Michigan's Small Town Treasures: Mackinaw City
A Summer Learning Experience: Mackinaw City
Michigan's history is rich and complex and if you want to add an educational aspect to your summer travels there are many destinations that afford fascinating learning experiences. Two that immediately pop to mind are Mackinac Island and Mackinaw City; each will be the topic of a separate column since there is simply too much happening to combine them. Look for Mackinac Island in my next column.
Mackinaw City perches at the top of the Lower Peninsula and was inhabited at least two-thousand years ago by Native Americans. The Ojibwe and Odawa hunted and lived in the area seven hundred years before Europeans arrived. French fur-traders came to Old Mackinaw in the late 17th century. By 1708 French soldiers built a strategic depot for the upper Great Lakes fur trade at Mackinaw City. There, during the summers, they held “rendezvous” for fur traders and Native Americans who hunted and traded prized beaver pelts and other animals indigenous to the region.
You can experience Colonial Michilimackinac where the staff dresses in period costume and invites you to enter the wooden gates to a bygone era. Every employee is well-versed in regional history and seems to genuinely enjoy sharing his or her knowledge with visitors. Hear canons roar and smell dinner simmering in an iron pot hung over an open hearth, as you watch fort occupants go about activities that were routine two-hundred-and-fifty years ago.
After the fur trade in Michigan died, lumbering replaced it. A trip to Mill Creek Discovery Park allows you to watch millwrights saw lumber at an authentic 1790s sawmill. There is more to do than smell sawdust and watch a tree became boards. There are three-and-a-half miles of nature trails and a Creatures of the Forest Nature Program. You can also walk the 165 foot Forest Canopy Bridge.
A bit further along the historic time line the Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse was built in 1892. The lighthouse is located in Fort Michilimackinac Park at the southeast foot of the Mackinac Bridge. A two-story brick dwelling is attached and served as the keeper’s house. The light was deactivated in 1957 and the building currently serves as a maritime museum.
Shopping is a bit trinkety and would not be the way I would choose to spend the day in Mackinaw City, but if you have children who must have a t-shirt or some memento of the visit, or you simply must return with a pound of fudge for your neighbors, you will not lack for places to accommodate those needs.
Likewise, there are many eateries. Darrow’s Family Restaurant (301 Louvigny) is often mentioned as a local favorite. It is a completely unpretentious, modestly priced, family oriented spot where the bread and soup are homemade. The Mackinaw Bakery and Coffeehouse (110 Langlade) is a good place to grab a morning donut and cup of coffee or even a sandwich for lunch. If you have heard about local pasties and have to try one, you might consider the Mackinaw Pasties and Cookie Company (514 South Huron Avenue) where they make fresh Cornish pasties from scratch daily in their own kitchen.
You can try to see Mackinaw City in a day, but you really owe it to yourself to schedule at least two or three full days to do everything worthwhile in this small town.
Photos courtesy of http://www.mackinawcity.com/
Julie Albrecht Royce, Michigan Editor, is the author of Traveling Michigan's Sunset Coast and Traveling Michigan's Thumb, both published by Thunder Bay Press. She writes a bi-weekly column for wanderingeducators.com, entitled Michigan's Small Town Treasures.