Friday, July 8, 2022

5/16/22: Magical Mackinac Island & Lake Huron Circle Oddities to Saginaw, MI!

Steven and I had wanted to visit Mackinac Island for years and years but its fairly remote location on Michigan's Upper Peninsula had precluded us from visiting until this extensive road trip. The Upper Peninsula, or UP as it's commonly referred to, is a forested region in Michigan bordering three of the Great Lakes and extending outward from Wisconsin. Sandwiched between the two peninsulas is Mackinac Island, a car-free vacation destination with the iconic 1887 Grand Hotel and the Victorian-era Fort Mackinac.

Access to the island is by a 15-minute ferry ride across the Straits of Mackinac on Lake Huron. The shuttle driver who drove us to the dock warned us not to miss the final 8pm ferry back to Mackinaw City as we'd have to swim back in the 50-degree water! We knew this road trip would involve a lot of ferry trips and even though this may be the shortest one, it was still a delightful trip across the water.

A view from the ferry of the village of Mackinaw City located on the northern tip of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula:

The roughly 5-mile-long Mackinac Bridge connected Michigan’s Upper and Lower Peninsula.

Approaching Mackinac Island:

Our first view of the island's iconic Grand Hotel:

As I mentioned at the end of my last post, arriving on the car-free island was like stepping back in time with carriages and horse-drawn wagons aplenty rolling up and down the cobblestoned streets!

The Lake View House as it was originally known, was one of the oldest continuously operating hotels on Mackinac Island, having been built in 1858. When the island became a tourist mecca for those in the Midwest in the 1890s, the hotel was enlarged and the two towers were added. It was made even bigger in the 1960s and 1970s.

There were several walking tours that sounded intriguing on the island. We chose to walk first around the west shore to get a sense of the island from the water before heading inland.

We soon noticed how common it would be to see people riding bicycles on the island and learned it's a cyclists' paradise as Lake Shore Boulevard aka M-185 is the only state highway where cars are banned!

Facing the straits was this lemon-colored stunner!

Once the Round Island Lighthouse was completed in 1895, it was in continuous use for 52 years until its beacon was replaced by an automatic light in 1924.  A single lighthouse keeper occupied and operated the station from 1924-1947 but the lighthouse was abandoned after a new automatic beacon was constructed near the breakwater off the island's south shore.

Knowing intellectually there were no cars on the island was one thing but it was still odd seeing a wagon making deliveries on the island!

The rear of the Mackinac Island Public School faced the waterfront. 

One of the most unusual things we've ever seen was this replica of The Fisherman's Wedding by Thomas Moran on the shore! How marvelous having an art treasure on the beach.

A few steps further along the beach a stone marked the spot where a scene from the movie Somewhere in Time starring Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour was filmed. As the movie was about the story of a man who goes back in time to meet the woman of his dreams, Mackinac Island's Victorian scenery and the palatial Grand Hotel were the perfect backdrop for the story set in 1912.

From the shore, we had our first view of the Grand Hotel that we'd first seen from the ferry. Rather than returning to town and reaching the hotel by road, we were able to scramble up a path through the woods to see the entire hotel - certainly not the 'grand' entrance to the Grand Hotel!

The Grand Hotel opened in July of 1887 after being built of Michigan white pine by the Grand Rapids & Indiana & Michigan Central Railroads and the Detroit and Cleveland Navigation Company. Its magnificent 600-foot colonial porch is said to be the longest in the world. The world's largest summer hotel, described as a "classic example of gracious living seldom seen today," is also one of the outstanding landmarks of the Great Lakes.

The hotel was built to accommodate the increasing number of late 19th-century summer visitors who arrived by railroad and steam-powered passenger boats to escape the city's heat and hay fever. A sign in front of the hotel indicated that proper dress was required at the hotel and stipulated men must be attired in coats and ties after 6pm and women were not allowed to wear slacks. We could have paid $20 to enter the hotel but declined.

Some views of the dreamy hotel's expansive front lawn:

Some visitors to the island chose to take horse-drawn carriage tours but we stuck to our two feet as a way of seeing more of the island.

Walking back to town we passed the Little Stone Congregational Church which was only open during the tourist season. Its attractive stained-glass windows depicted scenes from Mackinac history.

Looking back from the church toward the hotel:

Even Amazon deliveries are made by horse-drawn wagons!

The Biddle House on Market St. was probably the oldest on the island with parts dating from 1780. It was described as an example of the "Quebec rural style" which I never had heard of before even though I grew up just a few miles away in the neighboring province of Ontario. The Biddles were Mackinac Island merchants who moved in around 1830.

The old Michilimackinac (the island's original name until it was shortened) County Courthouse from 1839 was now the island's police department and jail. An important legal case, People v. Pond, was heard here before being appealed to the Michigan Supreme Court. It established that "a man's house is his castle" and he had the right to use forceful means to protect it.

During the peak of the fur trade, Market St. was bustling with activity with Native Americans, traders, and trappers coming in the thousands each July and August from winter camps in Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. When the War of 1812 ended, John Jacob Astor established the northern departmental headquarters of the American Fur Company on Mackinac Island. Robert Stuart served as the company's resident manager and used this home as his home and office. Furs valued at $3,000,000 passed through the Market St. offices at the Robert Stuart House by 1822, making Astor the country's first millionaire and the richest man in the country. The fur trade continued here on the island until 1834 when it moved westward. 

Between the Courthouse and Stuart House was the large Astor Warehouse where furs were stored.

Next to the Stuart House was just about the cutest US Post Office I've ever seen except for the one in Seaside, Florida, on the Panhandle but I'm a bit biased since Steven and I had been heading down to the Seaside area every summer for about the last 15 years.!

On the corner of Market and Fort streets was the American Fur Company Store. The store was perhaps more notable as it was the location on June 6, 1822, when French-Canadian voyageur, Alexis St. Martin, was accidentally shot in the stomach from three feet away. While Dr. William Beaumont was able to keep St. Martin alive, he still had a permanent opening into his stomach. Beaumont conducted 250 experiments on St. Martin's stomach to observe the workings of the human stomach and its digestive process. Eight years later, Beaumont published a groundbreaking book on his discovery of the digestive process.

Across from the fur company store was Marquette Park, a lovely place nowadays to rest in the sun and watch boats and people pass by but years ago, the park's location below Fort Mackinac meant it was used by the fort's soldiers as a garden. Even though there was a short growing season in northern Michigan, this plot of land could normally be counted on to produce a bountiful crop of vegetables that greatly supplemented their daily diet of meat and bread.

This was our first view of Fort Mackinac which was situated at the top of the hill overlooking Marquette Park. We would see more of it later that day.

Fort Michilimackinac was moved from the present-day Mackinaw City on the mainland to this spot on the island in 1780 by British commander Patrick Sinclair during the American Revolution. The island was chosen because its high limestone bluff would protect his soldiers from an attack by Americans. The fort remained an active military post until United States soldiers left in 1895. All the buildings were original and had been constructed by soldiers who lived and worked there.

In the middle of Marquette Park was a statue honoring Jesuit priest Father Jacques Marquette who established a Jesuit mission on the island in 1670 after arriving in the New World from France in 1666 at the age of 29. 

When he was sent to the Sault Ste. Marie mission in northern Michigan, Marquette ministered to both Ojibway and Huron Indians. In 1671, Father Marquette brought a band of Hurons to Mackinac Island as they had been looking for a home since being driven out of southern Ontario by Iroquois warriors in the 1650s.

The agriculturally-based Hurons soon discovered the island's thin soil wouldn't support their crops, though, and moved to more fertile lands on the north shore of the straits. In 1673, Marquette helped explore and chart the Mississippi River and open the Upper Midwest for settlement. The Missionary Bark Chapel:

Opposite the bark chapel was the Trinity Episcopal Church which was built in 1862 with the assistance of the fort's soldiers, Unlike the Congregational church by the hotel, Trinity is a year-round parish.

The Mackinac Art Museum was located in the former Indian Dormitory that had been built in 1836 for Great Lakes Native Americans to live in when they came to collect the annual payments they were owed after trading away their rights to Michigan lands in the 1836 Treaty of Washington. However, because the native people preferred to camp in lodges on the beach, the building was used mostly as a payment distribution center and office until it was closed in 1848. It then became the Mackinac Island Public School from 1860 until 1961 when the new school we'd seen was built on the west end of the island.

Directly opposite the former Dormitory was an 8.5-foot-tall replica of the Statue of Liberty that had been originally donated to the island in 1950 by the Boy Scouts of America. The statue was restored in 2014 after battling the elements and overlooking the harbor for over 50 years.

The island's oldest operating hotel was the 1852 Island House which had been constructed by the first of many Irish settlers who emigrated from counties Galway and Mayo beginning in 1830. 

Next door was the 1820 Harbour View Inn. Its historic section had originally been a private home used by a female fur trader who took up control of her murdered husband's fur business and then became one of the leading merchants in the upper Great Lakes.

Ste. Anne's Catholic Church could trace its roots to a 1670 mission on the island that was later moved to the south side of the Straits of Mackinac. In 1742, the first church dedicated to Ste. Anne was constructed and moved across the ice to the island where it was placed below the fort. It was moved to its current location facing the harbor in 1874 and restored in 1996 to its 1890s appearance. It is the country's oldest parish dedicated to Ste. Anne with baptismal records dating back to 1695!

Trash collection!

Further along Main St. was Mission Church which represented the world of New England Protestants among Native Americans at Mackinac. 

I learned its austere interior and sparse furnishings were characteristic of the Calvinist religion brought to the frontier by missionaries. After the decline of the fur trade, the church was sold and it was later used for political meetings, plays, and Catholic services while the current Ste. Anne's was being built.

At the end of Main St. was Mission Point Resort which was constructed for adherents of the Moral Re-Armament Association which flourished on Mackinac Island in the 1950s and 1960s. It was later deeded to the short-lived Mackinac College before being purchased by TV evangelist Rex Humbard in 1971. When he failed to make a go of it, it became a summer hotel in 1977.

The views of and from Mission Point were equally as stunning as those from the Grand Hotel we'd seen on our approach to the island. Ellen and Lezlie: I was so taken by the sight of the chairs facing the waterfront as I would be a few weeks later in Newfoundland where chairs had also been strategically placed to take advantage of to-die-for views.

From the resort, we walked along Lake Shore Rd. to the East Bluff which was all part of the Mackinac Island State Park. This was the road that was the only car-free 'highway' in the state I'd mentioned earlier!

Dwightwood Spring was one of many natural springs on the island where cool water seeped through the limestone bedrock. Since the canopy and benches were built over a hundred years ago, it's become a popular resting spot.

We climbed up what felt like a gazillion steps to reach Arch Rock 
which rose 146 feet above the water and spanned 50 feet at its widest point. Thank goodness, the view from the rock had been worth every step!

Geologists have explained that the arch was formed over millennia by wind and water eroding the soft rock below which left only the hard breccia rock which formed the arch.

Rather than retracing our steps, we followed the Mackinac Island Botanical Trail back to town to see the diverse flora in a variety of habitats on the way. We spotted plenty of paper birch trees that had been popular for canoe-building by Native Americans.

As many of the island's trees had been cut out for firewood during the early military period, the forest contained trees from the late 19th century. 

Tall and stately white pines that were limbless for the first ten feet had clusters of fine needles.

The biodiversity of plants on the island was comprised of a combination of native and non-native plants. About 200 of the 600 plants found on the island were non-native and arrived after the first European settlers. Some were brought to be used in gardens, farms, or as ornamental plantings while others arrived accidentally as seeds in hay, soil delivered to the island, or by waves, birds, or on the shoes of island visitors. 

The trail ended at Fort Mackinac's Parade Ground where 19th-century soldiers practiced marching, bayonet skills, and other military drills. By 1843, the parade ground was formally developed and fenced, and in the 1870s stables and housing for non-commissioned officers were built on the edge of the ground. The Fort Mackinac Base Ball Club played games here against other teams from northern Michigan as of 1885. A grandstand for 500 spectators was added in 1887 with fans paying 25 cents apiece. 

I'm hoping you can visualize our hike around the island as we had come full circle and now reached the entrance to the fort that we'd only seen before from Marquette Park below.

We had neither the time nor interest to tour the fort so strolled over to the gazebo used in the filming of Somewhere in Time. Except for a few scenes filmed in Chicago, the entire 1979  movie was shot on the island. After the gazebo was built for the movie, it was donated to the island for everyone's enjoyment. 

While taking a dirt path toward Anne's Tablet, I thought of you, Phil, when I saw the phrase No hammocking as you've commented on sometimes having to look up uniquely North American words I use. However, in my defense on this one, I'd never seen or heard of 'hammocking' before! 

The tablet was a memorial to the novelist and Mackinac Island summertime resident Constance Fenimore Woodson who set several of her fictional works, including the novel Anne, on the island.

A view of the straits from above the town:

Heading down the steep hill to the village:

None too soon we arrived at a place near and dear to my heart - one of the island's many fudge shops! Two years after the Grand Hotel was built, the island's first 'candy kitchen' was opened by Henry Murdick. His shop offered sweet treats such as hand-dipped chocolates, salt water taffy, and creamy fudge. After the latter became the island's best-selling sweet souvenir, more than a dozen shops offer fudge to other sweet-tooth visitors like myself. Of course, I had to do my due diligence and buy some from a couple purveyors!

Your smile for the day if not the week!

Even though Steven and I were only on Mackinac for about six hours, I loved every moment of our visit as it was so, so different from anything we've toured before. The island captivated me from the moment I stepped foot on it until we caught the ferry back to Mackinaw City. If you're ever anywhere close, I urge you to take a step back in time over on Mackinac Island. I know you won't regret it!

After returning to Mackinaw City, we stopped briefly at the Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse whose light was opposite the turning point for ships making the difficult passage through the Straits of Mackinac, one of the busiest crossroads on the Great Lakes. This was established in 1890 when the light from a lighthouse two miles away was not visible from all directions. We were so accustomed to seeing white lighthouses everywhere else in the US, this style caught us off-guard. 

View of the Mackinac Bridge from the lighthouse:

For the rest of the day, we followed the Lake Huron Circle Tour just as we'd completed the Lake Michigan Circle Tour the previous day. likewise stopping at a few sights that caught our attention.

It may sound ludicrous but even though we were on a four-plus-month-long road trip, we just didn't have the time to explore the Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Trail and visit each of the lighthouses to connect with the lake's maritime past.

We did stop, though, at 40 Mile Point Lighthouse where we found out it was needed because there had been in the late 1880s an 18-mile stretch of water where boats were in complete darkness and the Lighthouse Board wanted mariners to always be in sight of a light. The lighthouse was built in 1897 as a duplex to house the lighthouse keeper, his assistant, and their families. Once the operation of lighthouses was taken over by the US Coast Guard in 1939, this facility was manned until 1969 when the light was automated. They still are today!

The adjacent signal building:

The bunkhouse:

Believe me, you'll be seeing lots more of these iconic Adirondack/Muskoka chair photos in upcoming posts as I couldn't get enough of these picturesque shots!

Nope, we hadn't been teleported to the Florida Panhandle quite yet - this was still Michigan!

We followed the trail led from the lighthouse down to the site of a shipwreck off the beach.

The Joseph S. Fay, a 216-foot steamer, was battered and eventually sunk during a fierce storm in October of 1905 just offshore from this spot. Only one crew member was claimed by Lake Huron - the rest of the crew were able to scramble into a lifeboat and safely make it to shore after a harrowing night at sea. A dozen ships were claimed in the same violent storm!

Part of the 100-year-old steamer in shallow water just yards from the lighthouse:

In Rogers City on the way to Saginaw in central Michigan where we were staying for the night, we stopped for a moment so I could take this rather cheesy photo!

In the distance was Calcite Plant, the world's largest limestone quarry that we were determined to get closer to!

The Calcite Quarry is approximately 5 miles long, 2 miles wide, and up to 150 feet deep. Since 1912, it had produced and shipped more than 878 million tons of limestone to customers around the lakes by low-cost water transportation! It was estimated there were still reserves for another 50-75 years so no fear of limestone running out anytime soon!

We learned when we reached the quarry that in the early days, almost all work was done manually. Calcite's first shipment of limestone was made in 1912. US Steel gained full ownership of the plant in 1928 but eventually sold it in 2008 to Carmeuse Lime & Stone who now own four quarries in North America.

Steven was later able to get us to an even better viewing area where it was like seeing the Grand Canyon of Limestone! The site went on and on and on - wow.

I can't remember a darn thing about tiny Alpena, Michigan, but this large aquarium mural was gorgeous!

Also in Alpena was this humongous eagle head in front of the Bessemer Museum!

I sure hope you haven't had your fill yet of Paul Bunyan statues as this one in front of the town's Bessmer Technical Center was made of old car parts! 

We looked and looked for a sign marking the 45th Parallel just south of Alpena but gave up after a couple of tries. Guess we had to be satisfied with the one we'd found the day before that indicated the halfway point between the North Pole and the Equator.

I did not get the connection between a statue of Christ holding a globe and these Dinosaur Gardens!

Wow - a twofer - a blue bull and another Paul Bunyan statue in tiny Ossineke, Michigan!

I promise you, this is the last Paul Bunyan statue we saw for the next 8,000 miles until, funnily enough, today in far-off North Carolina! You'll have to wait a long while until I catch up on the posts, though.

Next post: Visiting dear friends in Toronto, Canada.

Posted on July 8th, 2022, from Charlotte, North Carolina, where we arrived just for the night as we're heading down the coast to our two-week date with the beach on the Florida Panhandle. And yes, we've now driven more than 9,000 miles already in the last almost two months. How did we ever think we might drive 10,000 miles over the course of three-plus months - ha, we'll blow that out of the water for sure!


  1. Amazon delivering by horse and buggy is tooo funny. Also, enjoyed all the daffodils blooming later than Denver. Janina

  2. Glad you enjoyed both things from this post, Janina. I always wonder which piece of 'trivia' in each of my posts might capture your attention!