Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Fort Mackinac on Mackinac Island, Michigan


Visited 26 Aug 2013 - Fort Mackinac (1780-1895) was a British Revolutionary War fort on Mackinac Island just off Michigan's Upper Peninsula. The British never lost this fort to an American attack but lost it twice as a result of the treaties ending the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. The fort was designated the second U.S. National Park in 1875 and garrisoned by U.S. Army troops to protect it until it was turned over to the State of Michigan in 1895.
Fort Mackinac and the Town Below
Fort Mackinac and the Town Below
Fort Holmes Earthworks & Log Sallyport
Fort Holmes Earthworks & Log Sallyport


The fort has been restored with 14 original buildings that span the life of the post. It sits on a 180' limestone bluff overlooking the harbor and Lake Huron below. The fort walls, the three blockhouse and the long inclined road up to the waterside sallyport are all painted white and create an imposing picture that almost dares an enemy to attack.

The fort only has one glaring weakness and that is the higher ground behind it. The British took care of this deficiency by building another fort, Fort Holmes, up on this peak.

1798 North Blockhouse
1798 North Blockhouse

It requires a lot of effort to visit Fort Mackinac, first you have to get to St. Ignace on Michigan's Upper Peninsula, next you have a ferry ride over to the island and third you have to figure out how to get around on an island that has no motorized vehicles. I'll cover all of that stuff at the end of this post, and for now you can assume we magically appeared at the north entrance of the fort.


1835 Officer's Hill Top Duplex Quarters
1835 Officer's Hill Top Duplex Quarters





The north entrance brings you into the fort at almost it's highest elevation and you get a great view of the fort below and the lake beyond. At this level there are three restored original buildings, the schoolhouse, the north blockhouse and the hilltop officer's quarters. These buildings, as are all of the restored buildings, furnished with period furnishings and in the case of the north blockhouse, animated figures describing the British attack on the fort. The duplex officer's hilltop quarters was especially well fitted out.

1859 Barracks
1859 Barracks
Western Defenses
Western Defenses



As you go down the stairs to the parade level the large Barracks building is on your left and straight ahead are the two officer's quarters buildings. Further off to the right is the Hospital and the western defenses. Further off to the left are the garrison buildings and the eastern defenses. The south sallyport entrance is just below the eastern defenses.

First Sergeant in His Quarters
First Sergeant in His Quarters




All of the interior displays are well worth your time but the one that really stuck in my mind was the First Sergeant's quarters. The First Sergeant is the guy who really runs the day-to-day operation of the fort and here you see him getting ready to start the day. There is an amazing sparseness that you would expect but great detail that includes the collar stiffener on the chest, the lettered footlocker on the floor and civilian clothes on the wall.



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Don't miss any of the fourteen buildings, inside and out. There is a cannon firing and rifle demonstrations throughout the day. The cannon was fired on the hour and the rifle demonstrations were every hour on the half hour. Walking tours were conducted periodically usually after the cannon firing.



1780 Stone Officer's Quarters Now the Tea Room
1780 Stone Officer's Quarters Now the Tea Room
We had lunch at the Tea Room operated by the Grand Hotel and housed in the 1780 Officer's Stone Quarters overlooking the town and harbor, good food, excellent service and a great view. Don't let the name fool you, it has regular food. 

We entered the fort from the north entrance so we departed from the south sallyport entrance. That takes you down the long inclined roadway to the town below and offers you some amazing views back up at the fort


South Sallyport Entrance
South Sallyport Entrance


Now about getting there, we took our RV up Michigan mostly on Interstate 75 and crossed the Mackinac toll bridge between Mackinaw City and St. Ignace. The bridge is 5 miles long and is a very interesting ride in an RV when there is a crosswind. 

Once you get to St. Ignace plan to stay a couple of days to allow for bad weather. Mackinac island access is by commercial ferry from St. Ignace harbor, roundtrip fare is about $25 per adult for about a 20 min ride. There are three different ferry lines. There is an additional $11 entrance fee to the fort. 

One of the Three Ferry Companies
One of the Three Ferry Companies

There are no motorized vehicles on the island and transportation there is provided by commercial bike rental companies and commercial horse drawn carriages/conveyances. The horse drawn conveyance tours offer the easiest way to get an overview of this extraordinary island but they do have a limited number of stops and it may be difficult to get good photos. The tours do stop at the north fort entrance and you can spend as much time there as you want. 
Two Horse Team in Downtown
Two Horse Team in Downtown





The best deal for non-bike riders is to purchase a package at the ferry terminal that includes the roundtrip ferry fare, fort access and the horse drawn tour, that costs about $56 per adult. Buy the $2 visitor guide sold on the ferry and on the island, it is outstanding. Make sure you pick up the fort brochure at the entrance, it has a great map of the fort.

I've only covered our fort visit but there is so much more to see on the island that you should plan for half a day for other attractions. Don't forget there is another fort on the island, Fort Holmes, on the peak behind Fort Mackinac.

For more information and pictures see the FortWiki.com pages for Fort Mackinac and Fort Holmes.

1 comment:

  1. This is one of the finest forts I have ever visited and by far and away the most fun I have had getting to one...the ferry ride over is a blast! If you are ever in the northern Michigan area, make sure to take it in...and don't forget Michillimackinac across the bridge, which tells the story of the fur trade in North America. The French, British, Native Americans and US citizens were in the fur trading business for as many years as the US has been a country...and that story is amazing!

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