Originally built on Mackinac Island, Michigan in 1780, Fort Mackinac is located at the top of a substantial bluff, making it quite a chore to get there. After walking up the long ramps and staircases, the view alone is worth the price of admission!
Like any good military fortification, Fort Mackinac was constructed on high ground to make it easily defensible during battle. It was built by the British during the American Revolution and changed hands a few times until the Treaty of Ghent in 1814 returned the land to the United States.
The Fort has been restored to its early appearance, with a series of well-done period room settings and a more modern exhibition space that explains the history of the entire island, beginning with the glaciers that formed the land itself to Mackinac Island’s modern status as a tourist destination.
We began our tour by viewing a presentation called “Heritage of Mackinac” in a theater that used to be the Post Commissary. The video provided a background of Mackinac Island’s history, which is intertwined with the history of Fort Mackinac.
Afterwards we explored the Fort’s many historic buildings, ranging from the Quartermaster’s Storehouse to the Post Hospital. We viewed a schoolhouse that was established for the children of the soldiers stationed at the Fort, various blockhouses, and barracks used by the single soldiers. The two Officers’ Quarters were very well appointed with interesting Victorian artifacts and furnishings. We also saw the bar room, complete with mannequins playing billiards.
Our favorite part of Fort Mackinac was an exhibit inside one of the guardhouses where animatronic figures move about as if they were actually engaged in battle. One of the soldiers peered through a view hole in the wall with his spyglass, and then turned to report what he saw to a fellow soldier. Lights flashed with recordings of cannons and gunshots to complete the scene, creating a true immersion experience.
We had lunch at the Tea Room Restaurant, run by Grand Hotel and overlooking the harbor. The menu was a bit too exotic for our tastes, and we had a difficult time finding something to order. Many things sounded good at first, but had some strange sauce or spice we didn’t want to try. We eventually settled on turkey sandwiches, whose cost must have included the spectacular view.
Throughout the day, first person interpreters perform a variety of cannon and rifle firing presentations on the parade grounds. We did not attend any of these demos, but the cannon firing can be heard throughout the island on a regular basis. Tour books suggest to “blend in as a local,” you should never look up at the Fort or act startled when the cannons go off!
We thoroughly enjoyed Fort Mackinac. The modern exhibits helped us understand the history of the island itself. Previously we had some idea of the order of things, but the extremely informative exhibits provided the context necessary to understand how such a wonderful place as Mackinac Island came to be.
During the summer, your ticket to Fort Mackinac includes other historic sites that were already closed for the season when we were there the week after Labor Day.
This article is excerpted from my ebook "Museum Trips! Mackinac Island." For more information, click on the link below. This travelog ebook is fully illustrated with photos of the historic sites of Mackinac Island and includes information on where to eat and where to stay on the Island.