhibits about medical practices of the day along with important instruments of the profession.  Finally, the Post Canteen contains common games of the time which include billiards, as well as, the bar where spirits could be purchased by the soldiers in the hopes they would not frequent the bars in town.

2) Below the soldier’s barracks is the Tea Room, which is a nice place to grab a bite to eat.

3) Included in the price of admission to the fort are tours of four other historic buildings in town, including the Art Museum.  The other historic buildings included were the Biddle House dating from the 1870s who was a fur trader on the island after the War of 1812, the Benjamin Blacksmith Shop with a blacksmith in residence, and the American Fur Company Store and Dr. Beaumont Museum.  The Fur Company Store is where the fur traders would seek everyday items, as well as, more luxury items they could buy with their furs.  The Dr. Beaumont Museum is where you learn the interesting history of Dr. Beaumont who in 1822 began is long series of experiments into the workings of the stomach.  A fur trader, Alexis St Martin was accidentally shot in the stomach in the company store, which at the time was nearly always fatal.  However, Dr. Beaumont nursed him back to health, however, the hole in his stomach never fully healed.  The stomach lining partially covered the hole, however, it was possible to push back the flap in the stomach and insert small objects into the working stomach.  Dr. Beaumont used the opportunity to conduct thousands of experiments looking at everything from the chemistry of the stomach, the temperature, and the rate of decomposition of different foods.  While gross in the extreme, these experiments did allow to advance our understanding of human physiology in the 1800s.