Fort Wilkins Historic State Park

Location: Copper Harbor, Michigan

Webpage: Michigan State Park

General Description: Fort Wilkins Historic State Park is a restored frontier fort constructed in 1844 primarily to protect the copper miners on the Keweenah Peninsula from the Native Americans.  However, the fort proved to be unnecessary as the Ojibwas largely accepted the large influx of miners to the area and for the most part the miners were law-abiding immigrants more interested in making a living then causing problems.  “The Army built 27 structures, including a guardhouse, powder magazine, 7 officer’s quarters, two barracks, two mess halls, hospital, storehouse, sutler’s store, quartermaster’s store, bakery, blacksmith’s shop, carpenter’s shop, icehouse, four quarters for married enlisted men, stables, and a slaughter house, to house the operations of two full-strength infantry companies.”  Some of these structures survived and more were rebuilt beginning with the WPA in the 1930s.  Initially two companies of soldiers were stationed here but with the outbreak of the Mexican-American War, these companies were sent to the Mexican front in 1846 leaving the fort in the hands of a single caretaker. In 1855 the fort was leased to Dr. John Livermore who hoped to open a health resort, but his plan fell through in 1861.  Following the Civil War the fort was reopened from 1867-1870 for veterans to serve out the remainder of their enlistments from the war, after which the fort was abandoned.  In 1923 the site became part of a Michigan state park and renovations and rebuilding began.

Brochure

Impressions:

1) They have done a very good job in renovating and rebuilding most of the structures of the original fort.  Most of the buildings have exhibits about both periods the fort was occupied, which is greatly enhanced by volunteers acting out their roles in period dress.  We learned quite a bit about life on the frontier where the soldiers were cut off from supplies and pay for months of the year when Lake Superior was to treacherous for sailing ships.  However, it was only occupied for two years before the Mexican-American War and saw no action, so all you learn is about how isolated and tedious their existence was.  While the summer months are very pleasant, the winter months would have been brutal.