|Native name: |
Topographic map of Mackinac island
|Major islands||Mackinac, Bois Blanc, Round|
|Area||4.35 sq mi (11.3 km2)|
|Coastline||8 mi (13 km)|
|Highest elevation||890 ft (271 m)|
|Highest point||Fort Holmes|
|Largest settlement||Mackinac Island (pop. 492)|
|Pop. density||41.68 /km2 (107.97 /sq mi)|
Cyclists on M-185 (Main Street) at mile marker 0 in downtown Mackinac Island
|Location||Mackinac Island, Michigan|
|NRHP reference #||66000397|
|Added to NRHP||October 15, 1966|
|Designated NHLD||October 9, 1960|
|Designated MSHS||July 19, 1956|
Mackinac Island (// MAK-in-aw) is an island and resort area, covering 4.35 square miles (11.3 km2) in land area, in the U.S. state of Michigan. It is located in Lake Huron, at the eastern end of the Straits of Mackinac, between the state's Upper and Lower Peninsulas. The island was long home to an Odawa settlement and previous indigenous cultures before European colonization began in the 17th century. It was a strategic center of the fur trade around the Great Lakes. Based on a former trading post, Fort Mackinac was constructed on the island by the British during the American Revolutionary War. It was the site of two battles during the War of 1812 before the northern border was settled and the US gained this island in its territory.
In the late 19th century, Mackinac Island became a popular tourist attraction and summer colony. Many of the structures on the island have undergone extensive historical preservation and restoration. Because of its historic significance, the entire island is listed as a National Historic Landmark. It is well known for numerous cultural events; a wide variety of architectural styles, including the Victorian Grand Hotel, and its ban on almost all motor vehicles. More than 80 percent of the island is preserved as Mackinac Island State Park.
Like many historic places in the Great Lakes region, Mackinac Island's name derives from a Native American language, in this case Ojibwe language. The Anishinaable peoples in the Straits of Mackinac region likened the shape of the island to that of a turtle so they named it "Mitchimakinak" (Ojibwe: mishimikinaak) "Big Turtle". Andrew Blackbird, an official interpreter for the U.S. government and son of an Odawa chief, said the island was known locally after a tribe that had lived there. The French transliterated the work and spelled it as Michilimackinac. The British shortened it to the present name: "Mackinac." Michillimackinac is also spelled as Mishinimakinago, Mǐshǐma‛kǐnung, Mi-shi-ne-macki naw-go, Missilimakinak, Teiodondoraghie.
The Menominee traditionally lived in a large territory of 10 million acres extending from Wisconsin to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Historic references include one by Father Frederic Baraga, a Slovenian missionary priest in Michigan, who in his 1878 dictionary wrote:
Mishinimakinago; pl.-g.—This name is given to some strange Indians (according to the sayings of the Otchipwes [Ojibwe]), who are rowing through the woods, and who are sometimes heard shooting, but never seen. And from this word, the name of the village of Mackinac, or Michillimackinac, is derived.
Maehkaenah is the Menominee word for turtle. In his 1952 book The Indian Tribes of North America, John Reed Swanton recorded under the "Wisconsin" section: "Menominee," a band named "Misi'nimäk Kimiko Wini'niwuk, 'Michilimackinac People,' near the old fort at Mackinac, Mich."
In an early written history of Mackinac Island (1887) by Andrew Blackbird, the Odawa historian, he describes that a small independent tribe called "Mi-shi-ne-macki naw-go" once occupied Mackinac Island. They became confederated with the Ottawa from Ottawa Island (now Manitoulin Island), situated north of Lake Huron. One winter the Mi-shi-ne-macki naw-go on Mackinac Island were almost entirely annihilated by the Seneca people from western New York, who were one of the Five Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy. Only two of the local natives escaped by hiding in one of the natural caves at the island. To commemorate the losses of this allied tribe, the Ottawa named what is now Mackinac Island, as "Mi-shi-ne-macki-nong." In 1895 John R. Bailey, the doctor at Fort Mackinac, published a history, entitled Mackinac formerly Michilimackinac, describing some of the earliest French traders on Mackinac. They reportedly arrived in 1654 with a large party of Huron and Ottawa heading to Three Rivers; another visitor was an adventurer making a canoe voyage in 1665.
Archaeologists have excavated prehistoric fishing camps on Mackinac Island and in the surrounding areas. Fishhooks, pottery, and other artifacts establish a Native American presence at least 700 years before European exploration, around AD 900. The island is a sacred place in the tradition of some of its earliest known inhabitants, the Anishinaabe peoples. They consider it to be home of the Gitche Manitou, or the "Great Spirit". According to legend, Mackinac Island was created by the Great Hare, Michabou, and was the first land to appear after the Great Flood receded. The island was a gathering place for the local tribes, who made offerings to Gitche Manitou. It became the burial place of tribal chiefs.
The first European likely to have seen Mackinac Island is Jean Nicolet, a French-Canadian coureur des bois, during his 1634 explorations. The Jesuit priest Claude Dablon founded a mission for the Native Americans on Mackinac Island in 1670, and stayed over the winter of 1670–71. The missionary and explorer Jacques Marquette succeeded him, moving the mission to St. Ignace soon after his arrival in the region in the fall of 1671. With the mission as a focus, the Straits of Mackinac quickly became an important French fur trading location. The British took control of the Straits of Mackinac after the French and Indian War and Major Patrick Sinclair chose the bluffs of the island for Fort Mackinac in 1780.
The Jesuit Relations (1671) contains a long description of Mackinac Island:
its fisheries, its phenomena of wind and tide, and the tribes who, now and in the past, have made it their abode. A favorite resort for all the Algonkin tribes, many are returning to it since the peace with the Iroquois. On this account, the Jesuits have begun a new mission, opposite Mackinac, called St. Ignace. Thither have fled the Hurons, driven from Chequamegon Bay by fear of the Sioux, "the Iroquois of the West."
The Relations also indicate the tremendous strategic importance of Michilimackinac/Mackinac Island as
"the central point for all travel on the upper Great Lakes, and for a vast extent of wilderness and half-settled country beyond" to First Nations and Europeans (prior to the arrival of railroads). The tribes who had inhabited Mackinac Island had been driven away by the Iroquois, leaving the island practically deserted until 1670. The Huron people from Lake Superior, in fear of the Sioux, retreated to the shore north of Mackinac Island. Here Marquette continued his missionary labors with them, at the site of the present St. Ignace. The 1688 memoir of Jacques-René de Brisay de Denonville, Marquis de Denonville, claimed that the French had inhabited the area since 1648. A small French garrison was sent there some time between 1679 and 1683.
The name of Michilimackinac (later abbreviated to Mackinac) was applied generally to the entire vicinity, as well as specifically to the post at St. Ignace. Later it was applied to the fort and mission established on the south side of the Strait of Mackinac.
Although the British built Fort Mackinac to protect their settlement from attack by French-Canadians and native tribes, the fort was never attacked during the American Revolutionary War. The entire Straits area was officially acquired by the United States through the Treaty of Paris (1783). However, Britain kept forces in the Great Lakes area until after 1794, when the Jay Treaty between the nations established U.S. sovereignty over the Northwest Territory.
During the War of 1812, the British captured the fort in the Siege of Fort Mackinac, the first battle of the conflict. The Americans were caught by surprise, not knowing that war had been declared. The victorious British attempted to protect their prize by building Fort George on the high ground behind Fort Mackinac. In 1814, the Americans and British fought a second battle on the north side of the island. The American second-in-command, Major Andrew Holmes, was killed and the Americans failed to recapture the island.
By the Treaty of Ghent of 1815, the British returned the island and surrounding mainland to the U.S. The United States reoccupied Fort Mackinac, and renamed Fort George as Fort Holmes, after Major Holmes. Fort Mackinac remained under the control of the United States government until 1895. It provided volunteers to defend the Union during the American Civil War. The fort was used as a prison for three Confederate States of America sympathizers.
John Jacob Astor's American Fur Company was centered on Mackinac Island after the War of 1812 and exported beaver pelts for thirty years. By the middle of the nineteenth century, commercial fishing for common whitefish and lake trout began to replace the fur trade as the island's primary industry. As sport fishing became more popular in the 1880s, hotels and restaurants accommodated tourists coming by train or lake boat from Detroit.
Following the Civil War, the island became a popular tourist destination for residents of major cities on the Great Lakes. Much of the federal land on Mackinac Island was designated as the second national park, Mackinac National Park, in 1875, three years after Yellowstone National Park was named as the first national park. To accommodate an influx of tourists in the 1880s, the boat and railroad companies built hotels, including the Grand Hotel. Island residents established souvenir shops to profit from the tourist trade. Many wealthy business magnates built summer "cottages" along the island's bluffs for extended stays.
When the federal government left the island in 1895, it transferred all of the federal land, including Fort Mackinac, to the state of Michigan; this area was designated as Michigan's first state park. The Mackinac Island State Park Commission, appointed to oversee the island, has restricted private development in the park. In addition it requires leaseholders to maintain the island's distinctive Victorian architecture.
Motor vehicles were restricted at the end of the nineteenth century because of concerns for the health and safety of the island's residents and horses after local carriage drivers complained that automobiles startled their horses. This ban continues to the present, with exceptions only for emergency and construction vehicles. Some controversy ensued in 2019 when Vice President Mike Pence was permitted to bring a motorcade to the island.
According to the 2010 United States Census, the island has a year-round population of 492. The population grows considerably during the summer from tourists and seasonal workers. Hotels, restaurants, bars and retail shops, open only during the summer season, hire hundreds of short-term employees to accommodate as many as 15,000 visitors per day.
Mackinac Island is about 8 miles (13 km) in circumference and 4.35 square miles (11.3 km2) in total area. The highest point of the island is the historic Fort Holmes (originally called Fort George by the British before 1815), which is 320 feet (98 m) above lake level and 890 feet (271 m) above sea level.
Mackinac Island was formed as the glaciers of the last ice age began to melt around 13,000 BC. The bedrock strata that underlie the island are much older, dating to Late Silurian and Early Devonian time, about 400 to 420 million years ago. Subsurface deposits of halite (rock salt) dissolved, allowing the collapse of overlying limestones; these once-broken but now solidified rocks comprise the Mackinac Breccia. The melting glaciers formed the Great Lakes, and the receding lakewaters eroded the limestone bedrock, forming the island's steep cliffs and rock formations. At least three previous lake levels are known, two of them higher than the present shore: Algonquin-level lakeshores date to about 13,000 years ago, and the Nipissing-level shorelines formed 4,000 to 6,000 years ago. During an intermediate period of low water between these two high-water stages, the Straits of Mackinac shrank to a narrow gorge which discharged its water over Mackinac Falls, located just east of the island (beyond Arch Rock), into Lake Huron.
As the Great Lakes assumed their present levels, the waterfall was inundated and Mackinac Island took on its current size. The steep cliffs were one of the primary reasons for the British army's choice of the island for a fortification; their decision differed from that of the French army, which had built Fort Michilimackinac about 1715 near present-day Mackinaw City. The limestone formations are still part of the island's appeal. One of the most popular geologic formations is Arch Rock, a natural limestone arch, 146 feet (45 m) above the ground. Other popular geologic formations include Devil's Kitchen, Skull Cave, and Sugar Loaf.
Mackinac Island contains a wide variety of terrain, including fields, marshes, bogs, coastline, boreal forest, and limestone formations. The environment is legally preserved on the island by the State Historic Park designation. About half of the shoreline and adjacent waters off Mackinac Island, including the harbor (Haldimand Bay) and the southern and western shore from Mission Point to Pointe aux Pins, is protected as part of the Straits of Mackinac Shipwreck Preserve, a state marine park. As it is separated from the mainland by 3 miles (4.8 km) of water, few large mammals inhabit the island, except those that traverse the ice during the winter months. Rabbits, fox, raccoons, otters, mink, gray and red squirrels, and chipmunks are all common, as are the occasional beaver and coyote. Bats are the most abundant migratory mammals as crossing the water is no obstacle for them. There are many limestone caves serving as homes for the bats and many insects on the island for the bat to prey on.
The island is frequented by migratory birds on their trips between their summer and winter habitats. Eagles and hawks are abundant in April and May, while smaller birds such as yellow warblers, American redstart, and indigo bunting are more common in early summer. Near the shoreline, gulls, herons, geese, and loons are common. Owls, including snowy owls and great grey owls, come to the island from the Arctic to hunt in the warmer climate. Other birds, such as chickadees, cardinals, blue jays, and woodpeckers, live on the island year-round. Toads have also been found.
Mackinac Island contains over 600 species of vascular plants. Flowering plants and wildflowers are abundant, including trillium, lady slippers, forget-me-nots, violets, trout lily, spring beauty, hepatica, buttercups, and hawkweeds in the forests and orchids, fringed gentian, butter-and-eggs, and jack-in-the-pulpit along the shoreline. The island's forests are home to many varieties of trees, such as maple, birch, elm, cedar, pine, and spruce.
The island's newspaper is the Mackinac Island Town Crier. It has been owned and operated by Wesley H. Maurer Sr. and his family since 1957 as training for journalism. It is published weekly from May through September and monthly during the rest of the year.
The island can be reached by private boat, by ferry, by small aircraft and, in the winter, by snowmobile over an ice bridge. The airport has a 3,500-foot (1,070 m) paved runway, and daily charter air service from the mainland is available. In the summer tourist season, ferry service is available from Shepler's Ferry, and Star Line Ferry to shuttle visitors to the island from St. Ignace and Mackinaw City.
Motorized vehicles have been prohibited on the island since 1898, with the exception of snowmobiles during winter, emergency vehicles, and service vehicles. Travel on the island is either by foot, bicycle, or horse-drawn carriage. Roller skates and roller blades are also allowed, except in the downtown area. Bicycles, roller skates/roller blades, carriages, and saddle horses are available for rent.
An 8-mile (13 km) road follows the island's perimeter, and numerous roads, trails and paths cover the interior. M-185, the United States' only state highway without motorized vehicles, makes a circular loop around the island, closely hugging the shoreline.
Mackinac Island State Park covers approximately 80 percent of the area of the island and includes Fort Mackinac, as well as portions of the island's historic downtown and harbor. No camping is allowed on the island, but numerous hotels and bed and breakfasts are available.
The downtown streets are lined with many retail stores and restaurants.
Most of the buildings on Mackinac Island are built of wood, a few are of stone, and most have clapboard siding. The architectural styles on the island span 300 years, from the earliest Native American structures to the European-American styles of the 19th century.
The earliest structures were built by the Anishinaabe and Ojibwe (also called Chippewa in the United States) tribes before European exploration. At least two buildings still exist from the original French settlement of the late 18th century. Mackinac Island has the only example of northern French rustic architecture in the United States, and one of few survivors in North America.
Mackinac Island also contains examples of Federalist, Colonial, and Greek Revival styles. Given its rise as a tourist destination in the late nineteenth century, many of the island's structures were built in the later style of the Victorian era, which includes Gothic Revival, Stick style, Italianate, Second Empire, Richardson Romanesque and Queen Anne styles. The most recent architectural styles date from the late 19th century to the 1930s and include the Colonial and Tudor revival.
All of Mackinac Island was listed as a National Historic Landmark in October 1960. In addition, because of the island's long history and preservation efforts starting in the 1890s, eight separate locations on the island, and a ninth site on adjacent Round Island, are listed in the United States National Register of Historic Places.
Mackinac Island is home to many cultural events, including an annual show of American art from the Masco collection of 19th-century works at the Grand Hotel. Five art galleries operate on the island.
Since 1949, the island's residents have been celebrating the island's native lilacs with an annual spring 10-day festival. It culminates in a parade of horse-drawn vehicles, which has been recognized as a local legacy event by the Library of Congress.
The July 20, 2019 running of the Port Huron to Mackinac Boat Race was the 95th such annual event, with 202 sailboats registered in the 204-nautical mile-race from Port Huron to the island.  The race was reported to have continued over the years in spite of wars and economic depressions. A similar sailboat race from Chicago to the island, most recently held on July 20 to 23, 2019, was the 111th event in the Chicago Yacht Club Race to Mackinac, with 266 sailboats competing.
The island is a destination for many regionally and nationally proclaimed conferences, including the Mackinac Policy Conference.
Every summer, Mackinac Island accommodates up to 54 Michigan Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts and their leaders over alternate weeks. These scouts serve the state park as the Mackinac Island Governor's Honor Guard. The program began in 1929, when the State Park Commission invited eight Eagle Scouts, including young Eagle Scout Gerald Ford, later President of the United States to serve as honor guards for the Michigan governor.
In 1983, the program was expanded by Governor James J. Blanchard to include Girl Scouts. The program is popular, selective, and a long-standing tradition. Scouts raise and lower twenty-six flags on the island, serve as guides, and complete volunteer service projects during their stay. These Scouts live in the Scout Barracks behind Fort Mackinac.
Mackinac Island is the destination for two sailing races. The island has a sailing club, the Mackinac Island Yacht Club. It serves as the finish line for both the Port Huron to Mackinac Race and the Chicago Yacht Club Race to Mackinac. The races are run a week apart, in July. They are both among the longest freshwater sailing races in the world and attract over 500 boats and 3,500 sailors combined. Both races are historical events, having been run every year since the 1920s.
The majority of the 1980 film Somewhere in Time was filmed at Mission Point on Mackinac Island. Several landmarks are visible in the film, including the Grand Hotel and the lighthouse on nearby Round Island. The film's director said he needed to "find a place that looked like it hadn't changed in eighty years."
Mackinac Island was featured on two episodes of the mid-2000s TV series Dirty Jobs. Host Mike Rowe interviewed a Mackinac Bridge maintenance worker, and a horse manure and garbage removal/composting collector.