Mackinac Island, MI
Jun 10, 2009
|The vacation is over and we are back on the road. I am obviously behind in my blogging. So please bear with me as I recount Mackinac Island and the days following.
After a couple of days in the beautiful area of Charlevoix, we travelled to Mackinaw City to the Starliner Ferry. I was wowed by the efficiency, speed and care the ferry operators loaded up our ton of luggage for transport to the island. There is six of us, each with one large suitcase and a minimum of two carry-ons, plus a couple of coolers, large duffel with food, four sets of golf clubs. Just a lot of stuff. It was all piled high on a luggage cart, then wrapped in strong plastic wrap. At first I though the plastic wrap was to keep our stuff dry, but I really think it was to keep all the stuff together on the cart. J.C. and I paid $8 each for a bicycle license and brought our own bicycles on the island. The bicycle rentals on the island run about $5 per hour. The weather was not cooperative and we never did get to ride the bikes around the island like we wanted to.
We did, however, get a wonderful private horse and carriage ride around the island the first full day. My sister in law arranged this little jaunt. It was intended to let us see the island and figure our how we would spend the rest of the week. The first two days the weather was windy and cold but dry allowing us to see the island, the little town and get our shopping behind us . The rest of our stay was very wet and cold. J.C. and I did join Kathy and Gerry at the end of our stay to play golf on the oldest golf course in Michigan. This course is as original as it possibly could be. The weather had cleared some by now, but the course was very soggy. We had fun nevertheless.
There are several museums, Fort Mackinac, shopping and restaurants. This place is a great vacation spot for riding bicycles, riding horses and buggies, playing golf, eating and shopping. Today the island is known for it's fudge and confections. Visitors are referred to as "fudgies". Walking down Main St. you will find every 3rd store is a candy shop. Really!!
So the weather was kind of lousy which gave us lots of time to read, watch movies and be couch potatoes. We were fortunate that our accommodations were large suites with full kitchens. We ate out a few of our meals, but otherwise had groceries and dining out leftovers.
This week was also the annual Lilac Festival. Each day a different mansion opens up itself to the public for a tour ($10 for each tour). Unfortunately, the weather had been unseasonably cool and wet so the blossoms were not open yet. They were just coming into their own on the day we left. They are still my favorite flower and a childhood memory.
I learned a lot about the history of the island. Starting with the unusual name. American indians paddled to the island in the summers during the "Woodland Period" (1000 B.C. to 1650 A.D.). The natives referred to these waters as the "home of the fish" because the fish was so plentiful here, and considered the island to be a sacred place naming it "Michilimackinac". This word means "the place of the great turtle". The hump backed island joins the waters of lake Michigan and Huron. In the mid-17th century, French settlers gave at least 55 spellings to the name but eventually Michiimackinac (with the silent "c") stuck. This name was originally given to just the island, but eventually given to the entire Straits of Mackinac region. by the 1820's the name was shortened to Mackinac (pronounced mak-in-aw). Mackinaw City adopted the "aw" spelling to alleviate the confusion for the postal carriers.
The French were the first Europeans to settle on the island building Fort Michilimackinac, an important depot for the upper Great Lakes fur trade. The British took over the outpost in 1761 after their victory in the Seven Years War. The British moved the location of the fort to it's location of today and built the village below where it flourishes today.
The fort and island became United States territory by 1814 at the end of the America Revolution. Commercial fishing replaced fur trading by the 1830's. Trade routes which once carried canoes filled with furs now served as shipping lanes for fleets of schooners and steamboats connecting the island with its markets.
After the war, the island became a peaceful summer place to escape the tragedies of war. This was America's second national park. Three years earlier Yellowstone had been established. As the number of visitors increased and demand for overnight accommodations grew construction of hotels and cottages flourished but could not keep up with the demand. In 1875 the palatial Grand Hotel opened its doors. By the 1890's magnificent mansions were constructed in keeping with the new standard set by the Grand Hotel. Today, guests still attend afternoon teas and formal attire is required for dinner.
Fudge and sweet treats were introduced a few years after the opening of the Grand Hotel. By the 1920's fudge became the island's number one sweet souvenir.
After 115 years of service. the United States Army removed the soldiers from Fort Mackinac in 1895. The fort and national park were transferred to the state. Three years later the first automobile was introduced on the island. The cars frightened the horses and threatened the carriage tour business. The tour drivers petitioned the village council and the horseless carriages were banned from the island. This was the major act which has preserved the island's late 1800's atmosphere.
The island has a population explosion in the summer with seasonal workers and visitors. The year round population is around 500 people. The visitor season runs May to September. It is estimated that about 750,000 visitors travel to the island. Many of these visitors are day visitors. Hopping on the ferry and spending the day on a beautiful island and unique state park with natural limestone formations such as Skull Cave, Arch Rock and Sugar Loaf.
There are approximately 100 carriages and over 400 horses on the island in the summer. Each horse and carriage driver is responsible for the horses and carriage they drive. This includes keeping the carriage clean, the feeding and grooming of the horses. It is a labor of love because they make around minimum wage plus tips.
Winter changes this island into a completely different world. As I previously mentioned, snow mobiles become the primary mode of transportation. With the population at a minimum, the effects of the fuel is at a minimum. Many of the horses are moved off the island. Carriages/taxis are still needed in the winter.
Transportation to island comes from St. Ignace. There is the Mackinac Bridge which crosses the Straits of Mackinac to St. Ignace. One ferry line stays open during the winter and can travel most of the winter. The Straits of Makcinac does freeze over. As a matter of fact, when frozen, the locals place the Christmas trees with a light to guide those adventurous folks that try to cross the frozen landscape.
There is a wonderful two-disk DVD about the island that is worth the money. There is a lot to this small island. We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.